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This article examines the complex relations between a violent non-state actor, the Al Qaeda network, and order in the international system. Al Qaeda poses a challenge to the sovereignty of specific states but it also challenges the international society as a whole. This way, the challenge that Al Qaeda represents is putting the survival of the system under risk. Consequently it requires that the international society will collectively respond to meet the threat. But challenges to both the practical sovereignty of states and to the international society do not have to weaken the system. Instead, such challenges if handled effectively may lead to the strengthening of the society of states: a robust international society is dynamic and responsive to threats. Its members could cooperate to adapt the principles and the institutions on which the system is founded to new circumstances. Through its focus on the preservation qualities of the international society this article also reinforces the significance of the English School to the study of international relations. It raises important questions that could be answered in the framework of the English School.
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