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Addressing the New International Terrorism:
Prevention, Intervention and Multilateral Cooperation

Task Force Report #56
The Trilateral Commission (2003)
Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Yukio Satoh and Paul Wilkinson
ISBN: 0-930503-81-6
31 pp./paper/$10.00 plus S&H
To (Brookings)


Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • A North American Perspective
    Joseph S. Nye, Jr.
  • An Asia-Pacific View on Counterterrorism Cooperation
    Yukio Satoh
  • A European Viewpoint on Terrorism
    Paul Wilkinson
  • Conclusion



The terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 created a divergence of perspectives about terrorism among the Trilateral countries. After an initial surge of solidarity illustrated by a headline in Le Monde declaring we were all Americans now, the differences between the United States and the other member countries began to widen. The United States declared a war on transnational terrorism, greatly increased its defense budget, fought in Afghanistan, declared a new strategy that expanded preemption into the realm of preventive war, and undertook the most massive reorganization of its government in more than half a century. Other countries, while cooperating with the United States on Afghanistan, intelligence sharing, and police work, began to express concern that the United States was overreacting. In the description of the French analyst Therese Delpech, "most Europeans do not accept the idea of a 'war' on terrorism. They are used to dealing with this phenomenon with other methods (intelligence services, police, justice)... .The Europeans fear that the Americans are engaging in an endless war without considering all the possible consequences." Similar attitudes can be encountered in many parts of Asia.

It is not surprising that attitudes diverged. After all, the trauma of September 11 happened inside the United States and created a greater and longer-lasting sense of urgency. Many governments were anxious not to frighten their populations or exacerbate relations with their Muslim minorities. Some people believed that American foreign policy was, in part, responsible for the disaster and that it would be wise to seek distance from the United States. But perhaps most important was the widespread feeling of deja vu. Europe, Japan and other countries had lived through severe episodes of terrorism in the 1970s and 80s, yet managed to overcome it with their democracies intact. Terrorism was a nuisance that had to be managed, not a challenge requiring total change. Moreover, the political rhetoric of "evil" and "war" that helped to mobilize the American public seemed alien and alarming to many people overseas who preferred a managerial approach.

Different perceptions are natural among the different political cultures of the Trilateral countries, but if the divergence becomes too great, it can have dangerous effects. European and Asian reactions could reduce incentives for cooperation. American irritation with its allies could reinforce unilateralist responses to problems that would benefit from more cooperative approaches. Over time, such friction could spill over into other areas such as trade and the movement of people.

Most important, diverging perceptions could limit the cooperation that is necessary to address common vulnerabilities. The simple fact that modern terrorism is transnational means no country can hope to combat it in isolation. Systems to protect against terrorism are no stronger than their weakest link, and those links are in many countries. For example, even if most countries require bars on the cockpit doors of commercial aircraft, it is impossible to prevent terrorist use of planes as giant cruise missiles unless all countries enforce such measures. 'Homeland" security has become an international issue. Most governments of Trilateral countries are aware of these problems, and there has been impressive cooperation in some areas such as intelligence sharing and police work. Nonetheless, the glass is at best half full, and that is the reason that the Trilateral Commission is addressing this topic now.


(titles at time of publication)

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Dean, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs
Yukio Satoh, President, The Japan Institute of International Affairs; former Ambassador of Japan to the United Nations
Paul Wilkinson, Chairman, Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence; Professor of International Relations, St. Andrews University, United Kingdom