It isn't War, as classically defined by Clauswitz, which is defined to be declared by states against states; states are of course the pre-eminant form of political organisation since the Peace of Westphalia which brought about the nation-state system.

One could say that defensive war is engaged in by a state when its territorial integrity is threatened in an existential manner by some aggressive state; whereas police action is carried out internally to remove internal threats to its organisation of small-scale insurgency.

Can we then say, that the war on terror is a kind of a police action carried out internationally?

  • It's a war on the American people. Haven't you noticed? The soldiers come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, join the local police force, dress up in military gear, and throw flashbang grenades in the faces of sleeping babies. washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/05/30/… And the regime no longer uses the phrase "Global War on Terror." It's now called Overseas Contingency Operation. Orwell would be proud. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_on_Terror – user4894 Jun 3 '14 at 1:01
  • @user4894 did you have a particular point about the Clausewitz? It doesn't seem constructive to rant in comments; we have a chat for that! :) – Joseph Weissman Jun 3 '14 at 1:55
  • And of course if you have an answer to the question, it could go into an answer... – Joseph Weissman Jun 3 '14 at 2:53
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    @user4894: its a political-philosophical question - to put it into context - its about the taxonomy of violence between states & non-state actors. – Mozibur Ullah Jun 3 '14 at 11:31
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    @user4894: No, I'm not; but perhaps you want to put this into an answer rather than a comment? – Mozibur Ullah Jun 3 '14 at 20:15

First, let's look at the phrase itself. The phrase, "The War on Terror" is a rhetorical construction that follows a long tradition in America:

During World War II, all of American society was mobilized toward one particular goal. Bureaucrats saw this and asked themselves if we could use the same efforts aimed at destruction pointed at other, more noble, targets. (Need to dig up a citation.) So, it has been common in America to speak of any societal mobilization as a "War on something" in the post World War II years, even without a formal declaration of War.

On the other hand, the War on Terror actually is, in some sense, a violent struggle, even if not a formally declared war. However, the formal declaration of war relies on a nation state. Some of the premise for the War on Terror is that there are parts of the world where, although there is an official border, no nation-state effectively controls the area, such as along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

I would disagree that it is simply an international police-action. That is one component of it (soldiers coming and acting as a police force), but a police force is not something that takes control of an area in the first place.

  • good points - particularly about the tradition of this rhetorical construct. I have come across the other three terms. The one reason that you pointed out for not calling an international police action - is that police action do not normally take control of territory. Now, police action is generally used for domestic situations - where the territory itself isn't under dispute. For action outside of the nation-state, this becomes a problematic issue. Its a general rule of thumb that military action must take control of territory - what becomes of that territory – Mozibur Ullah Jun 3 '14 at 19:08
  • is a political issue. Traditionally there are wars of conquest and colonialism; the cold-war saw proxy wars, in which proxy territory was secured. The question is what is the status of territory secured in this 'War' or 'overseas contingency action'. – Mozibur Ullah Jun 3 '14 at 19:11
  • I'd also dispute the applicability of state theory in situations where there hasn't been an organic development of said process. Though there might not be an effective nation-state along the Afghan-Pak territory; I'd suggest that there will be other forms of political organisation. – Mozibur Ullah Jun 3 '14 at 19:16

If Clauswitz defines war as necessarily state-against-state then the War on Terror isn't really a war : it's just a defensive move, because the taliban (etc) aren't a recognised state.

If police action is defined as carried out internally to remove internal threats, it's not really police action either because the influence comes from outside of the US state (I'm guessing that's a grey area, but on the whole probably true).

So either it is a war, and Clauswitz definition is flawed because war doens't have to be between two states, OR it's not a war - just a military operation. But not a police operation (according to your definition) because of the origin of the threat.

According to you link, Clauswitz strived "to include more material on "people's war" and forms of war other than between states, but little of this material was included in the book" - so perhaps there's a definition missing there?

In the UK we've had to deal with the IRA bombing us for decades or more, with varying ferocity on both sides. It's never been described as a war though, and it's not a police matter; the military handle it. I don't think this necessarily sways any philosophical argument but it's another example of a similar thing.

  1. It's no war, because wars end. (Quote from The Wire)

    • I rest my case
  2. If you want to know what it actually is. It's the response of a system to a perceived thread.

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