Despite numerous efforts since the 1920s, the international community has failed to define or criminalize “terrorism” in international law. There is a sizeable international disagreement on what exactly defines terrorism. This inability to come to a general agreement is the stem of many shortcomings on the international laws of terrorism. These shortcomings of international law are rooted in many different issues associated with the word terrorism.
Since terrorism is not universally defined, the name has no legal meaning in terms of international understanding. To this day, the definition is still debated in the world (Duursma, 2008). One could argue that global culture and evolution are responsible for the impossibility of worldwide law, and that is the world cannot justly decide on what is and what is not terrorism.
The first international legal organization is the United Nations (U.N.), which most consider being the enforcers of the world as they have given their blessings on many justifiable wars. The U.N. is key to both enforcing and creating international law at many levels. Foreign laws that are sanctioned by the U.N. appear to have been subjected to debate, rigorous discussion, and temperance throughout all stages of the creation process.
The U.N. itself argued that the rights of people to self-determine their fate could not be considered terrorism in any way, shape, or form, (Duursma). If just a single definition like terrorism can cause such disagreement and debate, imagine arguing this in international court and trying to convince a jury of mixed culture, religion, and belief. The vagueness of the word does not make it suitable for legal discussion. The term is emotionally charged and difficult to understand in any objective matter. It is for these reasons we see such a shortcoming in international law. Goldsmith & Posner (2005) argued that international law is merely an arm of international politics and that justice and fairness are not the real aims of the construct.
The repeated failures of any prominent international organization — as a result of the very different and fractured cultures — make it very difficult for agreeing on a clear understanding of how terrorism can be successfully addressed at the international level. Though we may be able to remedy some of the shortcomings of international law, I would argue that because of our cultural and historical differences and our beliefs there will always be shortcomings regarding international laws and signed agreements.
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