Globalisation and Transnational Terrorism

Globalisation has opened borders, facilitated the transition of goods, services, populations, money, communications and ideas. While each of these transitions has benefits, each of them likewise has a darker side that if exploited can exacerbate problems such as transnational terrorism. There are four primary examples of how globalisation has exacerbated transnational terrorism.

These being; globalisation facilitates acts of transnational terrorism; globalisation acts as a raison d’etre for some transnational terrorist groups (TNTG) and that cultural resistance to the effects of globalisation may exacerbate transnational terrorism; that the development of new minorities increases the recruitment pool and lastly that in some cases globalisation had led to a weakening of controls previous enjoyed by the state.

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By defining transnational terrorism and investigating these four factors, this paper intends to outline how globalisation has exacerbated the issue of transnational terrorism. Transnational terrorism is unlike past incarnations of political violence, exhibiting a networked and distributed organisational structure, having no single state affiliation, the ability to operate beyond the borders of a home base state or location and the ability to utilise mass communications and WMDs. The typology of transnational terrorist groups (TNTG) has changed over decades, passing through left wing extremists (19602-1980s), through Palestinian and other ethno nationalist affiliated groups (1990s) and now in this new century it is often defined as being Islamic based, belonging to the ontology of radical organisations such as Al Qaeda (AQ) and its affiliates.

Both the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Homeland Security link the definition of transnational terrorism with the Salafist organisations exemplified by AQ. Lutz and Lutz note it may be that pressures derived from globalisation may have lead to a response manifested by a growth in religious extremism4. This may explain why so many TNTG have a religious ontology. This paper does not dispute that assertion but rather adds to that narrow definition any group that operates internationally, from a base of operation it does not control or have a nationalistic connection to, and any group that utilises the tools of globalisation to further their chosen cause by using transnational methods of communication, funding, recruitment and training.

Globalisation and its associated tools have exacerbated the growth of terrorism through the movement of operatives across borders, through hijacked technologies outputting to a global media. This allows TNTG to strike at globalised networks and transfer money through legitimate and illegal transactions. As is common in a globalised world, these are intertwined with one another, reflecting the interconnected nature of globalisation. The premise posited by Robb is that TNTG are now able to exploit the same open source mentality that drives globalisation, allowing them to execute operations via a networked structure with no real leadership component, and with open transference of ideas via technology.

Freedom to travel not only enhances operability but also complicates the apprehension, prosecution, or targeting of TNTG as extradition laws vary internationally, and groups that execute attacks may easily move to another location to avoid prosecution. TNTG are extremely adept at using the technological tools of globalisation to communicate with one another as well as exploiting the CNN factor to demonstrate their acts on a world stage. “Their command and control centre system is the internet, the laptop, the courier and the cell phone, drawing on technologies that were invented and paid for by their adversaries… their biggest operational weapon is the global information grid, particularly the international media”8.

The principle tool of globalisation, the internet, has made facilitating terrorist operations more accessible to those with terrorist intentions. Information once only accessible to governments is now easily available to those with skills in utilising the internet. 9 The Web has enabled anyone with a grudge to form a movement that can be spread globally at the push of a button. 10 The ability to communicate and proselytize in a networked age is available to any TNTG, Downer noting that,” in the internet age, terrorist propaganda is everywhere. It cannot be blocked.

Using the internet AQ’s media outlet, Al Sahab (The Clouds), has been able to disperse its message and gain support for its actions,12 using technology to broadcast the martyrdom and propaganda videos of the organisation. 13 TNTG, who understand very well the world of globalised media, have carefully adapted their tactics to manipulate modern information technology to their benefit. 14 TNTG also exploits the globalised market economy to cause monetary damage to a globalised economy. An example of this damage can be seen in the financial return on investment (ROT) on TNTG operations.

Both Robb and Bergen reference the amazing ROT that AQ was able to gain from 9/11. AQ spent 500K on 9/11, American responses and losses cost the American and world economies over 500 billion. 15 Robb goes further noting that for a tiny investment of $1000 a cell can destroy a pipeline pushing oil to a global market place, disrupting markets and causing millions in losses. 16 It was Bakar Bashir, spiritual leader of Jemmaah Islamiyah who said, “You can take their blood, why not take their property”17.

These acts of transnational terrorism, facilitated by globalisation, are they themselves a reaction to what is seen by some as globalisations increasing domination. In states where globalisation has led to changes in the economic, social, cultural or political structure globalisation may exacerbate transnational terrorism by acting as a motivating factor for TNTG. 18 Countries that have not integrated successfully into the new liberal global economy find a growth in inequalities and social polarisation that may exacerbate terrorism19.

Globalisation has divided the world into what Barnett calls the Functioning Core, rich in economic connectivity and information and the Non-Integrating Gap20, those that are disconnected from that which benefits the West. This disconnectedness can lead to and a growth in terrorist activities by groups seeking a more equal disruption of globalisations benefits. 21 Gurr writes; “Terrorism can occur anywhere, but it is more common in developing countries… economic change creates conditions that are conducive to instability, the emergence of militant movements and extremist ideologies. 22 Critics such as Stern and Capra observe the humiliating effects from negative aspects of globalisation may incur the wrath of certain militant ideologies23, Kaplan adding that the grievances are fuelled by social and economic tensions24. Poverty may not be a direct cause of terrorism, but it can inspire action. Makinda remarks that while most of the AQ operatives involved in the 9/11 attacks were middle class, “they defined their identities in terms of the aspirations of the downtrodden”. 25 However it is not simply economic disparity that motives TNTG.

Much of the reason that globalisation acts as a motivating factor lies within cultural resistance to globalisation’s influence. The spread of liberal western market-driven mores has been interpreted by some militants as the infiltration of an alien and corrupting culture. 26 The West’s cultural inclination toward consumerism and the acquisition of materials has become a source of anger for those without access to certain material products. 27 This is then used by some groups as a justification for terrorist activities. 8 Some critics disagree about just how directly the blame for transnational terrorism can be laid at the feet of globalisation. Campbell singles out the United States, not globalisation, as the main inspiration for the attacks on 9/11,29 and Crenshaw, believes that globalisation facilities transnational terrorism, rather than acting as direct incentive or cause.

Weinberg backs up this assertion by pointing out that if globalisation itself were a cause of terrorism then other globalised states such as Japan, South Korea and China would be more affected. 1 However when Al Zawarhiri says, “it is better for the youth of the Muslim world to take up arms than to submit to the humiliation of globalisation and Western hegemony” 32, it demonstrates that at least AQ perceive globalisation as an emblem for the corrupting influence of the West. This anger is not consolidated in Non-Integrating Gap but is also apparent in populations that live within the Functioning Core.

The availability of transport, coupled with communication networks have led to what Gotchev refers to as, “unprecedented global migration”. 3 This connects to the development of minorities within established populations, some of whom have views that are sympathetic to groups with extremist ideologies. 34 Lutz, writing about right wing terrorism, highlights that the growth in diaspora communities has lead to an upswing in violence committed against them by actors who see globalisation’s rapid growth in transnational populations as a threat. 35This rapid dispersal of populations, often due to migration facilitated by globalisations open borders, has given TNTG a wide network of recruitment through diasporas36.

A study found “that 27 of the 50 most active terrorist groups are either segments of ethno-nationalist or religious diasporas, or are supported by them. “37 The wide dispersal of populations allows extremist movements within these populations to co-ordinate actions on a transnational basis. The Battelle Institute found “that mosques in Ohio, London, Frankfurt, and Paris were delivering virtually identical sermons, the key message of which was an endorsement of global war against the West. “38.

In the same way that globalisation benefits a multi-national corporation by allowing it to place staff across the globe and communicate with them; TNTG reap the same return through their ability to communicate, recruit, plan and execute attacks, utilising dispersed global populations of like minded individuals. 39 TNTG are able to exploit borders opened by free trade and the ethos of globalisation. In other cases these borders are open due to a weakness in a state’s ability to secure them.

Whether or not globalisation as a force will directly weaken individual states control over their territories or its populations is still under debate. 40 There may be a link between the effects of globalised economic and communications models and a weakening of state’s identity that may lead to disenfranchisement and a growth in TNTG41. What is apparent is that due to some of the economic effects of globalisation, some states have seen a weakening of their ability to control their own economies and security42.

Robb cites a link between globalisation and reduction in state’s control, caused by the emergence of stronger non-state actors such as TNTG, combined with a loss of control over “borders, economies, finances, people and communications. “43 Resultantly, states can experience a growth in TNTG operating within their states or may find themselves easier prey due to laxity in security measures. While this will affect Non-Integrating states more that Core states, the West may find its own security is affected by the destabilisation of these states, and by attacks on Western infrastructure directed from within these weakened states.