U.S. Counterterrorism Policy and Superpower Compliance with International Human Rights Norms

19 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2007 Last revised: 6 Feb 2015

See all articles by Kenneth Anderson

Kenneth Anderson

American University - Washington College of Law

Date Written: February 1, 2007


This essay, originally prepared for a symposium on Guantanamo and international law, provides an brief overview of the elements that a comprehensive US counterterrorism should encompass. This overview is set against the question of how the US, as the world's superpower, ought to address its international law obligations. The essay then sets that question against the still-further question of what it means to be the superpower in a world that some believe is gradually evolving into a multipolar world, but which is currently a world of a conjoined US-international global system of security.

The essay defends the concept of counterterrorism as strategically best understood as war and rejects the concept of counterterrorism as mere law enforcement. Yet it also rejects the Bush administration's view that the war on terror is at all times and places a war in the legal sense of international humanitarian law. It points out that the most important strategic activities of counterterrorism - and its legal regulation - today lie in matters that are neither law enforcement nor actual war - in intelligence gathering, surveillance, detention, interrogation, and the use of force in abduction and targeted killing outside the scope of either criminal arrest or war in the strict legal sense. Those are the areas where policy ought in fact to be debated, including its legal and human rights aspects; these are the matters in which there are vast lacunae in law and policy.

The essay speaks against au courant liberal realism, arguing that not only is it morally wrong, but that its current version disingenously seeks to have its cake and eat it too - to apply hard realism to United States policy, but then salving its idealist conscience by appealing to the international community to act in idealist ways that it knows it cannot and will not. Finally, the essay warns against the post-Bush administration return to early-Clinton era meek multilateralism that, while apparently conciliatory and cooperative with allies and others on many issues, is simply cover for political passivity.

Keywords: national security court, counterterrorism court, counterterrorism, terrorism, Bush administration, realism, idealism, liberal realism, Guantanamo, superpower, multipolar, unipolar, multilateralism, war on terror

JEL Classification: K10, K33, K42

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Kenneth, U.S. Counterterrorism Policy and Superpower Compliance with International Human Rights Norms (February 1, 2007). Fordham International Law Journal, Vol. 30, No. 455, February 2007, American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2008-76, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1002668

Kenneth Anderson (Contact Author)

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics