Terrorism Taxonomy: Gil Avriel’s “Civilitary Theory”

By John Bellinger
Saturday, February 6, 2016, 3:01 PM

As Jack noted earlier this week, the new issue of the Harvard National Security Law Journal (for which Jack, Bobby, Ben and I serve as advisors) contains a number of ground-breaking articles, including pieces by Lawfare’s own Ashley Deeks on intelligence agency “peer pressure” and by Dakota Rudesill on “secret law.” I wanted to draw additional attention to the article by Gil Avriel about the need for new terminology to describe terrorist groups that evolve from non-territory-holding organizations to territory-holding organizations (such as ISIL, Boko Haram, Hamas, and Hizballah). I participated in a panel last month at the annual conference of the Association of American Law Schools at which Avriel and Rudesill both presented their papers.

Avriel, who wrote his article while a Wexner Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School and is now serving as Legal Adviser to Israel’s NSC, argues that political leaders, scholars, and journalists are still using outdated terms to describe terrorist groups, essentially lumping together all terrorist organizations when there are significant differences among them. He contends that the use of traditional terminology prevents governments and the international community from recognizing how terrorism and terrorist groups are changing from mere “non-state actors” and from adopting corresponding changes in operational and legal responses.

Avriel coins the term “Civilitary Theory” (or “Civilitary Battlefield”) to describe the new phenomenon where terrorist groups control territory where large numbers of civilians reside (and involuntarily become part of the military battlefield). He examines the evolution of six different terrorist groups through three stages as they acquire and control territory, govern (and terrorize) civilians in that territory, and eventually develop terrorist military infrastructures to launch rocket and missile from that territory (stages which he calls Civilitary Models I, II, and III). The geographic area controlled by a terrorist group he calls a “Terroristate.”

Avriel is serious about spreading the word about the need to recognize the evolution of terrorist groups and for a new terrorism taxonomy. He has even created a website devoted to his theory: http://www.civilitary.org. Both his article and the website are worth looking at.