Law vs. War: Competing Approaches to Fighting Terrorism

Author: Ms Shawn Boyne, Mr Michael German, Dr Dallas D Owens, Dr Paul R Pillar

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The authors address one of the fundamental assumptions underlying the conduct of the War on Terrorism – the nature of our enemy, whether perpetrators of terrorist activities are criminals or soldiers (combatants). Although the United States recognizes that terrorist acts are certainly illegal, it has chosen to treat perpetrators as combatants; but much of the world, including many of our traditional allies, have opted for a purely legalistic approach. Disagreement about assumptions is not the only basis for divergent policies for confronting terrorism, but certainly explains much of our inability to agree on strategies to overcome what we recognize as a serious common and persistent international problem. Their insights into how our respective cultures and histories influence our definitions, assumptions, and subsequent policy decisions can assist us to respect and learn from competing strategies. They correctly surmise that our current international struggle is too important for us to ignore assumptions underlying our own and competing ideas.