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Combating Terrorism

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            The catastrophic attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 have made it all too obvious that wars do not have to be declared and threats do not have to be unconcealed. It is brutally apparent there is a wide spectrum of possible threats to the U.S. homeland that do not entail the threat of overt attacks by states using long-range missiles or conventional military forces. Such threats can vary from the acts of individual extremists to state-sponsored asymmetric warfare.

They can comprise covert attacks by state actors, state use of proxies, as well as independent terrorist groups. They can comprise attacks by foreign individuals and residents of the United States whose motives can vary from religion to efforts at extortion (Innes, 2003). Motives can range from definite political and strategic goals, to religion and political ideology, crime and sabotage, or acts by the expressively disturbed. The means of attack can range from token uses of explosives, cyber-terrorism, car and truck bombs, and passenger airliners to the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

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            We have previously experienced some overwhelming attacks, however no pattern of attacks on U.S. territory has so far emerged that offers a clear foundation for predicting how serious any given form of attack will be in the future, what means of attack will be used, or how deadly new forms of attack will be if they are successful. Consequently, there is a major, continuing debate over the range of threats that require to be measured, the significance of such threats, and how the U.S. government should react to combat terrorism.

            We now recognize all too well how susceptible we really are, however it is difficult to forecast how such threats will develop in the future, and the extent to which states and their proxies will use alternative methods of attack as distinguished from terrorists. Possible foreign attackers have good cause to fear American military power, and most are still improbable to launch such attacks without considering the risks. Simultaneously, it is painfully obvious that America’s very strengths make an incentive to attack it using asymmetric forms of warfare. Waging asymmetric warfare against the United States presents the greatest chance of success and the least risk of reprisal, and some key technologies are developing in ways that help the attacker. For instance, biological and information warfare will unavoidably make the possible threat from foreign and domestic attackers more serious over time (Falk, 2004).

            Internal conflicts stemming from religious, ethnic, economic, or political disputes will stays at current levels or even augment in number. The United Nations and regional organizations will be called on to cope such conflicts for the reason that major states—stressed by domestic concerns, perceived risk of failure, lack of political will, or tight resources—will reduce their direct involvement.

            Export control regimes and sanctions will be less efficient due to the diffusion of technology, porous borders, defense industry consolidations, as well as reliance on foreign markets to maintain productivity. Arms and weapons technology transfers will be more difficult to control. Prospects will grow that more sophisticated weaponry, together with weapons of mass destruction indigenously produced or externally obtained will get into the hands of state and nonstate belligerents, some antagonistic to the United States. The probability will increase over this period that WMD will be used either against the United States or its forces, facilities, and interests overseas.

Approximations of the number of distinct ethnic-linguistic groups at the start of the 21st century run from two thousand to five thousand, ranging from small bands living in isolated areas to larger groups living in ancestral homelands or in diasporas (Innes, 2003).

            The United States faces rising potential threats from state actors, their proxies, as well as independent extremists and terrorists. Though different analysts may have tended to exaggerate the instant threat or the current threat posted by given actors, the events of September 2001 illustrate this scarcely means that the threat is not real or that the nation does not need to improve its defense plus response capabilities. The United States have to plan to defend against such threats not merely to defend its own homeland, however as well to protect its capability to deploy forces overseas and its allies.

            The practical problem is to make a decision exactly how to be deal with highly doubtful emerging threats in a world where the United States has restricted resources and several other priorities. The United States cannot bet the lives and well being of its citizens on today’s threats and probabilities. There are several potentially antagonistic foreign and domestic sources of such threats, and some key threats like biological weapons involve fast changing technologies that will pretense a progressively growing threat to the U.S. homeland. U.S. involvement in the world, the strength of U.S. conventional and nuclear forces, and susceptibility at home are a dangerous combination, and unless the United States acts to improve deterrence and defense, the risk of major asymmetric and terrorist attacks involving CBRN weapons is probable to raise.

            Finding the correct mix of defense and response is very difficult, though, and it is far easier to call for theatrical action than to find out what actions will actually succeed and be cost-effective and after that execute them. It is obvious that the federal government is making progress in several areas and is laying the groundwork for improved cooperation with states, localities, the private sector, plus the public. Certainly, by the standards of many governments that face far more clear threats than the United States, the United States has already made noteworthy progress in start to address these issues. In several cases, it is previously well ahead of its friends and allies (Itzkoff, Seymour W., 2003).

            Simultaneously, there is still much to be done, and the Bush Administration faces huge challenges in raising a truly efficient federal program. There are fundamental conceptual and tactical gaps in the way the United States is approaching the problem. The most serious gap is the one between the DOD’s growing focus on the threats posed by asymmetric warfare and by states and well-organized non-state actors and the focus of civil departments on lower levels of foreign and domestic terrorism. All together, defining “homeland defense” in terms of defense and response against attacks inside the United States understates the significance of looking at the link between theater threats and conflicts and attacks on the United States, as well as the threats to our allies and military forces.

            An efficient approach to homeland defense as well means understanding that the range of threats is adequately great so that the United States cannot plan to cope with just one attack at a time. Attacks may be coupled to continuing theater conflicts. If missile threats against the United States are serious enough to deploy WMD, then defense have to consider the threat of mixes of missile and covert attacks and response have to consider the risk that a missile attack will penetrate any WMD defense. Multiple attacks are probable, as are sequential attacks. The United States must as well deal with the “morning after.” The first major covert or terrorist WMD attack on the United States or its major allies may alter the tactical environment fundamentally. The United States must already start to think and act in response to such risks, however with the foresight that its defense and response to the first attack will set the example in a world in which many similar threats may take place in the future (Gerson, Allan, and Jerry Adler, 2001).

            The United States have to widen the way it handles homeland defense to address all of the tools it has at hand. Approaches to improving homeland defense that arbitrarily exclude U.S. offensive and deterrent capabilities and the capability to defend by identifying and striking at hostile foreign governments and terrorists ignore a significant part of homeland defense. So do definitions that understate or disregard the broad spectrum of U.S. counterproliferation efforts, together with arms control. Lastly, putting a new prominence on homeland defense is not a cause for creating a new form of isolationism. Cooperation with our allies and friendly governments can be critical in defending against and deterring asymmetric attacks by foreign states and counterterrorism. Such actions cannot defend against domestic terrorists and extremists, however they can have a major impact in reducing what may well be the most serious basis of potential attacks with nuclear and effective biological weapons.

            The U.S. government needs to be less focused on chains of command and be more objective regarding the need to accept uncertainty and perform the essential research, development, and improved planning to lessen that uncertainty. Far too many studies of homeland defense worry regarding the issues of “who’s in charge” in the federal government, somewhat than the details of which senior official must be in charge of what. In several cases, there appears to be an assumption that creating the right organization chart and set of federal accountabilities can make a mix of federal authority, capabilities, and liaison efforts with state and local governments that can handle the problem (Geldenhuys, 2004).

            One does not have to be a believer in chaos theory to understand that such an approach is almost surely wrong. No federal approach to a highly uncertain range of threats, mainly ones with consequences as overwhelming as attacks with nuclear and biological weapons, can expect to build up a system that will be truly ready to manage such threats and attacks when they in fact emerge. The U.S. government cannot and must not pay the money today to try to handle the worst case threats that may emerge in the future, and it cannot need state, local, and private entities to suppose more than restricted additional burdens.

            There are numerous areas where essential research and planning activity is required to resolve grave uncertainties, and others where special interest pleading intimidates to waste huge amounts of public money on the wrong priorities or measures that may either be unproductive or easy to counter. There have been far more efforts to define broad strategies or to issue broad directives than to come to grips with the need for thorough planning, sufficient programs and program budgets, and meaningful ways to review and coordinate annual budgets and programs.

Numerous proposed and ongoing programs most likely cannot meet the most fundamental tests of intellectual validity and federal responsibility. There is no long-term plan, program, or program budget. There is no supporting analysis of the balance of offense and defense, the countermeasures that could defeat a given program, and the cost to defeat it. There is nothing approaching a sufficient continuing national threat analysis of domestic and foreign threats, no net assessment of the overall balance of defense and offense, and no net technical assessment of the trends in offensive plus defensive capability.

            There is a sharp decoupling in dealing with chief asymmetric threats, which can involve states, their proxies, and more sophisticated terrorist and extremist groups in nuclear and major biological attacks, from the lower-level forms of CBRN attacks that are the “worst cases” today’s terrorists appear to pose, and that form the focus of most of today’s hard work to improve defense and response. These problems are compounded by main legal issues that limit key aspects of intelligence and law enforcement activities and by efforts to improve response that are frequently associated to other goals like improving health services or emergency response capabilities (Falk, 2004).

            Effective planning and action cannot be footed on indistinct calls for improved strategy, exercising and training based on today’s threat analyses and techniques, or changing organization charts at the top. It will take years of effort to make a coordinated and efficient plan for federal, state, and local action. In the majority cases, it is the readiness and capability to address thorough issues and to make hands-on efforts to generate and put into practice a wide range of cost-effective programs that will decide the success of the U.S. effort in homeland defense and not the attempt to find a few major recommendations. The devil actually does lie in the details, and “bumper sticker” or one-issue approaches to policy are a recommendation for disaster.

            Effective research and development efforts are required in almost every key area of defense and response activity to improve the United States’ capability to use political, economic, and military actions outside the United States to deter and defend foreign asymmetric and terrorist attacks (Besteman, 2002). Simultaneously, effective research and development efforts need certain key tools that are sadly lacking in many, if not most, such programs. There have to be a complete and regularly updated net technical assessment of the trends in defensive and offensive technology to establish priorities and the likely cost-effectiveness of given programs. Basic advances are required in estimating plus modeling the CBRN threat to determine what research and development activities are most needed (Berman, 2003). Every research and development program needs a clear analysis of how the end result would be deployed and of the procurement and life cycle costs of deploying effective national programs. There have to be an end to pleading about the merits of a program against today’s threat, and the lack of program-by-program justification footed on analysis of the trends in offense and defense, countermeasures to the proposed or continuing research and development activity, and the cost to defeat a deployed system.


            The United States must take a comprehensive approach to homeland defense and rethink what is sometimes a near isolationist approach to homeland defense. Much of the literature supposes that the United States will be the main target of attacks and the merely scene of attacks. One classic argument is that the generic nature of the U.S. role as the “world’s merely super power” makes it the primary target of foreign action. Also, there is a tendency to suppose that U.S. deterrence, defense, response, and political as well as economic action can take place as part of a two-person, zero-sum game.

            In actual practice, the United States is a target of foreign movements mainly as an extension of theater-driven conflicts and tensions where it is often a secondary target for state and terrorist attacks. This is surely true at present in Northeast Asia, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East. In many, if not most cases involving state, proxy, and large-scale terrorist attacks, attacks on the U.S. homeland will be an extension of theater-driven conflicts by other means. The United States will be associated to its allies, coalitions, regional peacemaking efforts, or other critical foreign involvements. Even where this is not the case, the United States will often badly need the support of its allies and international law enforcement agencies. Homeland defense is not an exercise in isolationism, and if the United States does try to play a two-person, zero-sum game it will most likely lose or pay an extremely high price for its conceptual and practical failure to handle the world it lives in.


Berman, Paul (2003). Terror and Liberalism. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton.

Besteman, Catherine Lowe, ed (2002). Violence: A Reader. New York: New York University Press.

Falk, Richard A. (2004). The Darkening World Order: America’s Imperial Geopolitics. New York: Routledge.

Geldenhuys, Deon (2004). Deviant Conduct in World Politics. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gerson, Allan, and Jerry Adler (2001). The Price of Terror: One Bomb, One Plane, 270 Lives: The History-Making Struggle for Justice After Pan Am 103. 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins.

Innes, Brian (2003). International Terrorism. Broomall, PA: Mason Crest.

Itzkoff, Seymour W.(2003). Intellectual Capital in Twenty-First-Century Politics. Ashfield, MA: Paideia.


Cite this Combating Terrorism

Combating Terrorism. (2016, Sep 14). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/combating-terrorism/

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