How do you see the evolution of terrorism nowadays? What is terrorism in the post-truth era?
- Despite terrorism is illegitimate in nature, it is still politics. From my point of view, terrorism is the use of a certain degree of violence in order to achieve certain political objectives through media. In fact, modern terrorism starts with the coming of mass media. Terrorists try to control media timetable. In Spain and from the 60´s to the new century, we suffered several terrorist attacks (from ETA) which happened at around 8 o’clock in the morning, because they wanted to be present in the 9 o’clock news, and then in the following daily editions, capturing media attention the whole day for them. Terrorism is a kind of theater. It is a fiction of war – war is a clash of powers - because they are a fiction of power. But fiction of power is, at the end, also Power. That’s why it is very much related to the post-truth. Terrorism appeals to our emotions, to our feelings, our imagination, instead of to our rationality. Terrorists are trying to control the imagination of people. This is very similar to post-truth. Terrorists need people to look at them, like actors. If you do not pay attention to the theatre, it becomes obsolete, it dies. That is why terrorism itself is connected to media; it needs coverage to be amplified, thus to be taken into account. And at the same time media need news too. A perfect symbiosis, let´s say with all the reservations and differences, is therefore achieved. And the solution is not censorship at all, because media are a cornerstone of democracies. By implementing censorship we will only erode our values, which we want to protect and preserve. It will not work, because we cannot, we must not control the media. Any exception will make us to lose legitimacy, which is in this context another key issue. We must interact and be able to pass the message to the media professionals, so they decide by themselves what to cover or not; deontology is key as well. We need to contribute to raise some kind of self-control among the media against the post-truth and terrorism.
What is your view on activity of ISIS in Europe?
- ISIS, as a terrorist movement, is a reaction to globalization; it plays a role of antithesis to it. In Europe, some 700 people died because of Islamic terrorism since 2001. Of course, every lost human life is a tragedy, However, despite the impact of the attacks cannot be measured by the number of victims, but from psychological and political point of view, from my perspective, the scale of the Islamic terrorism threat is overrated. The drama of war is that it has a political sense, all is connected; it is a symphony. We can say that the actions of these so called lonely wolves is noise, unconnected noise, purely designed for media. From a military point of view the outcomes could be considered very poor. ISIS is still able to conduct its operations because the regional situation in Middle East is as it is; they failed to employ any firearm for their attacks, which were done mostly with knives, trucks... In fact I think they will change the tactic soon and will come back once more to massive attacks. In any case, it is necessary to find any kind of regional, endurable solution. It is needed and agreement among all parts involved. But the resolution of this crisis could take long time, as we have seen in other hot spots. Once we enter in a crisis, to leave it will be a problem.
Is it possible to bring security in current dynamic global situation?
- What is globalization? – it is interrelation. What happens with relations – conflicts? The more relations exist, the more conflicts are triggered. But, at the same time, I consider the size of those conflicts will be reduced, because other relations show up. The real problem is that they could become uncontrolled, and weapons of mass destruction could be used. In that case the escalation process could be also out of control, entering in an irrational dynamic. World War I started as a trade conflict, but led to the total destruction of Europe. Globalization allows improvement and development, but at same time, international security is getting lower.
On the other hand, my belief is that security is just a feeling. A person who lives in a very dangerous part of the world may feel himself quite safe. And a 100% security cannot be achieved. We live now in a unusual security situation, especially in Western Europe. But the globalization means that any international security problem in another part of the world could directly affect you. So we need to be prepared to live with lower levels of security, which does not mean that we do not have to fight for maintaining a proper level of freedom. This is the best way to defeat the problems, in my opinion.
Which modern threats you see as the most dangerous?
- The threats could be to a territory, as it is the case of Ukraine, to an organization or to values. Having that in mind, the society must prioritize what to protect. At the same time if the focus is purely threat-centric, the answer to terrorism would always be a kind od police state, and the answer to post-truth would be inevitably censorship. This is how we can lose our initiative and waste our time. And we are risking our values. Now, when we have more or less secure borders in Europe, the most important issue, which we cannot control, are manipulations. There is no real democracy if someone is controlling people´s feelings and thoughts. Things like that are killing democracy.
Which tools we should use against manipulations?
- Today national borders could be considered a fictitious heritage from the past. One problem could be common for all humanity. So to control internal or external manipulations cooperation between states is a must. Democracy is an expression of the will of millions of people acting together. This fact motivates that reactions are very slow, although they have a tremendous potential strength.We are not agile, we need time to respond. Taking that into account, consensus among democratic countries provides legitimacy to respond. The action of one country can be an example to others to act in the same direction. We can fight against manipulations with common laws, with courts to protect our core values and with media as a regulatory mechanism. Because democracy is always a balance. International consensus of democracies gives us effectivity and legitimacy both at the same time.
How to fight the state-level or state-sponsored terrorism?
- Due to globalization it can be said that we all have common borders, we are in touch with almost everyone, especially on the Internet. Democracies have relations with other countries, with lower levels of freedom. They have for example, companies which somehow are connected to government, they are actually the part of a state. How can we cope with this? In the same way we have discussed before – the answer is looking for international consensus. So any decision should come not from a single country, but from several, from 28 democracies in the case of the European Union. The problem is that international law is always behind the globalization dynamic. There are lot of gaps, which can be used by terrorists. At the same time, when dealing with terrorism you have to act rationally, not emotionally, so sometimes you have to act with some delay, step by step, thinking about the future. What has been done yet, cannot be changed, that is why we need to be cautious with our actions. We need to protect our values, because they make us as we are.
Federico Aznar Fernandez-Montesinos. Commander from 1990 to 1991 served in Spanish Fleet. 1991-2002 – had military service in various units of the Fleet, Submarine Fleet and Maritime Action Force. In 2003-2005 was in General Staff of the Navy. From 2005 to 2012 - Professor. Higher Center for National Defense Studies. Higher School of the Armed Forces. Department of Strategy and International Relations. Since 2012 - Professor in the Spain´s National Defense Advanced Studies Center and Principal Analyst of the Spanish Institute of Strategic Studies (IEEE). He is Doctor in Political Science and Administration, Specialist in Religion Culture and Islamic Civilization and in relations of Spain with North Africa. Author of four books and more than twohundred academic articles mainly on topics related to Strategic Leadership, Theory of War, Terrorism, Polemology and Sociology