International Law, the United States, and the Non-Military 'War' Against Terrorism

Posted: 16 Jul 2008

See all articles by Sean D. Murphy

Sean D. Murphy

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: April 2003


Considerable attention is focused on the use of military force as a means of combating terrorism, whether it be in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere However, the more dominant means for combating terrorism worldwide lies in non-forcible measures undertaken by states. In this realm, states that might otherwise be inclined to pursue unilateral action, such as the United States, are forced to pursue cooperative strategies that rely considerably on international law and international institutions. This essay briefly assesses various non-military initiatives undertaken by the United States - including criminal litigation and the imposition of economic sanctions on states and terrorist groups - so as to consider the broader question of whether, and if so how, international law and institutions are conditioning the behaviour of the United States. It demonstrates that, for various issues, US policy-makers and courts use international law and institutions as a means of advancing US interests, and suggests that in doing so US behaviour is affected by the expectations of the global community as embodied in international legal norms.

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Sean D., International Law, the United States, and the Non-Military 'War' Against Terrorism (April 2003). European Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, Issue 2, pp. 347-364, 2003, Available at SSRN:

Sean D. Murphy (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

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