International Terrorism

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Behind the Curve

Behind the Curve
Globalization and International Terrorism

Audrey Kurth Cronin

he coincidence between the evolving changes of globalization, the inherent weaknesses of the Arab region, and the inadequate American response to both ensures that terrorism will continue to be the most serious threat to U.S. and Western interests in the twenty-ªrst century. There has been little creative thinking, however, about how to confront the growing terrorist backlash that has been unleashed. Terrorism is a complicated, eclectic phenomenon, requiring a sophisticated strategy oriented toward inºuencing its means and ends over the long term. Few members of the U.S. policymaking and academic communities, however, have the political capital, intellectual background, or inclination to work together to forge an effective, sustained response. Instead, the tendency has been to fall back on established bureaucratic mind-sets and prevailing theoretical paradigms that have little relevance for the changes in international security that became obvious after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. The current wave of international terrorism, characterized by unpredictable and unprecedented threats from nonstate actors, not only is a reaction to globalization but is facilitated by it; the U.S. response to this reality has been reactive and anachronistic. The combined focus of the United States on statecentric threats and its attempt to cast twenty-ªrst-century terrorism into familiar strategic terms avoids and often undermines effective responses to this nonstate phenomenon. The increasing threat of globalized terrorism must be met with ºexible, multifaceted responses that deliberately and effectively exploit avenues of globalization in return; this, however, is not happening. Audrey Kurth Cronin is Specialist in International Terrorism at the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress. The article was written when she was Visiting Associate Professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and a Research Fellow at the Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown University. I am grateful for helpful comments and criticisms on previous drafts from Robert Art, Patrick Cronin, Timothy Hoyt, James Ludes, and an anonymous reviewer. I have been greatly inºuenced by conversations and other communications with Martha Crenshaw, to whom I owe a huge debt. None of these people necessarily agrees with everything here. Also beneªcial was a research grant from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. My thanks to research assistants Christopher Connell, William Josiger, and Sara Skahill and to the members of my graduate courses on political violence and terrorism. Portions of this article will be published as “Transnational Terrorism and Security: The Terrorist Threat to Globalization,” in Michael E. Brown, ed., Grave New World: Global Dangers in the Twenty-ªrst Century (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, forthcoming). International Security, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Winter 2002/03), pp. 30–58 © 2003 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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As the primary terrorist target, the United Sates should take the lead in fashioning a forward-looking strategy. As the world’s predominant military, economic, and political power, it has been able to pursue its interests throughout the globe with unprecedented freedom since the breakup of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago. Even in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and especially after the U.S. military action in Afghanistan, the threat of terrorism, mostly consisting of underfunded and ad hoc cells motivated by radical fringe ideas, has seemed unimportant by comparison. U.S. strategic culture has a long tradition of downplaying such atypical concerns in favor of a focus...
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