Philip Bobbitt's sweeping analysis of the relationship between 21st-century states and terrorism could not be more timely. His arguments are radical, but they will not appeal to many Europeansby Anthony Dworkin / June 29, 2008 / Leave a comment
Terror and Consent by Philip Bobbitt (Allen Lane, £25)
As the Bush administration nears its end, there is growing excitement in Europe about the chance for a fresh start in transatlantic relations. Despite the best efforts of both sides to smooth over differences in the last few years, the parting of ways between the American government and mainstream European political opinion, which began in 2001, has never fully been reversed.
Nowhere is this more true than in the overlapping areas of security and international law. One of the most compelling aspects of Terror and Consent, Philip Bobbitt’s ambitious new book on the “wars for the twenty-first century,” is that it explicitly presents itself as a blueprint for a new strategic vision around which the US and Europe can unite. US and European responses to terrorism have tended to fall on opposite sides of a series of conceptual divides (for instance, over whether terrorist attacks should be seen as acts of war or crimes, or whether strategy or international law should guide military intervention). Bobbitt’s book seeks to reframe the confrontation with al Qaeda in such a radical way that the significance of these conventional arguments falls away. Terror and Consent proposes a redefinition not only of the “war on terror,” but of global politics generally. Some sense of its aspirations may be gained from Bobbitt’s comment that Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington failed with their big ideas (the “end of history” and “clash of civilisations” respectively) because “they were in fact not big enough.”
Bobbitt’s own big idea—anticipated in his earlier, equally sweeping book The Shield of Achilles—is that the world is in transition to a new constitutional order marked by new state formations and a new kind of warfare. The nation state is on its way out and in its place we see the emergence of the “market state,” which is adapted to a globalised world and operates through decentralisation, privatisation, incentives and networks. The market state sees itself, much more than the nation state did, as a collection of individuals; its boundaries do not have the definition of nation states and it seeks legitimacy by maximising the opportunities of its inhabitants.
In different ways, the US and the EU are both market states—but so, in one of Bobbitt’s many paradoxical flourishes, are the terrorist groups that oppose them. Al Qaeda does not control a defined territory, but…