When, in September 2001, US President George W Bush announced his 'war on terror', it may have been the first time in history that a war proper was proclaimed on a non-territorial entity. Unlike metaphorical wars on substance abuse' or wars on poverty', this was meant to be a war fought with real weapons and real soldiers. The only problem was that it initially appeared to be uncertain where to deploy them as terrorism was potentially anywhere. The ostensible goal of the war was not to conquer another country or to defend one's boundaries against a foreign invasion, but to eradicate terrorism, which is a non-territorial entity.
The cause of the declaration of war was the terrorist attack on the US, whereby three civilian airplanes were hijacked by terrorists belonging to the militant Muslim al-Qaeda organization, and flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth plane, with an uncertain destination, crashed. Rather than seeing this as a horrible crime, the US government defined the event as the beginning of a war. However, it was not to be a war between territorially defined units like nation-states. Several of the hijackers lived and studied in the US. Most of them were of Saudi origins, but they were not acting on orders from the Saudi state. The organization on whose behalf they acted had its headquarters in Afghanistan, but the members were scattered, some living in North America, some in Europe, some in Pakistan and so on.
The nation-state has unambiguous boundaries, it is defined in Anderson's famous terms as being imagined as 'inherently limited and sovereign (Anderson 1991 : 6). Wars are fought by the military, whose mission it is to protect the external borders of the country. A nation-state thus has a clearly defined inside and outside. The events of 11 September were a shocking reminder that the boundaries of a nation-state are far from absolute. Nations are effectively being deterritorialized in a number of ways through migration, economic investments and a number of other processes, and the 'war on terror' illustrates that this is now also the case with war. 'America's enemies' can in fact be anywhere in the world and operate from any site, because 'American interests' are global.