The Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) is also frequently called the Global War on Terror, or simply the War on Terror. Five years into the war, which began in 2001 following the September 11 terrorist attacks that killed thousands of civilians in the United States, more nuance was injected to create slogans such as "a global struggle against violent extremism.” Many different terms and phrases describe the conflict, but whichever title is preferred, the GWOT is seen as an unprecedented campaign to defend against and prevent acts of terrorism worldwide.
The term GWOT may have originated from the simple “war on terror” language used to describe conflicts of the past, but its use was discussed in great detail by American government and military leaders. Since the phrase Global War on Terrorism apparently translates well in many other languages, it was considered the best option. George W. Bush, President of the United States at the time of the September 11 attacks and the beginning of the GWOT, made it clear that the fight against terrorism would have a global reach. In addition, he swore that the effort would not only work to incapacitate terrorists and their networks, but would also deal harshly with nation states that supported or harbored terrorists.
The change in terminology was adapted to include more within the GWOT framework. The original language didn’t seem like an apt description of the various operations, since much more is involved than military maneuvers or battles. The GWOT includes both combat and non-combat initiatives, such as intelligence gathering, effective law enforcement, countering narcotics trafficking, efforts to freeze terrorist financing, economic sanctions, disabling known terrorist cells and training camps, and fighting insurgencies. It also involves training military and police forces, reconstruction efforts, strengthening infrastructure and supporting fledgling governments, protecting human rights, and providing humanitarian aid.
President George W. Bush stated in a 20 September 2001 speech that the GWOT would not allow terrorism to destroy the rights and freedoms of individuals or to destroy democratic governments. He described the GWOT as a “lengthy campaign,” unlike anything the American people or the world has seen. The president stated that the GWOT would begin with Al Qaeda, the group believed to be responsible for September 11 and other attacks, but would not end there.
One statement, which at the time fueled Americans’ resolve, also received criticism from sources worldwide. President Bush declared the GWOT would not end “until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” Many critics feared that this statement and other strong language would incite more violence and lead to a state of perpetual war. Amnesty International also believed that “ordinary citizens” as well as protected human rights and civil liberties would suffer the most due to the GWOT.
Despite critics’ fears of the GWOT, there was an outpouring of support after the September 11 attacks, as well as support for the nation’s efforts to defend the U.S. along with friends and allies throughout the world from terrorists. Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom quickly offered support. Many other nations also showed support and formed a Coalition of forces to combat extremists. NATO instantly responded, reiterating statements from its charter that an attack on any member nation is “an attack on all.”