The Attack on the World Trade Center: Legal Responses
‘War’ – Legal Semantics and the Move to Violence
by Frédéric Mégret (*)
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European Journal of International Law, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2002
The use of the word `war’ to describe the anti-terrorist efforts in the wake of the 11 September attacks has gone virtually unchallenged. The term, however, is not innocent and carries far-reaching implications for international law. The article examines how its use can be said to fit into a broader strategy of legitimization of armed violence. `War’, it is argued, prepares the ground for what is basically an ideal-typical state of exception, which portrays the sovereign as the ultimate saviour of liberalism at home. But the domestic implications of the `war rhetoric’ are probably less important than the international ones, where `war’ can be manipulated to provide an escape route from the constraints of international law. This it does by reframing both the temporal and spatial coordinates of self-defence in a way that fundamentally loosens the framework of collective security. By the time the term’s use has been ratified by law, it will have served to exclude or distort alternative ways of understanding and dealing with the problem of terrorism, namely, as a criminal and political issue. Whatever else military action against terrorist targets may achieve, it is far from clear that placing such action under the banner of `war’ will serve the cause of suppressing terrorism.
(*)Doctoral candidate, Universit? Paris I (Panth?on-Sorbonne) and Institut Universitaire des Hautes Etudes Internationales, Geneva. The author would like to thank Florian Hoffmann, Peer Zumbansen, Bardo Fassbender, Jean Terrier, Ingo Hueck, Graciela Nowenstein and Jochen von Bernstorff for their comments on previous drafts of this article. This article was submitted on 14 November 2001, the day the Northern Alliance captured Kabul and it has not been possible to include significant changes thereafter.