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“In all its manifestations” – Poroshenko

November 16, 2015

Following on from the last two entries which in light of the heinous crimes in Paris only a few days ago related to international terrorism and Ukraine, here is one further entry before returning to domestic policy and politics.

President Poroshenko, for whatever reason, felt obliged to confirm that he will still attend the Climate Conference in Paris on 29th November.  Why ever would he not?

The President stated “Neither France, nor Ukraine will be intimidated by the international terrorism, and we are determined to fight all of its manifestations. This is not France’s problem, this is the problem for the whole world.”  And so it is, Ukraine claiming once more to have arrested yet more people with ties to international terrorist groups in the past few hours – this following the arrest on 11th November at Boryspil airport of a Russian citizen wanted by Interpol for being the leader of a Jamaat of the Al Nusra Front.

Terrorism is not a new nor recent phenomena of course.  David Rapoport’s “4 Waves of Terrorism” has long since identified distinctive times and modus operandi of terrorism over the past 200 years – The Anarchists – 1880s, the anti-colonial 1920s, the Left/Red wave 1960’s/70’s and the Religious 1979 – 1980’s.  It is perhaps possible to argue a 5th wave began in the 1990’s with Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Queda and all that spawned from it, but that is an academic argument based upon any specific differences between the “4th religious wave”  that this entry will not explore.

The issue to be raised by this entry relates to President Poroshenko’s words “in all its manifestations” – particularly when The Kremlin is seeking to put linkage outcomes between the atrocities in Paris, events in Syria and western support for Ukraine – and the continuing use by Ukraine of the term Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) for the war with Russia in its east.  (Albeit the reasons for this phrase relate to legalities and implications rather than facts on the ground.)

Nevertheless The Kremlin message to the West, with renewed vigor following the events in Paris, is work with Russia in a coalition but either give up on Ukraine to have one, or at the very least relax the sanctions imposed over Ukraine for Kremlin assistance.  This is, however, a topic for a different entry too.

The broader question this entry raises with the Poroshenko phrase “in all its manifestations” is who decides what is terrorism?  And who decides who decides?

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Globally there is no accepted definition of terrorism by all States.

The UN does not have a definition of terrorism – though not for the want of trying to get consensus on one.  The last UN attempt your author can recall was one by the then UN General Secretary Kofi Anan in 2006 that failed.  The term  “deliberate killing of civilians and non-combatants for political purposes” – thus implying the moral message that such acts are unacceptable and unjustifiable under any circumstance – was rebuffed.  A reason for this rebuttal was that in the event a State is invaded and subjected to occupation, the injured State would deem some partisan/resistance acts as justified and/or legitimate.  Thus that something may be justified does not necessarily make it legitimate.  Likewise a legitimate act does not necessarily mean it is justified.  There are also questions of proportionality.  A grey zone in which to operate if necessary.

Thus terrorism is a contested concept subject to political expediency and is associated with deligitimisation and criminality rather than an exact globally accepted definition.  Ergo the ever perpetual “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” argument forever haunts the grey areas where some States agree an act is one of terrorism, or actors are terrorists, whilst others don’t.

An internationally agreed definition may pave the way to predictable and equitable international cooperation and judicial measures.  Just as importantly it would avoid the invitation to abuse the term for suppression.  This perhaps another reason why there is no international agreement regarding the definition of terrorism.  Dictators and autocracies, at some point, may have to rely upon repression and suppression.

Indeed there are not even commonly accepted labels for terrorism.  Europol as an institution lists the following types of terrorism – Religiously inspired, ethno (nationalist and separatist), left wing and anarchic, right wing, and single issue.  Quite where a “lone wolf” would be recognised and/or consistently recorded is not clear.  And what of a “State sponsor of terrorism”?  It is simply not a category within Europol terrorism categories.  Thus an EU wide “labeling” of certain categories of terrorism there is not.  Member States view and record things differently.

With the last UN attempt at defining terrorism globally failing, despite a very narrow definition, what of financial, cyber, or economic terrorism, terms oft seen in the media, that equally have no internationally accepted definition either?

Whose definition of terrorism does any international coalition against terrorism use?  The US?  The French?  The definition of the State upon whose territory terrorism is occurring?  Does the definition used then preclude or include members of any coalition regarding its domestic legislation and ability to engage in external actions?

What are the “in all its manifestations” to which President Porosehnko alludes?  Whatever definition he may have for them, are they shared definitions by a few, a majority, or none at all?

Is it possible to create an international coalition against terrorism – with or without Russia and Iran – when there is no uncontested accepted definition of terrorism, and no agreement over those who are the terrorists and those who aren’t?

Military action against ISIS for example, may bring short term impact, but what of viable long term outcomes?  In calling for (and perhaps creating) an international coalition against terrorism (if it can be agreed who are and who aren’t terrorists) for short term actions, then will there be the same longevity and commitment to the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy to which States agreed almost a decade ago?

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