The Sovereign Nation-State as a Contributor to Terrorism

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The current crises associated with ‘terrorism,’ in particular the shocking acts by individuals in the beheading of civilians as acts of revenge notwithstanding, there are issues with regard to the nation-state and its role in the ‘shaping’ of terrorism that have remained undisclosed.  The active participation of individuals and/or groups and their forming of a reaction to the nation-state is what has remained at the forefront of the commentary.  By its very nature the focus on the reaction implies a dyad: the perpetual reinforcement of the nation-state as being just and reasonable; and that those who react against the nation-state and its laws/wisdoms are criminals.  Hence, there has been no comment with regard to the ‘process’—such as the systemic brutalisation of a populace as encountered by the ‘Marsh Peoples’ of southern Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime—which caused them to rise up after the First Gulf War.  To wit, governments need not acknowledge their role in creating terrorists; and terrorism.  However, placing terrorism in perspective with regard to the nation-state provides a useful template and guide to what it consists ‘of.’


‘[T]here are many definitions for the word terrorism as there are methods of executing it … [h]owever, most definitions of terrorism hinge on three factors: the method (violence), the target (civilian or government) and the purpose (to instill fear and force political or social change).’[1]  Save for the ongoing mantra of poverty creating discontent and disenfranchisement of peoples—which is often followed by group violence—governments of nation-states tend to decouple from deeper issues that bring about decentralised, yet organized, group violence. Therefore, the questioning of what governments actually ‘do’ in order to bring about the rise of a ‘non-state actor,’ remains unmentioned, unexamined and more importantly unattached to governments and their explicit actions. The Islamic State (IS) is the current overt example in such a state-of-affairs and is encountering the wrath of several nation-states—including Australia.


Whether liberal-democracy is the best form of government is a moot point and need not be debated here as this essay is concerned with why a group would rebel against a liberal-democratic government—such as the current Iraqi government—and pursue change through violence.  A counter-argument is and remains, if the sovereign state was accomplishing the task of good government/governance, the corresponding inclusiveness it would generate, would surely render violent reaction (near) non-existent. This is currently not the case in many nations. Therefore, the question of what does it ‘take’ for a group—such as IS—to react with violence, and why is it intent on the creation of a territory that essentially, overrides traditional boundaries?   A useful broad-spectrum answer to this question is evident by their actions of claiming the territory IS believes is theirs and as such, IS has no respect for traditional Western/Eurocentric stipulated boundaries. Whilst there are no surprises in the outcome of governments—whether liberal-democratic or otherwise—not questioning their role in creating terrorism and/or or terrorists per se, as this could involve the burden of introspection, it is nevertheless useful to delve deeper into how the  notion of sovereignty has changed; and in turn observe what this fluidity has done in encouraging a ‘rise in terrorism.’


There is a need, in order to bring a balance to the current debate to cast aside the horrendous acts of individuals and focus on terrorism per se and therefore, involves taking a clinical approach to the issue.  There is much needed in the overall commentary with regard to terrorism and terrorists that requires coming to terms with the role of the nation-state in order to comprehend what has come to be, its bedevilment. Terrorism after all, does not happen ‘in a vacuum,’ and it is not an ahistorical event.  Therefore understanding terrorism in the later twentieth century and the early twenty-first century requires a significant historical leap which enables the nation-state to be grounded in its historical intent—what it was supposed to ‘become’—and paradoxically, by observing this factor and how it has changed over time offers an understanding of why non-state actors (terrorists) exist.

The Treaty of Westphalia[2]—hereafter referred to as the ‘Treaty’—in 1648 saw the formulation of the sovereign nation-state (often referred to as the ‘State’ or ‘Statehood’), and from this time the notion of what is to be ‘sovereign’ has been imposed on the world.  The Treaty was an agreement by the elite powers of Western Europe that ended the Sixty Years War[3] which had laid waste to much of Europe.  Eventually, the processes and the underpinnings of the Treaty would usurp all that stood in the way of the accompanying Westphalian-system of government; and governance.  Or put more simply how governments are structured and how they should interact with their respective populaces through rule-of-law, diplomacy, merit and numerous other ‘reasonable’ acts. The power of the Treaty can be seen in the sovereign-state marshalling its abilities through the use of a disciplined army and in some cases navy, and of the State becoming the ‘strongest form of political organisation.’[4]  Feudal rulers, feudal families, tribes, clans, weak(er) monarchs, dynasties, elites and numerous other groups would be drawn into the State in one way or another.  This could be achieved through persuasion as in the case of the French in Corsica by offering protection, or the use of brute force such as the British in the case of Scotland, and the Dutch in Indonesia.  Others, nomadic peoples such as the European gypsies, native peoples such as the Australian Aborigines, the Amerindians would be completely overcome through ongoing pressure and at times direct force.  African tribes too, through the arbitrary drawing up of borders by the great colonial powers (Britain, Italy, Portugal and France) over approximately two centuries[5] experienced the Treaty first-hand in this way.  The intrusion of Commodore Perry’s ‘black ships’ in order to demand long-secluded Japan trade with the West, (1853-1854)[6] is also an intrusion of the Westphalian-system spurred on by mercantilism, in a post-1648 world.  The banal yet necessary observation to acknowledge is the centuries-long successes of the covenant of statehood remains internationally recognised and largely accepted to this day.  There is however, one crucial aspect that came into being via the Treaty and it is a rigid understanding of what sovereignty has at its root: recognized demarcated borders; and the non-interference of others.  Thus,


[T]he world consists of, and is divided into, sovereign territorial states that recognize no superior authority; the processes of law-making, settlement of disputes and law enforcement are largely in the hands of individual states; [and] international law is oriented to the establishment of minimal rules of coexistence.[7]


The above statement suggests sovereign states are allowed—due to the implementations of numerous international laws—to govern their recognized territories in any way they choose.  Therefore, no other country is to impose their ‘values’ of governance on another sovereign state.  The reality of the situation is vastly different.  Powerful nation-states for centuries, have sought to impose their value-systems on others often resulting in ‘total war.’ Total war consists of ‘a high mobilisation of society … [comprise] a fight for survival … [and] mobilize resources and means to wage battles with few restraints …’[8]  There have also been micro-instances of this phenomenon—known as ‘limited war’—delivered against groups within nation-states by their own government or by other more powerful States, often for a nebulous ‘greater good.’  Limited war is however a more difficult phenomenon to explain as it is nebulous by definition.  Broadly speaking, ‘limited war’ requires nations to place artificial restraints to preclude it from escalating into total war … [and] limitations on the objectives sought; weapons and manpower employed; the time, terrain, and geographic area of hostilities; and the emotions, passions, and energy, and intellect committed by a nation.’ [9]  The problematics of limited war are that it has within it, conceptual tensions: how much of a commitment is ‘limited,’ and by what ‘means’ should they be measured?[10]  Osgood’s enunciation of the pivotal discord, within the concept stresses the difficulties of what ‘limited’ actually consists of in hostilities and this incorporates the following dichotomy: ‘war may be limited from the perspective of one belligerent, yet virtually unlimited in the eyes of another.’[11]   The North Vietnamese forces fight a total war as opposed to American and allied forces fighting a limited war in Vietnam (162 – 1975) are examples of this discord writ large.   


Some recent of limited war are the Russian Federation fighting the Chechen Rebels in the Second Chechen War; the French in the Indo-China Conflict (the First Vietnam War) and Algeria (the Algerian Conflict); the British in Malaya (the Malayan Emergency, or the War of the Running Dogs); the United States of America (US) and its allies in Vietnam (the Vietnam War[12]); and the Second Gulf War, also known as the ‘War on Terror’ mounted by the US and its allies in Iraq, to name only a few[great examples!!].  These examples encompass the mix of State-versus-State conflicts and include State-versus-non-State actor conflict, although the main aim is to announce the temerity with which the nation-state acts.


To be sure, non-State actors, or actors of a ‘renegade State’ that rebels against the government of a nation-state is immediately labelled a ‘terrorist group’ or an ‘insurgency,’ through the prism of international law.  The implication intrinsic within these definitions is that the backlash against a sovereign government is inherently illegal which technically it is; and therefore ‘corrupt’ which is a moral addendum the nation-state often applies to its enemies.  The opposition Tamil Tigers rebelling with violence against their suppression by the government of Sri-Lanka were deemed ‘terrorists;’ as was the ‘Viet Cong’ ‘insurgents’ when fighting the Americans’ and their allies in the south of Vietnam; and so too was the Irish Republican Army in ‘the Troubles’ in ‘defending’ their homeland against Britain.  The myriad of reasons each side would present in their justifications for actions is an arid argument at this point, as what is of interest here is the action of the nation-state toward those that oppose its will.


What is of the most relevance to the abovementioned is the understanding that powerful nation-states have, since time-in-memoriam, inserted a ‘fluidity’ in to the notion to sovereignty which has essentially allowed powerful nation-states free reign over less-powerful nation-states and groups.  In simpler terms, powerful actors have deliberately become involved in the affairs of others and their actions have disregarded the clearly pronounced element of what sovereignty ‘consists of’—the non-interference of otherswithin, and through the Treaty.  As this has happened continuously in previous centuries, the way in which sovereignty has been eroded in the twentieth century is what is important here, and it leads to a sagacious understanding: IS has moved in the same direction as powerful nation-state actors in its non-acceptance of sovereignty with the use of a deliberate invasion strategy.  A strategy that has been effectively shown to gain results for nation-states and moreover, IS fighters are showing similar contemptuous disregard of the Westphalian-system—as heralded by many of the most powerful of nation-states.


Whilst the beheading of civilians and crimes in conflict zones whether civilian or military cannot and should not be condoned, the intrusion by others into the lands of a sovereign state, whether through direct incursion or influence pronounces that the model of sovereignty within the Treaty—and its modern day equivalent the United Nations Charter—is now defunct; and open to interpretation.  Actions such as the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, ongoing US drone-strikes in Pakistan, the Indonesian military presence in Irian Jaya/West Papua in order to suppress ‘rebel actions,’ the recent Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine, the presence of Russian forces in Chechnya, the French moving troops into Mali, and the presence of Royal Australian Air Force F-16 Super-Hornet’s over Iraq is to name only some instances of modern day brute force.  All however, signal that powerful nation-states are able to act with relative impunity and have altered the meaning of what it is to be ‘sovereign.’  Having a presence in a country through violent incursions regardless of the justification, defiles what the Treaty was designed to achieve: peace through the non-intervention of others in the sovereign state.


The issue of violent reaction occurring when people/s are ignored, brutalised, disenfranchised, status-deprived and repressed or a combination thereof by the actions of a sovereign state is another banal, yet necessary point to make.  However, the labelling of violent dissenters as ‘terrorists’ or ‘insurgents’ is a term with obvious ramifications as dictated by the nation-state; and through the prism of international law.  What should be acknowledged over and above this is that powerful nation-states have continuously shattered the boundaries of others sovereignty and have engineered a free reign of their power in order to fulfil their quests.  In doing so, powerful nation-states have effectively caused their own domino-principle: the rise of non-State actors pushing for their ‘rights’ outside the remit of the Westphalian-system.


Due to the abovementioned factors the ‘rise’ of terrorism, it can be argued has both, directly and indirectly been caused by powerful Western and Euro-centric sovereign nation-states since the end of World War One; and more so since the end of World War Two. Because the United Nations (UN), in particular the UN Security Council has fundamentally failed in its distribution of fair and reasonable jurisprudence.[13] Their example has been assiduously followed by some Baltic, Asian, Central Asian, Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern nation-states since the latter part of last century.  All have had a part in the making of what is currently bedevilling the Middle East.  Unless the sovereign state curbs its tenacity in the suppression of ‘dissenting’ groups more will come.  Why will this happen?  In large part it will be due to abject derision and contempt which Western liberal-democracies—as the  major stakeholder’s in what is considered to be ‘good governance,’[14]—have held the Treaty and its latter-day equivalent in the second half of the twentieth century; and continue to do so in the early part of the twenty-first century.


[1] Harvey Kushner.  Encyclopedia of Terrorism. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003, 359. Italics in original.

[2] The Treaty of Westphalia is also referred to as the Peace Treaty of Westphalia, the Settlement of Westphalia, the Peace Settlement of Westphalia, and the Peace Treaties of Westphalia.  The Treaty of Westphalia was not borne of a single document as each, to some extent consisted of, and constituted, a ‘treaty’ of sorts.  The most pertinent ones were of Franco-German intercession: the Treaty of Münster, and the Treaty of Osnabrück respectively.  See: Leo Gross. ‘The Peace Treaty of Westphalia.’ The American Journal of International Law, 42, 1, January, 1948, 20-41. <>

[3] The Sixty Years War—which produced the outcome of the Treaty of Westphalia—is divided into two counts. The first part consisted of an erratic 30 years of warfare leading up to a more definitive Thirty Years War (1618-1648).  Although it should be noted the 30 years of warfare which ended in 1618, was more of an ‘ad-hoc’ conflict than the Thirty Years War (sometimes also referred to as the Later Thirty Years’ War).  Both wars are however, usually combined by historians’ and referred to as the Sixty Years’ War.  The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) when referred to in isolation is consistently seen in more contemporary terms of warfare, due to the sustained/protracted and face-to-face nature of the various conflicts, and the level of ‘quasi-state’ or ‘state-like’ organization of the respective armies involved.  There is however disagreement amongst historians’ which needs to be acknowledged here.  Held refers to the war which produced the Treaty of Westphalia as the event which brought to an end the Eighty Years War between Spain and the Dutch Republic and believes the Thirty Years War was only the ‘German phase’ of the war.  See: David Held. ‘Inequalities of power, problems of democracy.’  Reinventing the Left.  Edited by David Miliband.  Cambridge: Polity, 1994, 78.  Finally, Sutherland states the Thirty Years War was not a war at all and states the ‘war’ has been developed into a ‘‘factitious conception’ which has become an indestructible myth.’  Sutherland views the conflict not as a ‘war,’ but as an interminable struggle between the Habsburgs and the French royal dynasty, the Valois and their successors the Bourbons, which did not end until circa 1715.  See: Nicola Sutherland.  ‘The Origins of the Thirty Years War and the Structure of European Politics.’  English Historical Review.   Oxford: Oxford University Press, 107, 1992, 587.

[4] Alfred Cobban.  The Nation State and National Self-Determination.  London: Oxford University Press, 1969, 30.

[5] Max Fisher.  ‘The Dividing of a Continent: Africa’s Separatist Problem.’  The Atlantic.  10 September, 2012.

[6] Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Visualising Cultures.  2010.

[7] Roger King and Gavin Kendall.  The State, Democracy and Globalization.  Houndsmills: Palgrave, 2004, 34. Italics mine.

[8] John Vasquez.  The War Puzzle.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 67.

[9] Adrian Lewis.  The American Culture of War.  The History of U.S. Military Force from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom.  New York: Routledge, 2007, 203.  Italics in original.

[10] Strobe Driver.  Why wining a war is no longer necessary: Modern Warfare and the United States of America through the prism of the wars of Vietnam and Iraq. Doctoral Thesis. Federation University: Ballarat, 2011, 103.

[11] Robert Osgood.  Limited War: The Challenge to American Strategy.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957, 2.

[12] The ‘Vietnam War’ is ‘known as the “American War” in Vietnam.’  See: British Broadcasting Corporation.  Timeline: Vietnam.

[13] See:  Broken Promises. The United Nations At 60.  Citizens United and Citizens United Foundation.  Editors: John Selllman and Johnalynn Holland.  Director Kevin Knoblock, 2005.

[14] This is particularly true of governments that have embraced Western liberal-democracy as a form of governance since the end of World War One and thus, it has continuously been deemed to be the only ‘suitable’ form of government.  Moreover, its credibility was enhanced when it eventually ‘defeated’ its long-term rival: Communism.  The success of liberal-democracy, its merit in governance, its venerableness and robustness, and its righteousness and purpose are reflected in what Francis Fukuyama deeming the collapse of Communism to be the ‘end of history.’  See: Francis Fukuyama.  The End of History and the Last Man.  New York: Free Press, 1992.

The above article was also published by the AIMN in a modified version as

‘Double Standards: the West and terrorism’

The horrors recently delivered upon innocent civilians and police officers in France, and being mindful of the unspeakable multiple-traumas that would have been cast upon those involved in Australia’s Lindt Café siege, are painful in the extreme, and those concerned should be offered unconditional sympathy. With the greatest of respect–especially to those who have lost a loved one–there is a deeper malaise underpinning why these actions have taken place. In order to understand why these individuals’ were driven to this point must be cautiously brought to the fore. At its core is the way in which the West has manipulated—to its own advantage—the world’s body-politic; and the way in which this process has stirred the hatred of many.

The process of the untrammelled expansion of the ‘West’[1] or what is the Western ‘style’ of government and governance has been present in the body-politic of the world for several centuries. The European Westphalian[2] ‘system,’ is what underpins the way in which the world ‘is’ and consists of demarcated borders, sovereign/national government, recognized boundaries (sea, air and land), effective governance, and the rule of sovereign law, as well as international law. This ‘system,’ has been in place since 1648 however, there was an attempt to put this ‘system’ more firmly into place after World War One—through the League of Nations—however, this failed and it was not until after World War Two (WWII), that it was formally reinforced through an institute: the United Nations (UN). In coming to terms with UN ‘requirements’ and thus, the full recognition of the ‘system’ it is necessary to differentiate between ‘government’ and ‘governance.’ Government is who ‘runs a country’ and there are many different ‘types’ and forms of a ‘government’: dictatorship, democracy, autocracy, social-democracy, benevolent dictatorship, theocracy and numerous others. To be sure, often a particular government will consist of a ‘blend’ of practices although it will form under the mantle of one ‘type’ of government. Others will be static in their representation of a ‘style’ of government, such as Cuba and Britain, both incredibly different though rigid in their representation. Whilst there were, and are, many differences in the way in which countries are governed, all countries nevertheless, conform to the system of governance which Europa—or what we now call Europe/Western Europe—devised, and then disseminated around the world. The ‘manner of governing’[3] is premised on the aforementioned sovereign-system of values, which all participants recognize as legitimate/legal.

There are, of course, disputes with regard to ‘who owns what’ and there always has been. Hence, in modern day times these issues are meant to be debated in the UN. This is in direct contrast to the pre-Westphalian system of immediate recourse-to-arms when a matter was in dispute. The savagery of which, was summed by Grotius circa early-1600s as,

I saw prevailing throughout the Christian world … a license in making war which even barbarous nations would have been ashamed; recourse was had to arms for slight reasons, or for no reason, and when arms were once taken up, all reverence for divine and human law was thrown away; just as if men were thenceforth authorized to commit all crimes without restraint.[4]

There remains to this day, several current sovereignty/ownership disputes and they are China-India, (Arunachal Pradesh); Israel-Palestine, (Gaza Strip); China-Japan, Senkaku Islands/Diaoyutai Islands; and the Argentine-Britain, Falklands Islands/Islas Malvinas. Nevertheless, all of the these are expected to be solved through the various mechanisms of the UN, and the mantra of the UN has always been—through their various charters—to insist that peaceful settlement is the best outcome.

Underpinning the UN is also an insistence that nations, regardless of their government to (eventually) adopt ‘democracy,’ as through this mechanism the UN believes ‘best practice’ governance—or put more succinctly, the Western European ‘model’ of governing—should be adopted, as it offers better populace representation and moreover, is the consummate expression of fairness. All else is secondary to this model. Powerful non-democratic nation-states (such as China and Russia) do exercise considerable control within the UN—both are have permanent seats on the UN Security Council and are part of the Permanent Five (P5) members on the UN Security Council (UNSC)—and as such, they do respect the rules of polity as per the Westphalian system. Theoretically all nations-states, and in particular, democratically governed nation-states respect the Wesphalian mantra that a sovereign ruler/government has the ‘supreme authority to act in a particular sphere unhampered by others …’[5] or in simpler terms, a ruler/government is allowed to conduct their governing/governance on their own terms without the interference of others.

Therefore, one can argue, if democracies are the best representatives of what good government and governance represents, then it is only fair that their record be examined in what they have done in order to bring about peace; and what they have accomplished in the post-WWII world, in particular with regard to the non-interference component. This needs to be done to establish whether what powerful democracies have insisted upon through the mechanisms of the UN—peaceful dialogue, negotiation and other principles of justice—has actually been carried out by those that have the high moral ground with regard to governing; and to be sure, in keeping to their Westphalian ‘ideals.’

A perfunctory observation of the post-WWII era is an excellent starting point because the UN has been firmly established and once again, powerful democracies should not, if they are true to their ideals, be inciting hatred through what Grotius called ‘a license to making war’—the use of direct force—especially when its (read: democracy) expectations of others has not been met.

The West however, whilst insisting that others seek peaceful solutions, has ‘resorted to the sword’ on many occasions.  At times this has consisted of intra-state interventions (warring with another Western nation-state), though on most occasions, it has been Western interventions colliding with non-Western nation-states and/or peoples in one form or another. The interest here however, is the degree that the West, or ‘Western-orientated’ nation-states have delivered on their adversary, whether through direct or indirect violence.  Examples of the West going to war in one form or another consist of Great Britain and its dealings with Northern Ireland (The Troubles, 1968-1998)[6]; the British in Malaya (the ‘Malayan Emergency,’ or the ‘War of the Running Dogs,’ 1948-1960)[7]; the incursion and then invasion of northern Vietnam by the French (the First Indo-China War, 1946-1954); the French occupation of Algeria, in what Evans has called France’s ‘undeclared war’[8]; the Second Indo-China War (the Vietnam War 1962-1975) in order for the United States (US) to stem the tide of Communism which it insisted would take place through a ‘domino principle,’ which would see all of Southeast Asia usurped by Communism[9]; South Africa and the Apartheid regime which included the gaoling of the (then) terrorist Nelson Mandela; the ‘extraordinary rendition’[10] of citizens by the US to non-Western nation-states in their ‘War on Terror’ (2003 – ); to name only a few examples of violence which the West has approved.  Less overt, however just as troublesome is the selective approval by the West of, arming and/or supporting nation-states  that have brutal and repressive governments such as Saudi Arabia; and the tacit support by the West of other less-violent though highly-suspect governments’ in their deliverance of democracy to all of their citizens, such as Singapore. Whilst the aforementioned represent degrees of direct force and/or misguided political will on the part of the West, and bearing in mind Western nation-states are the ‘upholder’s of problem solving’ via the UN, the sheer ineptness on the part of Western nations in bringing about an end to the recent internal conflict in Syria, and a mutually beneficial conclusion to the long-term Israel-Palestine crisis[11] cannot be ignored as both, it is fair to argue, contribute to the utter despair and rage of numerous non-Western nation-states.  Moreover, they incite hatred toward the West; and manifest in their peoples a divide between how much the West really cares for non-Western populaces.

All of the abovementioned constitute abject and in some cases deliberate failings on the part of powerful Western nation-states in dealing with issues that are their concern—as per the tenets of Westphalia. More to the point, the West specifically addresses the notions of diplomacy through the various mechanisms of the UN, yet, and as is able to be observed, resorts to war, or a degree of violence at the earliest opportunity. The most relevant point here is, the West (and Western-orientated countries) pontificate one point of view, resort to violence, and then have the impudence it would seem, to believe their duplicity will go unnoticed and moreover, will not incite hatred and/or revenge toward the West. This is folly; and can only lead to eventual despair for the West.

The moral argument of whether attacks should take place against civilian targets is (now)an arid argument as the fact remains this is happening; and is evidence of the above duplicity in action. An alternative perspective remains to suggest that there is always another aspect to a given issue, for instance the argument that an agitator/event provoked the West into action—the most obvious in recent times being the World Trade Center disaster: A specific point needs mentioning here: it is the UN—usually the P5—that is charged with whether an action is warranted, and whether it should be pre-emptive or post-event.  Therefore, it is not a single country to decide whether it should take action, and should only take action with UN approval. The tenets of the UN remain in place: military force must not be used unless it has the official/legal backing of the UNSC.[12]

The West has failed in following its own rules; in its duty-of-care to good governance and has treated other nation-states, in particular non-Western countries, with contempt and derision.  As the actions of the West have developed and progressed in the post-WWII world the deliberateness of these actions—in some cases toward other Western nation-states, in the case of Ireland—have caused groups to come-of-age; be willing to sacrifice their lives; and execute others in the cause against the direct repression that the West has delivered. While the actions of non-state actors are reprehensible, especially when civilians and police officers are targeted, it is far too simplistic to state that the cause of non-state actors—terrorists, guerrillas and insurgents—have not been encouraged to their actions due to the abject contempt with which the West has shown toward others. Additionally, the West has fundamentally failed to stem reactionary forces through both its implementation of selective policies toward Western-friendly nations; and used direct force when other nations have sought to deviate from the course that has been ‘set’ by the West.

The above argument and the West’s attitude toward others, and indeed the ‘license to war,’ that has prevailed is able to be given a broader perspective with a cursory observation of one of the driver’s the West has used in its delivery of its body-politic. This has been through the attitude of the most powerful post-WWII actor: the US. According to Little the US, and one could argue by association Western policymakers, have been influenced by potent racial and cultural stereotypes, some imported and some homegrown, that [have] depicted the Muslim world as decadent and inferior, U.S. policymaker’s from Harry Truman through to George Bush [have] tended to dismiss Arab aspirations for self-determination as politically primitive, economically suspect, and ideologically absurd.[13]

Current interventions (Australia’s into Iraq included), suggest this attitude remains entrenched in the psyche of the West and Western-orientated governments, and to be sure, unless these nation-states embark upon a change in their body-politic the horrifying repercussions of contemporary times will continue; especially against ‘soft targets’ as per the recent sieges in urban areas.

A pertinent reminder of the rage felt toward the West is able to be traced through the actions of Britain, France and the US and numerous other Western nations, although when examining interventions the US remains the most active, and has a long history of intervening in the affairs of others. From the Caribbean, through to the Middle East, the Central and South Americas, Africa and numerous other locales—to be fair, the UN has sponsored several actions—although it is imperative to note that between 1898 and 1996 there were 93 interventions on the part of the US–this is what Peceney has called ‘democracy at the point of bayonets.’[14] For many reasons beyond the deaths of innocent civilians, a rethink of the West’s ‘license to war’ is sorely needed. At the very least Western and Western-orientated countries, should stop offering platitudes regarding Western and Western-orientated nation-states being the ‘upholders of the virtue of good government/governance,’ when it is obviously a disingenuous and (now) deeply-flawed position to now assume.  More to the point, non-Western nation-states perspicaciously observe the dichotomy of argument, and parallel actions.

© Dr. Strobe Driver.  January, 2014.

[1] Western civilisation and what it represents is a vast and complex subject and fraught with interpretation. A succinct reference to this is only needed here in order to instil an understanding of how it became so expansive in its mechanisms that allowed this to prosper. Western civilisation has as one of its major tenets industrialization and science as part of its formulaic, and this in and of itself required organization and the forming of standing forces.   Although Stearns uses the Industrial Revolution to make a point about the West it can be applied to when the Treaty of Westphalia and the sovereign state came into being. Stearns avers industrialization, ‘extended a Western commitment to using technology as a measure of social progress. The impulse to deplore other societies as backward because they lagged behind Western industrialization represented a further step is [sic] what was already a well-established impulse…[and moreover being Western] now depended on claiming unchallenged world supremacy…’ See: Peter Stearns. Western Civilization in World History. New York: Routledge, 2003, 105-108.

[2] The Treaty of Westphalia is also referred to as the Peace Treaty of Westphalia, the Settlement of Westphalia, the Peace Settlement of Westphalia, and the Peace Treaties of Westphalia. The Treaty of Westphalia was not borne of a single document as each, to some extent consisted of, and constituted, a ‘treaty’ of sorts. The most pertinent ones were of Franco-German intercession: the Treaty of Münster, and the Treaty of Osnabrück respectively. See: Leo Gross. ‘The Peace Treaty of Westphalia.’ The American Journal of International Law, 42, 1, January, 1948, 20-41.

[3] < > January, 2014.

[4] Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), was a Dutch philosopher and author of De Jure Belli Ac Pacis (The Rights of War and Peace), [and] wrote down the conditions for a just war that are accepted today.’ See: British Broadcasting Corporation. <> July, 2007.

[5] Derek Verall. ‘The Westphalian system and its underlying normative order.’ World Order. Managing International Conflict. Editors of the School of International and Political Studies, Geelong: Deakin University Press, 1996, 3.

[6] See: British Broadcasting Corporation <;

[7] See: Noel Barber.   War of the Running Dogs, 1948-1960. Cassell Military Books, 2007.

[8] See: Martin Evans. Algeria: France’s Undeclared War. Oxford University Press, 2012.

[9] President Kennedy in a UN speech in 1961, stipulated if Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam fell to the communists, this would result in the gates of defeat for liberal-democracy being ‘open wide.’ See: John Kennedy. ‘Address in New York City before the General Assembly of the United Nations.’ September 25, 1961. United States Government Public Papers. <http//> Accessed 23 April, 2008.

[10] See: Jane Meyer; ‘Outsourcing Torture.’ The New Yorker. February, 2005. <;

[11] See: Tanya Reinhart. Israel/Palestine. How to End the War of 1948. Seven Stories Press, 2002.

[12] See: Chapter VII. Article 39 – 43. ‘Action with Respect to Threats to Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression.’ Charter of the United Nations.

[13] Douglas Little. American Orientalism. The United States and the Middle East since 1945. Chapell Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008, 11.

[14] Mark Peceney. Democracy at the Point of Bayonets. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania University Press, 1999, 16.

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