Avoiding Physical Harm in Counter-Terrorism (CT)

In December 2018, I advocated against the unlawful use of kinetic weapons, as well as against the use of unconventional weapons, in counter-terrorism efforts worldwide. I would hereby like to clarify things in terms of theory.

Physical harm or the death of persons, where there is a) no manifest risk of physical harm to persons or b) to the integrity of the social contract, must be avoided wherever possible for a number of reasons. Among these reasons: 1) valuing life and individual health, 2) preserving the well-being of citizens, of dwellers and their families, 3) guaranteeing social peace and avoiding societal disgruntlement.

Once caused, pain and trauma among relatives, friends and law-abiding members of social groups are difficult to alleviate. This may give rise to voices of discontent.

At the same time, the task of authorities to preserve security means that excess and the risk of scandal to the detriment of the state be avoided. I am writing this as some cases of extremism among state servants have been revealed in Germany, while recent protests have largely remained under control as to respect by demonstrators and forces of order.

Globally, there is need for self-control and awareness of members of the executive and in overall society, the need for education in legal matters and in ethics.

Enactment of Power and the Greater Good

Taking a distance, having patience, can help reach greater objectivity. Distance of power, on the other hand, means detachment from reality on the part of the holders of authority, ideally individuals enacting altruism, Republican values, and of serene spirit. To avoid harm to society, distance of power must be limited. Specifically, mechanisms must be put in place for the executive not to endanger the well-being and life of persons.

The agents of power, i.e. the decision-makers, must have data, or valid information, at their disposal. Means adopted to reach goals must not be clouded nor judgemental, especially on the part of the ones taking final responsibility.

Decisions must instead be informed by the said, valid data, and most notably carried by a sense of a greater social good, by values and the discrimination of – positively or negatively applicable – norms.

The overall goal must be to preserve the social fabric, to provide sufficient material and emotional gratification to social actors and groups, and to limit, as far as possible, the use and downsides of so-called actual power, which comes in the form of coercion and force, in order to lower medium-term and long-term social costs.

Sustainable, Reward-Oriented Power Play

The cost of power rises with the level of counter-power. It depends on legitimate resources mobilized by an organized or institutionalized instance trying to gain, expand to some degree, or maintain power.

In executing power, the instance of authority will hark back at what legitimized means and resources are available, at raising efficiency, and reducing costs. The cost of execution, NB, can be lowered, in the long run, by transforming the said resources into such which are sustainably acceptable, i.e. which do not cause aggravation nor provocation to the counter-power(s), hence appeasing the other side and allowing for the instance of power to persist, by eliminating extreme tendencies of opposition ethically.

Cost of punishment in the execution of institutionalized power tends to exceed the cost of rewards, so that the natural choice, in the absence of imminent danger and actual, manifest risk, is to make use of such means which allow for reaching a state of generalized stability satisfactory to all sides.

Thorsten Koch, MA, PgDip
5 July 2020


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