In September 2001 following the 9/11 attacks on the United States, President Bush declared a ‘global war on terror’. As time would tell this would become a conflict which would define foreign policy objectives for the next fifteen years and leave many a military tactician asking the same question… ‘how do you wage war on an abstract noun?’.
I titled this article with the proclamation that “it’s time to stop losing the war on terror”, and to some that will come as a surprising statement. Are we losing the war? The simple answer is yes, and the facts are overwhelming. A study conducted by the Rand Corporation highlights this, as the think tank estimated that in 2007 there were 28 Salafi-jihadist groups like Al Qaeda, while in 2013 this number was up to 49. In the same period the number of attacks by these groups rose from 100 to 950 attacks, and the number of terrorists active from a high-end estimate of 42,000 increasing to 105,000. None of this is to prescribe the war on terror a failure, or that victory is impossible, but it does say that the current strategy is failing.
Following the ‘defeat’ of the Soviet Union in 1989 there was a sentiment that it was politicians who lost the war, not the generals. The same is true in the war on terror, as no general can win such a conflict with their hands tied down by such rules. This comes to the crux of my argument. To win this conflict, we need to change our approach, specifically regarding borders and proportionality.
It is at this point I would expect some readers to be outraged, shouting ‘what of our morality? State sovereignty?’. This is a fair point, and yet one which I passionately dislike. Why is it somehow seen as moral to allow terrorists to plan their next attack safe in the knowledge that they are protected by borders in nations which have no interest in clamping down on terrorism? If you have the ability to stop such evil wherever it may lie you also have the responsibility to do so regardless of international borders. Evil recognises no border and neither can we in our pursuit of it, not if we want to win.
Next we come onto the idea of proportionality, and this point is twofold. Firstly, proportionality can refer to our conduct in war, but the broader point I want to focus on is the idea of a proportional response. Someday someone must explain to me the merits of such a response, and why is it that the response to a terrorist attack is limited by proportionality. To win the war on terror we need to inspire terror in our enemies, to make them certain that should they attack us or our allies there will be no nation, no corner, no line we will not cross to hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice. This also means ending the fear of committing ground forces to such a conflict.
On November 11th, we honoured the Armistice between the Allies and Germany which in effect brought an end to World War One. At the time it was thought to be ‘the war to end all wars’ and a war like no other, both in its scale and brutality, however twenty-one years later there was a conflict that would shake the world once more. Today we are embroiled in the first total war the world has ever seen, a conflict where nobody can stay neutral or on the side-lines, and a war not against a nation but against Terror itself.
France, like numerous nations, suffered horrendous tragedies in both World Wars, and on November 11th we will remember them. In 2016 France has once again suffered many atrocities, but this time committed by an enemy who will never seek peace or ask for mercy. It is scandalous to stand on the side-lines and allow someone to commit an atrocity, so what does it say about us that we ignore not just one but hundreds of atrocities. The conscience of our nation surely lies dormant tonight.
Tonight, children in Paris, in Nice, in Brussels, and across the globe will sleep less soundly with no parent to comfort them. Parents will lie awake mourning the loss of their sons and daughters. Brothers who have lost sisters, sisters who have lost brothers, and the countless masses who have lost friends all sleep less soundly tonight. Yet their grief should be a burden on all of our consciences. Be of no doubt that the decision to be satisfied with half measures, while hiding behind the well-worn and twisted veil of morality, makes our nation and us its citizens accountable as well for these acts of terror. What grieving families need now is not more cries of outrage from a capricious crowd of stuttering sympathisers, instead what they need is action. Nothing can bring back their loved ones, but we can still act to stop countless more innocents joining their ranks.
We have a choice. We must either stop these half measures and eliminate our enemy, not just within our borders but root them out wherever they hide with whatever means necessary, offering no mercy and leaving no sanctuary for this evil. If not we must consign ourselves to a world ruled by terror and fear, and force future generations to live under its perpetual shadow. It’s time to choose, it’s time we stop losing the War on Terror.