Terrorism is a technique of warfare grounded on the theories of fourth generation warfare and Boyd's framework of pscyhological conflict. As a technique of war, it is blunt weapon that directly assaults the enemy's society and the minds of its decision makers by killing its citizens. The wanton and random nature of the technique provides much of its strength and its weakness. Further, the method is limited to three vectors by which its effectiveness can be improved. These include:
- Scale improvements. Bigger attacks, better results.
- Symbol selection. The more dear the symbol atttacked, the greater the impact.
- Extended reach. The deeper inside a society's comfort zone a strike is made, the better the results.
Terrorism hits the wall
Al Qaeda adopted terrorism as its method of warfare when it first began operations. It improved the effectiveness of its strikes by pushing along the vectors outlined above. The end result of this effort was the attack on 9/11. That attack was the apex of conventional terrorism, only nuclear terrorism could exceed it. Without a nuclear alternative, terrorism is declining as a technique. There is reason to believe, based on strategic and theoretical analysis, that nuclear terrorism isn't likely to arrive in any relevant time period. If al Qaeda did have a nuke, it would have used it in that attack rather than method it chose. Additionally, the current emphasis on nuclear non-proliferation makes it very difficult to obtain one. Left without this alternative, terrorism is in decline due to the following (all of which are acutely felt by al Qaeda and affiliated groups):
- Diminished returns. People become inured to terrorism the more it is used.
- The comparision to 9/11. All attacks, when held up in comparison to 9/11, pale.
- Indecisive results. While 9/11 was able to gain a victory within Boyd's framework, it was unable to gain a decisive result that achieved the stated goals of al Qaeda. As a result of this perceived failure, al Qaeda intentionally opted for a rural insurgency in Afghanistan (that never materialized due to the emergence of a stable, decentralized, narco state alternative).
Post Terrorism Conflict
As a result of these factors, terrorism is in deep decline as a method of warfare. It won't disappear, particularly given its historical momentum and the fragmentation of the opposition's effort. However, it is in the process of being replaced by a more effective alternative mainly through a highly decentralized and innovative process of development in Iraq that has stripped al Qaeda of its control of the movement (despite its attempt to integrate Zaraqawi into its command and funding system). Within that conflict, global guerrilla warfare is on the rise. This method of warfare differs from from terrorism and classic guerrilla warfare because it attacks systems as a means of decisively undermining the psychology of its opponents. Its elements include:
To the global guerrillas in Iraq, it may appear that they are participating in classic terrorism or guerrilla warfare since this new method of warfare draws on a similar tactical approach. However, the results of their efforts point in another direction. Almost all of the attacks in Iraq can be aggregated into categories of system attack that lay waste to the processes of globalization and state power. In contrast to terrorism, global guerrilla warfare is a greenfield technique -- in that it never suffers diminishing reutrns (I will post more on this later). It also converts the inevitable civilian casualties that often over time detract from terror's effectiveness into a more acceptable "collatoral damage" -- people that are killed while near valid targets (this is another lesson learned from the US military). The net result is an effort that is likely going to be decisive within Boyd's framework. It will win the war in Iraq (unless there is immediate action to counter it). It will also be a method of warfare that will be exported around the world.