It is no doubt that the United States of America has been and is still a target of terrorist attacks. This is why the top priority of most American presidents, including former President George W. Bush and the incumbent President Barack Obama has always been to provide maximum security for the American people against terrorist attacks. President Barack Obama, for instance, is committed towards ensuring that the American people are secured against the existing threats of the twenty first century through seeking to prevent the occurrence of terrorist attacks. His government is also committed towards providing appropriate preparation for emergencies and investment in very strong rejoinder and recuperation capabilities.
The federal government of the United States works hand in hand with the American states, local governments and other stakeholders from the private sector towards attaining a national approach which is aimed at prevention, alleviation and response to terrorism acts. The American government is also working with its like-minded partners through assisting them with funds so as to help reduce terrorism globally and to improve their own national security. Unfortunately, the dangers that are posed by the risk of terrorism are more likely to escalate than reduce in the years to come. Furthermore, the likelihood of having many casualties in any single act of terrorism is also increasing.
Terrorism can be defined as a violent act that is directed against people who are innocent for the purpose of gaining a political interest (Walter, 2006). It is important to note that a good definition of a terrorism act takes into account the crucial components of the political purpose and the innocence of the targeted group of individuals. First and foremost, the political purpose component distinguishes a terrorist act from any other commonplace crime, however vicious it may be. For instance, the bombing of the Centennial Park in Atlanta and the burning up of the New York City nightclub may probably be considered as commonplace criminal attacks and not terrorist attacks. On the other hand, the 9/11/2001 attack of the World Trade Center may be seen as an act of terrorism (Grossi, 2005).
Even though the other component which defines the innocence of the targeted group of people seems more controversial, and somehow difficult to define with adequate precision, it should be noted that with very rare exemptions, innocent people are taken to mean civilians and not the military personnel. This excerption is particularly true in cases where the targeted military personnel are operating in a different country from their own and are involved in an armed struggle or a continued political clash.
This paper examines in detail the risk of terrorism in the United States and the measures that have been placed by the government to prevent, alleviate and respond to incidences of terrorism. In addition, it proposes other measures that the U.S government should use in trying to reduce the threat of terrorism. At the onset of it, it analyzes the components of terrorism risk.
According to Carroll (2005), terrorism risk can be broken down into three major components. These are: the threat, which is being directed towards a specific target, the vulnerability of the target group to the threat, and the effects of the target if it is carried out successfully. Threats are often represented by people and organizations when they possess both the intention and the ability to obliterate a target. The probability that a particular target will be attacked using a specific method within a specified period of time represents a measure of the threats towards certain target. This implies for instance, that a threat may be measured as a yearly probability that a certain town’s soccer stadium will encounter an attack with a chemical weapon (Alexander, 1991).
On the other hand, vulnerability might be measured as the likelihood that destruction will occur, given a threat occurs. Destruction may be in terms of property damage, fatalities, injuries, or other unpleasant outcomes and each one of them has its own vulnerability measurement. Last but not least, the effect of a terrorism risk refers to the extent and the type of destruction that result from a successful terrorist attack. Risk alone is a function of the threat, the vulnerability and the effect of a terrorist attack. These three components can be used together in the steady measurement of risk so as to determine the expected yearly effects of a terrorist attack.
Terrorism Risk in the United States
The magnitude of terrorism risks in the United States might seem to be very small as compared to the wider attention that they receive. While statistics indicate that three thousand deaths is undoubtedly a cataclysmic outcome, this figure is significantly small relative to many other death risks. For instance, many more Americans die every month from automobile accidents. According to figures published by public health officers, more than a hundred times more Americans die annually due to the smoking of cigarettes. What differentiates terrorism mortalities from mortalities caused by the other two examples is that the two risks consist of a voluntary aspect. It is quite clear that the consumers of these products derive some value from them such as the improved mobility in the case of an automobile and internal satisfaction from smoking, which recompenses the risks that are linked to the initial activity. On the other hand, there is no voluntary element or market transaction that is engaged to terrorism risks. In addition, there is no form of any beneficial derivation (Viscusi, 2003).
The September 9/11 attack of the world trade center and several other terrorist incidences which have really victimized innocent American civilians and some U.S troops in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iraq illustrate the extent to which the United States and its citizens are exposed to a very high risk of terrorism and this is rather inexplicable. It is very evident that the perpetrators of such acts do not just select the U.S at random from the other members belonging to the United Nations, but rather have their own specific grievances against the United States of America.
Even though it is true that America is highly exposed to many acts of terrorism, it might be wrong to conclude that those who attack America are merely extremists who hate the values and the culture of the American people (Henry, 2005). Several experts who have dealt with this subject have advanced this argument but some, like Ronald Steel, a professor at the University of California argue that since the U.S is the center of power in a new world order, most Americans take pride in being the world’s leader and being at the forefront in terms of modernity and this does not go well with other people and societies which feel deeply threatened. Therefore, the disgruntled people in the world hold the United States of America as being responsible for their predicaments such as poverty, irrelevance, weakness and ignorance.
Steel’s argument may be right in the sense that some terrorists actually hate America because it apparently represents values such as individualism, secularism and modernity. However, it is very wrong to conclude that most of the terrorist attacks that are targeted on the United States of America are aggravated by the blind hatred towards the American values. Other experts who deal with the subject of terrorism differ significantly with Steel’s allegation. For instance, Professor Yan Sun of the City University of New York asserts that it is not the American culture and values which intimidate the disgruntled people, but rather the way the Americans persist to impose their values and cultures to them.
In reality, it is even more precise to state that terrorism is basically a hostile response against Washington’s intrusive global intercession foreign policy which in deed has a very minimal connection, if any, with the values that are held by many American citizens. It can be argued that this policy has in itself made the United States of America a target of terrorist attacks because of the way it makes America and its leaders to interfere in a variety of regional, sub-regional and other internal conflicts around the entire world. For instance, the U.S government has often threatened to use its military strength, and even used it in some instances to impose its own solutions because of the Washington policy, while dealing with issues in other countries such as Somalia, Bosnia, Taiwan Strait, Haiti and the Persian Gulf. In doing so, the United States government does not realize that such interventions may certainly work to benefit other countries or splinter groups, or disadvantage others. This may therefore lead to the discontented parties to plan to execute revenge against the United States of America.
It is also worth to note that this tendency is highly manifested by the Middle East countries. In addition, the Washington policy tends to persistently support Israel, and to be in favor of its policies thus creating a blatant source of anti-American reaction all over the Islamic world. As if this is not enough, the progressive and extensive support that is often offered by the United States to a range of its ally Arab dictators also motivates the factions of people who want to get rid of such regimes to rise against their governments. Most of the United States allies who fall within this class include the leaders of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan and Algeria which have consistently had corrupt and repressive regimes which often encounter increasing domestic resistance.
The Evolving Threat
The major focus of the former and the incumbent U.S governments concerning international terrorism has always been the Al Qaeda. This network of international terrorists has not only unequivocally expressed its ideological ideas and its outfitted agenda which is directed against the United States of America, its citizens and their property to the global public, but rather, it has also revealed itself to be capable of effectively utilizing its land, sea and air modalities to destroy target locations such as hotels and warships. There is no suggestion that the hardcore leadership of this group has decided to change their views on America since the year 2003 when Osama bin Laden was taped in a video vowing to pursue the Americans in their own country.
It is therefore evident from the aforementioned statement that the main agenda of Al Qaida has remarkably changed from what it was at the time when it planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The capturing and elimination of most of its crucial functionaries and field commanders, combined with the fact that they lost their safe asylum in Afghanistan, has made the group to reconstitute its main outfitted agenda towards expert oriented attacks, which may be executed by individuals or affiliated cells when an opportunity emerges. In deed, Al Qaida has transformed from being a monolithic structure which emerged in the late 1990’s in Afghanistan to an amorphous movement that is characterized by its polycentric, segmented and indefinable nature.
Basing on the above information, there are four trends which can be postulated as likely to manifest on the United States of America, with all of them posing significance for the sprouting of threat scenarios. First and foremost, there is a persistent interest by this movement to attack hard targets with yet a growing focus to attack soft and civilian-centered locations. Secondly, the movement has shown a continued accentuation on economic attacks. Thirdly, it has also maintained its suicide attacks. Lastly, it has expressed its desire to use nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons although it has not been able to execute this ambition on a large scale.
It is ironical that some of the terrorists emerge as a creation of the United States itself. For instance, the U.S government appeared to finance, train and equip a movement called the Afghan Mujahedin in the 1980’s during their armed resistance against invaders from the Soviet Union (Ronald, 1996). The policy that they employed provided only a short term success which saw the Afghan fighters tying down the Soviet military bases and inflicting many casualties. The popularity of the war was gradually reduced in the Soviet Union and this contributed so much to the emergent political disentanglement and the birth of the communist state.
It can be stated categorically that this policy has only produced terrible outcomes in the long run. This is because of the continued increase in chaos experienced in Afghanistan and other countries such as Bosnia and Somalia and in many other Middle East countries and the central focus of their grievances is none other than the United States, their onetime supporter. These are just some of the inadvertent effects of using a foreign policy that is interventionist in nature.
A Sustainable Policy for Dealing with Terrorism
According to Bruno (2004) more feasible and sustainable policy for dealing with terrorism risks should include three major elements. First and foremost, the United States of America should abstain from entering into disputes and conflicts which do not directly impact on the security needs of America and its citizens. The government of America should take this as a serious matter because the operational worldwide interventionist strategy has already produced grave results especially when one looks at the high mortality rates of the American military personnel. This policy has further escalated the risk of terrorist attacks on millions of American civilians. The government policymakers should therefore try to build rational policies which do not put both the lives of the American civilians and military personnel at stake.
The willingness to withdraw the global terrorism interventionist policy should not be viewed as a way of trying to soothe terrorists. The adoption of a more sustainable and controllable security policy is a very judicious progress even in the absence of the existence of a terrorist threat. The incumbent strategy is not only too expensive for Americans, but it also entraps them in conflicts in countries that are economically and strategically insignificant. Another reason for rejecting the interventionist policy is the risk of terrorism that it directs towards the American citizens.
The second sustainable way of dealing with the threat of terrorist attacks is through diverting a significant amount of the intelligence agencies’ resources on the serious matter of dealing with national security risks posed by activities like terrorism. The American government should not allow its attention to be diverted from this major focus because of inapt undertakings such as the dangers of economic surveillance. This does not necessarily mean that the budgetary allocations ascribed to the intelligent agencies, which is approximated as thirty billion U.S dollars should be augmented. The intelligence community ought to utilize the existing budgetary allocation and their personnel. In fact, a more focused, and leaner intelligence system is even able to perform significantly better on a lesser amount of money and therefore the U.S congress should opt to consider this possibility.
It is in deed very clear that counterterrorism poses a very great challenge to the intelligence community. The process of monitoring organizations that are linked to terrorist acts and evaluating their intentions and capabilities is a very critical undertaking since penetration of their cells is an exceedingly difficult phenomenon. Most of these organizations are temporary and minute with extremely decentralized operations. It is also very hard to identify the members of such organizations since they are nearly pathologically suspicious of other people. Moreover, apart from their intense reliance on certain networks, these people are basically aggravated by their obsessive ideological and religious beliefs. It is even worth to note that intelligent agencies find it very hard to win them even by bribing them and using other forms of inducements.
The extreme decentralized operations of most of these terrorist organizations provide difficulty in organizing retribution just as is the case of penetrating their cells. Contrary to their antecedents in 1970’s and 1980’s, terrorists in the current world do not often boast of their actions and this makes it difficult to identify, apprehend and even eradicate them. Nonetheless, the community of intelligence agencies in the United States of America has a fundamental obligation in the fight against terrorism. The American citizens therefore expect them to work to protect them in an exceedingly dangerous environment. The agencies should therefore work to ensure that they are able to identify the international terrorist organizations and their plans of action, or trace the culprits and eradicate them if their efforts stop them are inadequate.
The third sustainable and feasible way of dealing with the threat of terrorism is by realizing that some of the terrorist initiatives that are directed to the United States may be receiving funds from other governments. In such cases, it is not sufficient for the United States of America to respond through mere law enforcement agencies. The United States of America should exercise its right by considering such occurrences as acts of war against its citizens and therefore it should react accordingly with a formal war declaration. Even though this might seem to be a drastic response, it should be noted that one of the chief responsibilities of the American federal government’s constitution is to defend its citizens from external atrocities (Peter, 2005).
In conclusion, for the government of the United States of America to realize its top priority of providing maximum security for its citizens, especially from terrorism risks, it should ensure that it completely avoids engaging in regional and sub-regional disputes and civil wars which do not directly impact on the imperative interests of the American people and their country. Secondly, it should focus its attention and direct the resources of the intelligence agencies on matters related to terrorism risks and other major threats of national security instead of exaggerated and spurious problems such as economic surveillance. Last but not least, it should consider all state-funded acts of terrorism against American citizens as acts of war and not merely as matters of law enforcement, and consequently, respond with an official war declaration in clear cases that have convincing evidence.