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The World Unpacked

essay about war and terrorism

No War, No Peace: Healing the World’s Violent Societies

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Table of Contents

The Peacemakers of 1919 a Century On Jay Winter

The Call of Unorthodox Diplomacy Bernard Bot

Peacemaking in an Era of New Wars Mary Kaldor

No War, No Peace: Healing the World’s Violent Societies Rachel Kleinfeld , Robert Muggah

From Cyber Swords to Plowshares George Perkovich , Wyatt Hoffman

Law of War or Peace Through Law? Frédéric Mégret

On Peace and the Spaces Between the Words Brendan McAllister

Hard as this is to believe, we live in one of the most peaceful periods of human history. 1 Homicides have been falling in most parts of the world for centuries. 2 Despite the horrors beamed across the internet, violent deaths from wars between states are at historic lows. 3 Civil war deaths have risen in recent years owing to the conflicts principally in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, but they had fallen so far since the end of the Cold War that they are still a fraction (in per capita terms) of what they were at any time before. 4 After rising for a decade and a half, even violent extremist–related fatalities are on the decline. 5

Rachel Kleinfeld

Senior Fellow Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program

These comparatively recent improvements in peace and security did not occur spontaneously. The end of the Cold War gave them a boost, but they were chiefly achieved by concerted investment in policies designed to prevent and mitigate warfare and terrorism. Sharp reductions in violent crime were also due in part to investments in smarter policing and prevention.

But there is a darker side to the story. 6 Many societies ostensibly “at peace” are far from peaceful. Some of them are experiencing endemic violence that exceed death rates in warfare. These situations can only be improved with better quality governance, rather than traditional peace agreements and peacekeepers. Almost nine out of ten violent deaths across the world today occur inside countries and cities that are not at war in the traditional sense. 7 Criminal violence perpetrated by drug cartels, gangs, and mafia groups is skyrocketing, especially in Latin American and the Caribbean, causing global homicides to creep up again. 8 Meanwhile, state security forces are continuing to deploy mass violence and excessive force against their own people. 9

Robert Muggah

These two types of violence—organized crime and state repression—are more intertwined than is commonly assumed. Politicians, police, judges, and customs officials often cooperate with cartel bosses and gangs in the pursuit of profit and power. Both are skilled at hiding their violent acts such that they often are not recorded in worldwide datasets on lethal and nonlethal violence. Yet it is possible that such violence may be contributing to a jump in overall violent deaths worldwide. Such violence is difficult to disrupt.

These challenges are not confined to poor, “failed,” or “fragile” states. Compare the roughly thirty fragile states listed by the World Bank to the fifty most violent countries in the world, and just four appear in both compilations. It is middle-income countries that are fast becoming the world’s most violent places. 10 Relatively wealthy South Africa has a violent death rate nearly double that of war-torn South Sudan. 11 In 2018, more civilians were killed by state and paramilitary forces in the Philippines than in Iraq, Somalia, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo—as many as in Afghanistan. 12 Of the fifty most violent cities in the world in 2017 (based on murder rates per 100,000), fifteen are in Mexico, fourteen are in Brazil, and four are in the United States. 13 Inequality, not poverty, is strongly correlated with murder—and inequality often rises as poverty falls. 14

The international community has few tools to address the twin challenges of state and criminal violence. Traditional peace treaties and the deployment of blue-helmeted peacekeepers are not fit for purpose. Development organizations have a role to play in reducing criminal violence—but it must be an explicit focus, since measures to alleviate poverty don’t affect violence per se. 15 In fact, efforts to reinforce state capacity can make violence even worse by propping up governments complicit in the problem. When politicians are unable or unwilling to stem violence, international leverage is often limited, since governments can sanction international organizations and agencies or evict their staff. A new toolkit of solutions is needed to return violence to its previous trajectory of decline.

War and Terrorism—Changing Threats

War has always constituted an existential threat to humanity. The civilization-ending potential of armed conflict reached its apogee in the twentieth century. Then, in the late 1940s, something remarkable started happening. The incidence and severity of cross-border and civil wars began to fall. 16 Half a century later, after the Cold War had ended, the number of wars went into free fall, with many petering out as the United States and Russia withdrew support for competing sides. By 2018, direct deaths from civil and interstate wars had dropped to fewer than 53,000 a year. 17 (Indirect deaths caused by conflict, such as increased disease and malnutrition, remain higher. 18 )

The risk of warfare is reemerging as U.S. hegemony weakens and geopolitical rivalries return, fueling regional proxy conflicts such as those in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. While the deadliness of today’s wars remains historically low, there are nevertheless twice as many civil conflicts today as there were in 2001. It is a small uptick after a long decline, but it is a disturbing trend. 19

Armed conflicts today are harder to extinguish because of three parallel trends. First, while old-style interstate wars are now vanishingly rare, the term “civil war” can be a misnomer. Of the fifty-two current intra-state conflicts counted by the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO), external states were sending troops to at least one side in eighteen of them. 20 These conflicts fueled by outside states are generally more violent, longer lasting, and much harder to resolve than traditional civil wars. 21 (For more, see the essay by Mary Kaldor in this collection.)

Second, the number of nonstate armed groups participating in the bloodshed is multiplying. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), roughly half of today’s wars involve between three and nine opposing groups. 22 In a handful, including the ongoing conflicts in Libya and Syria, literally hundreds of armed groups are fighting one another. Wars are harder to end when so many groups can spoil the peace. Third, today’s warriors are as likely to be affiliated with drug cartels, mafia groups, and criminal gangs as with armies or organized rebel factions. In a globalized world with highly connected supply chains, they often act as all of the above. The Taliban is a rebel group fighting for political control of Afghanistan. It is also a drug cartel fighting criminalized portions of the Afghan government for control over domestic and regional smuggling routes. 23 Politicians, businessmen, and fighters who profit from ongoing war make negotiated peace more complex, and in some cases impossible.

These trends are compounded by a long-ignored reality. Many citizens suffering under predatory governments have no automatic loyalty to the state. Rebel groups, terrorist insurgents, cartels, and gangs successfully lobby for legitimacy and public support—not just with threats, but with slick digital videos and social media persuasion campaigns.

For much of the twentieth century, terrorism was viewed as a lower-order concern by most governments. The September 11 al-Qaeda-led attacks on the United States catapulted terror to the top of the global agenda. Incidents of terrorism spiked for more than a decade. But since 2014, the number of attacks has fallen by as much as 44 percent. 24 North Americans and Europeans still feel that they are on the frontlines of terror, yet according to the Global Terrorism Index, white nationalist groups pose a greater threat to U.S. citizens than political Islamist groups. 25 As gruesome attacks in Brussels, Manchester, and Paris, suggest, Western Europe does face a greater terrorist threat. Yet in 2017, just 2 percent of all terrorist-related attacks occurred in Europe. Across the continent, the probability of dying at the hands of a terrorist was 0.027 per 100,000—slightly less likely than being hit by lightning. 26

The geographic locus of extremist violence has altered. Just seven countries account for 90 percent of all terrorist attacks and related deaths: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. 27 Perpetrators are also concentrated in a few conflict zones. More than 10,000 of the roughly 19,000 terrorist killings in 2017 were perpetrated by just four groups: the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the Taliban, al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram. 28 Over the past decade, they have been responsible for close to half of all terrorist-related deaths. Terrorism today serves largely as a battle tactic within irregular war in the developing world.

The inherent vulnerability of soft targets will always allow individuals with the will and means to sow terror. But the focus of Western security policy should correspond more closely with the actual—rather than the perceived—threat. In particular, attention should focus on the potential of attacks with biological and chemical weapons, a threat that has become plausible again after their repeated use in the Syrian war. 29

Within the countries hardest hit, the only meaningful method of terror prevention in the long run is to address the factors that give rise to it in the first place. Terror is a tactic of war, but it is a product of inequitable governance and political and social exclusion. Feelings of inequality, marginalization, and indignity feed anger and resentment. Moreover, it is often state violence that sets this tinder alight. According to a UN study interviewing violent extremists across North Africa, violent state repression transformed grievances into terrorist violence in 71 percent of the cases. 30

Rising State Violence

Ever since modern nation-states burst onto the scene in the seventeenth century, they have violently controlled their populations. The practice of giving states a pass on coercion within their borders was codified in the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, which ended the apocalyptic bloodshed of the Thirty Years’ War in Europe. In the long run, the cure turned out to be more deadly than the disease, however. R. J. Rummel estimated that in the twentieth century, 262 million people were killed by their own governments—six times more than in all international and civil wars occurring in that period. 31 In China, the Soviet Union, and other Communist, totalitarian states such as Cambodia, between 85 and 110 million people were killed by their own governments. 32

essay about war and terrorism

After the fall of Communism, humanitarians argued that state repression could no longer be tolerated under the rubric of national sovereignty and noninterference. Most states perpetrating violence against their citizens were no longer near-peer rivals, but weaker governments more susceptible to Western strong-arming. Rwanda’s genocide of 1994, in which possibly 800,000 people were killed in a hundred days, was so horrific that a new norm, the “responsibility to protect,” sanctioning international interference in situations of mass violence, won widespread support. 33

Yet, despite the new global norm of protection, state violence has continued. North Korea is holding between 70,000 and 130,000 people in concentration camps deemed by a Holocaust survivor to be as bad as those of Nazi Germany. 34 In Brazil, police committed more than 6,100 killings in 2018 (more than one of every nine violent deaths in the country)—and one of the legislators who condoned this violence is now president. 35 Amnesty International found that between 2009 and 2015, Nigeria’s military starved or tortured to death at least 7,000 Nigerians, killed 1,200 more in extrajudicial executions, and imprisoned 20,000. 36

Today, state killings are potentially among the largest sources of violence against civilians—although with data so easily hidden and manipulated, it is hard to be sure. Indeed, few countries collect or centralize statistics on victims of state violence, much less make them available to the public. At the same time, new, digitally enabled forms of state control are emerging, most notably China’s practices of preemptive imprisonment and super-charged surveillance, employed most thoroughly against its Muslim Uyghur minority.

While China’s surveillance state hints at the future, Venezuela embodies state violence today. Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world, a grim record that at first glance appears to be the result of murderous criminals taking advantage of a nearly failed state. 37 In fact, Venezuelan drug trafficking is well organized and managed by the government itself. 38 The most virulent form of violence today is the result of such partnerships between states, their security forces, and paramilitaries and organized criminals.

The Sinister Expansion of Organized Crime

Organized criminal violence has grown in virtually every part of the world in recent years, whether it be drug cartel violence in Mexico, reprisal killings among pastoralists and herders in Nigeria, 39 gangland murders in El Salvador, 40 or brutality by election-campaign thugs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 41 The acts of bloodshed these violent actors commit are often flagrant and intentionally gory so as to send a message to their rivals. Many places are so deadly that they face war in all but name.

True, organized crime tends to step into the breach where a government is unable or unwilling to provide basic security and justice. Yet this kind of organized crime flourishes more often when a state is not weak, but collusive. Such “privilege violence” occurs when politicians and security forces allow mafias, cartels, and gangs impunity, in exchange for campaign contributions, bribes, and help getting out the vote or repressing opposing electorates. 42

The exchange allows these political elites to enjoy the fruits of corruption, privilege, and perks, while ceding portions of their territory to control by violent criminals. 43 In some Mexican towns, parallel governments composed of criminalized political and administrative structures wield real control from behind the scenes. In Brazil, large portions of some of the country’s biggest cities are under the control of competing drug trafficking factions and militias. In some places, criminals and politicians merge and become one and the same. From Latin America to India, violent criminals have gained electoral office, while others seek to influence elections through buying and selling votes. 44

To allow their violent compatriots impunity, politicians politicize and deliberately weaken their security services. Criminalized police battle with gangs and cartels not over law and order, but over control of turf and illegal proceeds. Ordinary citizens are forced to pick sides. Stuck between massive criminal violence and a predatory, criminalized state that tends to prey on the marginalized, populations become polarized, and fragile regimes get even more brittle. These so-called crime wars thus corrode democracy. 45

Poorer communities are left to protect themselves. There is a tight correlation between people’s perception of insecurity and exposure to victimization and their likely support for extralegal measures to restore law and order. Where private security is too expensive and unavailable, people tend to turn to vigilantes, gangs, and mafias that offer security against the predatory state and other violent groups—for a price. The cocktail of factors driving terrorism—marginalization, exclusion, and repression—can similarly compel young men to join criminal gangs. Finally, as impunity grows, ordinary people turn to violence. A significant portion of murder emerges from bar fights and disputes between neighbors rather than professional criminals. 46

The ensuing mayhem allows politicians to posture as being tough on crime with repressive or militarized policing. Many citizens, exhausted by crime and violence, are easily seduced by simple promises of law and order. These so-called mano dura tactics tend to win elections. 47 They are also, often unintentionally, emboldened by foreign security assistance and equipment. But these policies supercharge criminal groups. Zero-tolerance laws condemn many young men to life in jail, where they learn from each other. 48 Criminals respond to brutal policing with even more violence. 49

The result is a self-reinforcing cycle of violence among criminal groups, the state, and regular people. Since 2015, Brazil has witnessed more violent deaths than in Syria. 50 Over the last fifteen years, Mexico has experienced more violent deaths than Iraq or Afghanistan. 51 Public authorities there estimate that 40 percent of the country is subject to chronic insecurity with disappearances and population displacement at all-time highs. 52

Fighting State Violence and Crime

The confluence of state repression and organized crime constitutes a wicked problem. Venezuela (and its patrons) is not going to authorize United Nations peacekeepers to patrol the streets of Caracas. China and Russia are not about to allow international observers to monitor their repression. Questions of noninterference and state sovereignty loom large. A new toolkit can help to fight state violence and crime. These tools could also help in addressing contemporary forms of splintered, semi-criminalized warfare, and the terrorism emanating from poor governance and state repression.

As a beginning, the United Nations, World Bank, and other multilateral institutions must become less risk-averse and savvier in engaging with states that purposefully brutalize their citizens, govern inequitably, or partner with criminals.

The experience of states, or substate governments that are willing to improve, indicates a great deal about policing reforms and other security improvements that can reduce violence. 53 Disrupting today’s violence, however, also requires reducing political, social, and economic inequality and building inclusive decisionmaking mechanisms across divided societies. 54 Reversing high levels of gender inequality and gender-based violence can decrease vulnerability to civil war and interstate war. 55 Countries that offer more opportunities for political and economic participation and encourage social mobility also tend to experience less violence. 56

When the problem is a governing system that relies on violence to sustain inequity, straightforward solutions to increase inclusiveness will meet resistance, however. Technical solutions premised on strengthening a weak but well-intentioned government won’t work. Some bolder and smarter initiatives to address these issues of will are already under way. For example, the World Bank has a program to make security sector budgeting more transparent. Corruption is now receiving greater international scrutiny from public and private investors alike. More work is needed to rebalance lending strategies, including by spending less on technical programs that gloss over the underlying problem and more on efforts that tackle the elites profiting from the status quo. 57

International and intergovernmental organizations are limited in their ability to affect domestic politics, both by internal legal constraints and because they rely on the permission of governments to operate. These interventions from outside are also not a long-term solution: a social contract needs to exist between a state and its people, not a government and external powers. The role of international actors must always be focused on empowering active citizens (and citizenship), while incentivizing states to listen to their own people. Changing the relationship between a state and its citizens is what ultimately reduces state violence and organized crime. Repressive states and organized crime thrive when societies are divided and fragmented.

Success comes primarily from helping the middle class build social momentum for political and economic change. Donors can fund local organizations that can spread trusted information while avoiding partisan pitfalls; can bring citizens together across polarized, divided countries; and can support a free media and investigative journalists who inform people about what their government is up to. Information alone, however, can merely anger and depress populations that lack a means to force change. Knowledge must be paired with mechanisms to enforce accountability.

To reduce chronic levels of violence, outside actors—including public and private donors—must fight to defend civil society, free speech, and rights to assembly and opposition voices. In many countries, opposition efforts rely on local businesses willing to fund advocacy that would build a more just state. 58 Outside funders that can’t appropriately or legally fund advocacy can target aid toward building a middle class and a private sector that can be independent of the government, not reliant on government largesse.

To ease the path of active citizens, international actors must also avoid doing harm. Donor funding can prop up predatory governments so that they do not need to heed the wishes of their populations. Where corrupt politicians are fueling the violence they claim to be fighting, foreign governments should withhold security aid rather than waste taxpayer dollars. Central America’s gangs metastasized when the United States deported gang members from Los Angeles with no support for integrating them into countries they had left as toddlers. The United States continues to repeat that mistake today. 59

The private and social sectors play an important, if often underappreciated, role. International financial hubs such as Dubai, London, New York, Shanghai, and Singapore should tighten the regulations of financial systems and property markets that allow criminals and politicians to launder ill-gotten gains. 60 Academic institutions could follow the lead of Magnitsky Act and Global Magnitsky Act sanctions and deny admission to the children of leaders guilty of gross human rights violations and corruption.

Finally, more research is needed into diplomacy and mediation among criminal groups and between governments and criminals. El Salvador’s famous gang truce of 2012 ended in failure. 61 But, in Los Angeles, violence has not rebounded after a thirty-year truce modeled on the Middle East peace process helped end violent reprisals in the 1990s. 62 These negotiations are often secret and are rarely even apparent to anyone other than the politicians and criminals themselves. Very little is known about the circumstances that allow some to succeed, while others cause only more bloodshed. Gaining a better understanding could help address not only criminal violence but also criminal actors within modern warfare. 63

The problem of violent predatory governments won’t be permanently solved by agreements such as these. In fact, they can make a governing order even less legitimate. But they can buy time, creating the breathing room necessary to rebuild the social contract between a state and its citizens. While working to improve internal governance, other measures are needed to tackle urgent problems that cross borders. Refugee law needs updating to help those trying to save themselves. Millions are trying to escape the criminal violence of Central and Latin America, just as refugees have fled the wartime violence of Syria. The difference is that those seeking succor from crime are often stuck in legal limbo after being refused asylum in third countries. 64 In otherwise peaceful countries across Europe and in the United States, populism is rising on the backs of migrants fleeing bloodshed, often not caused by war.

Finally, data collection may not be sexy, but the fight against all forms of violence also requires better statistics and analysis. There is surprisingly little information about violence in sub-Saharan Africa, where around half the states don’t report homicide numbers, in authoritarian countries where the numbers are probably manipulated, and in places less covered by the English-speaking press (which is generally used to determine conflict counts). 65 Supporting better data, which would be comparable across war and homicide as well as across countries, is essential to learn where the problems lie, and whether interventions are having an impact.

Decades ago, in the wake of the Second World War, a vast intellectual, multinational, and bilateral effort succeeded in corralling interstate war and reducing civil war. Collective violence fell globally. Now it is rising again, in new forms that are harder to eradicate. According to the World Health Organization, one in six people worldwide is affected by violence today. It is time for the international community to direct its manifold resources, monetary and intellectual, to upending the problem of our time: organized crime and criminally violent states.

1 Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking Press, 2011).

2 For homicide statistics, see Manuel Eisner, “Long Term Historical Trends,” Crime and Justice 30 (2003): 83–142; Manuel Eisner, “Modernization, Self-Control, and Lethal Violence: The Long-term Dynamics of European Homicide Rates in Theoretical Perspective,” The British Journal of Criminology 41, no. 4 (September 2001): 618–38; Ted Robert Gurr, “Historical Trends in Violent Crime: A Critical Review of the Evidence,” Crime and Justice 3 (1981): 295–353; and Ted Robert Gurr, “Historical Trends in Violent Crime: Europe and the United States,” in Violence in America, Volume 1: The History of Crime , ed. Ted Robert Gurr (California: Sage Publications Inc., 1989), 21–54.

3 Human Security Report Project, Human Security Report 2009/2010: The Causes of Peace and the Shrinking Costs of War (New York: Human Security Report Project, 2011), 21.

4 Nils Petter Gleditsch, et al., “Armed Conflict 1946–2001: A New Dataset,” Journal of Peace Research 39, no. 5 (2002): 615–37. See also Håvard Strand, “Onset of Armed Conflict: A New List for the Period 1946–2004, With Applications,” under review at Conflict Management and Peace Science (2006).

5 National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), “Global Terrorism Database,” 2018, https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd .

6 See Rachel Kleinfeld, “Reducing All Violent Death, Everywhere: Why the Data Must Improve,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 2, 2017, https://carnegieendowment.org/2017/02/02/reducing-all-violent-deaths-everywhere-why-data-must-improve-pub-67857 ; and Robert Muggah, “Counting Conflict Deaths: Options for SDG 16.1, Briefing Note to Members of the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators,” Igarapé Institute, October 2015, https://igarape.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/IAEG-Briefing-Note-Counting-Conflict-Deaths-October-2015.pdf .

7 Mirielle Widmer and Irene Pavesi, “Monitoring Trends in Violent Deaths,” Small Arms Survey, no. 59(September 2016): 1–8.

8 Claire McEvoy and Gergely Hideg, Global Violent Deaths 2017: Time to Decide (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, 2017).

9 Of course, the reduction of mass killings from totalitarian states such as the twentieth century slaughters in China, Russia, and Cambodia does not mean state violence ever disappeared. In countries such as North Korea and Rwanda, state implemented or state-directed violence continued apace.

10 Rachel Kleinfeld and Elena Barham, “Complicit States and the Governing Strategy of Privilege Violence: When Weakness Is Not the Problem,” Annual Review of Political Science 21 (May 2018): 215–38.

11 According to the UNODC, Brazil’s homicide rate is 36 per 100,000, South Sudan’s was 13.9 according to the UNODC in 2012, for a conservative estimate we add to this the estimates of war deaths based on a population of approximately 10.2 million prior to the conflict, and a violent death rate of approximately 190,000 due to war over the course of 7 years. See Francesco Checchi et al., “Estimates of Crisis-Attributable Mortality in South Sudan, December 2013-April 2018: A Statistical Analysis,” London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, September 2018, https://crises.lshtm.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2018/09/LSHTM_mortality_South_Sudan_report.pdf .

12 Roudabeh Kishi and Melissa Pavlik, “ACLED 2018: The Year in Review,” Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, January 11, 2019, https://www.acleddata.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/ACLED-2018-The-Year-in-Review_Final_Pub-1-1.pdf .

13 Consejo Ciudadano Para La Seguridad Pública y La Justicia Penal AC, “Las 50 ciudades más violentas del mundo 2018” [The 50 Most Violent Cities in 2018], Consejo Ciudadano Para La Seguridad Pública y La Justicia Penal AC, http://seguridadjusticiaypaz.org.mx/files/estudio.pdf . The list is limited to cities of more than 300,000 and does not include war zones.

14 Maia Szalavitz, “The Surprising Factors Driving Murder Rates: Income Inequality and Respect,” Guardian , December 8, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/08/income-inequality-murder-homicide-rates .

15 Robert Muggah and Clionadh Raleigh, “Violent Disorder Is on the Rise. Is Inequality to Blame?,” World Economic Forum Agenda, January 4, 2019, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/violent-disorder-is-on-the-rise-is-inequality-to-blame/ .

16 Gleditsch et al., “Armed Conflict 1946–2001,” and Strand, “Onset of Armed Conflict.”

17 Therese Pettersson, Stina Hogbladh, and Magnus Oberg, “Organized Violence: 1989-2018 and Peace Agreements,” Journal of Peace Research 56, no. 4 (2009): 589–603. See also Havard Strand et al., “Trends in Armed Conflict, 1946-2018,” ReliefWeb, March 2019, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Strand%2C%20Rustad%2C%20Urdal%2C%20Nyg%C3%A5rd%20-%20Trends%20in%20Armed%20Conflict%2C%201946%E2%80%932018%2C%20Conflict%20Trends%203-2019.pdf .

18 McEvoy and Hideg, Global Violent Deaths 2017 , 10.

19 Fiona Terry and Brain McQuinn, “The Roots of Restraint in War,” International Committee of the Red Cross, June 18, 2018, https://www.icrc.org/en/publication/roots-restraint-war# .

20 Kendra Dupuy et al., “Trends in Armed Conflict, 1946-2016,” ETH Zürich, June 22, 2017, http://www.css.ethz.ch/en/services/digital-library/articles/article.html/a7992888-34fc-44e6-8176-2fcb3aada995/pdf .

21 Erik K. Jenne and Milos Popovic, “Managing Internationalized Civil Wars,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics, September 2017, https://oxfordre.com/politics/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.001.0001/acrefore-9780190228637-e-573 .

22 Terry and McQuinn, “The Roots of Restraint in War.”

23 Robert Perito, “Afghanistan’s Police: The Weakest Link in Security Sector Reform,” U.S. Institute of Peace, August 2009, https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/afghanistan_police.pdf . 7.

24 Institute for Economics & Peace, “Global Terrorism Index 2018: Measuring the impact of terrorism,” Institute for Economics & Peace, December 2018, http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2018/12/Global-Terrorism-Index-2018.pdf .

25 A Washington Post analysis of the Global Terrorism Database at Maryland’s START found that of 263 terrorists incidents since 2010, ninety-two were carried out by white nationalists, compared to thirty-eight jihadists. See Wesley Lowery, Kimberly Kindy, and Andrew Ba Tran, “In the United States, Right-Wing Terrorism Is On the Rise,” Washington Post , November 25, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/in-the-united-states-right-wing-violence-is-on-the-rise/2018/11/25/61f7f24a-deb4-11e8-85df-7a6b4d25cfbb_story.html . See also Institute for Economics & Peace, “IEP’s 2018 Global Terrorism Index: Deaths From Terrorism Down 44 per Cent in Three Years, but Terrorism Remains Widespread,” Institute for Economics & Peace, December 5, 2018, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/iep-s-2018-global-terrorism-index-deaths-from-terrorism-down-44-per-cent-in-three-years-but-terrorism-remains-widespread-845356407.html .

26 Robert Muggah, “Europe’s Terror Threat Is Real. But Its Cities Are Much Safer Than You Think,” World Economic Forum, June 08, 2017, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/europes-terror-threat-is-real-but-our-cities-are-much-safer-than-you-think/ .

27 Institute for Economics & Peace, “Global Terrorism Index 2018,” http://globalterrorismindex.org/ .

29 Will S. Hylton, “How Ready Are We for Bioterrorism?,” New York Times ,October 26, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/magazine/how-ready-are-we-for-bioterrorism.html?auth=login-email .

30 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Journey to Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives, and the Tipping Point for Recruitment,” UNDP, 2017, https://journey-to-extremism.undp.org/content/downloads/UNDP-JourneyToExtremism-report-2017-english.pdf .

31 R. J. Rummel, “Freedom, Democracy, Peace: Power, Democide, and War,” University of Hawaii, http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/ .

33 See United Nations, “Responsibility to Protect,” United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/about-responsibility-to-protect.shtml .

34 International Bar Association, “North Korea: Inquiry Finds Kim Jong-un Should Be Investigated and Prosecuted for Crimes Against Humanity,” International Bar Association, December 12, 2017, https://www.ibanet.org/Article/NewDetail.aspx?ArticleUid=8ae0f29d-4283-4151-a573-a66b2c1ab480 .

35 César Muñoz Acebes, “‘Good Cops Are Afraid:’ The Toll of Unchecked Police Violence in Rio de Janeiro,” Human Rights Watch, July 7, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/07/07/good-cops-are-afraid/toll-unchecked-police-violence-rio-de-janeiro .

36 “Stars on Their Shoulders, Blood on Their Hands: War Crimes Committed by the Nigerian Military,” Amnesty International, 2015, https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/AFR4416572015ENGLISH.PDF .

37 Juan Carlos Garzon and Robert Muggah, “Venezuela’s Raging Homicide Epidemic Is Going Unrecorded,” Los Angeles Times , March 31, 2017, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-garzon-muggah-venezuela-violent-crime-statistics-20170331-story.html .

38 Insight Crime: Venezuela Investigative Unit, “Drug Trafficking Within the Venezuelan Regime: The ‘Cartel of the Suns,’” Insight Crime, May 17, 2018, https://www.insightcrime.org/investigations/drug-trafficking-venezuelan-regime-cartel-of-the-sun/ . Illegal gold mining is also under the purview of the state.

39 Robert Muggah and José Luengo Cabrera, “The Sahel Is Engulfed in Violence. Climate Change, Food Insecurity and Extremists Are Largely to Blame,” World Economic Forum Agenda, January 23, 2019, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/all-the-warning-signs-are-showing-in-the-sahel-we-must-act-now/

40 Robert Muggah, “It’s Official: San Salvador is the Murder Capital of the World,” Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2016, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0302-muggah-el-salvador-crime-20160302-story.html.

41 Robert Muggah, “Is Kabila Using Ethnic Violence to Delay Elections?,” Foreign Policy , November 27, 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/11/27/is-kabila-using-ethnic-violence-to-stay-in-power/ .

42 Rachel Kleinfeld, A Savage Order: How the World’s Deadliest Countries Can Forge a Path to Security (New York: Pantheon Books, 2018).

43 See Muggah and Raleigh, “Violent Disorder Is on the Rise.”

44 Milan Vaishnav, When Crime Pays (New Haven, Conn. Yale University Press, 2017). See also John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 9,” Small Wars Journal , https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-no-9 .

45 Robert Muggah and John Sullivan, “The Coming Crime Wars,” Foreign Policy , September 21, 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/21/the-coming-crime-wars/ .

46 Kleinfeld, A Savage Order , 86–96.

47 Robert Muggah, “Reviewing the Costs and Benefits of Mano Dura Versus Crime Prevention in the Americas,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary International Political Economy , ed.Timothy Shaw, Laura Mahrenbach, Renu Modi and Xu Yi-chong (London: Palgrave, 2018), 465–83.

48 Yusuf Ahmedad, Alyssa Dougherty, Rachel Kleinfeld and Alejandro Ponce, “Reducing Violence and Improving the Rule of Law: Organized Crime, Marginalized Communities, and the Political Machine,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 24, 2014, https://carnegieendowment.org/2014/09/24/reducing-violence-and-improving-rule-of-law-organized-crime-marginalized-communities-and-political-machine-pub-57704 .

49 Robert Muggah, “Brazil’s Prison Massacres Send a Dire Message,” NPR, May 28, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/05/28/727667809/opinion-brazils-gruesome-prison-massacres-send-a-dire-message . See also Robert Muggah and Ilona Szabo, “Brazil’s Deadly Prison System,” New York Times , January 4, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/04/opinion/brazils-deadly-prison-system.html .

50 Data drawn from the Brazilian Forum of Public Safety (63,880), the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (39,000). See Robert Muggah, “Brazil’s Murder Rate Finally Fell—and by a Lot,” Foreign Policy , April 22, 2019, https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/04/22/brazils-murder-rate-finally-fell-and-by-a-lot/ .

51 Afghanistan and Iraq figures are drawn from the Costs of War Project at the Brown University Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, which estimated the death toll of the Iraq war (2003–2018) to be from 267,792 to 295,170 and calculated the death toll of the Afghanistan war (2001–2018) to be 147,124 as of November 2018. By comparison, according to the Igarape Institute’s homicide monitor (which utilizes statistics from the Mexican government), there were 33,341 homicides in 2018 and 310,834 from 2003 to 2018. See Neta C. Crawford, “Human Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars: Lethality and the Need for Transparency,” Costs of War, November 2018, https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2018/Human%20Costs%2C%20Nov%208%202018%20CoW.pdf . See alsoIgarapé Institute, Homicide Monitor , V1, distributed by Igarapé Institute, https://homicide.igarape.org.br/ .

52 Tom Phillips, “Mexico: 40% of Country Is Paralyzed by Violence, Says Chief of Staff,” Guardian , July 10, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/10/mexico-amlo-gangs-violence-land-paralyzed .

53 Thomas Abt, Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence and a Bold New Plan for Peace in the Streets (New York: Basic Books, 2019).

54 Facundo Alvaredo et al., “World Inequality Report 2018: Executive Summary,” World Inequality Lab, 2018, https://wir2018.wid.world/ .

55 Marianne Dahl, “Global Women, Peace and Security,” PRIO, May 2017, https://www.prio.org/Projects/Project/?x=1767 .

56 Kari Paasonen and Henrik Urdal, “Youth Bulges, Exclusion and Instability: The Role of Youth in the Arab Spring,” PRIO, 2016, https://www.prio.org/Publications/Publication/?x=9105 . Opportunities for youth is likely an interdependent variable, serving as both cause and effect, in which case it may be a lagging indicator of a system of governance that is moving away from Privilege Violence.

57 See Robert Muggah and Clionadh Raleigh, “Violent Disorder Is on the Rise.”

58 Leonardo Arriola, Multi-Ethnic Coalitions in Africa: Business Financing of Opposition Election Campaigns (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

59 Ana Arana, “How the Street Gangs Took Central America,” Foreign Affairs 84, no. 3 (May–June 2005): 98–99.

60 Mattha Busby, “First Ever UK Unexplained Wealth Order Issued,” Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, March 2, 2018, https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/7724-first-ever-uk-unexplained-wealth-order-issued .

61 Sinisa Vukovic and Eric Rahman, “The Gang Truce in El Salvador,” Oxford Research Group, April 18, 2018, https://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/blog/the-gang-truce-in-el-salvador . See also Robert Muggah, Ami Carpenter, and Topher McDougal, “The Inconvenient Truth About Gang Truces in the Americas”, InSight Crime, December 5, 2013, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/the-inconvenient-truth-about-gang-truces-in-the-americas/ .

62 Andrea Ford, “Ex-Gang Members Look to Mideast for a Peace Plan: Truce: Group Uses 1949 Cease-Fire Agreement Between Egypt and Israel as the Basis for an Agreement Among L.A’s Bloods and Crips,” Los Angeles Times ,June 17, 1992, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1992-06-17-me-438-story.html ; “Truce That Ended 30 Years of LA Gang Warfare,” BBC News,April 15, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/av/magazine-32250743/truce-that-ended-30-years-of-la-gang-warfare .

63 A fascinating example of what works comes from Ecuador, which “legalized gangs” in recent years. See David Brotherton and Rafael Gude, “Social Inclusion From Below: The Perspectives of Street Gangs and Their Possible Effects on Declining Homicide Rates in Ecuador,” IADB, March2018), https://webimages.iadb.org/publications/2019-01/Social-Inclusion-from-Below-The-Perspectives-of-Street-Gangs-and-Their-Possible-Effects-on-Declining-Homicide-Rates-in-Ecuador.pdf .

64 Katie Benner and Caitlin Dickerson, “Sessions Says Domestic and Gang Violence Are Not Grounds for Asylum,” New York Times ,June 11, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/11/us/politics/sessions-domestic-violence-asylum.html .

65 Kleinfeld, “Reducing all Violent Deaths, Everywhere.” See also Alexandra Lysova and Nikolay Shchitov, “What Is Russia’s Real Homicide Rate? Statistical Reconstruction and the ‘Decivilizing Process,’” Theoretical Criminology 19, no. 2 (2015): 257–77.

Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees.

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Waging War Against Terror: An Essay for Sandy Levinson

Philip Chase Bobbitt , Columbia Law School Follow

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Wars are acts of State, and therefore there has never been a "war on terror." Of course states have fought terrorism, in many guises, for centuries. But a war on terror had to await the development of states – including virtual states like al Qaeda's global ummah – whose constitutional order was not confined to a particular territory or national group and for whom terror could therefore be a permanent state of international affairs, either sought in order to prevent persons within a state's control from resisting oppression by accessing global, empowering resources and networks, or suffered because other states wished to press such a condition on us and because our global vulnerabilities could not be detached from our prosperity and freedom.

Professor's Levinson's warning must therefore prepare us not only for the aftermaths of an attack by al Qaeda, but also for attacks mounted by twenty-first century terrorism of which al Qaeda is only a herald. Just as terrorists in earlier centuries mimicked the states they were struggling against, so terrorists in the twenty-first century will copy the decentralized, devolved, outsourcing and privatized market-state of the twenty-first century, instead of modeling their activities after those of the national liberation groups of the twentieth century that fought nation-states.


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Philip C. Bobbitt, Waging War Against Terror: An Essay for Sandy Levinson , 40 Ga. L. Rev. 753 (2006). Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/2230

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COMPASS Manual for Human Rights Education with Young people

War and terrorism.

essay about war and terrorism

That until the basic human rights are equally Guaranteed to all, without regard to race Dis a war That until that day The dream of lasting peace, world citizenship Rule of international morality Will remain in but a fleeting illusion To be pursued, but never attained Now everywhere is war, war. Bob Marley 1

All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations   Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter

Acts of war or terrorism challenge the human rights framework almost to the point where it seems to collapse. It is hard to see any place for human rights when human life is deliberately targeted, or where it is seen as "collateral damage" in the course of mass bombing campaigns, which either directly or indirectly lead to sickness, disease, suffering, destruction of homes, and death. In times of war, particularly wars which last for years on end, every human right appears to be affected adversely. Health systems break down, education suffers, and home, work, supplies of food and water, the legal system, freedom of the press and free speech, and accountability for abuses by the state – or by the "enemy" state – all see restrictions, if they do not disappear completely. However poor protections were in peacetime, the rights of children, women, minority groups and refugees will almost certainly be poorer still in times of war.

The protection offered by the human rights conventions does not cease in case of armed conflict 2 . International Court of Justice

War and terrorism are indeed a breakdown of humanity, acts which seem to undermine and sideline the values at the heart of human rights – and the legal system which protects them. However, even in the midst of such a breakdown, human rights continue to operate, albeit in a weakened state, and although they cannot fix all evils, they can provide some minimal protection and some hope for justice.

Wars and national emergencies allow for states to "derogate" from – or temporarily put aside – some of their human rights commitments. However, certain human rights, such as the right to life or the right to be free from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment can never be put aside. These are regarded as so important and so fundamental that they should be observed even when a state's security is at risk.

A judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in 2011 3 (Al-Skeini and Others v. the UK) found that the United Kingdom had been in violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, providing for the right to life, in its treatment of a number of civilians while carrying out security operations in Basra, Iraq. The case was the first of its kind in finding that the European Convention applied in times of war, in foreign territories, and over the whole region for which a signatory to the Convention had effective control. Other cases have found that the treatment given to prisoners in detention camps amounted to torture.

In many ways war and terrorism are very similar. Both involve acts of extreme violence, both are motivated by political, ideological or strategic ends, and both are inflicted by one group of individuals against another. The consequences of each are terrible for members of the population – whether intended or not. War tends to be more widespread and the destruction is likely to be more devastating because a war is often waged by states with armies and huge arsenals of weapons at their disposal. Terrorist groups rarely have the professional or financial resources possessed by states.

Apart from the methods used and the extent of the violence, however, war and terrorism are also seen differently by international law. The differences are not always clear-cut and even experts may disagree about whether a violent campaign counts as terrorism, civil war, insurgency, self-defence, legitimate self-determination, or something else.

Question: In the 20th century, Chechens, Abkhaz, Kurds, Palestinians and Irish Nationalists have all seen themselves as fighting a war against a colonising nation. Nation states have always regarded the actions of such groups as terrorism. How can we decide which is the right term?

Problems in defining war

Wars are sometimes defined by the fact that they take place between nation states: but where does that leave civil war, or the so-called "War on Terrorism"? Sometimes a formal declaration of war is taken as defining an act of war, but that excludes low-level bombing campaigns which take place over a number of years, such as the United States' attacks on the borders of Pakistan or in the no-fly zones declared over Iraq in the 1990s.

You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake. Jeanette Rankin 4

Should a definition of war include economic or trade wars, both of which may be enormously destructive in terms of human life? Are sanctions a form of war? UNICEF estimated that the sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s led to the deaths of over half a million children (and many adults).

Question: Carl Von Clausewitz, a Prussian military general, defined war as follows: "War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will." Do you agree with this as a definition?

Terrorism is intimidation with a purpose: the terror is meant to cause others to do things they would not otherwise do. Igor Primoratz

Terrorism is another of those terms that everyone seems ready to use, but no-one can agree on an exact definition. Even the experts continue to argue about the way the term should be applied, and there are said to be over a hundred different definitions of terrorism, not one of which is universally accepted.

This lack of agreement has very practical consequences: to take just one example, the UN has been unable to adopt a convention against terrorism, despite trying for over 60 years to do so, because its member states cannot agree on how to define the term. The UN General Assembly tends to use the following in its pronouncements on terrorism:

"Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them." 5

Ancient Terrorists The three most famous "terrorist" groups existing before the 18th century were religiously inspired, (and all had names which passed into the English language as words associated with their acts: fanatics are known as zealots, assassins are murderers, and thugs are violent or brutish individuals).

Question: Should the threat to use a nuclear bomb be classed as terrorism?

Terrorism: a classification

Some of the following criteria have been seen as important in deciding whether an act is one of "terrorism". Be aware that the experts do not all agree!

An act of terrorism normally has an end goal which is "bigger", and more strategic than the immediate effect of the act. For example, a bomb attack on civilians is meant to change public opinion in order to put pressure on the government.

Some think that the mere threat of violence, if genuinely believed, may also be an act of terrorism, because it causes fear among those at whom it is directed, and can be used for political ends.

Act of Terrorism = Peacetime Equivalent of War Crime A.P. Schmid, in a 1991 report to the UN Crime Branch

Terrorist acts are often said to be arbitrary or random in nature, but in fact groups tend to select targets carefully in order to provoke the maximum reaction, and also, where possible, to strike at symbols of the regime.

This is probably the most widely disputed among different observers and experts. Nation states tend to use this as the essence of a terrorist act, but if we limit terrorist acts to sub-state groups, then we have already decided that a violent act carried out by a state cannot be terrorism, however terrible it may be!

This criterion is also disputed by many experts, since it rules out the possibility of attacks against military personnel or other state officials such as politicians or the police being classified as terrorist attacks.

Question: Can you define terrorism? How would you distinguish acts of terrorism from other forms of violence?

Can states commit terrorism?

I am convinced that the best – the only – strategy to isolate and defeat terrorism is by respecting human rights, fostering social justice, enhancing democracy and upholding the primacy of the rule of law. Sergio Vieira de Mello

The word terrorism was first used to describe the "Regime de la Terreur" (the Reign of Terror) in France in the last decade of the 18th century, and in particular, the period from 1793-1794 under Maximilien Robespierre. These years were characterised by the use of violent methods of repression, including mass executions authorised by the Revolutionary Tribunal, a court set up to try political offenders. Towards the end of this era in particular, people were often sentenced only on the basis of suspicion and without any pretence at a fair trial. All of the above led to a general atmosphere of fear: a state in which people could no longer feel secure from the threat of arbitrary violence. From such beginnings, the concept of terrorism entered the vocabulary.

During the 19th century, the term terrorism came to be associated more with groups working within a state to overthrow it, and less with systems of state terror. Revolutionary groups throughout Europe often resorted to violence in order to overthrow rulers or state structures that they saw as repressive or unjust. The most favoured technique was generally assassination and among the "successes" were the assassination of a Russian tsar, a French president, an Austro-Hungarian empress and an Italian king.

The 20th century, the most terrible in terms both of numbers of victims and perhaps in terms of the cruelty and inhumanity of methods, saw both governments and sub-state groups turning to violence in pursuit of their goals. The actors and initiators in this series of horrible dramas have included state officials, as well as sub-state groups. However, by the end of the century, it was almost exclusively the latter that were termed terrorist groups. The sub-state groups are often armed, funded and even trained by other states: does that make the states which prepare and support these groups terrorist states?

Question: Do you think state actions should be termed "terrorist" actions if they cause terror in the population?

In war, truth is the first casualty. Aeschylus

International law covers a number of different cases involving the use of force by states. Sometimes – as in the quote at the start of the chapter – the law applies to cases when one state uses or threatens force against another state. Such cases are normally classed as wars, and are regulated by the UN Charter and the Security Council. Sometimes the law applies to the way force is used in the course of war – whether legal or illegal. This is generally the area of international humanitarian law. Even while a war is taking place, however, human rights law continues to function, although for certain rights, restrictions by the state may be more permissible than they would be in peace time.

War in international law

Un charter, kellogg-briand treaty.

The High Contracting Parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another. From the Kellogg-Briand Pact (also known as the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War, or the Pact of Paris)

As the most grandiose act in a series of peacekeeping efforts after the First World War , the Kellogg-Briand Pact was signed by 15 states in 1928, and later on by 47 others. Although the Treaty did not prevent later military actions between signatories, nor the eruption of the Second World War, it was important because it established a basis for the idea of "crimes against peace" and thus played a central role at the Nuremberg Trials. According to the Nuremberg (or Nürnberg) Principles 6 , crimes against peace include the "planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of wars of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties".

The solemn renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy necessarily involves the proposition that such a war is illegal in international law; and that those who plan and wage such a war [...] are committing a crime in so doing. From the Nuremberg Judgment

After the Nuremberg Trials, the Charter of the United Nations became the key international treaty regulating member states' use of force against each other. The Charter does not forbid war completely: it allows, in certain tightly defined circumstances, states to engage in war where this is necessary for them to defend themselves. Even such wars of self-defence, however, must be approved by the UN Security Council, except in rare cases where immediate action is necessary and there is insufficient time for the Security Council to meet.

Responsibility to protect (R2P)

In recent years, some countries have pushed for the idea that where people are suffering grave abuses at the hands of a state – for example, genocide is threatened – the UN should have the power, and the obligation, to step in to protect the people. This has included the possibility of military action against the state responsible. The genocide in Rwanda, where the international community failed to intervene, sparked the debate. The war in Kosovo was seen as one of the first examples of "humanitarian intervention" by military means and in 2011, NATO's military intervention in Libya was based on a similar principle.

Genocide is an act "committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group". Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) 7

The idea of R2P is not uncontroversial. Genocide and the other acts included are serious and terrible acts. However, critics have argued that R2P may be used as a pretext and some military interventions have not really been based on the likelihood of "mass atrocity crimes" but have been more political in nature. Many mass atrocity crimes do not appear to evoke R2P, and some of those where intervention has taken place have seemed less serious in terms of the dangers people face. Even the Responsibility to Protect involves the idea that intervening states should explore all other possible means before undertaking military action. It is not always clear that these avenues have been explored. Finally, people have questioned whether war, which is itself a terrible and destructive act, is an appropriate means of putting an end to suffering. Can the bombing of a country, with all that it entails, be the best way to promote peace and resolve what is often a much more deep-seated conflict between two sides?  

Question: Can war be the "best of two evils"?

The laws of war

Even in times of war, there are certain laws which impose limits on the actions of the warring parties, for example, concerning the treatment of prisoners of war, targeting civilian populations and medical care for the wounded. The "laws of warfare" are mostly governed by international humanitarian law, otherwise known as the Geneva Conventions.

The first Geneva Convention The first of the Geneva Conventions was signed in 1864. It was created after Henry Dunant, a citizen of Geneva, witnessed a ferocious battle at Solferino in Italy in 1859. He was appalled by the lack of help for the wounded, who were left to die on the battlefield, and proposed an international treaty which would recognise a neutral agency to provide humanitarian aid in times of war. His proposals led to what later became the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross and also to the first Geneva Convention. The Convention made provisions for the humane and dignified treatment of those no longer engaged in the battle, regardless of whose side they were on.

The Geneva Conventions continued to be developed up to 1949, when the fourth Geneva Convention was adopted and the previous three were revised and expanded. Later, three amendment protocols were added. These Conventions have been ratified in whole or in part by 194 countries. In addition to the Geneva Conventions, there are other standards in international humanitarian law, including the Hague Conventions and a range of international treaties on the weapons that can and cannot be used in warfare. Throughout the 1990s, a coalition of NGOs successfully lobbied for an international ban on the production and use of landmines. The Ottawa Treaty or the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention was adopted in 1997 and has since been ratified by 157 states worldwide. The Coalition continues to campaign for a treaty which bans the use of cluster bombs, which, just like landmines, leave a trail of destruction even once a war has ended.

The most serious violations of international humanitarian law are considered to be war crimes. War crimes are such serious offences that they are held to be criminal acts for which individuals can be held accountable.

War crimes Based on the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), war crimes (in the Convention: "grave breaches") include: "Wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power, or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial [...], taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly." 9

Other acts for which individuals can be held responsible include crimes against humanity, mass murder and genocide. Crimes against humanity are severe crimes committed against a civilian population, such as murder, rape, torture, enslavement and deportation. 

The first trials of individuals for such crimes were the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials of Nazi and Japanese political and military leaders in the aftermath of the Second World War. Since then, a number of ad hoc tribunals have been set up, for example to deal with the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Lebanon and Sierra Leone. Other conflicts, many equally serious, have not seen special tribunals set up, which has sometimes provoked criticism that the decision on whether to do so is influenced by political factors.

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was set up by the UN to prosecute serious crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia and to try their perpetrators. The majority of those indicted have been Serbs and this has led to accusations of bias from some observers. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticised the ICTY for failing to investigate a number of serious charges against the NATO forces, including the bombing of Serbian State Television and a railway bridge when it was evident that civilians had been struck. Amnesty's report into violations of humanitarian law recorded that "NATO failed to take necessary precautions to minimize civilian casualties". 10

Question: War Tribunals – including the Nuremberg Trials – are sometimes seen as "victor's justice". Do you think both sides in a war should be judged according to the same principles?

[T]hose who export war ought to see to the parallel export of guarantees against the atrocities of war. Judge Giovanni Bonello, in the European Court of Human Rights' judgment on Al-Skeini and Others v. UK 11

The International Criminal Court

The second half of the 20th century saw a movement to set up a permanent court to deal with the worst crimes against humanity. In 1998, the Rome Statute was adopted, which provided the legal basis for the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC came into being in July 2002 and sits in The Hague in the Netherlands. The ICC is the first permanent international court and has been set up to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression. Even though the Rome Statute is ratified by states, the ICC prosecutes individuals who are responsible for crimes, not the states. As of 1 January 2012, 119 countries are state parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, including nearly all of Europe, but excluding for example the United States, India, China and Russia. The court has opened investigations into conflicts in Sudan, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic and Libya.

Question: Can you think of any individuals who are responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide or the crime of aggression that should be taken before the International Criminal Court?

To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole. Robert Jackson, Chief American prosecutor at Nuremberg

Terrorism in international law

Drawing up international legislation to deal with terrorism has been beset with problems, mainly because of the difficulty of reaching a common definition of the term. The Council of Europe has produced a set of guidelines 12 on where the line can be drawn in order not to violate other international treaties or agreements.

The guidelines contain the following key points:

All measures taken by States to fight terrorism must respect human rights and the principle of the rule of law, while excluding any form of arbitrariness, as well as any discriminatory or racist treatment. Council of Europe Guidelines on human rights and the fight against terrorism

Human rights and terrorism

There are two key areas where the concepts of human rights and terrorism may come into conflict: the first, most obviously, concerns an act of terrorism itself; the second concerns measures that may be taken by official organs in the process of trying to counter terrorism.

Irrespective of the way that terrorism is defined and irrespective of the reasons behind it or the motivation for engaging in it, the act of terrorising members of the population constitutes a violation of their dignity and right to personal security, in the best case, and a violation of the right to life, in the worst. In terms of human rights law, the matter is less simple since human rights law has mostly been drawn up to protect individuals from infringements on their rights and liberty from the side of governments. There is no possibility, for example, to take a terrorist group to the European Court of Human Rights!

However, governments do possess certain obligations: firstly, in terms of protecting citizens from attacks on their personal security; secondly, in terms of compensating victims who may have suffered from terrorist attacks; and thirdly, of course, in terms of not engaging in terrorism themselves.

Question: Do you think that a country which exports arms which are then used against civilians should be held accountable for the use to which the weapons are put? Do you know which groups or countries your government sells arms to?

A number of human rights issues arise in connection with the fight against terrorism – and there is almost bound to be a continuing tension between the measures a government regards as necessary to take in order to protect the populace and the rights it may need to limit in order to do so.

Secret renditions A report written by Dick Marty for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2006 13 looked at the assistance given by various European countries to the United States of America in "rendering" suspected terrorists to countries where they faced torture. The report found that 7 countries – Sweden, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Britain, Italy, Macedonia, Germany and Turkey – could be held responsible for "violations of the rights of specific persons" because they had knowingly assisted in a programme which resulted in individuals being held without trial, often for a number of years and being subjected to torture. Other countries, including Spain, Cyprus, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Romania and Poland were also accused of "collusion" with the United States. Marty said he had evidence to show that Romania and Poland were detainee drop-off points near to secret detention centres.

It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict. Major General Patrick Cammaert, 2008 (former UN Peacekeeping Operation commander in DR Congo)

War and terrorism have a terrible and long-lasting impact on huge numbers of people. Deaths at the time of conflict are just one element: psychological trauma, collapse of the physical and economic infrastructure, displacement of people, injury, disease, lack of food, water or energy supplies and a breakdown of trust and normal human relations are some of the others. The impact can last for generations. With the decline in inter-state wars and the rise in civil wars and new methods of warfare, civilian populations are now at more risk and suffer higher casualties than professional soldiers. UN Women estimate that in contemporary conflicts as many as 90% of casualties are civilians, the majority of whom are women and children 14 . Rape and sexual violence are used as a weapon of war, as a tactic to humiliate, dominate and instil fear in communities. 

Women in armed conflicts In October 2000, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 to address the issues faced by women in armed conflict. The Resolution calls for their participation at all levels of decision making on conflict resolution and peace building. Four further resolutions have since been adopted by the Security Council. The five documents focus on three key goals: - Strengthening women's participation in decision making - Ending sexual violence and impunity - Providing an accountability system

Child soldiers

A particularly sobering development in warfare, particularly over the past ten years, is the use of children as soldiers in brutal conflicts. Child soldiers exist in all regions of the world and participate in most conflicts. However, the problem is especially critical in Africa, where children as young as nine have taken part in armed conflict. Most child soldiers are between the ages of 14 and 18. Child soldiers are recruited by both rebel groups and government forces.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires state parties to ensure that children under the age of 15 do not take part in hostilities. However, this is felt by many to be too low, and initiatives have been made to raise the minimum to 18 years old. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (with 143 state parties as of November 2011) raised the minimum age to 18.

European countries do not recruit under the age of 17 and do not send soldiers into combat under the age of 18. The UK has the lowest recruitment age in Europe – 16 years old, although this is nominally for training purposes only. The UK has been widely criticised for this by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In Chechnya, children under 18 have reportedly served in rebel forces.

In 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work".

Young people are directly concerned by war in many ways. In addition to the case of child soldiers mentioned above, young people constitute the vast majority of soldiers, especially in countries and times of national military service. It can therefore be said that young people are in the front line of the victims of war. In the case of professionalised armies, it is often young people from underprivileged social backgrounds who are enlisted into armed forces, because they have fewer opportunities of earning a decent living.

What have I done? … Someone has lost her husband, someone else a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant ... . What's this debris of the corpses? Are these marks of victory or defeat? Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil? Ashoka

Young people are often targeted by terrorist groups as possible agents of terrorist attacks, regardless of the motivation, as exemplified by the attacks in London in 2005. This is often attributed to the identity-searching that some young people experience and that makes them especially vulnerable to extremist ideas and ideals. Young people may also be specifically targeted by terrorist attacks, as exemplified by the attacks in Norway in 2011 and by attacks on schools in the Caucasus.

Youth organisations have traditionally played an important role in raising awareness about the non-sense of war and the costs it imposes on young people. Several reconciliation and exchange programmes were set up after the carnages of the First World War; many of them still exist today, such as Service Civil International or the Christian Movement for Peace / Youth Action for Peace which promote international voluntary youth projects and workcamps.

The European Bureau of Conscience Objection works for the recognition of the right to conscience objection to military service – the right to refuse to kill – in Europe and beyond.

War Resisters International is an international movement created in 1921 under the credo: "War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war, and to strive for the removal of all causes of war". WRI promotes non-violence and reconciliation and supports conscience objectors and asylum seekers in cases of draft evasion or desertion.

1 Bob Marley in the song "War", adapted from Ethiopian Emperor H.I.M. Haile Selassie's address to the United Nations on October 1963 2  Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice of 9 July 2004, para. 106. 3 Al-Skeini and Others v. the United Kingdom, European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber (Application no. 55721/07), 7 July 2011; http://www.bailii.org/eu/cases/ECHR/2011/1093.html 4 Jeanette Rankin was the first woman to enter U.S. House of Representative in 1917 5 1994 United Nations Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism annex to UN General Assembly resolution 49/60 , "Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism", of December 9, 1994 6 Document A/CN.4/L.2, Text of the Nürnberg Principles Adopted by the International Law Commission, Extract from the Yearbook of the International Law Commission: 1950,vol. II; http://untreaty.un.org/ilc/documentation/english/a_cn4_l2.pdf   7 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; http://www.un.org/millennium/law/iv-1.htm 8 http://www.physiciansforhumanrights.org/blog/us-ban-landmines-facts.html    9 Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949 http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/FULL/380?OpenDocument 10 NATO/Federal Republic of Yugoslavia "Collateral Damage" or Unlawful Killings? Violations of the Laws of War by NATO during Operation Allied Force, Amnesty International - Report - EUR 70/18/00, June 2000; http://www.grip.org/bdg/g1802.html    11 See Endnote 2 above 12 Human rights and the fight  against terrorism, The Council of Europe Guidelines, 2005; http://www.echr.coe.int/NR/rdonlyres/176C046F-C0E6-423C-A039-F66D90CC6031/0/LignesDirectrices_EN.pdf 13 Alleged secret detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers involving Council of Europe member states,  Parliamentary Assembly, Doc. 10957, 12 June 2006 http://assembly.coe.int/Documents/WorkingDocs/doc06/edoc10957.pdf 14 http://www.womenwarpeace.org/

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essay about war and terrorism


Home > The US Army War College Quarterly: Parameters > Vol. 34 (2004) > No. 2

The US Army War College Quarterly: Parameters

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Review Essay - The War on Terrorism: The Big Picture

P. W. Singer

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P. W. Singer, "Review Essay - The War on Terrorism: The Big Picture," Parameters 34, no. 2 (2004), doi:10.55540/0031-1723.2207.

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War on Terror Essay

essay about war and terrorism

War on Terror

POL SCI 180 PATRICK COATY WAR ON TERROR I, myself, before September 11, 2001 did not know what terrorism was. It is completely a new term for me, and I could never figure how terrible it is. But then, experiencing and witnessing the feeling of losing the one you loved who was a victim of that disaster, I recognized that the world is no longer as safe as before. Today, not only America but also Britain, Spain, Indonesia…became the target of terrorists. The terror tissue is the most challenged

The War on Terror

instance people can not get on a plane without going through an hour or two of security. But Thirteen years after the biggest terrorist attack the world had ever seen, the War on Terror remains a vital problem for the U.S Military. The War on terror has been a main focus for the U.S for many years now. The U.S. first got involved in the war on September 11th, 2001, when two planes crashed in to the World Trade Center in New York City, and one in to the Pentagon in Washington D.C., making it the worst thing

War On Terror

This is an excerpt from a 20-page paper on “Africa Command and the War on Terror.” (Pages 1,2,7,15,16) Introduction Thesis: Since the 9/11 terrorists’ attacks, terrorism has extended far beyond the United States and into other nations such as Africa. Even though these acts of aggressions take place outside of the United States, the government should have the capability to counteract groups who engage in the terrorism without fear of reprisal. Therefore, the establishment of a new Combatant Command

The Cold War and the War on Terror

seems that during the Cold War and the War on Terror, many of the feelings that citizens felt were the same, but what America called the enemy was different. Following the September 11th attacks, there was a feeling of paranoia felt throughout America similar to the paranoia felt during the Cold War. Americans did not feel safe, and an attack could come at any time. The fight on the home front looked different during the Cold War and the War on Terrorism. During the Cold War there was more of a correlation

The War On Terror : Terrorism

Charles Reece Johnson Irons Discourse 200 November 5, 2014 The War on Terror Introduction The war on terror is not easy to define partly due to its vagueness and unsparing use of rhetorical device to justify any action of military perpetrated after the 9/11. However, the The war on terror, in its original intent, is a series of initiatives that seek to reduce or eliminate terrorism in the world. In this perspective, terrorism is the deliberate exploitation and creation of fear through threat and

Understanding The War On Terror

Understanding the War on Terror Youngsuk Lee PSCI A180 Professor Patrick C. Coaty 14 May, 2015   Many victims have been harmed from the terrorism for a long time. It is impossible for victims who are effected by the terrorism to live safely. Cruel terrorist group even attack female and children. The incidence of terrorism is increasing in the world. It is big problem in the world because countries worry about their citizen from the terrorism. The United States and other countries stuck

War On Terror And Terrorism

War on Terror After the incident of September 11, 2001, War on Terror became a serious problem. That attack made huge effects on U.S government and many other countries. Many innocent people lost their lives because of those terrorists. No one knows if an incident like the one on September 11 will happen again, but we have to know that “we are the primary target”. According to Patrick Coaty’s “War on Terror,” the terrorism has been developed throughout history. So that people should know to fight

War On Terror Ideology

Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, then President George W. Bush stated “[o]ur war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated” (Bush, 2001, p. NA). The nature of the war on terror has changed dramatically since its inception in 2001. With al Qaeda decimated, its remaining leaders, members and supporters have fractured into several splinter groups each with their own aspirations

Chomsky And The War On Terror

political commentator, social justice activist, and anarcho-syndicalist advocate does an elaborate job in his speech given at Harvard University, to make us question if there really is a war on terror. Chomsky calls everybody a hypocrite and uses the U.S. Army Manual definition of terrorism to argue that there can’t be a war on terrorism because the U.S. is also a terrorist group itself. We can’t fight something if we ourselves do that same thing. Chomsky backs up his claim with many pieces of evidence

The Vietnam War and the War on Terror

well with the president and their co-legislators during such circumstances. This phenomenon was observed in the early stages of the War on Terror following the events of September 11, 2001 as well as during the Vietnam War. In this research paper several factors will be considered in comparing the powers of the presidency and Congressional powers during the two wars named, ranging from the presidents during each, to public opinion, as well as the change in each of these aspects over time. One must

War on Terror or War on People

attacks brought fear and anger to all Americans. People of all races did not know how to react to such a horrific tragedy. After these attacks were carried, former President George W. Bush declared a “War on Terror”. While this was happening Muslims in the U.S were in the middle of this issue. The War on Terror was focused on Muslim Citizens in the U.S due to media outlets and many people criticizing all people that are Muslims are radicals. With all said The Patriot Act was passed which many criticized

Essay On War On Terror

Introduction. The United States’ War on Terror is a mistake because it is bringing more burdens and terrorism to the United States at home and abroad. While the October 11, 2001, U.S. invasion of Afghanistan is considered to be rightfully justified by 9/11, there is evidence to show that the January 17, 1991 Operation Desert Storm, which started the issues in the Middle East, was merely justified by the fear of a monopoly on the world’s oil by the ruthless dictator Saddam Hussein. This event is

Essay on The War on Terror

War on terror refers to the ongoing military campaign led by U.S and U.K against organizations identified as terrorists. Terrorism can be defined as an unlawful violence or war deliberately targeted to civilians. It can also be defined as a systematic use of terror to coerce or violent acts intended to create fear. This threat is normally perpetrated for religious, political or ideological goals. The conflict as also called by other names. They include World War III, The Long War, War on Terrorism

Is The War On Terror Ethical?

Is the War on Terror ethical? Since the establishments of governments, since human societies had kings and queens, since governments were ran under a religious doctrine, there has always been conflict among different groups of people. There will always be differences among people of different cultures, religions, race and ethnicity. There has always been a division of power between people and inequality in the world. There was a point in human history that slaves were bought and sold as property

The Global War On Terror

Under the United States spearheaded campaign on the global war on terror; much debate has come forth after the populous learned of the coercive methods employed by the various U.S intelligence agencies. This highly controversial topic came to fruition after the media broadcast precarious images of deprived terrorist detainees confined to the Guantanomo military compound in Cuba. The U.S where using a variety of “methods” to attain usable intelligence to better protect both the civilian populous

War On Terror Essay

The goal of the War on Terror defined by President Bush is “Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated”. The problem with this goal is that it is unrealistic and that the definition of a terrorist varies with in countries. For example those who are labeled freedom fighters in one nation can be considered terrorists in another. People argue that there is no real enemy and that those

The War On Terror ( Wot )

The War on Terror (WoT), also known as the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), refers to the international military campaign that started after the September 11 attacks on the United States.[47] U.S. President George W. Bush first used the term "War on Terror" on 20 September 2001.[47] The Bush administration and the western media have since used the term to argue a global military, political, legal, and conceptual struggle against both organizations designated terrorist and regimes accused of supporting

The Global War on Terror

“Global War on Terror.” Public support of the War on Terror has fluctuated since the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, with support significantly dropping as the wars continued. This waning support has caused many to question the effectiveness of the War on Terror in the Middle East. By examining research conducted both prior to and after the September 11 attacks and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, this paper demonstrates that overall participation in organized terror activities

Handling The War On Terror

Handling the War on Terror The Global War on Terror, or War on Terror, with the United States at the helm, is the second most expensive war in American history, having surpassed $2 trillion. At the same time, little has been accomplished for domestic security or the destruction of terror groups. The United States needs a clear, focused strategy to suppress terrorist groups, while at the same time eliminating the causes for terrorism. I propose a gradual drawdown and closing of US bases and garrisons

The War On Terror Summary

The beginning of “The War on Terror”. “The appeal of justice and liberty in the end, is greater than the appeal of hatred and tyranny in any form.”(Bush).Bush’s comment was referring to “The War on Terror” because he was in presidency during this year so this quote said by him means that he wants freedom for everyone.The solution to the “U.S.’s War on Terror” is ITA researchers, Antiterrorism Assistance Program, The Institute for the Study of War and The Critical Threats Project. The Antiterrorism

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essay about war and terrorism

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Afghanistan War; war on terrorism

war on terrorism , term used to describe the American-led global counterterrorism campaign launched in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 . In its scope, expenditure, and impact on international relations , the war on terrorism was comparable to the Cold War ; it was intended to represent a new phase in global political relations and has had important consequences for security, human rights , international law , cooperation, and governance .

Guantánamo Bay detainees

The war on terrorism was a multidimensional campaign of almost limitless scope. Its military dimension involved major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq , covert operations in Yemen and elsewhere, large-scale military-assistance programs for cooperative regimes, and major increases in military spending. Its intelligence dimension comprised institutional reorganization and considerable increases in the funding of America’s intelligence -gathering capabilities, a global program of capturing terrorist suspects and interning them at Guantánamo Bay , expanded cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies, and the tracking and interception of terrorist financing. Its diplomatic dimension included continuing efforts to construct and maintain a global coalition of partner states and organizations and an extensive public diplomacy campaign to counter anti-Americanism in the Middle East . The domestic dimension of the U.S. war on terrorism entailed new antiterrorism legislation, such as the USA PATRIOT Act ; new security institutions, such as the Department of Homeland Security ; the preventive detainment of thousands of suspects; surveillance and intelligence-gathering programs by the National Security Agency (NSA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and local authorities; the strengthening of emergency-response procedures; and increased security measures for airports, borders, and public events.

The successes of the first years of the war on terrorism included the arrest of hundreds of terrorist suspects around the world, the prevention of further large-scale terrorist attacks on the American mainland, the toppling of the Taliban regime and subsequent closure of terrorist-training camps in Afghanistan , the capture or elimination of many of al-Qaeda ’s senior members, and increased levels of international cooperation in global counterterrorism efforts.

However, critics argued that the failures of America’s counterterrorism campaign outweighed its successes. They contended that the war in Afghanistan had effectively scattered the al-Qaeda network, thereby making it even harder to counteract, and that the attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq had increased anti-Americanism among the world’s Muslims, thereby amplifying the message of militant Islam and uniting disparate groups in a common cause. Other critics alleged that the war on terrorism was a contrived smokescreen for the pursuit of a larger U.S. geopolitical agenda that included controlling global oil reserves, increasing defense spending, expanding the country’s international military presence, and countering the strategic challenge posed by various regional powers.

By the time of U.S. Pres. George W. Bush ’s reelection in 2004, the drawbacks of the war on terrorism were becoming apparent. In Iraq , U.S. forces had overthrown the government of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and U.S. war planners had underestimated the difficulties of building a functioning government from scratch and neglected to consider how this effort could be complicated by Iraq’s sectarian tensions, which had been held in check by Saddam’s repressive regime but were unleashed by his removal. By late 2004 it was clear that Iraq was sinking into chaos and civil war; estimates of the number of Iraqi civilians killed during the period of maximum violence—roughly 2004 to 2007—vary widely but generally exceed 200,000. U.S. casualties during this period far outnumbered those suffered during the initial 2003 invasion. Afghanistan, which for several years had seemed to be under control, soon followed a similar trajectory, and by 2006 the U.S. was facing a full-blown insurgency there led by a reconstituted Taliban.

The Bush administration faced domestic and international criticism for actions that it deemed necessary to fight terrorism but which critics considered to be immoral, illegal, or both. These included the detention of accused enemy combatants without trial at Guantánamo Bay and at several secret prisons outside the United States, the use of torture against these detainees in an effort to extract intelligence, and the use of unmanned combat drones to kill suspected enemies in countries far beyond the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

By the last years of Bush’s presidency, public opinion had turned strongly negative concerning his handling of the Iraq War and other national security matters. This discontent helped Barack Obama , an outspoken critic of Bush’s foreign policy , win the presidency in 2008. Under the new administration, the expression war on terrorism —still closely associated with Bush policies—quickly disappeared from official communications. Obama made the rejection explicit in a 2013 speech in which he stated that the United States would eschew a boundless, vaguely defined “global war on terrorism” in favour of more focused actions against specific hostile groups. Under Obama, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were gradually wound down, although at the end of Obama’s presidency in 2016 there were still U.S. troops in both countries.

It is worth noting that beneath Obama’s rejection of the war on terrorism as a rhetorical device and as a conceptual framework for national security there were important continuities with the policies of his predecessor. The Obama administration, for example, greatly expanded the campaign of targeted killings carried out with drones, even eliminating several U.S. citizens abroad whom it deemed threatening. Special operations forces were greatly expanded and increasingly deployed to conduct low-profile military interventions in countries outside of acknowledged war zones. And U.S. security agencies continued to exercise the wide-ranging surveillance powers that they had accumulated during the Bush administration despite protests from civil liberties groups.

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President George W. Bush discusses seaport and cargo security at the Port of Charleston, S.C., Feb. 5, 2004.


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