International security

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Terrorism

I will briefly touch three points: my country, my Alliance and myself (I mean my personal military experience). Starting from my country, I come from Italy, which during the last 40 years or so has been viewed by terrorists as a sort of laboratory for terrorism of different kinds.

First: domestic political terrorism. I am referring to both rightist and leftist terrorism, which have been responsible for massacres beginning in late 1969 with the bombing of a bank in Milan. This bloody period reached its top in 1978 with the kidnapping and murder of Mr. Aldo Moro, chairman of the largest Italian political party, by the so-called Red Brigades.

Second: international political terrorism. During the period 1968-1986 various Palestinian terrorist groups carried out some 565 terrorist attacks world-wide. Of these, 64 were perpetrated in Italy, over 11% of the total statistics, a considerable percentage. Evidently, these terrorists considered Italy a favourable environment.

Third, but not least, Italy also experienced a strong and bloody separatist wave of terrorism, which I will address later.

The remedy that the Italian authorities successfully adopted against these three forms of terrorism was very simple: the stick and carrot approach. On one hand, emergency legislation and rigid imprisonment. On the other hand, legislation granting some privileges to those who decided to renounce terrorism and cooperate with the authorities by providing intelligence regarding criminal groups.

Let me now briefly review the third aspect of terrorism that Italy experienced in recent history: separatist terrorism in South Tyrol, a German-speaking northern Italian region, once part of the Austrian Empire and subsequently incorporated by Italy at the end of World War I.

This is a largely unknown and forgotten issue. Very briefly stated, the desire of a portion (maybe the majority) of the local population to rejoin Austria resulted in a long and dangerous wave of attacks against Italian infrastructures (electrical power lines and military barracks) and against Italian personnel, including Army mountain and airborne troops, military police (Carabinieri), and frontier/customs police (Guardia di Finanza). As a result, between 1956 and 1988, there were 361 bombing attacks with 21 persons killed (15 military, 2 civilians, and 4 terrorists) and 57 injured (24 military and 33 civilians). Also in this case, the remedy was the same: the stick and carrot approach: the stick entailed military measures, curfews, and trials which resulted in 157 convictions, including in some cases life imprisonment. In total, 103 South Tyrolean citizens, 40 from Austria and 24 from West Germany, were found guilty. The carrot entailed extensive autonomy and strong financial aid granted to the region. The local population ceased supporting violent actions against the central government, when it understood that income from tourism pays much more than terrorism. This problem was definitively solved thanks to Austria’s accession to the European Union on January 1st, 1995, to the institution of the Schengen area, and to the adoption of a single European currency. Today border and customs controls no longer exist between Austria and Italy. Before 1995 on both sides of the border there was only the same language, German. Today we have everything in common: the blue European flag, European law regarding freedom of movement for persons and goods, and the Euro as a single currency.

Can this experience be a valid lesson for the Middle East as well? It is a very difficult question indeed, but worth considering. The Middle East is unfortunately characterised by the lack of international co-operation such as that existing in Europe, which (thanks to NATO, EU and OSCE) has initially reduced and subsequently removed violent conflict and, as a result, terrorism. In any case it would be wise to undertake any possible effort in order to give way to useful confidence building measures such as: conducting bilateral and multilateral talks (from this standpoint, the recent peace talks initiated by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mr. Abu Mazen seem to be extremely valuable); stressing what unites rather than what divides; establishing free trade areas; making the best use of the historical-cultural and tourism resources, which are so numerous and significant in the Mediterranean region; and so on…

Coming now to NATO, I believe that this Organisation could be a catalyzing factor in the pursuit of confidence building aimed at defeating the aims of terrorism. The Atlantic Alliance is preparing a new strategic concept to be issued at the end of this year. It is foreseeable that the new concept will take into account the terrorist threat in greater measure than in the past. The current concept was issued in 1999, before 9/11, that is why it defines terrorism only as a “risk” rather than a “threat”.

It is also advisable that the NATO approach be different from that of other International Organizations, such as the UN and the EU, which have adopted  “Counter-Terrorism Strategies” whose primary task is to eliminate the causes and roots of terrorism and to counter terrorists while always respecting their human rights. Although politically correct, it is worth noting that this approach could at times be dangerous when terrorists are considered simply as “victims” of a phenomenon fed by the terrorists themselves. They are guilty, not victims.

Among the several measures of indirect terrorism counteraction, we must not forget the opportunity offered by an interesting multinational initiative, NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue, which in my opinion should be extended also to those Mediterranean countries currently excluded (like Libya, Lebanon and Syria).

Terrorism, in other words, is a multifaceted and unpredictable threat that cannot be countered solely by traditional means. It is advisable to use a mix of measures and to take advantage of several national and international experiences. In fact, hard power alone is not sufficient, exactly like soft power alone, so a sort of “smart power” (an intelligent mix of those two methods) should be much better.

From this standpoint, the simple formula that Italy has devised in order to defeat domestic (and not only) terrorism could prove to be effective also in the case of transnational terrorism. I am referring to the use, with strong determination, of a big stick whenever necessary, without forgetting a little carrot whenever possible.

Concluding with my personal experience in Iraq, as Deputy Commander of the Multinational Corps, today the worst nightmare for our troops is represented by the so-called IEDs, Improvised Explosive Devices. IEDs are a sort of revolution of artillery. Once upon a time artillery meant launching a grenade in the air, trying to hit the objective, which was located in a certain location. Today the philosophy of employment of IEDs is exactly the opposite: the grenade is located in certain position, waiting for the target, which is moving towards the grenade, and the grenade will explode when the target will be close to it. This terroristic procedure is not brand-new, it has not been invented today or yesterday, the tradition is old. Also during WW2 some attacks have been carried out by the insurgents with this procedure. But those episodes were very few because insurgents at that time didn’t have the freedom of movement they have today in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The question is: how to defeat them? It’s very difficult to defeat them only using technology. This will lead to a never-ending escalation of measures and counter measures, without solving the problem. This is the ancient story of arrow and shield, later anti-tank munitions and armor. It’s also extremely difficult to capture and kill all of them, because many others will be recruited. Another system could be to deny the enemy its freedom of movement, but this requires a huge number of soldiers and professional armies of today prefer quality rather than quantity.

A better system, in my opinion, is to eliminate the reasons of the insurgency. And among the several reasons there is also our western mentality of “long term commitments” (examples: USA in Iraq, NATO in Afghanistan, which is a wrong approach, from the tactical and strategic points of view). Tactically speaking we are wrong when we counter geographically with traditional, conventional means and with our self-inflicted Rules of Engagement (RoEs) an enemy which is unconventional, not geographically limited and without any RoE. Currently in Afghanistan we are using a small stick and a huge carrot, which benefits the insurgents.

Strategically speaking, our long-term commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan have proved to be wrong. It would have been much better to provoke the regime change and giving immediately after to the local people the responsibility of managing their own country. Instead, pretending to export the democracy in Stone-Age-like countries and to stay there for decades is wrong for many reasons: this provokes a feeling of “occupation” within the local population, this feeds the insurgency, our public opinions sooner or later will be tired of suffering casualties every day, and we don’t have to forget that the principal aim of the terror, well before killing innocent people, is to provoke a wave of anti-terror.

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