Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

The Discourse and Practice of Counter-Terrorism in Liberal Democracies

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

The Discourse and Practice of Counter-Terrorism in Liberal Democracies

Article excerpt

This article examines the post-Cold War tendency to broaden the counter-terrorism mandate to include other phenomena such as organised crime, drug-trafficking and illegal immigration. This redefinition has important implications for democracy, both at the level of discourse and at the level of practice. At the level of discourse, the plasticity of the word "terrorism" and its application to a wide variety of phenomena is a form of claims making activity by a variety of agencies fighting for budgetary allocations in an era of cost-cutting and deficit reduction. At the level of practice, the counter-terrorism mandate is being expanded to include the range of phenomena covered in the widening discourse and this, in turn, has led to a blurring of boundaries between internal and external security, police and military models of control, and public and private sectors. All this has an impact on the openness of government, the accountability of agencies of social control, the adherence to the rule of law in the fight against terrorism and related phenomena, and the possibility of informed consent by a public made fearful by the claims-making discourse as it is disseminated through the mass media.

With the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the bipolar lenses with which many viewed the world of political violence and terrorism are gone. As a result, the definitional and typological complexities that were so cavalierly papered over during the 1970s and 1980s have begun to resurface in the discourse of those concerned with counter-terrorism. Phenomena such as drug trafficking, organised crime and illegal immigration are being included along with the more traditional objects of concern for those responsible for dealing with terrorism. In addition, new kinds of threats have been formulated, ranging from infectious diseases(1) to information warfare.(2) The recognition of new/old threats has, in turn, been translated into a broader operational mandate for agencies responsible for counter-terrorism and the blurring of mandates between different control agencies that previously were quite distinct, such as customs agencies, border control, security intelligence, defence and policing. This tendency to place disparate phenomena into the same security basket has also been reflected in recent analyses of terrorism. For example, Richard Clutterbuck(3) lumps drug trafficking, international crime, ethnic cleansing, religious fanaticism, rural guerrilla and urban terrorism all together as legitimate concerns for counter-terrorism policymaking in the post-Cold War world.

In this article, I will examine the implications of these changes, both at the level of discourse and at the level of practice, for the development of counter-terrorism policy within liberal democracies. For the purposes of this analyis, I shall consider liberal democracies to be characterised by the following principles: the rule of law; openness and accountability of government; and the maintenance of a bond of trust and confidence between citizen and government that results from an electorate that is informed about public affairs. While these are all ideals that fall short in practice in most, if not all, liberal democracies, they are the central principles which distinguish such regimes from authoritarian or totalitarian ones. Inherent in these principles are many of the human rights that have been entrenched in a number of international conventions since the Second World War, most notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These rights include, among others, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of assembly and association, equality before the law, the right to privacy and the right to take part in the government of the country and in the conduct of public affairs.

In the sections which follow, I shall first examine in greater detail the relationship between terrorism and criminal phenomena such as drug trafficking and organised crime, with a view to understanding why they might lend themselves to a common approach by police and security agencies. …

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