Monday, September 19, 2016


It's called "asymmetrical warfare." It's when the enemy is not an easily identifiable entity. It's not a country, for example. It's not a centralized organization but often lone individuals or what we've come to call "terror cells." There may be leaders but we're talking more of a network than a bureaucracy. It's like the hydra of Greek myth--"Cut off one head and two more will take its place.

How do you fight terrorism?

1. Obviously you stop any individual enemies you can. This requires intelligence on possible plots.

2. To the extent that terrorist leadership can be identified, force does seem appropriate, whether by arrest or elimination. There are potential complications, though, where the consequences of forceful action are worse than biding time.
  • When the terrorist is in the sovereign territory of another country. You don't want to get into an unnecessary war with some country the terrorist is hanging out in.
  • When getting the terrorist would lead to unnecessary civilian casualties. 
3. The long term elimination of terrorism cannot be achieved by force. Force can have the same effect as stomping on an ant hill. In fact, the heavy handed use of force usually creates more terrorists. Force and indiscriminate rhetoric is actually a recruiting tool, both in the present and in impressionable children who become terrorists in a few years.

4. When intelligence is not available, the best way to foil terrorist attempts is a climate in which people want to report potential terrorist threats. This requires the good will of the people who would do such reporting, another reason why indiscriminate force and rhetoric are counterproductive.

5. One type of terrorist is like a child who wants attention and is acting out. The more attention you give the child, the more you feed the behavior. The more we freak out and talk it up, the more we feed the quest for fame and glory. This calls for firm but unaffected response.

6. Terrorism also emerges from a context of hopelessness. After all, it is not natural to blow yourself up. A culture where most of the citizens are at ease is not a culture likely to generate terrorism. So the normal goals of democratic society are the best long term solutions to terrorism--equal justice for all, economic empowerment for all.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

"The long term elimination of terrorism cannot be achieved by force."