Counterterrorism Coalitions

How Should the United States Engage Europe?

by Nora Bensahel

Research Brief

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States asked European countries to provide military assistance, intelligence, and law enforcement cooperation in the war against terrorism. The United States secured much of this assistance through partnerships with individual states rather than through multilateral organizations such as NATO and the European Union (EU). Multilateral organizations are perceived as being less effective than individual countries because they require the unanimous consent of their members before they can act. However, as NATO and the EU increase their memberships and political influence, the United States may benefit from working with them on certain types of counterterrorism initiatives.

Project AIR FORCE at RAND studied the counterterrorism capabilities of key European countries, NATO, and the EU to determine whether the United States should seek bilateral or multilateral cooperation in certain areas. Researchers concluded the following:

  • The United States should continue to seek bilateral cooperation on military and intelligence operations. Although NATO expressed solidarity with the United States immediately after September 11, the organization lacks the political will to embrace counterterrorism as a primary mission. Decisionmaking would be slow, and command and control of military forces would be decentralized. The EU lacks a unified intelligence agency and does not intend to build the offensive capabilities that would be required for rapid-response counterterrorism operations. The United States can levy European assistance more quickly and more effectively by engaging in state-to-state partnerships.
  • The United States should work with the EU on law enforcement initiatives and measures to disrupt terrorist financing. The EU has improved its law enforcement capabilities by adopting a common European arrest warrant, strengthening Europol, and harmonizing individual countries' policies on money laundering and other financial crimes. These measures will enable European authorities to identify and track suspected terrorists throughout EU territory. The United States can partner with the EU to disrupt terrorist cells, to prosecute offenders, and to cut international funding to terrorist groups.

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