“The combination of hard power and soft power may ultimately prove to be the most efficient and sustainable long-term counterterrorism strategy.” George Lopez and David Cortright
Last summer I wrote an article (attach link) in the wake of terrorism attacks in Kenya, the worst one being the Al-Shabab attack at Garrissa University in northern part of Kenya, which claimed lives of 147 students. I argued that Al-Shabab has become sophisticated and that they were more interested in terrifying Kenyans and instilling fear than even killing. Their acts, which I compared to a drama performance because of their dependence on an audience, rely on the media for success. Often our media and now the ever present citizen journalism has played into the hands of terrorists, fulfilling their greatest need: publicist.
This example illustrates the changing nature of modern terrorism. From time to time I do read the official magazine of Isis, Dabiq, I can’t help noticing how the magazine has evolved since its inception, it has adapted to the best communication strategies of any successful organization. This demonstrates the incorporation of terrorism as a brand that can inspire loyalty and a sense of pride. This kind of terrorism has gone beyond what the US was fighting against in Afghanistan and in other places. This type of terrorism is headquartered in a state (not in the conventional definition of the word) and has a wide network of ambassadors and envoys in radicalized young men and women in various countries. Other terrorists are harbored in failed states where soft power cannot apply. A good example is the Al-Shabab militants in Somalia.
The fact that modern terrorists, have crafted states of their own, and the fact that they have networks of young men and women, who have been brought up in excellent communities but lured into terrorism either by fancy recruitment campaigns or have been radicalized gradually, makes the fight against terrorism the most difficult task of our century, which leads to my major concern: How can we fight an enemy that is now part of us and sometimes in states that he controls? Can anybody really talk about soft power in regard with this enemy?
When fighting terrorists in places such as those controlled by Al-Shabab or ISIS, it is hard to imagine that a non-military solution. As much as peacebuilders want to imagine that we can appeal to the humanity of terrorists or whatever means the cosmopolitans advocate for, the reality of the many beheadings of innocent people calls for a ‘ hard solution’. I am not implying that only military solutions can counter terrorism, I am suggesting that the military is an important component of this process and sometimes it is the only means. I understand that often military solutions have failed to achieve sustainable peace. I think if strategic peacebuilders can work with the military and incorporate the peacebuilding elements in military operations, peace might have a chance.
Having a UN agency devoted to counterterrorism as Lopez and Cortright suggests, may not solve the problem. I believe the UN as it is constituted has the capacity to deal with this scourge, if members especially the p5 can put politics aside. The various existing UN agencies, can be coordinated to achieve their mandate, which ranges from issues of education, human rights, environment etc. This agencies can help create the much needed ‘peace culture’. I think the complication of fighting terrorists in this century is as a result of anarchical nature of the world, whereby no any one nation commanding absolute authority. In the absence of this absoluteness, every nation plays politics that are beneficial to their national interest, and only intervene in those conflicts that threaten its national interests. A clash of interests can easily lead to an active or Cold War. A strong nation, which we can also refer to a Super Power, will be expected to champion human rights and protect the vulnerable communities by dealing with any less power that may want to interfere with peaceful existence of another nation. The realist assumption here is that the strong nation will not threaten the security of other nations. But this kind of state is difficult to achieve, as nations always want to upset the balance of power in their favor. Hence, the UN comes in as the legitimate international authority that can give the necessarily international coordination and policing. A well functioning UN can go along the way in helping counter terrorism.