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International Legal Responses to Terrorism

By W. Michael Reisman


On average, from 1993 to 1998, eleven Americans died as victims of international terrorists each year, but the effect of terrorism-the quintessential \u22propaganda of the deed\u22-goes far beyond those numbers. Indeed, it may paralyze even powerful governments, as occurred to the United States when its diplomats were taken hostage in 1979. Now, the technology of transportation about the planet has advanced to the point where it has become increasingly easy to plan and implement highly destructive terrorist actions in the territory of another state, whether the technique of destruction is by electronic or kinetic intervention, or by conventional explosive, nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. The diffusion of modern technology, the astonishing proliferation of information about the ways and means of conducting terrorist actions, and the amplification of the damage that terrorists now seem capable of wreaking, seem likely to make terrorism more attractive to would-be users and, as a result, of vastly heightened concern to an increasingly large class of potential targets. When the source of terrorism is foreign, or parts of the planning and implementation occur outside the target state, the responses of the targeted government are necessarily international political events. International law becomes engaged and, as such, it may have significant effects on the range of options available to the target state and its nationals. Yet, as we will see, the international prescriptive or law-making responses to international terrorism have manifested a remarkable resistance to comprehensive analysis and development of an appropriately diverse set of authorized responses. My remarks today are concerned, first, with inventorying the ways that international law affects the shaping of government responses to international terrorism by prescribing generally or particularly the contingencies, procedures, and scope of response-be it unilateral or multilateral-lawfully available to a target; and second, with exploring the reasons for the rather spotty record of achievement

Topics: Law
Publisher: Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository
Year: 1999
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