Ethique militaire : mes questions (3). A Few Doubts about Military Ethics (3d Part)

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Exceptionnellement, je mets ci-dessous et dans le post suivant un texte en langue anglaise lu dans un congrès d'éthique militaire hors de France il y a un an. J'espère que ces questions pourront être utiles à la réflexion des militaires, ou des responsables civils de la défense.

Le Baron Louis aurait dit à Napoléon : "Sire, faites-moi de la bonne politique et je vous ferai de bonnes finances." Ne pourrait-on dire dans le même esprit : "Faites-nous une politique juste, et on vous fera une éthique militaire sortable."




What is the real difference between war and terrorism?


My second question is about the difficulty of defining terrorism. I will successively go through three tentative definitions, all of them leading to somehow disturbing considerations.

My intention, in bringing them candidly to the public attention, is not do undercut the faith in morality, or our trust in the values of civilization, but to call for a more radical interrogation, in order to ground them solidly.



1st tentative definition: should we equate war and terrorism (War = Terrorism?) That is a shocking equation, indeed. And yet, it’s hard to disclaim it totally prima facie. First, war is by definition an act of force, or of violence, which aims at curbing the enemy’s will. But what does ‘curbing that will’ mean? It means to force it to fall back and give up, because it fears pain, death, wounds, and destructions. But what does that mean, except producing a kind of extreme fear (i.e. terror) to break down the enemy’s will? And is or is not ‘producing terror in order to curb the will’ the first (tentative) definition of terrorism? I conclude that (if suche definition was acceptable) war would  nothing else than a very general form of terrorism, and what we use to call "terrorism" just a kind of war. Appallingly, we might go further on that line and define war (even more shockingly) as a kind of collective and reciprocal torture. – But we cannot stand anymore this first definition. Let’s try something else.


2d tentative definition: Asymmetric war, on the weaker side = Terrorism. What we specifically call “terrorism” is the standard set of tactics and warfare used by fighters of the weaker side, in an asymmetric war. If this was true, would denying the weaker the right to resort to such warfare be equivalent to denying him the very right of resorting to force? And equivalent to treating him as an insurgent, a rebel, a criminal, and so on?

Such qualifications are consistent with a “constabulary theory” of armed forces, but not with the understanding our enemies have of themselves. The gangster who assaults a bank knows quite well and admits he is a gangster. A Taliban who attacks a FOB does not think of himself as an “insurgent”, and even less as a criminal. And that probably makes a big difference. - So what?


3d tentative definition: Terrorism = Unjust War? If all war implies the generic use of terror at large (cf. 1st definition) to break a political will down (and this may be true even if not all war resorts specifically to violence against non-combatants, cf. 2d part), "what would be wrong with "terrorism", if

1° the weaker side was right and if

2° his cause was just and if

3° the thick theory of the sovereignty of the people was right?


In such a case, should we speak of “just and unjust terrorisms”?

If there was no universal standard of justice, no universal enough standard, no one irreducible to a mere rationalization of the interest, passions or subjective conceptions of one side, I would not think of myself as able to pin any warrior as a “terrorist” more than any other one, from which side they would stand and fight. – I therefore suggest that a genuine war on terrorism starts with a question: do we have a good and really impartial theory of justice, a genuinely universal political culture, or is what we call “impartiality” just a trick? In other words, do we really have a fair theory of justice?

Is the rawlsian theory a sufficient one? If my possible identity was the one of many a foe of the West, I would never enter under a veil of ignorance, if correctly informed beforehand of my possible interests and possible means to defend them.

This could prove the West is always right, by definition, or could suggest that justice as fairness was just a trick. As a matter of fact it is a trick (and in many ways). I guess we therefore need some stronger and thicker theory of justice.

And would in the future such a stronger concept of justice inspire Western war and peace policies, then there might be easier than now to find out a clear difference between war and terrorism.  




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