USA: International Terrorism, Supporting States and Realpolitik

(To Vittorfranco Pisano*)

A notable aspect of contemporary terrorism, which arose in the 1960s, is the frequency of attacks carried out by foreign actors against citizens, assets and interests of the United States of America, particularly abroad. This factor has substantially influenced both the terminology and specific countermeasures adopted by the Washington government.

The Department of State, i.e. the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the main federal security service with information tasks abroad, defines three related terms, namely terrorism, international terrorism e terrorist group, framing them in the following way:

The term "terrorism" means premeditated and politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.

The term "international terrorism" means terrorism in which citizens or territory of more than one State are involved.

The term "terrorist group” means any group that practices, or has substantial subgroups of, that practices international terrorism.

The use of the expression non-combatants in the aforementioned definition of terrorism required clarification by the Department of State, which indicates them as such in addition to civilians, military personnel (whether or not armed, whether or not on duty) not deployed in a combat zone or in a war-like environment.

The belief that the direct or indirect support of supporting states has increased the danger of various terrorist groups has led the USA to impose economic sanctions against these states. In fact, a 1979 regulation on foreign trade – Export Administration Act - provides for such sanctions against the countries periodically listed by the US Government in the so-called terrorism list, officially known as State Sponsors of Terrorism. Among the applicable sanctions are the partial or total embargo on trade, the embargo on financial transactions, the suspension of economic assistance, restrictions on air or maritime traffic and the abrogation of treaties of friendship, commerce and navigation. The listing and consequential application of sanctions hinges on the assumption that the activity of supporting terrorism is repetitive, therefore systematic. Removal from the list is also expected.

From 1979 to today, eight states have appeared in the terrorism list: (1) Syria (continuously since 1979); (2) South Yemen (1979 to 1990): (3) Iraq (inserted in 1979, removed in 1982, reinserted in 1990 and removed in 2004); (4) Libya (from 1979 to 2006); (5) Cuba (inserted in 1982, removed in 2015 and reinserted in 2021); (6) Iran (inserted in 1984, removed in 2015 and reinserted in 2018); (7) North Korea (inserted in 1988, removed in 2008 and reinserted in 2017); and (8) Sudan (inserted in 1993 and removed in 2020).

Both the reservations that have been formulated regarding the effectiveness of the terrorism list and related sanctions and other more politically nuanced considerations deserve attention.

In summary, on the one hand, these are the main reservations:

• Sanctions when imposed by a single state they do not constitute an absolute deterrent given the persistence, albeit in some cases intermittently, of the inclusion of some States in the list. Furthermore, sanctions are normally imposed by Washington unilaterally as the interests of allied or friendly countries have rarely allowed them to join US initiatives in this sense.

• The application of the criterion, established by Washington, of support repetitive o systematic to terrorism for inclusion in the list prejudicially excludes from sanctions those States whose support is of an occasional nature. Therefore, subsidiarily to terrorism list, the compilation of an informal monitoring list was proposed but not adopted, informal watch list, in which some suspect states should be included provisionally.

• Sanctions, both economic and otherwise, they can prove to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the economic interests of the country or countries that impose them also pay the consequences. On the other hand, they can further isolate the affected country or countries and delay their development, thus exacerbating the use of terrorism, understood both as state terrorism and as support for non-state terrorist groups.

• Political situations persist in developing countries whereby, without government authorities being involved in their entirety in forms of support for terrorism, some sectors of the same facilitate terrorist designs of an internal and/or international nature.

However, in the presence of the protests raised by the States listed in the terrorism list, it was replied to the aforementioned reservations that the related sanctions economically and/or politically condition the regimes that govern them. Furthermore, some specific cases were put forward more concretely.

Il Pakistan, warned by Washington in 1993 of a possible inclusion in the terrorism list, has since lent its collaboration on several occasions, assisting both the USA and Egypt in the fight against international terrorism (in the photo, Prime Minister Bhutto and President Clinton in 1995).

La Libya – in full regime of Colonel Gaddafi - due to the sanctions imposed unilaterally by the USA and collectively by the UN, it recognized some of its responsibilities and provided certain compensation.

In turn - without here questioning the role played by certain states included in the terrorism list - the actual or apparent reasons of political expediency that have affected or affect the inclusion, duration, removal and possible reinsertion, or the failure to include, in the list deserve attention.

The removal of the South Yemen it reasonably occurred in 1990 when it ceased to be a sovereign state and was absorbed into the Republic of Yemen. Uncertainty regarding the outcome of aggressive Houthi activities currently underway in the Red Sea will shape future decisions.

The temporary deletion of theIraq laid down by the terrorism list from 1982 to 1989, practically for the entire duration of the Iran-Iraq war, as the Iranian theocratic regime was perceived as a greater threat to US security and its system of alliances in that geopolitical area.

The respective deletion of Iraq in 2004 and of Libya in 2006 is attributable to regime changes and situations of instability within both countries.

The temporary deletion of North Korea from 2008 to 2017 it can be linked to the attempt to improve political relations; of theIran from 2015 to 2018 is due to the attempt to resolve problems relating to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and of Cuba from 2015 to 2021 concerns the attempt to restore diplomatic relations.

The removal of the Sudan occurred in 2020 following the commitment made to cease hostile activities in the context of human rights and terrorism.

Compared to the above, greater complexity - despite the similarities - involves an examination of those countries not listed in the terrorism list, but reported as being variously involved in supporting terrorism in official State Department documents, in partly declassified CIA documents, and in analyses, also available in the public domain, prepared for the federal parliament by Congressional Research Service of Washington or from other specialized institutes.

THEAlgeria, particularly in the period 1968-1988 (pictured is President Reagan with President Bendjedid in 1985), supported or tolerated the presence of non-Algerian terrorist groups within its borders. As a site of at least temporary asylum or negotiation following kidnappings of planes or people in other countries, subversive Palestinian, Lebanese, Japanese, North and South American elements have made use of Algerian territory. This “mediation role” tends to explain Algeria's failure to be included in the terrorism list.

THESaudi Arabia is counted among the sources of significant private financial support intended for radical Islamic elements. These donors include citizens with significant contacts with the central power, sometimes accused of ambiguity. But geopolitical and geostrategic considerations would always advise against the inclusion of Saudi Arabia, an adversary of the Iranian regime, in the terrorism list.

Also significant is the fact that in the context of support for terrorism the Nicaragua was listed as an actor in the 1980s by the State Department without being included in the aforementioned list, just as theAfghanistan. , I ran with Osama bin Laden at the end and beginning of the century, in order to avoid an implicit recognition of the respective regimes in power.

Despite not being listed in the terrorism list, the role of the Qatar, simultaneously a financier of structures linked to Hamas, an investor and entrepreneur in many Western countries and a mediator in significant conflict situations. Furthermore, the political leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, resides comfortably on the sea in Doha, state capital. However, Qatar's availability and instrumentality in conducting delicate international relations has an influence.

But particular attention must be paid both to the lack of inclusion ofSoviet Union and its satellites included in the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War and the failure to include the substitute in more recent times Russian Federation, in both cases with the aim of maintaining an open dialogue and, where possible, collaborating in non-controversial areas.

A CIA analysis from 1981 – only partially declassified in 2013 - by Title Soviet Support for International Terrorism and Revolutionary Violence it noted in detail the training, weapons supply, transit and asylum provided by Moscow.

In turn, the State Department's annual public report on theTrends in Global Terrorism for the years 1983-1987 it is indicative of Moscow's support for national liberation movements and separatist movements, as well as the concomitant supply of weapons by Soviet satellites. In the period 1988-1991, characterized by the transition of the Soviet Union to the Russian Federation, the same report noted Moscow's efforts in countering domestic and international terrorism and the reduction of its relations with states supporting terrorism, specifically Syria, Iran, Libya, North Korea and Cuba. In the period between 1992 and the early 2000s, this report reported Russia's problems in countering terrorism coming from the Northern Caucasus and expressed appreciation for Russian collaboration following the well-known radical Islamic attacks committed in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

In the following decades - with the renaming in 2004 of the aforementioned relationship to Country Reports on Terrorism - the Department's attention was three-dimensionally placed on the terrorist threat in individual states, on international anti-terrorism collaboration and on states that support terrorism. As for the Russian Federation - particularly in the second decade of the current century note was taken, in the context of domestic law, of the legislative updates regarding the strengthening of investigations aimed at terrorism and the blocking of funds intended for it, as well as regarding sanctions against terrorist training, the creation of terrorist networks and participation in terrorist-subversive activities abroad; she was recognized for her participation in NATO-Russia Council Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Terrorist Threat to the Euro-Atlantic Area and in initiatives of the European Union and other regional and multinational bodies; and was credited with “constructive relationships” with Muslim organizations in promoting nonviolent dialogue. At the same time, however, the Russian use of anti-extremism legislation against peaceful political dissidents and religious minorities was indicated.

It should also be specifically noted that in the State Department's most recent annual report, currently stuck at the year 2022, the following is literally attributed to Moscow: “The Russian Federation has continued to use terrorist and 'extremist' threats as a pretext to suppress political opposition and the exercise of human rights or other objectives in both domestic and foreign policy”. Failure to include the Russian Federation of terrorism list would be due to consideration - according to what was declared by Karine Jean-Pierre, spokeswoman for the White House, in a briefing with the press - that such a measure could also be 'counterproductive' for Ukraine.

In conclusion, despite the limitations of terrorism list, the use of unilateral or collective sanctions against states supporting terrorism should not be dismissed lightly. Nor should we forget, as demonstrated by the US experience in the fight against terrorism, the need to deal with the Realpolitik (see opening photo, ndd).

* The professor. Vittorfranco Pisano, currently general secretary of the National Register of Intelligence Analysts and professor of "Terrorism and Non-Conventional Conflict" at eCampus University, was a consultant for the Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism of the United States Senate and course reviewer within the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program of the US Department of State

Photo: White House / Kremlin / X / CIA