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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How to deal with terrorism

Terrorism can be defined as non-state sponsored violence intended to publicize or support a position.

As non-state sponsored, nation states have little recourse - if a government or nation state perpetrated violence against properties or territories of another, economic, political and/or military recourses are possible.   As terrorists do not have public bases or cities etc., and are not elected or public officials and do not have an economic system that is open, there are often few responses that inflict an appropriate punishment or serve to reduce the likelihood of recurrance.

The good:
Terrorist acts, while often violent, are not yet sufficient to cause damage on even a small war scale.

The bad:
Terrorists have complete control of timing, logistics and targets.   As they operate in relatively small groups, and tend to be looking at long timeframes to achieve their objectives, they are in a position to wait for targets to become available (e.g. wait until security lessens, or wait until all operation objectives are in place), and have a significant strategic advantage of not worrying about civilian casualties (in fact, they tend to want them to be maximized).  They are not restrained by the "rules of war" or rules of diplomacy or statecraft.

As terrorism is a tactic toward a larger objective (otherwise, it is just random violence), the only tactic that can be leveled against it is to minimize the communications, fear and "advertising" value of any terrorist actions.  By removing the reporting of terrorist actions, the value of the action is reduced to the physical death(s) and destruction of the act.

The destruction of the World Trade Center on 9-11 in New York was a horrific act which resulted in billions in damage and death in the thousands.  However, it did not materially affect the U.S. economy nor did it do anything to reduce the military, political or manpower of the U.S. population.

However, on a larger scale, the 9-11 attack spread fear, caused changes in government (e.g. Homeland Security), changed practice in travel (e.g. airport processes) and caused widespread unease that was much larger and far-reaching than the physical damage of the attacks, including war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is this "terror" aspect that it is possible to control.  There does not need to be media frenzy, reminders, etc. that increase the power and value of terrorist acts.  In no way am I implying that the "behind the scenes" improvements to law enforcement, communications systems etc. be curtailed or ceased - these should be improved to avoid or respond to actions as they are taken.

What needs to happen is that the populous and the media need to re-proportion their responses to a level commensurate to a natural disaster of similar proportions.

By giving it higher public priority (again, increases in the military, intelligence and/or civilian agencies should be enacted as appropriate), the response provides the very value that keeps terrorist activities alive.  Any reports that deal with the terrorist causation of the actions should be very clear about the inappropriateness of the actions, point out other, more productive solutions to the underlying problems and bring in appropriate experts to support these alternatives.  For example, any 9-11 report dealing with the terrorist causes, should involve Muslim clerics who can knowledgeably argue that these types of actions are against Islam and are an affront to the teachings of the Koran.

This type of response works to reduce terrorism on numerous fronts - it reduces the fear and terror of actions, provides alternatives for action for others who may sympathize with the motivations of the terrorists (though hopefully not with the actions taken) and directly undermine the legitimacy and support of terrorism as a mechanism to achieve goals.  Further, this approach educates all sides about the issue(s) in question, which should server to reach appropriate solutions, and to reduce the anger, misunderstanding and hopelessness which provides the breeding grounds from which terrorists are recruited.

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