Europeans remain unconvinced that the fight against terrorism must primarily be military
Trans-Atlantic solidarity on tackling terrorism is back in the headlines in the wake of last week's London bombings. Yesterday, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair reiterated their commitment to fighting and defeating terrorism. Yet despite the common ground, the events in London once again highlight the glaringly different approach of Americans and Europeans in combating political violence. For Washington, "the war on terrorism" is fought primarily by military means. For the Europeans, it's less about waging war than it is about conducting intelligence and police actions. RFE/RL takes a look at the Trans-Atlantic gap on combating terrorism.
Prague, 12 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Have the attacks in London brought Europeans and Americans any closer together in the way they fight terrorism?
Yes and no.
Europeans are increasingly jittery about possible attacks, and appear favorable toward adopting tough, American-style measures to give police more powers to arrest terrorist suspects and tighten national borders.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday both reiterated their countries' commitment to defeating terrorism after the 7 July strikes in London, which killed at least 52 people.
But experts say Europeans and their governments are still largely unconvinced by the U.S. idea that the fight against terrorism must primarily be military, as Bush reiterated yesterday in a speech near Washington.
"We're staying on the offensive," Bush said. "We're fighting the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan and across the world so we do not have to face them here at home."
Bush has made toppling rogue regimes and spreading democracy in the Muslim world a central plank in America's war on terrorism. But Europeans see this struggle in a much different light, according to Jean-Pierre Darnis of Rome's Institute of International Affairs.
"The [London] attack has not provoked a reaction [in Europe] that the Iraq war was the right thing to do," Darnis said. "No. In Europe, the common conception is that the Iraq war has made the terrorist threat worse, and that internally in Iraq, the situation is much more complicated now, and therefore it's much more dangerous for Europe's security than was the situation before the war."
Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the University of St. Andrews in Britain, agrees.
"After attacks like this, there is in many, many different quarters, in the public eye, there is an association [that] being involved as a coalition ally with the United States will make them vulnerable to terrorist threats," Ranstorp said. "This may not affect the U.K., but certainly in Italy there is a certain softening up of approach and debating how long they will support the U.S. effort."
Darnis, a defense analyst, says Europeans have a long experience dealing with different kinds of terrorism. Whether the Irish Republican Army in Britain, Basque separatists in Spain, or left-wing radicals in Italy, Darnis says Europeans have historically dealt with terrorism through police and intelligence actions.
"The police here are used to working on counterterrorism and intelligence," Darnis said. "The idea of regime of change in the Middle East, on the other hand, is not perceived at the political level here as necessary in the fight against terrorism. There's a much more pragmatic vision here, tied strictly to police action."
And it is on police and intelligence action that the trans-Atlantic gap on counterterrorism methods seems to be narrowing.
Polls this week in Britain show nearly 90 percent of people are willing to give the police more power to arrest suspects and tighten the borders. Similar opinions were expressed in polls in Italy, where today the government was set to present a package of tough new antiterrorism measures in parliament.
Ranstorp told RFE/RL that the London attacks are likely to speed up debate on European antiterrorism measures, many of which were proposed after last year's attacks in Madrid that killed 191 people.
"With Madrid, we had a raft of initiatives that were put on the European Union level," Ranstorp said. "Many of them are still on the drawing board and yet to be implemented, like biometric details in passports, deepening of databases within Schengen. We have a new European boarder agency that's taken force. I think the thorny issue that's come out of the London investigation is data retention."
Britain proposed yesterday that swifter changes to European data retention laws to allow phone and Internet usage records to be stored to help fight terrorism.
But Ranstorp said that while Europeans increasingly view such laws as necessary, the debate is still open and controversial -- a point made by Italian Communist Party leader Fausto Bertinotti yesterday in Rome.
"We are against any measures that reduce civil rights, measures that have always proven to be ineffective in fighting terrorism and which in fact can actually lend a hand to those who would like to escalate (the violence)," Bertinotti said.
The European-wide debate over how far to sacrifice civil rights in the interests of public security is taking place in a tense environment. In recent days bomb scares have hit Italy, Denmark, Britain, and Hungary.