Steve Sachs Duke


Monday, May 17, 2004


Catastrophic Terrorism and the International System: In the course of studying for Oxford final exams, I've chosen to post another essay from my International Relations tutorial. (Links to earlier IR essays can be found here and here.) This essay looks at the changing nature of global terrorism, and argues that threatened states will have strong reasons to act unilaterally and preventively rather than through established multilateral mechanisms. From the introduction:

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, demonstrated the need for a complete reassessment of the existing threats to international security. Writing shortly after Sept. 11, Seyla Benhabib suggested two "unprecedented aspects of our current condition": first, "the emergence of non-state agents capable of waging destruction at a level hitherto thought to be only the province of states," and second, "the emergence of a supranational ideological vision with an undefinable moral and political content, which can hardly be satisfied by ordinary political tactics and negotiations." To which one could perhaps add a third: the growing potential for catastrophic violence to be inflicted instantaneously in the course of a single operation, such as through the use of weapons of mass destruction.

The combination of these three factors poses a new kind of security threat to nations such as the United States, one perhaps more severe than any to which those nations are accustomed. Yet the possibility of catastrophic terrorism also threatens the nature of the international order, giving states which are the targets of terrorism strong incentives to act outside current norms of the international system. Proposals to address terrorism through globally accepted means, such as a strengthened international law-enforcement framework or aid targeted to the "root causes" of terror, are either unlikely to succeed in the short term or unlikely to be accepted by states under threat. As a result, the potential for unilateral military action in contravention of previous norms on the use of force has greatly increased. Unless the international community is willing to revise those norms to give greater latitude to counterterrorist efforts, one can expect greater frictions within the international community to be a further consequence of the new kind of terrorism.

You can read the rest here.




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