Punishment and Peace: Critical Reflections on Countering Terrorism

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This article argues that the punishment of terrorists can lead to a more peaceful world order only if we better understand what it means to punish justly. The just war tradition is considered, focusing on Augustine and Grotius, especially for its understanding of war as being occasionally necessary for punitive purposes. The military dimension of the US counter-terrorism campaign is assessed in terms of 'just international punishment', with specific reference to US military actions in Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq, framed partly as punitive responses to the 9/11 attacks. The article concludes that these military actions contain a punitive ethos, one that has come dangerously close to vengeance. It finds these military actions punitive, but not just for two reasons: (1) they are undermining the very international security structures that they supposedly seek to enforce by violating those norms, especially in the case of Iraq; (2) their primary focus on self-defence prevents them from being actions that might contribute to a more just international order. Finally the article considerers how a turn to the just war tradition might reinforce the norms of the international security order rather than undermine them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-511
Number of pages19
JournalMillennium: Journal of International Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2008


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