Fighting Terrorism:
A New Kind of War

By Melvyn Levitsky

      In my lifetime we have fought four major wars. World War II mobilized the entire country and was understood by Americans to be fought for reasons of principle, values, and liberty. The Korean War was seen as a strategic necessity—to stop aggression—but did not command the wide public support nor the moral vision of its predecessor. The war in Vietnam seemed ill-conceived, badly fought, and weakly justified by our political leadership. Rather than bring our people together, as most wars do, it rent society in ways that persist to this day. The war in the Persian Gulf was hardly a war at all, given its relative brevity and the ease with which American and allied forces achieved their stated goals. Its main consequence was to stimulate a debate over whether the United States had gone far enough, and to leave troops on the ground in a highly volatile area of the world.
      Now we are again speaking in terms of war. Waging war against terrorism, in the sense of mobilizing our people, our institutions, our military forces, and our allies, seems both justified and necessary for reasons of justice and deterrence: justice, because more than 3,500 innocent people have been murdered; and deterrence, because the American people insist at a minimum that our government make every effort to prevent a reoccurrence of the terror.
      But if this is war, it is unlike any of the four major wars of the past half-century. The enemy is not a state or group of states. It’s a dispersed multinational network, having its roots in Afghanistan and its branches in dozens of countries, rich and poor, all over the world. The cells of this network are cloaked in darkness, often hiding in and feeding on legitimate, peaceful communities of the Muslim faith and connecting with each other through modern technology when terrorist transactions are being planned or at work. The enemy’s agenda is murky and malevolent. While nominally focused on the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, its rage seems more directed against globalization, modernization, Western values, and the American presence in the world. Its goal is to terrorize and bring down those societies it identifies as evil and to replace existing governments with its own perverse and perverted concept of “religious” rule. Clearly no truce, peace settlement, or war-ending compromise is possible with such an adversary. No redirection of U.S. policy would bring about a lessening of terrorist fervor or targeting of our interests. Therefore our actions must be centered on breaking up and defeating the network and the states that support it.



      How are we to accomplish this? How do we wage war when our strengths—massive, mobile armed forces, waves of aircraft and missiles, armadas of ships, all supported by the latest in technology—may not be entirely effective against such an elusive enemy? How do we measure victory or even the success of our efforts?
      To answer these questions, I suggest we see this war in terms of five interconnected battlefronts: diplomatic/political, economic/financial, law enforcement, intelligence, and military. Diplomatic action is focused on bringing together a broad coalition of nations for coordinated joint action. This will support the work on other fronts by maximizing our ability to find and destroy terrorist cells and minimizing the possibility that any nation will harbor or support them. A strong, viable coalition with staying power will bolster the efforts on the economic front to freeze terrorist money, prevent it from being laundered and used, and isolate and sanction those countries that do not cooperate with the coalition to the fullest extent of their capabilities. Such a coalition will also promote more effective cooperation among intelligence and law enforcement services in the production and sharing of operational, real-time information and intelligence—the key to success in knowing our enemy and his plans. The employment of actionable intelligence in law enforcement investigations, leading to arrests, convictions, and punishment of terrorist felons, can deal a strong blow to their ability to operate.

The Role of Law Law is meant for times like these. Legal institutions can provide collective comfort that our fundamental societal principles remain intact. The U.S. Constitution also ensures that the zeal of our elected leaders to increase our security by restricting our freedoms will be tempered. Still, one price we pay for a relatively open society is that the threat of terrorism can never be eliminated. Looking ahead, law can help address the root causes of terrorism. Terrorism does not occur in a vacuum. Using the international legal system to resolve conflicts and to forge agreements for economic development and education may do more for our national security than any homeland defense.

—William C. Banks, Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor, College of Law;
professor of public administration, Maxwell School and
College of Arts and Sciences


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Main Home Page Contents Chancellor's Message Opening Remarks
Reflections In Memoriam Time of Terror Lessons of Hope
Future Impact Voices

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