Academic journal article Parameters

Terrorism and Insurgency

Academic journal article Parameters

Terrorism and Insurgency

Article excerpt

The war on terrorism will have lasted seven years by September 2008, making it much longer than the American Civil War or World War II. Current American national security and military strategy documents, in fact, frame this war as a protracted struggle, one which may see persistent conflict lasting several decades. Despite the duration of this war, the US government has not yet exhibited a great deal of perspicacity in identifying and describing it coherently. It has used monikers that vary from the "Global War on Terrorism" to the "Long War" and "Persistent Conflict." These labels may well capture a portion of the enemy's methodology, or the longevity of the fight, but they do not provide for a clear understanding of what kind of war America and its partners are prosecuting. Is it a war, or a struggle, against terrorism? Or is it a war aimed at countering an insurgency of global scale in which nonstate, armed groups coalesce and affiliate under the aegis of a radical interpretative religious ideology, with the stated aim of overthrowing the Westphalian State system? In the latter sense, does al Qaeda foment no less than a revolution in revolution? The vast collection of essays contained in Countering Terrorism and Insurgency in the 21st Century: International Perspectives attempts to answer these questions as well as many others. Herein lies the value of this multivolume edited work, as it provides a comprehensive examination of a host of issues and challenges that continue to make this perennial and irregular war an exceedingly challenging one.

James Forest is certainly qualified to edit such a massive undertaking. He is the Director of Terrorism Studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he teaches courses on counterterrorism and information warfare. In this capacity, he also directs research initiatives for the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. In just over 2,000 pages, comprising three volumes, Forest has compiled 60-odd thematic essays that outline perspectives on insurgency, terrorism, strategy, intelligence, interagency cooperation, democratization, ideology, and martyrdom. This aggregation of essays summarizes and distills extant knowledge with the aim of understanding and learning more regarding terrorism and insurgencies; and how to better counter them. Portions of this work explore best practices in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, while other chapters examine failed methodologies. The first volume, "Strategic and Tactical Considerations," analyzes hard power, soft power, and intelligence, as well as counterintelligence. The second volume, "Sources and Facilitators," examines state failure, border security, democratization, network organizations, criminal connections, and root-cause societal factors. The last volume, "Lessons Learned from Combating Terrorism and Insurgency," explores myriad historical case studies on counterterrorism operations, ranging from Beirut to Beslan.

Forest provides a thorough preface and introductory chapter at the beginning of the first volume that defines the scope, purpose, and framework organizing this collection of essays. Fighting insurgents and terrorists requires a variety of strategies and techniques. The editor also notes at the outset that "insurgents can and do use terrorism, but insurgents are but one type of violent nonstate actor who may choose to use terrorism." In other words, while many insurgents employ terrorist tactics (suicide bombing, for example), not all terrorists are insurgents, per se. The most insightful and consequential observation in the introduction, however, is Forest's explanation of why religious ideologies present a particularly challenging objective to overcome. First, ideologies based on interpretations or distortions of religion are founded on theological supremacy; believers presume superiority over nonbelievers, who are not illumined by the true faith. Second, these ideologies are based on exclusivity wherein the "true believers" occupy some holy territory and are a chosen people. …

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