By Ben Saul

It is remarkable that two decades of extensive global counterterrorism law and cooperation have proceeded from a normative black hole: the absence of a common definition of terrorism. Security Council Resolution 1373 and successive resolutions have deliberately omitted any definition, despite requiring states to take far-reaching legislative and executive action.

On the one hand, the Council’s approach was tactically brilliant. Since new counterterrorism measures were perceived to be urgent after 9/11, there was no time to get bogged down in the intractable question of definition, which had eluded international agreement for a century. The limited club of 15 Council members would have been unlikely to agree. Even if they had, their definition would have been unlikely to reflect or attract an international consensus, triggering serious compliance problems in national implementation.

Despite “making” new…

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