“The purpose of terrorism lies not just in the violent act itself. It is producing terror. It sets out to inflame, to divide, to produce consequences which they then use to justify further terror.” The words of Tony Blair which, despite their origin, are as good a summary of terrorism as anybody else’s. Of course, it is our reaction to terrorism that determines our chances of defeating it. With this in mind Poland, although thus far free of the scourge of terrorism, is not standing idly by in its reaction to the most recent atrocity in Brussels.
Work on a new draft anti-terrorism law has been speeded up and the interior minister Mariusz Błaszczak said it will be presented to parliament in April with the hope that it will be adopted, after due parliamentary process no doubt, in May. He said that that the draft provisions “are very precise, clear and guarantee the security of Polish citizens.”
Under the proposed law, the authorities will be able to detain suspected terrorists for up to 14 days, and to expel immediately foreigners considered to pose a threat to national security. They will also be able to suspend mass public events and gatherings. Security services chief Mariusz Kamiński said: “The [new] rules allow effective, but above all fast action.” He added: “The Polish state cannot and will not be helpless in the face of contemporary threats.”
Meanwhile, the interior minister has joined other EU ministers at an extraordinary meeting of justice and security ministers in Brussels on Thursday, just two days after the suicide bomb attack in the city, in calling for the European parliament to adopt the Passenger Name Record directive (PNR) in April. The PNR would provide the security services of each member state with access to an extensive database of 42 pieces of information on air passengers, ranging from the addresses of passengers to whether they had requested halal food. Błaszczak said that “anything that helps in saving people’s lives is justified.” “The PNR should have been implemented a long time ago,” he said.
Opponents of the PNR claim that it is an assault on privacy and a sign of encroaching surveillance by the state. Which raises a vital point: what is the boundary between the individual’s right to privacy and the state’s right to protect national security? It seems that after every atrocity the authorities demand new powers when it is far from clear either that such powers are needed or that existing powers are being effectively utilised. The terrorists have won if the freedom of the citizen is compromised: the “war” on terror is not won by oppressing law abiding citizens, but by dealing with the causes.
The Turkish authorities had already tipped off the Belgian security services about the Brussels airport bombers but the chaotic organisation in Belgium led to the ball being well and truly dropped. Similarly, one of the suspects from the Paris attacks was living quite happily, virtually in the shadow of the EU administration, in Brussels receiving eager succour, it appears, from supporters in Molenbeek. In the UK, where the security forces have been successful in identifying and eliminating security threats, all too often anti-terrorist legislation has been used to snoop on ordinary citizens for no better reason than to check that they are not putting their rubbish in the wrongly coloured bin, or renting a house in a neighbouring borough to find a better school for their children. And still the government wants more power.
Be that as it may, the Polish government will no doubt feel more confident as it girds its loins to tackle the security challenges of the NATO summit to be held in Warsaw on 8th to 9th July at which 2,500 delegates are expected, and the Church’s World Youth Days in Krakow from 25th to 31st July which are expected to attract millions of pilgrims, including a visit by the Pope.
The former event is a top priority for President Duda during this week’s visit to Washington to discuss nuclear safety, both civilian and military, and Poland’s point of view on international security issues. No doubt he will be towing the party line and making a case for a permanent NATO base (i.e. lots of US troops and kit) to be established in Poland. Or, as he told the Washington Post: “Only the increased presence of NATO in Central and Eastern Europe can ensure real deterrence.”
All too often, it seems, security policy is made not on rational grounds but rather with reference to Maimonides: “the risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.”