All entries for Tuesday 12 July 2005

July 12, 2005

Discussion Primer: Understanding terror networks, asymmetric warfare

Follow-up to Discussion Primer: War on terror from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

An interview with Lord King and an American whose name I missed on the Today programme (Radio 4) this morning demonstrated how there are in fact people outside of party politics with a more sophisticated understanding of the current situation.

Tom King has much experience of terrorism. He has a detailed and personal knowledge of Irish terrorism, having been Northern Ireland Secretary during some of the worst times. His response to the recent attacks on London is that of an informed and intelligent expert. The American interviewee seemed equally infiormed, and I think had held a senior post in the US government. Here's a list of some of the points that I think they made:

  • terrorist networks work in a very different way to conventional armies;
  • al-Qaeda and other new terrorist networks may well be quite different to the terrorist organisations of the past;
  • civil society is now so complex and so big that defending against terrorism using conventional approaches may be impossible (although of course not entirely futile);
  • Tom King stated that responding in the wrong way could in fact make the situation much worse (he cited internment in Nothern Ireland as such a mistake);
  • we need new concepts and models to describe this situation;
  • one such concept mentioned was 'asymmetric warfare', which I take to mean conflict between radically different types of force. (this is a useful but unimaginative definition).

The task then is to understand each side of the asmmetrical engagement, and then how the sides feed-off each other positively and negatively, how they learn from each other, and how they may form a symbiotic relationship locking each other into an ongoing engagement.