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America and the "New Terrorism": Reassessing the Threat
August 9, 2000
Ehud Sprinzak, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
John Parachini and Ehud Sprinzak (l to r)
Two questions frame the debate on the new terrorism:
1. What is the nature of the new terrorism?
2. If there is a new terrorism, what is the magnitude of the threat?
The new terrorism is an American idea that originated in the past three years. No other country talks about the changing threat of terrorism as the United States does.
- There has not been an objective change in the nature of terrorism, only a change in the American perception of terrorism.
- Evidence used in support of the new terrorism drawn mainly from the "Big Trio": The World Trade Center Bombing, Aum Shinrikyo Sarin gas attack, and the Oklahoma City bombing.
- People trying to create a differentiation between the old terrorism and the new terrorism characterize them as the following:
||Motivations are vague or religious
||Unorganized- lone wolf, ad hoc
|Propaganda- Bringing an issue to the table
||Don't Claim Responsibility
||Weapons of Mass Destruction
The comparison does not stand inspection: there have been historical cases of mass-casualty terrorism, e.g. Algeria, Palestine, and the new terrorists still do claim responsibility. Focus on the new terrorism is caused by its increasing CONUS focus. This heightens America's sense of vulnerability.
Measuring the New Terrorism
What is the meaning of threat assessment if we are to consider a limitless threat in the future? Terrorism is not an independent variable. It depends on factors larger than terror itself -- political, cultural, psychological among others.
Violence Prone Milieu (VPM) describe where the most likely threat will emerge from. There are two VPMs: a foreign and a domestic, vis-à-vis the United States:
Good news mitigates threat of VPMs.
- Foreign VPM: Islam
- Domestic VPM: Far Right
Foreign VPM- Decline of state-sponsored Islamic terrorism. A move towards Islamic nationalism rather than worldwide Islamic revolution. Bin Laden represents the last throes of radical Islam.
Domestic VPM- Oklahoma City was a watershed -- was not typical of the militia movement. Oklahoma City was not in line with the feelings of the militia movement, it was an outlier.
Questions and Answers
Q: Can the new terrorist be said to have less an interest in an audience and less of an interest in negotiating?
A: In terms of the Islamic VPM, Islam is not concerned about reaching or influencing the western press, their audience is Islam, not the west. The motivation for Islam is revenge because they have lost -- there is nothing for them to negotiate.
Q: What about the possibility of a lone operator and WMD?
A: No good answer to that question. There is a possibility that a scientist or engineer may be a candidate to use their knowledge to employ a chemical or biological device. This type of individual may be less susceptible to logic and group dynamics that may mitigate WMD use.
Q: What about violence of the right?
A: Terrorism is a dependent variable. Terrorism is usually a response to another event, e.g. Oklahoma City was a response to Waco and Ruby Ridge.
Q: What about the future? Will the threat of mass casualty terrorism grow?
A: What has been put forth is not a long range policy prescription. It is possible that terrorism might move towards mass-casualties in the future. Investment in more intelligence spending as a wise investment. It is very important that comprehensive interviews with terrorists and former terrorists be conducted to gain a greater comprehension of terrorist motivations and behavior.
Q: What about the rise of religious terrorism?
A: Cannot lump religious groups into one category. Most religious groups are large, rational organizations. When groups are large they will tend to act more rationally since decisions are subject to greater scrutiny. Usually the leaders of the religious groups are rational -- they are acutely concerned with their own well being. They may send others to commit suicide, but do not wish to do so themselves.
Prepared by Dylan Oster
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