Assessing the UN’s Efforts to Counter Terrorism

Changing Nature of Conflict | December 12, 2016 |

UN Photo/Marco Dormino
UN Photo/Marco Dormino

In a new UNU-CPR Occasional Paper, originally published in the Institute for Economics & Peace’s Global Terrorism Index 2016, Sebastian von Einsiedel reviews the UN’s efforts to counter terrorism and concludes that the UN’s most significant operational contribution may lie in its conflict resolution work.

It is now more than fifty years the UN General Assembly negotiated its first anti-terrorism convention (on offences committed on board aircraft). Some 25 years ago, the Security Council imposed sanctions against Libya for sponsoring acts of terrorism. Some fifteen years ago, the attacks of 9/11 led to a flurry of UN measures to confront the terrorist threat. And ten years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted a Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Looking back at five decades of counter-terrorist action, this article attempts to provide an assessment of the impact of the UN’s overall counter-terrorism efforts.

The UN’s counter-terrorism work in recent years can be organized under three headings: first, a norm-setting role that includes a) the development and promotion of a Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and efforts to counter violent extremism, b) a set of international conventions, and c) far-reaching Security Council resolutions imposing counterterrorism obligations on member states; second, capacity building activities to help countries meet these obligations; and third, Security Council-mandated sanctions, in the 1990s, against state sponsors of terrorism, and since 9/11 against hundreds of individuals and entities affiliated with Al Qaida.

Reviewing these efforts, this article concludes that while the UN plays an important and useful role in establishing norms and frameworks for cooperation, its most significant operational contribution may ultimately lie in a field that does not fall narrowly within the UN’s counter-terrorism framework; namely, its work in resolving conflicts in countries where terrorist groups seek to take advantage of the widespread instability.

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