The Military's role in Counter-Terrorism: Examples and Implications for Liberal Democracies

Research output: Other contribution


In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 (9/11)
attacks, the U.S. Government was criticized for adopting
a militaristic response to the threat posed by al-
Qaeda and affiliated groups. As the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict and that in Northern Ireland demonstrate,
any liberal democracy that uses its armed forces to
combat terrorism will incur controversy both domestically
and internationally. The use of military power
in counterterrorism is contentious, because historical
and contemporary examples suggest that it can have
the following negative strategic, political, and ethical
effects: The state can generate indigenous resentment
that terrorist groups can exploit, and can, by resorting
to military force, kill or maim a substantial number of
civilians. It can also encourage human rights abuses
that are antithetical to the norms of a liberal democracy--
such as the maltreatment and torture of detainees
--and can (as demonstrated by Uruguay in 1973 and
Russia currently) lead to the subversion of the constitutional
order and its replacement by authoritarian

While addressing these criticisms, this Letort Paper
also argues that there are contingencies in which
democratic states are obliged to employ military
means in order to protect their citizens from the threat
of terrorism, whether in a purely domestic context or
when facing a transnational terrorist network such
as al-Qaeda. While outlining the specific roles that
armed forces can perform (including hostage rescue,
military aid to the civil authority, interdiction, and
intelligence-gathering), this paper also describes the
strategic, political, diplomatic, and ethical challenges
that arise from using military means to fight terror
Original languageEnglish
PublisherStrategic Studies Institute, US Army War College
Number of pages223
Place of PublicationCarlisle PA
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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