Thursday, June 25, 2015

Terrorism under Westphalian Foreign Policy

In my previous two posts on what I call Westphalian foreign policy I've skirted around the issue of modern terrorism and focused mainly on more conventional types of conflict. However, one can read between the lines and conclude that I'm excluding terrorism from the rules of engagement progression, which means that terrorism, at least the sort we are currently dealing with, is not part of anything I'd call a "war". Let me explain why.

Terrorism could potentially be included in "special operations warfare" because the tactics involve small units operating undercover attacking specific targets and then fading away. However I made it clear we should be categorizing a conflict based on the method of conflict resolution. Tactics are a secondary criterion. The terrorism strategy attempts to change an opponent's behavior through violence and the threat of violence. This puts it in either the conventional or total war categories, as these are the only two which attempt to change the opponent's mind. It is clearly not conventional warfare, as there is no attempt to take territory and force a decision by direct control. Therefore terrorism would potentially fit under the category of total war because it is a direct attack on civilians in an attempt to change the political stance of the enemy.

However, all of the four categories must also fill another criterion if they are to be considered for the progression in the first place: they must be conflicts between governments of states. If a state used terrorism then it would be an immediate escalation to total war and total war would be justified in defense. However the type of terrorism we are currently dealing with is not perpetrated by a government, but rather international Islamic organizations. This means there is no target for a state to attack and no potential for conflict resolution by attacking a specific state. We cannot solve this problem by attacking other countries, because countries are not perpetrating it, at least not directly. In the years since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I should think we have learned this lesson. If we want to attack foreign governments for harboring or aiding terrorists, that would define those conflicts as war, but we have not been very good about defining the nature of those types of conflicts. Harboring or aiding an international terrorist organization should be considered a minor offense by a foreign country, regardless of the number or type of casualties we've sustained due to terrorist attacks. The vast majority of the time conventional or total war would not be an appropriate response, as these levels of the progression are primarily reserved for use against territorial aggression and direct state action. Special operations warfare is the clear response, and in recent years we have used this method very well. But let us not forget that if we are engaging in special ops warfare against a state, then that is one thing. The targets should be state targets; the success of the mission defined by damage dealt to an enemy state's ability to support of terrorism. If special operations are used directly against the terrorist organization itself, it does not count as war and falls under a different category.

This may seem like splitting hairs, but I believe it's very important for the success of a policy to carefully define one's terms, define the goals of the mission and define what "success" means in those terms. If the target is a state, then the success or failure of the mission must be defined in terms of the enemy state. Can the enemy state's ability to support a terrorist organization be reduced or eliminated by the operation? If we honestly ask this question, it becomes obvious that in most cases the answer will be "no". I will leave the possibility open that the answer might in some cases be "yes", but the default attitude towards this type of operation should be extreme skepticism. The situation is less ambiguous if the state directly participates in a terrorist act. If the Islamic State, for instance, directly attacks the United States using suicide bombings or the like, that is an immediate escalation directly to total war and total war in response would be completely justified. But an international organization like Al Qaeda is not such a simple situation. As we've seen, they can simply disperse and relocate. It becomes impossible to consider war as an effective response when it would be required against all the states currently harboring terrorist elements.

So I intend to treat terrorism, specifically Islamic terrorism of the Al Qaeda strain, as outside the definition of "war" because it is not perpetrated by a state. I have attempted to explain why, at the risk of alienating many conservatives, I do not believe terrorism counts as war nor should efforts against it be pursued as if it were a war. It certainly should not be called a "war". I have been very critical of Obama's foreign policy, but Obama campaigned vigorously on the idea that terrorism should be treated as a law enforcement problem. The only difference between my view and Obama's is that Obama clearly means to treat it as an "international law" enforcement problem when there is no such thing as international law. Terrorism should be treated as an international, law enforcement problem, if you catch my meaning. It is a law enforcement problem for our country that requires international action.

I have read and respect Andrew C. McCarthy's opinion on this. He vigorously argues for the war footing. He is a lawyer attempting to use the war footing to skirt around legal problems. I am a theorist attempting to explain how we should go about engaging in successful conflict resolution. There is a problem with our legal system if it does not allow us to prosecute international criminals in a timely or just manner. This is a major problem if it exists, and it needs to be fixed, but using war as a shortcut around a legal problem will not fix the legal problem nor the immanent problem. We must consider whether war has the potential to resolve the issue on its own terms and not immediately assume it can just because certain things are allowed under the war footing that would not be allowed under the law. This is a perfect example of what I've been saying all along about the U.S. understanding of war. We tend to view war as potentially the solution to every problem, because every problem is primarily a question of how to use absolute power over human action when there is no absolute power over human action. We think war represents the maximum capability we can direct towards a problem, and therefore when other methods fail for whatever reason, we automatically begin to consider war as a solution without understanding that war has its own natural limits for conflict resolution, just as every other method. My primary purpose in outlining Westphalian foreign policy is to remind everyone that war has its own limits. It is not guaranteed to solve every problem, nor is it an appropriate solution for every problem. War is a tool in our toolbox, and we should use it as we use every other tool: for its purpose. War is a method of conflict resolution between states. If states are not in direct conflict, it is not a war, regardless of what we wish to call it or what we wish to do. Using the methods of war to solve a conflict that is not a war is a recipe for failure and frustration. If we have a legal problem with prosecuting terrorists, a problem Mr. McCarthy expertly outlines, then that legal problem must be fixed, or we will end up spinning our wheels.

Now that's whack.