Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 24:321–327, 2001 Copyright © 2001 Taylor & Francis 1057-610X /01 $12.00 + .


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 certainty—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 terrorism? 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. E-mail:



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 attention 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 officials and scholars from 13 countries met at The RAND Corporation to discuss the terrorist environment, terrorist mindsets, government responses, and the future course of terrorism. Attendees also participated in a series of simulations that explored international 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 perpetrator 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

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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—interestingly enough, without offering a broad definition of terrorism itself. Collectively, however, they encompass most of what would be included in a definition of contemporary 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 topic. 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 immigration 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 response, 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, primarily in Western Europe. Many terrorists have been brought to justice, even if, in some


B. M. Jenkins

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 building 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 campaigns. 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 making 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 religious 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 violence 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 capabilities, 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 conspiracies, 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 enforcement 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 undercurrent 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 government, 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 knowledgeable 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


B. M. Jenkins

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 researchers. 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 imagination 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 analytical 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 vulnerabilities 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 resistance. 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 responses 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 anything 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 misfortune. 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, concrete 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 terrorism. In the meantime, I wish you success in your discussions here. I look forward to participation. Thank you very much.