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Opinion: West Needs More Than Military Force in War on Terror

Seven years after the September 11 attacks Islamic terrorism is in check, but not defeated. For a lasting victory the West needs more than military success says Deutsche Welle’s Daniel Scheschkewitz.

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The shock of September 11 now lies seven years back. In those seven years the horrible images of the collapsing World Trade Center have not faded from our memory. In the USA the victims are not forgotten, even though the country may have changed since the events. A maximum security mentality has come at the cost of individual freedoms. Out of a free America came the “security state -- made in the USA.”

Like in so many other things, in this case the United States was again an example for other countries asking the question: Where do meaningful and necessary measures give way to excesses? Such excesses could include spying on citizens, more developed methods of close surveillance, security scrutiny of air traffic. In dealing with prisoners the USA was by no means a role model of respecting human rights -- neither in Abu Ghraib nor in Guantanamo.

Success against terror

Daniel Scheschkewitz

Daniel Scheschkewitz

Nevertheless, under pressure from the USA, the international community of states undertook formidable efforts to effectively fight organized terrorism, beginning with the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Since then secret service experts take it for granted that an attack on the scale of Sep. 11 would at present no longer be possible since the international Al-Qaeda network has come under constant pressure through successful crackdown initiatives. The terrorists have had to draw back to their areas of retreat such as the Pakistani-Afghan border area, where they can only operate very limitedly.

Other states, such as Libya, have since openly distanced themselves from terrorism and the terrorist networks and financial bases were also at least dried out in countries like Yemen, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

War on terror is far from over

But there have also been retaliations: In Afghanistan the Taliban has been gathering strength for some time and has expanded into the formerly relatively peaceful north. In Algeria Al-Qaeda offshoots are making themselves heard with violent attacks now during Ramadan. Supposed allegiances in the fight against terror, such as those with Russia or China, have proven frail, especially when ethnic tensions in these regions are met with military brutality under the pretense of fighting terrorism.

Furthermore, security experts give cause for concern when they say that terrorists have never been as close to acquiring nuclear weapons as they are today. Either because they are within reach of the remains of the former Soviet Union arsenal, or because they are being offered atomic know-how or uranium from so-called rogue states like North Korea.

But the greatest problem of all is that, with the poverty and lack of prospects in broad levels of the population in many Islamic states, the number of potential terror recruits is becoming vast. Every additional unemployed person in Afghanistan, who has to feed a family through enforced labor in the opium fields, plays into the hands of the Taliban and wears down the ISAF force.

Only if the West succeeds in improving the basic social requirements in countries such as Pakistan or Afghanistan can the fight against terror be crowned with lasting success. Seven years later we are unfortunately still a long way off.

Daniel Scheschkewitz is a reporter for DW-RADIO and Deutsche Welle's former Washington correspondent (ah)

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