Terrorism, Human Security, and International Law


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr.

A terrorist group known as al Qaeda perpetrated the acts of 9/11. Although the group’s leader, Usama Bin Ladin has been killed, Lauren O’Brien (FBI Intelligence Analyst) claims, “The group has refined its modus operandi and developed practices that have allowed it to persevere in a post-9/11 environment” (2011). Additionally, it has demonstrated a fetish for plotting attacks using local resources (O’Brien 2011). The group has increased its presence and threat potential internally and externally in regard to U.S. soil (Eriksen 2007). The ideology behind this organization has inspired radicals all around the world including America, thereby effectively challenging the traditional state centric concept of security. More importantly, this group has inspired others complicating the difficulty of zero-targeting. This group serves as a candid replica of future wars and conflicts and the ideational and individual elements they will entail.

Terrorism is multifaceted and decentralized (Jabeen 2010). That is, it is unrestricted by national boundaries. Terrorist attacks are launched from various locations and for various reasons. The economic costs associated with mitigating the threat of terrorism is difficult to project and exposes states to managerial difficulty in national defense planning. Civilians are often intended targets of terrorism, whereas, innocent civilian bystanders often typify conventional war. Nevertheless, in International Terrorism: A New Kind of Warfare, Brian Jenkins pointed out how terrorist violence equates to less than the murder rates found in, “any major American city” or “the casualties of any war” (1974, 9).

As terrorism has proved, a state protecting itself from other states does not guarantee security. Individuals throughout the community of nations can contribute to a state’s threat vulnerability. Further, protecting state sovereignty is not all that is needed to insulate against international threats from non-state actors. Therefore, states have been more willing to cooperate toward international standards and allow international law to influence their domestic affairs. In The Regulatory Turn in International Law, Jacob Cogan echoes this notion when positing how international law is designed for the “maintenance of minimum public order” and the “regulatory turn” represents a stronger commitment (2011, 361).

Human Security is a people centric approach to security where protective emphasis is on the individual, not the state. According to the Human Development Report, “Human security is not a concern with weapons, it is a concern with human life and dignity” (1994, 22). Further, the seven elements of human security are economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political (UNDP 1994, 24-25). Human security is important because, as Jenkins put forth, “Terrorism is theatre” (1974, 4). That is, terrorists are often resentful intending to avenge themselves by bringing attention to injustices inflicted upon them or the groups they represent. More, there is not one of the seven elements of human security that any terrorist would find offensive. In contrast, the lack of these elements has individually and synergistically triggered conflicts and wars from the beginning of history.

It would be a lofty endeavor to attempt to grasp the fullness of all world religions, including atheism, in an effort to gain insight into the ideologies and motivations of non-state militants. However, if attempts are not made by the international community to wield the fledgling legal mechanisms to enhance human security, the pace of non-state wars and conflicts, especially terrorist campaigns, will accelerate. National boundaries and state legitimacy will erode further and global civil war will ensue. Governmental control over the individual has already been internationalized and the International Criminal Court (ICC) should be allowed a trial period to validate its potential to deter international crimes and discourage human insecurity.



Cogan, Jacob Katz. 2011. “The Regulatory Turn in International Law.” Harvard International Law Journal 52, no. 2: 322-372. International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center, EBSCOhost (accessed March 25, 2014).

Eriksen, Thomas. Globalization: The Key Concepts. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2007. (accessed March 3, 2014).

Jabeen, Mussarat, Muhammad Saleem Mazhar, and Naheed S. Goraya. 2010. “US Afghan Relations: A Historical Perspective of Events of 9/11.” South Asian Studies (1026-678X) 25, no. 1: 143-173. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 25, 2014).

Jenkins, Brian. “International Terrorism: A New Kind of Warfare.” Rand.org. June 1974. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/papers/2008/P5261.pdf (accessed March 25, 2014).

O’Brien, Lauren. The Evolution of Terrorism Since 9/11. September 2011. http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/september-2011/the-evolution-of-terrorism-since-9-11 (accessed March 25, 2014).

United Nations Development Program. Human Development Report. 1994. http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/reports/255/hdr_1994_en_complete_nostats.pdf (accessed March 25, 2013).



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