Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Reconsidered

The arrests in London of 21 terrorists who appear to have planned to blow up a number of airplanes over the Atlantic reminds us, if any reminder is needed, of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington of September 11, 2001. 9/11 remains the date that has come to signify modern terrorism in all of its terrible capacity to cause death and destruction. Five years may be too short a period for historians to judge the full significance of the event, but it does offer an opportunity to take stock.

At best, it is a mixed record. Terrorist attacks have occurred subsequently in Indonesia, Madrid, London, Egypt, and most recently Mumbai. Thousands of innocent men, women and children have been killed. There is also the steady drumbeat of terrorist violence in Iraq – violence that risks pushing the country into full-scale civil war.

But the terrorists still have not done anything on the scale of 9/11. The reason for this is worth thinking about. It may reflect the ouster of the government of Afghanistan and the elimination of al-Qaida’s safe haven there. Improved and better coordinated intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security efforts at both the national and international levels have made it more difficult for terrorists to succeed. And as the recent arrests in London suggest, it is also possible that the desire of some terrorists to accomplish something more dramatic than the 9/11 attacks may have complicated their ability to implement their plans and increased the prospect that they will be detected.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in

  1. Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images

    The Summit of Climate Hopes

    Presidents, prime ministers, and policymakers gather in Paris today for the One Planet Summit. But with no senior US representative attending, is the 2015 Paris climate agreement still viable?

  2. Trump greets his supporters The Washington Post/Getty Images

    Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America

    • In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. 

    • Sooner or later, Trump's core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.
  3. Agents are bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

    The Man Who Didn’t Save the World

    A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

  4.  An inside view of the 'AknRobotics' Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Two Myths About Automation

    While many people believe that technological progress and job destruction are accelerating dramatically, there is no evidence of either trend. In reality, total factor productivity, the best summary measure of the pace of technical change, has been stagnating since 2005 in the US and across the advanced-country world.

  5. A student shows a combo pictures of three dictators, Austrian born Hitler, Castro and Stalin with Viktor Orban Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images

    The Hungarian Government’s Failed Campaign of Lies

    The Hungarian government has released the results of its "national consultation" on what it calls the "Soros Plan" to flood the country with Muslim migrants and refugees. But no such plan exists, only a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign to help a corrupt administration deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ aspirations.

  6. Project Syndicate

    DEBATE: Should the Eurozone Impose Fiscal Union?

    French President Emmanuel Macron wants European leaders to appoint a eurozone finance minister as a way to ensure the single currency's long-term viability. But would it work, and, more fundamentally, is it necessary?

  7. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now