Twenty-One Years Since 9/11: The Future Of Counter-Terrorism In Transatlantic Relations – OpEd


September 11, 2001 was, for all to see, an act of war. The gruesome attacks on the United States of America left close to 3000 dead in New York City, Washington D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly two decades later, the country’s military mission in Afghanistan, which began in the aftermath of the attacks, came to a bloody and chaotic conclusion. A review of 21 years that have passed reveals how a badly shaken nation state came together to fight against this war. The enormity and sheer scale of these attacks eclipsed any form of attack previously seen in terrorism. The merciless violence in addition to the worldwide impact of the attacks immediately imposed the word ‘war’ as the only one commensurate with the event, and the outrage it had provoked.

Psychologically, America found itself at war. It had suffered an unprovoked and unjustifiable attack, and it faced a compromise of its sense of invulnerability. Such elements of innocence, grief and anger combined into patriotic outrage and the US public opinion demanded an immediate military response. Less than ten days after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush declared war on ‘terrorism with a global reach’ and announced that the war would end only with the eradication of this evil. For the first time in the history of modern terrorism, by its suddenness and the scale of destruction, the disorganisation and the cost they caused, the attacks of 9/11 unleashed a level of violence comparable in their effects of a military operation.

The attacks highlighted the rise of non-state actors and the extent of their global reach. The events fuelled the need for states across the globe to effectively strategize and formulate policies in order to prevent as well as mitigate terrorist attacks. The psychological impact of the attacks of 9/11 was very intense in the West as it was the first ever attack which damaged and destroyed the symbols of American power. Although it was the American ideals under direct attack, the impact of the threat from terrorism was felt across the globe and particularly across the Atlantic on the European Union.

Although the EU and the US are located on two sides of the Atlantic and both adopt and display western values, they are different kinds of political actors. Their response and approach towards counter-terrorism has been different, with diverse preventive measures and post-attack measures. The EU, through its criminal law enforcement approach of counter-terrorism follows a rule of law framework which focuses on rights of the individual as well as group rights for both the citizens and perpetrators. The Counter-Terrorism Strategy of the EU itself states that the strategic commitment of EU towards counter-terrorism revolves around the four strands of work- Prevent, Protect, Pursue and Respond, while respecting human rights and allowing its citizens to live in freedom, security and justice (Council of the European Union 2005). On the other hand, the U.S. government adopted a wide range of actions to curtail civil liberties and political freedoms after the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the name of enhancing security for all citizens. The counter-terrorism measures by the US, in the form of war on terrorism focus on a military and cross-border response.

Transatlantic security cooperation has expanded away from the traditional military security issues into the realm of non-traditional threats such as international organized crime, drug trafficking and countering terrorism. This has not only added power to the existing relations between the two actors but also strengthened areas of intelligence sharing and law enforcement. A strong transatlantic security cooperation is essential to foreign policy implementation for the US as well as its European partners. The attacks of 9/11 proved to be the turning point in new patterns of cooperation. Joint responses to the common threat of terrorism are wide-ranging, and include actions targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), along with the exchange of data that could be used to prevent or investigate a terrorist attack. European as well as US law enforcement agencies work together through several programmes such as the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP), which has provided more than 16,700 intelligence leads since it was launched in 2010.
EU-US Cooperation in this domain covers terrorist financing, foreign fighters, container security and irregular migration.

They also simplified their extradition procedures while promoting mutual legal assistance. In terms of information sharing, the US is Europol’s largest partner in terms of number of joint cases conducted and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the US agency that contributes the highest volume of information to the EU. The transatlantic counter-terrorism cooperation deepened further following the January and November 2015 attacks on the Paris with the creation of a new task force through which the US could gain limited access to the EU PNR system, working towards a system to prevent and investigate further train attacks of terrorism.

However, the diversity of approaches on either side of the Atlantic along with the absence of a dedicated security forum for the same has created challenges in their security cooperation. Furthermore, the European Union Member States has been driven by national interests and the lack of political will, limiting their efforts towards the building of the Union, and being unable to enter into productive counter-terrorist cooperation with the USA. The current transatlantic cooperation in the domain of counter-terrorism is thus characterised by a desire to enter new areas of data exchange and data protection concerns. Only a balanced and functioning EU-US relationship will contribute to countering the persistently high threat of terrorism while respecting the common value that both actors stand for.

Author Details: Shreya Sinha is a Doctoral Candidate and Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She holds her M.Phil. and MA degrees from the same school at JNU. She holds her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History disciplines from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University. Her interest areas include Defence and Security Policy of the European Union, Non-Traditional Security Studies, Energy Security and Transatlantic Security Partnership. She can be reached at

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