The Future Face of Terrorism
Terrorist acts are committed for various reasons.
Some terrorist groups support a particularpolitical philosophy. Other terrorist organizations represent ethnic groups seeking liberation from governments in power. Dictators use violence to frighten or eliminate their opponents. Most terrorist groups have a small number of members. They believe the threat or use of violence to create fear is the best way to gain publicity and support for their causes.
Terrorists use computers cellular phones and encryption software to evade detection and they have sophisticated means for forging passports and documents.
Terrorism also has a high economic cost. The US government alone spends about $5,000 million a year to guard against terrorism at home and abroad and these costs will doubtless rise. Terrorism can also cripple entire economics. For example in Egypt by targeting a few tourists terrorists almost shut down the vitally important tourist industry for many months.
Exploitation of religion for political purposes and violence is an age old phenomenon. It is important to remember that all religions have produced deviant and dangerous fringe groups and Islam like Christianity and Judaism preaches peace and non violence. Terrorists who claim to speak for Islam are abusing their faith and they are increasingly condemned throughout the Islamic world.
Terrorist operations have also changed somewhat. Airline hijackings have become rare, since hijacked planes cannot stay in the air forever a few countries today are willing to let them land thereby incurring the stigma of openly supporting terrorism. Terrorists too saw diminishing returns on hijackings. The trend now seems to be away from attacking specific targets like the other side's officials and toward more indiscriminate killing. Furthermore the dividing line between urban terrorism and other tactics has become less distinct while the line between politically motivated terrorism and the operation of national and international crime syndicates is often impossible for outsiders to discern in the former Soviet Union. Latin America and other parts of the world. But there is one fundamental difference between international crime and terrorism mafias have no interest in overthrowing the government and decisively weakening society in fact they have a vested interest in a prosperous economy.
Finally terrorism today is far more devastating than in the past because of the mass media. No story plays better or longer than a terrorist attack. Today's media especially television multiply the fear effect of terrorism by vividly conveying its horror. And this greatly increases our collective sense of vulnerability. The terrorists of course know this. And they seek to exploit media coverage to put us and our governments on the psychological defensive.
In the past terrorists have been ruthless opportunists using a bloody but relatively narrow range of weapons to further clear political ends.
The next 15 years may well be the age of super terrorism, when they gain access to weapons of mass destruction and show a new willingness to use them. Tomorrow's most dangerous terrorists will be motivated not by political ideology but by fierce ethnic and religious hatreds. Their goal will not be political control but the utter destruction of their chosen enemies. Nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons are ideal for their purpose.
They will increasingly be joined by another variety of terrorist criminals with the goals of maximizing profit, minimizing risk, and protecting their enterprises by intimidating or cooping government officials. We have already seen their brand of terrorism in Colombia and Italy, but 'criminal terrorism'' has not yet been fully accepted as a legitimate target for the antiterrorist community.
Technology in particular has made terrorism more attractive to dissident groups and rogue states. In the high-tech global village that the world is fast becoming modern telecommunications provide near real time coverage of terrorist attacks whether in Beirut, Buennos