Will the war on terror bring peace

Terrorism as a third between war and peace

Either there is war or there is peace - we don't know anything in between. But the terrorists of Paris added a new "mode" to this scheme. An interjection from the political scientist Herfried Münkler.

Part of our conception of political order is that either there is peace or one is at war, but that there is no third in between. That this is the case, however, is by no means self-evident, but rather an order of the state, which has enforced this binary of the political aggregate states: either war or peace, tertium non datur. Contract theorists such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke have called the state in which the two were not yet separated as a state of nature, i.e. a state in which one could not be sure whether one was at war with whoever one met was at peace, so be on your guard and expect anything. Hobbes assumed that it was rational to interpret the state of nature as a state of war rather than a state of peace and to behave accordingly; Locke was more cautious and wanted the generalized interpretation of war to apply only under the conditions of unleashed competition.

Both assumed, of course, that it was rational and therefore necessary for people to leave this state of ambiguity and ambiguity and to conclude a contract through which an order of unambiguity arose. This was the order of the states, and from then on they were the guardians of the demarcation between war and peace.

Crime or act of war

Transnational terrorism is the return of that third party, which the order of states had eliminated from the world. In principle, classical terrorism, be it social or national revolutionary, has tried to bring this third party back into the political game, but only transnational terrorism, that of Al-Qaeda or now the Islamic State, has really succeeded. The state attacked by terrorists or the politicians responsible within it must decide whether they want to react to this attack according to the crime or the war paradigm: That is the central strategic challenge posed by the terrorists. It forces politicians to a risky interpretation of what the terrorist attacks are: essentially a crime that is to be investigated and dealt with by the police and the judiciary, or an act of war that must also and above all be responded to by the means of the military. In the 1970s and 1980s, the German government consistently adhered to the crime paradigm and abstained from any war rhetoric - much to the displeasure of the RAF terrorists and those around them, who would have loved to see the violent confrontation described in terms of war. The French President Hollande has now gone the other way, has spoken of a declaration of war by IS on France and responded to the terrorist attacks by ordering air strikes on IS positions in Syria.

Manifestations of Terrorism

Beyond the question of the respective national sensitivities that play a role in these different reactions, also the fact that Hollande is considered a weak and hesitant president, which is why he had to demonstrate determination (which was not necessary with the then Chancellor Helmut Schmidt), However, there are also important differences in the selection of targets and the implementation of the attacks, in which classic and transnational terrorism differ from one another: The classic terrorist, from the RAF to the IRA, was concerned with attacking the political and social elites, possibly still on the security apparatus of the state, but the majority of the population, which should be drawn to the side of the violent criminals by the terror campaigns, was seen as “the third party of interest” who was not allowed to be harmed in the attacks.
Accordingly, the attacks had to be planned and carried out carefully, which limited the ability of these groups to attack. Exactly that was not the case with the attacks of November 13th, 2015 in Paris: There was indiscriminate killing, targeting everyone who came in front of the Kalashnikov or who happened to be in the death zone of an explosive charge. The attack was directed against everyone, and under the circumstances it was next to impossible to treat the attacks according to the crime paradigm. There was pressure towards the war paradigm.

Limiting the area of ​​the IS

However, that does not change the fact that a "war on terror" is difficult to wage. In principle, you have to choose a country or a concentration of actors in the terrorist groups in order to be able to strike with military means. After September 11, 2001, that was Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda had actually found refuge, and that is now Syria and northern Iraq, where IS is de facto the ruling power. Al-Qaeda was quickly driven out of Afghanistan, and it is quite possible that the IS caliphate will also disintegrate under the recently significantly increased air strikes by Western, Arab and Russian machines. But the terrorist threat to our societies does not end there, because what remains are network organizations that can continue to carry out their deadly attacks from deep within the social space. The military grip then only hit one manifestation of terrorists, but did not eliminate terrorism.

Compulsory interpretation and decision-making

So it could be that the disambiguation of the indifferent third party between war and peace, as what transnational terrorism acts, ultimately leads astray according to the war paradigm. That does not mean that one would do better with a disambiguation in the sense of an ongoing peace in which criminals operate. It is possible that the wise politician actually has to get involved with the third as a third for a longer period of time and forego disambiguation in one direction or the other. Then he has the most strategic and tactical options. Of course, will the population of the country attacked by terrorists withstand this? That must be doubted. She wants to know where she is, and she insists on the binary order of war and peace. There is much to suggest that the pressure to interpret and make decisions resulting from the ambiguous violence of the terrorists will turn out to be the real challenge posed by terrorism.


Deutschlandfunk: Herfried Münkler in conversation with Doris Schäfer-Noske
After the Paris attacks
"Between War and Peace" / »mp3.radio.de
There is now no longer any certainty whether we are living in war or peace, said Herfried Münkler in the DLF. Correctly countering this fact is the real challenge after the attacks.


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Herfried Münkler in conversation with Sandra Schulz
(on 11/27/15 on deutschlandfunk.de)