The “Unwilling or Unable” Doctrine and the Political Economy of the War on Terror

Abstract: The ‘unwilling or unable’ doctrine is amongst the most contested in contemporary international law. However, this paper is not concerned with whether ‘unwilling or unable’ accurately reflects the international law of self-defense and force. Rather, drawing from critical security studies, especially those strands that study the relationship between the war on terror, and capitalist accumulation, and critical political economy this paper examines the forms of political economy and statehood implicit in the doctrine. The article argues two things: first, the doctrine envisages a gradated form of sovereignty dedicated to the reproduction of racial capitalism. Secondly, the doctrine incorporates the imperatives of financial capitalism insofar that it seeks to guarantee ongoing demand for military services and equipment into the future.

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