Issue 108: The UN’s Complacency on Terrorism

In a recent opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, Alan Dershowitz argued that the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad is partly the fault of the UN, because terrorism is a “U.N.-created, -fed and -rewarded monster.”  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Complacency, not active support, is the proper charge against the UN.

Analysis: The UN Secretariat does not subscribe to the idea of a war on terrorism.  For them, terror is a matter for the police.  The UN Secretariat has a Terrorism Prevention Branch, and its bureaucratic location is telling.  It is in the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna.  The UNODC website lumps terrorism together with corruption and human trafficking.

Terje-Roed Larsen, the Secretary-General’s envoy for the Middle East, provided the latest example of this attitude by condemning the killing of Hamas terrorists by Israel last week in Gaza as “extra-judicial assassinations.”  Larsen refuses to admit that Israel and Hamas are in an armed conflict in which enemy combatants need not be arrested.  In addition to suicide bombings, Hamas has fired rockets and mortars into Israel.  Yet, Larsen holds Israel to the standard of criminal law rather than the law of armed conflict.

The Security Council has two sub-committees that deal with terrorism, though both are inadequate to the challenge. Resolution 1267 established the “1267 Committee,” which does have the ability to apply financial sanctions, but its scope is limited to al-Qaeda-related groups and individuals.  Resolution 1373 established the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC), which obligates states to report on counter-terrorism efforts.  The CTC, comprised of all 15 members of the Security Council, serves only to collect reports from states and disseminate them.  Theoretically, the CTC could recommend to the Security Council to take action against a state that is not complying with Resolution 1373, but it has not done so in the two years since its creation.  The CTC has simply told the Security Council that Chad and Mali have not yet submitted reports and 51 others are late in submitting follow-up reports.

Syria’s report to the CTC stated, “Since Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) does not define the concept of terrorism or specify the terrorist acts and entities that must be suppressed, in the preparation of the present report Syria has based itself on its commitments as a party to the 1998 Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism, which distinguishes between terrorism and legitimate struggle against foreign occupation.”  Thus Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the PFLP-GC still operate openly, if no longer officially, in Damascus.  There is no UN definition of terrorism, because Arab states are blocking an otherwise widely held consensus on this issue in the UN General Assembly’s Sixth (Legal) Committee.

The UN treats terrorism as a crime that it can’t define, creates inadequate institutions as a response, and blames those who have declared war on it.  Instead of Frankenstein, Dershowitz should have chosen Faust, the symbol of self-deception who pays in the end.