After Nice, Paris, Brussels: A European War on Terrorism?

Peace & security

In the last two years, these European cities became better known for terrorist attacks rather than for croissants and beer. Citizens are devastated, angry and insecure. Of course, something has to happen now. Something must change.


After the latest attacks in Nice, the French president announced: “Nothing will make us yield in our will to fight terrorism. We will further strengthen our actions in Iraq and Syria. We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil.” The rhetoric of Mr. Hollande is clear: violence will be answered by violence. His words are not unfamiliar to us. In the aftermath of 9/11, former US president Bush declared war against terror and justified with this the following US-lead interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Where are we today, 15 years after the declaration of war on terrorism?

Some billions of dollars spent in wars, a tremendous death toll and widespread destruction of infrastructure, the biggest refugee movement since World War II, growing instability in the Middle East, and not fewer terrorists but more. The on-going refugee crisis and a string of severe terrorist attacks in Europe, as well as the incapability of the political leaders in dealing with these challenges, divide Europe today. The European Union is facing the prospect of disintegration with its very survival at stake. Europe therefore urgently needs a new approach on security and a coordinated Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

It is tempting to take prompt military actions. However, Europe can learn from mistakes made by the United States during the first so called “war on terror”. Intensifying military interventions in the Middle East will not be the ultimate solution to the problem. We shouldn’t forget that Europe is very close to the Middle East, unlike the US. Our societies, geography and politics are intertwined. What happens in the Middle East, will inevitably affects Europe. The luxury of disconnectedness can’t be afforded anymore.

Three paths against ISIS

ISIS is not just an Islamist military group. It is an ideology. Bombs can’t defeat ideologies. The problem is much more complex and Europe needs to tackle it by the roots and take measures not only outside its borders.

Europe’s security services must work more closely together and it is time to think about a common European security agency to ensure that intelligence is shared more effectively. Monitoring potential terrorists and sharing the information is another necessity. However, this approach has its limitations, as we have seen in the terrorist attack in Nice. Despite a country on high alert, the terrorist attack couldn’t be prevented.

Furthermore, a counter-terrorism strategy begins on the individual level. More efforts and resources should be spent on preventing violent extremism and radicalisation of young people. The root causes for violent radicalisation are complex and strategies on tackling the problem will take time and vary from country to country. But what is fundamental is an integral approach, where public authorities and leaders of Islamic communities working more closely together.

And lastly, understanding the Islamic State is key. Its goal is to divide our societies. Informed citizens that refuse polarization and orient towards the values Europe stands for, will not allow this to happen.

These are of course very simplified suggestions and are far from being a solution to the complex problem. But what we don’t need is a second war on terrorism that will further advance polarization. Above all, we need a strong unified Europe and decision-makers, who seek for rational and long-term strategies. It will be a bumpy ride.