War, Terrorism and Military Response

“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes…known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

— James Madison, Political Observations, 1795





According to a dictionary definition, war is a state of armed conflict between societies. It is generally characterized by extreme aggression, destruction, and mortality, using regular or irregular military forces. As of 2017, war in the 21st century has a different meaning then war in previous eras. Now, war on fought on different fronts, and conducted with weapons inconceivable in the past. Wars between different nation-states is rare but the threats posed by conflict as more deadly than ever.

First, let us define the different types of modern warfare.

1) Biological warfare, or germ warfare, is the use of weaponized biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

2) Chemical warfare involves the use of weaponized chemicals in combat. Poison gas as a chemical weapon was principally used during World War I, and resulted in over a million estimated causalities, including more than 100,000 civilians.

3) Civil War is a war between forces belonging to the same nation or political entity.



4) Conventional warfare is declared war between states in which nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons are not used.

5) Cyberwarfare involves the actions of a nation-state or international organizations to attack, and attempt to damage another nation’s information systems.

6) Information warfare is the application of destructive force on a large scale against information assets and systems, against the computers and networks that the support the four critical infrastructures: the power grid, communications, financial, and transportation.

7) Nuclear Warfare is warfare in which nuclear weapons are the primary method of achieving capitulation.

8) Total war is warfare by any means possible, disregarding the laws of war, placing no limits on legitimate military targets, using weapons and tactics resulting in significant civilian causalities, or demanding a war effort requiring significant sacrifices by the friendly civilian population.

9) War of aggression is a war for conquest or gain rather than self-defense; this can be the basis of war crimes under customary international war.


There are currently dozens of ongoing armed conflicts around the world,

the deadliest of which is the Syrian Civil War. The 4 conflicts in the following list have caused at least 10,000 direct violent deaths in current or past calendar year.

1) War in Afghanistan, start of the conflict was in 1978, has a total cumulative fatalities of between 1.2 and 2 million people, including 23, 539 in 2016.

2) Iraq War, begun in 2003, with an estimated total causalities of 268, 000, including 23, 898 in 2016.

3) Mexican Drug War, beginning in 2006 with between 100,000 and 145, 000 total fatalities, 12, 224 in 2016.

4) Syrian Civil War since 2011 has an estimated 312,000 to 470, 000 fatalities, estimated 60, 000 in 2016.






In the international community, terrorism has no legally binding, criminal law definition. Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts that are intended to create fear (terror); are perpetrated for a religious, political, or ideological goal; and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (e.g., neutral military personnel or civilians). Some definitions now include acts of unlawful violence and war. The use of similar tactics by criminal organizations for protection rackets or to enforce a code of silence is usually not labeled terrorism, though these same actions may be labeled terrorism when done by a politically motivated group. Usage of the term has also been criticized for its frequent undue equating with Islamism or Jihadism, while ignoring non-Islamic organizations or individuals.

The word “terrorism” is politically loaded and emotionally charged, and this greatly compounds the difficulty of providing a precise definition. Studies have found over 100 definitions of “terrorism”. In some cases, the same group may be described as “freedom fighters” by its supporters and considered to be terrorists by its opponents. The concept of terrorism may be controversial as it is often used by state authorities (and individuals with access to state support) to delegitimize political or other opponents, and potentially legitimize the state’s own use of armed force against opponents (such use of force may be described as “terror” by opponents of the state). At the same time, the reverse may also take place when states perpetrate or are accused of perpetrating state terrorism. The usage of the term has a controversial history, with individuals such as ANC leader Nelson Mandela at one point also branded a terrorist.




Terrorism has been practiced by a broad array of political organizations to further their objectives. It has been practiced by both right-wing and left-wing political parties, nationalistic groups, religious groups, revolutionaries, and ruling governments. An abiding characteristic is the indiscriminate use of violence against non-combatants for the purpose of gaining publicity for a group, cause, or individual. The symbolism of terrorism can exploit human fear to help achieve these goals.



“Terrorism” comes from the French word terrorisme, and originally referred specifically to state terrorism as practiced by the French government during the 1793–1794 Reigns Of Terror. The French word terrorisme in turn derives from the Latin verb terreōmeaning “I frighten”. The terror cimbricus was a panic and state of emergency in Rome in response to the approach of warriors of the Cimbri tribe in 105 BC. The Jacobins cited this precedent when imposing a Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. After the Jacobins lost power, the word “terrorist” became a term of abuse. Although “terrorism” originally referred to acts committed by a government, currently it usually refers to the killing of innocent people for political purposes in such a way as to create a media spectacle. This meaning can be traced back to Sergey Nechayev, who described himself as a “terrorist”. Nechayev founded the Russian terrorist group “People’s Retribution” (Народная расправа) in 1869.


In November 2004, a United Nations Secretary General report described terrorism as any act “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act”.



The definition of terrorism has proved controversial. Various legal systems and government agencies use different definitions of terrorism in their national legislation. Moreover, the international community has been slow to formulate a universally agreed, legally binding definition of this crime. These difficulties arise from the fact that the term “terrorism” is politically and emotionally charged. In this regard, Angus Martyn, briefing the Australian Parliament, stated,

The international community has never succeeded in developing an accepted comprehensive definition of terrorism. During the 1970s and 1980s, the United Nations attempts to define the term floundered mainly due to differences of opinion between various members about the use of violence in the context of conflicts over national liberation and self- determination.

These divergences have made it impossible for the United Nations to conclude a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that incorporates a single, all-encompassing, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism. The international community has adopted a series of sectoral conventions that define and criminalize various types of terrorist activities.