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The War On Terrorism After Iraq

Dazzling military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq may mislead us about the war on terrorism. If it were merely a matter of rogue states, we could think that progress is being made. But technological progress is putting into the hands of deviant groups and individuals destructive capabilities that were once limited primarily to governments and armies.

Even if eliminating all terrorist incidents proves impossible, reducing their frequency and lethal potential will make a large difference in their impact on our societies. The world needs a multi-faceted strategy that de-legitimizes attacks on civilians as a method of conflict; discourages states from providing resources or safe harbor to those who use such methods; hardens our targets at home; denies terrorists easy access to weapons of mass destruction; and reduces incentives to use terrorism.

Military measures may not deal with the largest part of the problem, but they are essential sometimes. Depriving Al Qaeda of its Afghan safe haven was not sufficient, but it was necessary. The number of states sponsoring terrorism has decreased over the past decade. Diplomacy backed by military threat can reduce the number further. Some failed states are so chaotically organized that they cannot be deterred from providing a haven for terrorists. In such instances, military assistance may be relevant; in others, intervention may be necessary.

Intelligence sharing and police cooperation is often the most effective front line of defense. Because of the sensitivity of sources and the dangers of disclosure, much of this work is carried out through bilateral arrangements. Multilateral cooperation is possible in tracing financial flows, which can help to deprive terrorists of resources as well as provide useful information. Information sharing can also be enhanced by devoting more resources to under-funded organizations like Interpol.