IRPG 831 The Politics, Law, & Morality of International Political Violence
Is the study of Terrorism an appropriate course for teaching and research at a university?
Terrorism is not a new phenomenon. Basically, the history of terrorism is approximately as old as the history of human violence, but depending on its actual appearance over time, terrorism received a perpetually changing amount of attention. However, since the events of 11 September in the USA terrorism is back in the focus again. Given the seriousness and the symbolic as well as the material damage, those attacks had an enormous global impact (Hoffman 2002, p. 303). By targeting the US as the major global power, international terrorism reached the top of the global agenda. Despite this new wave of interest and activity of governments (Suter 2006, p. 27), increasing attention has also been directed to the research on terrorism at universities and further academic institutions (Eugene 2007, p. 109). Thereby the question came up about the adequacy of such matter for educational purposes. However, this paper will argue that the study of terrorism is an appropriate course for universities to engage with, as there are good reasons to do so. In support of this thesis, this essay will examine the so called “war on terror” and the current mode of conflict, before taking a closer look at the usage of the term terrorism as a catch phrase. After considering the implications of terrorism for society the paper will finally draw on the complexity of terrorism as an academic topic.
The war against terrorism
One lesson learned after the events of September 11 is “that U.S. intelligence gathering and analysis must be vastly improved” (Deutch & Smith 2002, p 64). Another one is that technology and military power alone is useless in confronting complex issues like terrorism. It does not matter if one considers terrorism as an evil that has to be defeated (Coady 1985, p. 47), or as a method of campaigning one has to respond to (Fromkin 1975, pp. 692-693); extensive research seems to promise the best results. In order to fight terrorism effectively, one has to understand it first (Hoffman 2002, p. 313). There is no point in launching massive counterstrategies, if one does not know the enemy (Hoffman 2002, p. 306). Even if there is no official definition (Laqueur 1975, p. 5), it is possible to generate issue specific descriptions to work with. Allocating resources, new technologies and intelligence can only make a difference if it is clear where to apply them. Academic research of terrorism draws not only a general picture of different terroristic threats, but also provides a guideline to counter them. First, it “has improved our knowledge of terrorism, identifying psychological vulnerabilities that governments can exploit” (Jenkins 1986, p. 777), or shown that terrorist tactics or weaponry have remained relatively unchanged over time; in most cases innovation is only a reaction to specific countermeasures (Hoffman 2001, p. 417). Second, ongoing studies try to identify causes for terrorism as well as circumstances leading to the formation of terrorist groups (Crenshaw 1981, p. 380). Whereas stabilising failed states to prevent the emergence of terrorism may work if done properly (Fukuyama 2004, p. 92.), providing education in recruiting areas will not assure anticipated results (Krueger & Malecková 2003, pp. 141-142). However, the point is that “before embracing a new strategic vision and investing in new initiatives, conventional wisdom should be replaced by sober, detailed analysis” and further research (Patrick 2006, p. 29). Since “there are so many different kinds of terrorism, conducted for different reasons” a lot of theoretical work has to be conducted before effective actions can be put into practice (Bloom 2007, p. 19). Consequently, the premier step to fight terrorism has to be academic studying, providing both the necessary knowledge and skilled people to do so.
The mode of conflict and warfare
Furthermore, the examination of terrorism as a phenomenon and as a method of fighting enhances the insight in the development of warfare. War is constantly changing over time. This may be due to technological development or to available resources of conflicting parties (Münkler 2002, pp. 7-10). Terrorism is only one among other methods of fighting, but in regard to the overwhelming military superiority of Western powers, first and foremost the US; it seems only natural to employ this method (Hoffman 2006, p. 397). Conventional military is of decreasing importance for those ‘New Wars’, which “are wars where battles are rare and where most violence is directed against civilians” (Kaldor 2002, p. 3). Whilst interstate war is in decline, irregular warfare and civil conflicts are spreading (Englhart & Kurzman 2006, p. 1957). Complex Irregular Warfare is on the way to become the dominant mode of warfare (Military Balance 2005, p. 411), and modern terrorism operates precisely within this framework. “The anonymity intrinsic to this type of operation coupled with the lack of a discernible organizational structure with a distinguishable command chain behind the attackers is deliberately designed to prevent easy identification, facilitate the perpetrators’ escape and evasion”, and renders effective persecution or response by states impossible (Hoffman 2001, p. 418). Being cost effective and promising, the wars of the future will be fought around these concepts, and blur the line between terrorism, civil war and crime (Andreas & Price 2001, pp. 51-52).Terrorism research is on the edge of the new development in warfare and military studies, since it exposes the organisational and command structures of political violence in the 21st century. Hence, academic education in the field of terrorism is especially qualified to help understanding the international political arena of tomorrow and enabling individuals to actively participate in it.