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Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 24:321–327, 2001

Copyright © 2001 Taylor & Francis

1057-610X /01 $12.00 + .00

Terrorism and Beyond:

a 21st Century Perspective


Beverly Hills, CA, USA

The conference organizers have asked me to offer you the perspective of someone who
has thought about the topic of terrorism for a long time. I am very much aware that time
itself is no guarantee of wisdom, but sometimes the ability to reflect on decades can be
an advantage. I should say, first of all, that the reflection is humbling. I am convinced
that I knew a lot more about terrorism many years ago—and knew it with greater cer-
tainty—than I do today. Indeed, I recall the very first time, about 25 years ago, that I
was invited to testify before Congress. Of course, it was exciting. I was nervous. I
carefully composed my written testimony, rehearsed my oral testimony; my secretary
grilled me with questions. Had they asked me how many machine guns were in the
hands of any terrorist group, I would have been able to answer them without hesitation.
Unfortunately for me, the very first question was, Mr. Jenkins, what can we do to end
I didn’t have a good answer then. And our presence here today indicates that we
still have not found a way to end terrorism. I don’t believe that there is a solution to the
problem of terrorism. Rather, it is an enduring task, changing over the years as the
threat evolves.
My own writing about terrorism began in the early 1970s. At that time, a unique
confluence of political circumstances and technological developments gave rise to this
new form of conflict. Palestinian groups were hijacking airliners to bring worldwide
attention to their cause. Urban guerrillas in Latin America were kidnapping diplomats.
New left-wing extremist groups in Europe were announcing themselves with bombings.
The provisional wing of the IRA had just taken the field.
At the same time, jet air travel gave terrorists worldwide mobility. The development
of radio, television, and communication satellites gave them almost instantaneous access
to a global audience. The increasing availability of weapons and explosives made it easy
to arm, while the vulnerabilities inherent in our modern-technology-dependent society,
from electrical pylons to Boeing 747s, provided ample targets.
Terrorism had not yet emerged as a separate field of inquiry. The subject itself was
an artificial construct based on a mere commonality in the tactics of violence. Definitions
were heatedly debated at the time. But apart from attacks on airliners and diplomats,

Received 10 January 2001; accepted 16 March 2001.

Address correspondence to Brian Jenkins, P.O. Box 1055, Beverly Hills, CA 90213.

322 B. M. Jenkins

terrorism was not seen as an issue of common international concern. To even study
terrorism in those electrically charged times was seen by many as a political decision.
As the phenomenon of terrorism escalated in the 1970s, it attracted increased atten-
tion from both government officials and scholars. We know from intelligence reports
that terrorists also got together on occasion to exchange their views. I wasn’t invited to
those meetings.
I did participate in a series of annual international conferences, beginning in the
early 1970s up through at least 1980. I mention 1980 because Steve Sloan mentioned
that year’s conference as one of the key events at which people came together to review
the problem.
These earlier meetings were—as this one I am sure will be—useful in bringing
together government officials and analysts to exchange ideas, identify trends, review the
results of research, and set agendas for future inquiry. The meetings also helped to
create an informal global network of knowledge that I believe played an important role
in increasing our understanding of the phenomenon of terrorism, helped shape policy,
and contributed to public education.
The 1980 conference was an especially ambitious undertaking. A total of 144 offi-
cials and scholars from 13 countries met at The RAND Corporation to discuss the ter-
rorist environment, terrorist mindsets, government responses, and the future course of
terrorism. Attendees also participated in a series of simulations that explored interna-
tional responses to various terrorist-created crises.
In reviewing the report of that conference, I noted that its participants did make
some forecasts regarding the future course of terrorism that held up pretty well in the
last two decades of the twentieth century. Terrorism, the participants thought, would
remain a serious problem. It did, but that was an easy guess. The conference accurately
predicted the rise of aggressive, fundamentalist religious groups and cults both in the
United States and abroad, a topic that is also on your agenda.
Conference participants in 1980 thought that the direct use of terrorism by states
would continue and would probably increase, as it did. In 1983, North Korea attempted
to assassinate a large portion of the South Korean cabinet while the cabinet was on a
visit to Burma; in 1987, North Korean agents sabotaged a Korean airliner. Libya’s 1986
international terrorist campaign, the 1988 sabotage of Pan Am flight 103, the 1989 sabotage
of a French airliner in Africa, Syria’s attempt in 1986 to blow up an El Al airliner,
Iraq’s attempt to assassinate former President Bush in 1993, and Iran’s campaign of
assassinations abroad provided further validation of the 1980 forecast.
Fifteen years before the release of sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway, conference
participants worried about the possible terrorist use of chemical or biological weapons,
and they identified fanatical cults as the most dangerous terrorist type and likely perpe-
trator of such events.
The 1980 conference participants, however, did not believe that nuclear terrorism
was likely to occur, and they thought that terrorists would not escalate beyond the middle
range. The “middle range” was undefined but generally was viewed as something in the
realm of large truck bombs. Fortunately, they were right on both counts. Terrorists did
not go nuclear, and large truck bombs marked the upper boundary of their violence.
Conference participants 20 years ago also thought that terrorist escalation would be
gradual rather than abrupt, and that has been the case. Finally, they accurately forecast
that we would increasingly see the use of military force in response to terrorism.
Indeed, it is hard to identify a major terrorist event in the last two decades that
conference participants did not at least speculate about in 1980. Of course, they speculated
Terrorism and Beyond 323

about a lot of things, and they did get a few things wrong. For example, we did not
witness any significant increase in terrorist attacks on energy systems, which had been a
major focus of the 1980 meeting. Pure sabotage seems to be unattractive to terrorists. They
prefer to advertise or kill. And the gap between the world’s wealthy and its poor did not
spawn a wave of terrorism, as analysts in 1980 thought it might, although we can speculate
on whether the current demonstrations against globalization may ultimately give rise to
more violent actions.
We did not solve the problem of terrorism in 1980, but we have come a long way.
There have been many successes in the battle against terrorism. Let me mention some:
We no longer waste a lot of time debating definition. There is now a broad international
consensus on what terrorism is, and that consensus has been codified in a number of
international treaties that define and outlaw specific terrorist tactics and targeting—inter-
estingly enough, without offering a broad definition of terrorism itself. Collectively,
however, they encompass most of what would be included in a definition of contempo-
rary terrorism.
International cooperation has increased, although there are still some contentious
issues, notably regarding the imposition and utility of economic sanctions. Nonetheless,
state sponsorship of terrorism has decreased, although Iran’s future course is not yet
clear and a number of nations are still not fully cooperating with global efforts. It will
be interesting to see the results of the discussion you are going to have on that specific
New antiterrorist laws have been implemented here and abroad, provoking some
complaints, but without serious damage to civil liberties. There are some concerns, to be
sure. Personally, I find the 1996 law permitting the use of secret evidence in immigra-
tion courts to be both unnecessary and repugnant in a democracy. Having served as a
member of one White House commission and having the privilege of advising a current
national commission on terrorism, I can tell you that commissions do worry about the
issue of civil liberties. Fierce arguments take place. These are healthy. I do not believe
that good security is necessarily incompatible with respect for civil liberties. However,
as concern about possible terrorist use of chemical and biological weapons grows, this
will be an issue to watch closely.
As long as we believe that the upper limits of terrorism are represented roughly by
the level of destruction we saw here in Oklahoma City, as terrible and tragic as that
event was—and I certainly don’t want to sound callous—we can, as a society, manage
the psychological consequences. But if we propel ourselves into thinking about terrorist
attacks that could potentially have thousands—even tens of thousands—of casualties,
according to some scenarios, then we move away from a willingness to rely on re-
sponse, and instead, understandably, lean toward devoting more attention to prevention.
This raises some real issues about how far we are willing to go in a free society to
prevent certain types of terrorism. It is a major challenge.
Security has worked. Some of the traditional terrorist tactics, such as hijackings and
embassy takeovers, occur far less frequently today. But physical security by itself does
not end terrorism. The decline in some tactics and terrorist targeting has been offset by a
trend toward attacking softer targets. In this regard, terrorists always have the advantage.
They can attack anything, anywhere, at any time. We cannot possibly protect everything
all of the time.
Intelligence collection and analysis has improved, and more information is being
usefully shared. A number of terrorist groups have been successfully suppressed, prima-
rily in Western Europe. Many terrorists have been brought to justice, even if, in some
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cases, it has taken years: The notorious Carlos is in jail. Lebanon has just returned four
Japanese Red Army terrorists to Japan. The alleged bombers of Pan Am flight 103 are
on trial in The Netherlands. America’s record in this regard is particularly good—the
murderers responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center and the federal build-
ing here in Oklahoma City are all behind bars, along with a number of other terrorists
responsible for attacks on American citizens abroad. Law enforcement is working.
Some of the conflicts that give rise to terrorism have been resolved or, we hope, are
being resolved. We must also credit international intervention, particularly in the Balkans,
with heading off some situations that I believe could easily have spawned new terrorist
Overall, the volume of international terrorism has declined; and although terrorists
have become more indiscriminate in their violence, even the number of fatalities is
down from its peak of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
These clearly are successes, and many of them can be credited to the leadership that
the United States, while certainly not acting alone, has shown in bringing a sometimes
reluctant international community to cooperate more effectively in its efforts against
terrorism. But let me insert a note of caution here: We in the United States are currently
in danger of alienating some of our allies and risking that international cooperation.
America’s status as the world’s sole superpower in itself provokes resentment. We
are seen as imposing American values. We demand adherence to American positions on
human rights, proliferation, drug trafficking, corruption, money laundering, free trade,
and environmental and intellectual property protection—all noble causes, to be sure, but
so many and all pursued with such vigor as to sometimes make us appear to be the
mullahs of the west. The world views us as inflexible on the issue of sanctions, a policy
tool we use often and for many reasons. We are often seen as promiscuous in our use of
force, employing it, critics allege, to satisfy domestic political agendas or without mak-
ing convincing cases for its necessity.
While a number of successes have been achieved, the terrorist threat has also evolved.
The motives driving terrorism have changed from ideology to ethnic conflict and reli-
gious fanaticism. This has produced a new breed of terrorists, people less constrained by
the fear of alienating perceived constituents or angering the public. Some of the notions
that I once offered about self-imposed constraints on terrorist behavior appear to be
eroding as terrorists move away from political agendas and into realms where they are
convinced that they have the mandate of God. Large-scale, indiscriminate violence is
the reality of today’s terrorism.
We cannot expect new terrorists who appear on the scene to begin over again and
replicate the evolution of their predecessors. They may not start with small acts of vio-
lence and gradually escalate, but are likely to begin at the current level of violence. This
in turn has caused growing concern that tomorrow’s terrorists will move beyond truck
bombs and employ chemical, biological, radiological, and potentially even nuclear weapons.
These are sometimes referred to collectively as “weapons of mass destruction,” and they
certainly have that potential, although the most likely scenarios involve deaths in the
same quantities as are caused by conventional explosives. Even so, such attacks could
produce significant psychological effects.
Terrorist organization has become more amorphous. In the 1970s and 1980s, we
could identify specific terrorist organizations; we knew their leadership, their capabil-
ities, their modus operandi. Today we must think in terms of universes of like-minded
fanatics in which there are galaxies and constellations, networks and ad hoc conspira-
cies, even individual operators (although we need to be cautious about this last
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category). The lack of clear organization makes intelligence collection and law enforce-
ment more difficult.
Overall, the threat posed by today’s terrorist is perceived to be greater than it was
in the past, so even though we have made considerable progress, as we move into the
twenty-first century, we face serious danger.
The focus of the research on terrorism has changed as well. In the 1970s and 1980s,
a major effort was made to understand the sociopolitical-economic environments
and the individual psychology that produced terrorism. However, researchers were not
able to identify root causes of terrorism or terrorist-prone pathologies, and over time
that line of inquiry was, for the most part, abandoned, although I see that it is on the
agenda here.
The approach to policy and research in the 1990s was an extremely pragmatic one.
Researchers paid less attention to what might cause terrorism and instead focused on its
suppression, on improving intelligence, on increasing security, on identifying effective
counterterrorist strategies, and on applying new technology.
One other development we have seen is the occurrence of large-scale terrorism on
American soil. It is the reason we are gathered here in Oklahoma City.
The focus of the 1980 conference was international terrorism, rather than domestic
terrorism. By 1980, the left-wing bombers who had emerged from the anti–Vietnam
War movement of the late 1960s had dwindled to a handful of individual fugitives.
Most of the terrorist incidents in the United States during this era were perpetrated by
ethnically based extremists who were inspired by distant quarrels—anti-Castro Cubans,
Puerto Rican separatists, Armenians seeking revenge on Turks, Croatian separatists at
war with Yugoslavia, Jewish fanatics focusing on Soviet and Arab targets.
Homegrown, right-wing terrorism was only beginning to reemerge. A dark under-
current that has ebbed and flowed throughout American history, it was to rise again in
the 1980s, not so much in the form of identifiable terrorist groups, although there were a
few, but more as a mindset that combined perverse interpretations of the Bible with
white supremacism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, deep hostility toward the federal gov-
ernment, and an apocalyptic view of the world. It was the amalgamation of religious
bigots, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen, prison gangsters, and pretend patriots that was
new. Much of the violence was deliberately disorganized, in accordance with a doctrine
called “leaderless resistance,” which preached individual rather than coordinated action.
The genius of this doctrine was not that it may have inspired some individuals to
take action, but that it allowed the ideological architects of racist rebellion to claim
credit for the actions of a host of individual psychopaths who adopted its propaganda,
its paraphernalia, or its anniversaries for what were primarily personal urges. In this
fashion, not only Timothy McVeigh, but also Buford Furrow and even Dylan Kleibold
and Eric Harris came to be seen as somehow connected with a single cause. These
killers were often romanticized by foolish officials and the news media as “lone wolves,”
when the proper description was “flaming bananas.” Not every human varmint is
a warrior.
This is not to minimize the danger. Violence on the far right is increasing, and a lot
of it is organized. Fortunately, authorities have discovered and thwarted a number
of plots that could have had deadly results. But the current terrorist threat merits the
serious attention it will receive at this meeting.
Now, about this conference. You have assembled here some of the most knowl-
edgeable people on this topic. Professor Steve Sloan is one of them. Martha Crenshaw,
Ariel Merari, and David Rappoport are here, all veterans of the 1980 conference. Other
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participants are long-time soldiers in this area: David Veness, Gerard Chaliand, Jerrold
Post, Ed Mickolus, Bruce Hoffman. They are joined by a new generation of terrorism
Let me offer all of you some tough questions. Will tomorrow’s terrorist be merely a
more brutal version of today’s terrorist, capable of causing tragedy but of limited imagi-
nation and technical capability? Or will tomorrow’s terrorist routinely employ chemical
or biological weapons?
I am not asking for prophecy. The question really is, Does threat analysis play a
useful role here? Some policymakers consider it irrelevant. To them, the possibility that
terrorists might use chemical or biological weapons suffices to justify major efforts to
prepare for such attacks, but how much do we prepare, and how do we prepare without
a better idea of the threat? What kind of threat analysis is possible? Threat assessments
based on vulnerabilities (that are infinite in our society), theoretical foes (that can easily
be conjured up), and worst-case scenarios can be misleading. They lend themselves to
manipulation and mischief. But in the absence of historical precedents, what other ana-
lytical approaches are possible?
Cybercrime is another issue. We know that terrorists have exploited the Internet for
internal communication and propaganda. Does this suggest that terrorists in the future
will engage in sophisticated information warfare? Will they exploit Internet vulnerabili-
ties to sabotage the world’s financial systems, stock exchanges, or air traffic control? Or
are we simply wrong in being alarmed by these possibilities?
Finally, how can we better prepare as a society—as a community of citizens—to
resist conventional terrorism, new technological threats, or growing right-wing violence?
This is an often overlooked area. Since the power of terrorism lies in the psychological
reactions it creates, it is the public, not the authorities, who can best combat it.
Let me therefore conclude my remarks with a proposed campaign of popular resis-
We should keep the threat in perspective. We have in our history faced far worse
threats. Our lives are not always in grave danger. The republic is not in peril.
We must not overreact. We must maintain what the British call a stiff upper lip. We
may suffer casualties, but we must not be moved by terrorist violence or the fear it
creates. The less panic, the less paranoia, the less public demand there will be for re-
sponses that could threaten our liberties.
We should not be swept up in the sound and fury of misleading rhetoric. Podium
pounding will not defeat terrorism. There will be no Normandy landings. No terrorists
will surrender on the decks of a battleship. Combatting terrorism will be a frustrating,
long, enduring task.
We should ignore the lurid conspiracy theories. They are the product of suspicion
and ignorance.
We should avoid false patriotism. Do not mistake the horse-spit militias for any-
thing other than costume parties for the insecure, for adolescent fantasies, for racial
supremacism. If someone wants to proudly wear a uniform on weekends, fire weapons,
and provide real assistance to their community, let them join the National Guard.
We cannot expect a risk-free society. We cannot be protected against every misfor-
tune. We are addicted in this country to finger-pointing and litigation, which distracts us
from the real foe and divides our communities.
Our most effective defense against terrorism will come not from surveillance, con-
crete barriers, metal detectors, or new laws, but from our own virtue, courage, continued
dedication to our ideals of a free society, realism in our acceptance of risk, stoicism,
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intelligence and the skepticism that comes with it, the avoidance of extremism, and the
humanity and sense of community too fleetingly expressed when we mourn our dead. It
will come from true patriotism.
I accept in advance your invitation to participate in the 2020 conference on terror-
ism. In the meantime, I wish you success in your discussions here. I look forward to
participation. Thank you very much.