We have seen and heard it too many times before – the wailing sirens, crowds gathered helplessly around scenes of carnage, words of solidarity with the victims, and the vows to chase the perpetrators to the ends of the earth.
And yet in response, more often than not, we wind up chasing our own tails. Even our successes in killing this or that terrorist leader soon degenerate into a deadly game of ‘whack a mole.’ Eliminate a terrorist in Syria, and his counterpart pops up in Yemen, or Sudan, or Libya, or Iraq.
|An all-too-familiar scene|
We also hear ringing declarations of ‘war’ – although it is not exactly clear just how and with what that ‘war’ is to be waged. Whose troops will be used? Where will they be used? And, most importantly, what happens after the military objective is won? Yes, a particular den of barbarians may be wiped out to everyone’s great – and temporary – satisfaction. But who will fill the vacuum? How can we be sure the same problem won’t crop up as soon as the troops return home in triumph with ‘Mission Accomplished’ banners waving in the air? In short, defeating the entity called ISIS will not, by itself, put an end to the larger problem of global terrorism.
Once you have ‘won’ such a war, how do you reconcile the ensuing conflict among the various local factions, each of whom has its own agenda. Olivier Roy, one of the leading scholars of political Islam, highlights this problem in an essay in The New York Times. The Kurds, for example, will fight to protect their area, but are not enthusiastic about fighting ISIS on behalf of the Arabs. The Saudis are in no rush to destroy their Sunni brothers in ISIS lest such action strengthen their main enemy, Iran. Israel, for its part, is delighted to see most of its enemies busy trying to destroy each other and relieve the pressure to do anything about Palestine.
So what can Europe do to protect itself against the outrages of global terrorism? A good place to start might be with far better defences. The Schengen agreement allows free travel throughout most of the EU member states. Once admitted into one of the Schengen countries people are allowed to travel to any other member state without worrying about visas. This attempt to emulate the United States where you can travel freely from California to Maine is admirable, but it omits one critical difference. The United States has a common policy for its external borders. As any foreign traveller can tell you, coming into the United States at any of the entry points is not that simple. Forms need to filled out before you get on the plane, the no-fly rule is checked, and you are finger printed upon arrival. These steps may not eliminate terrorists entering the United States, it makes it more difficult.
Europe, on the other hand, does not have a unified approach to its external borders. Some borders like the United Kingdom can be difficult to cross, while others are porous. Two of the weakest states in the EU, Greece and Bulgaria, have enormous pressure on their borders and the least amount of resources to deal with the problem. One problem is that low paid police and border officials are vulnerable to bribes from well organised people smugglers to turn a blind eye toward illegal entry. Many times these countries simply do not have the equipment or manpower to scrutinize ordinary travellers let alone vet and process the wave of immigrants coming from places like Syria and Libya.
|This is not a problem for Greece alone|
If the EU acted as a real union a common border policy would be imposed on all members. There would be one well-funded European agency with well-paid and well-trained personnel to handle security of external borders. The surge of migrants would no longer be just a Greek, Bulgarian, Italian or Spanish problem. Such a move would inevitably generate wails of protest about violating national sovereignty, but without such a solution the European Union is hardly a ‘union’, and remains easy prey to anyone seeking to create havoc inside the EU borders.
Obviously, solving the problem of external border control does not solve the issue of home-grown terrorism – be it deranged teenagers with high powered weapons in the United States or dissatisfied members of the Moslem communities across Europe. A threat in, say, Belgium can easily morph into a catastrophe in France. One would hope that seamless cooperation among the various intelligence agencies in the EU would ease this problem. But if the United States has problems coordinating activities of its several different intelligence agencies within its borders think how much more difficult it would be coordinate such activities across international borders. The Turks, for example, insist they warned the French about one of the attackers in Paris, but apparently nothing was done about this warning.
A longer term solution would be to restore a semblance of stability in Syria. Once people can be reasonably sure of going about their daily lives without getting shot they would be less eager to risk the trip to Europe. This alone won’t solve the problem of global terrorism, but it certainly would eliminate one of the contributing factors.