Combatting Terrorism: Dell Higgie Surveys the International Counter-Terrorism Scene

By Higgie, Dell | New Zealand International Review, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Combatting Terrorism: Dell Higgie Surveys the International Counter-Terrorism Scene


Higgie, Dell, New Zealand International Review


There is no internationally agreed definition of 'terrorism'. Over the nearly 35 years this very issue has been inscribed on the UN's agenda, professional diplomats and international lawyers have completely failed to settle on a definition. There has been no shortage of proposals for a definition. New Zealand indeed put one forward in 1985. At that time we were taking a lead in efforts, in the wake of our Rainbow Warrior incident, to secure a comprehensive treaty against terrorism. We put it to the UN Legal Committee in New York that 'any act of force in peacetime for political ends which jeopardises innocent lives or property is terrorism'.

That proposition, like quite a number made by others over the years, failed to secure agreement. The problem in reaching agreement on exactly what, in legal terms, terrorism is has nothing to do with the negotiators' lack of mental capacity but is all about the thorny political issues it raises--most particularly the long-standing debate over the exclusion claimed for national liberation movements, and the question of state terrorism. Most followers of the on-going debate in the United Nations believe that there will in fact be no agreement on the legal scope of the term until there is a peace settlement in the Middle East.

Most people, however, do not feel in too much doubt about what terrorism is. That is a fairly widespread reaction. In doing some research on this topic quite some years ago in New York, I came upon the report of the New Zealander who had attended the first session of the United Nations' Ad Hoc Committee on International Terrorism in 1973. At the conclusion of that session he had written: 'The majority of countries are keen to combat international terrorism and they see no need to define it first (anymore than one needs to define an elephant one sees in the street)'.

Whatever international legal definition might one day be agreed upon, most of us know what we are talking about. The essential features of terrorism are acts of violence committed against civilian targets for the purpose of compelling a government to do, or not do, something or to intimidate a population.

Discussion of the long-standing debate about a definition will probably remind those who have been thinking about terrorism largely in the 'post-9/11' era that in fact terrorism, and indeed multilateral efforts to tackle it, have been around for a long time. In an article in Foreign Affairs, Walter Laqueur lists the number of terrorist attacks that took place as the 19th century ended. They include the assassination of the French President, the Austrian Empress, the Spanish Prime Minister, the Italian King and US President William McKinley. All this, of course, was before that famous shot in 1914 that 'echoed round the world'. So, he concludes, by 1900 terrorism had become

   the leading preoccupation of politicians,
   police chiefs, journalists,
   and writers.... If in the year 1900
   the leaders of the main industrial
   powers had assembled, most of
   them would have insisted on giving
   terrorism top priority on their
   agenda....

The terrorism that leaders would have talked about in 1900 is, however, rather different from that of today.

Repeated outrages

In the 1930s, there was a renewed spate of high-level assassinations in Europe (which led to efforts under the League of Nations to settle on a definition of terrorism in order to adopt a comprehensive treaty against it). Acts of hijacking and bombings (often with a Middle East dimension) and acts of kidnapping and assassination (perpetrated most prominently by the Red Armies operating in Europe and Japan) captured headlines in the 1960s and 1970s. The Lockerbie disaster was probably the most catastrophic terrorist incident of the 1980s. And going right through to the end of the 20th century there were incidents of 'localised' terrorism--for instance, related to separatist aspirations in Ireland, Spain and Sri Lanka; as well as on-going acts of terror in the Middle East and those flowing from a number of prominent movements in Central and South America.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Combatting Terrorism: Dell Higgie Surveys the International Counter-Terrorism Scene
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?