(Editor’s Note: On the 22nd anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, as part of Just Security’s partnership with Oxford University Press, we are launching a Symposium on ending perpetual war. Research findings from this Symposium will be published in the forthcoming volume, Perpetual War and International Law: Legacies of the War on Terror, ed. Brianna Rosen, Oxford University Press: 2024.)
By nearly any objective measure, the global “war on terror” has at least largely been won. Al-Qaeda and ISIS have, in most part, been defeated even while lower level threats from splinter groups persist. Large-scale combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria have ceased. To be sure, the Taliban has regained control of Afghanistan, but the threat from that country is now a different problem of internal repression. For counterterrorism as generally understood, it appears we now may be well beyond the elusive “tipping point” – the transition from a war paradigm to law enforcement approach to transnational terrorism.
Nevertheless, the United States and much of the world remain mired in a perpetual state of war. As has been written about extensively, the war on terror continues in a different form – that of “GWOT (global war on terror) lite,” where states appear to be applying the rules of armed conflict indefinitely outside of recognizable battlefields. Though generally eschewing the phrase “global war on terror,” the Obama administration maintained the war footing, as did the Trump administration, and the Biden presidency has yet to have “turned the page” despite the president’s remarks before the United Nations two years ago.
More than two decades since 9/11, the war paradigm has become entrenched in counterterrorism policy, raising questions about the capacity of existing rules on the use of force and the rule of law on a global scale to withstand such pressure. What does it mean to be at peace – if that is indeed what this is – in an age of perpetual war? How does the global war on terror end?
Today, on the 22nd anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Just Security is launching the Symposium, “Ending Perpetual War,” to reflect on the enduring legacies of 9/11; the successes and failures of the global war on terror; and prospects and challenges for leaving the war path. The Symposium brings together leading legal scholars, political scientists, historians, philosophers, and humanitarian experts, including: Radhya al-Mutawakel, Aslı Bâli, Linda Bilmes, Tess Bridgeman, Andrew Clapham, Neta Crawford, Federica D’Alessandra, Tom Dannenbaum, Mary Dudziak, Laura Dickinson, Anthony Dworkin, Pablo de Greiff, Adil Haque, Oona Hathaway, Harold Hongju Koh, Alberto Mora, Priyanka Motaparthy, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Faiza Patel, Cheyney Ryan, Brianna Rosen, Timor Sharan, Elad Uzan, and Sir Michael Wood KCMG KC.
The Symposium contains the following articles, with more published each week:
- Keynote: Harold Hongju Koh, “Finally Ending America’s Forever War, Part I: Diagnosis and Part II: Prescription”
- Oona Hathaway, “How the Expansion of ‘Self-Defense’ Has Undermined Constraints on the Use of Force”
- Timor Sharan, “Dollars Deployed: How the Weaponization of the U.S. Financial System Contributed to Afghanistan’s Collapse”
As we continue to grapple with the legacy of 9/11 and the path ahead, we also invite readers to revisit our related series, “Still at War: Where and Why the United States is Fighting the War on Terror,” “Unpacking the Presidential Policy Memorandum on Direct Action,” “How Perpetual War Has Changed Us: Reflections on the Anniversary of 9/11,” and “Reflections on Afghanistan on the Eve of Withdrawal.”