The 1980s: The West’s Collective Response to Terrorism

  • David Carlton


During the 1980s the West’s problems with terrorism were to be even more intense than during the 1970s. But the focus of attention moved away from Continental Western Europe as the West German RAF and the Italian BR faded away and as ETA’s struggle against Spanish sovereignty over the Basque Country resulted neither in victory nor in defeat and only rarely hit the global headlines. The Anglo-Saxon world, on the other hand, moved to centre stage. The British Cabinet, led throughout the 1980s by Thatcher, was to be greatly troubled by the insurgency in Northern Ireland and was indeed on one occasion fortunate not to be assassinated en masse by the IRA. And it was also much involved in other terrorist-related crises - for example, relating to Southern Africa, Libya, and Salman Rushdie. But it was the United States, above all, that had to face the most intensely searching questions about its attitude towards terrorism. For it had for eight years a President in Reagan who approached world affairs with an unusual degree of simplistic, moralising rhetoric. Yet his Administration faced a series of complicated challenges - primarily in Central America, in Afghanistan, in Lebanon and in Southern Africa - that were not easily tackled without embracing much moral inconsistency. And in addition there were even more attacks than in the 1980s on US citizens travelling abroad or stationed abroad as peacekeepers or diplomats. The upshot was that the West gave the appearance of alternating among policies that could be characterised as resisting terrorism, appeasing terrorism and even sponsoring terrorism.


Basque Country African National Congress Diplomatic Relation Innocent People Downing Street 
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Copyright information

© David Carlton 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Carlton
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WarwickUK

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