Monday, March 09, 2009

Northern Ireland attack: terrorism, criminality or a new blend?

The Real IRA attack has raised concerns about "dissident republicans" moving back to violence as a way to undermine the political process. But is Northern Ireland on the verge of unraveling?

"They really don't have a lot of support but can randomly cause problems in terms of assasinations, bombings, etc.," is the assessment of my colleague Elena Mastors, a professor of national security studies at the Naval War College and a terrorism expert. This is not a large group, perhaps numbering no more than 500.

And others have wondered whether the Real IRA is not more akin to an organized crime group that carries out "political" attacks from time to time to try and legitimize its existence. After all, law enforcement sources indicate that the Real IRA has been involved in smuggling, kidnapping, robbery and extortion operations.

This does seem to be a growing worldwide trend, where the stark dividing line between political and criminal groups is fading away. We have seen this in Colombia, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And I worried last week whether this is a trend manifested by the assassination of the president of Guinea-Bissau.

On a side note for consideration, then: is this a sufficient trend to warrant retaining the Homeland Security Council as a separate interagency body, rather than devolving its functions back to the National Security Council?

A large part of the problem in Northern Irleand, as in the Balkans, is the fact that terrorist groups have branched into organized crime which now provides them an economic basis. The fact that authorities have ceded policing to "community leaders" makes the problem worse. See Michael Burleigh's "Blood and Rage" now out in a US edition for details
I think we need to keep the Homeland Security Council in part because the NSC can't do everything; you need a body that will want to tackle things like transnational organized crime and terrorism that operates out of the White House.
Since unemployment provides a reserve army of the discontented, as we have seen in North Africa and the Middle East as well as Northern Ireland, current economic conditions bode ill for stability. Tony Judt had an interesting piece in Foreign Affairs roughtly a decade ago that discussed how people left redundant by deindustrialization in Europe become "socially excluded" even with generous welfare benefits and the absence of social patholigies. The analysis there would be worth revisiting in the context of crime and terrorism.
You guys best wake up and smell the coffee brewing in Detroit, Oakland, East Sanit Louis, and other such dumps.

Worry about violence and instability in US first.
Add that to the mix HSC should be focused on. Not all homeland threats come from the outside.
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