The Global War on Terrorism is a military campaign that began shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001. First used by George W. Bush, the phrase ‘war on terror’ has become to be conceptualized as a term used to signify ‘global military, political, lawful, and conceptual struggle targeting both organizations designated as terrorists and regimes accused of supporting them. ” The war on terror main focus has been with Islamist militants and Al-Qaeda.
The war in Afghanistan and Iraq are both considered to be part of the war on terrorism. There is much speculation on whether the war on terror is actually a war. This essay will argue that both points of view are valid. There are reasons which validate the war on terrorism as being considered an actual war such as the fact that an actual decelaration of war was waged by both the US and Al-Qaeda, it can be considered a new way of war, and that ultimately like war, terrorism is a mean to a political end.
On the other side of the spectrum, it may not be considered a war because it does not have a clear end or possible victory, it does not have a confined battle space as regular wars, and it is a ‘war’ against an immaterial concept such as the wars on poverty, drugs, and crime. There is an extensive amount of literature on the subject of terrorism and especially the war on terror. Mia Bloom in ‘Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror’ examines the use strategies, successes, and failures of suicide bombing in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.
She claims that in many instances the effort of Israel, Russia, and the United States have failed to deter terrorism and suicide bombings. Bloom also contemplates how terrorist groups learn from one another, and thus how they react and retaliate to counterterror tactics the financing of terrorism, and the role of suicide attacks against the backdrop of larger ethnic and political conflicts. Another current scholar writing on terrorism is Mark Juergensmeyer. Juergensmeyer studies religious terrorism more specifically. Bruce Hoffman gives a brilliant insight to terrorism and all its aspects.
Hoffman describes its historical evolution and the mindset of the terrorist. He examines this invisible enemy and his tactics and motivation in a globalized world. Hoffman argues that the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers radically altered the USA’s and the Wests view on terrorism. When attempting to answer the above question it is important to clarify and define the terms. Terrorism has a vast number of definitions and varies greatly depending on who is trying to define it and from what perspective it is being defined and at which scope.
For example one definition of terrorism is the FBI’s definition of it as ‘the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a Government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in further political or social objectives’. Another definition is from the Department of Defense which states it to be as ‘the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological objectives.
A final example of one of the many definitions of terrorism is that of the Department of homeland Security which states it as ‘any activity that involves an act that is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critic infrastructure or key resources; and…must also appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. ’ These definitions vary quite greatly from one to another.
Any definition of terrorism suits a particular agency and how they look at the act of violence, whereas very few look at the causes for it and what its essence is. Notice the selected vocabulary for each definition will suit the type of agency’s profile. The problem with defining terrorism is one that it is a subjective thing, and two that the parties trying to define it try to include everything and nothing in it. They try to put and various different events that happened and situations as well to help define it so as to make sure that terrorism encompasses a large number of things.
For example the discotheque bombing of Bali. It seems that the definitions need to include anything that attacks the west. With regards to the war on terror, is it the war on terror or terrorism? Is there really a war on terrorism and if so according to whom? The USA? Al-Qaeda? And in which theatres and locations are we talking about? The war on terror might be a war on terror in Afghanistan but not in other places. Also the title of the question is quite ambiguous because is terrorism is an act of war, or is war is an act of terrorism? Each one can be unfolded onto the other easily.
It is also important to consider who is included in the war on terror, is it all terrorists groups including terrorist groups like the IRA? Or is it just limited to Islamist militant terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda? It is not always clear who are the terrorists and who are the terrorized… “All politics is a struggle for power, and the ultimate kind of power is violence. ” Hoffman writes that terrorism is where politics and violence intersect in the hope of delivering power. And that all terrorism involves a quest for power. Power to do many things such as to dominate, coerce, control but ultimately to ‘effect fundamental political change.
Clausewitz’s definition of war was ‘war is the continuation of Politick by other means’. In this context terrorism fits in accordance to his definition as terrorism too can be considered part of war. Terrorism can be considered a tactic or act of war, or war a tactic or act of terrorism. For example the French used torture during the Battle of Algiers, the US uses terror tactics itself such as Abu Ghraib. It is very difficult to separate war from terrorism neatly. Being a terrorist is a stepping-stone to becoming a politician.
Thus because of the very ambiguous relationship and line between war and terrorism, terrorism can be considered as a new way, or military tactic of fighting war. Thus anything that tries to counter attack it can also be considered a war. Thus rending the war on terrorism a war. Terrorism is ‘a complex phenomena in which violence is used to obtain political power to readdress grievances ’ In order for one to consider the war on terrorism as an actual war, an actual statement of waging war has had to been made. This is the case with the war on terrorism. Al-Qaeda did declare war on the USA in 1998.
The bush administration created the term of the ‘axis of evil’ and the USA did fight a conventional war in Iraq in 2003. The war on terrorism might not be a war in itself but it could be made up and composed by several on going wars such as Chechnya, the government of Sri Lanka versus the Tumult Tigers (which was actually the first country to successfully defeat terrorism), and Mali. There have been clear objectives set out and enemies to defeat. Although this enemy is invisible, and the way of fighting the battles are different (due to the asymmetrical aspect of the war on terror) it does not mean this is not a war.
The rules have changed, the battle space as well, the way of thinking of the enemy and war has changed drastically. But it is still war. It is just a new face of war. However, the war on terrorism is hard to define as an actual ‘war’ for several reasons. One, because it seems the US and the West are just policing and engaging in nation building to promote liberal democracy. Hoffman mentions the second factor, which is vastly important in discrediting the war on terrorism as a war stating that ‘unlike traditional wars, the war on terror does not have a clear end’. This is because the victory seems unattainable.
Terrorism won’t die along with the terrorist leaders. Not even when the most wanted terrorist has been killed. DCIA Leon E. Panetta stated that “I don’t think there’s any question that when you get the number one terrorist in the world, that we’re a little safer today than we were when he was alive. But I also don’t think we ought to kid ourselves that killing Usama Bin Ladin kills al-Qa’ida. Al-Qa’ida still remains a threat, they’re still going to try to attack our country, and I think we have to continue to be vigilant and continue the effort to ultimately defeat these guys.
We damaged them, but we still have to defeat them. ” In order for a war to be a war, shouldn’t it have a clear end? Or at least a possible one? The war on terrorism also is discredited as being an actual war because it does not take place on a clear battle space. The director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald quoted “London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, ‘soldiers’.
They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a ‘war on terror’, just as there can be no such thing as a ‘war on drugs’ He continues by stating that ‘the fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement. ” The war on terror could simply be a war against a ‘thing’ such as the war on poverty, drugs, crime tc… There is no real way to defeat, destroy and rid the planet of such immaterial concepts. The war on terrorism looked under these aspects becomes more difficult to truly accept as a war. It is difficult to answer the question if whether the war on terrorism is an actual war. It appears that there is a struggle between Al-Qaeda fighting secularism, consumerism, and immorality and the US and the West is fighting against backwardness and against groups of people who reject western values and globalization. Is this what the real war being fought is about? Is this the actual war that is going on?
There are both aspects crediting the war on terrorism as a war and others discrediting it. This question however is highly relevant and intertwines to other aspects of IR305 such as the changing nature of war (is the war on terror the new type of war? ), the different types of warfare (is the war on terror the new western way of warfare and terrorism the Arab way of warfare? ), and the topic of risk societies (are we breeding more terrorism by fighting the war on terror, thus creating more risk). All of these various aspects of IR305 are relevant to the topic of the war on terrorism.
Courtney from Study Moose
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