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Terrorism in international relations Problem Solution Essay

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Updated: Jun 17th, 2019


Terrorism is no longer a new term in the international system. However, it is apparently clear that terrorism remains to be one of the most challenging problems as far as maintenance of security and order in the international system is concerned. It is quite difficult to clearly attain a complete definition of terrorism because of the increase in the number of terrorist actions in the world today.

Impacts of terrorism have become real and a challenge not only to the small states in the world, but also to the seeming giant nation states in the world, like the United States. A lot of efforts have been diverted at exploring terrorism as a result of the rate of insecurity in the international system that comes from terrorism and the fear of terrorism. One key finding is that terrorism is used both as a strategy and a tactic by diverse groups to advance their interests in the international system.

This paper presents an analysis of terrorism as a problem in international relations. The paper begins by defining terrorism and giving an overview of terrorism in the international system. The paper then explores the various aspects of terrorism and how they impact on relations within and between states in the international system. The paper brings out two main policy areas that are critical in addressing the problem of terrorism.

Overview of terrorism in international relations

As observed in the introduction, the effort of maintaining order and human security in the international system has been hampered by the emergence of terrorism in the international system. Efforts to develop mechanisms of combating terrorism have resulted in the development of the broader definition of terrorism.

According to the US Department of Defense, terrorism is defined as: “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological” (Terrorism Research, para. 3).

From the definition, it is clear that terrorism is a broad term that entails a broad range of criminal activities that are pursued by different groups to attain political, religious, as well as other ideologies that are portrayed in the nature of terrorism that is advanced by a given group. While it is argued that terrorism is not a new thing in the international system, it has become apparent that the scale of terrorism is advancing to the levels that are lethal to human security (Terrorism Research, para. 4).

Terrorism presents a challenge to the issue of arms deterrence and the proliferation of arms and weapons in the world. The other daunting task as far as efforts to combat terrorism are concerned is that terrorism has advanced to an extent that different forms of terrorism prevail. Terrorism has gone far beyond the use of real weapons to launch attacks on targets, to the use of biological weapons as well as breaches on information from terrorist groups as a way of causing insecurity and advancing their cause.

This is referred to as cyberterrorism. Other forms of terrorism include narcoterrorism and nuclear terrorism and ecoterrorism. The most important question to ask at this juncture concerns the motivation behind the acts or actions of terrorism in the international system. This question can be explored by unearthing different kinds of terrorism (Lake 18).

Perspectives and impacts of terrorism on actors and behaviors in the international system

From the exploration of the meaning of terrorism, it comes out that terrorism is a term that includes a wide range of activities that are meant to unleash violence and threats for the sake of advancing several goals. The mere linkage of terrorism to extremism as was associated with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States has been subjected to criticism due to the diverse number of terrorism forms that prevailed before and after the attack.

However, this does not mean that there are no acts of extremism in terrorism. In fact, terrorism itself is a form of expressing ideas and opinions through the use of outrageous forms of actions that depict extremism. The modern world is characterized by a lot of competition for development (Lake 15). As competition mounts, it is critical to note that the impacts of competition between and among states become real, and so is the contest between states and regions in different matters.

The likening of extremism to terrorism comes from the theories of international relations, where a number of actors in the international system seek relevance and recognition through advancement of extremist courses like terrorism. It is vital to bring out these actors as a leeway for understanding terrorism and what makes it daunting to deal with the problems of terrorism (Lake 18-19).

Actors in the international system as opined by the proponents of idealism include states, religious groups, non-governmental and international organizations, as well as different interest groups pursuing different courses for instance environmental and socioeconomic groups.

It is apparent that terrorism prevails in different regions in the world and is advanced by different groups, which are inclined to different agendas or ideologies. The presence of the Hezbollah terrorist group in the Middle East region and the emergence of Al Shabaab are indicators of the underlying issues of human security that need to be addressed in wholesome by actors in the international system (Lake 15-19).

According to Walter (335), the prevalence of insecurity in different regions due to acts of terrorism affects relations between states in economic and political matters. An example is giving out travel advisories by states as a result of the state of insecurity in a given state as posed by the presence of terrorist groups and the advancement of violence by the groups.

An example that can be given in this case is the de-linkage of a substantial number of states from Somalia due to the prevalence of the state of lawlessness in the country, which further encourages terrorism and sea piracy. This implies that terrorism results in a set of other complexities of states, resulting in socioeconomic and political complexities for states and affecting their status and influence in the international system.

Somalia and Pakistan have been categorized as terrorist zones. This continues to jeopardize the state of economic and social progress of these countries. The most critical question to pose concerns what other countries can do to improve the state of security in the world, and especially in the countries and regions that are prone to conflicts (Walter 335-338).

Jones and Libicki (9) observed that the mere fact that suspects of terrorism in the United States are Muslims has resulted in the tense relations between Islamic states in the world and the United States, and Western Europe in general. Relations between the United States and Islamic States have remained tense even as the United States accelerates its efforts to combat terrorism.

Even with the killing of Osama Bin Laden, who was termed as the leader of AL Qaeda, the state of insecurity as posed by danger of terrorism remains due to the prevalence of other interest groups that seek to pursue their interests in the international system. As a matter of fact, AL Qaeda is still termed as a threat to international security, which means that the group is not just possessed and driven by their leaders, but is influenced by an agenda or ideology that they want to make real.

A lot of focus by the main actors in the international system still looks into nuclear terrorism as a result of environmental extremism and the growth of different sub-forms of ecoterrorism. There are currently two conflicts between the United States and South Korea, on the one hand, and Iran on the other hand due to the development of nuclear power by these countries.

The main argument that comes out of these conflicts is that nuclear development can be diverted to the development and deployment of nuclear weapons that have far reaching impacts on human security (Jones and Libicki 11).

Policy recommendations on combating terrorism

As observed in the discussion, terrorism has evolved into different forms. In this regard, effective combat of terrorism and its subsequent threats to security in the international system requires the deployment of multi-faceted strategies.

A substantial number of antiterrorism policies have been developed as measures to combat terrorism. However, one thing that is eminent in these strategies is that they do not explore the underlying issues behind development and sustenance of terrorist groups in the world (Frey and Luechinger 509-510).

Terrorist groups have diverse ideologies, thus the use of deterrence to lock out these groups from advancing their course has failed to work. There is a need to dig deeper into the diverse strains of terrorism and their underlying factors in order to neutralize the terrorist groups. One thing that is eminent in terrorism is that terrorist groups, in one way or another, have economic, social and political agendas.

Therefore, it is critical to decentralize the decision making environment to allow incorporation of the grievances of these groups in decision making in the national and international arenas, instead of strengthening the grounds to deny the terrorist groups a chance to pursue their activities (Frey and Luechinger 513).

Countries seem to act in a unitary way in the deployment of counterterrorism measures. The diverse forms of terrorism that prevail in the globalized world today require establishment of a thick intelligence network. Such a network cannot be easily advanced by a solitary state, but it requires the cooperation of all states (Trager and Zagorcheva 87-88).


Terrorism has resounding impacts on human security across the globe. From the discussion, it can be concluded that different forms of terrorism have emerged, thus posing a challenge to states and policy makers who aim to combat terrorism.

There is need to adopt a holistic approach in counterterrorism. The implication of this is that states have to cooperate with other states, as well as the terrorist networks as a way of bringing out and addressing the underlying issues that cultivate the ground for advancement of terrorism.

Works Cited

Frey, Bruno S, and Simon, Luechinger. “Decentralization as a Disincentive for Terror.” European Journal of Political Economy 20.2(2004): 509-515. Print.

Jones, Seth G, and Martin C. Libicki. How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering Al Qa’ida. Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 2008. Print.

Lake, David A. “Rational Extremism: Understanding Terrorism in the Twenty-first Century.” Dialogue IO 1.1(2002): 15-29. Print.

Terrorism Research. What is Terrorism?, n.d. Web.

Trager, Robert F, and Dessislava P. Zagorcheva. “Deterring Terrorism: It Can Be Done.” International Security 30.3(2006): 87-123. Print.

Walter, Barbara F. “The Critical Barrier to Civil War Settlement.” International Organization 51.3(1997): 335-64. Print.

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