Self-Defence Against Terrorism in the Post-9/11 World

  • Andrew Garwood-Gowers


In 1986 the then United States Secretary of State George Shultz asserted that:'It is absurd to argue that international law prohibits us from capturing terrorists in international waters or airspace; from attacking them on the soil of other nations, even for the purpose of rescuing hostages; or from using force against states that support, train and harbor terrorists or guerrillas'. At that time the United States’ claim of a right to use military force in self-defence against terrorism2 received little support from other states.3 The predominant view then was that terrorist attacks committed by private or non-state actors were a form of criminal activity to be combated through domestic and international criminal justice mechanisms.4 The notion that such terrorist acts should be treated as ‘armed attacks’ triggering a victim state’s right of self-defence was not accepted by the majority of states. To suggest, as Shultz had done, that a state not directly responsible for terrorist acts could have its territorial integrity violated by military action targeting terrorists located within that state, was a controversial proposition in 1986. However, some fifteen years later, when the United States and a coalition of allies launched a military campaign in Afghanistan following the 11 September 2001(hereafter ‘9/11’) terrorist attacks, there was virtually unanimous international support for the use of force.
Dec 1, 2004
How to Cite
GARWOOD-GOWERS, Andrew. Self-Defence Against Terrorism in the Post-9/11 World. QUT Law Review, [S.l.], v. 4, n. 2, dec. 2004. ISSN 2201-7275. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 01 feb. 2021. doi:
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