Our experts Ömer Özkizilcik, Murat Aslan, Can Acun, Ferhat Pirinççi, Rich Outzen, Talip Küçükcan, Merve Seren and Ömer Behram Özdemir have commented on the transformation of global terrorism and the change in security perception after 9/11 attacks.
What kind of a change did the 9/11 attacks cause in the U.S. foreign and security policy? What are the continuity and changes in these effects after twenty years?
Ferhat Pirinççi, SETA: The biggest impact of the 9/11 attacks on the American foreign and security policy is that the policies have taken on a more aggressive structure. Before the attacks, the American administrations, which were hesitant to react even to the immediate security threats they have perceived under the influence of the Vietnam experience, and especially refrained from sending ground forces, became more daring after the 9/11 attacks; they did not hesitate to launch a military intervention and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, both countries had difficulties in achieving their goals. The political and economic costs of the process for the US Military had increased gradually and failed in both countries. Therefore, the aggressive transformation created by the 9/11 attacks within the U.S. foreign and security policy began to decline after ten years. The U.S. has turned to a low-profile policy in its global and regional engagements, and after twenty years, it has completely lost its effect. The Afghanistan and Iraq experiences, like the 9/11 attacks, will remain in the memory as a traumatic effect as much as the Vietnam experience regarding the U.S. foreign and security policy.
Rich Outzen, The Washington Institute: The 9/11 attacks briefly unified the United States internally, and with its allies, in a serious way against terrorism. Yet the unilateral turn from 2003 onward, and over-militarization of counter-terror response led to friction with allies and to unsustainable interventions without a clear political strategy. The U.S. went from being a relatively benign and ambitious quasi-hegemon in the 1990s to an unpredictable, and often destabilizing interventionist power. Twenty years later this has changed again, as the U.S. people and government seek a reduced and more sustainable leadership role in a multipolar world. We are still digesting the lessons not only of 9/11 but of our own response to it.
Talip Küçükcan, Marmara University: The rhetoric produced by the media, academia, and think tanks, which competed to legitimize the occupation policies by the U.S after the 9/11 attacks and its immediate aftermath, caused a series of radical changes with traces of it to this day. The first of these has to do with the structural changes; such changes include, the erosion of the principle of multilateralism established after the Second World War, the fact that liberal interventionism brought chaos and disasters instead of democracy, the erosion of libertarian values , and the increase in human rights violations in the disintegrated state structures resulted by the military interventions, the rise of civil wars and large migration waves. The second wave of change is related to the anti-globalization and the rise of populism; among these are, the initiation of a “securitization” policy towards Islam and Muslims globally with the influence of the U.S alone, restricting the freedom of religion and conscience with the laws enacted as a result of seeing Muslims as a source of threat, legal arrangements, the beginning of the process of introversion by closing the borders, and the increase in Islamophobia (Islamic hostility) which can be counted as a manifestation of all the above.
Considering the return of the Taliban and the ongoing threat of DAESH, it can be said that the global terrorist threat is as active as it was twenty years ago. If the chaos in Afghanistan creates a regional domino effect, what are the chances of an attack similar to the 9/11 attacks? How did 9/11 transform the tactics and strategies of terrorist organizations?
Ömer Özkizilcik, SETA: When the global terrorist organizations are examined on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it is seen that the operational areas, territorial claims, and targets of the organizations had undergone a serious change and are now more national and local. After the 9/11 attacks, which concurred with the logic of fighting the distant enemy, the ineffectiveness of such an approach has been seen by terrorist organizations over the years and since then, their local or national agendas have been more successful. The last cornerstone of this ideological change in terrorist organizations was the loss of territorial control in Syria and Iraq following DAESH’s attacks on a global scale. On the other hand, structures such as PKK/YPG and HTS, which pursue local and national targets, have achieved success on a certain scale and have been able to preserve these gains to this day. Although the Taliban is not a terrorist organization and is not defined as such, it should be foreseen that the success of the Taliban will be a source of inspiration for terrorist organizations that have national agendas. With this in mind, it is possible to say that the global terrorist threat or the possibility of an attack like the one in 9/11 is relatively reduced.
Murat Aslan, SETA: 9/11, like Pearl Harbor, is a trauma of American history. However, the difference is, after Pearl Harbor, the American people were convinced by bitter experience that the security provided by the two oceans was of little importance. As a matter of fact, after the Cold War, security readings and the search for threats were described for the American people in the abstract at a conceptual level, and without taking lessons from the situations of the Balkans and Somalia. After 9/11, the abstract state of security was reduced to concrete, however, its conceptual transformation was still not understood. In this context, although the invasion of Afghanistan is an effort to embody the abstract enemy, it has been understood that the asymmetric threat and struggle defined by terrorism and radicalism still marginalizes traditional security perceptions. The withdrawal of the U.S from Afghanistan has revealed that the oppressed radical formations would re-emerge under suitable conditions like a viral disease, and victory could be won against the super (or hyper) powers, thus exploiting the time and asymmetry. In this sense, to prove their global capacity and maturity, radical terrorist organizations like DAESH will be able to carry out attacks in different regions with increasing momentum. In addition, an attack such as the one in 9/11 with a certain extent of damage and civilian casualties is still technically possible. Admittedly, by using the technology of the 20th century, radical organizations that still keep the social and cultural mentality of the middle ages alive can exploit the channels of interaction, to procure modern equipment, benefit from digital tools, and take actions that can have a massive impact.
Can Acun, SETA: When the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan after the 20-year occupation period and the Kabul government forces were defeated and disintegrated, the Taliban gained control over the whole country, came to power, and formed a new government. In addition to affecting Afghanistan's internal dynamics, this situation may also bring about a global mobilization, especially in the context of radical organizations with Islamic roots. The fact that the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan will have a catalytic effect on organizations such as the central al-Qaeda that were involved in terrorist activities and were directly loyal to the Taliban in the past. Although the Taliban has committed to take control of the structures that threaten neighboring countries with its new foreign policy approach, the course of action it will follow remains uncertain. However, another point to be noted here is that al-Qaeda-style structures have preferred localization in recent years and put an end to global terrorist activities. Therefore, it seems very unlikely that radical organizations that will gain strength under the influence of the Taliban will carry out an attack similar to 9/11. The Taliban's rule in Afghanistan can be read as a strategic loss for DAESH. The Taliban sees DAESH as a primary threat and takes firm steps to eliminate the Khorasan branch of the organization, however, DAESH will be among the organizations that will suffer the most from a civil war that may occur in Afghanistan and the chaos that will spread to the countries in the region. In this context, DAESH can again organize global terrorist attacks with the regional effectiveness it will gain in Khorasan.
Global counter-terrorism policies and practices have imprisoned the concepts of war, terrorism, and human rights in an ambiguous field. So much so that by some regimes, the fight against terrorism has become a tool to legitimize actions and policies against opposition actors, minorities, or military interventions in third countries. In this context, how did 9/11 justify the use of military force against non-state groups? What were the other social effects of the post-2001 counter-terrorism policies?
Murat Aslan, SETA: After 9/11, the U.S. declaring the “war on terror” and using the slogan “you are either with us or against us” in this war, has mobilized the regimes that want to exploit the American political and military support in a new direction. With the increase of anti-Islamism, states that indexed regime security to American support or groups that want to dominate the state have tried to suppress the “opposition” or “opponents” with the accusation of terrorism. After the emergence of radical organizations such as DAESH and the extreme left and right movements in the West that agree on the definition of the common enemy, the frequency of the expressions and discourses related to terrorism has increased. For example, in Libya, Haftar accused the legitimate Tripoli administration of being a terrorist and tried to overthrow it. In Syria, the PKK/PYD/YPG pushed its Marxist ideology back into the background in the fight against extremism and aroused sympathy in the Western radical left/right currents. The American support provided for the organization also reinforced this sympathy, therefore, while anti-Islamism was the reference in defining the “terrorist”, the conventions regarding the laws of war and the rules of conflict were ignored. As inhumane practices and subsequent indiscriminate violence against civilians increased, radicals had also produced their counter-legitimacy. Thus, public support, which is critical for the fight against terrorism, has begun to take shape in favor of those who do not harm people.
Ömer Behram Özdemir, ORSAM: The dominant discourse in the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq following the 9/11 attacks was that terrorism ‘is an international issue’. While the U.S legitimizes its regime-changing interventions under the name of intervention against terrorism, it has repeatedly underlined that this issue is global and claimed that “being a party” is rather a “forced choice”. The al-Qaeda attacks that took place in various parts of the world at that time, especially in Europe, also strengthened the ground on which this thesis was built. In the intervening period of almost twenty years, international actors have made it a routine to use the discourse of international terrorism issue as means of legitimizing foreign interventions and pressure in domestic politics. Through this tool of legitimation, which is accepted in the international arena, harsh actions that could not be resorted to by avoiding international reactions under normal conditions, have found more application area against opposition political and armed elements. While practices such as sieges, heavy bombardment of civilian settlements without discrimination of targets, forced evictions and exiles as well as chemical weapons were used by many states in the post-9/11 period, these actions were often defended with the shield of “fight against terrorism and terrorists”. Actors who wanted to use the aforementioned counter-terrorism rhetoric preferred to terrorize the groups they targeted, primarily with harsh practices and by making room for various terrorist elements. The masses and opposition movements that pushed to the path of radicalization with harsh security practices in Syria and Iraq were put under pressure by the regimes through opening up a space for terrorist elements, especially al-Qaeda and DAESH. While bringing the radicalized mass closer to these terrorist elements was accelerated through counter-terrorism actions, at the same time, the deliberate connivance of these organizations led these terrorist organizations to fill the fields in Syria and Iraq. Although primarily the demands of the opposition and minorities were brought into the “terror cluster” within the country, generally through similar methods, the issue's gain of “international” character was also achieved through the creation of a space for terrorist organizations. In the post-9/11 period, an internationalization process took place through foreign fighters and large migration waves. The international community, especially the West, has developed an eager reflex to read “anti-terrorist interventions” in a certain part of the world as “legitimate” interventions that can prevent terrorist attacks and massive migration waves which may occur in their territory. This situation has led many regimes to implement harsh interventions without concern for external reactions and obstructions. Additionally, all these trends had also contributed to the rising trend of far-right movements, especially in Europe.
9/11 attacks also reshaped the US intelligence community. The threat posed by non-state actors; changed the means and methods of reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence gathering. The growing trend towards image intelligence, drone innovation, unprecedented information gathering, and processing capability, and the shift to artificial intelligence applications have also fueled debates about democratic rights, privacy, and the privacy of the individual. Considering all these developments, in which direction will the post 9/11 intelligence studies evolve?
Murat Aslan, SETA: The face of intelligence activities has completely changed with the introduction of new technologies to serve the individual, and new systems used in the direct or indirect perception of human behavior have narrowed the gap between overt and covert activities. Planning, directing, processing, and distribution of intelligence activities through software has brought the concept of “instant intelligence” to the literature. In the coming periods, it should be expected that intelligence will develop new collection methods (intelligence disciplines) with the change in consumption and behavior tendencies of the individual and the society in general. Nonetheless, while there were five intelligence collection methods already existing, intelligence activities are still carried out without any categorical classification restrictions. There are also drawbacks to such an evolution; there is no privacy of man and society, and the human being can now be stored as a recognizable subject in the form of numerical data. Although reforms are made in the context of audibility and accountability, after the Western countries make legal arrangements in the field of intelligence, this codification is only for their citizens. Consequently, the following period points to a process in which the general and the specific are intertwined. However, even in this case, state actors cannot produce high-accuracy intelligence against asymmetric threats. The U.S.'s airstrikes and special forces operations, which caused civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, highlighted the inadequacies in terms of intelligence. Furthermore, it has become easier for unconventional elements to obtain information with a high percentage of accuracy as well as producing intelligence by making use of open sources and their co-supporters. Intelligence, therefore, is no longer the monopoly of states and can be performed by both state and non-state organizations for a specific purpose.
Merve Seren, Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University: One of the most discussed and reformed fields after 9/11 was intelligence. It should be noted that after the deadliest strategic surprise attack experienced by the U.S., various terrorist attacks in Istanbul, Madrid, and London were carried out by Al-Qaeda. In this context, there have been serious discussions on measuring the capabilities of the intelligence community, as well as the weaknesses exhibited at tactical, operational, and strategic intelligence levels. The discussions in question brought about comprehensive intelligence reforms in many NATO and EU countries, especially in the U.S., England, and Germany; while intelligence technologies were prioritized, a new structure emerged which gradually turned into a surveillance society. Surveillance technologies, on the other hand, brought some highly controversial legal issues such as the control of intelligence to the agenda. Not only society and the state, but also states have accused one another in many ways, including the unrestricted use of technical intelligence disciplines and violation of human rights. After September 11, each of the NATO and EU countries, in line with their unique conditions and structures, has restructured their intelligence organizations according to their own risk and threat perception, and the depth of engagement in the fight against terrorism. However, in general, countries have invested more in intelligence technologies, begun to focus more on different intelligence areas such as social media intelligence, socio-cultural intelligence, ethnographic intelligence, and biographical intelligence. Subsequently, it has been observed that intelligence organizations have made changes in the relevant legislation in the fields of duties, powers, and responsibilities per their roles and importance. Yet again, in this context, it has been observed that countries tend to strengthen intelligence information sharing and intelligence cooperation between members of their intelligence community before regional organizations. To decide about the aforementioned twenty years, intelligence technologies that had intensively been put into practice, have once again proven how important open-source and human intelligence are. Likewise, the necessity of investing in the field of strategic intelligence and training strategic intelligence analysts has become clear again, it is of vital importance to get out of the intelligence trap we are currently in.
Among the initial reactions to the 9/11 attacks in Western countries was the rise of anti-Islamism and immigration control as a way to counter the future threat of “Islamist” terrorism. How did this affect the understanding of border security and international migration policies today, and how did 9/11 securitize the global and regional migration problem?
Murat Aslan, SETA: After the 9/11 attacks, the U.S and European countries tried to develop measures against individuals and societies which made their Muslim identity evident with their appearance. The U.S has imposed immigration quotas and barriers against some of the Muslim countries, and European countries such as Denmark or Greece have taken drastic measures against immigrants. Likewise, when the visa regimes of the states are examined, it is seen that, apart from illegal immigration, measures are taken against Muslims for regular immigration and temporary visits. Individuals and masses with a tendency to illegal immigration are often from communities that are socio-economically backward, unable to access basic services within the responsibility of the state, and subject to oppressive regimes, some of which are supported by Western countries. Thus, illegal immigration is a reason for Western societies to take tougher preventive measures, however, illegal immigration itself is a result of Western countries' political, military, and social policies. The masses trying to reach the east and south, west and north of the globe will continue the same tendencies if the living and security conditions in their own countries do not change. In addition, the rate of migration will be accelerated by the Western countries' motto of “war on terror”, establishing repressive co-op regimes, and continuing to implement new variants of colonialism. As a result, the masses that want to migrate to more suitable geographies may continue to worry the Western societies and states that are concerned about preserving their social identities. In this context, border controls were increased in line with the current social threat perception and preferably by building physical barriers along the border.
*The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of Terrorism Analysis Platform.