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11 September: Security and Defence revisited

01 October 2001

A new Threat …
<br />Recent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington raise the question whether similar attacks could also take place in Europe. Is the threat of catastrophic terrorism the same for EU members as for the US? Or does it create different zones of security and vulnerability within NATO and the EU?
At the moment, the US seems to be the primary, if not exclusive, target of hyper-terrorism. However, even if this hypothesis was true, EU members could easily become directly concerned if terrorists attacked US installations and interests on their soil. Moreover, the current threat situation can change, particularly for those EU members that are now the most active in the US-led campaign and/or have traditionally been engaged world wide.
A hyper-terrorist attack in Europe can therefore not be excluded. Indeed, for the foreseeable future, it is probably the only direct and large scale threat against the territory of EU-members and the life of EU citizens. On the other hand, certain member states will probably be more threatened than others. European Security and Defence policies will have to take all this into account. What does this mean in terms of concepts, capabilities and institutions?
The new dimension of catastrophic terrorism is global in its means and geographical scope. The potential enemies are non-state actors, motivated by alien values and the reward of martyrdom. They operate world wide in small groups through loosely affiliated networks, using all means of modern technology, finance, transport and communication. They have both the determination and the capacity to lead a devastating strike against western homelands. Potential targets are not only military installations but also civil infrastructures and population centres.
… implies a new Security concept
Current security and defence concepts are ill-suited for this threat. Territorial defence is directed against large scale conventional invasion, Nuclear deterrence protects vital interests against clearly defined state-actors, Petersberg Tasks cover regional crisis beyond national borders, traditional anti-terror strategies are not tailored against martyrs with cutting edge who seek total destruction. What seems necessary is a new type of homeland defence that combines external and internal dimension of security, civil and military defence. Such a defence would have to be part of a multidimensional strategy (economic, political, financial, etc.), its objective would be to minimise both the threat and the physical damage in the case of an attack. However, defence against catastrophic terrorism must be based on two points:
Deterrence, whether conventional or nuclear, does not work against martyrs, <br />Protection against the full spectrum of possible assaults is impossible in open and complex societies. <br />These handicaps can only be partially compensated by <br />improved intelligence, and <br />the capacity to strike pre-emptively. <br />Maximum knowledge about the capabilities of terrorists, but also a better understanding of their psychology will be essential to detect malicious intent in time, that is to say before an attack takes place. Pre-emptive strikes can take very different forms, from police arrests at home to undercover missions of special forces in a hostile environment abroad. Effective homeland defence would thus have to have a global reach. EU members should reassess their individual and their common efforts (national reforms of armed forces, Headline Goals) accordingly.
... and challenges existing institutions
An effective anti-terrorism strategy will be a major challenge for existing European security and defence institutions. On the one hand, it is generally agreed that most elements of such a strategy need a high degree of international cooperation. On the other, it remains to be seen
whether the current intensity of cooperation can be maintained over a longer period (in particular if there are no attacks) without the establishment of new, permanent structures, and <br />what form international cooperation will take, particularly in the field of security and defence. <br />NATO seems ill-suited for the fight against terrorism for at least two reasons: Firstly, it cannot carry out most of the relevant policies (finance, economy, development aid, domestic and justice affairs, etc.). Secondly, its structures seem be too cumbersome for the necessary military planning and substantial political consultation. Although Article V was invoked, the US used their own national planning capabilities, asked only for limited military assistance, and used NATO almost exclusively as a diplomatic forum to assure political support. What happened if a European member state were attacked? Would GB, F, and, to a lesser degree, G, use NATO's integrated bodies for their military planning? Or would they rather use their own national capabilities to assure the leadership of the operation, built an ad hoc coalition - namely with the US – and use NATO "only" as a diplomatic forum? (Granted, smaller NATO members without the necessary national planning capabilities would have to use NATO assets, but the most, if not the only plausible scenario for a catastrophic terrorist attack on their soil would be an attack against US installations. In this case, the leadership would be American.)
The EU is competent in a wide range of areas, but it lacks political coherence and efficient structures. Both the development and the implementation of a comprehensive anti-terrorism strategy would be an enormous challenge for the current pillar structure (in particular if one thinks of the coordination problems between the various services, agencies and administrations within each member state). Would the creation of a European Security Council be a first step towards a more effective cross-pillar approach? At least as far as pillars II and III are concerned, the EU is rather a framework for action of member states than an actor in itself. The current threat might foster coordination and, to a certain degree, intergovernmental cooperation, but, concerning the very heart of national security, it is not sure at all whether it will lead to closer integration.