To What Extent Is Military Force An Effective Response To Terrorism?

The aim of this title is to not only to define the extent of effectiveness of military force against terrorism, but also to understand whether it is an appropriate response, and if so, should it be justified in all cases – legally and or morally.  The impact and use of military force has many variables, actors and concepts, but in principle may only be sought to be enacted by legitimising its use either against non-state/home-grown or state-sponsored terrorism.  The use of force by nations against terrorists based in another country has long been debated.  The UN Charter (UNC) and its regime has been at odds with its policy, yet has sanctioned the use of force by justifying the extent to which states are able to respond under the policy of what has been termed “individual or collective self-defence” (UN Charter, 2016:12). Unilateral force against terrorists has increasingly been recognised as a “right of states”, a cumulative trend over the last three decades (Tams, 2009:359).  Conversely, the causal effect sees a trend of normalising the use of military force, whilst migrating from the doctrinally traditional use of self-defence.  Moreover, and worryingly, this may increase the risk of abuse.  The Security Council whilst recognising and supportive of interventionism policy against terrorism fails in the act of sanctioning its collective use, sometimes conflicting the views of the permanent members, causing policy stagnation. 

In order to answer the entire question fully, the following questions will guide the reader through the paper’s dialogue.  What is terrorism?  What is ‘military force’ and what should define its use – Legality or morality, or both?  How will the Future Operating Environment affect the use of military force?  – Game changer or not?  As von Clausewitz famously states, “war is politics pursued by other means” (von Clausewitz, 1832:45).  Behind this phrase, however, lies a complex mix of questions regarding military force and its use to achieve foreign policy goals. This paper will look at the use of military force in order to counter terrorist activity.  There is little or no accord among experts about the prominence of the use of force in past counter-terrorism campaigns.  Centred on “limited empirical investigation”, the use of police or judicial methods has been favoured over military might (Duyvesteyn, 2008:34).  Concerning the effectiveness of the use of force; there are few proposals that it may contribute to lessening terrorism.  Somewhat contradictory is the case; “the use of force makes things worse” (Duyvesteyn, 2008:34).

What is terrorism?  

The discussion on the use of military force against terrorism would be futile without first defining what is terrorism?  Scholars have struggled to come to a consensus on the definition of terrorism for decades, and there remains no significant unanimity.  “Some academics have provided definitions that span dense paragraphs referencing over a dozen traits, while others offer a minimalist definition of only a few words,”  (Schmid, 2004:2-3).  For the purpose of this paper, I will use the Oxford English Dictionary definition.  Terrorism – “The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”  Strategically, terrorism follows a triumvirate method and development: target response, disorientation, and finally gaining legitimacy: 

1. Disorientation seeks to propagate within a population a general feeling of “insecurity and detract from the legitimacy of existing state structures, often through random acts of violence” that target the overall civilian general population.  (Neumann, P. R., Smith, M.L.R. 2008:33-39)

2. “Target response seeks to prompt” an excessively “harsh collective” retaliation from a government, in order to, and win international justice, or to fight political concessions aiming to radicalise the affected populace.  (Neumann, P. R., Smith, M.L.R. 2008:40-46)

3. “Gaining legitimacy is where the terrorist group seeks to transfer legitimacy from the government” through democratic social tension, or through progressive media such as the Internet, to its own cause through skilful influence [critical enactor to legitimacy] of the media.  At this stage, “ideology” becomes decisive.  (Neumann, P. R., Smith, M.L.R. 2008:46-53)

What is ‘military force’ and what should define its use – Legality or morality, or both?  

A military is a force with authorisation to utilise deadly or lethal force and weapons in order to support the interests of its (or in some cases its allies’) nation state and its citizens.  The analysis of terrorist acts and state responses demonstrates that they have differing political effects, this however, in turn can call into question a conventional military counterterrorist response and its political utility. According to Martin van Creveld (1991:56) within the context of the current political climate, terrorism is “embryonic historical conditions are turning warfare out of the political jurisdiction” in which Clausewitz’s analysis originally theorised warfare’s extension of partisan activity based on state power. The use of military force in combating terrorism, or any other form of insurgency or warfare, must be for legitimate use of potentially lethal force in order to eradicate the subversion of a population by means of terror.  The General Security Council and UNC have the power to authorise that legitimacy, but it must be based on an unwavering fact – not the general consensus in the case of the Iraq War (2003).  Morally have we as Western states intervened at every juncture and where appropriate – definitively, no. Overall, the impact of military force on foreign soil is logistically and financially taxing, in order to utilise the moral argument the key to military force action would be consistency. Without action at every terrorism-based disturbance, whether for the case of prevention or countering, the argument for military utility is flawed.

How will the Future Operating Environment affect the use of military force?  – Game changer or not?  

The Future Operating Environment over the next 20 years will see the definitive exploitation of more complex ways of extremist state and non-state actors playing a significant role.  As the growth of weapons sophistication and their increasing proliferation develops, “a wider range of actors to access more sophisticated weapons”, while Western militaries that have in the past “enjoyed” a “technological advantage” “will continue to be reduced”, (DCDC, 2015:10).  What is the significance of this analysis?  In essence, a swing in the balance of power historically enjoyed by Western states will be inextricably linked to state and non-state actors not previously considered as adversaries, developing the capability through technological advances or proliferation.  The use of military force against such adversaries would both be difficult to justify and accomplish.  “Distinguishing between criminal and terrorist may become more difficult”, (DCDC: 2015:15).  A less volatile and earlier home-grown example of that within the United Kingdom (UK) has been the development of the UDA, UVF and certainly the perceived nationalist movement more overly acting as criminal gangs rather than terrorist organisations, since the signing of The Good Friday Agreement. 

Insurgency and counterinsurgency are two very complex forms of warfare. Within these two groups their actions primarily resort to violence and often take up arms to achieve their political objectives.  Insurgent and counterinsurgent groups tend to aim to replace existing governments, disrupt and redefine the status quo of that particular state or region, and finally they often seek to challenge an emerging state.  These developing ‘hybrid threats’ often exploit regular forces, such as a state’s military, in their weaknesses. These ‘hybrid groups’ utilise a complex mix of conventional weapons, guerrilla warfare tactics (irregular) and often-terrorist action. These actions are taken in order to achieve political aims that set them apart from any conventional or regular forces, which are used solely in a military or warfare capacity. Furthermore, the use of counterinsurgency is a form of warfare; remaining political as opposed to military in capacity it involves the people, while also involving the military and or government of that nation state. The strength of the ties between the people, government and the military often affects the campaign’s outcome. 

What can we conclude?  

It is unquestionably not that the use of military force is or should be a first resort.  To the contrary, it is and should always be the last resort of any government and referring to the loss of life as a cost, can have the effect of almost dehumanising those that have. The use of effective strategy should utilise a “multifaceted approach”, concerning all sectors, including “diplomatic, political, financial…intelligence and military” (Chivvis and Liepman, 2016:5). The United Kingdom government does not resort to the use of force, rather the opposite, and utilise the voting of the House of Commons to agree to intervention.  

But for all of that, military force has been employed many times and most of these times it has been successful.  There have been outright failures such as South Arabia, Aden and Mozambique, but the use of force remains a fundamental policy tool.

Secondly, the concept that the UK uses force unilaterally and without regard to the views of other nations is empirically wrong.  Of the cases reviewed here, a number were prosecuted under U.N. auspices, or with NATO, or with non-NATO allies, or in some cases all three.  United Kingdom actions in, the Gulf war, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq all enforced U.N. Security Council resolutions.  NATO has been deeply involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and the fight against ISIS.  

The United Kingdom often has firm practical reasons not to intercede in the affairs of other nations, but moral grounds are rarely among them. Further to, it is from the lack of action and non-intervention that the “responsibility to protect” doctrine was evolved (United Nations, 2015:14). It remains however, a priority to enact non-military action first. Agreed by U.N. members in 2005, including the United States, the U.N. World Summit Outcome Document outlines that all means should be employed first to address mass violence, such as genocide and other crimes against humanity.

Thirdly, there is much to be learned from our long-lasting conflicts, particularly Afghanistan and Iraq.  The duration of these wars should instruct us that remaking a nation in an image entirely foreign to its history is not easy.  It is far more feasible to rebuild nations (as with the Marshall Plan or certain disaster relief efforts) than it is to build them in the first place.  There is no reason to doubt that representative democracy is the best form of government or that freedom, toleration, and economic opportunity are good for all people.  But these cannot be achieved in a brief time frame.  The United Kingdom has kept military forces in Germany, Cyprus, and Falkland Islands for decades.  But these troops were not going out on nightly combat-support missions against armed insurgents.  Our experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya should teach us there is no easy way to build from the outside stable, friendly governments, much less free and prosperous ones.  In this regard, we might ask ourselves just what we were hoping to accomplish in Afghanistan in the 15th year that we did not accomplish in the 14th.

To its credit, and consistent with the requirement, the House of Commons has authorised the three most extensive uses of force – the Gulf war, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  While it is unclear what might have happened had the House of Commons voted to oppose any of these wars?   

Technological developments are likely to exacerbate the Commons’ irresponsibility.  Increasing reliance on drones and other stand-off weapons offers government ways to fight wars with minimal casualties.  These are precisely the kinds of conflicts with which the House of Commons struggles, the most.  Meanwhile, the case of ISIS or Daesh remains before us.  This conflict will inevitably draw in additional United Kingdom forces not only in the air, but on the ground.  

Finally, judgments about the use of force should not assume that inaction is always cost-free.  Had George H.W. Bush and John Major not driven Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, who can say what would have occurred?  Would Saddam have moved on the Saudi oil fields and cornered a vast share of Mid-east oil reserves?  The real world never remains static for very long and responsible policymakers must balance the likely costs of action against the likely costs of inaction, however well or little known.  Inaction is generally politically safer than action.  But to secure United Kingdom national interests, the use of military force is not always the worst option.  Sometimes it is the only option.

Featured Image: A joint special forces team moves together out of an Air Force CV-22 Osprey aircraft, Feb. 26, 2018, at Melrose Training Range, N.M., during Emerald Warrior, the largest joint and combined special operations exercise. Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Clayton Cupit

References  

Bergner, J. (2016) “What Good Is Military Force?”  The Weekly Standard (Accessed: 13th April 2018) Available at: https://www.weeklystandard.com/ 

Chivvis, S. C and Liepman, M. A (2016) Authorities for Military Operations Against Terrorist Groups: The State of the Debate and Options for Congress. Published: RAND Corporation

Crenshaw, M. in Schmid, A. (2004) “Terrorism – The Definitional Problem,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, 36 (2-3) note 74

Duyvesteyn, I. (2008) “Great expectations: the use of armed force to combat terrorism,” 328-351 (Accessed: 10th April 2018) Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/09592310802228666

MOD DCDC (2015) ‘‘Strategic Trends Programme: Future Operating Environment 2035’’ First Edition, 20

Neumann, P. R., Smith, M.L.R. (2008) “The Strategy of Terrorism: How it Works, and Why It Fails (London: Routledge), 32

Oxford English Dictionary (2018) (Accessed: 13th April 2018) Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/terrorism

Tams, C. J. (2009) ‘‘The Use of Force against Terrorists,’’ European Journal of International Law, Volume 20, Issue 2, 359–397 (Accessed: 10th April 2018) Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/ejil/chp031 

United Nations, (2016) United Nations Charter VII. Available at: http://www.un.org/en/sc/repertoire/actions.shtml (Accessed: 20th April 2018)

United Nation (2015) Responsibility to Protect Available at: http://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/about-responsibility-to-protect.html (Accessed: 13th April 2018)

Von Clausewitz, C. (1832) “On War”, 3

Van Creveld, M. L. (1991) “The Transformation of War”, First Edition, The Free Press

Zenko, M., Cohen, M.A. (2012) “Clear and Present Safety, Foreign Affairs, Volume 91, No 2, 83

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