Among the issues directly affecting people everywhere, terrorism remains a high priority item on the U.S. foreign policy agenda. The fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War did not bring forth the "End of History" or a new dawn of world peace and harmony. Instead, this change brought into sharper focus serious global problems and threats. These threats include ethnic conflict, weapons proliferation, environmental degradation, untenable population growth, international crime, and terrorism. Perhaps none of these issues has caused Americans more anxiety than terrorism. First, terrorism provokes deep fear and insecurity--more than other forms of violence. Terrorism is also used as low--cost strategic warfare, sometimes by rogue states using surrogates, and sometimes by groups motivated by ideology, religion, or ethnicity to overthrow governments and change the course of history. Technology has also added to the terrorist threat. Terrorists use computers, cellular phones, and encryption software to evade detection, and they have sophisticated means for forging passports and documents. Even more dangerous is the specter that terrorists will turn to materials of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, or nuclear -- to multiply casualties far beyond traditional levels. The sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995 by Aum Shinrikyo, the apocalyptic Japanese sect, showed that the threat of chemical terrorism is now a reality. Finally, terrorism today is far more devastating than in the past because of the mass media. No story plays better, or longer, than a terrorist attack. What about the current trend in terrorism? Who are today's terrorists? And what is the U.S. government doing to combat them and put them on the defensive, where they belong? The trend has both good new and bad news. The actual number of international terrorist incidents has declined in recent years, from a high of 665 in 1987 to an average between three and four hundred in recent years due to various reasons and influences, outlined further in this article. There are also negative trends, such as groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The United States is taking a firm stand against terrorism, and our policy is to seek out relentlessly and punish terrorists wherever they may be, using the combined assets of law enforcement, diplomacy, and intelligence. We are increasing cooperation with other nations, and we have a strong program of research and development in counterterrorism technology, especially in explosives detection. We can be proud of the successes we've achieved, using these policies and tools. But we can't be complacent, since terrorism is a dynamic, moving target.
Targeting Terrorism: Global Issues: An Electronic Journal of the U.S. Information Agency, v.2, no.1, p. 6-8