Tuesday, July 04, 2006

North Korea and Larry Johnson

North Korea has launched several missiles. Reports at this juncture are confused as to whether they tried to launch the long-range missile theoretically capable of hitting the U.S. mainland and that missile failed--which, as I had written previously, might deflate the DPRK's claims of technical proficiency--or whether only two intermediate range missiles were launched (the ones that have been tried and tested and work).

For those of you who didn't read it already, I recommend Larry Johnson's recent NoQuarter post The Myth of Terrorism, Part Deux.

Whether you agree with his analysis or arguments or not, you have to admire someone who stands by what he writes even when the so-called "conventional wisdom" says it is wrong. Johnson's now famous July 10, 2001 op-ed in the New York Times ("The Declining Terrorist Threat") drew a firestorm of criticism after 9/11, including in the Thanksgiving 2001 issue of The National Interest.

Johnson continues to make the case that while Al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism in general remains a threat--and can be a deadly threat--it is not equivalent to the old Soviet threat and has to be seen in perspective--and that Al-Qaeda's threat does not justify responding out of proportion.

Some excerpts below:

While terrorism from radical Islamic extremism is a threat we must take seriously, we are kidding ourselves to place it on par with the military and nuclear threat we faced during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. ...

Should we ignore terrorism? No. We do face a serious threat from radical Islamists. They are a fervent and uncompromising lot. Fortunately, they are not ubiquitous nor do they represent a majority opinion among Muslims around the world. While jihadist radicals have flocked to Iraq (and been killed and captured with regularity) they have had limited success gaining traction and sustaining operations around the world.

There are trouble spots—Somalia, southern Thailand, parts of Indonesia—where radicals are trying to get a foothold. But, these radicals have not been able to project force consistently outside of the local communities that protect them. When they do attack they provoke a counterstrike by government officials that usually results in the death or capture of terrorist operatives. This weakens their ability to sustain operations.

We make a mistake, a potentially fatal mistake, if we delude ourselves into accepting that the threat of terrorism is so unique and so severe that we must suspend civil liberties, break international accords, and ignore allies in order to fight this enemy. If we continue to choose this road we risk alienating the moderate Islamic nations and the Islamic authoritarian regimes (e.g., Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) who we need as allies in order to battle this threat.

There is a civil liberties - security tradeoff that has always been recognized. The conservative has always placed a good deal of reliance on the initiative of the individual citizen rather than relying on the nanny state.
Nik, the Times of London is reporting that the Taepo-Dong 2 "failed 40 seconds after being fired from a site in the northeast of North Korea", quoting US sources.
Just as driving kills more people but most are much more afraid of flying, so with terrorism. Not likely to kill you or harm you, but it is the mass-casualty factor plus the loss of security that gives this threat its force.
The worst part about our acceptance of terrorism as "unique and so severe" is that it becomes an ideal excuse for autocratic regimes. Seeing a CCTV news story about the US abducting individuals and putting them in a concentration camp without trial must be real confusing for a Chinese liberal who thinks American freedoms are great.
As long as Americans are worried that Al-Qaeda is going to show up at the local mall to shoot it up, the terrorism threat will continue to resonate. And of course there is nothing to prevent Al-Qaeda or imitators from doing that--the US is a target rich environment.

Americans will have to learn to manage risk the way that we who were living in Britain did with the IRA. Yes, there might be a bomb in the pub that could go off; you evaluated risk and went on living.
The terrorist threat has two components: the people who deliver weapons and the weapons they deliver. The response appropriate to this threat is not to target the delivery people but the technologies that would enable them to erase the asymmetrical advantage of large powers like the United States over smaller states and non-state actors.

Whether we can prevent the growth or spread of mass destruction weapons is of course uncertain. But the logic of Johnson's argument would seem to point to a sharper focus on the weapons and not on the people who would deliver them.
i merely invite folks to go to his website and read his work. and then read those who comment on his writings. my god. if you are judged by those around you...

on a more analytical note, Mr Johnson rightly compares terrorism with the Soviet threat and notes the lack of a true strategic threat. however what he fails to gather in the same spirit as his original article is that this enemy will carry the fight to these shores and to our embassies, not by proxy but directly. along the way, thousands of Muslims have and will be slaughtered whether we are in Iraq or not. That differentation is a core issue which has always been a forcing issue for american conflict from the Indian wars to spanish american to WWI to WWII to even Vietnam (Tonkin bay) it don't have to be real but if they shoot at us and god forbid, they kill some of us civilians, well then, the jacksonians in us come out.
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