For millennia, threats to collective security were essentially military and, as such, concepts of defense were military as well. Armies would invade, destroy, kill and conquer. In order to protect their citizens, nations created armies, making them powerful through the number of soldiers and weapons. Dimension was crucial.
Suddenly, contemporaneous terrorism invalidated many conventional notions of defense. Nations now feel disorientated and defenseless. Transnational terrorism is winding; it usually cannot be stopped via military and does not need dimension. The power of individuals can penetrate where great armies cannot.
The 9/11 al-Qaida terrorist attacks were executed by only 19 civilians who, with no weapons or explosives, caused in just a few hours the deaths of 3,000 people, more than those caused by the impressive Japanese army in Pearl Harbor with 353 bomber planes. Not even Hitler’s military power attacked the continental territory of the United States, but those 19 servants did it, hitting the world’s financial center in New York and the heart of the most powerful armed forces of the world, the Pentagon. Societies are looking for solutions, but they are lacking innovative ideas and the strategic perception of what there is to come.
Modern society is globally interconnected. An individual in a remote part of Bangladesh with access to a computer and the Internet can sabotage transport systems, power grids or the air traffic control in Europe. With absolutely no physical attack, the computer virus Stuxnet caused an enormous destruction of the uranium centrifuges of Iran’s nuclear program. Cyberwar and cyberterrorism, now in its infancy, will grow spectacularly. The “Internet of things,” connecting common electronic devices all around the world, will be a wonder of society but also a nightmare of super dangerous vulnerabilities in the hands of criminals and terrorists – and few are getting this. The development of Artificial Intelligence and autonomous combat systems will provide, within decades, the fearful tools of terror.
We live in a matrix of many easy targets. An attack to a critical chemical factory in the West could kill up to 10,000 people. Rail networks are open but we cannot monitor each vehicle day and night. The United States’ rail network has 225,000 km. In the United Kingdom 4 million people catch trains daily. Ships, water, food, dams and ports are also sensitive points. Unfortunately, nations tend to be reactive instead of proactive. For instance, it is not true that the model of the 9/11 attacks was a total surprise. Six years earlier it was imminent in the overthrow with bombs of 11 planes flying over the Pacific and the attack on CIA headquarters with another plane, which were only aborted due to an accident before their execution.
Nuclear power plants have high security, but they are not invulnerable to an external attack, internal sabotage or cyberattack. Terrorists, namely al-Qaida, have been trying to acquire a nuclear bomb, fissile material and technology. Paradoxically, 9/11 attacks may have, at least, delayed for many years al-Qaida’s nuclear strategy. Weeks earlier bin Laden himself had met with Pakistani nuclear experts. Any type of nuclear terrorism will probably be just a matter of time.
It is possible to build a conventional bomb with materials available in a common little town. In Oklahoma, this kind of bomb was built in 1995 by four Americans who killed 168 people, injured 680, destroyed or damaged 312 buildings and caused $500 million of physical damage.
The economic devastation caused by terrorism is not something we can ignore. Al-Qaida attacks in 2001 did not cause only local damages; they induced an impact in the global economy and led to poverty and a massive loss of jobs, particularly in those nations that depended on tourism. With the decrease of air passengers, charismatic and strong airline companies, such as Sabena and Swissair, went bankrupt in a few months.
The violence of Islamic radicalism is peculiar. How can we defend ourselves when an enemy thinks it a divine duty to die, murder, violate, decapitate and enslave? The combat to Islamic terrorism is, in its foundation, an ideological fight. Moderate Muslims are in the line of fire of radicals just like the “unfaithful,” and they think it is their duty to exterminate everyone who is not like them. Literally. Moderate Muslims are the ones who must win this ideological war. If that does not happen, current terrorism may reveal to be an precursor to a dark future and of a violent civilizational fissure.
We must not become paranoid, but it could be irresponsible and almost criminal, especially in regards to future generations, if we are incapable of recognizing risks and defining clever solutions.
The world is asking if it is possible to “contain” the Islamic State. Obviously the Islamic State group’s logistical, financial and military capacity will be practically destroyed. But that is not the core question. Other new groups will always appear, sequentially, each time more lethal. With or without the Islamic State group, the mental framework of annihilation of all the “unfaithful” is already sown in all European countries.
To all those who think World War II began in 1939, we should be reminded that the Nazi war path was initiated long before, but the majority of the Europeans pretended not to see the danger being formed until it was too late. Some 60 million humans paid horribly for that lack of vision.
This time the targets of barbarism are Western citizens and moderate Muslims. This is a common cause.