5 Questions on European Terrorism with Austin Long

March 29, 2016
Austin Long, associate professor at the School of International and Public Affairs

Austin Long is an associate professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, where he teaches courses on security policy. He is also a member of the University's Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. His research interests include intelligence, military operations, and the political economy of national security. His book, The Soul of Armies: Counterinsurgency Doctrine and Military Culture in the U.S. and U.K., was published in February by Cornell University Press.

Q. Belgium is a country with a population of 11 million, smaller than the New York metropolitam area. Why is it a hotbed of radical Islam?

A. Belgium has become central to recent terrorist attacks in Europe in part for the same reasons France has been involved. It has, relative to its size, a large pool of Muslim immigrants who have not been well integrated into society. This problem has been compounded by tensions between the French and Dutch speaking communities in Belgium, which has produced significant politics dysfunction.

Q. Does Belgium have the military strength or intelligence assets to deal with these threats?

A. The key challenges for Belgium are intelligence and law enforcement. While these services are capable, they need bolstering as the scale of the terrorist problem is now clearly greater than it was even a few years ago in Belgium. Intelligence sharing between European countries also remains weaker than it needs to be.

Related: Professor Stuart Gottlieb on Brussels, Columbia News

Q. What impact will this attack, following on the heels of the Paris attack, have on other European countries? Is all of Europe at risk?

A. All of Europe is at risk as long as the ability of terrorists to cross borders remains much greater than the ability of intelligence and law enforcement to cross borders. However that risk is not equal across all European countries. Countries with large and poorly integrated Muslim communities will be much more at risk.

Q. Does the apparent ease with which ISIS has infiltrated Europe suggest it can do the same in the United States?

A. Infiltrate is not quite right, as many of the attackers in Europe have been European citizens. The threat is less about foreign terrorists sneaking in to Europe and the United States, though that is a concern, and more about the radicalization and mobilization of citizens.

Related: Professor Brigitte L. Nacos on Brussels, Columbia News

Q. What do we have to look out for next?

A. For Europe the big challenge is increasing cooperation at a time when other pressures, including economics and migration, are dividing the EU.