Former U.S. Diplomat Discusses War and Counterterrorism


Kelsey Soderberg

As part of the International Relations and Foreign Policy Speakers Series, Consultant and former Political and Economic Affairs Officer for the U.S. Department of State Dean Yap visited Colgate on November 12 to speak about the principles of war and counterterrorism. The lecture was held in Persson Auditorium.

Yap highlighted case studies in the lecture, specifically regarding America’s role in controlling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)  and other terrorist groups. He also discussed theoretical arguments involving the legal and moral issues that surround terrorism and its counter-actions. 

Yap first explained what constitutes a war. After recognizing that a conflict must meet strict criteria before being considered a war, he said that it must also have lasting impacts and cause grave danger to a nation while threatening its sovereignty and

territorial integrity.

Moving on to the ever-changing nature of American counterterrorism, Yap separated the actions and ideas of terrorism into two models: war and crime. Based on his definition of war, he expressed that terrorism would be better represented as a crime, not a form of war. 

“Even in its worst form, seen on September 11, 2001, terrorism did not threaten our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Yap said.  

He added that, in a solely judicial sense, terrorism is thought of as a crime within statutory international law, not as a war. Although he categorized terrorism, Yap recognized that counterterrorism, as seen in the interference of the United States in the Middle East, is not easily split into two simple categories.

“War is too much and law enforcement is too little,”  Yap said.

The Obama Administration has enacted aspects of both models. Currently in the United States, captured terrorists are not prisoners of war but are treated as a species of criminal that should be subject to ordinary criminal courts. On the other hand, the doctrine of targeted killing, seen in U.S. drone strikes, has been recognized as a legitimate

war tactic.

As Yap explained, the most sustainable law of counterterrorism is being able to find a middle ground between crime and war. Although viewing terrorism as a crime instead of international warfare would not solve every problem, he said that it is more financially sustainable, better for humankind and more democratic

in practice.

Harvey Picker Professor and Director of International Relations Fred Chernoff attended the lecture.

“Mr. Yap’s talk on Wednesday offered recommendations for dealing with ISIS and other terrorist groups that drew on his own original perspective that engaged and extended ideas in the Just War tradition and Christian moral thought,” Chernoff said.

“The lecture and discussion gave the audience much to think about, offering some very promising ideas for conceptualizing different sorts of terrorist groups and putting into perspective, without overstating, the real dangers they pose to the US,” Chernoff said.  

Dozens of students who are concentrating in International Relations and Political Science showed up to listen to the ideas of an experienced diplomat.

“I think that the policies of antiterrorism are very controversial, with any operations raising concerns about human rights and state sovereignty, as well as the effects on bystanders. It was very interesting to hear the opinions of somebody working in the field who thinks about the legal and military efficiency more than the moral side of the argument,” sophomore Ieva Steponaviciute said.

Yap is just one of many speakers who have visited Colgate’s campus to address the important global issues surrounding the world’s populations on a daily basis.

“Colgate students are fortunate to have many opportunities not only to hear the views of diplomats and scholars engaged in international affairs, but also to pose probing questions,” Chernoff said.