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Theories to Solve Terrorism

Prospective Policy Recommendations of Theories to Solve Terrorism

The Global War on Terror became much publicized and acknowledged following the September 11th Twin Towers attacks in New York City, USA. This was as a result of a well-coordinated scheme that enlisted the help and personal attention of a small cell of Jihadists and terrorists, who saw suicide as the only possible solution to their quest against “Western Civilization”. They coordinated mid-air hijackings of six planes and used them as weapons to slum into the buildings. This paper will compare and contrast the prospective policy recommendations that realism, liberalism or pluralism, and structuralism or Marxism provide towards solving the problem of terrorism.

It is from the above scenario that the term “Global War on Terror” came to be significant in both, tone and deeds. President George W. Bush spearheaded this campaign that saw the USA launch its bid in the UN Assembly and its Security Council to invade Iraq. The link was established that detailed Saddam Hussein’s involvement and finance of the terror organization, Al Qaeda, which was responsible for the twin bomb attacks on that fateful day. These actions and the consequent reactions that followed were widely interpreted in the International Circles with different views and ideals emerging (Robert & Jervis, 2005).

The different perspectives that occurred in both, the political and international relations arena were shaped by different schools of thought or theories, as found in the international relations. These are explained below.

Realism, Liberalism or Pluralism and Marxism or Institutionalism

Each of the above contributed in its own unique measure to the policy recommendations of the USA and the global community in the war against terror. The three theories attempt to explain the nature of man and states, and how they correlate and co-exist. Below I shall seek to expound more on the different effects that the three political theories have on the global war against terror and on international relations at large (Viotti & Kauppi, 1999).


This school of thought gives priority to state’s National security and interests over any available moral concerns, ideology, or social reconstructions. It is related to power politics. As a school of thought, realism views global politics as being driven by “existing competitive self- interests; this at the individual level and at the state-level”. Realists, such as Thomas Hobbes, believed that man was inherently self-seeking and competitive, and this trait was exhibited by the state. This is due to the composition of the state being made up of man. States are thus inherently aggressive, being obsessed with security and control or maintenance of assets or interests (high politics), with the viable option of territorial expansion being constrained only by equal opposing powers (Viotti & Kauppi, 1999).

This obsession with security often led to an aggressive build-up of arms to protect and defend the territorial integrity of a state against another, perceived as an enemy. These actions were in turn viewed with suspicion by the neighboring states that they also started stockpiling arms leading to an arms race. This has resulted in security becoming a zero-sum game where only relative gains are made. WW1 and WW2 have been examples of the resultant conflicts between nations over ideological differences.

The above notions mean that realists believe that the international system exists in an archaic world, where there is no actor capable of regulating the different states’ interactions. States, in the pursuit of national security, often strive to attain as many resources as they can; this is informed by the fact that since each state is a unitary actor, it strives towards implementing their own national interests. A general distrust of long-term alliances or cooperation exists with the overriding national interest of each state being in its own future survival. Thus, the relations existing between states are mainly determined by their individual levels of power that are primarily derived from either their economic or military capabilities. The USA leads the developed nations in economic, political, and military power (Robert & Jervis, 2005).

This school of thought believes that the interjection of values and morality into international relations causes diplomatic rigidity, reckless commitments, and the escalation of conflicts. Coupled with the notion that sovereign states are the “principal actors” in the international system, special attention is certainly to be accorded to large powers, as they have significant influence on the international stage. Of little independent influence are non-governmental organizations, individuals, multinational corporations, and other trans-state or sub-state actors.    

Liberalism or Pluralism

Unlike the theory of realism, this school of thought allows for a plurality in the number of state actors where the preferences vary depending on factors, such as the type of government present, the cultural and economic systems of the state, among other factors that are present. It holds that state interactions are not limited to the high politics (state security and interests), but also include low politics (socio-economic and cultural aspects) that are carried out through individuals, commercial firms, or organizations. This, in turn, provides plenty of opportunities for interaction and cooperation, where this interdependence can lead to the attainment of absolute gains, thus peace can be achieved. This has been the basis for the formation of the United Nations and other global institutions to deal with specific issues, such as can be found in the notion of the tragedy of the commons(Viotti & Kauppi, 1999).

Different strands of this school of thought exist with the two predominant forms being liberal institutionalism and idealism.

The former suggests that with the presence of the right factors the international system can provide opportunities for interactions and cooperation. The ramifications of this view are that if states cannot coexist peacefully then they ought to be curbed through either military action or economic sanctions. A good example would be the invasion of Iraq by the USA and the United Kingdom (2003), where the two governments claimed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction; this put Iraq in bad light to the rest of the world, thus the need to curb it rather than court an outright danger to Europe’s and America’s security. This was carried out through military incursions and subsequent control of Iraq.

The liberalists hold the view that international peace and order can be promoted through international organizations (IGOs), such as the United Nations (UN). They believe in the importance of equal rights, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, free market capitalism, constitutionalism, and in the freedom of religion. Theorists, such as Immanuel Kant, believed in human progress that was anchored on the improvement of social wellbeing through social cooperation (Vasquez, 1996).

Other liberal theorists, from John Stuart Mill to Adam Smith, identified clearly the role of the government in their present day society, with them conceptualizing on liberty as the absence of interference from other individuals or governments on a person or state’s daily activities. This principle is often associated with support for laissez-faire capitalism, where reliance on free markets would exclude state’s control of the market at all levels (Viotti & Kauppi, 1999).

Globally, liberalism has been cited as the dominant ideology of this era with political liberals having organized themselves extensively with think tanks, liberal parties, and other institutions being present in many nations. Liberal parties may be centrist, center-left, or center-right, depending on their ideological orientation. Liberal international is the global outfit that unites over 100 influential organizations and liberal parties from across the ideological spectrum (Vasquez, 1996).

In the United States of America, liberalism refers to social liberalism, with the Democratic Party being identified as modern liberal or center-left. Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the New Deal in response to the Great Depression winning an unprecedented four times in presidential elections. He was to leave a decisive legacy to many future presidents, including John F. Kennedy, who defined a liberal as “someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions...someone who cares about the welfare of the people.” (Robert & Jervis, 2005)

Marxism or Institutionalism

Institutionalism and Marxism are often used in the same context, but the two schools of thoughts have some differentiation. Marxism is “a socio-political and economic worldview,” that, “centers upon a critique and analysis of the development of Capitalism; the interpretation of history from a materialist perspective and the dialectical view of social change” (Robert & Jervis, 2005). Two theorists, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, are credited with this thought.

Marxism encompasses a sociological theory, a revolutionary view of social change (that has globally influenced many political movements), and the Marxian economic theory. There is the presence of material analysis of human conditions, its starting point being the necessary economic activities that man requires to engage in so as to be able to provide for his material needs. This is the basis, from which social relations, morality, ideology, and legal and political systems arise from the form or mode of production or economic organization. These social relations form the basis of the superstructure, to which the economic system forms the base or substructure (Robert & Jervis, 2005).

Capitalism entails the presence of class struggle between the bourgeoisie: the owners of production and the vast majority of the global population, who form the labor force that is known as the proletariat. There is the notion that capitalism, which leads to this class struggle, is oppressive to the proletariat, thus the inevitability of a proletarian revolution. The industrialized world has been the major advocate of capitalism and free marked ideology, thus, they are targeted as the root cause of poverty and wealth disparities.

Structuralism, on its part, is a theoretical paradigm encompassing the ideal that “cultural elements” must be understood in terms of their extended relationship to a larger, over-arching system. It posits that cultural elements, discrete in nature, are not explanatory in themselves, but rather they form part to a meaningful system and are, thus, best understood with respect to their association with the rest of the global system.

It traces its origins to the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and to the subsequent Copenhagen, Prague, and Moscow schools of linguistics. Proponents argue that any specific cultural domain should be understood from both, its structural or social model and language spheres that are distinctly varied from perceived ideals or imagination and reality. Blending structuralism and Marxism was the French theorist Louis Althusser, who upon introducing his own brand of structural and social analysis gave rise to the notion of “structural Marxism”. Structuralists’ view of the state in a capitalist mode of production is informed by the ideal that state institutions (including their legal institutions) function in the long-term interests of capitalism and capital”, rather than function in the short-range needs of associates of the capitalist class (Robert & Jervis, 2005).

The Global war against terror has been diverse in its responses to the threat of terrorism with the USA being at the forefront of the campaign. Each of the above school of thoughts has contributed, according to its weighed value, significantly to the policy recommendations formulated by the USA in its fight against terror.

Realism with its prioritization of state security and interests over everything else was a major factor in the kind of response that the USA and the global community took after September 11, 2002. Power politics, driven by self-interests at both, state and individual levels, significantly informed on the USA’s decision to attack Iraq. The obsession of states with their security has led to an arms race of pileup that made the USA and the global community at large wary of an Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, that was equipped with weapons of mass destruction. States, in the pursuit of national security, often strive to attain as many resources as they can, each striving towards implementing their own national interests. Thus, the relations existing between states are mainly determined by their individual levels of power that are primarily derived from either their economic or military capabilities. This reveals why the USA got its way in dealing with Iraq (Viotti & Kauppi, 1999).

Liberalism, on the other hand, entails the co-operative coexistence of states not only pertaining to their high politics, but also their low politics. The USA was thus able to marshal its support from the United Kingdom and other European states due to its global relationships with these countries spanning their military, socio-cultural, economic, and even political spheres. With its global dominance, this ideal majorly affected many states’ foreign policies, especially towards the threat of terror. It has also affected culturally the relationship that the USA has with other nations, especially Muslim nations that view Western culture and its different effects as the epitome of evil in the world. They mistakenly advocate jihads against the USA that include the attack on the USA directly or indirectly through proxy wars and propaganda.

Marxism or institutionalism supports complete rethink into the advocacy of capitalism that it accuses of being the sole cause of class struggle realistic to many in the developing and least developed states, who day to day continue seeing a widening disparity between the rich and the poor. Wealth creation and accumulation is viewed as being disproportionate to the kickbacks that are in forms of health insurance coverage, environmental preservation, and community development, among a myriad of other benefits that the world’s population would like to see in exchange for the acquisition and use of their resources and workforce or labor (Robert & Jervis, 2005).

In conclusion, the globalization process has closely knitted the global population into a community or village, where distance and time are no longer an issue and where interrelations between states and their citizenry have continuously added to the mix and absorption of diverse cultures and traditions. Understanding and perseverance are necessary tools for the peaceful coexistence of states.

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