Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


strength. This involves the use of terrorism. The immediate target

of operations is, in other words, not adversary states but the

people who live within them. The effects of such operations are

not an end in themselves. Rather, they are intended to convey a

message to the global Muslim population—the umma. And, the

message is that Muslims the world over need not languish under

Western hegemony, that the United States and its allies are

vulnerable to daring and determined attack, and that it remains

only for the struggle to be taken up on a mass basis for victory

to follow. All the better, therefore, if such operations encourage

heavy-handed retaliation that falls on the heads of hitherto

uncommitted Muslims. Such a response helps to unmask the

true nature of the enemy, thereby encouraging further popular

support for the cause. In short, al-Qaeda uses terrorism for

demonstrative and provocative purposes. 1 Its function is to

convert the umma from a traditional faith community into a

modern political movement determined to pursue a shared goal

in the face of adversity.

What role, then, does deterrence have to play in this strategic

context? A risk with acts of terrorism is that they can alienate

as well as galvanize popular support, that for each individual

who is empowered by the spectacle of violence, another is revolted

by it. Historically speaking, most terrorist organizations

have been aware of this double-edged aspect to their strategy,

and this awareness has exercised a constraining influence on

the scale and scope of their violent activities. This, in turn, suggests

that one potentially effective way of deterring al-Qaeda is

to reinforce whatever normative barriers to terrorism exist in

the Muslim world. The logic here is that the more terrorism is

deemed to be unacceptable, the less readily will al-Qaeda resort

to it for fear of alienating the popular support it requires to

survive. Various interesting efforts to reinforce such barriers

are, in fact, already under way both internationally and domestically.

The one I want to focus on here involves highlighting

religious injunctions against the indiscriminate use of violence.

This is because influential charges of un-Islamic behaviour are

something that al-Qaeda cannot afford to ignore.

Whilst it is a matter of record that the events of 9/11 led to

scenes of jubilation in the Middle East, it is also the case that

they elicited the strongest possible condemnation from promi-


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