A Brief Thought on Terror in Europe

Since the beginning of 2017, Europe has seen a wide variety of terror attacks ranging from the bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester to the shooting of police officers at the Champs-Élysées in Paris. The number of victims of terrorism who have been killed or injured on their own home soil in Europe has been increasing with more and more of these attacks becoming prevalent. Unfortunately, these events seem to be following a trend in Europe where domestic, homegrown terrorists, in addition to foreigners who come into these countries, attack civilian or law enforcement targets.

While many around the world have seen this devastating trend in Europe, it begs the question of whether it is too late to prevent most future attacks. Nearly all of Europe has been a destination for migrants and refugees escaping the crisis in Syria and the Middle East. Europe has also been a target for those who have been to Syria or Iraq, who have trained with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and sought to either go to or return to the West to carry out their jihad. From watching the news, being active on social media, and reading the newspapers, one can clearly see that the conditions many refugees face before and during their trips to Europe were heartbreaking and austere. When the refugees arrive in Europe, many are treated as second-class citizens by the increasingly more nationalist communities that have been bred throughout Europe in the wake of terrorism witnessed in Europe and around the globe. This negative relationship between the Muslim community and the European nationals has resulted in the chipping away of trust from both sides and may be a reason why so many Muslims in Europe have radicalized, gone to fight for ISIS or conducted or planning to conduct terrorist operations within Europe.

Besides the mostly negative relationship between the Muslim community of mostly foreign origin and the non-Muslims of European origin, perhaps another reason why terrorist attacks have been so prevalent in Europe is due to the lack of funding counterterrorism agencies receive in Europe as a whole. The United States of America’s military and counterterrorism spending greatly overshadows that of all of Europe’s spending combined. Just for perspective, the US defense budget is around $600 billion, greater than the budgets of the next seven countries combined, with only two of which were European. With such small budgets, one must realize that only a fraction of that will go toward counter-terror programs and initiatives. The European Union does have a counterterrorism strategy made up of prevention, protection, pursuit, and response, which they call the “Four Pillar” strategy. It would be difficult to implement this counterterrorism strategy, though, if European countries do not make defense and intelligence spending a priority. Due to recent attacks, Europe has overall increased its spending to help keep its citizens safe, but possibly not enough as future attacks are still eminent.

Possibly the largest setback for Europe’s counterterrorism programs that have allowed terrorists who have successfully conducted attacks to slip through the system is in fact that there is no clear set database for countries to track migrants and European nationals who may pose a potential terror threat. On top of this is the weak border enforcement that takes place within Europe itself. While members of the European Union allow citizens to move freely between each member country, it has not helped in terms of security. Each nation with its own laws, law enforcement programs, and threat assessment methods, is responsible for its own citizens and potential hostiles that may wander into them. If Europe sought to be a safer place for its citizens against the forces of homegrown and foreign terrorism, it should consider implementing a single system and database to track and monitor potential threats in order to take appropriate measures if necessary. Even though Europe is home to some of the best rapid-response and intelligence agencies that deal with terror on a daily basis, each team and agency has its own agenda for itself and for the country it works under. There is, however, an agency that does try to coordinate the services between these nations: Europol. Even though Europol is a way to coordinate European security forces, it does not have the means nor the jurisdiction that security forces of each country have in order to operate as effectively as possible to coordinate plans between the member nations of the European Union.

Overall, the terror problem in Europe is one that does not seem likely to go away in the near future. In fact, in Western Europe, rates of terror incidents and discovered plots since in the past decade have only increased as the years have passed. Even though terrorist attacks were more common decades ago, most terrorist attacks nowadays are from the doing and/or inspiration of the Islamic State, which fundamentally will continue to influence European nationals to radicalize. By creating a social change in which the nationalists of Europe no longer demonize the Muslim population as a whole, increasing funding for counter-terror programs, and creating a coherent system for European security services to enforce the complex border laws of each nation in addition to tracking and monitoring potential threats, maybe then Europe will see a rapid increase in effectiveness with preventative measures so attacks and plots may decline in the future.