War on Terror or Terror Wars: The Problem in Defining Terrorism

28 Pages Posted: 23 May 2010 Last revised: 1 Sep 2012

Date Written: 2009


The absence of an internationally accepted definition of terrorism has led to international lawlessness and unilateral vigilantism. The post 9/11 War on Terror resulted from the longstanding failure of the international community to agree on a definition of terrorism, which in turn has intensified the war of terrors between the two sides. From the viewpoint of one side, this is a justified (unilaterally, because this side has capability to move and manage military might and resources) War on Terror to protect human rights, freedoms, civilization and the (self-styled) global rule of law. This side has labeled its War on Terror a just war by definition, defocusing a possible response mechanism to address the very real problem of international terrorism. The method of this War on Terror by the coalition of willing nations against insurgents and failed states will lead to likely forfeiture of sovereign equality, hot pursuits of terrorists under the claim of international rule of law without proper application of the UN charter, and so-called justified preventive war and regime change without regard to the interests and human rights of the people of weak or failed states. The result is a fiercely proclaimed or professed new international law and order. On the other side, weak or failed states and stateless actors view terror as a justified response to a history of terrorism (a series of events resulting in victimization by domination, colonization, hegemonization, and the silencing of dissent). In order to avoid such a division and debate, the definition of terrorism needs to include the terrorist activities conducted not only by the failed or likely to be failed states and scattered non-state actors, but also should include the terrorist activities engaged in by the powerful states. This inclusive approach in defining terror has the potential to create an international acceptability to the definition of terrorism. At the same time, this approach will provide an objective standard for all state and non-state actors to use in response to the problem of terrorism. Such a clear and inclusive standard might suffer from the lack of traditional enforcement mechanisms in international law; however, it will provide a legal basis for international consensus to criticize and to pressure a country or a group that engages in terrorist activities.

Keywords: Terrorism Definition, International Law, UN, Terrorism Treaties

Suggested Citation

Acharya, Upendra D., War on Terror or Terror Wars: The Problem in Defining Terrorism (2009). Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Vol. 37, No. 4, 2009, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1613254

Upendra D. Acharya (Contact Author)

Gonzaga University - School of Law ( email )

721 N. Cincinnati Street
Spokane, WA 99220-3528

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics