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by Dr. Max G. Manwaring; Strategic Studies Institute

8:00 a.m. January 15, 2003 PDT

The following is excerpted from an extensive paper provided by the Strategic Studies Institute. The full .pdf document (157 kb) may be downloaded here.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Government or the e11th hour editorial staff.
It is incumbent upon the United States and the rest of the international community to understand and cope with the threats imposed by diverse state and nonstate actors engaged in the destabilizing and devastating political violence that is called terrorism.


Global political violence is clashing with global economic integration. More often than not, the causes and consequences of the resultant instabilities tend to be exploited by such destabilizers as rogue states, substate and transnational political actors, insurgents, illegal drug traffickers, organized criminals, warlords, ethnic cleansers, militant fundamentalists, and 1,000 other "snakes with a cause"—and the will to conduct terrorist and other asymmetric warfare. The intent is to impose self-determined desires for "change" on a society, nation-state, and/or other perceived symbols of power in the global community—and, perhaps, revert to the questionable glories of the 12th century.

In these conditions—exacerbated by the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, and by the devastating U.S.-led attacks on Afghanistan subsequently—the United States has little choice but to reexamine and rethink national and global stability and security—and a peaceful and more prosperous tomorrow.

To help civilian and military leaders to come to grips analytically with the implications of the realities of the contemporary global security environment, the author attempts several things. First, he outlines the violent characteristics of the new security arena. Second, he briefly examines the relationship of the central strategic problems in the contemporary environment—terrorism and governance. Third, he describes the complex threat situation. Fourth, he presents a basic outline for a reasoned multidimensional political-economic-stability capability-building response to these problems. Finally, he enumerates some civil-military implications for playing effectively in the global security arena. His recommendations focus on implications for the military in general and the U.S. Army in particular.
. . . . .

SINCE THE END of the Cold War, the nature of the global security system and the verities that shaped U.S. purposes, policies, and priorities have undergone fundamental changes. Cold War concepts of security and deterrence are not longer completely relevant. On the positive side of this change, we find ourselves in a new global security environment that involves the economic integration of free markets, technologies, and countries to a degree of integration and prosperity never before witnessed. On the negative side of globalization, we find ourselves in a security environment characterized by "unstable peace" and chaos caused by myriad political instabilities and destabilizers—some of which would reject modernity and revert back to the questionable glories of the 12th century.

Thus it is that global political violence is clashing with global economic integration. More often than not, the causes and consequences of the resultant instabilities tend to be exploited by such destabilizers as rogue states, substate and transnational political actors, insurgents, illegal drug traffickers, organized criminals, warlords, militant fundamentalists, ethnic cleansers, and l,000 other "snakes with a cause"—and the will to conduct terrorist and other asymmetric warfare. The intent is to impose self-determined desires for "change" on a society, nation- state, and/or other perceived symbols of power in the global community.

The solution to the problem is not to simply destroy small bands of terrorist fanatics and the governments that support them. The evidence over time and throughout the world strongly indicates that it is important to take additional measures. That is, once a terrorist group is brought under control or neutralized, multidimensional political-economic-security national development or reconstruction efforts must be taken to preclude the seeds that created that organization in the first place from germinating again. In these conditions—exacerbated by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001, and by the devastating U.S.-led attacks on Afghanistan subsequently—the United States has little choice but to reexamine and rethink national and global stability and security—and a peaceful and more prosperous tomorrow.

In these terms, the author seeks to do several things. First, he outlines the violent characteristics of the new global security environment. Second, he briefly examines the problem of terrorism and the related problem of governance in the contemporary security environment. Third, he describes the complex threat and response situation. Fourth, he presents a basic outline for a reasoned multidimensional political-economic-security capability building response to these problems. Finally, he enumerates some civil-military implications for playing effectively in the contemporary global security arena. Recommendations focus on implications for the military in general and the U.S. Army in particular.

The New Global Security Environment
If the appropriate magic could be conjured and one could look down through the familiar artificial political lines and colors of a current world map into the 21st century strategic reality, one could see a complex new global security environment. That milieu would contain several types of ambiguous and uncomfortable wars—and their aftermath. A deeper look into that picture would provide several snapshots that inform an asymmetrical terrorist concept of conflict and war. A few examples would include:
  • A vision of 26 ongoing high-intensity wars, 78 low-intensity conflicts, and 178 small-scale internal wars overlapping with the others. This picture would also show unspeakable human destruction and misery, and related refugee flows, accumulating over the past 10 years. During the period since the Persian Gulf War, anywhere from 80 to 210 million people have lost their hopes, their property, and their lives.[1] The resultant political alienation, sufficiently reinforced by economic and social deprivation, tends to direct the survivors and their advocates toward conflict and the tactics of despair—terrorism. Snapshots taken all around the globe show this disillusionment and resort to violence and terrorist strategies from Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda to the USS Cole, Khobar Towers, the Pentagon, and the World Trade Center.

  • A view of a vicious downward spiral that manifests itself in diminished levels of popular and institutional acceptance and support for weak and ineffectual governments and generates further disorder, violent internal conflicts, and mushrooming demands by various groups for political autonomy. These governance issues further translate themselves into constant subtle and not so subtle struggles for power that dominate life throughout much of the world today. This, in turn, leads to the slow but sure destruction of the state, the government, and the society—and hundreds of thousands of innocents. Finally, results of these dynamics can be seen not so much in the proliferation of a host of new countries, but in an explosion of weak, incompetent, misguided, insensitive, and/or corrupt governments throughout the world.

  • In that connection, looking further down through the familiar and troubling world map, one can discern a number of fuzzy nationalisms that cannot be shown on two-dimensional space. Nationalist discontent, often accompanied by religious militancy, appears to be growing and dividing in an ameba-like manner as weak and incompetent governments fail to provide political, economic, and social justice; a sense of identity; and basic security for all their peoples.[2] In turn, these injustices fuel regional and global conflict, and related terrorist activities. One example that can be clearly seen is that of the ethnic Kurds who happen live in four different countries—Iran, Iraq, Russia, and Turkey. Another more familiar example involves the mixed cultures and peoples who live in the Balkans.

  • Similarly, one can see a broken pattern of emerging city-states, shanty-states, amorphous warlord-controlled regions, criminal anarchist controlled regions, and a "steady run of uncivil wars sundering fragile but functioning nation-states and gnawing at the well-being of stable nations."[3] These destabilizing situations tend to be exploited by militant nationalists, militant reformers, militant religious fundamentalists, ideologues, civil and military bureaucrats, insurgents, criminals, warlords, and other stateless political actors with an extremist political agenda—and the will to resort to extreme violence to achieve their ends. Again, this is a phenomenon that ranges around the world.

  • An even deeper look into this new vision of asymmetric battlefields and ambiguous internal wars reveals the human suffering created by weak and insensitive governance that spawns disease, poverty, crime, violence, and regional, national, and global instability. Ultimately, this instability—along with the destabilizers noted above—leads to a crisis of governance and a downward spiral into failing and failed state status.[4] This crisis is the consequence of some of the living victims and their advocates attempting to mobilize support for serious reform or to wage a sustained conflict against the perceived power symbol responsible for whatever instability that is being perpetrated. And, again, photos taken around the world capture this state of affairs from Haiti and Colombia, to Indonesia, and back to Zimbabwe.

  • Lastly, with another adjustment of focus into the context of contemporary terrorism and the global security environment, one can see a psychological state of mind in individuals who have no understanding that hard work leads to its just reward and where life inside a group or "gang" sharing a muddy bunker or a cold safe-house constitutes an improvement in physical and emotional security. In that connection, one can also see some of the emotions of these individuals. They include pure hatred for those with more or better of anything and pure contempt for those outside their own small brotherhood.[5] As examples, Italian Red Brigadists, Irish Republican Army and Ulster Nationalists, and French and Spanish Basque militants are documented as thinking of outsiders as not really people. Rather, even supposed comrades only slightly removed from them have been considered to be nothing more than tools, pigs, and mere "shit."[6]
This takes us back to where we began, to the fact that armed nonstate groups all over the world are challenging the nation-state's physical and moral right to govern. This almost chronic political chaos can be seen propagating its respective forms of instability and violence in large parts of Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere around the globe. In many of these cases, governments are either waging war on their citizens, are fighting to survive assaults from their citizens, or have become mere factions among other competing political factions claiming the right to govern all or part of a destabilized national territory.

The primary implication of the complex and ambiguous situations described above is straightforward. That is, winning the military struggle against Osama bin Laden and his Taliban protectors will not end the threat of terrorism against the United States, or anyone else in the global community. This is because the Taliban and Osama bin Laden are not isolated cases. They are only one component of the entire global security problem that is a manifestation of a complex and potentially durable human motivation and weak governance phenomena.[7]

A corollary to that implication is also straightforward. When what mattered most in U.S. national security policy were military bases, preserving access to sea lines of communication, choke-points, and raw materials—and denying those assets to the Soviet Union and its surrogates—the United States could generally ignore internal conditions in other countries. But since the United States also is now interested in the need for nonhostile dispositions toward the country, the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the capacity of other countries to buy American-made products, the continued development of democratic and free market institutions, and human rights—as well as cooperation on shared problems such as illegal drugs, the environment, and the victims of natural and man-made disasters—then the United States and its allies must concern themselves with the internal conditions that spawn subnational, national, regional, and global instability.[8]

The Problem of Terrorism and the Related Problem of Governance
The terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001, reminded Americans of realities long understood in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. That is, terrorism is a very practical, calculated, and cynical form of warfare for the weak to use against the strong. It is a generalized political-psychological asymmetric substitute for conventional war.[9]

The Bases of Terrorism. Contemporary terrorism is a lineal descendent of the type of low-intensity conflict seen in the Third World over the past 50 years. It is popular in part because the sorts of rural and urban insurgencies that proved effective during the Cold War are no longer as expedient as they once were. And, as the means of causing mass destruction become less expensive and more available, the angry, the frustrated, and the weak rely on more asymmetric forms of violence to impose their own vision of justice on peoples, countries, and the global community.[10]

Those who argue that instability and conflict—and the employment of terrorism as a tactic or strategy in conflict—is the result of poverty, injustice, corruption, overpopulation, and misery may well be right. Evidence demonstrates, however, that those problems tend to be used to divert attention away from local governance issues to somebody or something else.[11] In any event, it is naive to think that instability and conflict will disappear until the deeper human and political realities that produce poverty and misery are confronted.

More specifically, terrorism and its associated asymmetry emerge when fragments of a marginalized self-appointed elite are frustrated to the point of violence by what they perceive as injustice, repression, or inequity. We must remember that it is individual men and women—government leaders, civil and military bureaucrats, and transnational corporate leaders—who are ultimately responsible for confronting political, economic, and social injustice. And, it is individual men and women—so-called terrorists—who react violently when a government or other symbol of power is perceived to be unable or unwilling to deal effectively with a given injustice. These individual men and women are prepared to kill and to destroy—and perhaps to die in the process—to achieve their self-determined objectives.[12] These individuals are also causes of terrorism.[13]

The Relationship to Governance. Because of the superior conventional power of a targeted government or another symbol of control, an illegal attacker normally finds it disadvantageous to overtly or directly challenge it. Thus, the assault is generally indirect and centers on a regimeís moral right to govern, or on its perceived ability and willingness to govern.[14]

The underlying premise of this type of assault on a government is that the ultimate outcome of the confrontation is not primarily determined by the skillful manipulation of violence in the many military battles or police engagements that might take place. Rather, the outcome will be determined by the relative ability of the violent opposition and the government to shift the "hearts and minds"and support of a people or part of a society—in their respective favor. Thus, effective political-psychological persuasion coupled with political-psychological- military coercion on the part of the internal attacker leads to a general weakening of the state. The attack, then, is not against a regime directly. It is against the legitimacy of government. Weakening an incumbent regime is achieved in direct proportion to the deterioration of its perceived legitimacy.[15]

As a consequence, the intent of an illegal violent attacker—through persuasion and coercion—is to create the popular perception that a governing regime is not or cannot provide the necessary balance among political freedom, economic and social development, and physical security that results in peace, stability, and well-being of the peoples of a polity. Additionally, the intent is to convince a population that the violent internal opposition's proposed political philosophy, even if it is as seemingly irrational as extreme militant reformism, tribalism, or warlordism, represents a relatively better alternative.[16]

In these terms, terrorism undermines the people's faith in the political system, the state's ability to sustain a healthy economy, and the government's capability to provide a lawful environment for basic personal security. Terrorism also challenges the integrity of the country's political institutions and creates increasing levels of instability. The objective is to destroy the political equilibrium of the state and facilitate the taking of political power to install the alternative system. As an example, the fact that "Islam" is a religion should not blind one to the fact that militant factions seek political power to impose alternative socio-economic-political codes.[17]

We should note that perception is the operative term here. Many quite legitimate governments face internal and external terrorist threats. Suffice it to say here that this is not because of their lack of legitimacy, but because of their unwillingness to submit to the dictates of a given nonstate political actor. At the same time, a targeted government or symbol of power may be nothing more than a convenient scapegoat.[18]

In any event, the results of real vs. perceived moral incorrectness or malfeasance can be seen in governments unwilling or unable to provide basic services, to maintain decent roads, education, health, and other public services for all segments of its population. It can be seen in the inability or unwillingness of governments to provide basic personal security and functional legal systems that protect civil rights and a sense of societal equity. Illegitimate governance is also seen when disparate ethnic, religious, or other political groups in a society insist on establishing separate identities, and government reacts with thuggish and brutal violence.[19]

By transforming the emphasis of war from the level of conventional military violence to the level of a multidimensional political-economic-social-moral struggle, terrorists can strive for the complete overthrow of a government or the destruction of a symbol of power defined as "bad," instead of simply attempting to obtain leverage and influence for limited political or economic concessions. In ironic philosophical rhetoric, terrorism turns Carl von Clausewitz upside down. War is not an extension of politics; politics is an extension of war.[20]

Governments, international organizations, transnational entities, and other symbols of global power that have not been responsive to the importance of the legitimate governance reality find themselves in a "crisis of governance." They face growing social violence, criminal anarchy, and eventual destruction.[21] At the same time, the United States and the West confront a succession of failing and failed states, destabilized by internecine war.[22] These governance issues, then, are both causes and consequences of terrorism.[23]

Download full document for complete content of document, including:
  • Foreward (by Douglas C. Lovelace, Jr., Director, Strategic Studies Institute)
  • The More Complex Threat Situation
  • Toward a New Stability Equation
  • Political-Military Implications for Playing in the New Global Security Arena
  • Recommendations for the U.S. Army
  • The Challenge, Threat, and Main Task for Now and the Future

[1] The data in this note can be found in "World Conflict & Human Rights Map 2000," prepared by PIOOM for IIMCR with the support of the Goals for Americans Foundation, St. Louis, MO, June 2000.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Leslie H. Gelb, "Quelling the Teacup Wars," Foreign Affairs, November-December 1994, p. 5.

[4] Thomas F. Homer-Dixon, "On the Threshold: Environmental Changes as Causes of Acute Conflict," International Security, Fall 1991, pp. 76-116; Thomas F. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999, pp. 133-168. Also see Daniel C. Esty, Jack Goldstone, Ted Robert Gurr, Barbara Harff, Pamela T. Surko, Alan N. Unger, and Robert S. Chen, "The State Failure Project: Early Warning Research for U.S. Foreign Policy Planning," in John L. Davies and Ted Robert Gurr, eds., Preventive Measures: Building Risk Assessment and Crisis Early Warning Systems, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998, pp. 27-38.

[5] Robert D. Kaplan, "The Coming Anarchy," The Atlantic Monthly, February 1994, pp. 72-76; and Robert D. Kaplan, The Coming Anarchy, New York: Random House, 2000, pp. 3-57.

[6] . Statement taken from Enrico Fenzi, Armi e bagagli: un diario dalle Brigate Rosse, Genoa: Costa & Nolan, 1987, p. 76..

[7] George P. Shultz, "Low-Intensity Warfare: The Challenge of Ambiguity," remarks by the Secretary of State at the Low-Intensity Warfare Conference at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, January 15, 1986. In the context of Afghanistan, also see Saad Mehio, "How Islam and Politics Mixed," New York Times op-ed, December 2, 2001; Alan Schwartz, "Getting at the Roots of Arab Poverty," New York Times op-ed, December 3, 2001.

[8] Michael Howard, "The Forgotten Dimensions of Strategy," in The Causes of War, London: Temple-Smith, 1981, pp. 101-115. Also see Gregory D. Foster, "America and the World: A Security Agenda for the Twenty-First Century," Strategic Review, Spring 1993, pp. 29; Anthony Lake, "From Containment to Enlargement," remarks by the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC, September 21, 1993; and Max G. Manwaring, "Beyond the Cold War," Max G. Manwaring, ed., Gray Area Phenomena: Confronting the New World Disorder, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993, pp. 63-76.

[9] Frank Kitson, Warfare as a Whole, London: Faber and Faber, 1987, pp. 68-71. In the context of the terrorism in Italy in the early 1980s, also see "Testimony of Red Brigadist Roberto Buzzatti," quoted in Richard Drake, The Aldo Moro Murder Case, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995, p. 143; "Testimony of Antonio Savasta," quoted in Drake, p. 51; and "Testimony of Patriio Peci" recorded in Sue Ellen Moran, ed., A Rand Note: Court Depositions of Three Red Brigadists, Santa Monica, CA: Rand, February 1986, p. 47.

[10] Kitson. Also see Steven Metz and Douglas V. Johnson II, Asymmetry and U.S. Military Strategy: Definitions, Background, and Strategic Concepts, Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2001. Also see Steven Metz, The Future of Insurgency, Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 1993.

[11] Martha Crenshaw, "The Causes of Terrorism," Comparative Politics, July 1981, pp. 379-399. Also see Caleb Carr, "Terrorism as Warfare," World Policy Journal, Winter 1996/97, pp. 1-12; and Walter Laquer, "Postmodern Terrorism," Foreign Affairs, September/October 1996, pp. 24-36. Also see Bernard Lewis, "The Revolt of Islam," The New Yorker, November 30, 2001.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] This and subsequent assertions are derived from statistical tests based on author interviews with more than 400 civilian and military officials and scholars with direct experience in 69 internal conflicts. The effort was originally mandated by Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army General Maxwell Thurman during 1985-1986. It was subsequently taken up by Commander-in-Chief U.S. Southern Command General John R. Galvin, Commander-in-Chief U.S. Southern Command General Fred F. Woerner, Jr., and others during 1986-95. The model predicts at an impressive 88.37 percent of the cases examined and is statistically significant at the .001 level. The model, originally called SSI 1 and SSI 2, has also been called the SWORD model. The SWORD Papers, although long out of print, are archived in their entirety by a private research organization, the National Security Archives, in Washington DC. Hereafter cited as SWORD Papers.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid. Also see Anthony Lewis, "The Inescapable World," New York Times, October 20, 2001; and Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, New York: Anchor Books, 2000, pp. 327-347.

[18] SWORD Papers. Japan's Aum Shinrikyo and Japanese Red Army factions appear to be somewhat repentant, but still active. Spain's Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) remains militant and closely tied to their French counterparts. See Patterns of Global Terrorism 2000, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, April 2001. Also, for nearly 100 years, a strong current of Latin American socio-political thought has been influenced by Uruguay's foremost literary figure, Jose Enrique Rodo. He as urged the youth of his country and the rest of Spanish America to reject the materialism of the United States and to cling to the spiritual and intellectual values of their Spanish heritage. These sentiments are strongly reflected in Latin American reaction to contemporary U.S. policy. See Jose Enrique Rodo, Ariel, any English or Spanish ed.; and Lars Schoultz, National Security and United States Policy toward Latin America, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987. For more generalized treatment of the problem, see Mehio, Schwartz, and Friedman. Also see Niall Ferguson, "2001," New York Times Magazine, December 2, 2001.

[19] SWORD Papers.

[20] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Michael Howard and Peter Paret, eds. and trans., Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976, p. 596.

[21] Homer-Dixon and Gurr. Also see William J. Olson, "International Organized Crime; The Silent Threat to Sovereignty," The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Summer/Fall 1997, pp. 66-80; Roy Godson and William J. Olson, "International Organized Crime," Society, January/February 1995, pp. 18-29; and William J. Olson, "A New World, and New Challenges," in Max G. Manwaring and William J. Olson, eds., Managing Contemporary Conflict, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996, pp. 3-12.

[22] SWORD Papers.

[23] Ibid. Also see Martha Crenshaw, ed., Terrorism in Context, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995; and Crenshaw, op. cit


Comments pertaining to this report are invited and should be forwarded to:
Director, Strategic Studies Institute
U.S. Army War College
122 Forbes Ave.
Carlisle, PA 17013-5244

Copies of this report may be obtained from the Publications Office by calling (717) 245-4133, fax (717) 245-3820, or by contacting Ms. Rita Rummel at Rita.Rummel@carlisle.army.mil
Dr. Max G. Manwaring is a Professor of Military Strategy at the U.S. Army War College. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel and adjunct professor of political science at Dickinson College. He has served in various civilian and military positions at the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Southern Command, and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Dr. Manwaring holds a B.S. in Economics as well as a B.S., an M.A., and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Illinois. A graduate of the U.S. Army War College, Dr. Manwaringís areas of expertise include theory of grand strategy, U.S. national security policy and strategy, military strategy, military and nonmilitary operations other than war, political-military affairs, and Latin America. Dr. Manwaring is the author and co-author of several articles, chapters, and reports dealing with political-military affairs. He is also the editor or co-editor of El Salvador at War; Gray Area Phenomena: Confronting the New World Disorder; Managing Contemporary Conflict: Pillars of Success; Beyond Declaring Victory and Coming Home: The Challenges of Peace and Stability Operations; and Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century.

Article copyright © Dr. Max G. Manwaring; Strategic Studies Institute; all rights reserved
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