Terrorism has existed for many decades, but it was not till September 11, 2001 when it hit the mainstream and seized everyone's attention. Countries scrambled to secure themselves from the threat of possible terrorist attacks, and organizations such as NATO and the UN immediately denounced such attacks and came up with their own strategies to protect their member states and assemble plans in efforts to fight the terrorist threat. Both organizations have the tools and the power to fight terrorism but there is much debate as to which one is effective. I argue that NATO is more effective than the UN in combating terrorism because of its experience running a coordinated campaign, its ability to serve as a platform for political support and multinational military action, and its commitment to improving its capabilities.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the United Nations (UN) are two separate entities that work towards similar goals. NATO is an alliance of 26 countries from North America and Europe committed to fulfilling the goals of the North Atlantic Treaty signed on April 4, 1949. The treaty was designed for its members to promote stability and well-being in the North-Atlantic area and for them to unite their efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security.1 The UN, similarly, was created to promote international cooperation and to achieve peace and security. It officially came into existence on October 24, 1945, when the Charter had been ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and others.2 Prior to September 11, 2001, both NATO and the UN had been very committed in helping in the fight against terrorism. In 1999, NATO recognized terrorism as being a major threat to its security, but it was not till after the terror attacks on New York in 2001 that it engaged actively in the fight against terrorism.3 The UN on the other hand came up with the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in 2006 where nations agreed to a common strategic approach to fight terrorism.
NATO can be seen as being more effective than the UN in combating terrorism because of its experience in running a coordinated campaign. This experience can be drawn from NATO's countless missions in various areas of conflict. Such missions include Bosnia between 1996 and 2006, Kosovo in 1999, and Turkey in 2003 to name a few.5 Instead of going through the historical description of these past missions, I will focus on the experience NATO gained by being involved in such conflicts and how this makes it more effective compared to the UN, in combating terrorism. In the wake of the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, NATO helped sustain a safe environment as well as assist in the countries reconstruction. “In the nine years that followed the deployment of NATO forces in Bosnia, more than half a million servicemen and women from 43 nations, including 90,000 Americans, served in Bosnia and Herzegovina without losing a single soldier to hostile action.”6 This commitment to safety throughout nine years in Bosnia gave NATO many years of experience in providing security to an unstable area and truly showed the degree to which NATO operates its coordinated campaigns. Such a secure environment is undoubtedly needed within the states where the search for terrorists is being conducted today, one example is in Afghanistan. NATO has been involved in providing security and stability within the Afghan borders since 2006 where “in a landmark step for NATO, NATO- ISF [International Security Assistance Force] took command of the international military forces in eastern Afghanistan from the US-led Coalition.”7 This major shift in command demonstrated NATO's ability to take control of an unstable area. It also confirmed NATO's experience in controlling such a situation, similar to the one which it had previously encountered in Bosnia. To get a grasp on the experience that is needed within a dangerous state such as Afghanistan, we must look at the size of the operation that NATO is running in terms of the amount of allied forces it must command. Approximately 43,250 troops from 40 different countries are being lead by NATO authorities.8 This means that NATO must have a very well coordinated campaign to ensure the safety of the troops that it is responsible for. Such a campaign requires experience on part of the authorities running it, which is what NATO has gained from missions in Bosnia and other countries, that has given them the ability to be effective in combating terrorism through their command of troops in Afghanistan.
NATO's ability to serve as a platform for political support and multinational military action is another key ingredient to its effectiveness in combating terrorism. Over the past 10 years NATO has guided its efforts into engaging with other countries, as well as gaining valuable experience with other nations in its participation in the peacekeeping efforts within the Balkans.9 This engagement with other countries has contributed to the success of the operations in Afghanistan. For example, “NATO's Partners in Central Asia have provided crucial basing. Romania supplied infantry, military police, and transportation resources. Russia and Slovakia have been lending essential engineering support. And Sweden deployed an intelligence unit to NATO headquarters.”10 The assistance from other nations demonstrates NATO's ability to attract various states and get them involved in the process of combating terrorism. The successful elimination of Afghanistan's Taliban regime, the effective operation against the Al-Qaida terrorist network, and the improvement of the security conditions in Afghanistan, are all due to the support of other nations which without NATO would not have been brought together for to help alleviate an unsafe environment. The ability to serve as such a platform for political support and military action must have something to do with its reputation amongst the world's nations. Ever since the organizations creation, NATO has never fell short of its goals within its various campaigns and this is why “NATO's reputation is built in part [on] never having failed.”11 Its success can be credited to the organizations ability to plan and coordinate a structured campaign. Such a detailed campaign can be seen in the Bosnia mission where NATO was responsible in providing planning, logistic and command support for the operation.12 By developing such a reputation amongst other nations, NATO can be seen as a very reliable organization. With this reliability factor comes the ability to draw in the interests of other nations, which in turn offer political support and military action required to fulfill the goals of the specific campaign.
NATO's commitment to improving its capabilities is another factor that makes it more effective in combating terrorism than the UN. “NATO is putting into place a series of measures to increase the deployability and usability of its forces.”13 What this means is that the organization is keeping up to date in revising their tactics in terms of the tools they use as well as the planning of certain missions. Examples of the measures taken by NATO to improve its capabilities include the creation of a high-readiness NATO response force, a new ground surveillance system as well as a missile defense system.14
The high-readiness NATO response force was created to ensure the quick deployment of troops within 5 days notice consisting of land, air and sea components. Such a force is required not only for when disasters strike but also for combating terror. “In the wake of the Madrid bombings in 2004, NATO deployed its response force to the area immediately to ensure the safety of the citizens of Spain.”15 This immediate response to a terrorist attack was definitely an improvement from that of September 11 when it took NATO longer to respond to. It displays the organizations commitment to an improved force for combating terrorism not only in Afghanistan but in areas where high security is needed such as the Olympic Games. For the Athens Olympics, NATO received a request from the government of Greece asking for security from any terrorist threats. This kind of security request for such an enormous event brought NATO to the top of the world in terms of organizations that could be depended upon for security and protection from terrorists. The request also showed that Greece and the IOC of the Olympic Games recognized NATO's improved capabilities in serving as a force that can protect against terrorism. NATO provided an airborne early warning aircraft for air surveillance, naval forces, and chemical and biological response units.16 Providing such security to an event of this size and protecting citizens from terrorist attacks is a means of defeating terrorism because terrorists' goals are to inflict panic (fear) on as many people as they can. By disabling terrorist objectives and preventing them from carrying out attacks, NATO is combating terrorism in an effective way.
NATO has the experience of running a coordinated campaign in unstable environments, but it can be argued that the UN has more experience and more power in dealing with situations such as combating terror because of the fact that it is made up of 192 member states. These 192 members discuss their issues and formulate productive strategies in order to be successful in the combat against terrorism.17 Each member state has some kind of experience of dealing with unstable and dangerous environments whether its civil war or aiding another country with security. For example, the United States has an enormous amount of experience such as the war on terror in Afghanistan as well as the invasion of Iraq. By consulting them and “getting their ideas across to the other nations, the UN can create a multilateral strategy.”18 By utilizing the experience and ideas of all its member states, the UN can produce very structured and multilateral strategies which can be seen as being more effective than developing a response force for the purpose fighting terrorism. Although the UN has 192 experienced member states and utilizes them for multilateral strategies against terrorism, it does not have its own force which can be immediately deployed and physically bring security to an area such as Afghanistan or an event such as the Olympic Games. It must go through the process of requesting its member states to send in their forces into certain situations. This process can be lengthy and some disagreements can occur such as the one in Darfur. “The UN had requested aid from its member states but got only a limited response.”19 NATO has the advantage over the UN when it comes to responding to crisis. Events such as terrorist attacks can be responded to very quickly with NATO's response force and security can be provided to areas with the organizations improved capabilities.
It can also be argued that the UN has an advantage over NATO when it comes to their political legitimacy. The UN has acquired universal membership which means that most of the world's nations are members of the UN and with this comes their respect of the goals of the UN. By having 192 countries on the same side of things, the political legitimacy is undeniable. This means that all member states can work multilaterally to combat terrorism. The UN can serve as the front of global authority for anti-terrorism campaigns and their strategies. An example of this can come from determining the definition of terrorism. “If the definition cannot be agreed through the UN “funnel”, the likelihood of a broad acceptance of any working definition of terrorism in the world at large would be very slim.”20 The UN's political legitimacy is certainly present, however this political legitimacy doesn't seem to be as effective as it suggests since the UN constantly experiences excessive politicization. Certain states disagree with others and political debates tend to take priority over the reason they came together for the discussion. NATO does not have this problem because of its ability to act upon a situation without consulting member states and asking for their assistance. “NATO acted upon the Bosnian crisis without hesitating to ask for its member's permission or aid. Only after it had established its presence in Bosnia, had it requested assistance from its allies.”21
In conclusion, the terrorist threat is global and all countries must protect themselves in order to ensure their peoples security. Both NATO and the UN have effective ways in dealing with the terrorist threat. They have strong member states that are committed to their stance on security and have structured campaigns in their combat against terrorism. This essay addressed the question whether NATO or the UN is more effective for combating terrorism. It argued that NATO is more effective in combating terrorism. It proved this by showing that NATO has more experience than the UN with its various campaigns including the Bosnia mission. It serves as a platform for political support and multinational military action by engaging with its supporters directly. It is also committed to improving its capabilities to ensure security in areas of insecurity. With such qualities, NATO evidently serves as an essential part of the global battle against terrorists and with its experience, its ability to serve as a platform for political support, and its commitment to improving its capabilities, NATO is more effective than the UN in combating terrorism.