Friday, December 13, 2013

Responding To Global Terrorism: Hope and Patience Are Not Enough

by Clay Robinson 

Smoke rises from the Westgage shopping centre
after explosions at the mall in Nairobi, September 23, 2013
Credit: Reuters/Noor Khamis
Dr. Martha Crenshaw, of the Center for International Security at the University of Stanford, joined the faculty and students at the University of Illinois on September 26, 2013 for a presentation entitled Responding to Global Terrorism. Dr. Crenshaw shared a difficult challenge associated with responding to transnational or international terrorism. First, “terrorism weakens already fragile regimes”, and secondly, it “provokes outside states to intervene” in order to retaliate or otherwise respond. She further argued that responses across national borders violate the sovereignty of nations and erode the legitimacy of the both the affected regime and the intervening state.1

Dr. Crenshaw began to answer the key question of how to respond effectively to terrorism by emphasizing a multinational and intergovernmental approach involving not just the U.S., but also the European Union (EU), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the African Union (AU). When it comes to strategies, however, Dr. Crenshaw criticized western nations’ tendency to become mired in a cycle of provocation and retaliation, suggesting that ending retaliation was an option worthy of consideration and that the international community should consider capacity building instead.2

It is true that capacity building, often conducted in the form of providing financial assistance or training in order to cultivate a skill or capability, is an effective way to legitimize an affected regime because it helps to put a local face on efforts to combat terrorism. The U.S. provision of military training to Nigerian military and law enforcement personnel charged with curtailing the impacts of Boko Haram, or French initiatives to train and equip Malian forces charged with halting the spread of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) influence are some such examples.

Dr. Crenshaw proposed that capacity building somehow differs significantly from retaliation such that it should be considered a separate strategy. This is, however, not entirely the case. Providing aid through an affected nation is in fact retaliation, and the fact that the U.S. or French are supporting regimes that are actively combatting terrorism is not lost on those terrorist organizations. Similarly, just a few days after the Al-Shabaab terror attack in Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, leaders in Kenya and the west began redoubling efforts to curb the influence of the terrorist organization by scrutinizing the sources of their income before new attacks might occur in Kenya or even the U.S.3 Capacity building does not necessarily let the west keep terrorism at arm’s length. Even the EU’s spring 2013 deployment of only non-combat personnel in a mission to train the Malian army4 is billed as merely capacity building, but is surely a form of retaliation and has been viewed as such by AQIM.

Dr. Crenshaw also suggested resisting the temptation to retaliate against acts of terrorism, as she introduced the audience to the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF), “an informal, multilateral counterterrorism (CT) platform that focuses on identifying critical civilian CT needs, mobilizing the necessary expertise and resources to address such needs and enhance global cooperation.”5  The GCTF’s first focus area is “promoting criminal justice responses to terrorism grounded in human rights and the rule of law”6, which is of course akin to a combination of supporting the criminal justice systems of affected nations, and conducting capacity building engagement to help these nations improve the effectiveness of their criminal justices systems with respect to counterterrorism. Some entity, in this case, the military or law enforcement personnel of the affected regime, has to get their hands dirty. They have to engage a threat directly or through other similar tactics that allow them to make arrests in order for criminal justice systems and rule of law to be relevant.

Dr. Crenshaw suggested employing a strategy of “hope and patience that we’ll find a way to respond."7 Until such time that the U.S. and the EU nations are ready to abandon global ties to the world, abandon our embassies and consulates throughout Africa and the Middle East, and let minority ethnic and religious groups attempt to survive on their own in unfriendly territories, it would be best to ignore Dr. Crenshaw’s advice. Hoping and patiently waiting for new options that do not require rolling up our sleeves and engaging in hard work is tantamount to beginning preparations for surrendering to the will of terrorists.

Clay Robinson is a non-degree graduate student at the University of Illinois. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Naval Academy and Master’s degrees from Webster University and the U.S. Naval War College. A specialist in Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection within the U.S. Navy, Clay recently served as the Anti-Terrorism Officer on the staff of Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe/Africa in Naples, Italy. An avid traveler, Clay enjoys reading, hiking and exploring.  

1. Crenshaw, M. (2013, September). Responding to Global Terrorism: Provocation, Retaliation and Deterrence. Center for Advanced Study MILLERCOMM2014 Lecture Series. Lecture conducted at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL.
2. Ibid.
3. Gettleman, Jeffrey and Kulish, Nicholas. “Somali Militants Mixing Business and Terror.” The New York Times 1 Oct. 2013: A1. Print.
4. Baumann, A. “Shifting Parameters of Military Crisis Management.” Strategic Trends 2013: Key Developments in Global Affairs (2013): 64. Center for Security Studies. Retrieved September 27, 2013 from
5. The Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF). Focus Areas. September 2011. Retrieved October 1, 2013 from
6. Ibid.
7. Crenshaw, M. (2013, September). Responding to Global Terrorism: Provocation, Retaliation and Deterrence. Center for Advanced Study MILLERCOMM2014 Lecture Series. Lecture conducted from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL.


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