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Model for the "War Against Terrorism"?: Military Intervention in Northern Ireland and the 1970 Falls Curfew

NCJ Number
Journal of Law and Society Volume: 30 Issue: 3 Dated: September 2003 Pages: 341-375
Colm Campbell; Ita Connolly
Date Published
September 2003
35 pages
This article explores the British militarized security strategy it employed in Northern Ireland during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and questions whether this type of strategy should serve as a model for the global war against terrorism.
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, official British discourse touted its militarized security strategy in Northern Ireland as a model for the war against terrorism. The authors question this strategy by exploring the often neglected “Falls Curfew” episode, in which the Army killed 4 people, fired 1,500 live rounds and large numbers of CS gas cartridges, conducted mass house searches, and made 337 arrests. One of the reasons this event held such significance was that the Falls Curfew ran counter to the popular belief that democracy and constitutional norms had made such non-statutory military power obsolete. Part 1 of the article further explores the relationship between law, legitimacy, and the role of the military in countries experiencing violent civil conflict. The article examines when an emergency, such as a violent civil conflict, transcends law and legal legitimacy to such an extent as to set aside democratic power checks. Part 2 draws on archival materials and empirical studies to discuss the operationalization of the law on the military interventions that occurred during the Falls Curfew. Part 3 offers conclusions regarding the legal debates raised by the British military involvement in Northern Ireland and the military’s role in escalating the conflict. The article outlines the constitutional, legal, and institutional failings of the British military security strategy in Northern Ireland. Further, the notion of a war model that arose from a complex and violent political disorder is challenged. Finally, the authors charge that the British military response in Northern Ireland succeeded in breaking down formal rationality within the country and, consequently, drawing out the general struggle for legitimacy. Tables


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