The Logic of Terrorism: Is International Terrorism a Significant Challenge to National Security? (HHM 125-47)

As mentioned in class and in many articles concerning terrorism, definitively defining terrorism has not been accomplished and we are stuck today with hundreds if not thousands of definitions of what terrorism is. For this paper I will be using the United States legal definition; perpetrated by a sub-national group, targeted against citizens, politically motivated, and intended to influence an audience. In this article, there are two university professors weighing in on whether or not international terrorism is a significant challenge to our national security. Scott Atran, University of Michigan, argues for this motion mainly focusing on the effect terrorism has on the public. On the contrary, John Mueller, Ohio State University, argues against this motion again citing terrorism’s effect on the public but instead says that policy makers must not play into the terrorists hands by enacting policies that provoke fear of terrorism. Mueller also mentions the lack of a real leader in the terrorist movement as well as the low amount of casualties it actually creates. However, it is interesting that both the pro and con articles mention the effects terrorism has on the masses. For this reason I will argue that yes, international terrorism is a significant challenge to national security for its ability to play upon the publics emotions and fears without exerting significant effort and the possibility of intimidating our country into submission.

The amount of people that are killed by terrorists is paltry compared to other much less advertised causes of death. This is signified in Mueller’s brilliant comment comparing the amount of people who have died from terrorist acts since 9/11 to the amount of people who have died drowning in their bathtubs. Another stroke of brilliance was the mentioning that more people have drowned in toilets than have died in the United States from terrorism in the same time span. Mueller is correct in the fact that the amount of people who actually die from terrorist actions is not very much (Atran also says this). However this is not what is important. It is the capability of extremist groups to do such actions and their stranglehold of American emotions and fears following doing so.

Therein lines the problem that faces our counter intelligence community. As stated in the article, many so-called ‘experts’ make many false assumptions about terrorism. Almost no terrorism occurs in the poorest countries in the world. Furthermore, even in the most oppressive regimes such as the Soviet Union and Germany under Hitler was there not a large influx of terrorism. Terrorism’s roots lay in groups of teenagers around the world and that’s who we need to be reaching out to. It is obvious that Al Qaeda or any other terrorist group will never overthrow the American government or defeat the American military. However it’s successes can be seen in the scope of American foreign policy over the past 10 years. Almost immediately following 9/11 President Bush sent forces into Afghanistan and two years later in 2003 sent forces into Iraq. All the chaos and deaths of American lives over the past 10 years has been caused by groups of extremists who although immensely underpowered, have significantly influenced nearly all American lives.

An alternate form of international terrorism which is not widely talked about is cyber terrorism. Putting away the fantasy pictures that invade ones head when hacking is mentioned, we must truly realize the capabilities and implications of cyber attacks. Cyber terrorism saw its biggest and most dangerous case just one year ago and this time it was directed at Iran with the possible attackers being none other than Israel and the United States. This ‘hack’ was a virus known as Stuxnet which was a computer worm that embedded itself into computers in Iran’s nuclear facilities and caused the malfunction of centrifuges. The United States has been on the receiving end of many cyber attacks over the last 20 years but never has an attack been as sophisticated and successful as the Stuxnet virus. The idea that a computer virus can cause real tangible facilities to malfunction or break is something every government facility should worry about and should be a very important part of America’s counter terrorism agency. The one key thing to remember about Stuxnet and other cyber attacks is that most if not all do not fit in with the definition of terrorism that includes the ‘clause’;  targeted against citizens or non militant groups. In fact, Stuxnet did infect many other computers around the world (including a small percentage in the United States) but was mainly targeted towards Iran’s nuclear facilities. A possible exception is certainly in order as I think that although most of these cyber attacks are not targeted towards citizens directly, if they were ever to be successful they would almost certainly attack and affect the entire population (credit cards, social security numbers, etc..).

In conclusion, international terrorism is a serious problem for the United States and until something else comes along, it should be one of the main focuses of our counter intelligence community and a main aspect of our foreign policy. Although not easily combatable, we must rely on unorthodox measures to counter attack the global terrorism problem. If we don’t, the American public, not the government or military, will be in shambles and these terrorist organizations will have successfully terrorized our country into submission.

Works Cited

[HHM] Haas, Peter, John A. Hird, and Beth McBratney, eds. Controversies in Globalization: Contending Approaches to International Relations. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2009.

Note – This letter was originally written for a class of mine, hence the references to ‘class’.