EU castle needs to be recalibrated to establish a more inclusive and effective security establishment for the growing threat of terrorism.
In the last one month, terrorists from different groups attacked three prominent cities and targeted innocent civilians at airports, metro stations, shopping districts and in the central squares of Brussels, Istanbul and Ankara. Regardless of differences of ideology of these different terrorist groups, the main objective of the attackers was the same – to terrorize the people and, through this, reach their political objectives. All of these attacks were suicide bombings and in all of these attacks terrorists aimed to generate the highest amount of casualties by targeting soft targets in very crowded areas. The attacks demonstrated that Turkey and the whole of Europe are under attack and EU countries will likely continue to be primary targets of the terrorist forces.
Although there was a lack of sensitivity and sympathy in Western countries to the attacks that have happened in Turkey for the last three months, which cost the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians, the attacks in Brussels demonstrated that the terrorists do not discriminate in their targets. From now on the European continent, not necessarily the EU, which proved to be extremely ineffective and inefficient in dealing with the refugee crises, needs to adopt a new security framework to deal with the increasing threat of terrorism. And in this new endeavor to fight terrorism, European countries need to work together and develop a comprehensive strategy that involves intelligence coordination, security cooperation and political and military coalitions to fight this menace. The type of attacks, the perpetrators, and the type of ammunition that these attackers used demonstrates the increasing adaptability of terrorist groups to the security infrastructure in the Western countries.
Who pays for the cost of terror?
The terrorism of leftist armed groups in the Cold War years and the attacks of al-Qaida affiliates in the aftermath of 9/11 generated a powerful counterterrorism structure against these threats. However, what we have been facing for the last few years is much more different. The new generation of terrorism seems to have an extremely effective form of propaganda, in particular through the use of social media and a very efficient form of recruitment in different countries with various different messages. Members of the new terrorist groups seems to have more heterogeneous backgrounds, education and motivations, which makes profiling them and predicting their next steps really difficult for security forces.
So far, the security establishments in countries have stopped many terrorist acts on their borders. However, even a few that go under radar can bring major destruction and cost to these countries. Terrorist-proofing necessitates more than building walls around borders or increasing surveillance to track down potential terrorists, it necessitates active, sincere and efficient cooperation among states in the continent. The strategy also needs to be multidimensional. Military and security precautions will only stop the actions of the already radicalized and recruited terrorists. Countries need to understand that terrorism is a tactic for the ideological zealots of various groups. To try to tolerate one terrorist group because it does not pose a direct threat to that specific country basically paves the way for the insecurity and destabilization of a partner country in the fight against other terrorist groups. Tolerating the activities of the PKK and its affiliates in European countries basically leads to increasing empowerment of the terrorist group and strengthens its position in its fight against Turkey. This in turn generates insecurity in Turkey, destabilizes its domestic condition and overstretches its sources to fight terrorism. Weakening a pivotal partner in the fight against terrorism weakens the overall coalition to fight terror on the continent.
In addition to security measures against this menace, political and social precautions, and of course in depth studies on the conditions that feed the recruiters are needed. More importantly, these studies and research need to be conducted in conjunction with other countries on the continent.
Considering suspects, preventing attacks
It is true that for the state establishment intelligence and information is the most intimate dimension of their power in foreign and security policy. However, the recent attacks demonstrated that without an effective collaboration the information and data that one country has, regardless of its extent and scope, will not help the continent and, in some circumstances, it will not even be sufficient to protect that single country from the hand of terrorism.
Recent announcements from Ankara regarding one of the suicide bombers in Brussels proved this point. One of the terrorists that turned the Brussels airport into bloodshed was detained by security forces last summer in Turkey. The reports show that after his detention he was deported from Turkey and the security authorities informed the Belgian authorities about this individual. However, on the other side the Belgian authorities did not take necessary precautions to prevent this individual from committing one of the country’s deadliest terrorist attacks at the heart of their capital. In the absence of solid and well-organized cooperation between states in Europe in the coming years we may continue to face the same type of threats and attacks that could be prevented with an effectively functioning, continent-wide security umbrella. The same attack and the same information about the attacker also show that Europe’s security starts not from Turkish-Greek border, but the Turkish-Syrian border. In this new situation cooperation and coordination with Turkey is key for the Western security order.
The EU and Turkey in recent months reached a desired level of cooperation regarding the refugee crisis. Although the deal reached was not ideal, the rapid re-establishment of ties and frequent summits and meetings demonstrate that when there is a need for cooperation parties can build an efficient way to communicate and reach an agreement. What we need at this point is a similar venture for Turkey and other countries in Europe to launch a mechanism to prevent further terrorist attacks in cities and to fight terrorism together. A more institutionalized and organized effort to fight these groups without discriminating between them will provide security and stability of all countries in Europe.
In the absence of this framework and understanding between countries it will be hard to provide safety and security to civilians in Europe. The EU castle now needs to be recalibrated to establish a more inclusive and effective security establishment for the growing threat of terrorism. Far-right political movements in Europe and exclusionary policies of irresponsible political actors will be the biggest impediment in an effective fight against terrorism. Far-right political movements in Europe and exclusionary policies of irresponsible political actors will be the biggest impediment in an effective fight against terrorism. Common threat perception, constant collaboration and joint action will be key.
This article was first published in the Daily Sabah on March 26, 2016.