Terrorism: Patterns of Internationalization
Devyani Srivastava ·       

The notion of ‘international terrorism’ has come to be associated with the US War on Terror and al Qaeda-driven Islamist terrorism in public and scholarly discourse. While much effort has been devoted to deconstructing “Islamist’ terrorism, the understanding of international terrorism itself has been limited to its relationship and dichotomy with domestic terrorism: if domestic terrorism is defined as that originating and taking place within the political systems of particular states, international terrorism by consequence is understood as that involving the targeting of citizens of more than one state. This dichotomy however, is no longer adequate in understanding the eroding boundaries between international and domestic/internal terrorism as seen today. Starting from this premise, the objective of the latest publication of the two editors, Jaideep Saikia and Ekaterina Stepanova (and first as a joint project), is to theorize the various stages, levels and forms of internationalization and transnationalization of modern terrorism. Underscoring the growing significance of international terrorism, seen in terms of political effect instead of casualties and incidents, the book seeks to upgrade, reinforce and update rather than reject the traditional typology of international terrorism.

The eleven chapters comprising the book are systematically divided in two sections corresponding to the two stages of internationalization – local/regional terrorism, internationalized to some extent, in terms of logistic and financial support and transnational terrorism with a global reach and agenda. Despite variance at times and overlap at others in the pattern of internationalization in each conflict, the common underlying thread is that international links have been resorted to and have played an important role in almost all armed conflicts. This increases both the significance and security challenge of the internationalization of terrorism.

The first section delves into the external links of homegrown terrorist organizations including the Irish Republic Army (IRA) and Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA) in Europe; terrorist organizations in Latin America, Jammu and Kashmir, and Bangladesh; the LTTE in Sri Lanka; and the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. In most cases, it has been observed that the decision to establish international links is a strategic calculation based either on incentives related to the search for logistic, financial or ideological support – as in the case of Sri Lanka, Nepal and Kashmir – or as an effect of the international wave, as in the case of Latin America where international terrorism remains a potential threat. The factors that precipitate the establishment of international links range from the energy driver (a predominant energy that drives similar activity in several countries and shapes participant groups characteristic and mutual relationships), to the media, material incentives, globalization of organized crimes, or even government policies as in the case of Kashmir. The systematic delineation of various international links in each case helps broaden the general understanding of the stages of internationalization, providing in turn, useful intervention points for policy makers and anti-terrorism security professionals alike. Its relevance for scholarly analysis, however, remains limited. The virtual absence of a study of intellectual debates within a terrorist organization that must be the basis for understanding its strategic choices imposes a limitation on the book’s scholarly value, a limitation not solely a doing of the authors, but that which nonetheless adversely affects the scope of the study.

The second section of the book delves into the more advanced stages of internationalization as witnessed in the post-colonial practice of proxy wars of South Asia, where sponsorship of insurgencies or terrorism in rival countries by Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and China have become the preferred policy option; or the impact of al Qaeda-driven Islamic terrorism on localized militant outfits with Islamist orientation like the Palestinian Liberation Organization/Palestinian Authority or Hamas. The most distinguishing contribution of the book lies in its analysis of the difference between international and transnational terrorism: while localized militant groups of Islamist orientation like Hamas may be internationalized to some extent in terms of logistics, tactics and ideology, their agenda remains driven by a sense of local mission that does not challenge the international system as such. In contrast, transnational terrorism as driven by al Qaeda is marked by two distinct features: one, in aspiring to establish an Islamic Caliphate representing a global social and political order, its goals transcend the international nation-state system; and second, it represents a ‘new’ organizational form (network) that is qualitatively different from the ‘old’ hierarchical structures of terrorist groups.  These two features distinguish it from radical ideologies with the global appeal of the past, making it a truly ‘supranational’ ideology.

The nuanced definition of the term ‘transnational terrorism’ as distinct from ‘international terrorism’ is the biggest strength of the book. The book skillfully uses the case study method to lay out different stages and patterns of internationalization that merit a new typology. The new typology put forward in the book – local/regional terrorism and transnational terrorism – proves to be a useful upgradation of the internal versus international typology. This helps in understanding that not every militant group with Islamist orientation is an active member of the al Qaeda-driven international terrorism and that transnational terrorism is developing as a distinct phenomenon with its own logic, dynamics and structures. The richness of its analysis is further enhanced by the sheer geographical spread of the book covering major armed conflicts across the world, barring Africa which remains untouched. Moreover, by focusing on intentions and goals rather than network and outreach, the book successfully confronts the criticism leveled against terrorism studies for remaining confined to methods and tactics. Little attention, however, has been paid to making recommendations on how to combat transnational terrorism, an area that opens up space for further research and exploration.