May 20, 2010

Win the War on Terror

In response to William C. Martel’s article on Reader’s Digest.

As Martel points out, to win the war on terrorism once and for all (victory on the third level, in Martel’s language), we need to destroy the ideological reasons that backs terrorism, which is probably not possible in the foreseeable future. Therefore at the moment we can only temporarily achieve the first- and second-level victories. My question is: whether this strategy works?

There is a market in everything, and terrorism is no exception. If there is an active labor market for the recruitment of terrorists, and if the market for terrorism is competitive, meaning that there is little to prevent a new terrorist organization from establishing; then as soon as we capture a terrorist, another one is on the way, and whenever we eradicate a terrorist organization, a new one will immediately emerge.

Therefore, to win the war on the first and second levels, we can only count on the time lags before a new extremist can be found and a new terrorist organization can be founded. If indeed as Martel says, “terrorist organizations can easily find new terrorist recruits” and “new networks and organizations pop up as soon as others are destroyed”, assuming the labor supply for extremists does not change however many we detain and bring to justice (i.e., there are always new potential terrorists for these organizations, which should be a reasonable assumption), what we are doing will hardly work even in the relatively short run.

Thankfully since many obstacles should be preventing the recruitment of terrorists and the organization of terrorist activities, e.g. from governments and international peace groups, inefficiencies presumably exist in both markets for terrorists and terrorist organizations, enabling us to subdue the impact of terrorism temporarily, despite that the grand victory still takes the effort of many generations to achieve.

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