State Terrorism

State terrorism can be loosely defined as terrorism acts conducted by state against its own people or foreign people. State terrorism employs fear and violence to maintain power. However, there is no international legal or academic consensus in terms of the definition of the state terrorism. Some scholars believe that country’s actions can constitute state terrorism while others believe that actions by violent non-state actors constitute state terrorism. Gus Martin in his book Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues has noted that terrorism is a very dark feature as far as human behaviour is concerned since antiquity. There have been assassinations against great leaders and incredible violence acts committed in the name of terrorism. State terrorism is also referred to as a form of an established terrorism (Marchak, et al 1999).

There are four characteristics of state terrorism:

  • First, it involves the use of threats or violence.
  • Secondly, there are political objectives coupled with the desire for a status quo change.
  • Thirdly, the main intention revolves around the creation of fear among the civilian population through commission of stunning public acts and, lastly, innocent citizens are usually targeted.

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The targeting of citizens underlines the fundamental difference between state terrorism and other state violence acts. Hence, when war is declared, and the military is sent to combat other military, this is not state terrorism. When criminals of violent crimes are punished through violence after conviction, this does not constitute state terrorism either.

Theoretically, it is not hard to distinguish state terrorism acts. In France, the government used reign of fear in 1793 after the overthrow of French monarch was state terrorism. The establishment of a revolutionary dictatorship decided to root out people who vehemently opposed the revolution. Guillotine was used to kill civilians convicted of various crimes. Such consequences of state terrorism are detrimental and unnecessary as far as protection of human is concerned.

In the wake of the 20th century, the emergence of authoritarian states systematically was accompanied by violence and extremist actions aimed at threatening their own civilians, which exemplified the state terrorism premise. The Soviet Union and the Nazi Germany are classical examples of terrorism practiced by states. Government form determines whether a state will opt for terrorism acts. Through terror, military dictatorships are able to maintain power. Such governments virtually paralyze communities through threats and violence. Fear thus characterizes social actions by individuals. The inability of the people/social actors to predict results of their individual/group behaviour due to the public authority is exercised brutally and arbitrarily. Attacks on populations, which are non-combatant constitute state terrorism (Caplan, 2008).

However, liberal democracies today also bear some features of state terrorism. The Israel and United States cases are argued as prominent examples. Both of them are voted democracies with immense safeguards against civil rights violations. However, critics have pointed out that Israel has continued perpetrate terrorism against its foreign populations. Upon Israel’s occupation since the late 1940s, the Palestine people in Gaza have lived in fear. In May 2004, Israel armed forces’ bulldozers razed Rafah refugees’ camps in retaliation to the killing of five of their soldiers. This was done after PM Ariel Sharon, as well as Mofaz, the Defense Minister authorized the demolition of thousands of houses. Since 1948, Israel has made many Palestine people refugees.

On the other hand, the United States has been accused of acts of terrorism routinely. The US has been the only country in the world that supports Israel’s occupation in Gaza. Moreover, the US has been accused of supporting oppressive regimes that terrorize their own citizens in a bid to maintain power. Such anecdotal evidence demonstrates that both authoritarian and democratic regimes capitalize on state terrorism to maintain their grasp on power. Equally, democratic countries foster state terrorism towards foreigners who threaten their borders. Thus, democracies like the US do not terrorize their own citizens but foreigners living in other countries are perceived as extra-terrestrials. Primarily, this is because if democracies were to terrorize their own populations, they would cease being democratic and become dictatorships.

States that support insurgencies are seen as supporting state terrorism. People who blame their governments for state-sponsored terrorism are largely seen as radicals. This is anchored on the premise that actions by legitimate governments cannot be illegitimate. Thus, while state terrorism exists, legitimate governments advance terrorism in the guise of safeguarding the interest of its citizenry. Terrorism is, therefore, perceived as being propagated by non-state actors and not states themselves. State terrorism occurs when governments systematically use violence in order to create an environment of fear in populations and thus fulfil a particular political objective. We cannot define terrorism in jurisdictions (Clarke, 2004).

Conspirators and insurgents apply terrorism to victimize civilians. In the international relations, the states employ terrorism in the international system more than insurgents to advance their own interests. Gus Martin in his work, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues underscores the fact that state terrorism is simply terrorism that is committed by quasi-governmental agencies, personnel, and governments to both foreign and domestic targets, which threaten states. Established terrorism is thus committed by governments/states, their agents, as well as their allies. State terrorism can be categorized depending on the secrecy/openness of how terrorists’ acts are committed, whether states directly commit terrorism acts and support them, or whether states are acquiescence to these attacks (Powers, 2002).

According to Aristotle, tyrants employ terror against their own subjects. During the Reign of Terror in France, Jacobin government as well as other French Revolution factions used state terrorism to intimidate and execute political opponents. To Gus Martin, state terrorism always challenges the stability of communities. With the advent of satellite communications, terrorist incidents’ graphic images, television, internet, and other forms of communication facilitate instantaneous broadcast of terrorism impacts. Political violence sometimes constitutes state terrorism. Civilians’ massacres and planting of market bombs may be politically motivated. Unadulterated terrorism barbarity, national liberation, and freedom fighting may constitute elements of state terrorism.

On 11 September 2001, there were terrorist attacks in the US. The aftermath of this attack saw scholars, journalists, and national leaders debate the emergence of a new-fangled global terrorist environment. Terrorists have the capacity to use mass destruction weapons to mete out unprecedented damage on innocent citizens. Critics point out that the US is the principal terrorist state. World Court condemned the US of international terrorism. Moreover, a resolution by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that called states to respect the international law was ignored by the US. The bombing of Oklahoma City was a state terrorist act by the US government. Reagan’s administration is no exception. There was a terrorist attack in 1985 in Beirut. America’s support during Clinton’s administration for Turkey is a manifestation of state terrorism. The Turkish government crashes its Kurdish population. The use of the Central Intelligence Authority (CIA) by the American government to carry out assassinations is a clear expression of state terrorism acts (Manusama, 2006).

Since antiquity, terrorism behaviour in the form of dissident terrorism, state terrorism, as well as other forms of political violence forms had impinge on societal stability. Claim that countries, which propagate state repression aim at championing noble values and causes is misleading. State terrorism is construed to mean that governments use political violence to advance social order and maintenance of law. State terrorism has a pejorative meaning today because of states that are unabashedly extremist. This form of malevolent threat is unjust to innocent populations. It is evident that the justifications for state terrorism are not morally satisfactory (Grandin & Joseph, 2010).

The Oklahoma City Bombing occurred on 19 April 1995 and was executed out by Timothy McVeigh, a Patriotic Movement devotee. This was a form of domestic terrorism. The 11 September 2001 attack underlined the notion that the US is a major target for international terrorism. Equally, on 7 December 1941, Japan also targeted the United States. Thus, Japan’s Pearl Harbor Attack in Hawaii can also be seen as an act of state terrorism. The USA Patriot Act passed on October 2001 gave law enforcement US agencies the capacity to engage in investigative and surveillance work. On 25 November 2002, the number of federal agencies was increased from 17 to 22. They were then consolidated under the umbrella of Homeland Security Department. By and large, increase of these federal agencies opened an opportunity for political violence through state terrorism acts. Government agencies help in the execution of state terrorism acts. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is an agency charged with the responsibility of quasi-security missions. It aims at protecting the US against terrorist threats and foreign intelligence. According to Blowback theory, terrorism is a reaction to the power wielded by the US (Roleff, 2004).

Police measures were employed as a form of state terrorism by the Soviet Union in the early 1920s. In 1930-1940s, the Nazi regime in Germany forced full political power on community. The police was an extremely strong agency in both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. State terrorism was aimed at the defenceless and atomized populations. Guernica Bombing in the Soviet Union was an act of state terrorism. Equally, according to Edward S. Herman and Naom Chomsky’s The Political Economy of Human Rights (1979), the US practiced state terrorism during the Cold War. State terrorism was a protectionist instrument for the capital elite’s terrorism. Towards this end, the US collaborated with other neo-colonial client states system that cooperated with the local elites in ruling through terror.

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Reports by human rights groups and Amnesty International unveil instances of state murder and torture. Latin American states, about ten of them, have ‘death squads’ aimed at propagating state murder and torture. About 74% countries in the world who torture merely on administrative grounds are America’s client states who, receive military and sought of support in order to retain power and advance their oppressive regimes. The global rise in state terror acts is a result of America’s foreign policy. Western powers, according to Alexander George (1991), Western powers sponsor state terror in third World Countries. The US and its allies support state terrorism. To Chomsky, all powers supported state terrorism within client states. Notably, France and the United Kingdom provided military, diplomatic, and financial support to Least Developed Countries (LDCs) that helped them retain power through violent means especially during the Cold War (Gale et al.,2009).

State terrorism aims at using coercive instruments upon civilian populations in a bid to attain religious, political, or even other objectives. The US government for instance advocates for ‘low-intensity warfare’ to excuse state terrorism. This goes against the doctrine of international law. This is because terrorism, whatever its form, is a misdemeanour against humanity. According to Blakely, state terrorism entails deliberate violent or coercion acts against individuals. The targeted audience is forced to change its political behaviour through induction of extreme fear on victims. Agencies at the behest of the government commit state terrorism acts. These agencies include private security and paramilitaries (O’kane, 2007).

Just like non-state terrorism, state terrorism entails the use of bombings, assassinations, takeovers, illegal detentions, torture, degrading and humiliating treatments, kidnappings, and hostage takings. Stalin and Adolf Hitler employed these methods against guiltless civilians. Neither state nor non-state terrorism obey international laws. Deliberately targeting citizens, either in peacetime or times of armed conflict violates International Human Rights Law (IHRL) and International Humanitarian Law (IHL). State terrorism is used by states either internally or domestically against innocent people thus violating human rights (Kuromiya, 2005).

In the 1980s, the Libyan government sponsored terrorist attacks against the UK, France, and the US as an indirect campaign. During the Cold War, Colombia received counter-insurgency training and funding in a bid to obliterate the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The FARC was an aboriginal insurgency faction in Colombia. The effects of state terrorism are far-reaching. According to the rules codified within Hague and Geneva, conventions outlaw reprisals on civilians, prohibit taking populations as hostages, and recognize territory neutrality. Thus, state terrorism violates these very same laws (Malcolm & Losleben, 2004).

In conclusion, state is usually compounded by hypocrisy, deception, and secrecy. Terrorist states act through clandestine brutality. Unfortunately, these states publicly profess adherence to rules, principles, and values. While states are signatories to international conventions and laws that prohibit terrorism, state terrorism is in breach countries’ glum international commitments. State terrorism is a threat to global peace and security. It impinges the fundamental human rights of citizens. It is clear that state terrorism dates back to the Reign of Terror all through the French Revolution, the purges, camps, and trials by Stalin, Dresden Allied Bombing, which was used to terrorize the population in Germany during the World War II. In modern day, state terrorism is largely seen as defensive and reactionary according to the world-system theory. There is the need to deliberate on the concept of state terrorism.