Europeans About To Face Decades of Terror. How Can We Get Ready?

  • Ilustracja: Hertz Systems
    Ilustracja: Hertz Systems

Terrorism, seen as a realistic threat for our security, is more and more often present within the landscape of the whole Europe. Europe, which is associated with the Western civilization values, is about to get involved (taking into account the chaos in Libya, Iraq and Syria) in a long fight against organizations such as Daesh, branches of Al-Qaeda and probably some new elements created in order to replace the above. The Europeans need to get to terms with the fact that the awareness itself, pertaining to the existence of this threat, along with the awareness of the steps that need to be taken, within the area of security, both are associated with a great degree of importance.

The news coming from the media, above all from France, show that the Western Europeans are convinced that there is no way of avoiding further attempts of terror acts in that country. The threat for France may stem e.g. from the fact that large groups of Europeans, starting from the 2011 Arab Spring, until today, have been leaving Europe to get involved in a variety of conflicts. Moreover, which has been exhibited by the emerging threads of the Verviers terrorist groups issue, trained members of ISIS (Daesh) were making efforts, and are still going to make efforts towards penetration of a variety of European states. It shall be stressed though that supporters of other Islamic organizations have also returned from Syria to Europe. These persons may be potentially a source of a variety of violent acts, and they may try to convince others to get involved in activities as such. 

Europe Facing An Uncertain Fate

At the same time, the armed conflicts, ranging from North Africa to Afghanistan, become a driving force for strong propaganda, also for the Islamic propaganda. The modern communication channels, fused with any “liberties” offered to the European citizens only increase a risk of dissemination of this type of narrative. Persons prone to be radicalised, and prone to act against their motherland, are found with the use of the method above. The narrative is probing the societies for persons who would be likely to follow the slogans expressed by a variety of fanatics. The threat, then, may be viewed as one which is born on the inside. It may also be assumed that Europe, which faces a 21st Century identity crisis, will be a perfect source of recruits for the terrorist organizations. 

What is more, currently it is quite difficult to assess as to what methods and tactics may be used by the potential terrorists. Analogous doubts arise, when it comes to the goals of the terrorist activities that may take place in Europe. It may be, adopting a pessimistic approach, stated that when we are getting ready to face such attacks, we will need to spread out and scatter our assets and forces that could help us in defending ourselves. This is due to the fact that besides the “natural” targets, including airports, governmental buildings, military infrastructure, one should also consider potential attacks against shopping malls, concert halls, or even some acts of terror that could potentially take place on the streets. If we add the Israeli, Nigerian or Russian experience into equation, then even schools may not be seen as a safe location.

Thus, it should not be a surprise that the French authorities are prolonging the state of alert, particularly taking into account the upcoming Euro Cup final tournament. A question may be raised – did the Paris and Brussels attack create this crisis, or have we just been able to notice the crisis phase by then? There is one thing that is almost certain. Terror threat will be a problem for Europe for many years to come. It cannot be ruled out that the area within the terrorists are active would be expanded, and states that were not an object of the activity of the terrorist organizations would become a new theatre of war. Moreover, lone radicals, not exhibiting any connections with specific groups, may also pose a serious threat.

Ready for Attack

Without any doubts, even a diagnosis which is so brief and introductory, brings a lot of pessimism to our minds. Here, one should stop and rethink the ways, in which the European societies could defend themselves from this type of a threat. And some issues emerge, which need to be reworked, including ones falling within the legal, institutional, social and international categories.

When discussing the legal solutions, one should consider the foundations which are used to construct constitutional or basic law. Unrestricted freedom of speech is one of the areas, in which discussion could be initiated. Indeed, it has constituted one of the foundations of the European democracy. However, the freedom of speech led to emergence of a variety of pathologies, obviously, in a distorted way. After the 9/11, in Europe, the radical slogans which called for attack on own countries, were not silenced, they were legitimized and they existed within the public sphere. It is worth to recall the case of Abu Hamza al Masri, which in fact, is just a tip of the iceberg. “Imams of hate” remained active in the urbanized areas, or even in prisons, even though the latter sphere is supposed to be under strict control of the governments.

However, the fundamental rights and freedom discussions, in the context of the new wave of terror in Europe, are not the main focal point of the dialogue. During that dialogue, regarding the legal problems, problems, the nature of which is more practical, emerge. It is enough to mention the need of formulating and defining the authority of the uniformed services, defining the codes and a variety of laws which will, altogether, constitute a response to the changes within the sphere of the European security. Notably, such discussion is already taking place in Poland. It is related to the Counter-Terrorism Act bill. In case of the United Kingdom, the debate is focused around the rights granted to GCHQ or other services, within the scope of monitoring the computer networks.

However, tailoring the law to the contemporary threats would not be enough, since such law would be “dead” without implementing changes referring to a variety of institutions, directly and indirectly involved in the process of maintaining the security. It is enough to have a look at the operational activities carried out by the Belgian law enforcement agencies, or at the problems within the dimension of exchanging the information between the police and the intelligence agencies, during the period of attacks which took place on 13th November, last year. Unfortunately, numerous European states need to ask themselves many questions, regarding the increased quantity of intelligence officers, potential reforms within that area, questions pertaining to the role of the armed forces in prevention of terror, protection of infrastructures and population – should the attacks realistically take place. The borderline case, with the border which cannot be crossed, is seen as full militarisation of law enforcement agencies such as Police, and “natural” employment of the military in the urbanized spaces. It is hard to expect that in a situation, in which the streets may be transformed into a regular battlefield with trained terrorists using the automatic weapons, Police would still play a relevant role, in the light of the fact that firearms training for the Police is somewhat rare and limited.

Investment In Law Enforcement

I have also mentioned the financial aspect of the preparations, required to face the terrorism. If we assume that the French President’s statements and declarations are true, we are at war, and any war brings changes to the budgetary plans of any nation. Even if the Army, hitting the terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq, is not controversial, when it asks the state to provide financial assistance, then in case of the services that deal with homeland security, the financing area may not have clarity at such a high level. And here, we are referring to financing of a variety of needs, from expanding the resources available to the counter-terrorism units, so that assets are at hand, should coordinated and simultaneous strikes take place, as e.g. in Bombay, to the money required to fund the sources of information. The controversial character of the latter issue is well exemplified in the discussion regarding the scale of maintaining the MI5 agents network by the United Kingdom.

We should not forget though, that the intelligence, staying in the shadows and requiring the state to treat it seriously, constitutes and has always constituted the first line of defence. On one hand, it is dubious that any of the government increases the counter-terrorism operations expenditure up to the level, at which it would outweigh the political intelligence or technical intelligence, as it happened in the United States after the 9/11. However, on the other hand, the activities targeting the terrorist organizations and their followers involve the personnel and resources available in a long term manner, for many years to come. Moreover, these activities have a devastating effect on the budgets. Looking for a delicate balance may require drastic reforms in some of the European states, with steps taken away from the bureaucracy, towards smaller and much more flexible organs. Here, we may recall the case and example of the Israeli Mossad, which, nonetheless, also has its own deficiencies. 

Moreover, it is difficult to forget the sensitive issue of procedures implemented when the terrorist organizations are being infiltrated, as well as the problem related to provision of security for own agents, whose goal is to disrupt the terrorist plots. This issue is very important, which has been proven by the case of the US former CIA officer, detained in Portugal and extradited to Italy. The issue of interrogating the radicals is still a taboo, along with the tactics employed when arresting them, or even eradicating the High Value Targets among the terrorist groups. In the United States, due to the GITMO issues, employment of UCAVs etc., such problems have constituted a part of the discussion and a subject of considerations for a long time now. One could recall the effectiveness of work undertaken by the French DST, even though the methodology applied was highly controversial.

Aware Society

Last, but not least, we should stress the importance of the role played by society. New generations are slowly emerging in Europe, which have not experienced e.g. the activities undertaken by the violent extreme leftist terrorism organizations. Moreover, elements of the public sphere such as the Schengen zone, became a solid part of reality. Paris and Brussels attacks were, in the light of the above, a painful lesson.

However, there is also a need to properly balance the caution and attention paid to the potential threats, and the efforts made, in order to function normally. On one hand we need to be aware of the fact that using the hotels, shops, visiting the museums or staying on the streets, we may become victims of the acts of terror. However, these acts are not as frequent as fires or car accidents are. Nonetheless, they are a part of the spectrum of threats that may put our lives in danger. On the other hand, we cannot let extreme emotions weaken our threat assessment.

Terrorism poses a threat for the whole Europe. We will need to face this threat for many years to come. Today, the key adversary may be seen in the organizations such as ISIS, which are rich, have a vast, global contact network at their disposal and, above all, which are properly motivated, so that they are able to carry out attacks, regardless of cost.

However, we cannot rule out a situation, in which Europe becomes an arena for activities of other terrorist organizations, employing other ideologies or motives. Thus, in a way in which we accept the risk of fire or burglary, we need to be aware of terrorism, and we need to get ready for it, should such circumstances arise. This pertains to both the state, and the legal systems, as well as the ordinary citizens.

In the light of the conclusions above, the discussion regarding the security issues, which currently takes place in Poland, shall be viewed in a positive light. Above all, the Counter-Terrorism Act, regardless of the assessment present within the awareness of the public, became a reference point within the area of legal issues. Before that, the elites, media and the society could get acquainted with similar key problems regarding the operational capacity of the special services, e.g. in the context of wire-tapping. The fact that this discussion emerged before, and not after the threat emerged within the territory of Poland, is also a positive sign. World Youth Day or NATO Summit In Warsaw motivate us to talk about the position of Poland, in the context of the terrorism and the related threats. The case of Wroclaw passengers constitutes a perfect model which, in simplified terms, could be applied in a wider scope.