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Terrorism remains a controversial idea that lacks a universal legal definition, but has several regional and national interpretations. The legal definition provided by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2004 is not binding and lacks authority with respect to the international law . Efforts put forth to define terrorism universally are elusive, and it can be attributed to confusion associated with the term and the fact that multiple agencies utilize diverse meanings. For instance, some definitions of terrorism focus on its criminal aspect, whereas others emphasize types of targets selected by terrorists. Therefore, the main aim is to assess whether actions of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) under Michael Collins would meet the criteria set forth in The Revised Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism.
Actions of the IRA under Michael Collins are often related to as nationalist terrorism, which emerged during the early twentieth century. It increased after the First World War and was prevalent in countries under the occupation of the British. Likar points out that nationalist terrorists consider themselves as freedom fighters rather than terrorists. They believe that the perceived justice associated with their cause repudiates the tactics they employ. Nationalist terrorism is primarily driven by the goal of achieving independence from occupation. Besides, they may be motivated by territorial separation and gaining independence from a country, where they belong to religious, racial, cultural or ethnic minorities. Irish nationalism is often considered the reason for an insurgency by the IRA. According to Likar, Irish terrorism was born in the nineteenth century when the Irish Republican Brotherhood started utilizing assassinations and bombings. Such acts targeted the Protestant Irish who were against Irish independence and the British military forces who occupied Ireland. When the British government had rejected the Ireland home rule, the Easter Rising initiated by the Irish Volunteer Force occurred in 1916, which failed, resulting in the formation of the IRA.
Under Michal Collins leadership, the IRA devised a strategy referred to as selective terrorism by White. It was characterized by a combination of anarchist tactics and bombings coupled with assassinations. Collins considered that indiscriminate terror, including random and large-scale attacks in order to influence the public opinion, was ineffective. The approach that involved initiating an attack and then waiting for the public to impulsively rebel also proved futile. Therefore, in order to be successful, Collins maintained that terrorism should be ruthlessly and selectively directed towards security forces, including their authority symbols. His tactics included ambushing off-duty intelligence and police officers, killing them, attacking police stations, emerging from the crowd, shooting and bombing police officers, as well as returning to the masses before a response could be initiated. The IRA also developed an organizational structure akin to the military. Collins was ultimately successful in forcing the British to consent to the establishment of the Irish Free State in Southern Ireland in 1921. Nevertheless, other members of the IRA leadership disagreed with the separation idea and persisted with their violence campaign that included murdering Collins, their former leader. Likar asserts that the IRA is an archetype of contemporary terrorist organizations. Nationalism marked the commencement of their struggle and subsequently developed into an economic, cultural and religious terror campaign.
From the above account of the tactics employed by the IRA under Collins leadership, it is evident that its actions satisfy most of the criteria outlined in the academic consensus definition of terrorism. The first criterion is that terrorism is based on the supposed effectiveness of fear-generating tactics and coercive political violence. In this regard, the actions of IRA under Collins leadership were based on the presumption that selective terrorism would be effective in influencing the British to stop occupying Ireland. The second criterion outlines the context, in which terrorism is used as a tactical approach. It includes propagandistic tension by non-state leaders during peaceful times, illegal state repression, and unlawful irregular warfare used by non-state and state activists. In this respect, IRA members believed that the British government was repressing them through occupation. Moreover, they opposed those sharing the same stance as the British. The third criterion entails using lethal violence like armed assaults and bombings. It was clearly deployed by the IRA. The fourth criterion focused on terrorist victimization characterized by threat-based communication, whereby the terrorist organization put forward conditional demands to governments, groups, or individuals. In line with this view, the IRA demanded for Irish independence from the British rule. The fifth criterion of terrorism was instilling terror through spreading anxiety, dread, and fear through terrorist acts that were brutal, perpetuated indiscriminately, and showing wanton disregard to warfare rules. The actions of the IRA do not satisfy this criterion because of their discriminatory nature. The sixth factor shows that victims must be non-combatants, civilians, innocent people, and others who are defenseless. IRA actions were not consistent with this requirement since they targeted the police, intelligence officers and the military. The definition of terrorism also maintains that direct victims are used only for sending a message to ultimate targets, as in the case of IRA actions, whereby the real target was the British government. Terrorism is majorly political rather than criminal. The IRA was politically motivated in order to achieve Irish nationalism.
In conclusion, the actions of the IRA can be defined as nationalist terrorism. The IRA adopted the selective terrorism strategy that involved targeting security forces selectively and ruthlessly in order to achieve its purpose. Although classified as nationalist terrorism, it is evident the actions of the IRA under Collins leadership satisfy the majority of the criteria for the academic consensus definition of terrorism. The only discrepancy from the definition is that the IRA targeted victims selectively rather than indiscriminately. In addition, the terrorist organization attacked security officers rather than combatants.