Security crisis or existential crisis for the EU?

March 30, 2016

Published on the TransCrisis blog by Martin Lodge and Nick Sitter

The terrorist attacks in Brussels on March 22nd are more than a classic terrorist attack against an EU member state. They represent a genuine transnational crisis for the European Union because they involve cross border-terrorism of a kind not seen before last year’s January 7thCharlie Hebdo attack and the November 13th attacks in Paris, because they target the EU as such, and because they could further the broader crisis that has been affecting the EU in view of sovereign debt and refugee crises.

Before the Charlie Hebdo attack most terrorist attacks attributed to Al Qaeda or the Islamic State were international mainly in the sense that the central organizations of AQ (in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan) or ISIS (in Syrian and Iraq) or one of their affiliates (e.g. AQ in Yemen or Algeria, ISIS in Libya or Tunisia) provided inspiration, instructions or even some degree of training. The recent attacks in Paris and Brussels are transnational in a new sense, because they involve one or more cells that operate across national boundaries and take advantage of the free movement that the Schengen area offers. It was hardly more difficult for the Paris attackers to come down from Brussels in 2015 than it had been for the 7/7 bombers to take the train from Leeds to London in 2005.

The importance of the Paris-Brussels link is not only that these attacks were transnational, but that the attacks in the two cities seem to have involved considerably more planning, preparation and logistical complexity than the bombs that struck Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. Taken together, the attacks suggest a possible change of tactics for in Europe.

The central leadership of AQ and ISIS differ widely in terms of tactics. Whereas AQ preferred to unite Muslims and target the ‘far enemy’ to drive it off the ‘Muslim lands’, with a view to a distant Caliphate, ISIS declared the Caliphate and targeted local rivals or enemies with a view to polarizing society and making Iraq (and Syria) ungovernable. The ‘Global War on Terror’ to some extent managed to degrade AQ’s capacity to hit the West, but did little to stop local campaigns across the Middle East. Both AQ and ISIS established franchise-like networks in the region, as well as in Asia and North Africa.

Full article available at the TransCrisis blog.