In the world we are living in terrorism is and continues to be one of the major threats to international security and peace. Terrorism is both a global and complex phenomenon and no country underestimate the threats it causes. Terrorists’ attacks may or may not be intending to create fear (Bianchi 2006, p. 881-919). Some of the attacks have direct economic and political motives; this means that they are designed for the purpose of creating intimidation, not fear. The attacks on the United States on September 11 are believed to have been designed for the purpose of influencing the behavior of United States, the Arab world, western world and the Muslim world (Malone 2004, p. 85-100). The other issue on terrorism is that it is not simply a province of individuals but, it is also committed by states. Repression by governments in many cases is both systematic and violent. Such actions have psychological effects through compelling the desired behavior and repressing dissents. The United Nations has long being reacting to the threats of terrorism. United Nations took new actions, especially after the September 11 attacks (Peterson 2006, p.180-187).
Three crucial resolutions were adopted by the security council of United Nations after the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center in the United States. The resolutions 1368, 1373 and 1377 affirmed the right to self-defense and found terrorism to be a threat to international security and peace. The resolutions also stressed the accountability of supporter members together with the perpetrators of the terrorist act (Bianchi 2006, p. 881-919). This is one of the steps taken by United Nations in the fight against terrorism. The member states of United Nations have been obliged to limit the abilities and strengths of terrorist organizations and terrorists to operate internationally. They have been urged to do this through freezing assets that belong to terrorist-affiliated individuals and organizations while denying them a safe haven. The United Nations also set a ministerial declaration on international terrorism (Malone 2004, p.85-100).
The United Nations response to September 11 attacks
In the aftermath of September 11 attacks in the United States, the United Nations promptly shifted focus on terrorism. There were several steps that were taken to strengthen the international engagement in the fight against terrorism. The Security Council resolution number 1373 is an excellent example of the response to terrorism (Rosand 2004, p.2-33). The resolution required that all nations should suppress and prevent financing of the terrorist acts including freezing funds and financial assets. This resolution also obliged the states to improve he border security and clamp down recruitment process of terrorists. The states were also advised to intensify law enforcement cooperation and information sharing in the international campaign against terrorism (Peterson 2006, p. 180-187).
The security council of United Nations established a body known as Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) which oversaw the implementation of the resolution 1373. The member states were required to send their reports to this committee stating the various steps they are undertaking to fight terrorism. The reports included progress in some seven critical areas which included legislation, customs, financial assets control, immigration, extradition, arms traffic and law enforcement. The general assembly of the United Nations adopted two antiterrorism resolutions, which condemned the acts of terrorism in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania (Peterson 2006, p. 180-187).
The general assembly continued with the work of negotiating on international terrorism. The former secretary general of United Nations Kofi Annan condemned terrorism acts repeatedly. In his speech delivered on September 12, 2001, he noted that all nations in the world should unite and show solidarity with the victims of September 11 attacks. He also urged nations of the world to take actions on both terrorist and all those who give them shelter, encouragement and assistance.
New actions were taken by the various agencies of United Nations. Several agencies such as international civil aviation organization and international maritime organization formulated resolutions that members should take measures to limit the ability of terrorists to act. Another agency that is affiliated to United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, adopted a resolution that addressed the measures to protect people against the acts of nuclear terrorists. The agency developed a program that coordinated assistance to member states in an effort to enhance the security of nuclear weapons and radioactive materials (Rosand 2003, p. 332-341). All these actions were part of the long-standing efforts put by United Nations in the fight against terrorism. These three resolutions that were passed after the attacks on September 11 augmented the other nine multilateral and Security Council resolutions. Other measures taken by United Nations to fight terrorism include a convection to protect diplomats from terrorism that was signed in 1973. The other one was on taking hostages and was signed in 1979. The other was meant to suppress terrorists’ bombings, which was signed in 1997. The resolutions 1267, 1333 were passed by the Security Council in the years 1999 and 2000 respectively and, imposed sanctions against the Taliban group in Afghanistan. These were some of the actions taken by United Nations before the attacks on the Pentagon and world trade center in the United States (Rostow 2002, p. 475-490).
While trying to fight terrorism in the world, United Nations faces a couple of problems. There are problems in transforming the resolutions and, the efforts of the agencies. The world is divided over the issue of who is a terrorist and what are the actions of terrorists. Various nations use their support for violent extremist as political weapons. Other countries support movements that use terrorists’ methods in asymmetric warfare. Other states have been seen to use counterterrorism efforts so as to win political leverage while considering their enemies as terrorists. These political divisions among different countries in the world have affected the efforts of United Nations in combating terrorism. The United Nations cannot resolve the debate over what is terrorism and who is a terrorist (Malone 2004, p. 85-100). There are those who may claim that acts of violence against civilians and states are justified and, another person’s terrorist is their freedom fighter. Other people claim that there is the universal definition of terrorism and, this consists of the actions of their enemies. The United Nations cannot act on the principle that “an individual’s terrorist is another man’s terrorist.”
From some of these challenges, United Nations cannot act effectively against terrorism. The use of extremist groups and terrorists as state proxies, especially where there is no international consensus is a challenge to the UN. National sensitivities are involved in the fight against terrorism. Many countries are more willing to fight international terrorism than state terrorism and political internal security threats (Cortright & Lopez 2002, p. 126-130). Internal securities in any state are the crown jewel of the states’ secrets and, only a few nations can exchange information on terrorism since their regime’s security is directly involved.
The United Nations most crucial role may lie in the efforts it can play in defining terrorism and the need to protect civilians from all acts of terrorists such as the use of weapons of mass destruction and violence and asymmetric warfare. UN has played such roles through the arms and human rights control activities. It has also done this through multilateral conventions in various countries such as the Vienna convection in 1980 that dealt with the physical protection of nuclear material (Rostow 2002, p. 475-490). At a broader perspective, United Nations has made efforts to eradicate misunderstanding among various cultures of the world through agencies such as UNESCO. These efforts are meant to address the causes of terrorism and how terrorism has affected lives of many people in different countries. United Nations has indirectly addressed some of the most emerging threats related to terrorism like biological terrorism through activities of the various organizations such as the World Health Organization (Cortright & Lopez 2002, p. 126-130). These efforts have played an immense role in stemming international terrorism.
Successes of United Nations in fighting terrorism
UN has been successful in increasing both international and regional cooperation in the fight against international terrorism. Since the inception of CTC in 2006, the UN has taken a lead role in initiating better cooperation among member states at regional level. Regional organizations have been encouraged to increase their counter-terrorism capacity. For example, in Europe, various regional organizations have established their own counter-terrorism units. Although these efforts have succeeded in some parts of the world, other areas are still far behind like in south-Asia and North Africa among others (Cortright 2005, p.4).
United Nations has also been successful in gathering crucial information that can help in counter-terrorism efforts from the member states. However, there have been criticism about the lack of ability to implement the resolutions agreed by the UN. Since 2006, the CTC indicated that there has been a success in collecting information on regional and international activities meant to fight international terrorism from the member states (Cortright 2005, p. 1). This achievement is an indication that UN has made considerable efforts in improving its record on implementing Security Council’s mandates.
Under section 2 of UN global counter-terrorism strategies, it states that the UN members resolved to undertake measures to combat and prevent terrorism by denying terrorists a chance to access means to carry out their activities, to their targets and, the desired consequences of their attacks (United Nations 2009, p. 3). International community has succeeded in freezing terrorists’ financial assets, identifying suspected criminals, hardening soft targets and disrupting terrorists’ plots through preempting their attacks. Cortright has indicated that through the action of individual states and international agencies, more than $ 200 million terrorists’ funds have been frozen. According to Cortright, through bilateral, multilateral and unilateral law enforcement efforts more than 4000 suspects including senior Al Qaeda operatives have been arrested.
Failures of United Nations in the fight against international terrorism
Despite United Nations are having a share of successes, there are areas where failures have been seen. Lack of political will and integrity has led to failure in suppressing international terrorism. This has been demonstrated by the lack of an agreed definition of terrorist and terrorism activities (Medhurst 2008, p. 372). So as, to successfully counter terrorism worldwide, there should be an internationally agreed definition of terrorism together with what constitutes terrorism. Currently, United Nations continues to struggle with the task of coming up with an agreed definition of terrorism. This is one of the failures of United Nations. It can be interpreted that United Nations has agreed to disagree on the subject of international terrorism. So as, to keep and gain support from the international community, especially from the Muslim world; there should be an agreed-upon definition of terrorism. For example, putting a bomb in a train or a market is not an act of terrorism, especially if it is done with a righteous purpose (Muravchik 2005, p. 1).
There is a number of questions regarding the ability of United Nations in implementing the resolutions and acting upon these resolutions. United Nations depends heavily on the member states when effecting resolutions at regional and international level. Controversy arises over what happens if a nation blatantly refuses to adhere to the set mandates? What or whose responsibility is it to ensure that the resolutions are carried within the state? Will it be other states in the region? Does UN have the ability, power or a right to intervene when a state refuses to adhere to resolutions that have been agreed upon? These are just but a few questions that are raised regarding the operations of United Nation (Cortright & Lopez 2002, p. 126-130). Many states are not financially capable of implementing the resolutions outlined by United Nations, hence, it is not their fault.
However, these challenges faced by the United Nations do not mean that it has given up in the fight against terrorism. Over a period of decades, the United Nations has shown some areas of international activity where it can expand its functions without facing problems that are created by divisions among nations. There are two areas that have been addressed by United Nations, which are of considerable importance. First, well-institutionalized and lasting efforts are required in counter-terrorism (Cortright & Lopez 2002, p. 126-130). Law enforcement and other related activities such as customs, ports control and, coast guards are made possible by the divisions between nations. The fact that we are in an imperfect world is a reason for not making it better. The second area is that there are few national barriers to the United Nations approach for improving movement of hazardous materials, security of international transportation, protection of high-risk facilities and lastly infrastructure security. The United Nations can create a common security standard for the road, air, maritime and rail traffic, airport security, security for containers, and port security among others. United Nations can recommend various global standards so as to protect key commuter facilities such as subways and critical infrastructure facilities such as nuclear power plants. United Nations can also provide technical advice in the efforts to fight terrorism such as security in government buildings and public facilities.