Issues of the State Sponsored Terrorism

Terrorism has progressed further than extremist groupings to incorporate radical states that support or fund terrorist actions as mechanisms of their foreign policy. A state sponsor can be described as a government that subsidizes any acts of terrorism. State sponsors are motivated by a number of factors, some of which intersect. There are often political, and sometimes ideological and religious factors, involved in the determination to sponsor terrorism.

Defeat by an enemy in conventional war might trigger a desire to retaliate through terrorism, such as Syria supporting attacks against Israel because of defeat in the Arab-Israeli wars. A desire for a state to seek to recoup losses in combat with the terrorist target - an example being Syria supporting groups to get a response from Israel in regaining the Golan Heights lost by Syria to Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War (Combs 1997).

Often state sponsorship is to achieve political objectives after a failure to do so through conventional political, diplomatic, or military means (Kegley 1990). Thus, terrorists are cheaper than the military. There is also a series of specific reasons that prevail, such as ideological, religious, state security, regime security, and various tactical and strategic objectives (Bacevich 2001).

Paragraph 6(j)(4) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 cites that once a state is added to the terrorist list, the determination may not be withdrawn unless the president puts forward a report to the committees referred to above. The president’s report must confirm that there has been a fundamental shift in the leadership and guidelines of the government of the state concerned (this implies a real change of government as an outcome of an election, coup, or some other means); the new administration is not behind acts of international terrorism; the new administration has provided guarantees that it will not sustain cases of international terrorism in the future (Christopher 1985). When the same administration is in authority, the president’s report must validate the rescission and attest that the administration concerned has not given support for international terrorism during the foregoing six-month period; and the administration concerned has provided guarantees that it will not encourage acts of international terrorism in the future. Congress can then either let the president’s action take effect or seek to block it, perhaps over the president’s veto. Congress could also pass a joint resolution against the action, but this would also require the president’s signature to have effect (Klare 2001).

Getting off the list is difficult and, to date, only Iraq has been able to achieve that end, though it was later re-listed. The United States is committed to removing countries from the list of state sponsors once they have taken necessary steps to end their link to terrorism. For example, in 2000-2001, and subsequently, the Department of State was engaged in ongoing discussions with North Korea and Sudan with the goal of getting those governments to end their support of terrorism and hence to be removed from the state sponsors list (Sluka 2000).

Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, North Korea, and Sudan are the seven states that the U.S. Secretary of State has designated as state sponsors of international terrorism (Laqueur 1987). Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2000, but each has involved itself with various terrorist groups either through providing financial support, weapons, training bases, or safe havens for terrorists. State sponsorship has reduced over time. However, the United States goes on actively investigating and gathering intelligence on other countries that may be considered for label as state sponsors.

The United States has adopted a special approach to various states, state sponsors, and others, when deemed appropriate for U.S. foreign policy. Sanctions were applied to Cuba in the form of an embargo during the administration of John F. Kennedy (1961-63). In 1986, after the disclosure of Libyan involvement in various terrorist acts including actions against U.S. forces, the United States bombed Libya, specifically the cities of Bengazi and Tripoli. It also struck targets in Sudan and Afghanistan after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In addition, it attacked Taliban and al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. In the case of Libya and Iran the United States imposed the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) in 1996, which was renewed by Congress in 2001 (Carr 1996).

The Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 inflicts sanctions on foreign companies that participate in particular economic transactions with Iran or Libya. The act was proposed to help reject Iran and Libya revenues that could be used to sponsor international terrorism; to restrict the flow of resources essential to buy weapons of mass destruction; and put force on Libya to adhere to UN resolutions calling for it to transfer for trial the accused executors of the Pan Am 103 bombing (Kemp 1998).

The law sanctions overseas companies that provide funds over US$40 million (later cut to $20 million) for the development of petroleum assets in Iran or Libya. Moreover, the law sanctions foreign companies that break existing United Nations laws concerning the veto on trade with Libya in particular goods and services, for instance, arms, some oil equipment, and civil aviation services. In the case of a violation the president is to inflict sanctions against the infringing company. The sanction alternatives include refutation of Export-Import Bank assistance; rejection of export licenses for exports to the infringing company; ban of loans or credits from U.S. banks of over $10 million in any 12-month period; prohibition on position as a main dealer for U.S. government debt instruments; embargo on functioning as an agent of the United States or as a repository for U.S. government funds; rejection of U.S. government procurement opportunities (in agreement with World Trade Organization obligations); and prohibition on all or some imports of the infringing company (Clark 2003).

The primary intent of the sanctions was to affect negatively the economies of the two state sponsors. Implementation of the law and the sanctions contained therein are essentially at the discretion of the administration in power. Officials generally examine each foreign investment deal as it is proposed to see if it warrants action under the act. Since these are unilateral sanctions the administration may often be reluctant to antagonize friendly countries who wish to invest in either Iran or Libya. Various countries and the European Union (EU) have often spoken out against the ILSA. The EU in particular has commented on the fact that unilateral sanctions have extraterritorial effect and thus create unnecessary and unhelpful differences between the United States and the European Union.

In the summer of 2001 the U.S. Congress voted overwhelmingly on the ILSA Extension Act of 2001 (Public Law No. 107-24) to extend the sanctions against Iran and Libya for an additional five years. The sentiment of Congress was clearly that these two states were among the most dangerous of outlaw states. The sanctions renewed those first put in place in 1996 and were intended to discourage foreign energy firms from investing in Iran and Libya. If they did, sanctions could be applied to them (Peterson 2001).

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 acts of terrorism in New York City and Washington, DC, the United States reconsidered its international response to terrorism and, in so doing, proposed that further action against state sponsors of terrorism would be implemented. The reference to an “axis of evil" clearly connected state sponsors with broader concerns on such issues as weapons of mass destruction and the need to ensure that these would not be used against the United States. At the same time the United States suggested possible links between these sponsors and attacks against the United States. Although not all of the state sponsors were linked to the September 11, 2001 attacks, there were some connections made, such as Iran’s links to al-Qaeda (Rappoport 2001). At the same time all seven state sponsors were retained on the United States’ state sponsors list.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Fidel Castro has been slowly trying to resuscitate the ailing communist Cuban economy, which had been heavily reliant on Soviet subsidies. Although Cuba remains a one-party state with a command economy, it has benefited greatly from increased revenues due to tourism and growing foreign investment in its petroleum sector. Foreign oil companies doing business with Cuba, however, are subject to the sanctions in the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 and its restrictions on trade and investments with Cuba.

The United States has had a unilateral embargo on Cuba since the administration of John F. Kennedy (1961-63). A unilateral embargo is one in which the international community is not required to participate. Relations between the United States and Cuba have varied over this period but they have not risen to the level of warm or cordial relations, in part due to the U.S. perception of Cuba as a terrorism sponsor. Cuba, primarily for economic reasons, has sought to improve relations in recent years with the clear objective of being removed from the U.S. terrorism sponsors list. Some of the efforts to move in that direction include Cuba’s government being unusually conciliatory about the U.S. using its naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which is rented by the United States from Cuba and long sought by the Cuban government to have its return to Cuban control, for Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners. Cuba has even promised some cooperation with regard to the incarceration of those prisoners. Cuba was also quick to condemn the attacks of September 11, 2001, and indicated that it supports the principle of the war against terrorism, although it does not fully agree with the conduct of that war. Despite these and other positive signs Cuba remains on the terrorism sponsor list and the U.S. sanctions remain in place (Flynn 2002).

Iran has for a long time supported Lebanese Hizballah and the Palestinian rejectionist groupings (those that discard compromise or peace with Israel) - particularly HAMAS, the Palestine Islamic Jihad, and General Command (PFLP-GC), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - with different amounts of financial support, places of protection, training, and armaments. This activity kept on at its already high levels after the Israeli leaving southern Lebanon in May 2000 and throughout the Palestinian intifada in the fall of 2001. Iran persisted to support Hizballah and the Palestinian groups to direct their planning and to raise their anti-Israel activities. Iran also provided support to a some extent - including financial funding, training, and logistics aid - to extremist groupings in the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, Africa, and Turkey. The United States sees Iran as continuing to provide support - including arms transfers - to Palestinian rejectionist and terrorist groups. More recently Iran has failed to move decisively against al-Qaeda members who have relocated from Afghanistan to Iran (Hoffman 1994).

The United States has continually stressed Iraq’s need to comply with the UN resolutions and has sought to enforce sanctions against Iraq until full compliance is met. A series of measures were adopted to enforce the resolutions, including UN economic sanctions against Iraq, a multinational interdiction force to police the sanctions regime at sea, no fly zones over portions of northern and southern Iraq, and multinational protection of the security zone in northern Iraq (O’Ballance 1997).

The United States purports that Iraq has a long history of supporting terrorists, including the provision of sanctuary to the Abu Nidal organization. Iraq did plan and sponsor international terrorism in 2000. Even though Baghdad focused on anti-dissident activity abroad, the government continued to provide support to a variety of terrorist groups, but has not tried an anti-Western terrorist attack since its unsuccessful plan to assassinate ex-president Bush in 1993. To threaten or silence overseas Iraqi adversaries of the government, the IIS allegedly opened a number of new stations in overseas capitals. Different opposition groupings joined in warning Iraqi rebels abroad against recently established “expatriates’ associations," which, they stated, were IIS front organizations. Resistance leaders in London asserted that the IIS had sent off women agents to gain access to their ranks and was targeting rebels for assassination (Hoffman 1998).

Libya remains the main suspect in a number of past terrorist acts, counting the La Belle discotheque bombing in Berlin, Germany, in 1986 that took lives of two U.S. servicemen and one Turkish resident and injured more than 200 people (Zimmerman 1987). It has also provided sanctuary to terrorist groups opposed to the Middle East Peace Process, including the Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, and has actively supported various African rebel and terrorist factions in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Eritrea in the past (Satloff 2002).

Recent developments show that Libya has not been engaged in recent terrorist activities and is trying to move toward reintegrating itself in the world community. By 1999 it had expelled the Abu Nidal organization and distanced itself from Palestinian rejectionist groups. That same year Libya released for trial two Libyans accused of the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. The trial court issued its verdict on January 31, 2001, concluding that Abdel Basset al-Megrahi had caused an explosive device to detonate on board the airplane, resulting in the murder of the flight’s 259 passengers and crew as well as 11 residents of Lockerbie, Scotland. Co-defendant Al-Amin Kalifa Fahima was released after the court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to satisfy the high standard of “proof beyond reasonable doubt" that is necessary in criminal cases.

The congressionally mandated designation of state sponsors of terrorism by the United States - and the imposition of sanctions - is a mechanism for isolating states that use terrorism as a means of achieving political objectives. The criteria are not clear-cut for listing a state. The U.S. Department of State determines the listing (or delisting) of a state sponsor based on the broad determination of a significant threat to the U.S. national interest. Clearly this involves assessments and judgments of that state’s various policies and activities. U.S. policy strives to pressure and detach state sponsors so that they will give up the support of terrorism, end covering the acts of terrorism, and bring terrorists to justice for previous crimes (‘America’s New War’ 2001).

The term ‘terrorism’ has consistently been regarded as the “poor man’s warfare" in which state and non state rivals evade open engagement with military actvities. Rather, they plan and fulfil strategies, schemes, and weapons to make use of perceived weaknesses (Byman 2000). The employment of violence for the attainment of political goals is common to state and non-state groupings. The complexity is in consenting on a basis for deciding on when the employment of violence (directed at whom, by whom, for what goals) is lawful.

Some definitions of terrorism stress on a difference between the actions of a lawful government and those of non-state terrorists, as well as individuals and small groupings. Taking this into consideration, government acts that might be aggressive, operative through terror, target political goals, and aim at civilians would not be considered to be terrorism if they were being practiced by agents who are under lawful governmental authority. Governmental responsibility, apparently, would operate to limit and control the violence, both in dimension and methods. In addition, taking this approach to the classification of terrorism would help avoid some of the analytic problems related to differentiating some military methods (such as firebombing of cities) which are intended to influence civilian support for the adversary war effort. Nevertheless, states, which continually resort to these kinds of tactics, are likely to lose legality, both philosophically and politically. Loss of legality annihilates the distinction between state and non-state terrorism where there is a constant practice of targeting civilians.

Finally, regarding terrorism as by-definition a non-state action helps out to maintain the international structure of sovereign states. When they function properly, governments provide unambiguous and balanced social and political order, security to their citizens, and directions for equalizing injustice done in the domestic or global sphere. We shouldn't undermine their authority by placing them on par with sub-state terrorists, or limit their obligation to apply force to protect civilians from domestic or international threats.

The United States is devoted to holding terrorists and those who provide haven to them responsible for past terrorist acts, irrespective of when or where the attacks took place. There is no “statute of limitations." Countries that decide to support terrorism are considered as accomplices and will be held responsible for the terrorist actions.