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Debate: UN Committee on Counter Terrorism

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Is the UN Committee on Counter Terrorism an effective tool against international terrorism?

Background and context

Less than three weeks after the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Centre on 9th September 2001, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1373.

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Argument #1

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Yes

The events of the past ten years, and particularly the tragedy of 9/11 in New York, have shown that the threat of terrorism is now a truly international one. Countering the continuing terrorist threat and

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No

The United States already supports the work of the UN's Counter Terrorism Committee and is fully engaged in helping the CTC to meet its objectives. As well as cooperating with the CTC in providing information about US legislation and counter-terrorism programmes, the United States has supported the engagement of the CTC with other international bodies to which the USA belongs (e.g. the OAS, OSCE, NATO, World Bank). Furthermore, the USA has provided assistance through the CTC to countries requesting support in improving their legislation and counter terrorist programmes to meet the new global threat. However, the USA recognises the limitations of the CTC, which mean that it cannot be the only channel through which American counter-terrorist initiatives are directed. For example, the US has been willing to provide more help to countries in need of counter-terrorism support than the CTC has requested, and so has provided some assistance on a bilateral basis rather than through UN channels. The CTC is a small part of a vast and often inefficient UN bureaucracy, which perhaps explains its preoccupation with paper exercises over decisive action and its failure to cooperate for two years with colleagues in the UN group implementing sanctions on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban (despite them being on the same floor of the same building).

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Argument #3

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Yes

As the first phases of the CTC's work draw to a close, it should now be able to develop its role as the leading international coordinator of counter terrorism activity. As the UN says,

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No

The United States is right to be cautious about sharing intelligence and information about bilateral programmes freely with the CTC. The Committee's members are drawn from representatives of states on the Security Council, and not all of these are always friendly to American interests. The UN must earn the trust of the US and its allies, so they can be confident that information shared within the CTC would not be leaked or used against them. US intelligence agencies must feel certain that they will not be compromising their operations and sources before they are required by politicians to share information in this way.

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Argument #2

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Yes

The Counter Terrorism Committee's low-key approach is entirely justified. More assertive action would only have alienated some states and broken the post-9/11 consensus on terrorism. By focusing upon ratification of the UN's anti-terrorism conventions, and on practical help with domestic legislation and programmes, as well as coordinating the collection and exchange of information, the CTC has established new global norms against terrorism. Terrorism is now viewed as a global problem, not just a concern for the US and its allies. This has isolated any states who are not whole-heartedly willing to oppose terror in all its forms, making possible future enforcement action potentially more effective. A more assertive approach might have pleased the USA, but it would have achieved much less in practice and led to accusations that the CTC was driven by American rather than global concerns - which would have been fatal for a body requiring trust and cooperation.

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No

Although the work of the Counter Terrorism Committee is very worthy, it has taken a very low-key approach in the four years of its existence. Collecting submissions from governments on their commitments and needs in countering terrorism is all very well, but the CTC needs to go beyond this to determine whether these pledges are actually worth anything in reality. It also needs to be willing to name and shame states who are not cooperating and recommend enforcement action to the Security Council - something it has so far failed to do. Until the CTC shows itself willing to take a more vigorous line on counter terrorism, the United States is justified in pursuing other means of international cooperation in addition to its support for the UN process.

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Argument #6

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Yes

The CTC is working to establish norms for respecting human rights and civil liberties while engaging in effective counter terrorism. The UN has consistently maintained that

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No

The USA should be careful not to focus its international counter terrorism efforts too heavily through the United Nations. Many of the countries involved in CTC programmes have been accused by Human Rights Watch of committing

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Argument #4

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Yes

The UN's High Level Panel defined terrorism as

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No

Until a straightforward definition of terrorism can be agreed by member states, UN work on counter terrorism will always be compromised. It was encouraging that the High Level Panel put forward a definition with which the USA felt was tough enough - i.e. it did not excuse Palestinian or other terrorism on the grounds of

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Argument #5

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Yes

The United States should show leadership by responding to the concerns of the CTC over its own domestic laws. The CTC has observed that the very relaxed gun laws in the United States make it very easy for terrorists to obtain weapons there. In order to comply more fully with Security Council Resolution 1373, the US should take steps to restrict the free sale of firearms. This would also set a good example to other nations which need to consider what the struggle against global terrorism demands from them.

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No

No one seriously believes that changing the US gun laws will reduce terrorist violence. This is instead just an excuse for the liberals who run the UN to intervene in the sovereign affairs of the USA. The right to bear arms is enshrined in the US Constitution and is a cornerstone of American freedom. The United States government must ensure it avoids compromising American independence and liberty by becoming too close to the United Nations, in the CTC or any other body.

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