By Colonel Russell D. Howard, Professor and Head of Department of Social Sciences, United States Military Academy at West Point and co-author with Captain Reid L. Sawyer, Director, Terrorism Studies, West Point of Terrorism and Counterterrorism, Understanding the New Security Environment (McGraw Hill, 2002)
Every day a new form of terror confronts the United States and its interests at home or abroad. From suicide bombers to cyberterrorism. From Osama bin Laden to American homegrown anarchists. Can we ever really be safe from terrorism? The haunting image of New York's falling Twin Towers defined the reality of the "new terrorism" for the United States. Americans had faced terrorism before September 11; however, in previous assaults, it was not as organized, deadly, or personal as the attacks inflicted that day on New York City and Washington D.C.
In the 1980s, most international and national terrorism were ideological, as part of the East versus West, Left versus the Right confrontation-a small but dangerous sideshow to the greater, bipolar, Cold War drama. In the past, terrorism was almost always made of groups of militants that had the backing of political forces and states hostile to American interests. Under the old rules, terrorists did not want large body counts because they wanted converts; they also wanted a seat at the table. Today's terrorists are not particularly concerned about converts, and rather than wanting a seat at the table, they prefer to abolish the table altogether.
What is new is the emergence of terrorism independent of any government and not ideological in a political sense; inspired instead by religious fundamentalism and ethnic-separatism. This might be individuals akin to alleged Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph, Oklahoma City mass murderers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, or like-minded people working in small cells or larger coalitions, which are not bound by the same constraints or motivated by the same goals as nation-states. They are not susceptible to traditional diplomacy or military deterrence; there is no state to negotiate with or to retaliate against.
The new terrorism is not an ideological "ism" like communism or capitalism whose value can be debated in the classroom or decided at polls. Rather, it is an ancient tactic and instrument of conflict. The difference is that the new terrorism has a global reach that it did not have before the advent of globalization and the information revolution. It can hide within the Internet and use advanced communications to move immense financial flows instantly around the globe. With Internet access, anyone can purchase the books such as Bacteriological Warfare: A Major Threat to North America, which teaches how to grow deadly bacteria.
The United States citizens are clearly favored targets of the "new terrorists," and many wonder why. Why is it that Islamic fundamentalists hate us? Was it not America that saved the Islamic faithful in Kuwait and continues to protect them in Bosnia and Kosovo? Is domestic terrorism politically or religiously motivated? Are the actors attacking the country of which they are supposed patriots?
Could globalization, beyond being a technological tool for terrorists, be a root cause of terrorism? Extreme Muslim fundamentalists and others worry that unbridled globalization is replacing ancient cultures with McDonald's and Mickey Mouse. Because the United States is the dominant world power, it has succeeded in expanding the reach of its version of globalization to more and more areas of the world. Furthermore, the gap between the rich and poor in most countries has grown wider during the last twenty years of U.S.-led globalization. As a result, animosities have grown as the world's poor have watched American wealth and hegemony expand.
One thing is certain, however. America is a target. It has been attacked and will be again, unless the attacks can be prevented. We must address the issues of which battles to win, how to fight and win them, and why America and the free world are in the dubious position of having to fight the battles in the first place.
We can and must act and react in this new environment. The options are strong and offer differing potential under differing circumstances. We must explore and explain how to prevent and strike back at terrorists, from selective engagements, to organizational change for a continuum of effort across all agencies, to improving our intelligence capacity, to special operations forces, to rooting out international drug trafficking as a money source for terrorists, to alliances of business with government, even to targeting terrorists individually as we have now begun to do. While not being so consumed with terrorist measures that we overwhelm individual rights, literally everything must be on the table as we defend freedom, democracy, and our homeland.