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In order to stand in good stead while attempting to answer the question, if direct military action is the best course of action while dealing with terrorism, it would be pertinent to first understand the origins of terrorism, what it means, its causes and types, before delving into exploring how best to deal with it. In the world of international relations a plethora of terrorism definitions exist. The word terrorism is derived from the word "terror" which according to the Oxford English dictionary means "A policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted..." After the September 11th bombings in the United States of America the phenomenon of terrorism has generated massive public attention and seems to be present in the everyday life of the common man through an ever increasingly complex web of communication interdependency that exists in our contemporary society.

We can trace the origins of terrorism back to the Jewish revolt against alien rule (66 - 71 AD). Efforts to emancipate the Jewish people were championed by groups known as the Zealots and the Sicarri (dagger men) the later was known by that name because of their choice of weapons (Lutz and Lutz 2008: 80). In order to effectively expel their Roman rulers they first had to convince their kin to support the rebellion. In the course of trying to garner this required support they undertook different courses of actions which included kidnapping prominent persons to use as leverage in bargaining for the release of their comrades held captive. They also used public assassinations of Roman sympathizers with the aim of intimidating the populace into giving their support for their cause (ibid). During the 7th century a group of Shi'a Muslims known as Assassins stabbed to death prominent and religious individuals who they thought were impeding the progress of their cause which at that time was to preserve the traditional values of Islam (Hough 2008: 69). At about the 11th century in India a group known as Thugs was active and was known to strangle their victims all in the name of their allegiance to the goddess Kali who it was said required that they kill and nourish her with blood (Sterba 2003:2). An equally interesting time to note while tracing the origin of terrorism is 1793 to 1794 in France, in order to describe this period a British statesman and philosopher known as Edmund Burke coined the word "terrorism", the period was otherwise known as regime de la terreur or reign of terror in English (Martin 2006:7). This period in France saw a Jacobin dominated government use the spread of terror as a means to further its revolutionary goals; thousands of people perceived to be enemies of the Republic were executed by guillotine. The reign of terror caused the execution of about 40,000 people and the deaths of about 200,000 political prisoners by starvation and diseases (ibid).

In more recent times, the 1800s industrial revolution in England brought about huge economic changes, one of those changes was the loss of textile jobs. This loss precipitated the formation of a group known as the Luddites. This group was made up of English workers who objected to the social and economic transformations experienced during this period especially since it threatened their livelihood. In response to this threat the Luddites sabotaged textile factories and machines that mass produced products that they would have otherwise produced by hand. The People's Will was a Russian group made up of students that hated the Czarist regime of the late 19th century and sought to force a governmental change by attempting to expose the weakness of the government. Some of their tactics included shootings, knifings and bombings. They successfully assassinated Czar Alexander II by detonating a bomb on the 1st of March 1881. It is very important to note that like contemporary terrorism these terrorist movements were guided by nationalist, religious or political convictions and in most cases sought public attention for their respective causes.

A universally acceptable definition of terrorism is lacking in the world of international relations, however we have numerous definitions, with each trying to explain the nature of this phenomenon. The reason for this seemingly difficult task of creating a unanimously accepted definition might not be unconnected to the fact that the word means different things to different people. For some people terrorism means acts of violence carried out by groups against states, for others it means states oppressing its own citizens and for some it may mean warlike acts of one state against another (Chaliand and Blin 2007:12). The presence of this clash of views does not stop countries, private and public organizations as well as members of the academia from trying to define terrorism.

The British define terrorism as "the use or threat, for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause, of action which involves serious violence against any person or property". In Germany terrorism is "enduringly conducted struggle for political goals, which are intended to be achieved by means of assaults on the life and property of other persons, especially by means of severe crimes"(Martin 2006:46). Walter Riech and Brian Jenkins were quoted in Gus Martins as defining terrorism as a strategy of violence designed to promote desired outcomes by instilling fear in the public at large and the use or threatened use of force designed to bring about political change. The State Department of the United States of America defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience" (ibid:48). The common denominators in these definitions are that terrorism is illegal, premeditated, and political; it also poses a great risk to lives and properties whilst trying to influence an audience and is usually violent.

It is difficult to pinpoint one source or one universal cause of terrorism because the causes of terrorism are as complex as terrorism itself and is almost inextricably linked to the different types of terrorism we can identify. The decision of a group or individual to engage in violence can stem from various reasons which might include logical choice, collective rationality, and disaffection within an elite or lack of opportunity for political participation (ibid: 76-77). There are different forms or types of terrorism existing in our world today. Some of these types of terrorism identified by Gus Martin include State terrorism, Dissident terrorism, Religious terrorism, criminal terrorism and International terrorism (ibid: 50).

State terrorism is seen by Martin as terrorism from above. In this scenario terrorism is committed by the government against their perceived enemies whether domestic or international (ibid). In the 1980s a guerrilla counter-revolutionary Nicaraguan group known as Contras was alive in Honduras much to the displeasure of the Honduras government who carried out measures to repress them. Some of these measures included the establishment of a death squad known as Battalion 3-16 which was alleged to have been responsible for the disappearance of hundreds of people. In the same period of the 1980s a Marxist revolutionary movement fought to overthrow the United States backed government of El Salvador. In response to this the El Salvador government worked together with death squads such as ORDEN and White Hand, the resultant effect was numerous atrocities committed against civilians (ibid:110).

On the international scene Libya has been implicated in various terrorist incidents some of which include the 1985 Rome and Vienna airport attacks, the bombing of the La Belle Discotheque in Berlin in 1986, the Pan Am flight 103 bombing in 1988 and the support of the Liberation of Palestine General Command and the Abu Nidal Organization. It has also been alleged that the Soviet Union created the Patrice Lumumba Peoples Friendship University of Moscow for the purpose of creating a recruitment ground for future leaders of Marxist thinking nationalist and extremist movements. As if to vindicate this veracity the Venezuelan, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez also known as Carlos the Jackal attended this university (ibid:117).

Dissident terrorism in contrast to State terrorism is seen by Martin as terrorism " from below committed by non State movements and groups against governments, ethno-national groups, religious groups, and other perceived enemies" (Ibid:50). All over the world we experience dissident terrorism. In the 1960s a Marxist group of young idealist middle class rebels known as Tupamaros sought the redistribution of wealth and political power in Uruguay. In trying to achieve their aim they adopted measures that were geared towards forcing the government to take repressive actions that would eventually lead to a mass revolt. Part of this strategy included bank robbery, bomb explosions and kidnapping for ransom. In 1972 they successfully kidnapped the British ambassador to Uruguay Sir Geoffrey Jackson (ibid: 152). In the United Kingdom acts of dissident terrorism were present especially in the Northern Ireland conflict which ended in 1999.

Religious terrorism is "terrorism motivated by an absolute belief that an otherworldly power has sanctioned and commanded the application of terrorist violence for the greater glory of the faith" (ibid: 50). History is replete with violent acts carried out in the name of protecting religion. The Christian crusades which started about 1095 saw Christians zealously engaged in violence with the aim of capturing the holy lands from their current occupiers whom at that time were mostly Muslims and were called Saracens. The central fuel that stoked the flames of violence was the promise of Pope Urban II that fighting and dying in the name of the cross would guarantee a place in heaven as well as remission of all sins for those who survived. The battle cry of the crusaders; Dues lo volt (God wills it) seems to have encapsulated the spiritual correctness of the violent acts carried by the crusaders. The effect of the crusades was the massacre of thousands of Muslims, Jews and orthodox Christians (ibid: 192-194). Some other historical examples are the Thugs and Assassins earlier mentioned.

Religious terrorism in our modern era has achieved central focus on the international stage because of its increased frequency, scale and reach. Uganda in 1987 experienced a share of religious terrorism in the form of the Holy Spirit Mobile force led by Alice Lakwena who claimed to be led by the Holy Spirit to rid Uganda of witchcraft and superstition. She anointed her followers with holy oil to guard them from being killed by bullets and led them against the Museveni led Ugandan government who slaughtered them. In that same country Josef Kony reorganized the group with the aim of defeating the government and installing a society that would be pure and governed according to the biblical Ten Commandments. The new group became known as The Lords Resistance Army. In the course of trying to achieve this dream and with bases in the neighboring country of Sudan the group committed different atrocities, they killed thousands, burned downed villages, committed mass rape, abducted children and turned boys into child soldiers and their female counter parts into sex slaves called Bush wives. The lord's resistance army is alleged to have been responsible for the abduction of about 30,000 children and the displacement of many more Ugandan families (Ibid: 196-197).

Criminal terrorism is "terrorism motivated by sheer profit or some amalgam of profit and politics" (Ibid: 50). The lines between strictly criminal organizations and terrorist networks are becoming increasingly blurred. It has often been noticed that terrorist groups get involved in crime as a means of funding their movements while traditionally criminal enterprises carry out terrorist acts with the aim of creating an enabling environment to foster their illicit businesses. Groups like Hezbollah and Hamas have been alleged to have been involved in drug trafficking as a means of supporting their movement financially.

In countries like Italy and the United States of America organizations like La Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, the camorra and N'drangheta have at different times engaged in terrorist activities with the sole aim of furthering their illegal business either by influencing government policies or deterring whomever might chose to disrupt their easy flow of business (ibid 326-327).

In 1983 the Camorra assassinated a journalist who had written articles criticizing organized crime. In 1992 the Sicilian Mafia assassinated the chief prosecutor in Palermo, Sicily while an anti-Mafia judge was dramatically killed by a bomb in Sicily by the Sicilian Mafia in 1992. In July 2000 the N'drangheta assassinated a Calabrian provisional official (ibid).

International terrorism is "terrorism that spills over onto the world stage" (Ibid: 50). International terrorism can be said to have occurred when the psychological and political effects of acts carried out by a terrorist goes beyond a purely domestic issue. Globalization has made it easier for terrorists to amplify the effects of their actions across numerous boarders in a matter of seconds through the use of sophisticated media technologies available in the world today. This has the effect of drawing international attention to whatever cause the terrorists are aiming to achieve. On the opposite side when terrorists limit acts of violence to a domestic environment they often do not generate much attention globally as their actions are normally viewed as domestic political issues which intervening in would amount to the erosion of the sovereignty of whichever state the terrorist are terrorizing. In order to internationalize a cause targets chosen by terrorists are either outside their domestic boarders or targets within their domestic boarders that are of international significance such as diplomats, embassies, tourist or foreign business men and women(ibid: 269-275).

During the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s and 1980s the Shi'a Muslim group known as Hezbollah was alleged to have carried out numerous terrorist acts against targets with international profiles under different names such as Islamic jihad, Organization of the Oppressed and the Revolutionary Justice Organization. Some of these acts included bombing the United States Embassy in Beirut, attacking the French and US peacekeeping forces in Beirut as well as kidnapping of non-Lebanese Nationals like an envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury and a CIA station chief (ibid: 275).

A variety of options are available to policy makers in their dealings with terrorism. The complex nature of terrorism makes it difficult to apply one solution towards solving all terrorist related problems. The context with which counter terrorism is viewed can go a long way in determining the particular set of options available for use when dealing with terrorism. Different scholars have written about different ways of considering options available when dealing with terrorism. Gus Martin made allusions to a continuum that has hard line and soft line responses at either end; the hard line option entails the use of force while the soft line options include things like diplomacy, social reforms, compromise, legal approach and even doing nothing (ibid: 476).

Hard line options allow policy makers to use arms against terrorists in different forms.

Suppression campaigns: these are military strikes at targets linked to terrorism and could come in a reactionary or preemptive form. The aim of this strategy is to cripple or completely wipe of the terrorists in question. A good example of this is OPERATION PEACE FOR GALILEE. This operation carried out by Israeli armed forces in 1982 saw the invasion and eventual occupation of Lebanon (southern Lebanon) by Israel with the aim of uprooting the group known as Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The operation was deemed successful as it removed the PLO from the South of Beirut however the invasion and occupation is not unconnected to the rise of anti-Israeli sentiments and resistance in that region which became embodied in different organizations including Hezbollah (ibid: 482)

Covert operations: these also involve the use of arms but unlike suppressive campaigns are more secretive and are carried out by specialized units of a state's military or paramilitary. The purpose of this form of response is the same as above but on a lower scale. They often involve extraordinary renditions, assassinations, sabotage and other forms of semi legal activities. The downside of this kind of operation is that most actions carried out under this form of response are at best controversial and thus explains the secretive nature with which they are normally carried out. An example of a covert operation occurred in 1973 by a covert Israeli unit known as the wrath of God. They were responsible for finding and assassinating the Black September terrorists in Europe and the Middle East after the 1972 Olympics. The operation was not without innocent casualties as a North African waiter was mistakenly shot death in the process (ibid: 485-487).

Soft line options unlike is opposite do not entail the use of arms in dealing with terrorism but like its counterpart it also comes in different forms such as Legal approaches, diplomacy and intergovernmental cooperation.

Legalistic options: these are legal measures created by States to aid in their dealings with terrorism from a criminal perspective. Examples of these measures are as follows:

Prohibiting membership of certain organizations: this literally means criminalizing membership of perceived terrorist group. In the 1970s the Government of United Kingdom made it a punishable offense to be a member of the IRA. This measure led to the creation of a legal political arm of IRA known as the Sinn Fein (Hough 2008:82).

Trial without jury: in the 1970s United Kingdom waved the jury system of trial and instituted a system known as the Diplock courts to avoid the growing problem of jury members being intimidated against finding members of the IRA guilty (ibid).

Emergency legislations: in the wake of serious terrorism problems governments might be forced to enact legislations that empower them to bypass the normal legal norms. On the 26th of October 2001 President George Bush signed the PATRIOT ACT into law. Some of the provisions of this act enabled the United States government to detain terrorist suspects for longer periods of time without charge and evade the privacy of both US citizens and foreigners in the US through "wire taps" and "email taps" (Martin 2006: 514).

Diplomatic options: these options seek to secure counter terrorist aims by use of what Martin describes as "channels of communication". These channels can differ from direct talks with perceived terrorist organizations to diplomatic moves that aim to influence States that can effect change with regards to the particular terrorist problem being tackled. The Israeli - Palestinian peace process of President Clinton's administrations and the Northern Ireland Peace Process are typical examples.

Compromise: as the word implies this is a diplomatic situation of "give and take". It is normally more convenient for States to present a public persona that does not under any circumstance negotiate with terrorist as conceding to the demands of terrorists is believed to embolden rather deter them from more terrorist action. History has shown that this hard line non negotiable stance is not always true as States do negotiate compromises with terrorist organizations. The hostage case of TWA flight 847 in June 1985 is a good example as the hostage situation ended when the United States was able to persuade the Israeli government to release about 700 hundred Shi'a prisoners (ibid: 501-505).

Intergovernmental cooperation: states often cooperate with the aim of reducing the scourge of terrorism. In the 1960s and 1970s the United Nations conventions outlawing skyjacking and hostage taking was ratified as a result of intergovernmental cooperation. In 1993 resolution 864 of the security council of the United Nations was instrumental to bringing UNITA to the negotiation table through concerted travel bans, arms embargo and financial restrictions. Even in the face of these successes intergovernmental cooperation still suffers hitches for instance the success of sanction against UNITA influenced the sanctions placed against Al-Qa'ida but this can be argued not to be have been as successful as the former. Extradition of political criminals is still problematic and Interpol investigations are hard to achieve because states differ on who is a terrorist and who is not. The failure of the United Nations Madrid summit to bring about and agreed definition of terrorism explains that intergovernmental cooperation on the issue of terrorism leaves more to be desired (Hough 2008: 85-86).

Is direct military action the best way to deal with the problem of terrorism?

The nature of terrorism makes it difficult to answer the above question. The use of military force as an option against terrorism has recorded successes like in the case of the United States war against Afghanistan in 2002. The use of force in this case was able to remove key support for the Al-Qa'ida network and also eliminate some members of the network. Although the military action was deemed successful it did not completely wipe out Al-Qa'ida neither did it stop them from carrying out terrorist activities (ibid: 86-87). "Operation Peace for Galilee" might have been seen as a success since it achieved its main objective at the time however it contributed more problems by emboldening the Hezbollah; the "Wrath of God" has it one successes and controversies.

In trying to decide the best course of action when dealing with terrorism, it is important to know that while military action might record success in some cases. Is might not deter determined, suicidal terrorists. The recent bombing that occurred on the 27th of December in the Anbar province of Iraq killing at least nine people and wounding forty others stands as a testament that military action might not always extinguish terrorism. Bearing that in mind it might be right to assume that a case by case basis for analyzing and deciding the best courses of counter terrorism might be of more value as against the assumption that military action would solve all cases.


Chaliand .G and Blin .A. (editors)(2007). The History of Terrorism from Antiquity to Al Qaeda, University of California Press: London

Hough P (2008). Understanding Global Security (2nd edition), Routledge: Oxon

Lutz J.M, Lutz B.J (2008). Global Terrorism (2nd edition), Routledge: Oxon

Martin G (2006). Understanding Terrorism (2nd edition), Sage publications: London.

Sterba J (2003). Terrorism and International Justice, Oxford University Press: New York (Last accessed on 11/01/2011)