Forgotten front

The U.S. should lead the way in establishing a global anti-terrorism body

July 29, 2008|By Eric Rosand and Alistair Millar

Standing in front of more than 200,000 people in Berlin last week, Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president, said, "Now is the time to join together, through constant cooperation, strong institutions, shared sacrifice and a global commitment to progress, to meet the challenges of the 21st century." The challenge of addressing global terrorism was at the top of his list.

How will that challenge be met? Is there a plan?

When it comes to building and sustaining a global commitment to combating terrorism, the prescription must include filling a gaping hole by establishing an international anti-terrorism body that would provide a forum for the U.S. to engage, in a sustained manner, with its traditional and nontraditional allies on a wide range of issues related to tackling terrorism worldwide.

During and after the Cold War, the international community recognized that a cooperative approach was needed to address urgent global security problems more effectively. This led to the establishment of a number of organizations that advance shared goals and serve as centers of technical expertise, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency. As the world approaches the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, transnational terrorist networks and homegrown terrorists continue to pose serious challenges to international peace and security.

While several piecemeal efforts have been made, a serious, coordinated global response to deal with the threat of terrorism still has not materialized. Coordination, cooperation and information-sharing among countries and the approximately 70 international, regional and subregional bodies involved in counterterrorism are not as effective as they need to be in a climate where terrorist attacks continue to victimize innocent people and disrupt economies. A global anti-terrorism body is thus needed to fill the massive gap in capabilities and limited cooperation at the international level.

There is no forum where counterterrorism experts from capitals in Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe and North America can gather to share experiences and nonclassified information and expertise, and to build the trust that is so lacking. There is no forum where a dialogue on a wide range of counterterrorism issues beyond the narrow security and law enforcement arena can take place with countries from different regions. Devising effective strategies to counter the growing radicalization and extremism that are turning young people into terrorists requires a cross-regional dialogue that is utterly lacking.

The United States could use such a forum for developing broad-based programs with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia and other leading voices in the Muslim world as part of an effort to help to overcome the growing skepticism and distrust among Muslim nations and communities around the globe that the U.S.-led counterterrorism effort is targeting Islam.

Convincing the world that the U.S. is committed to working with others and to upholding the highest standards of human rights and the rule of law while countering terrorism will be difficult as long as the U.S. continues to rely on the exclusive clubs - the Security Council and the Group of Eight - that largely ignore these issues for much of its multilateral engagement on counterterrorism.

The next president's support for the creation of a global anti-terrorism body would show that the call for more partnership, dialogue and cooperation in fighting terrorism is not merely rhetoric. It would signal that the U.S. is committed to multilateral, rule of law-based approaches to combating terrorism and working more closely with new and old partners.

If the United States took a lead role in establishing a new body, it would go a long way to reassuring other countries that the U.S. is ready to work to rekindle partnerships with our long-standing allies and create stronger ties with others to defeat terrorism.

Eric Rosand is a senior fellow at the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation in New York and a former counterterrorism official in the State Department. Alistair Millar is the director of the center in Washington.

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