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State Terrorism vs. Critical Terrorism

Nowadays, it became a commonplace practice among many political scientists to suggest that the concept of state terrorism can no longer be discussed within the methodological framework of the Realist (Positivist) paradigm of international relations. It is also being commonly suggested that namely the application of Constructivist/Critical inquiry, in this respect, which should provide a number of in-depth insights into the issue at stake (Sorensen 1998).

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This suggestion, however, cannot be deemed very plausible. The reason for this is that, as of today, there is a plenty of evidence that state terrorism is nothing but one of many aspects of the process of nation-states competing for a place under the Sun. At the same time, brushing off the Constructivist/Critical idea that the incidents of state terror should be assessed within the context of what happened to be the currently predominant socio-political discourse, will not prove appropriate, as well (Barkin 2003). After all, one would not be able to identify the discursive significance of these incidents in any other way, but by taking into account what happened to be the affiliated political/geopolitical circumstances, at the time when the mentioned acts of terror took place (Payne 2007).

In this paper, I will aim to substantiate the validity of the above-stated at length, while providing a critical review of the article State terrorism in the social sciences: theories, methods and concepts by Ruth Blakeley (Critical) and the book State terrorism and the United States: from counterinsurgency to the War on Terrorism by Frederick Gareau (Realist). I will also elaborate on what can be considered the discursive significance of both of these materials.

In her article, Blakeley strived to identify what can be considered the main qualitative features of state terrorism and to answer the question of whether the realities of a post-industrial living have any effect on the notion’s semiotics. The methodological approach to doing this, deployed by the author, fits the definition of an ‘investigative analysis’ – Blakeley provides an extensive review of relevant literature and uses it as the source for new insights into the subject matter in question.

The definition of state terrorism, contained in the article, implies that the concerned practice stands in striking contradiction to the very concept of statehood: “State terrorism involves the deliberate targeting of individuals that the state has a duty to protect to invoke terror in a wider audience” (2010, p. 15). Partially, this explains the main idea that it is being promoted throughout the entirety of Blakeley’s article – even though many countries do periodically perpetrate the acts of terror against their own citizens, as well as against the citizens of other countries, there are no good reasons to think that this situation is being dialectically predetermined.

That is, the state-sponsored (either directly or indirectly) atrocities against the targeted civilian populations, are rather incidental than systematic. This, however, does not make them less unacceptable: “Where state terrorism appears to be a secondary effect (albeit an instrumental one) rather than the primary motive of some other act of repression, it still constitutes state terrorism” (p. 25). Blakeley’s affiliation with the Constructivist/Critical paradigm of IR can be illustrated, in regards to the author’s tendency to refer to the incidents of state terror, as the direct consequence of the fact that the so-called ‘international humanitarian law’ (IHL) continues to remain largely non-enforced. In other words, Blakeley’s article promotes the idea that it is specifically the operational deficiencies of IHL, which make the incidents of state terror possible. In its turn, this implies that the perpetration of the acts of terror, on the part of a particular state, is not well deliberated.

Although, Blakeley does deserve to be given a credit for having succeeded in exposing readers to many of the commonly overlooked aspects of state terror, the author’s line of argumentation is far from being considered highly plausible. One of the main reasons for this is that the concerned article appears utterly biased, in the ideological sense of this word. For example, the author dismisses even the hypothetical possibility for the U.S. to be capable of terrorising civilians – even when faced with the fact that this country’s strive to promote ‘democracy’; throughout the world, is something that fits the definition of state terror perfectly well (Clairmont 2005).

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Nothing better illustrates the fact that the discussed article is indeed highly hypocritical than the author’s suggestion that, even though the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 resulted in the deaths of at least 300.000 Iraqi civilians, there is nothing wrong about it, as the concerned civilian casualties were not indented. As Blakeley pointed out: “Terrorizing the civilian population is not necessarily always the primary objective of an air campaign… in the US- led campaign against Iraq, civilians were never intended as direct targets” (p. 16). That is, if the U.S. army kills civilians – this is a ‘collateral damage’, if any other country’s army does the same – this is a ‘crime against humanity’.

What also undermines the measure of the discussed article’s credibility, is that Blakeley denies the possibility that the self-proclaimed ‘democratic’ countries are being quite capable of subjecting their citizens to terror, as it happened to be the case with the ‘totalitarian’ ones. This is exactly the reason why the author insists that, for as long as the former are being concerned, the perpetration of state terror, on their part, should be discussed as such that never took place.

For example, while referring to the accounts of Abu Ghraib prisoners having been systematically tortured, Blakeley suggests that it was nothing but the “odd, isolated criminal act of a prison officer” (p. 21). This, of course, again implies the existence of the whole category of countries that are not being able to perpetrate the acts of state terrorism, simply because they happened to be ‘democratic’ (Palan 2000).

The mentioned claim, however, does not hold much water – something that can be well illustrated, in regards to the recent events in Ukraine. After having ceased the political power in this country, by the mean of an armed coup, the Ukrainian ‘democrats’ (who openly fly swastika flags) declared the country’s Russian-speaking citizens in the East ‘terrorists’ and began exterminating them en mass, while applauded by the U.S. State Department.

Thus, Blakeley’s article can be referred to as such that exposes the fallaciousness of many Constructivist/Critical claims, in respect to the theory of IR, in general, and to the issue of state terrorism, in particular. It is needless to mention, of course, that this has very little to do with what happened to be the author’s initial intention. At the same time, however, there can be only a few doubts that the reading of State terrorism and the United States will prove beneficial for just about anyone who strives to gain a better understanding on what will be the qualitative aspects of state terrorism in the future.

In his book State terrorism and the United States: from counterinsurgency to the War on Terrorism, Gareau aimed at revealing America’s yet another ‘dirty secret’ – the fact that this country is directly or indirectly responsible for the majority of the instances of state terror, which took place in the aftermath of the WW2. As the author noted: “American elites… manipulate the public, which is generally oblivious to its government’s support of those rulers who practiced and are practicing terrorism” (2004, p. 20).

While addressing this objective, the author provides readers with often shocking information, concerned with the fact that the U.S. never ceased supporting right-wing political regimes throughout the world – quite despite these regimes’ atrocious reputation. One of the best examples, which illustrates the full soundness of this suggestion, Gareau considers the continual functioning of the so-called Schools of the Americas on the territory of the U.S., where the socially prominent members of the Latin-American elites learn what account for the most effective ways of popularising the ideals of ‘democracy’ among people – even when it is being done against these people’s will.

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According to the author, “The main focus of the training (in these schools) became counterinsurgency and low intensity warfare… The school has trained upward of 59,000 Latin American military personnel, policemen, and civilians” (p. 23). Yet, if there is anything, in which the graduates of these schools were able to succeed, was violating the U.N. Human Rights Chapter in the most blatant manner. The SOA’s most famous graduate is Augusto Pinochet, who with the help of the CIA overthrew the legitimate government of Salvador Allende in 1973, and sub-sequentially subjected his opponents to the reign of terror.

Throughout the book, Gareau continues to come up with the examples of what he considers state terrorism, endorsed by the U.S. Among them are: the revealed truth about the origins of Al-Qaeda (the creation of CIA),the country’s continual support of despotic regimes in the Gulf Region and the fact that the world-famous prison Guantanamo continues to remain fully operational – even though this state of affairs represents a striking violation of not only IHL, but also of the main provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

The author insists that America’s affiliation with the acts of state terror is not accidental – it is one of the major mechanisms that allows the U.S. to enjoy its undisputed geopolitical dominance in the world. This, of course, leaves only a few doubts, as to the author’s association with specifically the Realist perspective on the essence of IR, as such that is being concerned with the assumption that the world’s most powerful nations are being in the state of fierce competition with each other for the limited natural/human resources.

In this turn, this implies that the actual purpose of just about any country’s existence consists of: a) geographical/economic expansion, b) ensuring the stability within, c) destabilising rivals. It is understood, of course, that this creates the objective preconditions for state terror to be seen by policy-makers as the thoroughly legitimate mean of pursuing a particular geopolitical agenda, on their part (Savun & Phillips 2009).

Thus, it will indeed be fully appropriate referring to Gareau’s book, as such that contains clues, as to what the realm of international politics is all about. After having been exposed to it, readers will be much more likely to recognise the ‘democracy’-related rhetoric, deployed by the high-ranking governmental officials from the U.S. (when it comes to concealing the country’s true geopolitical agenda), as such that is being utterly misleading.

Moreover, it is also very likely that, as of the consequence of having read Gareau’s book, people will begin doubting the assumption that their own government is incapable of committing the acts of terror against its citizens, which in turn will naturally prompt them to wonder about who stood behind the perpetration of the 9/11 terrorist tacks.

Probably the main discursive implication of what has been said earlier, in regards to Blakeley’s article and Gareau’s book, is that there is indeed a good reason in considering the Constructivist paradigm of IR, as yet another proof that the body of international politics never ceases to remain prominently Realist. The reason for this is apparent.

As it is being exemplified by Blakeley’s article, the close examination of Critical outlook of state terror, suggests that it is there to divert people’s attention away from the fact that the dynamics in the arena of international politics continue to be defined by the ‘law of the jungle’ – just as it always used to be the case. As the saying goes – the less people know, the better they sleep (Murphy 1998).

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One may even develop this line of reasoning further. The notion of state terrorism is not as much about the governments of some world’s countries targeting their own citizens, as it is about America’s preoccupation with trying to set as many ‘zones of instability’ on the world map, as possible – the ultimate instrument of preventing the collapse of the country’s economy, due to the enormous budget-deficit (Nye 2004; Clairmont 1993). Very often, this is being accomplished by the mean of creating and financing different terrorist groups, throughout the world.

The reason for this is that, after having been deprived of its status as the world’s only ‘super-power’, it now becomes increasingly harder for the U.S. to ensure the appeal of the so-called ‘U.S. Treasury Bonds’, the selling of which internationally (primarily, to Russia and China) used to allow the country’s economy to remain comparatively unaffected by inflation (Longstaff 2004).

After all, the lack of America’s dominance in the world naturally causes more and more potential investors to recognise that the U.S. government will never be able to take care of its debts. This leaves the U.S. with no other option but trying to destabilise as many other countries, as possible, so that in the surrounding ‘sea of instability’, America would stand out as a ‘safe sanctuary’, which in turn will ensure the continual popularity of the mentioned ‘treasuries’ – pure and simple.

As it appears, this suggestion can indeed be considered both: Realist (because it is being consistent with what happened to be the objective laws of history) and Constructivist/Critical (because it is observant of what are today’s geopolitical realities in the world). I believe that this conclusion is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.


Barkin, S 2003, ‘Realist Constructivism’, International Studies Review, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 325-342.

Blakeley, R 2010, ‘State terrorism in the social sciences: theories, methods and concepts’, in R Jackson et al. (eds), Contemporary state terrorism, Abingdon, Routledge, pp. 12-27.

Clairmont, F 1993, ‘US state terrorism: another criminal act’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 28, no. 27/28, pp. 1423-1424.

Clairmont, F 2005, ‘Iraq: the nemesis of imperialism’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 40, no. 29, pp. 3124-3127.

Gareau, F 2004, State terrorism and the United States: from counterinsurgency to the war on terrorism, Clarity Press and Zed Books, Atlanta.

Longstaff, F 2004, ‘The flight‐to‐liquidity premium in U.S. treasury bond prices’, The Journal of Business, vol. 77, no. 3, pp. 511-526.

Murphy, C 1998, ‘Understanding IR: understanding Gramsci’, Review of International Studies, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 417-425.

Nye, J 2004, ‘Soft power and American foreign policy’, Political Science Quarterly, vol. 119, no. 2, pp. 255-270.

Palan, R 2000, ‘A world of their making: an evaluation of the Constructivist critique in international relations’, Review of International Studies, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 575-598.

Payne, R 2007, ‘Neorealists as critical theorists: the purpose of foreign policy debate’, Perspectives on Politics, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 503-514.

Savun, B & Phillips, B 2009, ‘Democracy, foreign policy, and terrorism’, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 53, no. 6, pp. 878-904.

Sorensen, G 1998, ‘IR theory after the Cold War’, Review of International Studies, vol. 24, no. 5, pp. 83-100.

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