Center for Strategic Decision Research


Responding to Super-terrorism

The Rt Hon Bruce George, MP
President of the Parliamentary Assemby of the OSCE
Chair of the United Kingdom House of Commons Defense Committee

Since the beginning of the modern world, wars, except colonial wars, have largely been between states. But in recent years, many wars have been civil wars between factions within a state. Rebels use guerrilla tactics against others, terrorists fight against the reigning regime, authoritarians use tough counter-insurgency tactics, no doubt learned from the British. Now, however, such intra-state conflicts are wielding influence beyond their borders. 

Until 2001, terrorism, which goes back 2,500 years, was perceived largely as a type of violent political action waged on a limited scale in the location of the dispute. It was usually addressed through criminal investigation and policing. Brian Jenkins, one of the most distinguished analysts of terrorism, has said, "The traditional terrorist wanted people watching, not dead." 


Now, terrorism is spreading at a pace we cannot control. With the attacks of September 11, it has also transformed into what has been called "super-terrorism" or "post-modern terrorism," in which terrorists are willing to lay down their lives, often through suicide bombings, and there are no constraints on the number of casualties targeted. Super-terrorism operates on a truly global scale, and aspires to use, and will no doubt eventually use, weapons of mass destruction as well as more traditional methods. 

Terrorists, as we know, are innovative in their organization. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda were not killed off as a result of the war in Afghanistan. It is thought that three-quarters of their followers, who graduated from the Al-Qaeda universities of mass terrorism, have not been jailed or killed but have dispersed around the world. Al-Qaeda is not an organization like Gasprom or BP; it does not require commands, and operates on the principle of "anticipated reaction." Followers know the kind of orders that their bosses wish to see carried out, and they carry them out. Others, like Robert Reid, who probably don't belong to any organization and probably are not issued instructions, take action anyway in a manner they think appropriate.  

I will not lecture any of you on chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological weapons but I do wish to point out something that my committee mentioned in early 2002: terrorist groups in possession of nuclear weapons have been a favorite scenario of a generation of thriller writers. That scenario is becoming reality. According to the Oxford Research Group, a sophisticated terrorist group would have little difficulty building a primitive radiation bomb using highly enriched uranium, and we know full well that such groups are trying to do so. My own committee was rather cautious in its remarks, but we did say, "Although we have seen no evidence that Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups are actively planning to use chemical, biological, and radiological weapons, we can see no reason to believe that people who are prepared to fly passenger planes into tower blocks would balk at using such weapons. The risk that they will do so cannot be ignored." 

It is pretty obvious now that terrorists are seeking to acquire these kinds of weapons, and even though we do not know if they are located somewhere under the sand in Iraq, at some stage these weapons will be used. 


During the Cold War, deterrence was fairly simple. We have heard about MAD and Flexible Response. But how should we use the nuclear weapons we have-should we use them or threaten to use them against terrorist groups? And where are these groups? Terrorists might be living next door to you, making nuclear weapons a rather inappropriate choice, although we might wish to use them if they could be selectively applied. But recent events have emphasized that attacks resulting in severe casualties can come from many directions and that terrorists can use different methods of attack. A recent British publication pointed out that "U.K. nuclear weapons have a continuing use as a means of deterring major strategic military threats and they have a continuing role in guaranteeing the ultimate security of the U.K." It went on to say: "We also want to be clear, particularly to the leaders of states of concern and terrorist organizations, that all our forces play a part in deterrence and that we have a broad range of responses available." That strikes me as being a little similar to the words used by George Bush senior against Saddam Hussein in 1991. Credibly threatening to use nuclear weapons against a distant, amorphous, undetected terrorist organization is something that will be rather challenging for anyone actually possessing nuclear weapons. 


When the British government was elected in 1997, it set about creating and producing a report for the Strategic Defense Review, which has served as something of a model for many countries ever since. Following the events of September 11 but before Iraq, they also produced a document called "The New Chapter," in which they reexamined the Strategic Defense Review to bring it up to date. "The New Chapter" said, "The purpose of our military doctrine is to capture the fundamental principles of the British approach to warfare in order to guide the conduct of operations. We have audited our national doctrine in the light of new challenges." 

A book is being published that talks about knowledge superiority-the three strands to knowledge superiority that underline our military response to terrorism. The book talks of detection, of the need to detect the emergence and development of organizations intent on international terrorism. It also talks of the need to understand the nature of the threat from international terrorism in terms of causes, motivations, intentions, and capabilities. In addition, it talks of the need to maintain public support for our actions. Finally, it talks about deterrence, and how we should seek to dissuade international terrorists and would-be state sponsors from attacking the U.K. and its allies by making clear our capability and willingness to respond.  

As part of deterrence, the book talks of communication. We should ensure that the potential attack is all clear, that attacks against us will not secure political or military advantage but will invite a proportionately serious response, including holding the perpetrators personally accountable. Deterrence also includes demonstrating that we have a wide range of available options to reduce the likelihood of a successful enemy attack. 

As part of deterrence, there is also talk of response and coercion. There is a discussion on the ability to disrupt and on the right to destroy. We can use military action to destroy terrorist cells, entire terrorist networks, and, if necessary, state-sponsored facilities and infrastructures supporting terrorism. But beyond the military response, deterrence requires consequence management in order to stabilize the situation and restore normalcy, i.e., involvement by the civil society, the police, intelligence, and private security. 


Ministry of Defense documents address dealing with root causes. Of course, addressing some of the causes will take much longer than the time needed for a military response; many of them, such as world poverty, will require a very long time to eradicate. But dealing with immediate causes is imperative. At the risk of alienating some people, I believe, as does the British government and the European Union, that clearly the Middle East road map to peace is one of the essential prerequisites for diminishing the threat there and for dealing with the causes of conflict. 

The OSCE deals admirably in some respects with some of the frozen conflicts as well as some of the hotter ones. And I must say that, since dealing with the crisis between India and Pakistan over Kashmir is a very high priority or should be, I am pleased that there is some movement on that front. 


I would like to move on now to one of my obsessive interests: how does society deal if all else fails? We used to call it civil defense. It is now more complicated, and what my committee, the Defense Committee, did was to look at the entire process of how society deals with a failure to deter and prevent. We talked about the military's role, the role of policing, of private security, and of emergency planning. Recently the British government introduced new legislation affecting this area, called the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill, which will become law before the end of 2003. 


The people who appear to be threatening to us are largely of the Islamic faith, although their religion is being maliciously and grossly exploited. There is an appalling misconception on the part of many people who live under Islamic governments, and an equally appalling misconception by those who live in North America and Europe. Many think it is inevitable that there will be conflict, but it is only inevitable if we are stupid enough to believe what we read. Britain, France, Germany, the United States, and Russia all must recognize that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are peace loving or in agreement with governments that are very supportive of the United States and others engaged in the war against terrorism. 

However, we do have to look at our policy more seriously, and we do have to build bridges as well as do more. We must recognize that the Islamic threat runs in cycles, and that if we are intelligent, if we can use a variety of means, if we can use the spectrum of military and non-military features available to us, then we can collectively deal with terrorism.  

The traditional institutions are not entirely outmoded. I hope that war is still seen as a last resort, but if there is going to be additional military conflict, I also hope that it will involve more than the U.K. as a supporting actor. If there is going to be a war against terrorism, it must be fought on many fronts; it will be weakened by anyone-my government, the American government, the Russian government, any government-that acts unilaterally. This is because unilaterialism will drastically and devastatingly erode the capability of many governments to defeat the growing curse of Islamist terrorism. Unilateralism may have short-term advantages, but it does not have long-term advantages. 

Deterrence is not simply military; it is political, it is economic, it is social, it is civilian. Soldiers have their places, but those who are not soldiers also have a role in deterring and fighting against extremism. I wish that we would explore this role more seriously than we have done before now.


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