Along with the authorization of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) on April 25, the UN Security Council authorized French troops to continue their military campaign in northern Mali, Opération Serval, in order to counter the threat of international terrorism emanating from the region. This is the latest indication that governments and multinational organizations such as NATO and the UN continue to believe a military presence can counter international terrorist threats. The so-called “war model” response to terrorism is familiar to global audiences, most starkly used by US President George W. Bush in his war against al-Qaeda, and is reinforced by terrorists who frequently characterize themselves as warriors and soldiers for their cause, engaged in a war against their targets.
Large-scale military responses to terrorism include campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, but is a military deployment the best response to a terrorist threat? Or can engaging in a war with terrorist actors be counterproductive?
Protracted military campaigns do not reduce the threat of terrorism and can often exacerbate the threat by providing terrorist groups with media images of oppression, overwhelming lethal force, and cultural insensitivity. Civilian casualties inflicted by military campaigns can contribute to radicalization of the indigenous population, sympathy for terrorist causes, and grist for terrorist propaganda mills.
Short-term and standalone military missions can, however, be effective in countering terrorism. A response of targeted, forceful operations can inflict lasting damage on terrorist networks, capabilities, and morale.
Military intervention is a small part of counterterrorism strategy and should be used as a narrow and defined tool. Diplomatic, economic, social, and criminal justice models are essential for comprehensive counter terrorism policies and military units can be no substitute for these.
The first phase of Opération Serval in Mali is assessed as having achieved its aims in the first ten days of deployment, but the mission must avoid the danger of being caught in what one expert calls “the quagmire,” where the aims become vague and there is no exit strategy.
There has been a recent trend among Western governments and multinational organizations away from full-scale ground deployments as a means of countering international terrorism, and governments have sometimes chosen more limited, short-term action, such as the airstrikes in Libya. But capitals are also still entrenched in extended counterterrorism campaigns that have proved costly in lives, money, and reputations.
By deploying troops in the face of a terrorist threat, governments are responding to a public desire for action against terrorist actors. Political leaders appear decisive and able to regain the upper hand, often in the aftermath of, or threat of, an attack. However, the disadvantages of responding with force are many and well documented, and the action can often hinder broader counterterrorism initiatives. Indigenous populations can feel alienated, invaded, and colonized, and civilian casualties which accompany military engagements can have a radicalizing effect on populations, causing them to sympathize and collude with terrorist groups.
This week, reports about US government documents on drone use—including this memo outlining the legal rationale for the practice—added new fire to an already heated debate over its lawfulness.
In a telephone interview with the Global Observatory international law expert Mary Ellen O’Connell discussed the US rules governing the use of drones and the soon-to-be-approved government manual on the practice which she called "very disturbing."
“Instead of looking to and applying with sincerity and good faith the existing rules that have been created by the international community, fundamentally in the UN Charter, the administration is finding the actual law inconvenient and is making up its own rules," she said.
"I consider it to be the Obama administration playing at making law," said Ms. O'Connell, whose recent op-ed in The New York Times called for accountability.
“I’m not just critical of the Obama administration, but of human rights lawyers and governments throughout the world who seem to be waiting to see what these rules are that the Obama administration is drafting,” she said.
“I fully understand the outrage, anger, and sorrow in Pakistan,” she said. “I have to point out that while the focus has been on Pakistan, I think the lawlessness of the Obama administration’s policy is underscored by what has happened in Yemen, where the very first drone attack away from an armed conflict zone occurred.” The UN concluded this killing was extra-judicial.
Ms. O’Connell also discussed the civilian impact of drones, and the new US drone base in Niger, which experts believe has implications for Mali, Libya, Algeria, and Nigeria.
Ms. O’Connell has been a professional military educator for the US Department of Defense; she chaired the Use of Force Committee of the International Law Association from 2005-2010; and recently she served as a Vice President of the American Society of International Law. She is a frequent author on international law and the use of force, including her 2012 book What is War? An Investigation in the Wake of 9/11.
The interview was conducted by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Visiting Fellow at the International Peace Institute.
Andrea Ó Súilleabháin (AOS): Our guest today in the Global Observatory is Mary Ellen O’Connell, a Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame and Professor of International Dispute Resolution at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.
An expert on the use of force, Mary Ellen O’Connell wrote a piece in 2004 branding the first CIA drone strike unlawful under international law. She has remained a leading voice for that position throughout the last decade of debate. Welcome, Mary Ellen, and thank you for speaking with me today.
Mary Ellen O’Connell (MEO’C): Thank you, Andrea. It’s very good to speak with you.
AOS: I want to start by asking you about a recent development from the White House, a soon-to-be-approved manual of rules to govern targeted killings and the use of drones. How significant is this so-called “playbook”?
MEO’C: I think it’s been appropriately dubbed by the media a “playbook.” I consider it be the Obama administration playing at making law. It’s a very disturbing development. We know enough about the drone attacks to know that the international law governing the use of force outside of US borders is sufficient; there’s no need for a new set of rules.
Anne Wu is Special Political Adviser in the Office of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) and a career diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.
In this interview, Ms. Wu discussed how young people are more susceptible to recruitment by terrorists, and how providing education and employment opportunities can help prevent that. “The youth are one of the most powerful groups, and also have the greatest potential for peaceful transformation for the society,” she said. “So that’s why education is so critical; education can provide a better future for the youth, and a better future for the society.”
Ms. Wu said one of the new initiatives undertaken by CTITF involves countering narratives put out by terrorists in way that targets specific groups. “Whatever the methodologies of counter narratives, we have to do it according to the context, and it is not only that the messages matter, but also identifying the targeted audience, identifying the critical messengers, as well as funding the appropriate media to reach out to the vulnerable community.”
“We also recognize that the Internet has a critical role too, because violent extremists like to use the Internet to encourage people to adopt their views,” she said.
“Countering violent extremism constitutes a key component in any preventive, comprehensive, and long-term counterterrorism strategy,” she said. “It requires the spirit of dialogue, understanding, respect, and tolerance, which are all reflected in the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, with also an emphasis on addressing conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.”
The interview was conducted by Warren Hoge, IPI Senior Adviser for External Relations.
Warren Hoge: Our guest today in the Global Observatory is Anne Wu, special political adviser in the Office of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, known as CTITF. She is a career diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China and a former fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School at Harvard.
Anne, I want to ask you first about the phrase “countering violent extremism,” which has become such a focus of counterterrorism thinking at the UN community that it has its own UN acronym, CVE–the emblem of acceptance at the UN. What is CVE, and why is it so important?
Anne Wu: Thank you, Warren, for this interesting question, and thank you for the opportunity to invite me to speak at this forum. As you know, countering violent extremism constitutes a key component in any preventive, comprehensive, and long-term counterterrorism strategy. It requires the spirit of dialogue, understanding, respect, and tolerance, which are all reflected in the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, with also an emphasis on addressing conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.
The use of drone technology is growing into a global phenomenon. Over 50 countries have purchased “drones,” or unmanned aerial vehicles, for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance purposes, and a number of countries have started in-country development programs for armed versions. In 2011, the Teal Group consulting firm estimated that worldwide spending on drones will nearly double over the next decade, from $5.9 billion to $11.3 billion annually.
The growing popularity of weaponized drone technology, however, has not been matched with international discussion about their implications for human rights, national sovereignty, the laws of armed conflict, and for war itself. In his report to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2010, the former United Nations Special Representative on Extrajudicial Executions, Phillip Alston, recommended a summit meeting of key military powers to discuss these issues. Two years later, public debate of the legal and ethical implications of this weaponry has been notably limited, and no progress has been made to develop an international policy framework for their use.
International humanitarian law provides a legal framework for the use of force during armed conflicts. Outside of war zones, in places like Pakistan, where drone strikes have taken place, international human rights law provides limits on the use of lethal force. However, there is controversy as to whether US drone strikes are legal because there is little transparency and the US government has taken an expansive interpretation of “the right to self defense,”—which applies to geographically-unlimited counter-terrorism operations. If other countries follow suit, there could be negative consequences for the international system and for the international laws governing war.
There appears to be increasing acceptance from military powers that engaging in counterterrorism operations in self defense is legal and justified if countries that host terrorist networks are “unwilling or unable” to deal with the threat themselves. Drone strikes may become an easier tactic in such states because they are effective, relatively cheap, and carry fewer risks, but their use could challenge national sovereignty in fragile states.
The US government should increase transparency around its drone program, including providing the legal limits of the program and the number of civilians killed, so that a conversation can begin on an international level to regulate the use of these technologies. Key military powers should be willing to participate in an international dialogue where this issue can begin to be addressed.
While announcing his five-year action agenda on January 25th, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon indicated his support for the creation of a new position of UN counterterrorism coordinator. The idea had been previously presented in the Security Council by the United States. Supporters argue that a UN counterterrorism "czar" would improve coordinated implementation of the General Assembly’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and help ensure that the more than 30 UN bodies involved in counterterrorism are singing from the same song sheet.
Improved coordination is also seen by some states as necessary if the UN is to develop a broader approach to multilateral counterterrorism, focusing less on responsive, military- and law enforcement–based approaches and more on prevention, which would better leverage the UN’s social, political, and economic capacities. At the Secretary-General’s High-Level Symposium on International Counter-Terrorism Cooperation held in New York this past September, member states emphasized the need to develop a broader preventive approach. But states disagreed on what mandate the role should involve, where it should be located, and how it should be financed.
The creation of a coordinating position will depend on the development of consensus among members of the Security Council, General Assembly, and the leadership of the Secretariat. States disagree on what relationship any coordinating position should have to the Security Council’s counter-terrorism bodies, notably the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate and the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, previously set up by the Secretary-General and General Assembly to facilitate implementation of the General Assembly’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
A new report published by the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation points to three possible solutions, providing costs: 1) a UN counter-terrorism coordinator, grafted onto the existing structures; 2) a special representative of the Secretary-General for counter-terrorism; and 3) a new Under Secretary-General position for transnational threats. It also discusses at length the various roles any coordinator might play, identifying areas of comparative advantage in multilateral counterterrorism that the UN could better exploit.
In this interview, Dr. Comfort Ero, an Africa expert from the International Crisis Group, discusses Boko Haram, the radical Islamist group responsible for violent acts intended to destabilize Nigeria and ultimately create an Islamist state governed by Sharia law. Their recent attack on January 20th killed 178 people.
Dr. Ero said Boko Haram's violent campaign threatens the stability of Nigeria, and that she sees clear signs "the group has become ever more dangerous," though she believes that the evidence remains sketchy about the extent of Boko Haram’s networks with other terror groups.
In response to a question about creating an amnesty program, as was done for a situation in the Niger Delta, she said, "I doubt very much that the amnesty program is the answer to ending Boko Haram’s attacks. They do not appear to be after a 'sharing of wealth,' as is the case with groups in the Niger Delta. They appear to be pursuing a violent Islamic ideology."
Dr. Ero also discussed the removal of the controversial fuel subsidies, which were partially restored on January 1st in the face of huge protests, and the heavy-handed response from the government to both the protests and Boko Haram.
“The government’s response has tended to be heavy handed, heavily militaristic, which has further fueled tensions and has caused further civilian deaths and other problems," she said. “There is significant loss of faith and confidence in the ability of the government to address the threat posed by Boko Haram. Even more so when President Jonathan admitted earlier this year that his government may be infiltrated by Boko Haram–and the security services, too."
She added, "I think we need to look closely and truly understand who and what Boko Haram purports to be. One thing that deserves mentioning is that the traditional approach to security cannot continue as the response of the Nigerian government. A new strategy is required, one that is more political and not military in tone.”
When asked about the future of Nigeria and the possibility of optimism, she said, "The attacks have shocked Nigerians and the federal government, and there is a sense of nervousness. Having said that, the country still has huge potential, and continues to show economic progress."
"This is certainly a good opportunity for the government and respected personalities and intellectuals to come together and have a frank and honest debate," she said.
The interview was conducted by Ann Wright, International Peace Institute, on January 24, 2012.
Interview with Comfort Ero
Ann Wright (AW): Dr. Ero, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Let’s start by discussing the violence in the heavily Muslim Northern states of Nigeria, where the Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram has killed 226 people so far in 2012, including 178 people on the 20th of January in deadly bombings in the Northern city of Kano. This attack was the group’s deadliest to date. Is it fair to say, based on these events, that Boko Haram is increasing its capabilities and becoming more sophisticated?
Comfort Ero (CE): It’s certainly clear, especially following the incident that happened on Friday, 20th January, that this gives the impression that Boko Haram has become more sophisticated in its attacks. It’s hard to tell if these attacks were coordinated, but the multiple explosions are clear indications that the group has become ever more dangerous.
The Nigerian-based terrorist organization Boko Haram is gaining international attention as a threat contributing to instability in Nigeria and potentially beyond. In early November 2011, Boko Haram carried out coordinated terrorist attacks that left 100 dead in the northern state of Yobe, Nigeria. The attacks illustrated the growing sophistication and capabilities of the organization. The US embassy in the Nigerian capital Abuja issued a warning that the group might be planning to attack luxury hotels frequented by westerners. In recent days, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a string of bombings targeting government buildings and churches in Geidam, in northeastern Nigeria. Following the attacks, Boko Haram’s spokesperson threatened, "Until all our members in detention are released and the Yobe state government stops intimidating and harassing our members, we will continue carrying out attacks in the state."
Boko Haram is as much a political as it is a military issue. The appeal of the group’s message is a reflection of longstanding grievances among northern, largely Muslim Nigerians, which Boko Haram successfully exploits. Because of growing speculation that Boko Haram has links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Shabaab in Somalia, western states, including the US and France, are assisting Nigerian security forces. However, the Nigerian police are widely distrusted in the north of the country, and western support could backfire by further radicalizing segments of the population. Foreign assistance should ensure that military measures are grounded in the rule of law and are matched by economic development assistance in the north. In addition, The UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED), which has provided technical assistance to Nigeria on counterterrorism, should urge the Nigerian government to conduct counterterrorism with respect for human rights.
It remains to be seen whether the Nigerian government will continue with a predominantly military response or pursue a negotiated settlement. However, a sustainable peace agreement would likely rest on the Nigerian government’s ability to address the underlying grievances fueling support for Boko Haram, including reducing corruption, promoting economic development among disenfranchised groups, and working to consolidate civic nationalism to assuage sectarian tensions in Nigeria.
South African human rights lawyer Brian Currin is a leading figure in international efforts to find a negotiated solution to the Basque conflict. After initiating the 2010 Brussels Declaration that called on ETA, the armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization, to declare a ceasefire, which the group said was “permanent” last January, Currin established the International Contact Group for the Basque Country.
On October 17, 2011, an international conference in San Sebastian, attended by figures such as former Secretary-General Kofi Annan and co-organized by the International Contact Group, attempted to move the peace process forward. A declaration from ETA followed shortly thereafter.
Mr. Currin was interviewed by Marie O'Reilly, Publications Officer for the International Peace Institute, on October 28, 2011.
Marie O'Reilly (MOR): Brian Currin, thank you very much for talking to the Global Observatory today. On Thursday, October 20th, the Basque separatist group ETA announced a “definitive” end to its armed activity. ETA has broken “permanent” ceasefires before. Do you believe that this end will be definitive? And why has this declaration come about now?
Brian Currin (BC): Well, I do believe it will be definitive. And I think we must remember that this is not a ceasefire, it’s a declaration of the end of the armed struggle for ETA. It has taken some time to get to this point, but a very carefully designed process has been followed over the last few years to get here. The process was developed systematically, step by step, over a period of time. And so, I believe that at this moment, we have seen the end of ETA violence.
Previously, the ceasefire declarations were essentially the result of some engagement between Madrid and ETA. It was clearly easier for ETA to breach commitments to Spain because they could justify it on the basis that Spain breached commitments to them. But it is a different matter breaching a commitment to the international community. I say this in the context of ETA's January 2011 ceasefire declaration being a response to the Brussels Declaration.
In this interview, Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan Director, Human Rights Watch, discusses the controversial US drone program in Pakistan, saying, “We don’t know what the drones are doing. We don’t know whether, in fact, they are hitting the right targets, or, for that matter, what those targets are, and what measures have been taken to ensure that civilians have been safeguarded.”
“It is time that all the parties involved in these strikes engaged in openness and answered the increasingly difficult questions that arise around the ethics and legality of these strikes,” he says, adding that the onus is on the US to prove that these strikes are minimizing civilian causalities and are compliant with international humanitarian law. In addition, he says the Pakistani military has a responsibility to assist humanitarian observers in finding strike sites.
Mr. Hasan, who has worked at Human Rights Watch since 2003, also addresses in depth Pakistan’s harsh anti-terrorism legislation; the role of both traditional and social media in inciting violence; and the prospects for peace negotiations between the Pakistani government and non-state actors such as the Taliban, saying, “A peace without accountability is a peace that is bound to fail.”
The interview was conducted on October 18, 2011 by Ann Wright from the International Peace Institute.
Ann Wright (AW): We are here with Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan Director of Human Rights Watch. Thank you for taking the time to speak to the Global Observatory today.
Over the past decade, drone attacks have become the counter-terrorism weapon of choice for the United States. As someone currently living in Pakistan, can you comment on the impact of the strategy in the region, and in Pakistan in particular?
Ali Dayan Hasan (AH): Drone strikes are a very serious issue, certainly in Pakistan. For one, the strikes and the social impact of these strikes is a magnet for anti-Americanism, and feeds into the discourse of Taliban victimization, or rather local victimization by Western powers. That is certainly a fact.
Now, in terms of what the drone strikes are actually doing—it’s very difficult to say. The fact of the matter is that no independent groups have access to the Tribal Areas where these strikes are taking place. What happens is a strike takes place, and you get a claim—usually by the Pakistani military leaking it, or the CIA leaking it—which suggests X number of militants have been killed.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks led to the expansion of national counterterrorism legislation and policies, and many of these new laws circumvented civil liberties. In some cases, they criminalized non-violent activity such as slander of public officials or disturbances of public order. As a result, human rights groups mobilized in response.
But lost in this advocacy has been the rights of the victims of terrorism. The human rights community has done little to address this issue.
On September 19th, the United Nations hosted the Symposium on International Counterterrorism Cooperation. Here, Ben Emmerson, the new UN Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism, announced that he would continue the work of his predecessor, Martin Scheinin, while also “ensuring that proportionate attention is paid to the rights of victims of acts of terrorism.”
The International Peace Institute is an independent, international not-for-profit think tank dedicated to promoting the prevention and settlement of conflicts between and within states by strengthening international peace and security institutions. To achieve its purpose, IPI employs a mix of policy research, convening, publishing and outreach.
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