I'm reading "In Athena's Camp: Preparing for conflict in the information age" these days and was immediately struck by their analysis. It's an older book, published in 1997 but stemming from RAND papers from the previous five years or so. (I actually have 3 or 4 tomes in this vein and am reading them in chronological order.) It's very prescient though and essentially predicts a future conflict like we are currently waged in with Al Qaida.
One of the big themes is that of networks vs hierarchies. Immediately we see the relation to Al Qaida and the US power command structures. The big question (or one of, at least) that needs to be asked (because the current trend is to assume an answer that is far from assured) is can the US win the fight? We all want to defeat terrorism, but we all want to be able to fly like Superman too. I absolutely believe that we can build a world where the solutions offered by terrorism are not competitive with solutions offered by other courses of actions, but I'm not convinced that can come about by direct violent conflict. I'm actually kind of afraid that direct violent conflict will actually serve nothing other than to ensure that the conflict endures ad infinitum, like a stock market bubble that runs out of control.
The internet came about because of AM radio. Wait, back up. In the 1950s, U.S. military commanders began to worry about the susceptibility of hierarchical communication structures to decapitation. They went to the engineers and they came up with the AM radio system that used a dispersed noded system to ensure that no matter who or what or where got hit, there would be a way to get communications from point A to point B. I'm paraphrasing this history based on what I remember from George Dyson's history of computing and evolution of intelligence "Darwin Among the Machines" and my memory isn't so great because I have sleep apnea, so go read his book for accurate details. But anyway, from this, the ARPAnet evolved and we all know (or should know) the rest.
The Internet is the network that everyone knows the best. You may not know how incredibly resistant the network is to attack though. A few months ago (maybe over a year now), there was a very serious attack aimed at one of the 6 super-nodes on the internet. If I remember correctly, this attack pretty much took this node offline. The cool thing is that no one noticed, at least no regular internet users. Of course the technicians in charge of the node noticed; that's how the story got out. But the internet didn't suffer noticably at all. Such is the power of a network.
No matter how powerful the force that one can focus on a network node, its just too dispersed to cut out completely. Military assault on terrorists networks will not eradicate the threat of terrorism. Direct violent assault may have its place in the total arsenal we bring to bear on the terrorism problem (which is essentially a criminal problem at root), but it just doesn't have the power to do the whole thing.
So what do we do? We can use the Internet as an example here as well. The direct frontal assault on an Internet node didn't work, but every so often we do see large portions of the net brought down by virus attacks. To translate this kind of thing into the terrorism network, think of virus as a mentality to go on strike. If this mentality takes root in a group of people and spreads, everyone walks off the job and the company grinds to a halt. Same thing with terrorism. If we can develop a different way of thinking that spreads throughout the populations of terrorists and would-be terrorists, they can and will make choices for action that is non-terrorist.
So how do we do that? First we need to find out why people are becoming terrorists, or put a better way, why people are becoming the types of criminals who's primary aim is to do as much damage to civilian targets of the enemy as possible. We shouldn't accede to terrorists demands but we most definitely should seek to remedy any fundamental problems that contribute to people choosing to become murderous and suicidal sociopaths.
Basically we have to build a world that is good enough to make would-be terrorists happy. Because it seems fairly clear to me that the reason people choose to become terrorist criminals is because that offers them a better life (or at least a better outlet) than the lives they were living before.
Until we see a GREATER effort put into this type of collective endeavor, I don't expect to see any major improvements or advances in the war against terror. And if the reliance on military tactics ends up contributing to the expansion or creation of terrorist-producing environments, we are actually making things worse.Posted by Nutrimentia at October 25, 2003 10:10 PM | TrackBack