European Counterterrorist Efforts: Political Will and Diverse Responses in the First Year After September 11

The attacks of September 11 prompted the Bush Administration to improve law enforcement and other coordination between the United States and European governments dealing with international terrorism. European governments have also taken measures to enhance cooperation among themselves. Most notable are European Union efforts to enhance cross-border sharing of intelligence and police information, extend the reach of warrants, and strengthen external border controls. Some European countries have a long history of fighting terrorism, and have refined existing practices as part of their counterterror policy. Others with little experience in combating terrorism are developing measures for the first time. Efforts to fight terror include the disruption of terrorists' financial networks, the emerging EU regime for tracking asylum seekers, and arrest and trial of suspected terrorists. However, some governments have been slow to accept the U.S. position that Al Qaeda poses a significant new threat, and are correspondingly reluctant to approve enhanced law enforcement measures, or are inattentive to their implementation. These governments may believe that the United States is under a new threat, but that the danger does not extend to their own societies, or that a more active role in the fight would increase the likelihood that they would be targeted. Some governments also have different evidentiary standards from their neighbors and the United States; these governments may set the evidentiary bar very high before undertaking an investigation or making an arrest. Domestic political factors are influencing the debate in some countries over terrorism, and raising concerns over religious and ethnic tolerance. Several countries, such as Italy, Denmark, Austria, and the Netherlands, have popular currents increasingly wary of or hostile to immigration. Some political parties in these countries are using fear of terrorism to brand Moslems as extremists, and attempting to restrict their immigration. Resources available to governments also play an important role in the counterterror effort. Absent a major terrorist attack on their own soil, some governments lack the political support in their parliaments and among their populations to divert resources from efforts to resolve social and economic problems and towards greater security against terrorism. The events of September 11 led to immediate and unprecedented European efforts to cooperate with the United States in fighting terrorism. However, by early 2002 the emphasis placed by the Bush Administration on military action beyond Afghanistan, and on strong support for the Sharon government in Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, began to raise doubts among some Europeans about the overall U.S. approach to counterterrorism. There are concerns in Europe that the United States is using the war against terrorism to pursue broader and more controversial foreign policy goals.