According to Ray S. Cline and Yonah Alexander, state sponsored terrorism aims “to achieve strategic ends in circumstances where the use of conventional armed forces is deemed inappropriate, ineffective, too risky, or too difficult.” The high costs of modern warfare, the Cold War, and concern about non-conventional escalation, as well as the danger of defeat and the unwillingness to appear as the aggressor, have turned terrorism into an efficient, convenient, and generally discrete weapon for attaining state interests in the international realm.
State support for terrorism has led to greater cooperation between organizations in countries throughout the world, even in cases where ideological affinity was minimal. The Soviet Union was among the first to sponsor a variety of terrorist organizations, either directly or through its satellite states, although with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Iran has assumed leadership in the terrorism sponsorship field, both through direct and (primarily) indirect means. Considering the level and scope of its involvement in terrorist activities, post-Pahlavian Iran has become the leading force in state sponsored terrorism.
Report on State-Sponsored Terrorism
The chapter “State Sponsored Terrorism” in the 1993 report states:
International terrorism would not have flourished as it has during the past few decades without the funding, training, safe haven, weapons, and logistic support provided to terrorists by sovereign states.
The 1994 report proceeds to emphasize that this aid “is crucial to the operation of many international terrorist organizations.” Going back to the 1993 report, we learn,
For this reason, a primary aim of our counterterrorism policy has been to apply pressure on such states to cease and desist in that support and to make them pay the cost if they persist. We do this by publicly identifying state sponsors and by imposing economic, diplomatic, and sometimes military sanctions.
The American list relates, as noted, to states sponsoring international terrorism, namely, terrorism directed against citizens of another country, or against expatriates living abroad. (Hence, the American list does not relate to domestic violence performed by official agencies). A review of the reports for the last few years reveals that the list is constant; Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria make up its members.
State Involvement in Terrorist Attacks
In general, terrorist attacks can be divided into two groups according to the perpetrating agency: attacks by terrorist organizations (colored gray in the diagram), and attacks perpetrated directly by official state institutions or their agents – security forces, intelligence services, and others (colored black in the diagram). Naturally, the former group of attacks is considerably larger than the latter, both because states prefer to avoid responsibility, and because terrorist organizations also conduct operations without direct links, initiative, or support from states.
Terrorist acts performed directly by a state are initiated by the state in order to attain a specific interest of that state (see mark 1). Most terrorist acts, however, are performed by terrorist organizations and result from the attempt to pursue the interests of the terrorist group (marks 4-9), while a minority are meant to satisfy only the interests of the sponsoring state (marks 2, 3). Some reflect a shared interest of the state and the organization (marks 6-9), and of these some are state initiated (8, 9).
Of attacks carried out by terrorist organizations, some involve direct state support at the planning, preparatory or operational stages (marks 3, 5, 7 and 9).
These attacks may be intended to achieve an interest of the organization (mark 5), or an interest shared by the organization and the state (marks 7 and 9), or even merely to promote the interests of the sponsoring state (mark 3). Attacks meant to attain an interest shared by both the state and the organization may sometimes enjoy state support (7, 9).
On the basis of diagram 1, we can classify terrorist attacks into several groups, as follows:
* Acts of terror initiated by the organization to advance its own interests and without any state involvement.
* Acts of terror initiated by the organization to promote its own interests, with operational assistance from the state.
* Acts of terror initiated by the state to promote the interests of the state or a shared interest (at times with operational assistance from the state).
* Acts of terror executed by the state or its agents in order to achieve its own interests.
Types of State Involvement in International Terrorism
Cline and Alexander suggested a definition of state sponsored terrorism:
The deliberate employment of violence or the threat of use of violence by sovereign states (or sub-national groups encouraged or assisted by sovereign states) to attain strategic and political objectives by acts in violation of law. These criminal acts are intended to create overwhelming fear in a target population larger than the civilian or military victims attached or threatened.
The use of legal factors in this definition makes it problematic and highlights the difficulties surrounding the study of the subject at hand. Laws and legal systems are the products of state action and are open to state interpretation. As such, terrorism defined as law infringement is dependent on the subjective nature of legal interpretation. States can therefore deny their involvement in terrorism by claiming that their actions are legal according to their legal systems. Nor is international law sufficiently developed to be of use in this definition. Furthermore, as noted, there are various kinds of state involvement in terrorism and, therefore, we must also define states according to their level of involvement
In some cases, however, terrorist organizations were founded by extreme radical activists, who were inspired to found their group by a state which supported terrorism or who had accepted the ideological sponsorship of a state sponsor in an effort to attain material assistance, after having already founded their organization. In such cases, the terrorist organization is provided with political, ideological or religious indoctrination via agents of the supporting state or is trained by institutions of the sponsoring state. (In this context one should mention communist terrorist organizations, such as the “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,” which enjoyed support from the Soviet Union, and organizations with an Islamic fundamentalist outlook, such as Hizballah, with close ideological and religious ties to Iran).
Diagram 2: State Involvement in International Terrorism: A Classification
Diagram 2: Part I describes the different levels of state support for terrorist organizations, and state’s involvement in terrorist attacks. Part II classifies states according to their level of involvement.
A higher level of aid involves “military support.” Within this framework, the state supplies the terrorist organization with a broad range of weapons, provides military training, organizes courses for activists, and so on. Iran also falls in this category. For instance, Hassan Salame (a Hamas leader responsible for several suicide attacks in Israel, who was arrested in mid-1996) reported that he had trained in Iran. His disclosure confirms many accounts about an extensive military and operational training network in Iranian facilities for members of terrorist organizations and extremist groups from all over the world.
Initiating Terrorist Attacks
It is worth noting that the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, relying on Egyptian sources, reported that a conference of Islamic terrorist organizations, sponsored by Iranian intelligence services, convened in Iran in mid-June 1996. At the conference, it was decided to create a monthly forum based in Iran to coordinate positions and obtain the authorization of Iranian secret services for terrorist activities.
Direct Involvement in Terrorist Attacks
Iran is not the only country which executes terrorist activities through its own official agencies. Direct Libyan involvement in terrorist activities deserves mention in this context. For example, a French judge recently declared — following a prolonged investigation (parts of which were carried out in Libya) of the explosion of a UTA-owned (France) airplane over the Sahara Desert in 1989, in which all 170 passengers and crew were killed — that leading figures in Libyan intelligence stood behind the incident. The judge issued two international arrest warrants against Libyans for their involvement in preparing and transporting the bomb, and intends to prosecute them in absencia.
The pyramidal structure of the diagram serves to illustrate the degree of state involvement in terrorism. The basis of the pyramid marks more limited involvement, while the apex indicates the highest level of state involvement in terrorism. The ascent along the various levels of the pyramid reflects state implication at rising levels of support and assistance. The use of the pyramid also illustrates the scope of the phenomenon. The farther up the pyramid one goes, the fewer are the groups and organizations which enjoy heightened levels of state support.
In Part II of Diagram 2, states are classified according to their level of involvement in international terrorism. At the basis of the pyramid, reflecting the lowest level of terrorism involvement (from an international perspective), is the “terrorist state” — a state that systematically and purposefully brings violence to bear on its citizens, going so far as to oppress civil society within its borders. Not all states that disregard their citizens’ rights or establish dictatorial or autocratic regimes are sponsors of international terrorism, however it is safe to assume that states which sponsor international terrorism are involved, to some extent, in the oppression of some sectors or strata of their own societies, as well.
At the next level of the pyramid is the “state supporting terrorism” – a state that supports terrorist organizations, aiding them in their activities according to the levels of support described in part I of the second diagram (see above).
A higher level of involvement comes to the fore in the activities of a “state operating terrorism” – a state which initiates, directs and performs terrorist activities through groups outside its institutions.
The highest level of involvement in international terrorism is represented by the category “state perpetrating terrorism.” At this level are countries which execute terrorist acts abroad through its own official bodies (members of its security forces or intelligence services, or their direct agents). Such states intentionally engage in attacks against citizens in the territories of foreign countries in order to achieve political aims and goals, without declaring a state of war. (According to international conventions, acts of intentional aggression committed against citizens by official agencies of a state, either in a state of war or in occupied territories, are considered war crimes rather than terrorism).
The levels of the pyramid represent degrees of involvement in international terrorism: i.e., the higher up the pyramid, the greater and deeper the involvement. In addition, and similar to part I, the pyramidal structure also illustrates the number of states sponsoring international terrorism — the greater the involvement (as we ascend the pyramid), the smaller the number of relevant states.
Rationality of States Involvement in Terrorism
[A]s the fear of sanctions will not affect its behavior… deterrence by threatening to harm targets that appear important to the deterring state could be irrelevant to the ‘crazy’ state, which has different targets and values…. A prominent feature of a ‘crazy state’ is its risk proneness…
Nevertheless, Dror asserts,
Except for these extreme cases (of states ready for self-sacrifice), which one cannot assume will actually materialize, deterrence might be the preferred sub-strategy against their madness…
Most states engaged in terrorism choose to do so. They take into account the price they will be required to pay for their activity, in exchange for the benefits gained by the attainment of their policy goals. Usually, these states adhere to rational cost-benefit analyses. Indeed, most countries which sponsor terrorism are not democratic, and their decision-making processes are limited to the consideration of a single ruler. The variables entering the cost and benefits equation in such cases might seem irrational to Western sensibilities, as they seemingly assign exaggerated and disproportionate weight to ideology, religion, and emotions. But even the lone decision maker tests the extent to which his activity will ultimately promote his goals, as he himself has defined them, and whether countermeasures adopted against his country, if and when its involvement in terrorism is disclosed, will endanger his and his country’s basic interests.
For every country, there is a limit to the amount it willing to pay for its continued involvement in terrorism. The price scale varies from country to country, as does each one’s “breaking point.” Hence, in order for deterrence to be successful, countries contending with terrorism must raise the costs of terrorism involvement to the point where the costs outweigh the benefits, and they must do so according to the specific characteristics of the individual state sponsors.
What is the range of activities available in the deterrence of states sponsoring terrorist activities? What is the “price scale” that the international community can endorse in an attempt to alter the costs and benefits analysis of those states which are involved in terrorism?
The “Price Scale”
Adjusting the Price of Involvement in Terrorism
Diagram3: The Price of Terrorism
The “punitive price scale” adopted against states engaged in terrorism must be clear, explicit, and consistent. No measure should be chosen randomly. Only when the terror sponsor is aware a priori of the price to be exacted for its continued involvement in terrorism, and only when it can be persuaded that the international community is determined in its stance, will the deterrent measures succeed. The way to deter a state from engaging in terrorism or supporting terrorist organizations is to clarify a priori that the price of these activities will be higher than the benefits of terrorism sponsorship, and that the price has indeed been exacted.
International Measures against Terrorism
In April 1991, due to Libya’s continued involvement in terrorism and, specifically, its refusal to extradite the Libyan security personnel suspected of involvement in two attacks on passenger planes that resulted in hundreds of deaths (the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbie and the French UTA plane in the Sahara desert), the Security Council, following an American initiative, imposed sanctions on Libya that included a ban on commercial flights, an arms embargo, a restriction of the transfer of technical information, and other measures. As Libya continued its refusal to bow to international pressure, the Security Council stepped-up its punitive efforts, and imposed air blockade. In the resolution (Number 748), Libya is required to undertake an explicit commitment to desist from any terrorist activity and stop any aid to terrorist organizations. The Security Council also called upon members of the United Nations to stop supplying Libya with weapons, to reduce the number of Libyan diplomatic representatives, and to limit the movements of Libyan diplomats within the territories of their host countries. This was the first time the UN used its power to impose sanctions against a country accused of international terrorism (the resolution was approved by a majority of ten, with five abstentions).
Later, in November 1993, the Security Council adopted an additional resolution (Number 883) against Libya, which re-ratified the previous one (this time with a majority of eleven and four abstentions). The new resolution called for the freezing of funds and economic assets owned or controlled by the Libyan government, a ban on the supply of drilling equipment to Libya, and other steps. The resolution also stated that the sanctions against Libya would be suspended if Libya were to meet the Security Council’s demands, namely requiring the suspects in the Lockerbie incident to attended their trial and cooperating with official French agencies investigating the UTA affair.