The purpose and cost of terrorism

Ralph Peters has written a great, straightforward analysis about the purpose and costs to society of terrorism.  I don’t know that it says anything we don’t already know, but it ties the threads together so beautifully that I think it’s definitely worth reading.  Here’s the intro, which I hope will have you wanting to read the rest:

THE most important consumer good any government supplies to its citizens is security. Consequently, the universal terrorist strategy is to convince the people that their state can no longer protect them.

Thanks to their paramount weapon, the suicide bomber, our enemies have been making progress.

From the relentless attacks on Iraqi innocents, to last week’s blasts in Morocco and Algeria, terrorist masterminds seek to destroy the people’s confidence in their governments, to persuade them that safety lies only in submission to the extremists.

It’s a brilliant approach. Even where it ultimately fails – and terror usually does fail – it succeeds in doing two related things: It costs the victimized government a disproportionate amount of money to respond to could-be-anywhere threats, and it punishes those who decline to see the light.

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  1. highlander says

    Excellent post, BW, thank you for the link.

    I think Mr. Peters is substantially correct and has brought clarity to some of the problems we face. He also touches on a number of issues that I have been pondering for some time.

    While my ignorance of Islamism and the fanatical Islamic movement could fill many volumes, it seems to me that each terrorist organization is just that — an organization — with many different kinds of people filling many different kinds of roles. It seems to me further that the motivation of all those different people filling all those different roles is different depending on the position they occupy in the organization.

    Suicide bombers, for example, clearly are the shock troops, the expendables. My guess is that they are motivated primarily by religious fervor and perhaps a desire to make their families proud of them.

    At the other end of the spectrum are the leaders, best exemplified by Yasser Arafat, who achieve and maintain great personal wealth and power by convincing their people that they are victims, specifically victims of the West and America in particular. They did not create this playbook themselves. It has been around for centuries, and is the game plan followed by tyrants everywhere in every age.

    In between are a host of others: those who plan terrorist campaigns at the strategic level and those who plan tactics, people who create and disseminate propaganda, those who provide funding for terrorist operations, people who purchase the arms and materiel, those who transport it to where it is needed, not to mention the ones who actually make bombs and those who simply provide a safe haven for terrorists in their midst.

    We must remember that terrorism requires a substantial infrastructure. And it seems to me that the people who fill all those different roles in the structure each have their own reasons for doing what they do. If we compare it, say, to a football team, what motivates a offensive lineman is not the same as what motivates a defensive back, or a quarterback, or a coach, or an owner. To win, of course, but that’s a great over-simplification. Each of the players has his own goals and hopes and reasons for doing what he does.

    If we can get a clear understanding of the motivations of the different players in different positions in terrorist organizations — particularly those in supporting roles — then we ought to be in a better position to subvert their intentions.

    Elsewhere in this blog, I think, another contributor quoted his grandfather, a general, as saying that the purpose of war is not to kill the enemy, but rather to destroy his will to fight; that is, eliminate his hopes for success. If we can understand what people in different parts and different levels of terrorist organizations hope for — why they do what they do in addition to simply winning — then we have a better chance to act effectively to destroy those hopes.

    Mr. Peters has made an excellent start. I hope others will follow and expand on his analysis.

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