Military Force Against Terrorism
SUBJECT AREA - Operations
Title: Military Force Against Terrorism.
Author: Major Kenneth E. Johnston, United States Air Force
Thesis: America must call on its standing force, the United
States military, to combat world-wide terrorism.
Background: Terrorism is on the rise in America and around
the world. Each year the devastating effects of terrorism
costs hundreds of lives and billions of dollars. Domestic
police forces are not trained or equipped to combat a threat
of this size. The United States has a standing force,
trained and equipped, standing by to combat the threat of
Recommendation: Employ United States military forces to
Thesis: We cannot rely on our domestic police forces, who
are already overburdened, to counter a threat covering the
entire globe. America must call on its standing force, the
United States military, to combat world-wide terrorism.
I. What is Terrorism?
II. How is Terrorism a threat to U.S. National
C. Law and Order
III. What responsibility does the International
Community have to combat Terrorism?
A. International collective Self-defense
B. United Nations sponsorship
C. U.S. Leadership
IV. How should military forces be prepared to combat
V. When should military forces be used to combat
C. International law
D. Jus ad bellum
Military Force Against Terrorism.
The bomber who blasted the World Trade Center and the
gunman who murdered two motorists adjacent to CIA head-
quarters brought international terrorism into the living
rooms and into the minds of average Americans. In the past,
as we watched and read the more newsworthy events that have
filled the headlines, terrorists have been going about their
deadly business. However, we can no longer turn a blind eye
We cannot rely on our domestic police forces, who are
already overburdened, to counter a threat covering the
entire globe. America must call on its standing force, the
United States military, to combat world-wide terrorism.
Most incidents involving terrorism have occurred far
removed from the everyday life of the typical American
citizen. We have allowed this remoteness to temper our
resolve to combat the bloodshed and destruction caused by
According to State Department figures, "...the number
of international terrorist incidents increased 22 percent,
from 456 in 1990 to 557 last year." (2:iii) The sheer
volume of incidents and the growing number of organizations
involved in terrorist activity call for drastic measures to
combat this international phenomenon.
When the death and destruction occurs, just down the
block or in the town just up the road, we see very clearly
what effect terrorism has on people. However, to combat
terrorism on an international scale, we need to understand
the entire scope of terrorism. We must begin with a common
definition of terrorism, where it takes place and how much
has been taking place.
Defining terrorism should be the starting point for any
efforts to manage this threat to national security.
Terrorism can manifest itself in many forms. It can be seen
in the form of an assassination, such as the killing of
Marine Corps LTC William R. Higgins in Lebanon, by the
Islamic Revolutionary Brigade in 1988, or the taking of 54
American hostages by Iran in 1979. The bombing of Pan Am
Flight 103 in the skies over of Lockerbie, Scotland, is
perhaps the most well known act of terrorism to occur this
A single common definition for terrorism eludes even
the best minds in America. Title 22 of the United States
Code, Section 2656f(d), contains this definition of
terrorism: "...premeditated, politically motivated violence
perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national or
clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an
audience." (3:iv) The Department of Defense further defines
terrorism as the "unlawful use or threatened use of force or
violence against individuals or property, with the intention
of coercing or intimidating governments or societies, often
for political or ideological purposes." (5:15)
Terrorism can best be described as activities, actual
or perceived, that cause fear. Terrorists use this fear to
exaggerate their strength and the importance of their cause.
People throughout the world understand the bloodshed and
death that generate this fear, but are helpless in defending
themselves against it.
Terrorism currently takes place all over the world.
Modern methods of transportation coupled with inadequate
control of international borders has provided the vehicle
necessary for terrorists to infiltrate all nations. Modern
communications and the proliferation of television avail-
ability world-wide has provided a theater for terrorists to
bring their cause to the attention of millions of viewers.
New weapons, smaller and more mobile, have increased
the threat of terrorism by increasing the destructive
capability of the weapons. "A U.S. Department of State
report shows that in 1991 significant terrorist events took
place in twenty-seven countries." (1) No country goes
unaffected by international terrorism.
In America terrorism attacks from two sides. First,
attacks come from international sources, such as the bombing
of the World Trade Center. "These international acts of
violence may be perpetrated by one of the over 35 terrorist
organizations recognized by the Department of State." (1)
Secondly, America is attacked from sources within, such
as Vernon Howell and his doomsday cult in Waco, Texas. Most
domestic terrorism has resulted in relatively few lives
being lost when compared to international incidents but
domestic incidents have resulted in millions of dollars of
The immensity of terrorism cannot be fathomed by most
individuals living in America. Our sanitized viewing of
world events separate us from most of the violence and
death. In reality terrorism exacts a great toll on society
and the world economy. "In 1991, 233 people were wounded
and eighty-seven people died in these attacks, world-wide,
seven were Americans." (4:2) These figures are decep-
tively low compared to previous years, but are expected to
rise to traditional levels again as terrorism goes
Terrorism is a threat to American National Security.
"The effects of terrorism are many and diverse, some of
which can be determined in dollar terms, e.g., the loss of
property and equipment, but the majority of which can not be
assessed in concrete terms, e.g., the loss of lives, the
destruction/lessing [sic] of government control, the
emotional scars on the victims of terrorist acts, etc."
(6:50) Terrorism seriously effects America in many ways,
but perhaps most significantly considering current economic,
in the pocketbook.
It is difficult to calculate the estimate cost of
terrorism, but it is necessary to determine a dollar figure
to express the vastness of the problem. The most obvious
cost of terrorism is the repair and replacement of destroyed
assets. We cannot afford the destruction of cars, build-
ings, and airplanes which are frequent targets of terror-
Other costs are more hidden, but are just as costly as
direct demolition. "During the last decade, it is estimated
that U.S. corporations, which have been a prime target of
overseas terrorism have paid between $125 and $200 million
dollars in ransom." (6:51) Most companies never report this
type of terrorism. Other hidden costs are incurred when
government organizations and private companies spend
thousands of dollars to upgrade and maintain facilities that
are resistant to terrorist attack.
Each year billions of dollars are spent to train and
equip government and private personnel to deter terrorism.
One example of a privately financed counterterrorism effort
is evident in the H. Ross Perot funded a successful 1978
raid on an Iranian prison to free two of his employees.
Significantly here a civilian felt it necessary to take the
law into his own hands to protect his interests.
Each year the government spends millions of dollars to
maintain civil and military counterterrorist forces. The
impact of terrorism on the U.S. economy is stifling, we must
find answers to lessen this burden.
Terrorism strikes at the social fiber of a country.
The people of a country cannot live in continuous fear and
disparity. "The resilience and viability of the social
fabric of a country facing terrorism will be determined by
the intensity and extent of the terrorism and the govern-
ment's ability to maintain legitimacy and suppress the
terrorism." (8:57) The quality of life in a country, par-
ticularly in America, will decline rapidly if subjected to
the constant fear of terrorism without adequate government
Crime has had this effect in the inner cities as people
are afraid to walk the streets at night. "Life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights according to
the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the
United States insures domestic tranquility; such can not co-
exist with a state of terrorism." (9:58) Life as we know it
in America will cease to exist if we do not counter the
threat of terrorism.
We have looked at what terrorism is, where it takes
place and how much is taking place. We have also determined
what terrorism is costing international and American
societies both economically and socially. Now, lets look at
who has the responsibility to combat terrorism.
International terrorism by definition is world-wide
problem and therefore should be dealt with at an inter-
national level. International cooperation could result in
international courts and prisons where terrorists would be
tried and incarcerated, relieving individual nations from
retaliation. There is two schools of thought when dealing
with terrorism at the international level.
One school is based on terrorism being a law enforce-
ment problem and primarily a civil police responsibility.
This line of reasoning lends itself to the formation of a
world court to try cases on aerial hijacking, letter bombs,
and attacks on diplomats.
The other school would contend that international
terrorism falls in the realm on armed conflict and considers
terrorism as primarily a military matter. "Terrorists are
viewed as combatants operating in warlike activity. As such
terrorists are arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned in ac-
cordance with the 1949 Geneva conventions." (10:59)
In both cases terrorists are criminals and must be
dealt with severely. If their crimes are committed across
international boundaries they should be dealt within the
international community. Civilized nations must unite in
efforts to eliminate safe havens for international terror-
One organization is in place and should be viewed as a
platform to begin operations against terrorism. The forum
established by the United Nations Charter provides a unique
vehicle for organizing a counterterrorist force. The
alliance of countries, which are represented in United
Nations, can assemble the weight necessary to fight against
organized terrorism. A force comprised of several nations
working together, and separately, under U.N. guidance, can
best meet the terrorist danger in individual nations and the
Actions taken by single countries or a coalition of
countries, without U.N. support, to thwart terrorism outside
the boundaries of their countries face ridicule and scorn,
even when working for the good of all nations. The umbrella
of the United Nations sanctions is the only way efforts
against terrorism can receive the legitimacy required to
defeat this enemy.
The enemy, terrorists and those who support inter-
national terrorism, must be identified and their identities
made public. The crimes they commit must be publicized for
the entire world to view. Whether, these actions are
committed by one individual or an organization, the nations
who are united against terrorism must act decisively.
Countries who commit or support terrorism should be dealt
with within the United Nations community.
Increasing U.S. involvement in international affairs,
both United Nations sanctioned and unilateral actions, has
escalated the probability of terrorist incidents against the
U.S. and those who choose to support our efforts. The
United States must assume a leadership role in developing
efforts to combat international terrorism. Past and current
efforts to thwart terrorism have made substantial progress
and the U.S. currently has the best counterterrorist
capability in the world.
It is becoming obvious that combatting world terrorism
is the responsibility of the entire world community and that
America should lead the way.
Preparing forces to combat terrorism is not something
to be taken lightly. Civilian police are far to involved in
domestic criminal activities to be burdened further with
international terrorism. A force should be tasked to fight
terrorism and developed with this end specifically in mind.
The U.S. has established a solid foundation for train-
ing, equipping and employing forces to counter terrorism.
This infrastructure, currently operational, can be the
example for adoption by other nations, alliances of nations
and worldwide organizations such as the United Nations.
General Carl W. Stiner, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Special
Operations Command states, "We have the best counter-
terrotist capability in the world. We have a close
relationship with many of our allies that have developed
very creditable counterterrorist forces, and I think those
things have made a difference." (11:26-31) General Stiner's
forces are the best equipped of all American fighting
forces. They have the latest technological equipment on the
market. Counterterrorist forces are hand picked from all
four services to serve in specially trained units.
The training of counterterrorist forces is currently
successful because of the focus of their mission. While
civilian police units are tasked with other non-terrorist
missions the military counterterrorist forces can train to a
high standard due to their focus.
The U.S. has identified a force to combat terrorism,
they are not only the best equipped forces in the world, but
they are trained to a razor's edge.
When we have decided to use military forces against
terrorists we must decide when, where and how to deploy
these forces. Their use must be rapid, creditable and
Forces must be employed against acts of terrorism as
rapidly as possible. Not only is a rapid response required
to facilitate the capture or destruction of the terrorist
element, but a rapid response is required to maintain world
community support, as fresh events soon displace even the
most heinous crimes. The 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103
over Lockerbie, Scotland, is a prime example; time and other
world events have diluted the resolve of the world even
though those responsible have been identified and their
locations known. Preemptive or punitive action against
foreign terrorist groups might be considered in extreme
cases, for example, where there is a clear and present
threat of mass destruction or where mass destruction has
been carried out.
Forces must be trained and on alert to respond to a
crisis as it develops. Many times the rapid evolvement of
counterterrorist forces can preempt the terrorist before
lives are lost and property damaged. The United Nations
must have pre-designated triggers that allow the use of
counterterrorist forces without the diplomatic committee
vote currently required to deploy United Nations forces.
Finally, the forces to be employed must be determined by
capability and timeliness of action--not from what nation
The major benefit in having a multi-national force or a
national force sanctioned by the U.N. is the force's ability
to have credibility around the globe. Terrorists have found
sanctuary or have operated in many countries around the
world. They have the ability to strike in any country where
it promotes their cause. The counterterrorist forces must
have the backing of the world community to ferret out
terrorists in all countries. If nations balk at the use of
a U.N.-sanctioned counterterrorist forces being used within
their borders, other more drastic measures, including the
use of conventional forces, must be used to insure
compliance in counterterrorist operations. Only by
developing collective international synergy can an
international counterterrorist force be effective.
Counterterrorist forces must not only be trained and
standing-by to respond to world crises; they must be
proactive, constantly pursuing known terrorists. They must
also be pursuing information on known terrorists. The lack
of intelligence gathering organizations has left America
flat-footed against terrorist organizations. The President,
Congressmen and Congresswomen must support active world-wide
intelligence gathering by U.S. agencies. Without such an
effort America will continue to lead the world with a
blindfold covering one eye.
We must address the legality of using military for
abroad and domestically to tie all the loose ends of this
question together. " Civil authorities should develop a
clear, publicly declared policy on the calling out and
employment of military forces in the event of an emergency
situation involving civil disorder, terrorism, or other acts
of extraordinary violence." (12)
American military forces remain under the control of
civilian authority. The military remains subservient to the
civil authority the constitution places on the military.
Therefore, the military will not act without orders from the
proper civil authorities. Many laws deal with the use of
military force abroad. Throughout discussion on laws
administering use of force in the international arena,
common threads make up the agenda. The following paragraph
outlines these common fibers:
There is ample legal authority under international law
and in the United Nations Charter, for a state to act
to protect lives....humanitarian intervention must be
for a specific limited purpose...duration and mission
must be strictly limited to what is required....
measures must be limited...proportionally...There must
no other recourse. (13)
These laws governing the use of military forces are inter-
nationally recognized by members of the United Nations.
They also mirror the concepts of Jus ad bellum.
The need for use of military force against terrorism
within the confines of U.S. borders becomes more evident
each day. As the standoff with the Branch Davidians nears
one month in length in Waco, Texas, it seems obvious that a
professional military counterterrorist organization is
needed to resolve this crisis. Even the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms agents realized they were out-gunned
and needed military support as they called in armored
vehicles from local military bases. "The growing threat of
international terrorism and its domestic imitators, and the
need for a response beyond the capabilities of the civil
authority raises serious questions that need to be faced
with realism." (12)
Using military force to combat terrorism requires
American leaders to ask some hard questions. We know
terrorism is on the rise, not only in frequency but in it's
ferociousness. We know it causes millions of dollars in
destruction each year and takes the lives of many innocent
people. We know it is a world-wide problem and that as
world leaders America must pilot resistance against
terrorism. Most importantly we have had the foresight to
develop a crack world-wide counterterrorist force. Now, we
must have the resolve to employ this force. We must
continue to finance military programs to train and equip
these elite forces. We must develop an intelligence
information base on known terrorists and those who support
them. We must allow the U.S. military to take an active
role against counterterrorism.
1. Burleigh, A. Peter, Patterns Of Global Terrorism: 1991
(Washington: Office of the Coordinator for Counter-
terrorism, Department of State, April 92).
2. Ibid., pp. iii.
3. Ibid., pp. iv.
4. Ibid., pp. 2.
5. DOD Directive 2000.12, Protection of DOD Personnel and
Resources against Terrorist Acts, 16 June 1986, pp. 15.
6. Elson, Stephen J., Terrorism: Some Answers to Some
Difficult Problems, (Naval Postgraduate School,
Monterey, California, March 1982) pp. 50.
7. Ibid., pp. 51.
8. Ibid., pp. 57.
9. Ibid., pp. 58.
10. Erickson, Lt Col Richard J., Legitimate Use of Military
Force Against State-Sponsored International Terrorism,
(Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.: Air University Press,
July 1989.) pp. 59.
11. Hyde, James C., "An Exclusive AFJI Interview With:
General Carl W. Stiner, USA," Armed Forces Journal
International, December 1992, pp. 26-31.
12. Report of the Task Force on Disorders and Terrorism,
National Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice
Standards and Goals, 1976.
13. U.S. Preparation for Future Low-Level Conflict, Report
of discussion held at the RAND Corporation, Washington
D.C., 19-20 October 1976.
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