China following West’s example

Taipei Times:  24 February, 2018

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China following West’s example

Taipei Times: 24 February, 2018


Having been in Taiwan for approximately one month I have watched the constant commentary regarding the China-Taiwan crisis.  To state that it is an everyday event is not an exaggeration and to state that it gets little mention in my home country (Australia), beyond how the US and Japan are coping with the situation is also worth mentioning to highlight that distance separates concern.  The commentary has, not unexpectedly, drawn my attention to the immense pressure Taiwan, its people and its government are under and the future that it faces.  To further state that the pressure will not let-up is certain, and indeed its frictions will worsen is also not an exaggeration.  Whilst the recent articles in the Taipei Times—in particular, ‘Taiwan confronts its darkest hour’—reflect current concerns. The problem-at-hand however, goes much deeper than current times, as frightening as they are.   What appears to be missing in the understanding of why China is constantly pressing for the return of Taiwan to the mainland and of it being a ‘renegade state’—a term that was coined during the Clinton administration—is that of why the PRC government is persisting with its mantra.  What historical basis could it surely have beyond the Qing Dynasty ownership?  The answer, and one that does not get much press is, gaining territory through threat-of-force and when this has not worked direct force, is what China has learned from the West.

The forthrightness alluded to, began in 1648 when the West essentially became united.   The Treaty of Westphalia is essentially, where it all begins for the West and it was in 1648 that a final agreement was reached by the elites of Western Europe (modern day northwest Germany), that a treaty would be agreed upon and what is known as sovereign statehood would be born.  It is a germane yet necessary point to make that the notion of sovereignty was a construct of the West and essentially, one that would benefit the West.  Nevertheless, sovereign statehood was supposed to be a geographic delineation of territory in order for each state to understand where its boundaries were located, and therefore ease tensions.  This would work for those that were ‘educated’ and had definite understandings of distance and ownership.  This said, the mandates within the treaty were summarily over time, thrust upon the tribal peoples, feudal societies, clans and other groups that would have border-lines cut through their territory, sovereign statehood would be brutally enforced—especially in Africa—and as a result it is the method of operation and understanding that all countries rely on today.  Being able to distinguish a ‘space and place’ extramural to one’s own territory immediately allowed for geographical locales to be gained and claimed by powerful nation-states beyond their own perimeters.  England would run rampant over the ‘known world’ and through its ‘successes’ occupy or at the very least control an enormous amount of territory some seventy percent of the known world. England’s ‘territory’ would stretch from Northern Ireland to terra nullius (Australia); France would occupy vast swathes of territory from North America through to Oceania; Italy, Portugal and Britain would claim Africa, the Dutch would control Indonesia. This is to only some actions of powerful nation-states as they colonised, brutalised and used threat-of-force to gain what they thought of as ‘theirs.’   Powerful Western and Western-orientated nation-states would sweep all before them; and to be sure some powerful Asian countries would seek their own regional dominance as the idea sovereignty took hold.

As science and technology improved and powerful nation-states became more adept at travel and conquering they sought as much as they possibly could, and this applied to Eastern as well as Western powers: Japan would conquer Manchuria (twice) and occupy Formosa (Taiwan); and eventually occupy territory as far east as the Marshall Islands.   Some small nations would be rent asunder by the requirements of powerful nation-states.  The native peoples of Diego Garcia would be forced off their land by the US in agreement with the British; the American-Indians would slaughtered and those that remained would be forced on to reservations; the mainland-US would steal Hawaii from an Hawaiian princess; the Spanish would allow the US to occupy Guam without any consultation with the indigenous people; many of the Indigenous population of Australia would be murdered and their children stolen from them; the Dutch would rule Indonesia with an ‘iron fist,’ earning the slang-term ‘red devils’ for their deeds.  The list goes on.

China, after the impositions of the treaty would languish in relative poverty and isolation for centuries.  After its own trials and tribulations however, it would emerge from the doldrums of its own induced pain and suffering, and the pain and suffering force upon it and like a phoenix rise from the ashes of its past.  In the process, which can be traced to the mid-1990s it would begin to assert its ‘needs and wants’ in more definitive and aggressive ways.  Taiwan would feel the increased rancour of claim immediately, Japan would be chastised for its lack of atonement for its misdeeds and crimes—after all, Germany had apologised for its past military actions—and China would begin to build interconnected military bases in its region with an eye to the rest of the world.  China would begin to do as Britain, France and the US had done before.  Because of the improvements in science and technology China would lay claim to sea-rights and (now) atolls.  The US has thrown up its arms in protest at China doing what it has effectively, been taught to do by the West.  Taiwan has become the epicentre of the tug-of-war between the West and the East, as is Pakistan for Central Asia.


Taiwan is yet to confront its ‘darkest hour,’ as China has not invaded.  The gloom before darkness however, is the abysmal and pathetic example the West has set, in particular in the twentieth century—when it was supposed to be ‘civilised’—in the policing of, and the commensurate offering of good and auspicious governance.   Should China actually commit to bringing Taiwan to war, it will be because China has learned the despicable and utterly reprehensible examples ‘civilised,’ liberal-democratic and powerful nation-states of the world have sent it.  One can only hope the reason the United Nations was born—diplomacy over war—wins out in the tussle for Asia-Pacific peace; and that China does not take the example of the West’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as how to solve predicaments.


Strobe Drive holds a PhD in war studies and is the recipient of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Center for Chinese Studies, Fellowship 2018.  The views expressed here are his own.

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Taiwan 2018: A few weeks in …

Taiwan: to mid-February 2018

The Taiwan-China issue remains vibrant and ongoing.  There is near-daily comment in the newspapers about the ongoing situation:  China asserting pressures and Taiwan attempting to retain its independence (whilst not actually declaring independence).  The situation is fraught with tension and the debate is definitely ‘hotting up’ as China is placed in a more prominent position by others.  Nevertheless, the elements of commentary are broad and perhaps the most damaging for Taiwan consists of Britain wanting to enter a new ‘golden age’ with China.  Front page:  May meets with Xi as she seeks China trade post-EU.

Comment: The sign to Taiwan is clear: Britain sees China as an economically viable partner.  This will without doubt, impact upon Taiwan’s status in terms of each time China makes a gain such as this, it creates additional problems for its international standing.  (Toward a new UK-PRC ‘golden age’)

The ‘values’ argument continues, with Taiwan values being different than that of China’s and is premised on democracy, and freedom of speech and shared community being unique to Taiwan and not so for the PRC  (Taiwanese values mean ‘not PRC’s’).

China has also increased it economic presence by proposing a new ‘Silk Road’ through the Arctic and PLAN ships passed through Japanese territorial waters off the Tokara Islands which China argues was the Osumi Strait (China sees new Silk Road in the Arctic).

Australia gets a mention:  China criticizes Australia for being ‘anti-China’ (Chinese infiltration not unnoticed).

China exercises ‘sharp power,’ which is the ability to manipulate or intimidate another nation’ (Ad displays China’s ‘sharp power,’ and just below on pate 8, ‘China’s new approach on Taiwan,’ which discusses China’s desire for unification to take place by at the very latest, 2049—the 100 year anniversary of the PRC (China’ new approach on Taiwan).

‘China should be wary of Trump,’ which essentially argues that because Trump is impressed by the size and cost of things, Trump is likely to go up against China only in order to get a better deal for the US, and if that entails abandoning Taiwan he will do so.

‘Taiwan confronts its darkest hour.’ This article deals with the way in which China is seeking to increase military pressure on Taiwan whilst also encouraging Taiwanese business to invest in China.  The article argues these people will become pawns in the economic stranglehold that will play out in favour of China; and to the detriment of Taiwan.

‘Taiwanese find opportunity, risk in China,’  is an article about the incentives China is offering Taiwanese in the form of start-ups and other financial incentives, as Taiwan’s economy stagnates and the offer of incentives is not as great.  The possible effects on Taiwanese in terms of whether it influences them in favour of China is also discussed.

In  a more globalised sense ‘Crack between the US and Europe over China widens,’ as Europe grapples with the way in which it should approach China and peace in the Asia-Pacific region, and not surprisingly how Trump has impacted on the relationship.  The article is especially focused on the retreat (contrary to what the White House says) of the US in the region.

The list of way in which Taiwan can defend itself is lauded in ‘So you think China can win,’ and more importantly deals  with what will happen to the PRC government  if the US does come to the  aid of Taiwan.  It also deals with the problems on mainland China which deal with border disputes and the way in which constant disputes sap personnel and this will work against any invasion or restriction plans.

Eleven major articles in about 15 days sums up the  concern.

Source:  Taipei Times

Commentary:  The above show how intense the Taiwan-China situation actually is, and remains; and offers an understanding that it is spreading beyond the Asia-Pacific and into Europe which has essentially, not been a military player to date, in the region to any great extent.  This will probably change though as China continues to flex its strategic-muscle in the ‘One road, One belt,’ initiative; and its economic prowess continues to influence.   France and India have begun to show some additional interest in Taiwan, India in particular has conducted strategic manoeuvrings with its navy recently; and is acutely aware that the  more power China gains the more ‘catching up’ that India has to do.   With the UK making sure to be amicable with China is no doubt a huge worry for Taiwan as its approach will inevitably give China more credence in its dealings with the UK and whilst it is premised on Britain attempting to turn a ‘hard Brexit’ into a ‘softer one—and of PM May attempting to shore-up her shambolic government—the very fact that she has made the journey must somewhere in the future weaken Taiwan’s influence in Britain. Of particular worry, in the press it seems, is that Taiwanese that move to China, will be merged into being ‘Chinese’ rather than being ‘Taiwanese,’ and this seems to be an overarching worry to the government of Taiwan.


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An insane Industrial-Capitalist notion: Australia to be one of the ‘top 10’ arms exporters …

The Australian government’s latest idea to be a reasonable global citizen is to increase Australia’s share of being an arms-exporter. Spruiking the idea, in Nov 2017, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP was in Saudi Arabia according to reports (1). The idea of selling arms to a country that has never (to my knowledge) published a ‘rules of engagement’ protocol regarding the Syrian Conflict is a dangerous administration to be dealing with.
But, it’s all about jobs!
Pyne will no doubt also stress that arms deals are highly-monitored. That’s really worked for Australia in the past. Take the use of Australian gifted patrol boats, helicopters and aircraft (2) that were used in the blockade of Bougainville–which was ostensibly, on the part of the New Guinea government to support a private company and its assets.
This arms-dealership/manufacturing policy is yet again, another sad refection on the industrial-capitalist, neo-liberal agenda the Turnbull government pursues.
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Taiwan: a week in …

Since arriving in Taiwan ROC one week ago there has been …
  • four new flight-paths across the Taiwan Strait unilaterally decided upon by China;
  • President Tsai  should plan to avoid conflict with China, and has been asked on TV to define ‘Taiwanese values’;
  • an article stipulating ‘The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] has a history of lack of restraint’;
  • the removal of the Taiwanese flag from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs and the Office of the US Trade Representative; and
  • the US’ stipulating there is ‘no change’ in its relationship with Taiwan.
Source: Taipei Times
The rise of China is actually happening!!!
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A volatile combination: Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea
Map credit:
Having just read Pacific Power.  Australia’s Strategy in the Pacific Islands, (Author: Joanne Wallis) this book is an excellent read, and anyone interested in International Relations, especially the Asia-Pacific (A-P), should indulge in this succinct and articulate analysis.  One thing that I found particularly disturbing and of profound significance to Australia’s future was that ‘reflecting on Australia’s benign neglect of the Pacific Islands during the 1970s and 1980s,’ (p92), with the rise of China — and its inherent and continual geo-strategic push throughout the A-P (which is what, as I have previously stipulated, is what rising powers seek to achieve) — Papua New Guinea (PNG) has an agreement with Australia: Joint Declaration of Principles (1987).  What is most amazing about this agreement and according to Wallis is that if Indonesian military forces intrude into PNG in order to prosecute a mission –such as seeking refugees escaping from West Papua/Irian Jaya–is that in the process if they come into contact with PNG military forces.  What does this mean for Australia? According to Wallis ‘Australia may be obliged to assist PNG forces in such a conflict, which would place Australia in direct military conflict with Indonesia …’ (p316).
As China rises and its ties get closer with Indonesia and the Chinese government formulates and then develops further pacts with its A-P alliances, such an encounter could be used as a trigger for China to move on its Australian assets (such as the Port of Darwin), in order to proffer its geo-strategic footprint in the region; and exert greater authority over the region per se.  Yet another issue for Australia to consider in the future  as the submarine debacle continues; Australia cuts foreign aid to its nearest neighbours which will inevitably have a backlash; and the political-memory of World War Two remains vibrant due to the ‘saving of Australia’ by the United States of America (US), from which Australian politicians’ seem totally incapable of extracting their collective-selves from.  If China utilizes such an action and then extends upon it, the repercussions for Australia could be immense.   In the introduction to the chapters Wallis also alludes to the voting in of Trump and the repercussions for the A-P that may happen due to this.  Notwithstanding all of the aforementioned it is a very interesting read and one that is thoroughly recommended for those interested in International Relations.   
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A New Age of Violence: Terrorism as an Asymmetrical and ‘Existential-Threat’


 Image result for terroristsPhoto credit:



As the threat and actions of terrorists terrorism have become more focussed, and their outcomes having a outcomes greater impact on populaces of nation-states.  Their actions by necessity have demanded a change in thinking by governments of nation-states—particularly Western nation-states.  The rethink has been brought about by the pursuit of civilian (undefended) locales and the successes individual and terrorist groups have achieved in the targeting of them. The attacks on what have become colloquially known as ‘soft targets’—the attack on the World Trade Center[1] being the most significant in recent times–has permitted terrorism and therefore terrorists, to attain a newfound prominence. Historically, the commentary associated with terrorism consisted only of it representing a threat which employed ‘asymmetrical’ tactics to disrupt populaces. Placing improvised-explosive-devices in public spaces, kidnapping and targeting government buildings is to list only several examples of commitment to what are termed ‘target rich environments.’[2]   In more contemporary times the political rhetoric, largely by Western politicians’ have morphed terrorism into a more lethal dyad: the combination of being an asymmetrical- and an existential- threat.  Adding the new terminology ascribes and signals, a fundamentally different view of terrorism and extends it beyond simply being non-state actors taking up arms against the State to that of an actor or actors, using violence as a means of personal expression.  Terrorism therefore, has been given a renewed prominence and is a higher level of menace.

Since 2001, there has been numerous attacks: the Westgate shopping mall attack by Al-Shabaab in Nairobi (Kenya, 2013), in which 67 people were killed[3]; the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Chibok (Nigeria, 2014);[4] and the shootings in the Charlie Hedbo office in Paris (France, 2015) by Al-Qaeda, in which 11 people were killed.[5]   Notwithstanding the ferocity of the attacks they continue and in the process have drawn in other actors and due to the connecting of the words ‘existential’ and ‘threat’ by commentators—notably Western politicians—has triggered a renewed urgency to, and in, Western polity.  Liberal-democracy, good governance; fair and equal elections, rule-of-law; the illegality of exogenous actors challenging the authority of the State; and transparent government is to name only several components that have been re-asserted as appropriate governance.  For the West, terrorists’ acting against the State comprises a triad: the method (violence), the target (civilian or government), and the purpose (to instil fear and enforce political or social change).[6]

The usage of the term ‘existential threat,’—especially in political forums and the news media—it is fair to argue has gripped the public imagination and therefore, terrorism has gained a renewed vigour; and the term has further created a robust and enduring fear throughout the West. A broad yet accurate summation of why terrorism has gained such importance is the increasing number of individuals are ‘finding’ themselves through their personal experiences and resorting to violence in order to prove their commitment to a cause.  It is the perceptions that lead to action that requires analysis and it is necessary to delve deeper into what is meant by the term ‘existential’; whether terrorism fulfils the requirements within the definition.  This essay will also intertwine terrorism as a multi-faceted matter within societal and cultural boundaries and perspectives.


Existentialism: an overview

Acknowledging that there are slight, variations to the thematic definitions of what it is to be an ‘existentialist’ and to involve oneself in ‘existentialism,’ is dependent upon which scholarly practice and  interpretation is applied. There are variations in the writings of Søren, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Dostoevsky and Sartre–although the schematic of emotion, ‘anguish and dread’[7]—are within all of the texts.    To be an existentialist by necessity means to be a person that has and applies, an existentialist approach to situations.  Within this principled approach, the person—in this case a terrorist—embraces the notions and ‘… importance of personal experience and responsibility and the demands that they make in the individual who is seen as a free agent in a deterministic and seemingly meaningless universe’[8]  An explanation of this is that humans—although Sartre refers to and uses, the gendered term ‘man’—


first exists encounters himself and emerges in the world, to be defined afterwards … It is man who conceives himself, who propels himself towards existence.  Man becomes nothing other than what is actually done, not what he will want to be.[9]


The aforementioned factors are therefore, and by definition, associated with an ‘individual’s unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for the authenticity of his or her choices.’[10] What he/she has become is informed by experiences and their decisions are their responsibility alone.  The link that is able to be made here is a terrorist, when reacting through the prism of violence is effectively, using violence as an extension of their reality.  A terrorist is ‘made’ through their own unique experiences and understandings associated with what has, or is happening to their country, people, religion, kin, tribe, culture and a multitude of other factors.  Terrorism from an existential perspective is when an individual, ‘surges up in the world and then defines himself afterwards … and then he will be what he makes of himself.’[11]   Theoretically, the individual making the decision to carry out an act of terrorism is doing so with ‘freedom, decision and responsibility … [and] these matters constitute the core of personal being.’[12] It is these factors that have contributed to the reconfiguring of terrorism from being a strategic and tactical asymmetrical-threat, to an asymmetrical- and existential-threat. In order to understand existentialism at a deeper level it is necessary to observe how it evolved into a way of deduction.  Existentialism was, and remains a response to previous intellectual pursuits of reason and rationale.   Existentialism was a reaction to rationalism and empiricism which has at its core the Enlightenment (1685 – 1815),[13]  which is ‘positivistic’[14] and holds the conviction ‘that the true repositories of knowledge are the sciences.’[15]  Empiricism retains the predisposition and doctrinal components of ‘all knowledge comes from the sense experiences’[16] and that ‘the mind is not furnished with a set of concepts in advance of experience.’[17]

The fundamental variance in the two concepts broadly-speaking is that empiricism is a theory of knowledge that comes from experience from which one makes a decision, whereas existentialism defaults to an individual being able to make decisions free from historical and social constraints—regardless of the processes involved a decision is able to be made.  Whether the decision made by a person willing to commit a terrorist act is empirical or existential (or a combination of both), is a moot point as what is being analysed here the politico-application of the term ‘existential,’ and the concomitant considerations therein.

Notwithstanding the abovementioned, the adding of the word ‘existential’ to the word ‘threat’ offers an all-encompassing concept to the practice of terrorism.  It is one which moves it as an act, to beyond a rational decision to that of a personal one. According to the political rhetoric the labelling of terrorism in this way is an acknowledgement that when a terrorist act is committed, it is free of social- and historical-constraints—the act is devoid of reason and made solely from personal accord.  A drawing together of existentialism and terrorism is now able to be made.


Existentialism: applied to terrorism 

First and foremost it is important to observe several attacks which have been noted by commentators’ as being of an existential nature, and it is this labelling that continues to inform the threat level: the Bastille Day attack in Nice (14 July, 2016), which involved an attacker driving a truck through a crowd of pedestrians; the London Bridge attack (3 June, 2017), in which a car was used to kill pedestrians; and the more recently the attack on pedestrians in Barcelona (17 August, 2017), in which a van was used.  The type of attack is a reflection of and a response to, what the actor perceives as being an overwhelming problem, and one that he (in these cases the perpetrators were male) must respond to; be part of the cause; and play an active role in opposing the enemy—in these cases the West.  What is of interest here however, is the decision-making according to the existential paradigm and the concomitant psycho- and socio-homogenization of the populace. From this standpoint all members of the populace—military and civilian—are bona-fide targets and it can be surmised the existential decision to attack is one of ‘self’ against an overarching enemy.  The form of attack, the use of vehicles against the populace has become more frequent[18] and this is because terrorists in the tactical- and kinetic-phase of a low-intensity operation require simplicity, opportunism and vulnerability of the target.   Attacks on soft-targets do have an existential basis, as an attack requires a high-degree of decision-making by the individual in the process of acquiring the necessary assets, and of following through with the attack.  The existential nature of a terrorist attack is equally able to be applied to a small group or an ‘army’ such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as the decision-making and homogenization components are similar. Notwithstanding these factors, attacks of this type have been used as strategic and tactical necessities by terrorists for many decades.

During the French occupation of Algeria (1954 – 1962), French military and Algerian government forces were constantly harassed by the guerrillas of the Armée de Libération Nationale (FLN), which objected to French involvement in Algerian affairs.  The FLN caused constant disruptions through the use of tactical ‘pin pricks’[19] … [consisting of] ‘small, highly trained packets [of guerrillas] … [randomly] shelling and mortaring [French] units … a hand grenade thrown into a café here, a burst of machine gun fire on the beach there.[20] These tactics then, as now, comprises an overall disruptive strategy that is designed to take advantage of small hit-and-run tactics; terrify the public; stretch government authorities and their allies’ to an absolute limit; and exhaust government and governance capabilities.  All are intended by a terrorist group, when a government is exhausted from the battles, to sue for peace on favourable terms. It is through the use of persistent minor lethal disruptions from which strategic- and political-advantage is gained.

In the Twenty-first century it is a germane observation that the number of attacks appears to be on the increase and without doubt this is due to the news cycle; and the immediacy with which an attack is reported.   Notwithstanding the carnage the number of fatalities from terrorist attacks 2000-2015 decreased compared to previous decades.[21] The number of fatalities however, does not adequately reflect the overarching perception of the terrorist threat, as the aim of a terrorist or group, is to instil fear in the populace. The drastic change that has come about for authorities in the West is that they are now dealing with people ‘willing to die in pursuit of the action,’[22] in a deliberate way whereas, in previous decades the aim was to survive the attack in order to fight another day. This factor brings existentialism to the fore as the decision to die for a cause (theoretically) presents a willingness to make the ultimate and most intimate of personal decision-making, one which is free of logic and reasoning.

Fighting from this existential platform presents numerous and significant problems to the authorities of nation-states—the West in particular. The most lethal form of recent disruptions have been by  ‘lone-wolf’[23] actors, and this is closely followed by actors working within  small cells—usually referred to as ‘sleeper cells.’ The tactics of both have progressively concentrated on ‘soft target’ disruption, which essentially involves the killing of civilians in public places and from a tactical perspective these attacks have been successful in part, because the individuals’ have no followers; are not part of a group; and have no hierarchy of control.[24] Authorities therefore, are reduced in their capabilities as (usually) and by necessity, authorities are pre-positioned as a response to actions; and the attacks are opportunistic and this too, favours the initiator.

Notwithstanding the abovementioned actions and the tangible- and symbolic-outcomes it is able to be accurately argued that the actor is an existential threat to the people immediately involved; and to the population at large—in the case of the aforementioned the three liberal-democratic nation-states of France, Britain and Spain.  Other Western nation-states, because of their similarities to these three countries are also able to claim the dangers of terrorism is existential and therefore, terrorism from this perspective, does represent an existential threat to the West.  With regard to individual actions terrorism has morphed beyond large group-think actions such as Baader-Meinhof Gang/Red Army Faction,[25]  to being more persuasive to the individuals, and it is here that the connection to existentialism is more erudite and easily made.  Individual action—in the case of a lone-wolf actor—has (theoretically) much less influence from forces external to the self, for instance other members of a group or cell, and the individual encompasses existentialism and becomes an existential-threat. There is and remains however in the complex narrative of terrorism, an alternate perspective of whether terrorists’ deem the West to be an existential threat.


The West as an existential threat

From a broader political perspective the existential threat the West represents—as a body-politic—is usually judged through the prism of political recognition, military-ties and economic benefits and the concomitant non-recognition that non-state actors may be fighting against may have valid claims regarding exploitative government- and economic-structures exist, and that repression and discrimination are present.[26] Countries with deep-seated and ongoing domestic governance issues and internal frictions are many and the West, through the auspices of the United Nations, has done little in applying comprehensive pressure to bring about change—the Philippines, Israel, Nigeria, Mali and Saudi Arabia[27] is to name only some that have within their societies long-term highly-fractious issues.  The West however offers ongoing and systemic support for these countries.  The West, usually through the mechanisms of the United Nations, persistently fails abysmally in its problem-solving. The Twenty-first century has shown the West to offer more of the same with regard to demanding change. A recent example of the West’s inept handling of crises is Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003). Whilst both operations were aimed at regime change[28] it can also be argued they represent a strategic-foothold for the West in the Middle East which reflects its colonising history and its inabilities to  exercise comprehensive change beyond strategic necessity.  The West’s intervention in Afghanistan by the United States of America (US) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2001—Operation Enduring Freedom—in order to expel the Taliban[29] is a prime example of an involvement that was and remains, ill-conceived, badly-executed and ineffectual as the Taliban continues to be a robust force.  A significant part of the reason that Afghanistan is an abject failure is the West comprises the US, ISAF and its allies and a compliant and obsequious Afghan government has sought to make Afghanistan,  ‘something safe for us [the West], but entirely foreign to the Afghans’ which accords to the historic Western notions of the Orient comprising East Asia, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia,  and the Middle East as being ‘silent, available to Europe for the realizations of [its] projects… .’[31]

Consequently, the level of forced intervention by the West and the way in which operations are conducted without doubt promotes an understanding amongst the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq that the West is an existential threat to their lands, religion, culture, tribe, kin, population and numerous other elements within their societies.  Whilst this may broaden the facets of existentialism to a politico-bloc the West is nonetheless, making decisions and enacting choices.    To extend on this point the application of terrorism depends on perpetrator’s attitude, loyalties and focus and therefore it is pertinent to mention the differences between Western values and the values of others. To offer a perspective of terrorism, the Taliban was considered to be a terrorist group by the US only after Bin Laden, the self-prescribed leader of Al-Qaeda, ‘advised the Taliban to offer a [oil pipeline] contract to an Argentine firm … Unicol [a US firm] lost out.  Washington was furious and immediately turned on the Taliban and branded it an ‘outlaw regime.’[32]   Terrorism as an act for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban is seen of as a reaction to what is often referred to as ‘Westoxification’[33]  has hinged on many issues although it comes under the macrocosm of the selective inclusion of politico-, military- and economic-principles of the West; and the (selective) application of these to Middle East, Southeast and Central Asian Muslim societies.  This has often fuelled much of the recalcitrance toward Western societies, and is largely directed at the US and its closest allies.  The recalcitrance referred to has inspired, and then drawn in many other actors. An example of this can be traced to the Gulf War (1990- 1991), in which Osama bin Laden, (and his Al-Qaeda followers) did not approve of Saddam’s military forces invading Kuwait, however Bin Laden’s greatest objections were the US’ maintenance of the Saudi Arabian monarchy; the monarchy’s continuing subjugation of Islam’s holiest land; and the deployment of US troops on Islam’s holy Saudi Arabian soil to fight a fellow Arab state.[34]  The West, from this point of view has honed the focus of those that would react against its policies and practices.

The ongoing and consistent animosity toward the West by exogenous and non-state actors in the aforementioned clearly offers examples of the West being deemed an existential threat to their societies.


British forces in Syria, US forces in Iraq and US and Australian forces in Afghanistan are three locations which have presented targets for exogenous actors.  The US in Iraq and US and ISAF in Afghanistan are possibly the most significant kinetic interventions with regard to enforcing and reinforcing a Euro-centric/Eurocentrism[35] model of good government and governance.  As a result they have drawn the most ire and ongoing reactive violence from exogenous groups; and this shows no sign of decreasing


Within the realm of existentialism and as this essay has borne out, no one power has a dominance over what is an existential threat comprises and moreover, there is some disagreement regarding whether terrorism is an existential threat to developed Western countries.[36]  What is an existential-threat is dependent on perspectives. Whilst all of the reasons that exogenous groups attack governments—particularly Western ones—is beyond the debate in this essay, and bearing in mind there is unlikely to be any unique cause for terrorism,[37] as there is no key event identifying the moment that an actor views himself or herself as a soldier fighting for comrades and cause,[38] an historical underpinning that drives violent reactions by exogenous groups does have a primary focus.  Groups and individuals that present and are subsequently involved in fighting Western forces in non-Western environments essentially, ‘seek to liberate themselves and their co-nationals from what they perceive to be a colonial situation or a repressive government.’[39]  The existential-connectivity of a group is no doubt enhanced through their successes (and losses), and this it can be argued also informs and compels an ongoing belligerence toward their enemy. Thus, ISAF is a force that requires an existential response from an exogenous actor. The followers it is safe to argue, embrace relevant political and cultural ideologies of the group, which in ideologies in turn ‘drive the actions’[40] and this relates to lone-wolf as well as group actors.  All in some way contribute to ‘the interests and desires of the individual become secondary to the group [or individual cause] and he/she will take any steps to advance its [and if the act is a lone-wolf attack it must, by necessity, contribute to the group] goals.’[41]   The actions may be different dependent on the actors however, this essay argues they are driven by observing the West as an existential threat to their religion, culture, and tribe along with many other aspects of their lives and moreover, the acts of violence will continue as long as the West is perceived as an existential threat.

Acknowledging that existentialism is a profoundly nuanced subject matter and one that encompasses many more aspects than those mentioned is a germane yet necessary observation to make.  The process of terrorism morphing from a violent asymmetrical-threat to an asymmetrical- and existential-threat, signals a profound change in its trajectory by Western governments.  Whether it has been brought about by numerous failed models of interventionism, it is necessary for Western governments to label terrorism as an existential-threat rather than an empirical- or rational-threat.  This is due to labelling a threat in this way disentangles the West from accepting and admitting reactions against it may have a reasoned and rationale evidence-base. It is politicians’ in the West that have controlled the debate, and observed the catastrophic consequences of the attacks, and have sought to prove that terrorism and terrorists are free from judging their actions through the prism of negative Western influences.  Regardless of the way in which the West has approached interventionism and the terrorist threat that has been inspired because of it, the fundamental strategy of interventionism remains ensconced in a flawed US model of action.  An action that the West nevertheless, persists in following.  This is writ large in the following observation

The American tradition [of fighting wars and of intervention] also tends to neglect the lesson, learned repeatedly in dozens of twentieth-century wars, that the only way to defeat an insurgency campaign is not to attack the enemy but instead to protect and win over the people.[42]

Whilst the West continues with the abovementioned strategy—and follows the US model of action—exogenous actors will continue to perceive the West as an existential threat and their violent reactions will continue. Soft-targets will remain at the forefront of exogenous actors preferred method of objecting to, and repulsing the West.







[1] For an overarching account of this action.  See: ‘World trade Center Disaster.’  United States Search and Rescue Task Force.

[2] James Lutz and Brenda Lutz.  Global Terrorism.  Oxon: Routledge, 2013, 51.

[3] ‘Kenya’s Westgate shopping mall reopens after tragedy.’ BBCNews.  18 July, 2015.

[4] ee:’Nigeria Chibok abductions: What we know.’  BBCNews.

[5] ‘Charlie Hedbo attack: Track how events unfolded.’  ABCNews. 8 Jan, 2015.

[6] Harvey Kushner. Encyclopedia of Terrorism. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003, 359.

[7] See:  ‘Existentialism.’ Dictionary.

[8] See: M. Rajimanickam.  Modern General Psychology.‘  Kachehri Ghat: Bhargava Book House, 2000, 37.

[9] John-Paul Sartre.  Existentialism is a Humanism.1945.  Edited by Glyn Taylor. Arizona State University.

[10] I have deliberately suspended the gendered language of the text by Sartre to encompass male and female in this description.  Sartre, however describes these actions reflecting ‘a deep responsibility for all humanity.’    See:

This essay, therefore argues that an act of terrorism, is considered to be an act on behalf of all humanity and the betterment of it which encompasses fellow humans that believe in their cause, and the saving of those that do not.  The cause being exercised through the prism of a certain set of values via recalcitrance and in this case through the usage of violence.  The values, whether they be freedom, religion, manumission or a multitude of other precedents is not what is of interest here, as it is the act of violence and its motivations through the prism of existentialism that informs this essay.

[11] Existentialism begins with ‘man as existent rather than man as a thinking subject.’  Sartre’s theorizing and philosophising considers man to be the subject, what happens to him is what makes him, it is the philosophy of the subject rather than the object. See: John McQuarrie.  Existentialism.  An introduction, guide and assessment.  London: Penguin Books, 1973, 14 -17.


[12] Existentialism.  An introduction, guide and assessment, 16.

[13] There is much debate amongst scholars when the Enlightenment began and ended, and feminists’ now argue that because women and the poor were excluded the term does not represent an accurate description of history.  Notwithstanding the aforementioned and for the purpose of this essay the Enlightenment is 1685 – 1815. See: ‘Enlightenment.’  History.

[14] ‘Positivism’ was founded by Auguste Comte and is concerned with positive facts outweighing speculation.  See: ‘Positivism’

[15] David Cooper.  Existentialism.  A Reconstruction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999, 15.

[16] Jack Reynolds.  Understanding Existentialism. Chesham: Acumen Publishing, 2006, 111.

[17] See: ‘empiricism.’ Dictionary.

[18] For a comprehensive list of terrorist attacks 1970 – 2016.  See:  The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. Global Terrorism Database,

[19] Alistair Horne.   A Savage War of Peace.  Algeria 1954 – 1962. New York: New York Review of Books, 2006, 413.

[20] A Savage War of Peace.  Algeria 1954 – 1962, 413.

[21] Emma Luxton.  ‘Is terrorism in Europe at an historical high?’ World Economic Forum.   24 May, 2016.

[22] ‘Is terrorism in Europe at an historical high?’

[23] There are four ‘types’ of ‘lone-wolf’ attackers and for the purpose of this essay it is the second ‘type’ that is of most interest here.  The second type is the religious lone-wolf, who perpetrates terrorism in the name of Islam, Judaism or some other belief system.’  See: Jeffrey Simon. ‘What makes a lone-wolf terrorist so dangerous?’  18 April, 2013. UCLANews.

[24] UCLANews.

[25] The Baarder-Meinhof Group was formed in 1968 and had its origins in the German protest university movement of the 1970s.  The group engaged in bank robberies, arson and terrorism.  The group decried the US as an Imperialist power and labelled the West German government as fascist and a holdover from the Nazi era.  The group was also involved in kidnapping and assassinations and had at least 22 core members.  See:  John Jenkins.  ‘Red Army Faction.’ The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica.

[26] Global Terrorism, 16.

[27] President Rodrigo Duterte’s of the Philippines ongoing ‘war on drugs’ has been criticised by Human Rights Watch due to the number of unlawful extra-judicial killings

See:  For a comprehensive assessment of the Israel-Palestine conflict see, Tanya Reinhart, How to end the War of 1948.

‘Nigeria: Corruption Fuelling Police Abuses.’  See: Human Rights Watch.  17 Aug, 2010.

France had been stating for months in 2012, that a West African military force should bring control to Mali.  French President Hollande acted and sent troops to Mali in January, 2013—after the Malian Army had been surprised by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.  See:  John Barry.  ‘Mali – The French Way of War.’ The European Institute.

The Saudi Arabia government ‘promised bin Laden that the foreigners would leave as soon as the [1991 Gulf] war was over.  But American forces were in Saudi Arabia a year after the Gulf War ended, and bin Laden felt betrayed.  See:  Cindy Combs.  Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century.  Boston: Longman, 2013, 26.

[28] Joseph Collins.  Lessons Encountered. Learning from the Long War.  Washington: NDU Press, 2015.

[29] For a comprehensive assessment of the Taliban in Afghanistan see, ‘Soldiers killed as Taliban storms Kandahar base.’  Al-Jazeera.   27 July, 2017

[30] Andrew Rohrer.  ‘Why did we fail in the Afghan war?  Because we didn’t understand the place.’  Foreign Policy. 12 Feb, 2015.

[31] Edward Said.  Orientalism.  Western Conceptions of the Orient.  London: Penguin Books, 1978, 94.

[32] Eric Margolis.  War at the Top of the World. New York: Routledge, 2002, 94.

[33] Samuel Huntington. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.  New York: Simon & Shuster, 2011, 212-213

[34] Gilles Kepel.  The War for Muslim Minds.  Islam and the West. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004, 98-99.

[35] The definition of ‘Eurocentric’ is to view societies through the prism of European and Anglo-American definitions of the societies and the World.  See: ‘Definition of Eurocentric.’ Merriam-Webster.

[36] For a comprehensive understanding of terrorism being a threat to the balance-of-power in Western and non-Western countries see: Peter Jennings. ‘Is terrorism an existential threat?’ The Counterterrorism Yearbook 2017.   Australian Strategic Policy Institute.  13 April, 2017.

[37] Charles Tilly.  “Terror, Terrorism, Terrorists,’  Sociological Theory.  Edited by Mustafa Emirbayer.  California: Sage Publications, 2004, Vol 22, 5-13.

[38] Marc Sageman.  Misunderstanding Terrorism.  Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2017, 143.

[39] James Lutz and Brenda Lutz.  Global Terrorism.  Oxon: Routledge, 2013, 15.

[40] Global Terrorism, 14.

[41] Ami Pedahzur.  Suicide Terrorism. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005, 7.

[42] Thomas Ricks.  The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq.  New York: Penguin, 2007, 5-6.

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