Conflict, war and terrorism


We look at some of the key conflicts in the modern world and develop an awareness of the sources of global conflict, especially linked to developments since 9/11, including issues to do with the so-called ‘war on terror’, nuclear proliferation and other weapons of mass destruction, and the  spread and significance of global terrorism.

File:Superpower map 1945.png

From 1945 to 1991 there was a Cold War between the USA and the USSR, the two superpowers.   The Cold War can also be seen as a ideological conflict between Communism and Capitalism.  The map above illustrates the concept of a bipolar world.

The period from 1945 until the 1970s also witnessed a process of decolonisation.  Most of the countries, which had been colonies of European powers, gained their independence.  The world in 1945 looked like this;

File:Colonization 1945.png

By 2011 the picture is different but Colonisation and decolonisation continue to leave a scar.

UN Human Development Report 2008

At the end of the Cold War various American spokesmen announced that they were looking forward to a new era of peace and international co operation. However, in  2001 there was a terrorist attack on the US.

What was the response to 9/11?

War in Afghanistan

What is the reality of this war?

Seamus Milne article on Afghanistan

War in Iraq

Is the ‘war on terror’ a struggle between Islam and the West?   Is it a clash of civilisations?

The Changing Face of Warfare


What is terrorism?  How do modern terrorists operate?

How can governments combat terrorism?  What are the dangers with their approach?

The bomb plot in February 2011

What is the impact of the death of Osama Bin Laden

New Wars

Is it accurate to talk about a new type of warfare?

We might consider new kinds of military technology such as drones

We might consider the nature of modern conflicts

Who has the nuclear threat?

Conflict, War And Terrorism

Key themes:

Cultural conflict

Culture and identity – rise of identity politics (declining significance of traditional ideological and class solidarities; growth of ethnic, racial, religious and other particularisms; attack on liberal universalism; political emancipation through cultural self-assertion and re-definition of identity); religion as a global issue (rise of religious movements; explaining the rise of religion and ‘desecularization’ (failure of universalist ideologies; impact of globalization; certainty in an uncertain world, etc); clash of civilisation thesis (‘civilisations’ as global actors; basis for conflict between and among civilizations; criticisms of clash of civilization thesis).

Islam vs the West? – rise of Islamic fundamentalism (advance of Islamism in Iran and elsewhere); the ‘war on terror’ as a civilizational conflict between Islam and the West?

Changing nature of war – from ‘old’ wars to ‘new’ wars; features of conventional wars (armed conflict between states; war an extension of politics, clear civilian/military divide, etc); features of modern or ‘new’ wars (civil wars rather than inter-state wars; wars of identity (fuelled by ethnic nationalism or religious radicalism); use of guerrilla and insurgency tactics; asymmetrical war (‘mismatched’ enemies, uncertain outcome, intractability of asymmetrical wars, etc); blurring of civilian/military divide; (irregular fighters; civilian targets; overlaps between war and criminality, etc); Afghanistan and Iraq as ‘new’ wars; ‘postmodern’ wars- (revolution in military affairs (Gulf War); ‘hi-tech’ weaponry; ‘virtual’ warfare; casualty-less warfare (Kosovo)). (Note: essay questions will not be set on the changing nature of war.)

Nuclear proliferation

MAD & The Arms Race

Nature of weapons of mass destruction – nature of WDM (mass collateral damage; widely viewed as ‘non-legitimate’ or ‘inhuman’; significant deterrence effect, etc); nuclear weapons as archetypal WMD; development of nuclear weapons (Hiroshima and Nagasaki); emergence of biological and chemical weapons.

Nuclear proliferation and its implications – horizontal and vertical proliferation; nuclear proliferation during the Cold War period (vertical proliferation among superpowers; only UN ‘veto powers’ had nuclear weapons); nuclear proliferation in post-Cold War period (horizontal proliferations due to regional conflict (India and Pakistan; Israel and Iran, etc); easier access to weapons and technology, etc); debates about nuclear proliferation (implications for peace (‘balance of terror’), greater responsibility etc vs ‘tactical’ use, danger of getting into the ‘wrong hands (‘rogue’ states (Iran, North Korea etc) and terrorist organisations), etc.

Non-proliferation strategies – attempts to control nuclear proliferation (multilateral treaties (1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), etc) and bilateral treaties (SALT I and II; START I and II, SORT Treaty, etc)); US non-proliferation under Obama and its implications, etc.


Spread and significance of international/global terrorism – nature of terrorism; types of terrorism (nationalist terrorism; international, global or ‘new’ terrorism, etc); nature of Islamist terrorism (ideological goals (‘purify’ Muslim world and civilizational conflict with the West, especially the USA); tactics and methods (suicide attacks, coordinated attacks, audacious strategies); network organisation, etc); significance of international/global terrorism (impossible to protect against, acquisition of WMD, etc vs exaggerated fears (‘politics of fear’), limited public support for religious militancy, etc)

Countering terrorism – use of military tactics to contain/destroy terrorism (successes, failures and implications of the ‘war on terror’); state security and domestic repression; extent to which countering terrorism is compatible with protecting human rights (proper balance between public order and civil liberty/human rights?; unique challenges posed by terrorism; suspending human rights as the ‘lesser evil’; importance of moral high ground and ‘soft’ power, etc); political deals to end terror.

Volume 23, Number 2, November 2013

Global politics

Terrorism: a recent history

by Jonathan Carr

You can use this article to expand your knowledge.

The concept of terrorism is one of the most contested in political science. There is little debate that it is ‘a form of political violence that aims to achieve its objectives through creating a climate of fear’ (Goodwin 2006), but it is how the term is used, and about whom, that accounts for its enduring controversy. This was exemplified by the reaction to the murder of British soldier, Lee Rigby, in May 2013. While Prime Minister David Cameron’s response was ‘we will never give in to terror or terrorism,’ the BBC chose to refer to this incident as an ‘attack’ because of the ‘significant political overtones’ of the subject (BBC 2013).

Since the 1980s, much has been written about the changing methods of terrorism and so-called ‘new’ terrorism (Neumann 2009). A brief history of the term reveals that it has gone through several step changes in the last 200 years. However, recent developments in the means terrorist groups use to achieve their ends need not threaten the overall way in which we use the term.

Evolution of a concept

The word ‘terrorism’ hit the European consciousness during the French Revolution and derives from the wave of mass executions as part of the ‘Reign of Terror’. This reminds us that terrorism can be at its bloodiest when used as a ‘top down’ tool of the dictatorial state and that it has not always been a last resort of the powerless.

Only in the following century did terrorism acquire its association with non-state organisations, when it became synonymous with political assassinations (especially in tsarist Russia). In the latter half of the twentieth century, terrorism morphed into its more recognisable identities of nationalist, religious, single-issue and revolutionary terrorism (Ignatieff 2004). We could argue that a further incarnation occurred (and is presently occurring), following the collapse of the Cold War world order in the late 1980s.

Terrorism in the post-Second World War period

Terrorism in this period can be defined by nationalist groups (such as the Tamil Tigers and Irish Republican Army) and insurrectionary groups (such as the Italian Red Brigade and German Red Army Faction). Such groups tended to share three key features.

  • First, their aims were essentially secular and usually related to their homelands.
  • Second, the groups often adopted a command and control structure with close degrees of companionship and camaraderie within their ranks.
  • Finally, these groups adopted the indiscriminate targeting of civilians as a core tactic.

Terrorism since the 1980s

Since then terrorism has broken with its secular background and become linked to religious extremism. Some commentators have labelled this as ‘new’ terrorism. It is tempting to view 9/11 as the key watershed but the emergence of this latest form of terrorism can actually be dated to the collapse of the Cold War world order where religious inspired movements helped to fill the ideological vacuum vacated by superpower politics. The 1997 massacre in Luxor, Egypt, the 1998 attacks on the US embassies, the USS Cole in 2000 and on the World Trade Center in 2000 are all characteristic of this form of terrorism which are three-fold.

  • First, religious aims have essentially replaced secular ones.
  • Second, the groups involved in ‘new’ terrorism are more loosely organised with weaker ties between members and make use of modern communications to establish disparate international networks.
  • Finally, this form of terrorism has come to be associated with actions causing multiple casualties, sometimes in the hundreds. Some commentators termed this ‘catastrophic terrorism’ (Lacquer 1999).

The rise and fall of al-Qaeda: franchise terrorism

Al-Qaeda embodies the type of terrorist group defined above, typified by the concept of its ‘franchise terrorism’. This is the notion that even more important than the group itself is its ideology. Such was the strength of al-Qaeda’s global brand that militants with only a passing contact with the organisation claimed to be members of it and carried out local attacks in its name across the Arab world and in North Africa. According to expert Jason Burke, al-Qaeda subsequently became the ‘label of choice for all Islamic militants’ (2007).

However, counter terrorism measures have undoubtedly weakened al-Qaeda in recent years. The Arab Awakening also revealed weaknesses in its supposed popular appeal leading Jason Burke to anticipate a ‘coming international withdrawal’ (2013). However, the security dilemmas remain. A US House Congress committee recently heard evidence of a still tenacious ideology with future threats coming from affiliated groups (such as Boko Haram in Nigeria), so-called ‘lone wolves’ (such as the Boston bombers) and veterans of the conflict in Syria.


Terrorism is a term that is constantly evolving. We can ascertain four distinct chapters in its evolution: the state-led terror associated with the French Revolution in the eighteenth century, the political assassinations of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, post-Second World War nationalist and insurrectionary terrorism and the ‘new’ religiously motivated terrorism of the post-Cold War era.

Despite these changes, one feature implicit in terrorism is the debate surrounding the term’s use. Governments remain at pains to draw clear distinctions between the ‘legitimacy’ of their own ‘state-led’ actions as compared to the ‘illegitimate’ actions of their opponents (Greenwald 2013). Attaching the term ‘terrorist’ to these opponents helps them to do this. It is precisely the value-laden nature of the term — its enduring feature — which makes it so interesting.


Burke, J. Al Qaeda (2007)

Greenwald, G. Was the London killing of a British soldier terrorism?’, Guardian, May 2013

Ignatieff, M. The Lesser Evil (2004)

Lacquer, W. The New Terrorism (1999)

Neumann, P. Old and New Terrorism (2009)

Townshend, C. Terrorism: A Very Short Introduction (2002)

Jonathan Carr is head of history and politics at Godalming Sixth Form College

Politics Review Resources

Volume 22, Number 2, November 2012

Global politics

The new face of terrorism: beyond Bin Laden

Owen Moelwyn-Hughes

This article, for students of the Edexcel A2 global politics option, is followed by some activities that you can complete individually or as a class.

‘Regardless if Osama is killed or survives, the awakening has started, praise be to God’.

Osama Bin Laden, videoed speech broadcast on 27 December 2001

The killing of Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad in Pakistan on 2 May 2011, in a raid by US Special Forces, removed one of the most potent symbols of non-state terrorism in the modern era. However, as a blow against what al-Qaeda represented, the killing of its leader almost certainly carries more symbolic, rather than practical, value. Thus, questions about his precise legacy now remain, especially in terms of assessing the current terrorist threat to global security.

The global terrorist threat is diversifying. Ten years after the unprecedented 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda, once the core of the global terrorist movement, no longer occupies the centre stage in global security. Relentless US targeting has led to a massive degradation of al-Qaeda. Apart from the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the network has suffered further blows as drone strikes have eliminated other key figures in the movement, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri’s (the current head of al-Qaeda) deputy. Nonetheless, al-Qaeda’s ideology and its affiliates in regions such as Yemen, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa and across sub-Saharan Africa are still sowing instability and fear in societies and governments around the world. Although these possible al-Qaeda ‘clones’ might be less capable of mounting a global threat — being generally intertwined with local issues — it is still worth considering whether they might become an international terrorist threat with a global jihadist ethos.

What has been the impact of Bin Laden’s death?

The greatest impact of Bin Laden’s death has been symbolic, as opposed to ending the operational capacity of al-Qaeda. Dr Maha Azzam of Chatham House asserts that the killing of Osama Bin Laden is a major blow to al-Qaeda, as they have lost their primary symbol as ‘a movement that laid a great deal of emphasis on Osama bin Laden as a key figure in its recruitment of people’. Al-Qaeda is a less potent symbol now that he is dead. Although, for the longer term, Paul Cornish of Chatham House asserts that it would be a mistake to assume that Osama Bin Laden’s death means the end of al-Qaeda and the end of the jihad — as if Bin Laden, al-Qaeda and jihad are not just closely connected but are three inter-dependent pillars. Osama Bin Laden created a franchise for international terror that is designed to survive without him. For his followers, and for others in the future who subscribe to the myth, Bin Laden will be seen to have died like a warrior, if not a martyr. As the man who inspired and symbolised jihad against the USA and its allies, Bin Laden will continue to inspire Islamic militants for decades to come.

Has al-Qaeda been defeated?

Bin Laden’s death inspired a surge of triumphalism, such as President Obama proclaiming ‘we have put al-Qaeda on a path to defeat’ and the US defence secretary asserting that the US was ‘within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda’. However, even if organisationally al-Qaeda proper has been decimated, as a movement it has metastasized. Far from being dead and buried, the terrorist organisation has a global presence and is now riding a resurgent tide as its affiliates engage in increasingly violent campaigns of attacks across the middle east and north Africa — recent examples include the killing of Shiites in Iraq and the seizing of Radda in Yemen. This new terrorist threat is acknowledged in a recent report from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) which asserts that al-Qaeda affiliates, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Shabaab in Somalia, and attempts to influence the terror group Boko Haram in Nigeria, raises a ‘worrying aspect of an arc of regional instability encompassing the whole Sahara-Sahel strip and extending through to east Africa’. As a result, the focus of anti-jihadist counter-terrorism is shifting to Africa, and the report adds ‘Western intelligence and security services understand what is happening in Pakistan, in the Maghreb and in Yemen, even if they cannot do very much about it’.

Globally, al-Qaeda’s network has in fact expanded since the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Somalia’s al-Shabab have formally joined al-Qaeda, and their leaders have all sworn bayat — an oath of loyalty — to Bin Laden’s successor, Zawahiri. These affiliates benefit from the ‘core’ al-Qaeda’s ideological inspiration and guidance. Al-Zubair, al-Shabab’s emir, felt their place had been lifted in the jihadi world and beckoned Zawahiri to ‘lead us on the path of jihad and martyrdom that was drawn by our imam, the martyr Osama’. Some of these groups are also capable of holding territory — for example in Yemen where AQAP has exploited political instability to cement control in several provinces. The number of attacks also seems to be on the up — al-Qaeda in Iraq in the last year has conducted over 200 attacks and killed thousands of Iraqis. Other allied groups have emerged that have developed relationships with al-Qaeda, most notably in Nigeria where the Salafi group Boko Haram has emerged as an increasingly deadly threat — killing 200 people in January — and having their operatives trained by AQIM in Mali. Furthermore, despite its bloody legacy, al-Qaeda seems to have maintained a level of popular support, for example in the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria, even if it has markedly declined in others. This is a worrying fact considering that al-Qaeda has shown that it does not require significant levels of support to accomplish its bloody work.

Nairobi Attacks

Some hold that Zawahiri is not the leader that Bin Laden was — as he lacks charisma and appeal — and thus have brushed him aside as being too unpopular to hold and consolidate power. However, so far he is ahead in one category — he has survived. He also been the main architect of al-Qaeda’s franchising strategy and has encouraged the exploitation of the Arab Spring, as he exhorted in his recent video ‘Onward, Lions of Syria’. However, he still has his weaknesses — among jihadists he is seen to be lacking in warrior credentials and he has been a polarising figure, given to feuding with other Islamic movements and rival leaders (such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt).

What effect has the Arab Spring had?

The instability caused by the Arab Spring has provided al-Qaeda with fertile ground in which to expand its influence across the region. Some argue that the Arab Spring was bad for al-Qaeda, showing that they had lost the war of ideas. In the article ‘Al-Qaeda’s Challenge’ in Foreign Affairs, William McCants writes:

‘On 9/11, the global jihadist movement burst into the world’s consciousness, but a decade later, thanks in part to the Arab Spring and the killing of Osama Bin Laden, it is in crisis. With Western-backed dictators falling, al-Qaeda might seem closer than ever to its goal of building Islamic states. But the revolutions have empowered the group’s chief rivals instead: Islamist parliamentarians, who are willing to use ballots, not bombs.’

Furthermore, the scholar Fouad Ajami asserts ‘the young men and women who had filled Liberation Square, wanted nothing of that deadly standoff between the ruler’s tyranny and the jihadists’ reign of piety and terror’. However, weak and ineffective governments are critical to the rise of insurgencies and are fertile ground for terrorist groups. In other words, the Arab Spring revolutionaries may not be sympathetic to violent jihad, but the instability they sow may be to al-Qaeda’s gain. Especially given that the uprisings have weakened governments across the world from Syria to Yemen. Also, democratic states are still just as likely to face terrorism.


Since 9/11 the West has repeatedly declared al-Qaeda all but dead and buried, only to see it rise again. The weakness of governments across the Arab world and south Asia, the durability of some of al-Qaeda’s main allies, and the decreasing US presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan could all contribute to al-Qaeda’s survival. Drone strikes and special operations may certainly kill some of al-Qaeda’s leaders, but they will not resolve the fundamental problems that have turned the region into a breeding ground for terrorism and militancy. Predictions of al-Qaeda’s imminent demise are more rooted in wishful thinking and politicians’ desire for applause than in rigorous analysis. Al-Qaeda’s broader network is alive and prospering. Certainly these so-called al-Qaeda associated movements are more insulated and entwined with local conflicts, grievances, and causes, and less focused on hitting international targets than al-Qaeda was. However, these groups still profess adherence to a wider global jihad and, ultimately, the chilling fact is that it only takes one successful terrorist attack to once again turn global security on its head.


 (1)            Having read this article, the class could have a follow on discussion:

‘To what extent is terrorism a threat to current global security?’

In particular, consider the current threat posed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

(2)            Read Jason Burke’s Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam (Penguin, 2007), even if you just read Chapter 1 ‘What is al-Qaeda?’. The book contains much food for thought and debate.

(3)            Try this classroom activity — allocate each member of the class a terrorist organisation relevant to the article, such as:

  • Al-Qaeda
  • AQAP
  • AQIM
  • Boko Haram
  • Al-Qaeda in Iraq
  • Haqani Network
  • Lashgar-e-Taiba
  • Jemaah Islamiyah
  • Al-Shabab

Each member of the class should research their allocated terrorist group and fill in a table like the one shown below (which has al-Qaeda filled in as a rough example). The students can then report back on their findings. A good way to do this is for each member of the class to explain their findings in 3–4 minutes to another member of the class, and then vice versa. The students should then rotate around the class and this process should be repeated until each student has shared their findings with everyone in the class on a one-to-one basis. The filled in tables could then be collated to make a handout comprising all the terrorist organisations researched.




An Islamist group founded sometime between August 1988 and late 1989/early 1990. It operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless arm and a fundamentalist Sunni movement calling for global jihad. It was established by Osama Bin Laden in 1988 with Arabs who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union.


Goal is to unite Muslims to fight the USA as a means of defeating Israel, overthrowing regimes it deems ‘non-Islamic’, and expelling Westerners and non-Muslims from Muslim countries. Eventual goal would be establishment of a pan-Islamic caliphate throughout the world.


Characteristic techniques include suicide attacks and simultaneous bombings of different targets. Activities ascribed to it may involve members of the movement, who have taken a pledge of loyalty to Osama Bin Laden.

Effectiveness (actions)

On December 29, 1992, al-Qaeda’s first terrorist attack took place as two bombs were detonated in Aden, Yemen. Al-Qaeda has attacked civilian and military targets in various countries — the most notable being the September 11 attacks in 2001. The US government responded by launching the ‘war on terror’. In 1990, the US embassy bombings in east Africa took place, resulting in upward of 300 deaths, mostly locals. To sum up, it has been an effective terrorist group.

 Owen Moelwyn-Hughes is head of politics at The King’s School, Canterbury

4D Conflict War and Terrorism

Short Answer Questions

Why have some modern wars been classified as ‘new’ wars? (15 marks)

The category of ‘new wars’ has been applied to conflicts particularly since the mid 1980s (Kaldor).

These wars differ from traditional, inter-state wars in a number of respects. In the first place, armed conflict increasingly takes place within states rather than between them. New wars are therefore civil wars, often related to the disintegration and collapse of states, sometimes linked to the pressures generated by globalisation.

Second, these wars are often associated with questions of identity and culture, a major cause of wars since 1990 being the demand of various groups for national self-determination.

Third, new wars are characterised by the use of guerrilla or insurrectionary tactics, often involving the use of informal fighters and serving to blur the distinction between the ‘soldier’ and the ‘civilian’ in terms of both military personnel and military targets. Such wars are also very difficult to end, even when one of the participants is economically much more advanced than the other.

Fourth, the ‘military/civilian’ divide is also weakened by the association of such wars with corruption and criminality.

So-called ‘post-modern’ wars may also be seen as new, in the sense that they rely heavily on the use of modern technology and ‘smart’ weapons, greatly reduce the casualties from warfare (hence the idea of casualty-free or virtual wars), and often take place between combatants with very different levels of development (asymmetric warfare).

How and why has religion become more important in global politics? (15 marks)

Religion has become more important in global politics through the growth and growing significance of religiously-inspired social and political movements.

This has been particularly evident in the Moslem world through the growth of Islamic fundamentalism and the upsurge in Islamism as a politico-religious ideology.

Manifestations of this can be seen in the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the activities of religiously-based insurgency groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah, and in religiously- motivated terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda.

However, it is a phenomenon that extends beyond Islam and, for example, affects Hindu and Sikkh militancy in India (as well as relations between India and Pakistan), Singalese nationalism in Sri Lanka, the Christian New Right in the USA and so forth.

The growing importance of religion in global politics is usually seen as part of a larger trend in favour of the politics of identity and culture. As such, it has been explained in various ways, including through the decline of revolutionary socialism since the 1970s, as a backlash against neo-colonialism (religion providing people with a non-western or even anti-western political identity), and as one of the consequences of globalisation, which has both strengthened anti-westernism and undermined the capacity of ‘civic’ nationalism to establish secure and stable political identities.

The rise of religious groups has also been explained in terms of the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis, in which the decline of ideological conflict associated with the Cold War would give rise to conflict between ‘different civilisations’, with religion often serving as the basis of civilisational identity.

In what ways did 9/11 redefine the nature of terrorism? (15 marks)

Terrorism, in its broad sense, refers to the use of terror for furthering political ends, by seeking to create a climate of fear, apprehension and uncertainty. However, events such as the 9/11 attacks on the USA and groups such as al-Qaeda threaten to redefine the phenomenon of terrorism.

There has been much debate about whether, and the extent to which, 9/11 altered the nature of terrorism. A number of allegations have been made, including the following.

First, 9/11 has often been seen as illustrating the fact that terrorism has become a transnational, if not global, phenomenon, whereas earlier forms of terrorism were often carried out by nationalist groups and were confined to a particular state.

Al-Qaeda and the wider Islamist movement, are certainly transnational in terms of their organisation, goals and activities. The 9/11 attacks marked the advent of terrorism with a global reach, dramatically transforming the significance of terrorism.

Second, this form of terrorism is motivated by a broad and radical ideology, in the form of Islamism rather than by narrower and more specific political goals. Islamist terrorism aims to inflict damage and humiliation on the USA and transform the global relationship between Islam and the west.

Other differences include that the sheer scope and scale of the 9/11 attacks was historically unprecedented, creating the phenomenon of ‘catastrophic terrorism’, and that the combined use of suicide attacks and coordinated attacks against several targets suggest the advent of new terrorist tactics.

Why are ‘asymmetrical wars’, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, so difficult to win? (15 marks)

Asymmetrical wars are wars fought between radically unequal parties. This certainly applies in relation to the party’s level of economic and technological development, but also applies in relation to their relative military capabilities. Examples include the Vietnam War, the Iraq War and war in Afghanistan.

It is difficult for developed states to win asymmetrical wars for a number of reasons, including the following:

Developed states are often prevented by diplomatic pressures and global public opinion from using some of the more devastating weapons in their armoury.

This particularly applies to ‘unusable’ nuclear weapons.

Relatively weak states and forces have developed strategies that are appropriate to their limited resources and are very difficult for developed powers to counter.

These include guerrilla tactics, the use of popular insurrection and various forms of terrorism.

Insurrectionary wars are particularly difficult to resolve because the mass of the population often support, explicitly or implicitly, insurrectionary forces. Victory can therefore only be achieved by winning ‘hearts and minds’, not by military means alone.

Explain why the term ‘terrorism’ is controversial and contested. (15 marks)

Terrorism is usually taken to refer to attempts to further political ends by using violence to create a climate of fear, apprehension and uncertainty, through acts such as bombings, assassinations, hostage seizures and plane hijacks.

Terrorist violence is typically high profile, consciousness shocking and seemingly arbitrary, and, conventionally, it is carried out by non-state actors.

The term terrorism has been considered controversial for a number of reasons:

It carries deeply pejorative implications, meaning that the term tends to be used as a political weapon, implying that the group or action to which it is attached is immoral and illegitimate (one person’s terrorist can therefore be another’s freedom fighter).

As all forms of violence generate fear and apprehension, the use of the term may be arbitrary.

As terrorism is often portrayed as an anti-government activity, carried out by non-state groups, critical theorists have argued that the term has been used to systematically de-legitimise such groups and their motives, thereby upholding the existing power structure at a national or global level.

Radical theorists reject the intrinsic link between terrorism and non-state actors, placing greater emphasis on so-called ‘state terrorism’.

Essay Questions

‘The 2003 Iraq war was justified.’ Discuss. (45 marks)

The 2003 Iraq war was extremely controversial, notably because its legitimacy both in international law and in morality was so doubtful.

At various times different reasons have been given for the war.

The justification for the war was to prevent Saddam Hussein from attacking neighbouring states, as he had previously done (Iran and Kuwait).

The war was a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, which ‘supposedly’ had been a major protagonist in the Sept 11 attacks.

The war was necessary, it was argued, because Iraq was close to developing nuclear weapons, after which the cost of engaging in war against Iraq would be too great.

The war was necessary to enforce the will of the UN, which Saddam had repeatedly flouted.

It was necessary to rid the Iraqi people of a terrible dictator who had committed atrocities against the Kurds, and the Shi’ites.

It was important to bring democracy to the Iraqi people.

No wonder such controversy existed, and still does. Kofi Annan himself declared the war as illegal under international law.

Iraq was not the aggressor nation. No WMD were found. The threat to Western security was allegedly ‘sexed up’.

Iraqis were suffering before 2003, but their suffering was not only due to an oppressive regime, but also to the sanctions imposed post Gulf War 1.

It now seems that Iraq had exaggerated its own military strength, so as not to appear weak. Or the US intelligence had received information it wanted to hear, not accurate intelligence.

Many criticised the pre-emptive strike argument, but there is an accepted precedence, the Caroline case (when Britain sank a US merchant ship carrying weapons for the French Canadian independence forces).

However, not only were there no WMD, but there was no link between Saddam and attacks against the US. The UN argument also is weak.

There was no UN resolution permitting the use of force, so the US led coalition cannot realistically argue that they were carrying out the will of the UN.

Moreover, Iraq is less stable now than it was before the war. Thousands of Iraqis have died, yet violence continues.

If pragmatists wish for the war to be judged on whether the world has become more stable; that the Middle East is more stable, that Iraq is more stable, that Iraqis at least have freedom, democracy and human rights protection, then the war is not justified.

To what extent is countering terrorism compatible with upholding human rights? (45 marks)

The relationship between human rights and terrorism has become a major issue of debate as a result of the ‘war on terror’.

While some argue that the infringement of human rights is a necessary ‘lesser evil’ compared to the ‘greater evil’ of terrorism, others argue that infringements of human rights are simply unacceptable and may also be counter- productive in terms of countering terrorism. Infringements of human rights as part of the larger campaign to contain the threat of terrorism can be justified on both practical and ethical grounds.

In practical terms, terrorism poses particular difficulties, in that it is a covert military threat posed by people who often have fanatical views and beliefs.

Unconventional threats require unconventional responses. This is why the USA created an internment camp at Guantanamo Bay, where it interned hundreds of people without trial, subjecting some of them to forms of torture such as ‘waterboarding’ (simulated drowning).

The practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’ also allowed for the easier violation of human rights. Detention without trial has also been introduced by other states fighting terrorism; for example, through a number of anti-terrorist laws in the UK.

Sensitivity to issues of human rights would put governments at a grave disadvantage in confronting an enemy that has no concern itself for human rights.

The moral argument supporting this view is based on the balance of the suffering cause. For example, the murder of 3,000 innocent civilians in the 9/11 attacks was itself a major human rights violation.

Restrictions of terrorist suspects’ political and civil rights can, by contrast, be regarded as a ‘lesser evil’ (Ignatieff).

On the other hand, abuses of human rights in such circumstances can be seen to make no moral or practical sense.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned Guantanamo, the use of torture and detention without trial on the grounds that human rights are inviolable.

Human rights cannot be ignored or set aside for matters of political convenience, as human rights establish absolute moral values.

The ‘war on terror’ is therefore not a ‘just war’ as it has not been fought using just means.

The practical argument against violating human rights in the cause of anti- terrorism is based on the damage done to a state’s moral authority and global influence.

The USA’s ‘war on terror’ has been more difficult to win because its own behaviour has weakened global support, particularly in Moslem countries damaging the USA’s ‘soft’ power.

This helps to explain the Obama administration’s initial decision, for example, to close Guantanamo Bay, subsequently not followed through with.

‘Concerns about an emerging “clash of civilisations” have been greatly exaggerated.’ Discuss. (45 Marks)

The idea of a ‘clash of civilisations’ suggests that twenty-first century global order will be characterised by growing tension and conflict between rival cultures or civilisations, as opposed to the political, ideological or economic conflict of old.

Supporters of the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis have advanced a number of arguments. These include the following:

There is undoubted evidence of the growing impact of culture and religion in world politics. This is evident in the rise of forms of ethnic nationalism and religious fundamentalism, particularly political Islam.

Cultural conflict has in many ways been increasing, especially in the form of tension between Islam and the West. The advent of global terrorism and the ’war on terror’ have both been seen as evidence of a ‘clash of civilisations’. Conflict between Islam and the West is very different from the politico-ideological conflict during the Cold War period between the USA and the Soviet Union.

Growing rivalry between the USA and China can be seen as an example of civilizational tension, the rise of China being part of an ‘Asian affirmation’ which is based on distinctive values drawn, in part, from Confucianism as opposed to those of the liberal-democratic West.

However, the idea of a ‘clash of civilisations’ has been criticised for a number of reasons. These include the following:

Civilisations are not homogeneous and unified entities. Rather they are complex and fragmented.

Civilisations are simply not global actors; states, with their distinctive national interests, remain the key actors in global politics.

There is significant evidence of cultural harmony and peaceful coexistence between different civilisations. Cultural difference by no means necessarily leads to conflict.

Most wars and international conflicts take place between states from the same, not different, civilisations.

Events such as the ‘war on terror’ and growing tensions between the USA and China, are better understood in terms of great power politics and the pursuit of national interests than they are in terms of a supposed ‘clash of civilisations’.

To what extent is global terrorism a major threat to order and security? (45 marks)

Terrorism refers to the use of terror for furthering political ends; it seeks to create a climate of fear, apprehension and uncertainty. Global terrorism is terrorism that has a global reach, particularly as demonstrated by the 9/11 attacks on the USA.

The significance of global terrorism as a threat to order and security has been the subject of considerable debate. Those who see it in this light advance a number of arguments, including the following:

The 9/11 attacks underline the threat of global terrorism because it demonstrates how the world’s most powerful state, in military as well as economic terms, can be vulnerable to external attack when it is no longer vulnerable to conventional attacks by rival states.

These threats are all the greater because of the possibility that terrorist networks may be able to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction, and perhaps even nuclear weapons.

The threat of global terrorism is so great because it requires few resources and can be carried out by small groups or even lone individuals.

Increased global flows of peoples, ideas and information also make global terrorism particularly difficult to contain or prevent.

The USA’s ‘war on terror’ was an appropriate response to the advent of global terrorism, since it recognised that such terrorism has its roots in a transnational ideology that has spread to various parts of the Middle East, North Africa and central Asia.

However, some argue that the threat of global terrorism has been much overstated. This has been for a variety of reasons, including the following:

Although 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks, this is very small by comparison with the scale of death that has occurred as a result of conventional warfare.

Terrorism, by its nature, consists of a series of sporadic attacks on a variety of targets, and is very different from the concerted, sustained and systematic destruction that is wreaked by mass warfare conducted between states.

Terrorism, in itself, cannot overthrow a government, unlike revolution and inter- state war.

Terrorism ‘works’ only when there is a military overreaction to it that ends up being counter-productive in terms of strengthening support for militant or extremist groups.

Some argue that the over-reaction to global terrorism through the ‘war on terror’ has been an attempt to consolidate advanced societies by creating the image of an external threat in place of the ‘communist threat’ of old.

Paper 4 Questions by Topic: Nuclear Proliferation and Disarmament.

Short Answer Questions

Why is it difficult to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction? (15 marks)

The desire for physical security is at the heart of human life. Thus, humans have throughout history used tools to provide security against violence.

Of course these tools can provide greater security if they are powerful, but as they can be used also to attack and kill, their existence inevitably provokes nervousness in others.

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are simply more devastating and non-selective weapons. Clearly, states wish to acquire as deadly a weapons arsenal as possible.

Thus developing WMD is a standard defence policy aim.

Nuclear weapons are the most powerful and awesome of all weapons of destruction. The possession of nuclear weapons is seen as a guarantee of security and many states are intent on acquiring a nuclear defence capability.

However, if one state is seen to be acquiring such weapons then the rivals of this state will begin to feel insecure. Their security, they believe, will only be maintained if they too acquire nuclear weapons.

Given that national security is usually of primary importance states tend to be willing to break international agreements on nuclear proliferation.

WMD are made in science laboratories, not conventional armaments factories.

The most significant factor in their production is knowledge. Once the secret of a particular WMD has been learnt and practiced, the secret can be passed on.

The ingredients of many WMD are found in most chemical plants. Thus the development of most WMD is relatively easy and relatively cheap, yet their effect can be devastating.

Whereas a conventional bomb kills those close to the initial impact, chemical and biological weapons can kill and maim over a much greater area and without sound or warning.

What are the major reasons behind the proliferation of nuclear weapons? (15 marks)

The main contemporary concerns about nuclear proliferation focus on ‘horizontal’ proliferation in terms of the acquisition of nuclear weapons by an increasing number of states.

There are a number of reasons behind this form of nuclear proliferation, including the following:

• The possession of nuclear weapons is seen as the ultimate guarantee of non-intervention by more militarily powerful states. The USA thus intervened against Iraq but did not do so against North Korea. This has major implications for Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

• The acquisition of nuclear weapons is seen to mark out a state as a great power, as indicated by the nuclear weapons possessed by the ‘veto powers’ of the UN Security Council.

• Regional tensions have been a powerful driver behind the acquisition of nuclear weapons. This applies both in the case of India and Pakistan and in the case of Israel and Iran.

Essay Questions

To what extent does nuclear proliferation threaten peace and security? (45 marks)

Nuclear proliferation refers to the spread of nuclear weapons, either by their acquisition by more states or other actors (horizontal proliferation) or by their accumulation by established nuclear states (vertical proliferation).

The Cold War period was characterised by significant vertical proliferation, as the USA and the Soviet Union each acquired massive nuclear arsenals, while the post-Cold War era has been characterised by a tendency towards horizontal proliferation, with nuclear weapons being acquired by India, North Korea and, covertly, by Israel. However, views differ about the implications of nuclear proliferation for peace and security.

The argument that nuclear proliferation poses a substantial threat to peace and security derives from the massive destructive capacity of nuclear weapons.

This, then, enables nuclear powers to dictate to other powers, as the USA did in using nuclear weapons to bring an end to the war against Japan in 1945.

Nuclear proliferation can be seen as inherently unstable on the grounds that it creates at least temporary imbalances, allowing states that seek military advantage to pursue offensive policies.

Nuclear arms races therefore tend to increase the likelihood of war. Such fears have intensified in the post-Cold War era as proliferation has made regional conflicts considerably more dangerous.

This applies to tension between India and Pakistan as well as to tension between Israel and Iran.

Nuclear proliferation is thus more dangerous in the emerging multipolar world order than it was in the relatively stable bipolar ‘first’ nuclear age.

Anxieties about nuclear weapons have been substantially heightened by the belief that recent developments make it more likely that they will be used.

This is evident in the development of ‘tactical’ or ‘battlefield’ nuclear weapons that are designed to be usable, but it is particularly linked to the fear that nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of military- based dictatorial regimes, or even terrorist groups, which will have fewer scruples about using them.

Nuclear terrorism is thought of by some as the ultimate modern security threat.

However, nuclear proliferation has also been seen to promote peace and security.

The most remarkable thing about nuclear weapons is how rarely they have been used. Their massive destructive capacity in fact makes them primarily weapons of deterrence.

States thus acquire nuclear weapons and increase the size of their arsenals in order to prevent war.

This especially occurs when a nuclear stalemate is established, as both states in a dispute acquire a second- strike capability, creating a ‘balance of terror’ as occurred during the Cold War.

Horizontal proliferation since the end of the Cold War has not been as destabilising as many fear, as the possession of nuclear weapons may engender a sense of responsibility and a bias in favour of caution, even in states that have previously been inclined to adventurism or aggression. In this view, conflict between India and Pakistan is less likely to result in war because both states have a ‘nuclear option’. Similarly, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran may bring greater stability to the Middle East than has occurred through the existence of a single nuclear power, Israel.

‘Nuclear weapons are of symbolic importance only.’ Discuss. (45 marks)

The idea that nuclear weapons are of symbolic importance only suggests that states seek to acquire such weapons for the status they bring rather than because of their political efficacy.

Such a view is supported by the fact that apart from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have never been used in warfare, and threats to use them have been extremely rare.

This is linked to the fact that it is commonly believed that nuclear weapons are beyond the pale in moral terms, not only having a unique status in terms of their potential level of destruction but also making them, probably, useless as offensive weapons.

However, nuclear weapons may have political efficacy in at least two respects.

First, regardless of their value as offensive weapons, nuclear weapons have an indisputable defensive significance in deterring attacks on nuclear powers. Nuclear weapons, for example, helped to ensure that the Cold War remained ‘cold’, and the possession of nuclear weapons by states such as North Korea helps to explain why intervention against such regimes is almost unthinkable.

Second, new generations of ‘battlefield’, or ‘tactical’, nuclear weapons may be usable in a way that traditional, strategic nuclear weapons were not. Potentially, they could therefore be instruments of offensive warfare.

The chances of this are greater when nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of rogue states or terrorist groups, which may have fewer scruples about their use compared with national governments.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s