The human being throughout his existence has been witness and protagonist of the struggle between good and evil. History illustrates from different perspectives how man has evolved and has become a being of knowledge, ideals and interests. When these are not fulfilled or satisfied, different mechanisms are established to obtain them.
In this context, terrorism is not a new phenomenon, it has been used either to exercise the power of the State in an excessive way or to claim interests in a violent way when groups of different kinds have felt threatened or affected. Psychological imbalance is not a critical factor in explaining terrorism, nor is an angry mob. Rather, it is a phenomenon linked to important political situations in different periods of history.
Thucydides, the father of scientific historiography, i.e. a history based on the collection of facts with evidence and cause and effect analysis, in his chronicles of the Peloponnesian Wars already describes the historical facts of a struggle for interests between two Greek polis; he thus germinates basic concepts of international relations and security.
According to the contractualist theory, men pass from the “state of nature” to a “state of society”, this is explained by a “contract” signed between the members of a society and its State, in which they accept the limitation of their liberties in exchange for a legal system that guarantees their survival and coexistence in that same society. The conditions and characteristics of these relationships are clearly explained in each of the approaches given by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. Thus, the State provides security, among other things, in exchange for the limitation of freedoms and compliance with laws.
Mariano César Bartalomé, PhD in international relations, in his article The modern state facing the challenge of an international security scenario with post-Westphalian characteristics, writes:
The concept of security must be understood from a double meaning: as a “state of things” and as “action” tending to its achievement. In the first case, it is an ideal situation that is presented as a negative goal, characterized in simplified form by an “absence of threats”, in reference to potential factors of plausible harm, beyond the existence -or not- of a hostile will that wants to materialize them. In other words, without distinguishing between threats per se or mere risks, as military doctrines tend to discriminate. The second meaning, meanwhile, refers to the set of measures and policies leading to this ideal situation (Bartolomé, Estudios en Seguridad y Defensa 3(5): 8-13, 2008).
In this context, the State can contribute to a perception of security or can act to obtain it. Now, the question arises whether this perception and action can take place inside and outside the State, and the obvious answer is yes, but a tenuous line is generated between the internal and the external, which has generated two interrelated concepts that provide this public good: security and defense.
The political constitutions of most of the States determine that their internal control is carried out by the police forces under the concept of “security”; and that the control of external threats against their sovereignty is carried out by the armed forces through “defense”.
There are countless academic discussions on this subject, as well as various laws and instruments that operationalize the concepts of security and defense in each country. Compliance with these laws, regulations and norms determine the rule of law, which can be defined as follows:
In its simplest meaning, it is the State subject to law, that is, the State subject to the all-encompassing action of the law, in the manner proclaimed 200 years ago by the American constitutionalists when they spoke of government of law and not of men, or postulated by the French revolutionaries who, inspired by the ideas of encyclopedism, affirmed that il n’y a point en France d’autorité supérieure a celle de la loi (there is no authority in France superior to that of the law). (Borja, Encyclopedia of Politics, 2018)
Defense in most cases is circumscribed to interstate actors, but others of a non-state nature arise, but with the capacity to attack states, their societies and inhabitants. This is the case of terrorism and its scale of violence with which they seek to achieve their political ends. To what extent does this state threat go beyond the capabilities of the police forces and their equipment and fall into the state response with the capabilities of the military forces? What do the constitutions of each country say on the subject of exceeding the capabilities of the police forces? What is the nature, the doctrine, the equipment of the police and military forces in each country? What regulations exist with those supranational, regional organizations that observe this relationship and the impact that sovereign decisions produce in the rest of the countries? All these questions must be resolved before attempting to analyze the best response to the terrorist threat within the framework of the rule of law.
Another controversial issue is the risk that, even in compliance with the norm, there may be cases of securitization in which constitutional rights and guarantees are violated. The concept of securitization has been refined over time and can be defined as:
The positioning through speech or discursive acts (usually uttered by a political leader), of a particular situation or actor as a threat to the survival of a referent object and that, once legitimized by a relevant audience, enables the imposition of emergency measures outside the traditional political channels. (Alcalá, Alejandro, American Invasion of Iraq: The Securitization of Conflict, www.geic.cm.ar, 2016).
In the event that the securitization is inappropriate, it is possible that one of the most sacred values in democracy such as freedom is violated by anti-terrorist policies, in which any citizen is presumed to be a terrorist. This is the origin of the concept of confronting the terrorist threat with democratic values, because when the response is fragile there is the risk of having a failed State, and when the response is excessive it could generate the characteristics of an authoritarian State, configuring with these possibilities, the sufficient reason and justification for the actions of terrorism. On the other hand, confronting it legally and complying with the precepts of a liberal democracy allows the protection of citizens’ rights and freedoms not to be violated and to act in accordance with the law.
To analyze the ideal type of response, whether with the police forces, their intelligence and judicial means or with the power of the military forces, it will be necessary to go back to the terrorist waves of Rapoport – Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of California – and specifically to the third or so-called “New Left” (Rapoport, 2004, p.58), where guerrilla groups were generated that created a gray zone not only between them and terrorism, but also in the response that the States should have.
In the case of the armed groups that were considered terrorists in South America, most of them were groups with lethal, high caliber weapons, normally used in conventional warfare between States. As a result, the function of citizen control exercised by the police was overwhelmed and two scenarios were created: the first was the militarization of the police and the second involved the armed forces with their military power. In both cases there were excesses, but the final solution to these problems was not the type of response, but rather the loss of motivation and reason of these groups, which, without having fulfilled their objectives, stopped receiving external support with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.
Therefore, the States had the opportunity to live in both scenarios and their way of responding had to be proportional to the level of the threat, being this the first factor that should be taken into account, to analyze if it was a crime with its respective judicial response and police forces, or if it was a threat in which the military forces had to act. Acting without adequately assessing the threat would result in mission failure or excessive use of force.
A second factor would be the type of legislation that determines the configuration of a crime or the violation of the sovereignty of each country. Acting outside the constitutional framework will always bring disadvantages and no benefit or advantage to the type of response.
The third factor that could be analyzed within this wave is the permeability of the effect of the new left across the borders of each country and the designation as an insurgent, guerrilla or terrorist group. This led to the expansion of the terrorist phenomenon, because the legislation of some countries allowed them to become rest, training or logistical activity zones. When the threat becomes regional and worse global, response strategies must be to the same extent, so that efforts are not isolated. If isolated responses occur, they will work against the solution to the terrorist problem.
In summary, the nature of the threat, the scope of the laws and the political decision will determine whether the terrorist problem is a crime or a violation of the sovereignty of each country, and will decide the type of police or military force that will restore the perception of security to society.
By way of conclusion, there is no recipe for determining the type of anti-terrorist struggle in the 21st century, what is clear is that a weak response, or an excessively strong one that is not framed within the rule of law, will have serious implications for States, starting with the justification of the terrorist act. If police or military forces are used, they must be prepared, trained and indoctrinated to be as flexible as the threat requires; that is, when it comes to the defense of the State, the exercise of the monopoly of force framed within the respective laws is the way to solve the terrorist problem. It will be the State that will attend to the needs, interests and aspirations of each people, but it will be the State itself that will provide them with security as a public good.
Rapoport, D. C. (2004). The four waves of insurgent terror and September 11. In F. Reinares and A. Elorza (Eds.),
Alcalá, Alejandro, US Invasion of Iraq: The Securitization of Conflict, www.geic.cm.ar, 2016.
Borja, Rodrigo, Encyclopedia of Politics, 2018.
Bartolomé, Mariano, Estudios en Seguridad y Defensa, El Estado moderno frente al desafío de un escenario de seguridad internacional de características postwestfalianas, 2008.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government, Diálogo magazine, or its members. This Academia article was machine-translated.