They have made some arrests and succeeded in preventing further terrorist attacks. And public awareness of the terrorist threat is high, as Brazil's former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso pointed out in his keynote address to participants on 8 March. "Terrorism constitutes a menace for peace and international security," Cardoso said. "It is a menace for people who are dear to us and an attack against all as well as [against] each one of us individually."
But where governments are not doing so well is in addressing the root causes of terrorism. Magnus Ranstorp is director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Ranstorp summed up the problem: "Well, I think certainly we've focused a lot on the symptoms, the manifestations of terrorism, the modalities of terrorism and how it is carried out rather than trying to address some of the deeper causes. I have to say, though, that the causes are multiple; they are difficult to address because there are different types of causes that are at work within individual contexts. It is in many ways a mammoth task to try to address them comprehensively."
Participants at the Madrid conference say that however complex the task might be, it is time to start addressing it. The four-day meeting is organized by the Club de Madrid, an independent association of 56 democratically elected former presidents and prime ministers. That is meant to be a signal.
As Bernardino Leon, Spain's secretary of state for foreign policy, put it at today's opening, "Democracy is the best vaccination against terrorism." But it is not enough.
When a group in any society feels permanently marginalized -- because of religion, culture, race or economic conditions --it becomes open to radical ideas. And radical ideas can lead to radical acts. Europe faces a problem here, says Ranstorp. "The murder of Theo van Gogh the [Dutch] filmmaker by an Islamic extremist revealed great division within Europe -- that we are not as successful as we think we are in terms of social integration," Ranstorp said. "And therefore counterterrorism efforts, in terms of recruitment and preventing recruitment, have to be coupled with more innovative social-integration policies, more comprehensive, more sustained policies that prevent individuals from moving in this direction."
In other parts of the world, where economic conditions are far worse and governments are unable to deliver even basic services to their citizens, other groups -- with their own agendas -- can step in and terrorism can take root. That was the case with Afghanistan.
And as Ranstorp notes, rebuilding a functioning state can take time. "We have a sense of what it is that needs to be addressed in the Afghan case -- it is rebuilding a state," Ranstorp said. "There are lots of different facets at work. Particularly if one speaks about the Afghan situation, that means that we are years away from seriously addressing the issue of governance in Afghanistan and also the issue of religious extremism."
Regional and ethnic conflicts can also breed despair, hatred and terrorism. Ranstorp lists some of the most serious such conflicts that he thinks need to be resolved around the world if we are to lower the risk of terrorism. "There's a lot of work that needs to be done -- particularly of course also on resolving regional conflicts, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Ranstorp said. "But also Chechnya, Kashmir, and other conflicts -- Iraq. Bringing stability to Iraq, that is so critical."
Terrorism in the travel industry, the financing of international terrorism and the use of the Internet by radical groups are just some of the topics that will be addressed at the Madrid conference, which runs until 11 March.