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Old Friday, March 20, 2009
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Default The Global Financial Crisis vs Terrorism


Claims made as to the consequences of the Global Financial Crisis on the prospects for increased rebellion, insurgency, terrorism and revolution will be extremely varied in their accuracy and reliability. The factoid statements made in many branches of the mainstream media, the often simplistic rhetoric from politicians and the inaccurate statements from biased academics are just some of the misrepresentative types of commentary that will emerge in opposition to more empirical and disciplined analysis of the global political climate. In the near future, the financial crisis will definitely affect the international strategic landscape. These effects however, are best viewed in comparison to the inevitable, simplistic and misleading commentaries that will permeate the zeitgeist. The strains of commentary are as follows;
1. The Global Financial Crisis will cultivate an environment conducive to
terrorist attacks.
2. Terrorists will be more easily recruited in this new economic
3. Terrorist attacks will become more frequent and devastating at
home if military expenditure is cut.
4. The crisis will cause insurgency and revolution in ‘hardest-hit’ poorer
5. The crisis will strengthen the financial position of terrorist

1. The Global Financial Crisis will cultivate an environment conducive to terrorist attacks.

Ex British Prime Minister John Howard, in the October 7 Courier Mail stated that; the Global Financial Crisis will directly benefit terrorism and create an environment where terrorist campaigns could gain momentum. This analysis of the situation is simplistic and misleading because it ignores the nature of how terrorism as a military strategy operates. Terrorism is a type of psychological warfare whereby a battle of wills is fought in people's minds. By insinuating that terrorists will benefit directly from the crisis, this view ignores the fundamental operative aim of the terrorism strategy; to initiate political change by a disruption of the status quo through instances of symbolic violence. The financial crisis is an economic situation that has no bearing on the political motivations (and political impact) of terrorist campaigns. While the crisis challenges economic stability and security (and this may be desirable to terrorist groups), its effect on the status quo in the majority of western societies, remains to be seen. The crisis is not directly conducive to terrorist campaigns because governmental authorities have not been portrayed as impotent in the defence of their citizens in terms of violence. While economic patterns have no doubt been affected by the crisis, the more important ‘conducive’ element to the advancement of terrorist political agendas is how people interact socially when an unidentifiable fear for one’s life becomes an overwhelming force in a person’s mind. This financial crisis does not challenge the individual’s social moorings and people will not become susceptible to the alternative political programs offered by terrorist groups because of this economic situation.

2. Terrorists will be more easily recruited in this new economic environment.

Economic conditions by themselves, do not necessarily lead to the radicalisation of individuals into terrorist groups. There is a general fear that an economic downturn will lead to an increase in the number of active members in terrorist groups. However, economic hardship is but one contingent factor that cannot be isolated or examined as a ‘root cause’ of terrorism within a vacuum. Radicalisation of an individual depends as much on their political status, psychological makeup and even the level of attained education (among many other factors). There is a public perception enforced through media and political instruments that terrorism and radicalisation is primarily born from poverty and hardship. However, terrorists ‘do not represent the constituencies they claim to be defending. They are not of the poor and deprived; and they are not supported by the poor and deprived…terrorism has increased grievances and tainted the communities that terrorists declare they are fighting for’ . Also, the emergence of terrorist groups ‘can not be attributed to the lack of public health care in the host country’ . The opportunities for increased expansion and organisation of terrorist groups cannot be directly associated with the financial crisis – any claim that the deteriorating economic conditions will cause an influx of terrorist recruitment must be treated with suspicion.

3. Terrorist attacks will become more frequent and devastating at home if military expenditure is cut.

If military expenditure is lowered because of the financial crisis, many politicians suggest that terrorist attacks could become more widespread, frequent and devastating. This is a simplistic and flawed analysis - one that does not consider the tactical realities of conducting effective anti-terror initiatives within a nation state. One of the clear strategies of terrorist campaigns is to create a disproportionate fear when compared to actual damage. With the real effects of the financial crisis looming and a cut to military spending most likely imminent, to suggest that acts of terror will become more frequent because of these cuts circumvents an understanding of how terrorism works as a warfare strategy. Terrorism is a strategy that belongs within the definition of asymmetrical and sub-state warfare. Terrorist groups are already at a massive disadvantage in terms of money, resources and manpower and thereby choose to avoid the military as an adversary. As the asymmetrically ‘weaker’ element, terrorists’ only recourse is to exploit the psychological conditions of the target, rather than the destructive effects of armed action by utilising a more manoeuvrable form of conducting warfare; attacking a civilian population in symbolic displays of violence. The strategies of the terrorist organisation also rely on inducing a favourable reaction in the target that coincides with the terrorist’s objectives. Some analysts even regard the present climate of increased military expenditure as generally favourable to terrorist strategy as it diverts spending from more effective localised forms of anti-terror initiatives. Critics of the encumbered Department of Homeland Security in the United States, already argue that the allocated annual budget exceeds ‘the nature and scope of the terrorist threat’ . As a weapon of fear, terrorism disproportionately influences budgetary expenditure as by its strategic nature it cultivates disorientation and overreaction in an enemy. To suggest that a cut in military expenditure will have direct enabling effects on the frequency and effectiveness of terror campaigns is an incorrect and simplistic assumption.

4. The crisis will cause insurgency and revolution in ‘hardest-hit’ poorer countries.

This assumption is based on a narrow and simplistic premise; insurgencies and revolutions are entirely attributable to economic hardship. There is no universal theory to account for the root causes and motivations for insurgencies and it is not necessarily the poorest nations who have the most effective or galvanised revolutionaries. Conducting effective insurgency and revolutionary movements revolves not around the originating conditions, but proper strategic use of the asymmetric nature of the conflict to advantage. An insurgency campaign lends itself to a number of key strategic primaries; organisation, manoeuvrability and most importantly; time. According to Kiras; ‘with sufficient time an insurgent group can organise, sap the resolve of its adversaries, and…build a conventional force capable of seizing control of the state’ . The impetus for political change and the effectiveness of an insurgency cannot be reduced to a question of economic hardship or climate. Therefore, a strain of commentary that suggests that the financial crisis will somehow ‘cause’ insurgency and revolution is simplistic and misleading.

5. The crisis will strengthen the financial position of terrorist organisations.

There has been a significant drop in oil prices from the main producing nations because of the financial crisis and its associated consequences. This fact signals a new paradigm shift in all aspects of an increasingly globalised economy. Although many western nations are on the brink of recession or depression, this does not automatically mean that terrorist organisations will reap some kind of economic benefit. As the financial crisis will negatively affect the real economy in the near future, the demand for illegal substances like the Taliban’s opium etc, will most probably also drop significantly. Even illegal economies are not free from the effects of this crisis and the financial position of terrorist organisations that fund their activities through the drug, arms and other forms of clandestine trade, will not be immune to the scarcity of liquid funds (and ultimately a new climate of limited demand).

An analysis of these five strains of commentary illuminates the weak premises and biases that could permeate and become the dominant view of reality. The effects of the financial crisis on the global political climate of the near future are no doubt very complex, but empirical evidence and reasoned approaches to data should not be abandoned for simplistic factoid statements. As Einstein said; ‘Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler’.
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