When Counter-terrorism Goes Global

By Emily Murphy

As states across the world become interconnected and ultimately interdependent, the balance of power between domestic and international pressures — known to political scientists as “two level games” — is ever increasing for governments that rarely considered the wants of their citizens and allies.

Over the last decade, states around the world are seeking international cooperation in counterterrorism to secure their territory; the attacks last month in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad highlighted how one terrorist organization can threaten multiple countries hundreds or thousands of miles apart

There is too little scholarship on two level games in negotiations toward joint counter-terrorism efforts—likely because the international community has only recently begun to engage in more multilateral efforts. I will consider the factors affecting two-level games in counter-terrorism policy making, determining how domestic and international factors have influenced policy among states involved in these two-level games.  I will follow by analyzing whether international cooperation has risen or fallen as a result of increased attention to preventing terrorism.

Terrorism may push Middle Eastern states to cooperate more out of necessity or isolate themselves for the sake of their own security. Increased cooperation is likely if a terrorist threat poses a large threat to a multiple states. However, cooperation decreases when these states have diverse populations, where sectarian and ethnic differences could lead states to see a tightening of borders or realignment of alliances in reaction to the threat of terrorism. Senior fellow in the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, Shibley Telhami’s claim that identity politics raise the cost of political decisions suggests that states would turn inward and seek domestic support against a serious threat, not outward toward the international community. On the other hand, states may seek further cooperation with other states as John Gee noted by observing the importance of cross-border counterterrorism negotiations for Israel and states of the Persian Gulf.

The two approaches appear to diverge on the realist or constructivist viewpoints.  In the terms of Barry Posen and Andrew L. Ross, it is a question of “neo-isolationism” versus “cooperative security (Posen/Ross 1996, 6).”  I will consider which paradigm is most helpful in explaining counterterrorism efforts in the contemporary Middle East and how that paradigm has been shifting over the past decade.  Furthermore, I will address the extent to which domestic politics may be affecting this trend.

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Understanding the two-level game theory: the example of Israel

Israel stands out in the Middle East for a variety of reasons, but its relationship with the Palestinian territories makes it particularly interesting for my thesis. Most Israeli counterterrorism efforts focus on Israeli-occupied Palestinian lands. The conflict caused by Israel’s occupation of those lands, as argued by Daphne Barak-Erez, makes counterterrorism extremely difficult in Israel because, “when Israel counters terrorist threats from these territories, the relevant laws are not Israel’s domestic legislation but rather, in most cases, international law—the rules applicable to occupied territories or, at any rate, to armed conflicts.” Thus, the constraints of international law present Israel with a two-level game for almost any counter-terrorism effort.

Israel creates a two-level game in any attempt to formulate counterterrorism policy: the domestic pressures to be harsh on Palestinian terror groups versus the international pressure to respect international law. The two levels are even consistent in the judicial review of counterterrorism actions taken by Israel, which often occurs simultaneously in the Israeli Supreme Court and the International Court of Justice.  Theoretically, Israel has the prerogative to opt out of international law and act solely in consideration of its domestic pressures. As Wendy Pearlman has suggested, most models of conflict resolution and foreign policy “underestimate the relevance of domestic politics…[they assume] that internal politics are only one of several constraints on actors’ attempts to advance their ultimate objective, not a driving motivation that may supplant it (Pearlman 2008, 81).”

In the case of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Pearlman directly notes the intrastate challenges to negotiations. Yet Israel’s overall objective in policy formulation is to maintain a high level of state security, for which it relies significantly on the United States. Israel is therefore more compelled than states without this problem to to implement policies that fall within the win-sets of international pressures even more than domestic pressures.

Barak-Erez points out “the central role Israel plays in developing and challenging traditional international law in the area of confronting terrorism (Barak-Erez 2012, 613).” If there is a worldwide security regime working toward counter-terrorism, Israel is one of the most integral states in the system and will continue to be so because of its strategic location in the Middle East and importance to the West. Yet there are, of course, many other states in the so- called MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, and each state must deal with countering terrorism both inside and outside of their respective borders. It is from this standpoint that I hope to discover the extent to which counter terrorism efforts have globalized, and from that framework how states deal with the two levels of domestic politics and international appeasement.breaker (6)

“Transatlantic” Responses  to Terrorism

As of 1999, the US Department of State (Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656 (d)) defines terrorism as:

“premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non- combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence and audience. The term ‘international terrorism’ means  terrorism  involving  citizens  or  the  territory  of  more  than  one country. The term ‘terrorist group’ means any group practising, or that has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism (Schmid 2011, 138).”

This definition provides the context for the pursuit of counterterrorism policies among “transatlantic” states — that is, North America and Europe.  Explicitly-defined “counterterrorism” policies are a somewhat recent development in the transatlantic world.  Late 1800-Russian scholars used the term “terroristic,” and in 1937 the League of Nations Convention for the Prevention and Repression of Terrorism set out a specific definition. Yet no part of the United States government defined “terrorism” before the FBI did so in 1976. While the number of organizations worldwide which have defined terrorism has been increasing ever since, the majority of definitions have not been coupled with serious attempts to act against it (Schmidt 2011).

The most extensive, and thereby most fruitful attempts at counter terrorism were those attempting to control the flow of money into the pockets of terrorist organizations. As money laundering can be well-hidden and usually crosses international borders, “it requires states to assume responsibility… Multiple organizations support these states’ actions, providing direct assistance and coordinating interstate collaboration (Mendelsohn 2009, 116).”

Towards this end, the “transatlantic” systems — groups incorporating the US and EU primarily, have sought vastly increased interconnectedness; that is, intelligence sharing and so-called “smart borders”

Towards this end, the “transatlantic” systems — groups incorporating the US and EU primarily, have sought vastly increased interconnectedness; that is, intelligence sharing and so-called “smart borders” (Mendelsohn 2009, 181). “Smart borders” began as an attempt in the United States to have strong oversight over what crosses borders — both people and goods.  For example, The Container Security Initiative (CSI) sought to improve the technology monitoring goods coming into major trading ports, to prevent “high risk goods” from entering the country (Mendelsohn 2009, 181).

The CSI is just one of a host of initiatives, but it helps to demonstrate the internationally- cooperative nature of counter terror border security. The US Dept. of Homeland Security’s website noted that “CSI is now operational at ports in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin and Central America (US Customs and Border Control).” The international network of CSI ports are directed by the United States. Thus, it may be concluded that the United States has looked to multilateral international cooperation as a primary means of securing the state against terrorism.

By contrast, US-EU bilateral and multilateral counter terrorism networks and programs can be understood as being the result of very similar win-sets.  EU citizens and US citizens, it would seem, see each other as equally susceptible to the threats of terrorism. As noted by Wyn Rees, “Bilateral measures against international terrorism have proved their efficacy over time [for US], particularly in cases where working with a country has best been pursued away from the glare of publicity. Yet in cooperating with Europe the US has been drawn to multilateral as well as bilateral forms of cooperation (Rees 2006, 35).” This level of multilateral cooperation is only possible through specific organizations, because without the organizational structure cooperation between European states is too much of a problem.

The conflicting nature of counter terrorism efforts in the EU is derived from the definition of terrorism given by EU states, namely, that terrorism is politically motivated. This has caused significant problems in terms of extraditing or securing borders against persons that some member states may not feel are warranted as terrorists. The solution to these political, contentious issues, has been to rely primarily on bilateral agreements. The prevalence of bilateral agreements reflects that domestic policy win-sets are fairly small — meaning that domestic policy is much more of a preference than international cooperation (Rees 2006). Thus, bilateral agreements have been the vast trend among EU states.

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Globalized Response to Terrorism

A historical tendency towards bilateral agreements is also reflected on a global scale. A basic search for news coverage of counter terror cooperation in the region returns numerous results of bilateral agreements — from the 1983 “Turkish-Syrian Cooperation Against Terrorism” (seeking to combat Armenian terrorism) to the 2010 Agreement between Iraq and Pakistan.  Even older examples, going back to the early twentieth century, also demonstrate this tendency towards bilateralism.

Two-level games provide a solid rationale for this trend.  Bilateral agreements are easier to reach because, by simple logic, the win-sets of each party are more likely to overlap.  It remains to be investigated to what extent domestic opinion really played a role in this — whether it is simply the win-sets of policymakers or whether agreements receive wide spotlight in domestic spheres.  Such a question is out of the reach of this article, but will provide insight into future investigations regarding counter terrorism efforts.

A Pew Research Center poll from 2013 found that a vast majority of Muslims in Muslim- majority countries were “very or somewhat concerned” about Muslim extremists (Pew 2013). This confirms what may seem self-evident to the casual observer: that terrorism is a priority among citizens in Muslim countries. Therefore, they are likely to be more engaged in the their government’s’ counter terrorism measures, and are more likely to pressure governments (in states where pressure can be applied) to work with nearby nations in counter terrorism efforts.

Furthermore, states are increasingly signing on to UN-based, multilateral actions. The International Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism is often cited as a landmark in efforts to globalize multilateral counter terrorism. As of December 13, 2015, there are 187 participants to the Treaty — including many states that have historically been under fire for a failure to suppress terrorist financing.  However, the majority of MENA states ratified the Convention with a reservation to Article 24 Sec. 1, which suggested disputes arising from the Convention ought to be subject to the jurisdiction of the ICJ. The reservation demonstrates the inherent conflict within states unwilling to cede sovereignty to the UN. Therefore, international pressure to accept all provisions of the Convention, as well as international pressure to accept the Convention in the first place, do not necessarily hold enough weight to be granted into the mutual win-set.

While it is important that so many other aspects of the Convention did, in fact, work within the win-set of signatories and participants, the concept of reservations presents a serious challenge to its legitimacy.  For example, Germany cites no reservations for its own country, but rather criticisms of the reservations by many other countries. With regard to Jordan, Germany stated:

With regard to the declarations made by the Jordan upon ratification: The Government of the Federal Republic of Germany has carefully examined the substance of the declarations made by the Government of the Kingdom of Jordan upon ratification of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, especially that part of the declarations in which the Government of the Kingdom of Jordan states that it “does not consider acts of national armed struggle and fighting foreign occupation in the exercise of people’s right to self-determination as terrorist acts within the context of paragraph 1 (b) of article 2 of the Convention”. The Government of the Federal Republic of Germany is of the opinion that this declaration in fact constitutes a reservation aimed at unilaterally limiting the scope of application of the Convention, and is thus contrary to the object and purpose of the Convention, namely the suppression of the financing of terrorism, regardless of by whom and to what end it is perpetrated.”

In this respect, the declaration is furthermore in contravention of Article 6 of the Convention, under which the State Parties commit themselves to adopting “such measures as may be necessary, including, where appropriate, domestic legislation, to ensure that criminal acts within the scope of this Convention are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature.”

The Government of the Federal Republic of Germany therefore objects to the above reservation by the Government of the Kingdom of Jordan to the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. This objection does not preclude the entry into force of the Convention between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Kingdom of Jordan.  As the hallmark in worldwide counterterrorism, it is disappointing that the disputes within the participating states seem to delegitimize it.

However, the increase in the past year of highly-publicized terror attacks is likely to increase the coordination among the international community. The Security Council resolution No 2199 of the UN, a 2015 resolution reinforcing strategies against financing terrorism, “passed unanimously” (Kuwait Times, 2015).   It’s reasonable to conclude that the growing visibility around the world of terrorism would influence domestic win-sets to be open to greater cooperation, if that cooperation is seen as leading to greater security and stability.

To look at the validity of this argument, I will be contrasting the development of counterterrorism in GCC states and Iraq as two examples: one, a noted “security regime” of long-term, stable monarchies, versus Iraq, an extremely weak, unstable state with a very newly- implemented constitution and few nearby allies. The dependent variable will be the relative increase or decrease in multilateral  cooperation and the extent to which domestic policy influences their respective counter terror objectives.

breaker (6)The GCC

The GCC provides an example of states in the Middle East increasing their involvement and devotion to international, multilateral agreements in recent years. One of the first major developments in counter terrorism efforts among the GCC was the Muscat Declaration on Terrorism. While the declaration received little press coverage in the United States, the Muscat Declaration was significant as a coordinated effort to combat terrorism. As summarized by the Saudi Embassy in Washington, “the GCC states…have long been aware of the danger of the phenomenon of terrorism, and have called for concerted international efforts to combat it (Saudi Embassy 2002).”

Unfortunately, the initial momentum coming out of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States did not result in a long-term, coordinated counter terrorism plan among the GCC states. While they were participants in several large, UN- or Arab League-based “Conventions”, the states did not implement significant counter terrorism legislation for cross-border cooperation. Certainly nothing like the “cooperative security” that this paper sees as the current trend in the Middle East. The trend does, in fact, seem to be changing in favor of multilateral “cooperative security” actions.

coalitionThe GCC was hit in mid-2015 with a series of attacks by ISIS, and has become increasingly concerned about terrorism as a direct result. The USA’s coalition against ISIS was joined by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain — a clear demonstration of willingness to work in a vastly more multilateral framework.  From a constructivist viewpoint, the threats of counter terrorism would theoretically be addressed by increased cooperation among states with similar cultures. The Interior Minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khaled Al- Sabah noted that  terrorism “is now threatening the security of our people and the best interests of our countries and pose a threat to our civilization, economic, and cultural achievements.” 

Moreover, an article in the Kuwait Times ahead of the 36th Summit noted, “The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) considers that terrorism acts are contrary to the teachings of Islam, its values, morals and humanitarian principles and poses a threat to the Gulf communities and the world (Kuwait Times, 2015).”

The Summit has been taking place in Riyadh at the time of this writing. Within news and media coverage of the Summit, there has been an emphasis on the GCC’s role in countering terrorism. A Saudi analyst was quoted in a recent The National article as saying “the thinking appears to be predicated on the premise that acting collectively is more efficacious than each member acting unilaterally (Vela 2015).” The focus within most articles suggested the meeting was most concerned with the problems in Yemen (likely because of Saudi Arabia’s active participation in the conflict with the Houthis) and the conflict between the Syrian regime and its opposition (again, Saudi Arabia has a stake in its support of the opposition).  Interestingly, there has been increased willingness on the part of the smaller GCC members to work towards common goals in these conflicts.

The same article notes “the meeting came at a time of GCC unity not seen in years.” The alluded-to previous disunity among the GCC had largely originated from Qatari support to Islamist terror groups, such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.  However, this began to change around 2013-2014 as noted in an article by Sigurd Neubauer: “for Qatar, supporting regional Islamist groups had previously enabled it to carve out an independent foreign policy by moving it out of the shadow of its mighty neighbor. However, these groups’ failure to seize the opportunities the Arab Spring created has led Qatar to reconsider its approach…”

According to Neubauer, Qatar’s new emir was “left with little choice but to overcome its recent public spat with Riyadh. Given Qatar’s limited room to act, Sheikh Tamim will likely over time be forced to follow in Riyadh’s footsteps (Neubauer 2014).”

Thus, Qatar was ultimately persuaded to assume the positions of the GCC towards counter terrorism, as affirmed by its behavior at the 36th GCC Summit this month.  Its counter terror efforts are influenced primarily by international, rather than domestic pressures, thereby indicating a wide win-set of domestic preferences, or perhaps just a lack of prioritizing to counter terror measures. It remains to be seen how dedicated Qatar will be to the recent counter terror agreements.

As mentioned earlier in this paper, the United States has been able to pursue multilateral agreements for counterterrorism for several years; what is remarkable is the growing willingness in historically more self-asserting states to work multilaterally. The Gulf states have financial means to counter terrorism, as well as the religious legitimacy to oppose Islamically-motivated terrorism, yet they have proved willing and even desirous of joining international efforts.

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Iraq provides an interesting contrastive study to the GCC.  It, too, has shown an increased desire to work multilaterally to counter terrorism, but in the opposite direction. The Gulf States moved their counter terrorism policies from bilateral negotiations within the GCC to multilateral work with Western countries.  Iraq, on the other hand,  has moved from bilateral work with the United States to multilateral agreements with the East — particularly through an agreement with Iran, Syria and Russia.

The Iraqi Civil War shows the way in which a state’s domestic problem may challenge it to reconfigure its multi-country strategy on counter terrorism through both the international community and its own population. The relationship between the Iraqi government and its Shia citizens (who form the majority in Baghdad, Basra and other cities in the center and south of Iraq where the Iraqi government has sole authority) helps to explain why domestic and international concerns pushed Iraq further from the American-led coalition known as “Operation Inherent Resolve” and closer to the Iranian-led coalition known as “the Axis of Resistance”.

America, Britain, and other Western countries have supported the Iraqi government in its efforts to fight terrorism. Fearing an ISIS-led takeover of Baghdad, the Iraqi government requested close air support from its Western allies June 18 last year. The airstrikes have continued since then, helping the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) defend the Shia-majority regions of Iraq.  However, the Iraqi government has seemed to distance itself more and more from Inherent Resolve; particularly since America first proposed, then subsequently demanded that the state improve its relationship with Sunnis by arming them against ISIS.  Iraqi officials have remained skeptical and suspicious of this proposal. Their fears worsened when America threatened to bypass the Iraqi government’s authority by arming Sunni tribes. Western countries pressuring leaders in Baghdad moved those leaders closer to the Axis of Resistance, not Inherent Resolve, and Iraqi officials looked at the Iranian–Russian–Syrian coalition to the west as a viable alternative to working bilaterally with the US. The bilateral relationship had become a route for the US to assert its unilateral power.

Domestic pressures related to Iranian influence accelerated the Iraqi government’s shift its focus to its international alliances. After ISIS’s capture of Mosul, Tikrit and other cities, clerics commanded Shias to join the fight against the terrorist organization.

Thousands joined sectarian paramilitaries, some of which had fought American soldiers quite recently. This created a complex set of conflicts-of-interest between the Iraqi government (who depended on the Shia paramilitaries which opposed Inherent Resolve) and Inherent Resolve (which opposed the Shia paramilitaries). Iran’s foreign influence was felt even in this aspect of the domestic sphere, because many of the paramilitaries included Iranian advisors, officers, and trainers.

The difficulty of the complex interests pushed the Iraqi government to choose one direction, and the domestic support for Iran in the center and south proved to be the primary motivator of policy shift. Thus, it Pearlman’s claim that domestic politics may be the primary motivator in a foreign policy decision seems to have been applicable in the case of Iraq.

Furthermore, the Iraqi case serves to confirm the movement from bilateral relationships to multilateral, cooperative security regimes.  Despite continuing to rely on America for many of its resources, the Iraqi government has expanded its options to fight terrorism by considering not only Iran, but also Iran’s allies Russia and Syria. In fact, Iran, Iraq, Russia, and Syria have united in a smaller coalition that resembles the one backing President Bashar al-Assad in his own civil war. An Iraqi official observed that Russia allied itself with the other three countries because of “increased Russian concern about the presence of thousands of terrorists from Russia undertaking criminal acts with” ISIS. 

The Iranian–Iraqi–Russian–Syrian alliance linked the Syrian Civil War to the Iraqi Civil War through the fight against ISIS. The Iraqi government has since implied that it might request Russian airstrikes, meaning that little would distinguish the government-backed Iranian–Russian campaign against ISIS in Iraq from the one in Syria.

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A two-level game analysis of the Iraqi counter terrorism efforts (in relation, at least, to ISIS) demonstrates that the domestic win-set of operations agendas did not line up with Inherent Resolve, but that it was consistent enough with the win-set of agendas in the multilateral security cooperation between Russia, Iran and Syria. Spokesmen for the paramilitaries have claimed that Christians, Sunnis, and Yazidis and Kurds and Turkmens have joined them. Even so, the Iraqi government would have difficulty ignoring that Shias far outnumber Iraq’s minorities in the military and the paramilitaries, and their sectarian war crimes discredit the ISF’s goal of amounting to more than an armed union of Shias with competing agendas. Analysts should therefore view the militias’ expansion as a setback for America. When America recommended sending special forces to Iraq to fight IS this December, the Iraqi government responded that it needed no foreign soldiers, echoing the Shia paramilitaries even though, as irony would have it, they fostered dependence on Iranian soldiers. Iraq is clearly not moving towards neo- isolationism, but rather a cooperative security regime aligned with its domestic pressures and agendas.

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There seems to be a clear trend towards increased international cooperation at several levels. The GCC states and Iraq are both working within regional contexts but are expanding to work with more and more states in their efforts. The impact of this is yet to be felt.

Conceivably, the civil war in Syria may and the sides taken could become a vastly larger problem in the context of the fight against ISIS.  It is even more likely that the growing spheres of connectedness will cause small-scale problems to become more global conflicts.

For example, Egypt recently informed worldwide media outlets that it had closed 20 more tunnels between it and the Gaza strip, with reports of Palestinian deaths coming out the next day. As the state that gave birth to Nasserism and pan-Arabism, it is somewhat surprising to see Egypt acting directly against Palestinians, who are considered by many pan-Arabists at the heart of the Arab cause.

However, control of the Gaza Strip has been held by Hamas, which is widely considered to be a terrorist organization. Yusuf al-Maqid, a Palestinian journalist, explained the ways in which Hamas has been affected by international cooperative security counterterrorism efforts:

“America, Canada, and Japan put Hamas on the list of terrorist organizations. America uses its global strength to control and punish the press, threatening everyone who deals with Hamas. American control of the international financial system prohibits international, Arab, and Palestinian banks from dealing with Hamas and prohibits any weapons company from supplying it…When Hamas won elections and entered power in a democratic way, the countries of the world refused to deal with it. The International Quartet imposed conditions on Hamas to work with the international community: recognize the legitimacy of Israel and renounce   terrorism.  If   Hamas   refused   to   recognize   these   conditions,   its government would lose international aid.”

It is important to note that any cooperation with Hamas automatically incorporates it into a transatlantic-dominated security regime. That is, the “international community” does not appear to include states which choose not to recognize Israel. Moreover, these terms are not likely to be supported by many Arab regimes. Yet still, Egypt considers Hamas enough of a threat to warrant ignoring any identity-based constructivist pressures in order to work in the worldwide cooperative security regime.

The extent to which states may be willing to forego domestic concerns in favor of international cooperative security cannot fully be determined without extensive polling of the domestic populations in these states.  However, it does seem from the examples of the GCC and Iraq that increased cooperation is largely supported among the population, and certainly is agreed upon within the leadership.  Governments around the world should take note of the opportunity to cooperate, and hopefully, bring about new and helpful measures to combat terrorist threats.

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