Conflict, War and Terrorism

Key Concepts
  • clash of civilisations
  • ‘war on terror’
  • ‘rogue’ states
  • weapons of mass destruction
  • terrorism
Syllabus Outline

Knowledge of the key conflicts in the modern world and an awareness of the sources of global conflict, especially linked to developments since 9/11, including issues to do with the so-called ‘war on terror’, nuclear proliferation and other weapons of mass destruction, and the spread and significance of global terrorism.

Scheme of Work

Conflicts—knowledge of the key conflicts in the modern world and an awareness of the sources of global conflict with particular relation to concepts studied in Unit 3, Topic D

Terrorism—the ‘clash of civilisations’ and the ‘war on terror’; conflicts linked to the 9/11 attacks and the alleged spread of Islamic extremism and global terrorism; the politics of fear and the use of terror to provoke changes in policy making

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)—nuclear proliferation and other WMDs; knowledge of international agreements and their effectiveness in controlling the proliferation of WMDs and nuclear weapons in particular; understanding of the threat of proliferation to global security as well as awareness of the role WMDs may have in promoting peace, e.g. mutually assured destruction (MAD) plans

Content Explanation and Advice

Key Themes

Cultural Conflict

Culture and identity - rise of identity politics (declining significance of traditional ideological and class solidarities; growth of ethnic, racial, religious and other particularisms; attack on liberal universalism; political emancipation through cultural self-assertion and re-definition of identity); religion as a global issue (rise of religious movements; explaining the rise of religion and ‘desecularization’ (failure of universalist ideologies; impact of globalization; certainty in an uncertain world, etc); clash of civilisation thesis ('civilisations' as global actors; basis for conflict between and among civilizations; criticisms of clash of civilization thesis).

Islam vs the West? – rise of Islamic fundamentalism (advance of Islamism in Iran and elsewhere); the 'war on terror' as a civilizational conflict between Islam and the West?

Changing nature of war - from 'old' wars to 'new' wars; features of conventional wars (armed conflict between states; war an extension of politics, clear civilian/military divide, etc.); features of modern or 'new' wars (civil wars rather than inter-state wars; wars of identity (fuelled by ethnic nationalism or religious radicalism); use of guerrilla and insurgency tactics; asymmetrical war ('mismatched' enemies, uncertain outcome, intractability of asymmetrical wars, etc.); blurring of civilian/military divide; (irregular fighters; civilian targets; overlaps between war and criminality, etc.); Afghanistan and Iraq as 'new' wars; 'postmodern’ wars- (revolution in military affairs (Gulf War); 'hi-tech' weaponry; 'virtual' warfare; casualty-less warfare (Kosovo)). (Note: essay questions will not be set on the changing nature of war.)

Nuclear Proliferation

Nature of weapons of mass destruction – nature of WDM (mass collateral damage; widely viewed as 'non-legitimate' or 'inhuman'; significant deterrence effect, etc); nuclear weapons as archetypal WMD; development of nuclear weapons (Hiroshima and Nagasaki); emergence of biological and chemical weapons

Nuclear proliferation and its implications – horizontal and vertical proliferation; nuclear proliferation during the Cold War period (vertical proliferation among superpowers; only UN 'veto powers' had nuclear weapons); nuclear proliferation in post-Cold War period (horizontal proliferations due to regional conflict (India and Pakistan; Israel and Iran, etc); easier access to weapons and technology, etc); debates about nuclear proliferation (implications for peace ('balance of terror'), greater responsibility etc vs 'tactical' use, danger of getting into the 'wrong hands ('rogue' states (Iran, North Korea etc) and terrorist organisations), etc.

Non-proliferation strategies - attempts to control nuclear proliferation (multilateral treaties (1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), etc) and bilateral treaties (SALT I and II; START I and II, SORT Treaty, etc)); US non-proliferation under Obama and its implications, etc.


Spread and significance of international/global terrorism – nature of terrorism; types of terrorism (nationalist terrorism; international, global or 'new' terrorism, etc); nature of Islamist terrorism (ideological goals ('purify' Muslim world and civilizational conflict with the West,especially the USA); tactics and methods (suicide attacks, coordinated attacks, audacious strategies); network organisation, etc); significance of international/global terrorism (impossible to protect against, acquisition of WMD, etc vs exaggerated fears (‘politics of fear’), limited public support for religious militancy, etc)

Countering terrorism – use of military tactics to contain/destroy terrorism (successes, failures and implications of the 'war on terror'); state security and domestic repression; extent to which countering terrorism is compatible with protecting human rights (proper balance between public order and civil liberty/human rights?; unique challenges posed by terrorism; suspending human rights as the ‘lesser evil’; importance of moral high ground and ‘soft’ power, etc); political deals to end terror

Nuclear Proliferation / WMDs