Some experts argue that the cold war was an important force or a stabilizing factor to world nations because it was a major conflict that took precedence over other minor conflicts. After 1986 (when this war ended), other issues that had been bubbling under could now come out in the open and one of them was global terrorism. The paper shall argue that historical events after the cold war demonstrate how vulnerable the US is to global terrorism.
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After the cold war
Some groups assumed that the US and other counterparts in the rest of the world would experience peace after the cold war because they thought that different countries possessed dangerous weapons and that because the war had just ended than those groups fully understood the implications of aggravation. However, this assumption missed one important point; that parties involved would not necessarily act as rationally as they were supposed to. To this end, the growth of weapons of mass destruction became an enormous problem. Also religious fanatics have grown in number and the nature and definition of US enemies have also expanded dramatically. (Kalyvas, 2003)
One of the major reasons for these rising numbers in the US’s enemies was the fact that the country was considered a superpower after the cold war. Consequently, the US found itself in a position where it had to guard world peace and lead other nations in the pursuance of this concept. The problem with holding such an enormous responsibility is that the nations that the country was trying to lead actually began mistrusting the US. In fact, this is nothing new; history illustrates that almost all countries in the world dislike superpowers and this is exactly what was going in with the United States. Many have argued that the United States was shouldering a responsibility that could easily be given to any other powerful nation in the world. For instance, China’s economic prowess and hence influence in the rest of the world grew by leaps and bounds in the post cold war era. However, this nation was uninterested in international policy and peace and they would only be seen when their country was under threat. Besides that, other parties have argued that Europe could have shouldered the US’s responsibility for leadership in world peace. However, the European Union failed to achieve much of its anticipated goals and it therefore lacked a unified foreign policy to carry out such a serious mission. At the international level, the US therefore seemed like a viable candidate to become a leader in trying to restore world peace. In domestic environments, law enforcers often act as restorers of peace and justice and this should be the same thing that happens on the international front. (Richardson, 2006) The US volunteered to this task and eventually created several opponents in the process. (Hoffman, 2003)
Some of this opposition has been depicted through terrorism. A number of groups argue that terrorism has existed ever since governance existed. However, contemporary terrorism is fueled by religious fanaticism and nationalistic fanaticism. This is especially so when the concerned parties feel as though they belong to a failed state. Although some people believe that terrorism is often prevalent in countries rife with poverty and poor governance, one cannot ignore the fact that terrorist groups exist even in economically stable nations. Sometimes the problem may be ethnic or religious. Because the United States is one of the most liberal nations in the world, it has had to pay the price for this liberty by being the primary target of international and even domestic terror groups. Strict or suppressive governments rarely record instances of terrorism because such matters are often nipped in the bud. However when the rights of all citizens are duly respected then chances are people are going to abuse them through acts of terror. (Goody, 2002)
There have been numerous historical events that give evidence to the claim that the US is under increased threat to international and global terrorism now than before the cold war. One of the approaches that can make the country highly vulnerable is the threat of nuclear terrorism. Nuclear capabilities grew tremendously when several nations wanted to expand their energy and developmental capabilities. However, when the need to grow security capabilities combined with the latter, many nations began expanding their nuclear weaponry. This implied that people with terrorist interests could easily access such nuclear power and employ it to achieve their own negative objectives.
In the year 1997, notorious Al-Qaeda leader – Osama bin Laden asserted that he was planning on increasing the nuclear capability of his group to make them militarily strong. As if that was not enough, terrorist member Al Fadl of the latter mentioned terrorist group also confirmed that he had been involved in the acquisition of nuclear weapons from Sudan four years before the terrorist bombings of East Africa in 1998. In the latter year, another terrorist organization known as ISI had been involved in the creation of a nuclear chemical plant in Pakistan where the Taliban were located. At that time, Bin Laden was involved in the acquisition of nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union through liaisons. It should be noted that terrorist attacks through nuclear weapons can occur in several ways. For instance, the attack of a nuclear facility has been cited as a serious threat to the country’s security owing to the fact that a substantial number of individuals could lose their lives to such an event especially if it happens that radioactive particles are emitted to places outside this reserve. On top of the latter, it is also an accepted fact that terrorists can employ the use of dirty bombs which have been known to emit nuclear radiation in the atmosphere and thus cause the loss of many lives. Nuclear warheads can be hijacked by terrorist groups when being moved from location to location or there may be instances when these groups could use suitcase bombs especially from countries that had them in the past such as the former Soviet Union. Given all these historical occurrences and pathways available to potential terrorists, groups must prepare themselves for the worst when it comes to a matter as grave and as serious as this. (Pastor, 2009)
It should be noted that the pattern of violence has worsened after the cold war. Now terrorists are no longer afraid to cause mass casualties or take their own lives in order to achieve their missions. This is quite dangerous to US citizens. For instance, during 1993, it had been discovered that there was a plan to attack New York infrastructure. The only advantage was that concerned parties were caught beforehand and stopped. Also, in 1995, there were reports that US airliners were to be brought down by terrorists in the Philippines. Also, there have been a series of attacks against US representatives in countries like Saudi Arabia and East Africa. In the latter region, over six thousand people were injured. This definitely indicates that the US should not be merely concerned with protecting itself within its borders. Instead, it needs to focus on the larger international arena because its emissaries and citizens may be targets for terrorist attacks. Usually, religiously propelled groups do not necessarily have political demands that they wish to get from the US. Most of them merely hate the US and may target their actions towards embassies, citizens or tourists from the US without any major political objectives. It should be noted that this lack of political dimensions has reconstituted the way terrorist groups are structured. In the post-cold war era, some of them require like-minded individuals who then liaise with one another without due concern over leadership structures. This means that if major terrorist leaders such as Bin Laden are captured, then chances are that the looming danger from terrorist attacks would still be prevalent because formation of these small and loosely tied groups is relatively easy. The process of tracking or even trying to predict the actions of such individuals is complicated. Besides, these groups employ internet technologies as well as self-financing activities such as the sale of narcotics to carry out their objectives. Some even depend on legitimate businesses and this makes them almost invisible to anti-terrorist groups.
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It should also be noted that biological and chemical weapons can also be a serious security threat to the country. For instance in 1995, Tokyo-based terrorist organizations attempted to carry out chemical attacks against a group of people. Although the number of casualties caused by this attack was rather small, it still managed to achieve one of the major objectives for any terror group; which is to undermine confidence in a country’s state of security. Therefore, a lot of care needs to be taken to ensure that the possibility of such attacks is totally eradicated. (Arreguin, 2002)
Another new form of terrorist attack has also emerged; this falls in tune with recent technological developments throughout the world. Cyber attacks are a harsh reality now. Individuals could hack into national security information systems or could destroy sensitive information and this may place the country at a very serious disadvantage both intellectually and physically. (Jensen, 2006)
One of the most terrifying acts of terrorism that took place in the post-cold war era was in 2001 against the twin towers. It was asserted that the latter act was carried out by a small number of people who belonged to a particular secretive cell. Additionally, this very type of threat was also demonstrated during the London bombings that occurred in an underground area. Similarly, the same set of groups was also highly responsible for the Bali bombings that occurred in 2002. The latter attacks had been organized and executed by members of the same family who worked alongside close friends and a social network of people who had access to telecommunication equipment and dangerous weaponry. In fact the threat to attacks from such kinds of perpetrators is arguably the most real one currently because so many of these incidences have occurred before and there is no certainty about whether they can occur again or not.
Although there have been immense changes in the way countries respond to terrorism, other nations have been less firm in opposing this phenomenon. For instance, a country like Iran is a clear demonstration of a nation that could support this dangerous cause. Their international policy does not cover terrorist activities. In fact, it has been reported that government groups ad ministries such as their intelligence ministry or their revolutionary guard corps have been known to control, fund, and support the actions of terrorist organizations in their country. It is countries such as these that the US must be very careful about. Iran is not the only threat; Afghanistan, Sudan and Syria have trained and sold weapons to terrorists on their own soil. Even a nation such as Libya has been known to sponsor terrorist activities through the efforts of groups such as those in the Palestine. (Telvick, 2005)
International terrorism thrives in countries where border controls are weak. This is because they can use numerous illegal pathways and pose as illegal immigrants. For instance, some have attempted to get in from neighboring countries such as Canada; a good example was Ahmad Ressam whose major reason for entering the country was to carry out a terrorist attack. This incident demonstrates just how vulnerable the country is to this problem because even though the latter individual had been arrested, this does not undermine the fact that thousands of illegal immigrants still enter the country and they can achieve their objectives if they so desire. Any form of complacency on the part of the US could increase the security risk from such groups. (Kisangani, 2007)
Domestic terrorism is also facing a different definition and variation to it especially through terrorist groups that fall outside the usual Middle Eastern area. A recent report in the press has shown that there is a looming threat from terrorism by American citizens of Somali origin. Some of these individuals enter the country and find it difficult to adjust accordingly. Consequently, they look for ties back to their motherland and this may be innocently done through terror groups. One of the most notorious groups from this community is Al Shabaab which has some links to well-known Al Qaeda. In 2008 (October), a member of this terrorist group who had been naturalized as a US citizen became party to such an occurrence when he volunteered to become a suicide bomber that also took the lives of twenty-nine people who were with him in Minnesota. The country therefore awoke to the possibility of such forms of terrorism. More often than not, these domestic terrorists often face an identity crisis upon entry into the country. They begin rethinking their old traditions but still feel a strong sense of loyalty to those very customs. In response to these tensions, some of them accept any form of help that may come in the form of radicalization by domestic terror groups. In the end, such groups grow to enormous proportions and present a serious danger to the country as a whole.
Islamist groups have been recognized as a primary threat to the security of the United States. However, it should be noted that a blanket targeting of Islamists is not accurate. This is because most of the Islamic groups attacking the country are radical elements who hate US values and its policies towards them. The most dangerous groups are the ones that have isolated the US as the primary target of their terrorist activities. Groups that are assumed to bearing the brunt of US foreign policy interventions should also be watched as these could be the same categories that may try to carry out ‘revenge’ attacks against the country. (Gregg, 2003)
As the latter paper has shown, the post cold war era has presented a series of changes in the international and domestic scene in terms of terrorism. First of all, terrorists have expanded their reach and search for US citizens as they can stage their attacks either within the country’s borders or outside. Aside from that, global terrorism is no longer characterized by immense bureaucratic systems. Instead, small cells spring up in various parts and this can occur even after the arrest or killings of major terrorist leaders. This post cold war era has also been characterized by intense objectives. Terrorists are no longer afraid of causing excessive casualties or losing their lives. Besides the latter, technology has also been incorporated into their actions as some of them coordinate their activities more effectively or can use cyberattacks as another mode of action. Domestic terrorism has changed especially with the entrance of immigrant groups such as those from Somalia.
Arreguin, T. (2002). Tunnel at the end of the light. International Affairs Cambridge Review 15(3): 549
Gregg, H. (2003). Assessing religious dimensions of international terrorism to the US. Web.
Goody, J. (2002). What is a terrorist? History and anthropology journal 13(7), 139
Hoffman, B. (2003). Logic of suicide terrorism. Atlantic monthly 291(4), 40
Jensen, D. (2006). Endgame resistance. NY: seven stories
Kalyvas, A. (2003). Terrorism in civil wars. Ethics journal 8(1), 120-138
Kisangani, E. (2007). Economy of state terrorism. Defense and peace economics, 18(4), 403
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Pastor, J. (2009). Public safety and terrorism. NY: Taylor Francis
Richardson, L. (2006). Understanding the terrorist threat. London: John Murray Press
Telvick, M. (2005). New Global Jihad. Web.