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Ryan Johnson, Published September 11 2012

Global work to fight terrorism began long before 9/11

MOORHEAD – Long before the Sept. 11 attacks in America 11 years ago, the international community was working to combat terrorism.

Minnesota State University Moorhead political science professor Andrew Conteh said Tuesday the first major effort was in 1925, when the League of Nations unsuccessfully tried to ratify an international treaty on terrorism.

That work paved the way for the United Nations to pass 14 international legal measures to combat terrorism since 1963, he said.

But Conteh said America has tried a unilateral approach to dealing with terrorism since its worst terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people on 9/11.

That approach isn’t fully effective, he said, just like it hasn’t worked to properly deal with other global issues such as water scarcity and refugees.

“Each global issue such as terrorism has international implications in the sense that no one government has the power or authority to impose solutions,” he said.

Conteh said one problem with trying to deal with terrorism is a lack of agreement on what it is. There are more than 130 definitions, he said, and no statement is generally accepted in the world or even in the U.N.

He said there are clear components of terrorism – it’s an “assault on the principles of law and order,” an attack on human rights and an opposition to the core values of the U.N. to promote tolerance around the world.

Conteh said it “flourishes” in places where there is despair, poverty, political oppression, extremism and human rights abuses, and the issue won’t be overcome with market forces alone.

Even the right combination of efforts and international collaboration couldn’t completely eradicate terrorism, Conteh said – it’s a tactic, not just an enemy to fight.

“Consequently, steps have to be taken by the international community to disrupt, to dismantle and to defeat organizations that use terrorism,” he said.

But Conteh said counterterrorism efforts can’t just be about war or criminal justice. He said the world must work to address the changing climate and environments where terrorism comes from, and deal with the underlying issues that could increase the likelihood of terrorism happening in the first place.

He said the U.N. Security Council has passed four key resolutions since 1999 that have worked to create monitoring of terrorist activity, freeze access to money and prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into the wrong hands.

Still, he said the international body faces challenges because member nations often fail to enact the anti-terrorism measures in their countries, and some members lack the manpower or political will to take a tough stance.

Conteh said more focus is needed on the peaceful resolution of conflicts through negotiation, and a willingness to compromise, in order to combat it without “humiliating” the losing country or group and paving the way for future terrorism.

Even if the issues have been discussed for much longer than the past 11 years, Conteh said, there’s no denying that the Sept. 11 attacks had a “radical” impact on this country and that it’s important America doesn’t become “complacent” in its security.

“It’s not the same America,” he said. “It’s not the same United States, and it’s not going to change.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587