Griffith Asia Institute Research Seminar: Targeting Heads of Government: a historical analysis of American foreign policy and international assassination

Griffith Asia Institute Research Seminar: Targeting Heads of Government: a historical analysis of American foreign policy and international assassination
Griffith Asia Institute Research Seminar: Targeting Heads of Government: a historical analysis of American foreign policy and international assassination

Principal speaker

Dr Shannon Brincat

Presented by: Shannon Brincat, Research Fellow, Griffith Asia Institute and School of Government and International Relations

This paper develops a hypothesis explaining why American foreign policy has recently engaged in open and overt targeting of Heads of Government (HoG) for the first time in the history of Westphalia. The argument is developed in three sections. The first examines the history of American foreign policy and assassination, with a particular emphasis on the findings of the Church Committee (1975). The second part offers a synchronic analysis of the specific events surrounding the targeted strikes on Saddam Hussein (2003) and Muammar Qaddafi (2011), and the normative claims justifying, legitimizing, or exceptionalising these actions. The third part offers a theoretical explanation for this breach of the well-established normative prohibition against targeting HoG. It is argued that US foreign policy has shifted towards an open endorsement and increased use of targeting HoG not only because it deems such ‘decapitation’ strategies as effective against specific regimes for the purposes of regime change but also because, as a democratic state, it deems it legitimate to engage in assassination when faced with the external threat of ‘tyranny’ – indeed, it receives increased domestic legitimation in so doing. This explanation is then shown to be consistent with Millsian theories of liberal imperialism. The paper concludes by speculating on this shift as a threat to the maintenance of world order and, at the same time, why this type of violence is intrinsic to the logic of liberal democracy promotion in international relations. 

Shannon Brincat is a Griffith University Research Fellow. He has edited a number of collections, most recently Dialectics and World Politics; Recognition, Conflict and the Problems of Ethical Community and; the three volume series Communism in the 21st Century and am co-founder and co-editor of the journal Global Discourse. His current research focuses on recognition theory and cosmopolitanism; dialectics; tyrannicide; climate change justice; and Critical Theory. Shannon has had articles published in the European Journal of International Relations, Review of International Studies and Constellations, amongst others.

To RSVP, please contact Christine Kowalski on (07) 3735 4705 or events-gai@griffith.edu.au by 11.00am Monday 9 May 2016.  


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