Combating Terrorism Consistent with the Charter

by Roger Alford

Let me begin the discussion by addressing one of the most important issues addressed in Farer’s book: combating terrorism consistent with the Charter. Farer presents the issue of the permissible options for the United States if it discovers that terrorist organizations or individuals are active in country X and planning an attack on American targets. If the country is hostile to those terrorist elements, the issue is one of joint cooperation in its suppression. But if the country is reluctant or unable to act because the terrorist organization is part of an important ethnic constituency or are located in a remote part of the country where there is virtually no governmental presence. In this scenario Farer argues that there are two options: the United States must obtain the other state’s authorization to act as its proxy or it must seek authorization from the Security Council. Farer reasons that “since all Permanent Members regard transnational terrorism, particularly Islamic terrorism, as a threat to their respective national interests, if the United States can offer persuasive intelligence of the group’s aims, the Council is likely to … authorize preventive action.” (p. 77). As for the third option of taking unilateral action to remove the terrorist elements without the permission of the state or the Security Council, Farer is equivocal. He suggests that repeated violations of the territorial integrity of states would result in the progressive collapse of cooperation on a whole range of issues including non-proliferation.

Just a few quick responses. First, Farer is correct that most states appear to be cooperating with the United States in combating terrorism and therefore when a threat emerges joint cooperation obviates the need for unilateral intervention. Those are the easy cases. The harder cases address situations where a state is unwilling or unable to effectively act, as in Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan, and Somalia. The even harder case is when the state sponsors the terrorism, as with Iran and Syria. In those situations, the state will not be willing to authorize United States’ intervention. Farer suggests that in those situations where a state will not authorize United States’ intervention the Security Council is the only recourse. He further posits that because the Permanent Members care so deeply about terrorism that they will authorize intervention. Really? Why so? Of course they care about combating terrorism. But they care about many other matters as well. It is not simply a question of caring about the threat of terrorism. It is about balancing competing interests, with terrorism as simply one of many concerns that each Permanent Member includes in the equation of whether to authorize the use of force to eliminate terrorist threats.

Finally, I found it odd that Farer does not address self-defense more, particularly in situations where state or Security Council authorization is not available. He argues it would be bad policy to “lob missiles or troops into a country and kill or kidnap its residents,” which may or may be the case. But would it be illegal? The key question I suppose, is why wouldn’t an imminent terrorist threat arising in a country unwilling to cooperate with us justify the United States taking unilateral action to eliminate the terrorists in that country?

http://opiniojuris.org/2008/09/03/combating-terrorism-consistent-with-the-charter/

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