June 29, 2008
The Changing Nature of State Sponsorship of Terrorism
The U.S. approach toward state sponsorship of terrorism rests on a flawed understanding of the problem and an even more flawed policy response. The U.S. Department of State’s current formal list of state sponsors includes Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. But Cuba and North Korea have done almost nothing in this area in recent years, and Sudan has changed its ways enough that elsewhere the Bush administration credits Sudan as a “strong partner in the War on Terror.” Of those on the list, only Syria and Iran remain problems, and in both cases their involvement in traditional international terrorism is down considerably from their peaks in the 1980s.
What seems like a brilliant policy success, however, is really an artifact of bad list management, because much of the problem of state sponsorship today involves countries that are not on the list at all. Pakistan has long aided a range of terrorist groups fighting against India in Kashmir and is a major sponso! r of Taliban forces fighting the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan. Hugo Chavez’s government in Venezuela is a major supporter of the FARC. And several other governments, such as those in Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian territories, create problems by deliberately looking the other way when their citizens back terrorist groups.
These new state sponsors are actually more dangerous to the United States and its interests than the remaining traditional state sponsors, because some of them are tied to Sunni jihadist groups such as al-Qa‘ida— currently the greatest terrorist threat facing the United States. The nightmare of a terrorist group acquiring nuclear weapons is far more likely to involve Pakistan than it is Iran or North Korea." [RJ]
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