Naming Names: The Prudence, Propriety and Potential Ramifications of Employing 'Terrorist' Nomenclature for Militant Separatists in Eastern Ukraine
27 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2016 Last revised: 23 Jan 2016
Date Written: January 16, 2016
The term "terrorism" carries with it significant connotations. It may unite governments and peoples against a common foe. It can trigger specific legal mechanisms, created to deal with a unique threat. It may appropriately label the conduct of a specific individual or group. However, it may also serve to alienate and strengthen those who are enemies of the state, regardless of the propriety of their actual conduct. In short, it is a very loaded term. This paper asks whether militant separatists in eastern Ukraine are appropriately labelled as terrorists. From a positivist, state-centric perspective, labelling the militants at terrorists is a wholly reasonable proposition. The elements of the Ukrainian definition are met, as are those of the Russian definition. Many of the acts arguably meet regional and international definitions and even most of the more theoretical approaches. Yet such definitions are almost invariably subject to criticism both in their lack of specificity (or alternatively their limited inclusivity) and in their uneven application. Far more concerning, however, is the extension of the terrorist rubric to all separatists. It is not clear that such application is definitionally accurate, or, more importantly, a step that will assist in addressing the violence in the Ukraine, particularly where the end goal is to ameliorate the threat. Delineating between discrete acts of terrorism and the broader separatist movement seems a wise course, unless and until there is no question that 'terrorist' attacks are part of a coordinated strategy by particular groups of separatists. At that point, distinguishing between those specific groups and the broader separatist movement would again be prudent.
Keywords: defining terrorism, state responses to terrorism, Ukraine, Crimea
JEL Classification: K14, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation