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United Nations

Empowering the UN in Fighting Terrorism

A very large majority of Americans favors having the UN play a greater role in the fight against terrorism, including strengthening the role of international law and enhancing intelligence cooperation. Overwhelming majorities support the UN Security Council being able to require UN members to allow a UN-sponsored police force to enter countries and conduct investigations, to freeze the assets of suspected terrorist groups, to provide intelligence on them, to arrest them, and if the member country refuses to do so, to send in an international military force to capture suspected terrorists. A strong majority favors using international judicial bodies for trying terrorists.

Americans see the UN as playing an important role in the fight against terrorism and would like to see it play larger role than it has.

In an October 2006 WPO poll 71% said that the US should put a greater priority on, “Working through the UN to strengthen international laws against terrorism and make sure UN members cooperate in enforcing them.” Just 13% favored putting a lesser priority and 14% the same level of priority.[1]

A July 2004 Chicago Council poll asked about eleven different measures for combating international terrorism. The one that received the highest level of support was—endorsed by 87%—was “Working through the UN to strengthen international laws against terrorism and to make sure UN members enforce them.” In 2002 the Chicago Council found 88% support for this approach.[2]

A September 2003 PIPA poll found 76% favored putting a high priority on "Setting up a UN database of terrorists to which all countries would contribute."[3]

Shortly after 9/11 a series of polls found overwhelming support for the UN playing a key role. In a September 14-18, 2001 Associated Press poll, an extraordinary 90% said that the United Nations should "play a major role in pulling countries together to fight against terrorism." On November 1-4, 90% said that they favored (70% strongly) "working through the UN to strengthen international laws against terrorism and to make sure UN members cooperate in enforcing them" (PIPA, November 1-4).[4]

Perhaps most striking, strong to overwhelming majorities favor the UN Security Council having extensive powers to make demands on member states or to intervene in their territory in the effort to track down terrorist groups (see below from PIPA, November 1-4). While the UN Charter has language that gives the UN Security Council broad powers, in practice exercising such powers would break new ground.[5]


Similarly, Harris found (also in November 2001) a very strong 71% majority thinking that "In order to prepare for a possible future international terrorist attack…the United Nations should be given broader powers that would force member countries to work together to fight terrorism." [6]

Trying Terrorists Before International Judicial Bodies

Support has also been quite strong for using international judicial bodies for trying terrorists. In the June 2004 Chicago Council poll that asked about a number of measures for combating international terrorism, 82% favored, "Trial of suspected terrorists in an International Criminal Court."[7]

Polls taken immediately after 9/11 also showed such support. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken September 12, 2001 respondents were asked to evaluate a list of possible responses by the US to the September 11 attacks. Seventy-five percent favored (62% strongly, 13% somewhat) "build[ing] a case against the people who are specifically responsible and seek[ing] justice in the World Court."[8]

Perhaps most dramatically, although the September 11 attack was against US territory, if Osama Bin Laden were captured a 49% plurality would favor trying him in an international criminal tribunal, while 44% would prefer to try him in a federal court in New York (PIPA November 1-4). [9]



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