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Cooperation on European security issues

12 - Relations with the US on counter-terrorism

Grade: B+
Unity 3/5
Resources 4/5
Outcome 7/10
Total 14/20
Scorecard 2012: B+ (14/20)
Scorecard 2013: B- (12/20)
Scorecard 2014: B+ (14/20)

Kidnappings and foreign fighters have emerged as the latest terrorist threat to European and American interests. 

The terrorist threat to Europe and the US rose in 2014 as a result of ISIS’s rapid gains in Northern Iraq. There is particular concern, voiced by President Obama among others, about the fact that thousands of Western citizens have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS. Some have returned to their home countries radicalised and remain engaged in terrorist activity. For instance, on 24 May 2014, a French citizen who had fought with ISIS shot four people in a Jewish museum in Brussels. The US has promised full cooperation to tackle the threat posed by foreign fighters. There is also concern that ISIS members who hold European passports could avail of the visa waiver programme to enter the US.

A related problem is ISIS’s kidnapping of foreign nationals for ransom, which has resulted in beheadings that have been videotaped and released to the public. There are two different approaches. Britain and the US refuse to pay or negotiate with the hostage-takers and instead focus on using special forces to free them. Other nations, including France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, are understood to have handed over the money, which usually results in the release of the hostages. In an interview, President Obama expressed his frustration with the paying of ransoms.

With regard to the US-led effort against terrorists more generally, President Obama gave a speech in 2013 in which he promised to scale back the use of drones for counter-terrorism. This was welcomed in Europe at the time and appears to have been followed through in 2014. However, the rapid rise of ISIS has created new demands for a light but lethal counter-terrorism strategy, although opinions vary on how this should be achieved.