Counterterrorism – theories and practises – currently preoccupies thinkers and practitioners on a variety of political levels: local, national and international. Many see the threat emanating from terrorism as representing a more ominous danger than other challenges. That said, theories of counterterrorism has become a popular research topic however, Counterterrorism by Ronald Crelinsten, stands out in its treatment of the phenomenon; providing concrete explanations, definitions and deploying a strong and varied case selection. Also, Crelinsten evaluates several characteristics of the current international security environment including ‘certain’ and ‘uncertain threats,’ ‘vulnerabilities,’ dangers of ‘securitization,’ a widening technology gap between the US and the ‘rest,’ ‘liberalization,’ ‘democratization,’ state-building and humanitarian intervention.’ And, as an additional theoretical imperative, Crelinsten identifies distinctions between rogue and failed states in a bid to develop a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach to understanding terrorism and means available to counter it.
The securitization of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – particularly since the 9/11 attacks in the US – have featured into how political communities evaluate threats and vulnerabilities. Despite this securitization process, the probability of facing a WMD terrorist attack remains remote due to the difficulties in acquiring WMD and the relative ease of accessing and deploying more conventional weapons. Indeed, Crelinsten notes that “the Bali bombings, the Moscow theatre siege, the Madrid train bombings, or the London suicide attacks demonstrate, terrorists can wreak havoc using the traditional tactics of bombing and hostage-taking” (p. 44).
Yet, understanding the securitization process and the specifics of counterterrorism it is necessary to start at the beginning; defining the tactic itself. According to Crelinsten (c)ountering terrorism is intimately related to understanding the nature of the terrorist phenomenon and how it fits into the wider security environment. How we conceive of terrorism determines to a great extent how we go about countering it and what resources – money, manpower, institutional framework, time horizon – we devote to the effort (p. 39).
Ultimately, comprehending counterterrorism implies comprehending terrorism and particular terrorist groups. Once such knowledge has been gleaned, it is a much easier task to subdue terrorist groups because their aims and objectives can be denied (or negotiated over) and pressure points revealed in a more general manner. As Crelinsten argues, it is essential to understand “how particular forms of terrorism can lead to the emergence of particular forms of response” (p. 7). Counterterrorism, of course, is the variety of responses to acts of terrorism and/or groups of people committed to deploying such techniques.
The introduction of Crelinsten’s book raises some important, and novel, ideas which are later fully examined. For instance Crelinsten notes that when “freedom fighters use terrorism as part of their strategy, then they are terrorists, if counterterrorists use terrorism as part of theirs, then they are terrorists as well” (p. 6), underpinning popular depictions that terrorism and counterterrorism are two sides of the same coin, and that each is a ‘tactic’ not an ideology.
Crelinsten identified several basic dimensions: time, space, type of power, type of intervention, which assist in categorizing counterterrorist approaches (short-term/long-term, tactical/strategic, coercive/persuasive, offensive/defensive, reactive/proactive, local/global, domestic/international). He explains and evaluates such approaches and sets the goal of his research as a means “to provide the reader with a clear understanding of the full varieties of counterterrorism approaches that exist and the kinds of variables that underlie their differences” (p. 14), a goal which is indeed achieved in this insightful contribution.
The second chapter is devoted to examining examples of counterterrorist approaches. This chapter concentrates primarily on so-called ‘coercive counterterrorism’ in which two models are developed: ‘the criminal justice model;’ and ‘the war model.’ Crelinsten argues that both models depend on the privileges of states in the legal use of violence. The former model looks to states’ policing efforts while the latter notes the role of states’ military as bearing responsibility for counterterrorist actions.
Crelinsten describes the criminal justice model and balances his arguments by providing several limitations inherent in it. Perhaps the most important of such limitations is illustrated through the post-11 September ‘Padilla Case,’ where US citizen Jose Padilla was detained for three years without due process and held as an enemy combatant. Through this case, Crelinsten highlighted some of the consequences to civil society criminalising terrorism may produce. In the second model of coercive counterterrorism, the war model, Crelinsten continued his examination using historical, empirical data, which benefits readers, by adding an important, almost human dimension to the theoretical treatment of counterterrorism. Crelinsten notes that “(t)he war model is considered quick, effective, and ideally suited to the new kinds of threat posed by decentralized, ideologically driven terrorist networks whose adherents are not deterred by traditional criminal justice or contained by traditional military power” (p. 77). Both the war model and the criminal justice model are limited, though each offers some advantages in combating terrorism and Crelinsten duly notes that there is a tendency for these models to blur into each other and create a kind of hybrid model of coercive counterterrorism.
‘Proactive counterterrorism’ serves as the basis of the third chapter. This form of counterterrorism aims to prevent acts of terrorism before they occur. This chapter mainly focuses on the particular challenges countering ‘secret plots,’ conspiracies, and activities poses for the police, security services, and the military while serving intelligence functions, including the financing of terrorism and the problems connected to it. The criminal justice model is re-examined in this chapter, but here the focus is on models of policing (reactive and proactive). According to Crelinsten “(r)eactive policing is related to crime solving, while proactive policing is related to crime detection. In this sense, then, proactive policing is very similar to security intelligence …” (p. 90).
Another approach developed by Crelinsten is termed ‘persuasive counterter¬rorism’ which relies on deterrence and pre-emption. In other words, deterring potential terrorists from carrying out their attacks by raising and utilising pressure points. Where such pressures are not available or deterrence unable to be extended to terrorist groups – perhaps because of their apocalyptical nature – preemption may be prioritised.
This chapter also concentrates on the communicative dimension of the struggle between terrorists and counterterrorists. In this, terrorism is viewed as “a communicative strategy designed to propagate specific messages to a variety of different audiences using a combination of coercion (threat, violence and terror) and persuasion (explicit or implicit demands)” (p. 122). And coun¬terterrorism – together with terrorism – is the combination of persuasion and coercion. Therefore, deterrence, as a primary form of persuasion is examined in connection to the criminal justice model, but also in context of the war model. This chapter examines the possibility of changing the perceptions and attitudes of terrorists and their supporters, though goes a step further to insinuate that the constituencies of counterterrorists, typically comprised of citizens who perceive threat by terrorism, also to reflect on their actions.
The fifth chapter delves into ‘defensive counterterrorism’ which concentrates on a variety of measures which can be used not to dissuade a terrorist attack but rather the defensive approach operates with the idea that there exist some kinds of terrorist attacks which are inevitable; therefore preparations – on local, national and international levels – must be conducted as a matter of necessity. The final substantive chapter deals with long-term counterterrorism efforts. The chapter focuses on the activities, and initiatives, which do not operate within short spans of time and which do not require the quick return of investments of money, power or time. This chapter emphasises the root causes of terrorism and provides a compelling depiction of them. The argument that poverty and/or personality are not the main factors leading to use of terrorist methods is extremely insightful. As Crelinsten mentions “(t)he majority of poor people are not terrorists, there is no terrorist personality, and the gap between the rich and poor, the haves and the have-nots, is not, in and of itself, a necessary precondition for terrorism” (p. 198). However, the distribution of key resources, the penetration of external powers, the promotion of free-trade and/or socio-political and economic dependency still matter, and should be included, evaluated and discussed in debates concerning counterterrorism.
Crelinsten’s contribution enriches the theoretical and practical horizons of his readers. It is a clear, analytical and conceptually relevant book which offers the full spectrum of counterterrorism efforts in the contemporary international relations environment while constructing a much-needed bridge between terrorism and counterterrorism. This book is highly recommended to academics (researchers and students), policy makers, and the interested public and is a must-read for those who wish to clear away the ambiguities surrounding terrorism and the many engaged to prevent it