The recent crisis over refugees fleeing en mass from the middle east into Europe may or may not cause the western world to re-think its policies to fight terrorism. If it does, the reason will most likely be that the huge influx of refugees is straining European single market policies. In other words, it is becoming more evident that it is in Europe’s self-interest to figure out more effective ways to end the conflicts that are driving refugees to flee is such huge numbers. Sure there are humanitarian concerns. But self-interest will drive major policy shifts.
So how can we fight terrorism more effectively? I do not believe the answer is to hand over more civil liberties to government authorities to snoop around for suspicious terrorist related talk and money flow. Setting aside the obvious risks to ourselves by giving up these liberties, as Bruce Schneier has pointed out, this may be a losing strategy. In the long run, terrorists may be able to morph faster than we can develop new security systems to stop them.
We may find better ways to fight terrorism if we understand what enables it. Here are several perspectives.First, how do terrorist organizations finance their operations?
I suggest viewing this TED talk, as it offers a basis to understand one of the foundations for terrorist organizations to thrive. They need lots and lots of cash. This is not an earth shattering realization, though the video offers details that I was not aware of — especially about the size of the problem. So we are likely to see more restrictions of global money transfers in order to further restrict the ability of terrorist and criminal organizations to profit so hugely. Will this work? Probably not. Equally effective, in my view, would be to provide alternative legal ways for people in production zones to thrive without connecting to black markets in the first place. How about this for a really wild idea — some are talking about a guaranteed income for people (Al Wenger, for example).
We might consider paying people to live in crisis zones where they are now. I am talking about directly empowering them to have a financially secure lifestyle at home without engaging in crime. At least, this would give them something to fight for. Just a thought.
Second, how do terrorist and criminal organizations like drug cartels build loyalty among peoples they dominate? Contrary to what one reads in the media, ongoing loyalty requires not just a obedient mindset. it also requires a system of meeting public expectations. In other words, terrorist organizations do not exist in a vacuum. Instead, you might think of them as competing against governmental authorities to gain the loyalty of the people in a given area. And the scuttlebutt is that some terrorist organizations are better at providing social services (like trash collection) than government has been. Ooops!
This is not a new concern. It is a concern that sent me over to Estonia back in 1994 to assist in building a new and more responsive legal system to support Estonia’s transition from Soviet to western orientation. But the truth is that we do not have the institutional array that is needed to figure out how to manage this type of intervention over time. We are not very good at it. Time to get better?
This TED talk about the drug trade in Mexico demonstrates how logical non-state actors are in structuring relations with the people they dominate
From this I would suggest that our war on terror may be focusing too much on stopping terror as a tactic rather than focusing on incentives that drive people to organize themselves in ways that support ongoing terrorism. Most people are not violent by nature. But in stressed situations, humans are relatively easily influenced to tolerate and even support violence if it appears that this delivers other benefits that are urgently needed.
I do not presume to offer genius solutions in this post. But I do propose that any strategy must confront the above realities of global criminal and terrorist organizations if it is to have any chance to end this scourge. And it means a deeper level of engagement in the processes at work in globalization, especially to mitigate the dreadful effects of failed states and regional violence.