Tag Archives: post-9/11

Terrorismo? Quale terrorismo? Come la comunicazione aggrava il problema della definizione

Perché è così difficile definire il terrorismo?

{Dipartimento di Studi Strategici (War Studies), King’s College London}

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]rovare una definizione per la parola ‘terrorismo’ è di certo uno dei rompicapi più impegnativi dell’epoca moderna. Tale fenomeno si manifesta all’interno di un complesso mosaico di problematiche che influiscono sul breve tempo che si ha a disposizione per poterlo valutare. Sebbene sia diventato elemento cruciale della maggior parte delle agende politiche già all’indomani dell’11 Settembre, ancora non vi è un consenso unanime circa la sua definizione. Per citare un esempio, nel secondo dibattito presidenziale Mitt Romney ha criticato aspramente il presidente Obama per non aver definito l’attacco all’Ambasciata degli Stati Uniti a Bengasi un attentato terroristico, cosa che il Presidente in carica ha fatto solo due settimane dopo lo stesso.  In maniera simile, il leader libico ad interim ha definito la vicenda come un atto di violenza criminale. I politici prima, e i media poi, si sono dimostrati riluttanti, imprecisi e vaghi nel voler far rientrare questi avvenimenti sotto l’etichetta di atti di natura terrorista. Il presente saggio presenterà dunque una parte di quello che è il dibattito intorno al problema della definizione, sebbene alcune questioni saranno omesse. Tuttavia poiché il terrorismo è strettamente collegato a motivazioni di carattere politico e a ragioni retoriche, che vanno di pari passo con l’evoluzione della comunicazione moderna, è comprensibile la difficoltà nel trovare una definizione univoca al concetto.

Alcune definizioni

Il primo passo da compiere è capire perché è così importante fornire una definizione del termine. A partire dall’11 Settembre, la parola ‘terrorismo’ è entrata a far parte sempre di più del lessico della società moderna, tanto da rievocare nell’immaginario collettivo immagini alquanto violente, di sacrificio e catastrofe. Sappiamo tuttavia comprendere ciò che è davvero il terrorismo? Molti accademici e professionisti si cimentano costantemente nella ricerca di una definizione e, allo stesso tempo, rifiutano quelle già esistenti. Walter Laqueur, che è forse il più illustre della categoria, sostiene che una definizione “non esiste e non la si troverà in un prossimo futuro.” Allo stesso modo, Jeremy Waldon e George Fletcher, in opere separate, riconoscono che ci sono troppe domande ma non risposte sufficienti. Entrambi sembrano lontani da una reale definizione e credono piuttosto che il miglior modo per capire cosa sia il terrorismo sia quello di assistere a una delle sue manifestazioni.

Anche l’Ambasciatore britannico alle Nazioni Unite pare essere sulla stessa linea d’onda. In un discorso successivo all’11 Settembre ha evitato di darne una definizione affermando, “ci dobbiamo concentrare su questo concetto: il terrorismo è il terrorismo … ciò che appare, puzza e uccide come il terrorismo è solo terrorismo.” Tuttavia, se il terrorismo viene considerato come una questione transnazionale, e non all’interno di un paradigma Stato-centrico, sostenere che ogni attacco terroristico presenti determinate caratteristiche che sono sempre evidenti, non solo è banale, ma va a discapito di ogni tentativo di progettare una strategia antiterrorista vincente.  Se, dunque, il terrorismo è una questione globale che interessa diversi Paesi, la sua definizione è di vitale importanza per capirlo e, infine, combatterlo.

È opportuno pensare che la lotta al terrorismo necessiti di una definizione, per quanto sia un’impresa molto ardua. Alex Schmid, il cui pensiero è diventato una pietra miliare all’interno del dibattito definitorio, ha posto l’accento sui “metodi derivati dall’ansia” che sono inflitti alle vittime “generalmente scelte… (bersagli di opportunità).” Un particolare interessante è che egli annovera gli attori statali all’interno della sua definizione e quindi aumenta la necessità di una classificazione in quanto non separa chi o che cosa commette gli atti di natura terrorista. In una risposta diretta a Schmid, Weinberg non include elementi di carattere psicologico all’interno della sua definizione ma pone bensì la politica come ragione principale dietro la strategia terroristica. Allo stesso modo Bruce Hoffman sostiene l’importanza delle motivazioni di carattere politico e le considera lo strumento principale per comprendere il modus operandi dei terroristi. Tuttavia, motivare che un gruppo terrorista agisca esclusivamente per ragioni politiche chiarisce solo un aspetto della questione, così come se si ignorano le motivazioni religiose o ideologiche l’ambito di analisi ne risulterà limitato. John Horgan si allontana dall’idea di Weinberg, mettendo l’accento sull’uso psicologico del ‘terrore’ che, nelle sue parole, “rivela una parte del mistero” nella comprensione del terrorismo.

 L’uso del terrore è di vitale importanza per valutare un attacco perché, come sostiene John Mueller, rompe il codice morale penale rispettato da quasi tutte le popolazioni. Pertanto, la comprensione delle potenziali tattiche e dei target individuati non solo aiuta a polarizzare attori statali e non-statali, ma permette anche una migliore comprensione dei potenziali obiettivi di un gruppo. Non vi può essere una definizione univoca ed esclusiva, ed è appropriato sostenere che il dibattito accademico aggiunge maggiore incertezza alla definizione di terrorismo. In ogni caso, se proprio si volesse utilizzare un singolo concetto esplicativo di terrorismo, questo includerebbe inevitabilmente una serie di parametri che siano in grado di valutare l’attività terroristica.

L’uso improprio del termine ‘terrorismo’

L’ambiguità del mondo accademico su come interpretare le manifestazioni del terrorismo, contribuisce a lasciare irrisolto il problema concettuale. Generalmente, il modo in cui gli attori politici e personalità influenti utilizzano tale termine, ha una valenza molto più ampia, che distoglie dal vero significato e dall’uso del sostantivo ‘terrorismo’. All’interno della sua opera provocatoria, ‘Intrappolati in una Guerra al Terrore’, Ian Lustick affronta l’argomento  ponendo l’accento su come il terrorismo è diventato il fondamento cruciale della politica di Bush. I discorsi pregni di sentimenti patriottici che rimandavano a nostalgiche emozioni di guerra, hanno aiutato a legittimare le decisioni politiche dell’ex Presidente, e a fuorviare la percezione della gente da ciò che effettivamente è il terrorismo. Si trova riscontro di quanto detto negli svariati errori commessi dall’amministrazione Bush nel tentativo di combattere una ‘guerra al terrore’.

Altrettanta confusione è riscontrata nel momento in cui il terrorismo è analizzato, o quando un attacco pare enucleare tutte ‘le caratteristiche e le sensazioni (suscitate da un atto) di terrorismo’: è in questo momento che si ricorre al termine per eludere la mancanza di consenso unanime sulla natura di un atto così violento. Le semplificazioni imposte a livello governativo sono inesorabilmente e ulteriormente aggravate dall’uso sistematico di un “allarmismo apocalittico”, in cui viene impiegata una soffocante varietà di  tattiche intimidatorie – in particolar modo negli Stati Uniti. Ad esempio, la politica concernente la Homeland Security (attività di sicurezza interna contro il terrorismo, NdT) non solo descrive solo la minaccia di terroristi in possesso di armi CBRN, ma anche la loro capacità di utilizzare queste stesse armi “da casa all’estero”. Dichiarazioni imprecise e approssimative sembrano celare altre motivazioni. Fred Kaplan ha sostenuto sulle pagine del The Guardian che “le politiche messe in atto riscuotono il massimo sostegno se sono legate alla guerra al terrorismo”. Di conseguenza, se si adopera il terrorismo in correlazione ad altri argomenti di natura politica, al fine di acquisire il sostegno dell’opinione pubblica, un problema di ordine metodologico sorge inevitabilmente: è possibile separare la realtà dalla finzione ed essere finalmente in grado di fornire una definizione precisa dell’oggetto in questione?

Il ruolo esclusivo della comunicazione

La manipolazione interpretativa dei governi sulla natura del terrorismo è aggravata dallo sviluppo di fenomeni legati alla globalizzazione e al conseguente sviluppo tecnologico che, parafrasando Manuel Castells, ha creato un “nuovo spazio di comunicazione” nei centri di potere. La diffusione di alcune idee politiche presso popolazioni e territori precedentemente estranei e geograficamente distanti, e le accresciute possibilità di comunicazione tra le comunità emigrate con la propria madrepatria, ha creato una complessa dicotomia bollata da Sir Richards come “rete globale di rivendicazioni.” La rapida crescita della tecnologia e l’esplosione dei social media hanno trasformato pareri e opinioni in uno spazio informativo virtuale. Questo permette alle persone di muoversi “rapidamente e senza fili” all’interno di un mondo virtuale. David Betz ha correttamente definito questo fenomeno come il Web 2.0, in cui tutti i vettori della società interagiscono simultaneamente e, di conseguenza, il pubblico non ricopre più il ruolo di spettatore passivo ma rappresenta invece la componente attiva del mondo dell’informazione.

Le tecnologie moderne hanno dunque fornito una potentissima piattaforma per attuare una comunicazione orizzontale attraverso un arcipelago di confini nazionali e internazionali. Se il messaggio è incorretto o fuorviante può scatenare conseguenze imprevedibili, dal momento che fornisce informazioni errate ad un’intera comunità. A tal proposito, i messaggi politici stanno diventando sempre più messaggi mediatici e hanno l’immediata capacità di influenzare tutti i campi della società. D’altro canto, la tecnologia moderna permette ai cittadini la possibilità non solo di eludere i controlli statali tradizionali, ma anche di trasmettere informazioni false. Questo è ben noto all’interno della relazione sulla tecnologia del Generale David Richards nella quale sostiene che la comunicazione moderna “si situa ben oltre la capacità dello Stato di esercitare il proprio controllo senza minacciare tutte le altre funzioni di quello stesso Stato.” Ciò nonostante, tale affermazione è vera in entrambi i sensi e pertanto i governi sono in grado di esercitare un certo grado di autonomia nell’uso dei processi mediatici moderni. Pertanto, come sostiene David Kilcullen, i fini e i mezzi che conducono allo sviluppo di fonti d’informazione si caratterizzano per una scarsa trasparenza che rende molto difficile distinguere l’origine o l’affidabilità delle fonti stesse.

Difatti, un messaggio del governo diventa immediatamente l’input per l’elaborazione dei messaggi da parte dei media, e il relativo output ricopre un ruolo cruciale nel plasmarne la definizione. Se anche il terrorismo è sottoposto a questi filtri di comunicazione, va da sé che il risultato sarà un caleidoscopico insieme di definizioni. Tali definizioni, a loro volta, vengono poi servite all’opinione pubblica, ai leader e ai soliti stereotipi sulla politica estera. A tale proposito John Horgan sostiene che per analizzare il terrorismo nel suo insieme di definizioni è necessario discostarsi dai media. Tuttavia, ottenere un tale distacco appare molto difficile poiché i governi sono i primi attori che sempre più spesso ricorrono ad un utilizzo del termine in un contesto erroneo, con i media pronti ad associarlo a questioni di carattere politico.

Conclusioni

Questo questo saggio ha preso in considerazione una varietà di fonti ma non ha proposto in alcun modo una conclusione esaustiva sul dibattito concernente il problema della definizione. Si è voluto porre l’accento sul ruolo del governo statunitense per via del suo compito esclusivo nella lotta al terrorismo, in quanto le indagini portate avanti in altri Paesi avrebbero potuto generare conclusioni molto diverse. Ad ogni modo, la cattiva informazione imposta dai governi potrebbe riferirsi ad ambiti diversi della vita di tutti i giorni, e le conseguenze della stessa sono ulteriormente aggravate dalle modalità della comunicazione moderna. In ultima analisi, questo rende ancor più arduo il tentativo di fornire una definizione precisa di terrorismo.

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Saggio tradotto da: Valentina Mecca

Articolo originale: Terrorism is Terrorism? How Communication Exacerbates the Definitional Problem

Photo Credit: bixentro

Terrorism is Terrorism? How Communication Exacerbates the Definitional Problem

Why is terrorism so difficult to define? {Department of War Studies, King’s College London}

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A definition of terrorism is arguably one of the woolliest concepts of modern discourse. Its manifestations arrive from a complex mosaic of compounding issues that affect any real brevity in assessing it. Since 9/11 it has been promoted to the forefront of most political agendas and yet no definitional consensus has followed. In the second presidential debate for example, Mitt Romney lambasted President Obama for not calling the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi a terrorist incident, of which Obama took 14 days to finally call it such. The interim Libyan leader in comparison described it as an act of criminal violence. Politicians and subsequently media organisations have been careless, imprecise and sloppy in labelling incidents as acts of terrorism. This essay will therefore, scale back from the larger definitional debate and acknowledges that issues will be omitted. However, by arguing that terrorism is wrapped up in political motivations and rhetoric in tandem with the rise of modern communication, ultimately has a greater impact in understanding why terrorism is so difficult to define.

A Definitional Overview

To argue with clarity, the first logical step is to assess why terrorism is so important to define. Since 9/11 the word ‘terrorism’ has increasingly become intertwined in today’s society, and is synonymous in creating powerful images of violence, self-sacrifice and catastrophe. However, are we any closer in understanding what constitutes it? There are many academics and professionals who not only struggle to grapple with a definition, but utterly refute any notion of needing one. Walter Laqueur, perhaps the most prominent in this category, argues that a definition “does not exist nor will it be found in the foreseeable future.” Additionally, Jeremy Waldon and George Fletcher, in separate works, acknowledge that there are too many questions and not enough answers. Both seem to deviate from any real conclusion and believe the best possible course in understanding terrorism – is to know it when you see it.

The British Ambassador to the United Nations also shares this argument. In a post 9/11 speech he shunned the attempts of a definition by stating, “let us be focused about this: terrorism is terrorism… What looks, smells and kills like terrorism is terrorism.” However, if terrorism is taken as a transnational issue and not a single state-centric paradigm, to simply say every terrorist attack has characteristics that are obvious in all instances and consistently the same, is not only trite, but affects any sort of successful counter-terrorism strategy. Therefore, if terrorism is a global affair encompassing many different countries, a definition is vitally important to understand and ultimately combat it.

It is fair to argue that a definition is imperative in combating terrorism. However, coming to that conclusion is not an easy feat. Alex Schmid has become a cornerstone in the definitional debate and arguably places significance on “anxiety-inspired methods” which are implied on victims “generally chosen… (targets of opportunity).” He interestingly includes state-actors within his definition, which further adds weight to the necessity for a classification, because it can separate who or what are committing the acts. In a direct response to Schmid, Weinberg et al conclusively found no room in their definition for psychological effects and place politics as the primary reason behind terrorist strategy. Bruce Hoffman also asserts the importance of politics and views it as the key tool in understanding terrorists modus operandi. However, viewing a terrorist group in the sole constraints of politics reveals only a partial picture, as ignoring religious or ideological motivations limits the scope of analysis. John Horgan moves away from the idea of politics by putting explicit importance on the psychological use of ‘terror’, which in his words “removes part of the mystery” in understanding terrorism.

The use of terror is vitally important in assessing an attack because, as John Mueller identifies, it breaks down the moral criminal code that almost all populations abide by. Thus, understanding the potential method and targets not only helps polarise state and non-state actors but also allows a better degree of understanding of what the potential aims of a group are. There is arguably not one definition to use and it is fair to say that the scattered academic radar adds more uncertainty to how terrorism is defined. Nevertheless, if a definition is used, it does enable a set of parameters to be implemented allowing terrorist activity to be assessed.

The Misuse of ‘Terrorism’

The understandable academic ambiguity around the manifestations of terrorism is one that will continue, however, it is arguably not the basis of why terrorism is so hard to define. The way the word is used in its entirety by political apparatuses and influential individuals has a far larger footprint in misguiding the real meaning and use of terrorism. Ian Lustick’s thought provoking book ‘Trapped in a War on Terror’ portrays this argument and crucially identifies how terrorism became the Bush administrations political foundation. Patriotic fist pumping speeches that hark back to old veteran sentiments helped legitimatise policy-making decisions and misalign people’s perceptions of what terrorism actually is. There is perhaps little to dispute with this argument especially when assessing Bush’s clay footed notion of fighting a ‘War on Terror.’

Other hazy statements seem to be in abundance when terrorism is assessed and the idea of an attack to have a ‘look and feel of terrorism’ seems to be the optimum phrase when there is no uniformity concerning a violent attack. The blurry platitudes imposed by state echelons is unrelenting and is further compounded by the systematic use of “apocalyptic alarmism” whereby a top down smothering of scare tactics is employed – specifically in the United States. Homeland Security for example, not only portrays the threat of terrorists having the capability of CBRN weapons but also the ability to use those weapons “from home and abroad.” The imprecise and often inaccurate statements seem to have other motives. Fred Kaplan, in The Guardian, believes “policies will gain maximum support if they are linked to the war on terrorism.” Therefore, if terrorism is bound up in political drives for public support it begs a very serious question whether it is possible to separate truth from fiction and thus provide an accurate definition.

Communications Unique Role

Government’s apparent manipulation of the subject nature of terrorism is compounded by mushrooming nature of globalisation and the subsequent rise of modern technology, which in Manuel Castells words has created a “new communication space” where “power is decided.” The expansion of ideas to previously untouched parts of the world and the connection of disparate communities to their home nation has created a complex dichotomy that Sir Richards labels as a “global network of grievances.” The rapid expansion in technology, and the explosion of social media sites has arguably transformed opinions and debates into a virtual, informational space. This, allows people to move “rapidly and seamlessly” within a virtual world. David Betz has aptly labelled this as Web 2.0, in which all vectors of society can interact simultaneously, and subsequently, the public are no longer passive spectators but an active cog in the informational world.

Modern technology has therefore now provided an unprecedented platform to move messages horizontally across an archipelago of national and international borders. If the message is incorrect or misleading it can have exponential consequences by smattering the population with distorted information. In that respect, a political message is increasingly becoming a media message and has the ability to influence all spheres of society instantaneously. However, on the other hand, the role of modern technology also means people can circumvent not only traditional state controls but also contrived information. This is evident with General Sir David Richards’ summary of technology where he argues modern communications “are way beyond the state’s ability to control without threatening all the other functions of that state.” However, this works on both feet and allows governments to wield a certain degree of autonomy in the use of modern media processes. Therefore, as David Kilcullen argues, the ends and means of developing sources of information have a paucity that makes it very hard to distinguish origins or accuracy.

A government message is thus now instantly input into the media and the subsequent outlets play a significant role in shaping how it is defined. If terrorism is put through these many different communication filters, the outcome is a kaleidoscopic mesh of compounding definitions. They are connected to public opinion, leader personality and the usual platitudes around foreign policy. John Horgan therefore argues, to assess terrorism in its definitional entirety; a movement away from the media process is vital. However, with governments increasingly using the term in its haziest context and media being completely associated with political issues, this arguably is not possible and subsequently affects coming to terms with a definition of terrorism.

Conclusion

To conclude, this essay has focused on a very selective variety of sources and is not by any means conclusive in bringing the definitional debate to a finish line. It has specifically focused on the US government’s role due to its unique place in combating terror and an investigation into other nations could lead to a very different argument. However, misinformation imposed by any government can arguably filter down into everyday life and is further exacerbated by the role of modern communications. This ultimately gives a larger footprint and further muddies the water in trying to come to terms with an accurate definition of terrorism.

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Photo Credit: bixentro

International Interventions Post-Cold War

A critical assessment of the evolution of international interventions in the post-Cold War era with reference to theories of international relations
{School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh}

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[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ollowing the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the substantial increase in intrastate civil conflict, it has been argued that the post-Cold War period has witnessed a significant evolution in both the justifications given for international interventions and correspondingly the characteristics of international interventions themselves. Whereas interventions in sovereign states during the Cold War were typically conceived of as being egoistic articulations of the national interest of intervening states conducted for some strategic purpose. It has been widely remarked that international interventions in the post Cold War era have been increasingly characterised by the rise of multilateral interventions justified on humanitariangrounds, where there is seemingly little discernable state interest other than moral compulsion. Nevertheless, although it is not disputed that, ‘a novel feature of the post-Cold War security agenda is how the issue of intervention for strictly humanitarian objectives, and the claim of an emergent norm of humanitarian intervention, have gained a central place in international discourse and debate’, [1] this norm is controversial. Indeed following the events of 9/11, it has been argued that the norm of humanitarian intervention (HI) has been utilised and manipulated by countries such as the United States to retrospectively justify its’ primarily unilateral actions in Iraq[2]. As a result, this essay will attempt to do three things. Firstly, it will attempt to articulate the thought behind what is considered to be the most distinctive aspect of post-Cold War era international interventions, namely the evolving norm of HI. Secondly, it will endeavour to critically assess this evolutionary claim with reference to theories of international relations, notably the realists, constructivists and post –colonialists. Thirdly and subsequently, it will attempt to conclude that the norm of HI does not represent the evolution of post-Cold War international interventions that it pertains to be. Rather, it is an idealistic justification which is somewhat of an oxymoron and is easily undermined in practice.

With the end of the Cold War and the realization of a new world order defined by US preponderance, a new phenomenon emerged in the post-Cold War era whereby there was , ‘a rash of interventions since 1989 that [looked] particularly altruistic’[3]. Unlike their previous incarnations in the Cold War, these new interventions displayed a number of characteristics which seemed to be unique and thus represented an evolution on the unilateral endeavours of the past. Driven by a need of the international community to mollify an alarming rise in ‘intrastate wars’ [4] and to find an answer, ‘to the moral challenge of what needs to be done’ [5] in such situations. A norm became prevalent in the early 90’s which justified a state or more commonly a collection of states to intervene and use military force against those states that were alleged or shown to be committing human rights violations on their own citizens. The norm of HI arose as a response from the international community and the UN to those new security challenges and situations which represented a grey area between the principle of state sovereignty and the universality of human rights. While it was articulated that, ‘in an ideal world, noncoercive efforts would produce better behaviour… states persecuting their own people are rarely responsive to peaceful gestures’ [6] and consequently, coercive international intervention was considered to be the only response to civil conflict.

Nevertheless, while the emergent norm of HI increasingly came to be seen as the distinctive representation of a progression from Cold War to post-Cold War interventions, some theorists and critics began to question this claim. While they did not dispute that, ‘idea shifts and norm shifts are the main vehicles for system transformation’ [7] and therefore that a developing norm of HI could radically change perceptions and justifications for intervention. What they did dispute is the idea that state’s own motives and interests could be somehow transcended so that nation states could be said to be acting solely from moral and altruistic concerns. Whilst for theorists such as Finnemore, ‘the 1992-93 U.S. action in Somalia was a clear case of intervention without obvious interests [because] economically Somalia was insignificant to the United States… [and] security interests [were] also hard to find’, [8] some critics disputed this claim. Rather they argued that the rising norm of HI reflected a political interest, namely the further advancement of Liberal Internationalism and therefore that there is an implicit political agenda hidden behind the seemingly philanthropic moral concern. As Dannreuther has helpfully articulated following the thought of Wheeler and Habermas:

‘it has been those who have interpreted the end of the Cold War as a strengthening and vindication of liberal internationalism, and the associated concept of human security, who have promoted humanitarian intervention as the key litmus test for the progressive development of an international solidarism, where the claims of humanity override the egoism and strategic amorality of state interest.’ [9]

Whilst the thought that there is a political and therefore intentional aspect behind the emergence of the norm of HI is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, the very fact that it has often been obscured has led many theorists from both a neo-colonial and a critical security studies perspective to question the veracity of the intervening states’ intentions.

From a liberal perspective, the emerging norm of HI represents the fulfilment of particularly liberal ideas such as human rights and freedom from persecution which are said to be inherently powerful, universal and international both in scope and resonance. However, while, ‘liberals of a more classical and Kantian type might argue that these interventions were motivated by an interest in promoting democracy and liberal values’ [10] there have been many who have criticised the notion that the emergence of the norm of HI is truly a manifestation of these so-called liberal ideas. Indeed in the realm of Critical Security Studies, theorists have, ‘condemned the practice of humanitarian intervention’ arguing that it is, ‘a smokescreen for traditional imperialist and Western geostrategic objectives’ [11]. Rather than accept that HI is borne from a concern for human security in weak or failed states, theorists such as Chomsky, echoing a realist argument, have determined that this shift towards humanitarianism is nothing but a cover for the disguise of state interest. The norm of HI may be the standard by which intervening states justify their actions but it acts as a stratagem through which states can conceal their true intentions whatever they may be. As Chomsky ruminates emphasizing the scepticism of many toward HI, ‘we can, in short, ask whether the pursuit of self-interest might happen to benefit others in particular cases, or whether unremitting public pressure might overcome the demands of the “principal architects” of policy and the interests they serve’ [12]. For Chomsky and others, the answer is open to debate. Whilst HI is often utilised by states and transnational bodies like the UN, intervention directed under the auspices of an intervening state is always liable to be driven by some ulterior motive and therefore we should not hold out hope that this emerging norm represents a true evolution.

As has been alluded to above, many theorists were quite sceptical in the early to late 90’s that the norm of HI really represented a change from what had gone before and this was derived in part from the seemingly selective way in which the international community determined which states were ripe for HI and which were not. Nevertheless, following the events of 9/11 and the U.S’s subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, these arguments become increasingly poignant as a new wave of post-colonialist thinkers brought their unique perspective to bear on events in the post-Cold War era. Writing from the perspective of the embryonic nations that were commonly intervened in by the Western powers, they were, ‘apprehensive of the new international activism and the developing norm of humanitarian intervention that could potentially threaten their sovereign status’ [13]. The post-colonialists argued that the norm of HI was not widespread but was rather a peculiarly Western conception which legitimised intervention through the dichotomy of a civilised humanitarian saviour and hopeless victim. As Ayoob has remarked, ‘the selectivity demonstrated in the choice of cases both for humanitarian intervention and the installation of international administration has had a major impact on third world perspectives on these symbiotically linked enterprises… not only has the exercise of double standards become somewhat rampant in the sphere of humanitarian intervention, it has provided the critics of such intervention with their most potent ammunition against this enterprise’ [14]. Instead of accepting that the developing norm of HI represented an evolution in the validations for international interventions, post colonialists remained pessimistic about its humanitarian overtones, reflecting that it may just be an excuse. In a post 9/11 world, where the US as the global hegemon could ostensibly intervene in states unilaterally on a whim only justifying its actions, ‘retrospectively… on humanitarian grounds’, [15] the idea that there had been an evolution in international interventions was seen as increasingly flimsy.

In light of the new security threats post 9/11, the norm of HI began to be perceived in two ways. It, ‘appeared either as parochial in the new strategic environment, or as a potentially dangerous means of legitimating interventions for other non-humanitarian purposes’ [16]. However, while many were quick to dismiss this evolutionary norm, other theorists were more forgiving and indeed reflected that although the norm of HI might be unable to be abstracted from the ideology of the nation states who constructed it, the very fact of there being a norm represented a kind of ideational evolution. Although notions of HI are undeniably Western and, ‘have been associated with Western-led ‘coalitions of the willing’ that typically brought together effective states and/or regional associations’, [17] from a constructivist perspective, this penchant toward Western values simply reflected the dominance of Westerns states and the norms they preach. Whilst post-colonialists would contend that HI has an imperialistic connotation to it due to, ‘the “standard of civilization” yardstick that was used in the nineteenth century to justify colonial subjugation’, [18] the fact of the matter is that HI is an attractive concept. Although using coercive military force for humanitarian objectives seems somewhat mutually exclusive, it has become prominent because, ‘norms held by states widely viewed as successful and desirable models are… likely to become prominent and diffuse’ [19]. As a result, while the contradictory and seemingly contingent conception of sovereignty articulated through the norm of HI is anathema to many post-colonialists; it does not follow from this criticism alone that the idea that the norm of HI represents an evolution in international interventions can be refuted.

Within the post-Cold War period, the emerging norm of HI became expressed most lucidly in the 2001 document entitled, ‘Responsibility to Protect’ or R2P and yet this articulation exhibited a seemingly irreconcilable problem. Whilst it was recognised that the international community exhibited an increasing compulsion to act and intervene militarily when issues of human rights came, ‘under direct and serious challenge’, [20] the justifications given for intervention were extremely narrowly demarcated. Despite the title and language of the report providing, ‘a linking concept that bridges the divide between intervention and sovereignty’, [21] the report displayed an awareness that the marriage of two disparate concepts was always going to be controversial. As Ayoob has remarked articulating the position of the Chinese with regard to the norm, ‘theoretically, the conceptualization of humanitarian intervention is a total fallacy’ [22] and that is because the norm of HI is oxymoronic. By attempting to reconcile the means of coercive military intervention with the end of the protection of human life at risk of genocide or civil war, the norm of HI seems to be constructed from two mutually exclusive elements. As a result, it seems disingenuous to suggest that an intervention on humanitarian grounds truly represents an evolution on what has gone before.

After critically assessing the idea that there has been an evolution in international interventions in the post-Cold War era through the emergence of the norm of HI, it can be stated in conclusion that this norm does not represent an evolution on what has gone before. Despite pertaining to justify interventions for some higher moral purpose than the egoistic justifications exhibited by nation states in the past, the unilateral actions of the US and the West after 9/11 have reinforced suspicions that this norm is simply a cloak to hide state interest. Whereas Liberals see it as the fulfilment of particularly powerful liberal ideas such as democratisation, from a Critical Security Studies and Realist perspective, the norm of HI smacks of a justification utilised for some ulterior motive. Similarly while from a Constructivist perspective this norm is reflective of the dominance of Westerns ideals, from a Post-Colonialist perspective, this norm of HI is imperialistic, an oxymoron and legitimates intervention on flimsy grounds. In sum, whilst the norm of HI is not disputed, its’ idealistic justifications for international interventions are controversial and therefore cannot be said to represent an evolution of post-Cold War international interventions until there is a reconciliation of justification and practice.

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[1] Roland Dannreuther, International Security: The Contemporary Agenda (Polity Press, 2007) p.141
[2] Roland Dannreuther, International Security: The Contemporary Agenda (Polity Press, 2007) p.142
[3] Martha Finnemore, The Purpose of Intervention: Changing Beliefs about the Use of Force. (Cornell University Press, 2003) pg.56
[4] Roland Paris. Peacebuilding and the Limits of Liberal Internationalism (International Security,1997) p.54
[5] Roland Dannreuther, International Security: The Contemporary Agenda (Polity Press, 2007) p.141
[6] Morton Abramowitz and Thomas Pickering, Making Intervention Work: Improving the UN’s Ability to Act. (Foreign Affairs, 2008) p.101
[7] Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink, International Norm Dynamics and Political Change, (International Organization, 1998) p.894
[8] Martha Finnemore, The Purpose of Intervention: Changing Beliefs about the Use of Force. (Cornell University Press, 2003) p.55
[9] Roland Dannreuther, International Security: The Contemporary Agenda (Polity Press, 2007) p.141
[10] Martha Finnemore, The Purpose of Intervention: Changing Beliefs about the Use of Force. (Cornell University Press, 2003) p.56
[11] Roland Dannreuther, International Security: The Contemporary Agenda (Polity Press, 2007) p.142
[12] Noam Chomsky, Humanitarian Intervention (1994)
[13] Mohammed Ayoob, Third World Perspectives on Humanitarian Intervention and International Administration, (Global Governance, 2004) p.101
[14] Mohammed Ayoob, Third World Perspectives on Humanitarian Intervention and International Administration, (Global Governance, 2004) p.99
[15] Roland Dannreuther, International Security: The Contemporary Agenda (Polity Press, 2007) p.142
[16] Roland Dannreuther, International Security: The Contemporary Agenda (Polity Press, 2007) p.142
[17]Mark Duffield, Development, security and unending war: governing the world of peoples. (Polity Press, 2007) p.134
[18] Mohammed Ayoob, Third World Perspectives on Humanitarian Intervention and International Administration, (Global Governance, 2004) p.101
[19] Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink, International Norm Dynamics and Political Change, (International Organization, 1998) p.906
[20] Adam Roberts, The Price of Protection, (Survivial, 2002) p.157
[21] Adam Roberts, The Price of Protection, (Survivial, 2002) p.158
[22] Mohammed Ayoob, Third World Perspectives on Humanitarian Intervention and International Administration, (Global Governance, 2004) p.108
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Luttwak, Edward. (1999). Kofi’s Rule: Humanitarian Intervention and Neocolonialism. The National Interest 58 pp.57–62. [online] Available at: http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.webfeat.lib.ed.ac.uk/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&hid=11&sid=0ffe6654-643c-4151-8114-d02a56f49120%40sessionmgr4 (Accessed 26th November 2011)
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