By: Tiffany C. L. Williams, Reporter
On February 28, 2018, Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program (SSP) in conjunction with the Master of Arts in German and European Studies (MAGES) Program co-hosted a discussion entitled “Transatlantic Counterterrorism Cooperation” led by Professors Daniel Byman and Abraham Newman (both of Georgetown University). The purpose of the discussion was to highlight the current nature of bilateral European-American efforts to fight terrorism. Before a full audience, the distinguished scholars proceeded to highlight the complexities within that cooperative framework.
Starting off the discussion, Professor Newman made four key points focusing on the counterterrorism information flow between the United States and Europe. First, he argued that information is power, because it is used to manage terrorist threats in two ways: as a “panopticon” to figure out what terrorist organizations are doing and as a “chokepoint” to disrupt the efforts of those organizations.
Secondly, Professor Newman argued that differences between the U.S. and Europe in how information is managed countries has impeded counterterrorism efforts at times. As an example, the professor contrasted the fact that Europeans tend to have rules that govern information flow in both the private and public sectors whereas the United States allows the private sector to be much more independent. Consequently, governments on both sides of the Atlantic may desire to share information in the fight against terrorism, but might be limited in what they can divulge due to legal differences.
The third point that Professor Newman made was that the nature of the counterterrorism relationship between Europe and the U.S. was not an “us” versus “them” scenario. Instead, the security and civil liberties actors on both sides of the Atlantic have similar goals, but can often clash with each other. In other words, there are entities, such as intelligence agencies, in the United States and Europe whose utmost concern is security. Conversely, there are also groups on both sides of the oceans who feel that civil liberties should not be abridged even for the sake of security. Therefore, one cannot simply say that the U.S. is solely focused on security at the detriment of civil liberties nor is Europe solely focused on the reverse. Finally, Professor Newman closed his opening remarks by stating that the civil liberties communities on both sides of the ocean can sometimes hinder the flow of information between Europe and the United States.
Professor Byman focused his discussion on key differences between the U.S. and European countries, as well as in which countries in Europe differ amongst themselves that have at times resulted in challenges in transatlantic counterterrorism efforts. One of the key differences he mentioned was between the relatively small numbers of Americans who have become foreign fighters in organizations such as IS versus the much larger numbers of Europeans who have fled to join IS. Although very few U.S. citizens have become foreign fighters, Professor Byman cited American global engagement as one of the reasons for its proactivity in counterterrorism efforts beyond its concern for national security.
Professor Byman discussed numerous variations in opinion among European countries that have sometimes obstructed counterterrorism efforts. One is that European countries themselves differ on what to do with their citizens who have fled and become foreign fighters. According to the professor, most European countries do not want these individuals to reenter their societies, but their government officials vary on how the foreign fighters should be dealt with. Because relatively few Americans have left to become foreign fighters, that is not one of this country’s most urgent counterterrorism concerns. Another question that European countries differ on is determining the status of children who have become members of terrorist organizations themselves especially as they return to Europe. Again, variations in European opinions on that matter exist too, but the U.S. has not been required to deal with issues of the same scale. Consequentially, Europeans have tended to focus more on deradicalization in their counterterrorism efforts than the United States has. The discussion closed with both professors entertaining questions from audience members as they sought to provide more insight on bilateral transatlantic counterterrorism efforts.