Future War, Right Now

Article excerpt

Three books on terrorism describe its fearful rise and ways to combat it.

The objective of war, as military theorists from Sun Tzu to Karl von Clausewitz have stressed, is the imposition of will upon, not the physical destruction of, the enemy. This tenet may be difficult to communicate to Americans who, understandably, seek vengeance for the massacre of thousands of innocents in the terrorist attack on the United States.

Americans have been taught that retribution is acceptable, "and sometimes desirable," writes John B. Alexander, retired U.S. Army colonel and an expert on national security, in Future War (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Griffin, $14.95, 272 pp). "Justified violence has become a hallmark in Hollywood films and is employed to gain the emotional support of the audience for acts that the hero is about to commit, albeit reluctantly.... The problem is that, while these actors always appear to solve one problem by the end of the movie, in real life other problems continue to emerge."

The United States has embarked on a long-term campaign to destroy the myriad networks of terrorist and criminal organizations throughout the world. The effort will not end with the death or capture of Osama bin Laden. It cannot be conducted with missiles and bombs. As we knew before the heinous events of Sept. 11, terrorist and criminal organizations are well-organized, well-funded, and increasingly cooperative -- at least when it suits their immediate objectives. And clearly they have become emboldened.

"It will take only one mega-terrorist event in any of the great cities of the world to change the world in a single day," wrote Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., presciently, in The New War (published in 1997, out of print but available at Amazon.com). Kerry, who for a decade served as chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations, foresaw a crude nuclear device as the likely weapon of mass destruction. Fissionable material wrapped around an ordinary explosive could contaminate a city for a decade. Other experts long have predicted biological, chemical and cyber assaults, and they remain a concern. "If it takes a stretch to imagine the threats posed to our national security by transnational crime," adds Kerry, "little effort is needed to realize that terrorism goes right for the jugular."

Beyond the fact that terrorists thrive in failed states such as Afghanistan, Nigeria and Colombia, beyond the fact that religious fervor among Islamists threatens to topple nations sympathetic to American efforts, lies the simple truth that violence begets violence. Kerry and Alexander agree that the new war, the future war -- the war that has become our reality -- requires strategies that demand a certain amount of patience and restraint as well as will and resolve.

Few doubt that the United States is justified, indeed, obliged, to respond with force to the Sept. 11 attacks. "Terrorism is usually calibrated," writes Christopher C. Harmon in Terrorism Today (Frank Cass, $59,336 pp), a tactic intended to elicit shock and horror as much as to promote a particular agenda. Harmon, a professor at the Marine Corps University, strongly advocates the use of military action in self-defense and pre-emptive strikes. "The recent decades of state sponsorship of international terrorism are not merely indefensible," he writes, "they bear patterns of aggression that, at least under the traditional law of nations, permit reprisal actions by offended states."

But Harmon, too, realizes the limited efficacy of force. "As in police work, or even the year-in-year-out deployments of nations' armed forces, gunfire is not the norm. Much more usual is detailed and demanding work on the fundamentals of civil law, international diplomacy, intelligence, public education and public diplomacy, and cooperation among police and military. …