The Impact of the “War on Terrorism” on Internal Conflicts

Tasneem Jamal

Matthew O’Rourke

The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2005 Volume 26 Issue 1

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would not exist in their current form were it not for the US-led campaign against terrorism. Indeed, the effects of the fight to stop international terrorism have been felt in many of the intra-state conflicts identified in Project Ploughshares’ annual Armed Conflicts Report (ACR). Although it is far too early to draw any solid conclusions about the impact of the campaign on terrorism, several important trends appear to be developing.

Economic impact

The war on terror has had two major economic impacts so far:

  • An increase in overall military assistance to countries experiencing conflict.
  • The elimination of sanctions on arms exports to these countries.

Although many countries are participating in the fight against terrorism, the US is very much in the lead and will be the focus of this analysis. Increased military assistance comes primarily from the US, in two main forms:

  • Foreign Military Financing (FMF) – congressionally appropriated grants to foreign governments to help finance the purchase of American weapons, services, and training;
  • International Military Education and Training (IMET) grants, which are given to foreign governments to pay for training by US military personnel on US weapons systems. Since 11 September 2001 the focus of IMET has been on counter-terrorism training.

Increases in military funding since 2001 to countries experiencing conflict vary greatly, as do their effects. Pakistan, Nepal, Algeria, Chad, the Philippines, Colombia, Kenya, India, Indonesia, Serbia and Montenegro, Nigeria, Uganda, Senegal, and Ethiopia have all experienced either an increase in US military assistance or the elimination of sanctions that prevented their buying US arms. Although countries such as Kenya and Indonesia have experienced small increases in funding that may not have a significant long-term impact on the country or conflict, others, like Pakistan, have experienced huge increases in military assistance that are likely to have serious long-term effects.

In a very short time Pakistan has changed from a country under severe US sanctions and military restrictions to one of the largest beneficiaries of US military assistance in the world. Between 1999 and 2001, Pakistan received only $174,000 in IMET and no FMF at all (all figures in this paragraph are from Prosser 2004). In 2002, Pakistan received no IMET funding but received $75,000,000 in FMF. In 2003, US military assistance rose to over $200,000,000, and while it dropped to $75,000,000 in 2004, the US administration has requested over $300,000,000 for Pakistan in 2005, even though the US Department of State (2005) describes Pakistan’s human rights record as poor. Although the impact of this financing is not yet clear, funding could potentially affect both internal conflict within Pakistan as well as Pakistan’s involvement in wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Nepal has also experienced an increase in US military assistance. In 2000 and 2001, Nepal received under $250,000 per year in US military assistance (all figures in this paragraph are from Garcia 2004). Despite the fact that Nepal is currently experiencing one of the world’s most violent and deadly conflicts, is described by the US State Department as having a poor human rights record, and has state security forces committing “numerous serious abuses,” US military assistance rose to over $17,000,000 in 2002. In 2003 the US Administration requested $9,500,000 for military aid to Nepal, and in 2004 $16,600,000.

Colombia and the Philippines have felt the financial impact of the international fight against terrorism. While US military assistance has not risen to previous high levels, it has increased somewhat since 2001. In late January of 2004, the US Congress approved a $574,600,000 military aid package to Colombia, despite the fact that, once again, the State Department labeled Colombia’s human rights record as poor. (In 2005, the State Department noted some improvements in the record, although there are still serious problems.) In May 2003, the US committed more than $114,000,000 in military aid to help defeat terrorists in the Philippines (SIPRI 2004, p. 128). This was the largest US military assistance package since the US closed its Philippine bases in 1992.

Political impact

The campaign against terrorism has had political, as well as economic, repercussions. There has been a concerted effort to link conflicts to the terrorist attacks of September 11 and to reclassify opposition and rebel groups as “terrorists.” Once rebel groups are classified as terrorists, governments feel less pressure to negotiate and become less willing to enter into a peace process. In many cases this disinclination towards negotiation leads a government to seek a military victory through the extermination of the rebel group. As well, links between rebel groups and international terrorist organizations, whether proven or not, are emphasized to isolate the groups and to justify a refusal to negotiate with them. Once a group is labeled “terrorist,” its grievances, legitimate or not, are usually viewed as invalid, reducing international pressure on governments to work towards a negotiated settlement. And identifying an opposition group as “terrorists” helps a country obtain funding from the US as part of the war on terror. While this increase in funding may eventually lead to a military victory, it immediately intensifies ongoing conflicts.

In Russia, for example, a link has been made between the September 11 attacks and the war in Chechnya. On 12 September 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin formally linked the war in Chechnya to the attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon by declaring that Russia and the US had a “common foe.” Putin alleged links between Chechen rebels and Bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network. Following this speech by Putin, both US and EU criticisms of the Kremlin’s handling of the war in Chechnya softened.

The Communist Party of Nepal is now on the US State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. This labeling has caused problems in negotiations between the government and the rebels.

In Columbia distinctions between the war on terror and the war on drugs have become blurry. Indeed, the blending of the two appeared complete in November 2004 when US President Bush referred to Colombia’s rebels and paramilitaries as “narco-terrorists.” All the major Colombian rebel groups and paramilitaries are on the US State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

All three of the main active rebel groups in the Philippines are on the US State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Peace processes between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines/National People’s Army (CPP/NPA) have been put on hold indefinitely because of the terrorist labeling. Since rumours arose of links between Jamaah Islamiya (an Islamic terrorist organization based in the Philippines, also on the list of terrorist organizations) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Philippine government has refused to negotiate with MILF. The third group, Abu Sayyaf, which was once viewed by the Philippine government as a “criminal network” because of their involvement in kidnapping and ransom, now features prominently on the list of terrorist organizations and is a main target in the fight against international terrorism.

Direct US military involvement

Occasionally the international fight against terrorism has led to the direct involvement of the US military in a conflict. Recently the US has become more active in Colombia, doubling its troop commitment, increasing its annual aid package to over $570-million, and sending an additional 200 civilian contract personnel to Colombia. The US also indicted and issued extradition warrants for 23 members of rebel and paramilitary forces on drug and terrorism charges. The US interfered with a planned major prisoner exchange with rebel groups by stating that if Colombia released the prisoners in order to exchange them, the US would press charges and ask for them to be extradited.

The US is heavily involved in the battle with Abu Sayyaf. In January 2002, the US sent 600 soldiers to support 4,000 Philippine troops in a major operation against Abu Sayyaf in the south. With the new influx of money and the Philippine government’s refusal to negotiate with “terrorists,” it seems likely that the conflict in the Philippines will escalate.

Several African countries are also experiencing direct US involvement in large counter-terrorism programs. The Pan-Sahel Initiative, now known as the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative, was established in 2002 and is based in Djibouti. Between 1,200 and 1,500 US marines are training security personnel in a number of African countries. This initiative has a budget in the millions.

Chad is part of this initiative. With US funding and assistance, the Chadian military’s basic training has undergone a major change. In the past, during basic training each Chadian soldier shot just eight bullets, but those trained by the US in 2004 shot over 122,000 bullets each (McLaughlin 2004). The Chadian military also received new US uniforms and 13 new Toyota pickup trucks. With the aid of a US surveillance plane in March 2004, Chadian troops pursued and killed 42 fighters in the north of Chad.

The US-led campaign to combat international terrorism is influencing armed conflicts around the world. Close attention must be paid to the broader impacts of the war on terror to understand the implications in different parts of the world.

Federation of American Scientists 2004, U.S. Foreign Military Assistance.

Garcia, V. 2004, Nepal, Center for Defense Information, January 23.

Howland, S. 2004, “US to fight ‘narco-terrorists’ in Colombia,” Toronto Star, 23 November.

McDermott, J. 2004, “Washington Increases Assistance to Colombia,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 4 February. p. 10.

McLaughlin, A. 2004, “US engages Africa in terror fight,” Christian Science Monitor, 17 September.

Project Ploughshares 2004, Armed Conflicts Report 2004.

Prosser, Andrew 2004, Pakistan, Center for Defense Information, June 30.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2004, SIPRI Yearbook 2004: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, Oxford University Press.

US Department of State 2005, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2004, Feb. 28.

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