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On Absolute War

Terrorism and the Logic of Armed Conflict

Eric Fleury

ca. 97,99
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Sozialwissenschaften, Recht, Wirtschaft / Politikwissenschaft


Nearly two decades after the declaration of a ‘War on Terror,’ the precise relationship between warfare and terrorism remains unclear. The United States and its allies have long sought to inflict a decisive defeat upon groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, while regarding their individual members as malevolent criminals undeserving of combatant status. A clearer understanding of how terrorists define victory, and how their method of fighting relates to conventional military forces, is necessary in order to devise more realistic and effective strategies of counterterrorism. On Absolute War constructs a theoretical framework for the study of terrorism based on Carl von Clausewitz’s On War, widely regarded as the greatest analysis of war ever written. Through a review of Clausewitz’s work and a set of historical case studies ranging from the Fenian Dynamite Campaign of the 1880s to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Prof. Fleury reveals just how closely terrorism mimics the logic of war. Terrorism attempts to restore war to its theoretical baseline, a condition that Clausewitz called ‘absolute war’ featuring relentless escalation toward a climactic result. While never achieving this ideal in practice, terrorists succeed to the extent that they compel their enemies and their prospective followers to engage mutual escalation, which will ultimately favor whichever side is better able to jettison logistical and normative limits. Consequently, states must engage terrorists on the basis of Clausewitz’s two most important injunctions, namely that war is temporary and subordinate to political controls. Given the very real prospect of a war without any temporal and spatial limits, On Absolute War provides the theoretical basis for a strategy of limiting the effects of terrorism, rather than repeatedly trying and failing to destroy it.

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