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“COUNTERTERRORISM” 2018: WHERE WE STAND ANALYTICALLY

By Dr. Thomas A. Marks

In the aftermath of 9-11, the U.S. raced to implement efforts and programs to deal with “terrorism.” It declared a “Global War on Terrorism,” which in turn became simultaneously other things: a “Long War” and “countering global insurgency,” finally “countering violent extremism.” Regardless, the challenge was no different conceptually than that faced by those of the past: how to respond to an armed nonstate challenge bent upon achieving political change through commission of violence directed, at its foundational level, against the innocent (persons and property protected by the laws of war).

This, of course, is the textbook definition of terrorism, yet immediately there surfaced in our efforts no degree of confusion as much that had once been called insurgency was reflagged as terrorism. As most groups we confronted were in fact insurgents, it was as if all of analytical history had suddenly vanished in our race to embrace hubris and strategic distortion.

Ultimately, most of academia, the various departments of the U.S. government, and both U.S. and international law ended up precisely where they had begun, with terrorism essentially defined as: violence by non-state actors directed against the innocent for political purposes. Such violence, of course, could be either method (used by insurgents) or logic (wherein the violence serves as an end unto itself, frequently having propagandistic value). Despite the by now hackneyed observation that there is no accepted definition of terrorism, in reality there was considerable agreement with the formulation just provided, particularly amongst the states of the United Nations.

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