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Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism: Ethics and Liberal Democracy



Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism: Ethics and Liberal Democracy

Seumas Miller

ISBN: 978-1-405-13942-7 June 2008 Wiley-Blackwell 232 Pages

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Undoubtedly, the events of September 11, 2001 served as a wake-up call to the scourge of global terrorism facing twenty-first century societies. But was the attack on the World Trade Center a crime or an act of war? Is seemingly indiscriminate violence inflicted on civilians ever morally justified? And should society's response always be in kind – with blind, destructive violence? For that matter, are all civilians truly ‘innocent’? The answers are not always so simple.

Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism: Ethics and Liberal Democracy provides sobering analyses of the nature of terrorism and the moral justification – or lack thereof – of terrorist actions and counter-terrorism measures in today's world. Utilizing a variety of thought-provoking philosophical arguments, the historic roots of terrorism and its contemporary incarnations are explored in depth. Detailed analyses of organizations such as the IRA, the ANC, Hamas and Al-Qaeda will reveal the many faces of terrorism and its disparate motives and tactics. Discussion of the nature and scope of terrorism and whether it can ever be morally justified is balanced with analysis of counter-terrorism strategies and the methods and moral limits of counter-terrorism.

Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism will greatly broaden our understanding of the nature and morality of terrorism and counter-terrorist pursuits – a crucial precondition for establishing any form of enduring peace between nations in the twenty-first century world.



1. The Varieties of Terrorism.


Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict.

Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism and the IRA in Northern Ireland.

The African National Congress’s Armed Struggle in Apartheid South Africa.

Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in India.


2. Defining Terrorism.

The Definition of Terrorism in Terms of Innocents.

The Definition of Terrorism in Terms of Non-Combatants.

Terrorism, Combatants and Authoritarian States.

The Definition of Terrorism: An Indirect Strategy.


3. Terrorism and Collective Responsibility.

Moral Justification for the Use of Deadly Force.

Civilian Immunity and Human Rights Violations.

Civilian Immunity and Culpable Omissions.

Terrorism and Non-Violent Rights Violators.


4. Terrorism-as-Crime.


Terrorism-as-Crime and Police Institutions.

Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights in Liberal Democracies at Peace.


5. Terrorism, War and States of Emergency.

Terrorist Attacks, Disasters and States of Emergency.

Terrorism, Internal Armed Struggles and Theatres of War.

Targeted Killings.

Targeted Killings and the Problem of Dirty Hands.


6. Torture.

Definition of Torture.

What Is Wrong with Torture?.

The Moral Justification for One-Off Acts of Torture in Emergencies.

The Moral Justification for Legalized and Institutionalized Torture.


7. Bioterrorism and the Dual-Use Dilemma.

The Biological Weapons Convention.

Experiments of Concern.

Dual-Use Research: The Ethical Issues.

Dissemination of Dual-Use Research Results.

The Regulation of Dual-Use Research.

An Independent Authority.




‘Seumas Miller has written a first-rate book. It is the only philosophical treatment of the ethics of terrorism that takes counter-terrorism seriously. Building on his extensive work in police ethics, Miller refocuses the debate about terrorism in light of the kind of procedures that police and the military employ to stop it. It greatly contributes to enlarging the growing debates about the appropriate moral response to terrorism.’– Larry May, Washington University in St Louis

'Miller's book is a serious invitation to think again through complex issues, about whether terrorism is ever justifiable, about the "police" versus "war" paradigms of counter-terrorism, and about torture... In general, Miller's mode of argument is pleasingly generous, pointing out difficulties and counter-arguments along the way." The Guardian Blackwell Public Philosophy Series
Discussion Guide
Sample Chapter

  • Integrates thoughtful ethical-philosophical analyses with contemporary terrorist organizations
  • Offers a liberal and human rights-based perspective that takes contemporary security challenges seriously
  • Considers the ethics of a wide range of counter-terrorism techniques, including prolonged detention, surveillance, torture, and targeted killing
  • Accessible and analytical, while offering practical solutions to ethical dilemmas posed by terrorism.