Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century

Formidable Threats Ahead for Market-States and their Citizens 

Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century
By Philip Bobbit
Allen Lane
672 pages

Bobbitt, Philip. He’s a possible National Security Advisor in an Obama administration, a nephew of President Lyndon Johnson, and has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations.

He is a Professor of Federal Jurisprudence and has served as a senior advisor at the White House, the Senate, and the State Department. Bobbitt is one of the scariest/most interesting thinkers in the US.

His book focuses on the nexus between international law, national security and political strategy. His objective – to rethink the constitutional state of the world in the 21st century.

“The 20th century, industrial regulatory nation-state is unable to cope with a number of challenges to its claim to legitimate power, challenges that include the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), trans-national threats like twenty-first century terrorism, AIDS, SARS, climate change, immigration, a global system of human rights that supersedes national law, a global system of financial markets that removes the power of states to control the value of their own currency, an international system of communications and a global culture irresistibly spread by those communications. These challenges are de-legitimating the constitutional order … They are both driving globalisation (in both its vicious and virtuous circles), which depend upon global communications and markets, and are being intensified by globalisation. And too, these developments are responsible for the emergence of a global terror network, which, in turn, is undermining the clumsy national efforts of states to eradicate it”.

Bobbitt says this will lead to a new form of state, of which the EU and the US are prime examples – the “market-state”. This market-state arises from both the negative side effects of the success of the parliamentary democracies against totalitarianism in the 20th century and their evolving weaknesses in the twenty-first, particularly their inability (because of demographic and other changes) to provide fully for the well-being of their citizens – the prime objective of the nation-state. The “market-state” will focus on maximising the opportunities it offers its citizens while the market-state of consent will also focus on protecting core human and civil rights.

Market-states divide between states of consent and states of terror. The terror state controls its citizens through fear – they do not have the right to say “no”. The consent state operates on the basis that their citizens can say “no”, thus its actions and are legitimised by the consent of their citizens. In war such states have two main aims: the protection of civilian lives (as a core human right) and the preservation of the rule of law (which at its core has the preservation of human rights).

Terrorism arises from our success not our failures. “Like new antibiotic-resistant strains of tuberculosis, market-state terrorism is a function of what we have done to eradicate old threats. That is, its principal causes are the liberalisation of the global economy, the internationalisation of the electronic media, and the military-technological revolution – all ardently sought innovations that won the Long War [the various wars of the 20th century] … In the process we have created a chronic problem … the destabilising, delegitimating, demoralizing terror that arises from the intersection of market-state terrorism, the market-states’ commodification of WMD, and the increasing vulnerability of market-states to catastrophic events”.

The problem is the collision between the inevitable rise of market-state terrorism (Al-Qaeda is only the precursor), the commodification of WMD and the inevitability of their availability to non-state actors, and the increasing vulnerability of market-states to catastrophic events, terrorism, earthquakes, global epidemics, or massive human rights abuses. We will need to change our view on sovereignty significantly if we are to maintain the rule of law and preserve human rights, as any such catastrophic event could destabilise even a mature democracy and lead to martial law if not planned for in advance.

To deal with these developments Bobbitt defines terrorism as “the pursuit of political goals through the use of violence against non-combatants in order to dissuade them from doing what they have the lawful right to do”. This definition, which he believes is capable of worldwide agreement and of being enshrined in international law, then drives how the wars of the twenty-first century should be fought and the related legal and constitutional arrangements that will be needed.

This struggle will require a policy of what he calls preclusion to stop mass casualty terrorism before such attacks, and to stop the proliferation of WMD which would make a massive loss of human life more likely. So intervention is not to establish democracy, nor to make us feel better etc, but to legitimate the rule of law and maintain its operation.

In 21st century wars, the concept of victory changes fundamentally. Surviving, enduring and not suffering massive loss of life or eroding our human rights is victory in itself. “By this means – wars on terror – the states of consent can preserve their civil institutions and the environment of consent on which these institutions depend”.

There is much to disagree with here. And much to worry about, if these ideas take root in Washington. But the book should be read in its entirety. The insistence that torture of detainees is wrong, unless it is to extract information which would allow a terrorist “ticking bomb” to be defused, appears impractical and wrong-headed, but it is worth confronting his thinking. Above all this is a book of the mind. However, the gut can be equally if not more important in dealing with the vulnerability of our societies, the relationship between states and their citizens, and in confronting terrorism.

Richard Whelan is the author of Al-Qaedaism The Threat to Islam The Threat to the World. His website is:www.richardwhelan.com.

  • “An existential”“threat is precisely the sort of threat that terror poses” [page 202]
  • “In the past decade, global poverty has been reduced by 40% – not by direct transfers but by global trade”. [page 230]
  • With human “ticking bombs” torture should be illegal, but, by a jury, forgivable.
  • “It is human rights, and only such rights, that can justify increasing the vigor and power of the State because it is the purpose of the State to protect the right of its People”. [page 244]
  • “Some increases in the power of the State may increase, or at least do not diminish, the liberties of the People”. [page 244]
  • “New Orleans: contrary to the widely disseminated reporting … the dead were not disproportionally poor or black. Persons over 60 [15% of the population of the city] accounted for 74% of the deaths”. [page 224]
  • “This threat [terrorists with nuclear or biological weaponry] is by far the gravest we currently face to our civil rights and civil liberties”. [page 245]
  • “Terrorists-at-war are in the same position as ordinary soldiers who can be compelled by violence to surrender their arms and cease hostile action. For the terrorists-at-war, in an information age, that means surrendering information”. [page 392]
  • “Our own [US] security is only as strong as the weakest of the public health systems worldwide”.
  • “If Britain becomes a state of terror it will be because we did not prepare when we had the time and the peace to do by law and by consensual processes”. [page 425]
  • “The Geneva Conventions do not really contemplate the treatment of terrorist organisations that may fight on a battlefield but are not bona fide soldiers of a state, and who may commit murderous crimes but are not, usually, common criminals; who attack the State but are not parties to civil war. If detained, they are often not amenable to conventional prosecutions”. [page 456]
  • “The use of biological and nuclear weapons by virtual States [such as the Al-Qaeda network] and global [terror] networks presents a problem we really haven’t thought through”. [page 477]
  • “Proportionate violence can only amount to terrorism when it is waged against rights-respecting democracies”. [page 359]
  • “Terror struck into the hearts of the enemies is not only a means, it is an end in itself. Once a condition of terror into the opponents heart is obtained, hardly anything is left to be achieved. It is the point where the means and the end meet and merge. Terror is not a means of imposing decisions upon the enemy, it is the decision we wish to impose upon them””. [page 358 quoting Pakistani Brigadier S.K. Malik in his book – The Quranic Concept of War]
  • “Violence [by states of consent in fighting terror] that inevitably harms civilians that the states of consent claim to seek to protect” is not terrorism. [page 351]
  • One can “discriminate between the use of violence to deter violence and the use of violence to deter lawful activity”. [page 351]
  • “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”” is fundamentally incorrect. [page 351]
  • “Terrorism, in the current context, is the very paradigm of a war crime”. [page 353]
  • “The chief protector of American constitutional rights is not the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights or the ACLU or even the Supreme Court; it is the 101st Airborne Division”. [page 246]
  • Talking about civil and human rights it is not true that “it is better that one hundred innocent people die so that one innocent person will not be detained”. [page 248]
  • “It is precisely this strategic dimension that is neglected when we view the interface of constitutional rights and the powers of the state as a zero-sum game. [page 286]


Tagged , ,

Leave a Reply