Tag: terrorism

The other reason we know we can take this

July 8, 2005


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18 Feb 1996

7 July 2005

I’d actually forgotten what 1996 was like, although I was living in London at the time. I remember the “Ring of Steel” and the Baltic Exchange in the early 90s, but the revived campaign in the mid-90s made virtually no impact on the national mood.

Update: another point from the Guardian, via Slugger O’Toole: There were 36 bombs in London in 1973 (a bit before my time).

Two Years on

March 28, 2005


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Two years ago yesterday, I posted the following as my view of the Iraq war. I’d like to revisit it.

Why the UN is to blame for the 2003 Iraq War

Responsibility for this war lies squarely with the UN, despite the last-minute chickening-out. If the UN Security Council had wanted to establish peaceful relations between Saddam Hussein and the rest of the world (which would have been a Good Thing), it wouldn’t have set up the stupid “safe havens”. You can’t make peace with a government while you’re protecting a rebel army inside that government’s own territory. The only options are

1. Leave things as they were and wait for Saddam Hussein to find some way of getting revenge on us.
2. Pull right out and let Saddam Hussein take control of the Kurdish areas, thereby showing up the half-hearted assertiveness of 1991 for what it was.
3. End the whole mess by changing the government of Iraq by military means.

The UN Security Council plumped for option 1. I favour option 2, but I can see that politicians might see it as politically impossible to watch the Kurds get cut to ribbons again as a result of international dithering. Bush went for 3, which would be my second choice.

Read the rest of this post…

Quick point on Terrorism Act

March 15, 2005


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One reason why the new Terrorism Act goes so much further than the old ones is that Islamist terrorists are more keen to kill large numbers of people than the IRA ever were. I don’t dispute that.

But there is another reason. In the Good Old Days, if the police believed that particular individuals in Britain were terrorists, but didn’t have the evidence to prove it, they didn’t just whine to the Prime Minister for more powers. No by Jimminy they didn’t.

No, like any self-respecting police throughout history, they got up off their arses and faked up some evidence. That’s the traditional way.

Modern forensic techniques and legal requirements make that more difficult these days.

So today, instead of having explosive residue planted on him, or being invited to sign a blank piece of paper on which will be written a contemporaneous account of his confession, our known terrorist will get a totally legal Control Order from Charles Clarke.

There’s one thing we know now about at least some of the people fitted up in the Good Old Days by the boys in blue.

They were completely innocent.

Just one little point to bear in mind.

More Northern Ireland

March 13, 2005


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Light is shone on the IRADaily Telegraph

This piece (h/t Tim Worstall) uses the McCartney murder to criticise the Northern Ireland peace process, and the British and Irish governments for supporting it.

I had an argument over at US blog Captain’s Quarters with a commenter making a similar point.

The peace process obviously makes no sense if you believe that the IRA was on the verge of comprehensive military defeat anyway. While British forces had achieved a number of operational victories in the years prior to the first cease-fire, I don’t think that was the case. Indeed, the current situation demonstrates that that was not the case.

The IRA could not be eliminated so long as they retained a measure of support in Catholic areas of Northern Ireland. It might be possible to contain or suppress them under those conditions, but not to finally defeat them. Furthermore while it might be theoretically possible to carry out this containment without increasing resentment of the British forces and sympathy for the IRA, in practice it is unfeasable to do so. The daily routine of army patrols, house searches, and checkpoints (Iraq is not the only country where non-terrorists get shot at checkpoints) is enough to reinforce perception of the British as an occupying force.

The McCartney affair is at once a demonstration that the Provisional IRA retains a degree of legitimacy in its community, and the greatest blow to that legitimacy in its history. The line that the PSNI can take is: “Any time you want us to police your streets instead of these murderers, we’re ready to do the job”. If the murder of Robert McCartney (and the Northern Bank job) are enough to win the PSNI sufficient help to solve them, then this is the beginning of the end for the IRA. If they are not yet enough, the government will have to wait.

Kevin Myers in the Telegraph article says that, in return for the police reforms, Sinn Fein have given precisely nothing. Here I disagree. The fact that the government no longer has to police nationalist areas of Northern Ireland as an occupying army, as it previously needed to in order to protect the mainland and the rest of Northern Ireland, means that it can start to establish its own legitimacy to challenge that of the IRA. The fact that the IRA no longer has an enemy to fight, but is only an organised crime syndicate, simultaneously eats at its legitimacy. Unless the government overplays its hand, there can be only one long-term outcome.

One clarification: when I say that the IRA maintains its grip over its areas by the consent of the population, that could be interpreted as saying that those populations have chosen — and therefore deserve — to have the IRA rule them. That of course is not the case. The IRA does not need 100% local support, or even 50%. It may be as low as 10% or 20%. The rest are simply its victims, and deserve sympathy — especially when they show the courage of McCartney’s sisters. But it is an unfortunate fact that a liberal democracy is not able to function in a population where even a significant minority support armed resistance. There can be no quick victory, but I believe the slow victory is being won.

Update: via Slugger O’Toole, a piece from The Independent, with actual reporting, describing in detail the source of IRA’s legitimacy and the decay of that legitimacy.

Privacy or Freedom?

March 11, 2005


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Four immigrants have been removed from their homes in 2001 and imprisoned in Belmarsh Prison. They have not been charged or convicted of any crime. (They are free to return to their countries of origin, but cannot be forced to do so).

The Law Lords ruled that this was a breach of human rights. In an attempt to reduce the threat posed by their release, the government has tried to get a new law passed that it can use to restrict their freedoms and movement after release. This law is being held up in the House of Lords.

These four are therefore now being released.

Their names are “E”, “H”, “Q”, and “K”.


Oh, we can’t be told their real names. That would violate their privacy.


The government is prepared to overrule basic principles of freedom in this case — both ancient ones (Magna Carta) and modern ones (ECHR). It says it is necessary to take these extraordinary steps to protect us from these men. It has imprisoned them for over three years without trying them. So why can’t it tell us who they are?

Talk about swallowing camels and straining at gnats.

If it is necessary to compromise our liberties in the face of the terrorist threat, and perhaps it is, then surely we should have some kind of scale of which rights we are more willing to lose and which we are more determined to keep.

The idea that someone subject to legal proceedings should have their identity protected is something which I would happily give away for nothing. Indeed, I think the legal process should be open and public.

The right of people anywhere in the world to stay in this country, even if they are believed to be a threat, if they would be in danger in their home country, is worth a bit more. I would quite like to keep that, or at least to require that some justification for the belief that they are a threat be presented. I am open to discussion of this matter, though.

The right of citizens of this country to be either tried for an offence or allowed to go freely about their business is incomparably more valuable. I am nowhere near being convinced that we need to compromise this at all.

So why have we jumped straight to abolishing that essential freedom, when the stated objective could be so easily attained at much less cost.

I am sure the Police and Security Services are sincere in their desire to do their very important jobs as well as possible, and are asking for the power they think they need. But the dynamics of their organisations are such that they will always be asking for the most power they have any chance of getting. I do not blame them for that, but it is the role of our elected government to make the important trade-offs, and not to hide behind “advice” of these agencies as an excuse for not making them.

The Northern Bank Robbery and the Peace Process

March 6, 2005


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Fascinating article on the Northern Bank robbery, from the Observer

When I originally wrote my article “The Structure of Terrorist Movements”, my plan was to follow it up with two sequels; First, a recent history of the IRA, and second, a piece on international terrorism. My overall intent was to challenge Eric Raymond’s “Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto” on what I saw as its one flaw: the lumping together of terrorists and their supporters as one undifferentiated enemy.

What I found when I tried to write my summary of Northern Irelands terrorist war was, first, that people had spent years doing serious research on this, and I didn’t have time even to read what they’d written, never mind improve on it, and second, that on many important issues, the real facts simply aren’t known.

There is at least a good reason why the facts are so unclear: It was necessary during the peace negotiations for both sides to present the settlement to their followers as a victory. Each side recognised the other’s need to do this, and were therefore prepared to disguise the cold facts in places.

So, of necessity, what follows is not the factual summary I originally envisaged. It is much more an opinion piece, describing what I believe has happened in Northern Ireland since 1992. Almost every statement I will make can be challenged.

First claim: the war is over, and has been since 1998, though it was not clear at the time. Violent incidents have occurred since then, notably the Omagh bomb which killed 29 in August of 1998. They will continue, but they are no longer the acts of a coherent political movement. They should tail off over the years. The individuals involved may have links to mainstream republicanism, but that mainstream, including Sinn Fein, no longer depends on them. Sinn Fein has almost completed the movement to being a purely political, rather than terrorist, organisation.

full article…


March 3, 2005


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Via Hit and Run, an overwhelming case for openness in counter-terrorism.

The bullet points: If law enforcement had kept fewer secrets from the public, the Sept. 11 attacks would not have happened. If they had kept more secrets, the attacks would have been more successful.

Our key advantage over the terrorists in our midst is that there are more of us than there are of them — by a factor of tens of thousands. Secrecy is a necessity for them: it evens the odds by taking nearly all of us out of the fight. If they know our secrets, there’s actually not enough of them to exploit it. If we know any of their secrets, then someone, somewhere, can use that to learn more or to act against the terrorists.

In Britain, the government believes there are people against whom no legal case can be made, but who pose a huge danger if released into society. Its solution is to put them under house arrest, without legal proceedings, and a law is now before parliament to permit this. My solution would be to publish their names, addresses and photographs in the Mail on Sunday, and suggest that people might want to keep an eye on them.

There is, of course, a danger that “mob rule” might get out of hand, but I trust the people more than I trust the government. Apart from anything else, private individuals are more accountable than officials, as they do not have the Official Secrets Act to protect them from the consequences of their actions.

Terrorism and Morale

November 22, 2004


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Chrenkoff continues his series of good news from Iraq.

It’s all worth reading, but the part that caught my eye was this:

We generally tend to hear about the bombs that go off or acts of sabotage that succeed in destroying infrastructure, but almost never about successful prevention; for example, soldiers from the 208th Iraqi National Guard battalion who defused explosive devices attached to oil facilities in the Dibbis area; or a company of the 206th Iraqi National Guard battalion, which prevented an attack near Jalula. Some of other recent security successes of the Coalition and the Iraqi forces include: Iraqi Security Forces and elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit rounding up 41 insurgents in various operations south of Baghdad; smashing of a bomb making cell in Mosul; and the rescue of a kidnapped Iraqi by the Iraqi SWAT team, backed by elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, in a raid in northern Babil.

The reason why this is so important I explained a year ago in my article on the Structure of Terrorist Movements. In brief, while a terrorist group can endure decades of political failure and defeat, it needs to strike effective blows to maintain itself as a movement:

Lack of operational success, however, has a much more immediate impact. Leaders and Soldiers who are incapable of striking effectively at the oppressors are not deserving of loyalty and sacrifice, and the humiliation of aquiescence is less unthinkable when set against the humiliation of losing in the field. Failed operations are acceptable when other operations bring successes to be celebrated, and one spectacular coup can balance a large number of embarrassing damp squibs, but a long series of symbolic defeats will sap at every level of the movement.

The terrorist army in Iraq is still achieving enough operational successes to avoid total defeat, but not, I think, by a large margin, and Chrenkoff’s list shows that they are only doing so by means of a frenetic rate of more or less reckless attacks, most of which fail.

The question of the effects on the terrorist movement of attempting to maintain this rate of activity deserves some attention. I cannot think of a precedent, even among the most similar movements such as Hamas or the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

Legitimacy, America and the World

November 19, 2004


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Superb lecture by Robert Kagan (via Dr. Frank). It just oozes quotes:

Samuel Huntington warned about the “arrogance” and “unilateralism” of U.S. policies when Bush was still governor of Texas.

Europeans do not fear that the United States will seek to control them; they fear that they have lost control over the United States, and, by extension, over the direction of world affairs.

The EU, most of its members believe, enjoys a natural legitimacy, simply by virtue of being a collective body.

[The UN Security Council] has never been accepted as the sole source of international legitimacy, not even by Europeans. Europe’s recent demand that the United States seek UN authorization for the Iraq war… was a novel — even revolutionary — proposition.

The core thesis, though, does not really stand up. Under the title “The Importance of Being Legitimate”, Kagan says:

Europe matters because it and the United States form the heart of the liberal, democratic world. The United States’ liberal, democratic sensibilities make it difficult, if not impossible, for Americans to ignore the fears, concerns, interests, and demands of their fellows in liberal democracies

That ignores the role of dissent within the USA and within Europe. The fact of the invasion of Iraq was that it was always controversial, opposed from the start by a substantial minority in America and a majority in Europe. The (spurious) issue of “legitimacy” was used tactically by opponents in Europe. They did not decide publicly that the legitimacy of military action would from now on always depend on specific Security Council authorisation; a clique in the media just chose to pretend it had always been that way, and a majority of the population believed them.Similarly, the anti-war faction in the US did not oppose the war because it was “unilateral”; they cried out for “multilateralism” because they were against the war. If the invasion had been overwhelmingly popular with the US population, on its merits, nobody would have cared whether Jaques Chirac agreed or not, just as, when action in Yugoslavia was generally desired by Europeans, no-one saw any need to bother the Security Council for permission.

Is Europe becoming Islamicised?

There is an idea growing in right-wing circles in the US that part of the reason for the divergence between the US and Europe over the war on Iraq and the issue of Islamicist terrorism is that Europe is subject to a gradual takeover by Islam through the mechanism of immigration from Islamic countries. The fact is that commentators who see this are being misled into overestimating the social effect in Europe of Muslim immigrants, and underestimating the long-standing differences between American and European culture. The first illusion is that there are many political battles in various European countries which appear to be between “native” Europeans and Muslim immigrants. In fact, these political issues are argued between left and right within the native political community, with the immigrants themselves as interested but largely powerless bystanders. It could be argued that it makes no difference whether the Islamic side is being advanced by its own effort or by that of native allies, if the effect is the same, but the fact is that the allies (usually on the left) are only able to hold these pro-minority positions and achieve power while the Muslims are not seen as a threat by the majority population. In fact, in Britain at least, the Muslim population as a whole is not seen as any threat at all. Though a significant percentage of the population, they come overwhelmingly from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, and their culture does not include any recent history of jihad, such as can be found in North Africa and the Middle East. Those Muslims in Britain who have become prominent in the media advocating jihad, such as the infamous Abu Hamza, are of a totally different cultural background and are completely unrepresentative of the Muslim population in the country. That is not to say that there can not be any problems with Muslim immigration in Britain, but it is not of an unprecedented kind. Tensions can rise in areas with very large immigrant populations, but these are triggered the usual political issues – conflict over allocation of government resources, and so on. The Muslim immigrants to Britain are integrating slowly into British culture. Note that the Indians and British have been linked for a hundred and fifty years, and there is a lot of common ground beyond tea and curry. Europeans feel much less threatened by terrorism than Americans, having in many cases lived with it for generations. While the World Trade Centre attacks caused a larger scale of death than Europe has experienced from terrorists (but not from WWII), the sequels have been much nearer the scope that Europeans have come to accept. Also, extremist Islam is not a new or unfamiliar enemy to Europeans. France has been fighting for half a century; Britain fought a 50,000 strong jihadi army under Muhammad Ahmand at Omdurman. The battle was of course extremely one-sided, but the only thing making the handling of the enemy more difficult today is the necessity to limit civilian casualties. Carpet-bombing Fallujah from the air would be the equivalent in force ratios to Kitchener’s Maxim guns in the Sudan. The recent murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands by Islamist extremists illustrates one further point. In the days following, more than 20 Mosques or Muslim schools have been burnt down. For a European country, the prospect of a civil war against radicalised Muslim immigrants is something to be feared, but there is no need to fear losing one. At the end of the day, like any other immigrant group, Muslims in Europe live on the sufferance of the majority population. The Muslims would trigger genocidal violence against themselves long before they could become a serious threat to the host populations. This is little comfort from a humanitarian viewpoint, but it exposes talk of “Eurabia” as so much hyperbole. Another factor which has tended to mislead American observers is, I suspect, that during the period of the cold war they tended to underestimate the differences between Europeans and Americans. Confronted for the first time with these differences in the context of the war on Iraq, they are falsely attributing long-standing attitues to Islamic influence. One longstanding European position is secularism. While the trappings of Christianity survived past the middle of the twentieth century, the Northern European countries have not been Christian for a hundred years, or in the case at least of France, for two hundred. Another of these attitudes is anti-Americanism. I believe that this is pervasive across the European elite, at least at an emotional level. This emotional attitude can be suppressed for political reasons, and largely was during the cold war, but if one considers the substantial minority of Europeans who saw the USA as more of a threat than the USSR through the 60s and 70s, it is hardly surprising if a larger group is more afraid of the vastly more powerful USA of the 21st century than of the likes of Saddam Hussein. Nor is this fear of the USA as irrational as some Americans might think. Western Europe has not been in conflict with the USA since the end of the Second World War, but that was a result of Europe’s acceptance of American dominance in the face of the threat of the USSR. With that threat removed, many Europeans wish actively to prevent a single-superpower world. The rhetoric is about providing a balance or counterweight to American power, as in some quotes from an article in The Observer:

“The implications of a unipolar world are bad for everyone concerned. If America stands aloof from global problems, it is accused of isolationism. If it intervenes, it is accused of imperialism. Either way, it becomes a target of resentment and violence. For the rest it means frustration and impotence.

Complaining won’t do any good. The rest of us have to raise our game and provide America with partners they can’t ignore. For Britain, that means building a more united Europe with a more coherent foreign policy and a strong single currency. It’s either that or another American century.”

– David Clark, former special adviser to Robin Cook at the Foreign Office.

“If one country must be so dominant militarily, then it is probably better that it is the United States rather than another country. However, history suggests that such dominance leads to abuse and it is encumbent on the rest of the world to find ways of restraining the United States through international law, countervailing power and dialogue.

The European Union, which has achieved parity with the United States in trade and investment, has a major responsibility in this endeavour. Plans for a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) therefore need to be accelerated and EU governments need to commit adequate resource to it”.

-Victor Bulmer-Thomas, Director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs

These people are not commentators or pundits, they are policy makers. Implicit in phrases like “find ways of restraining the United States through … countervailing power” is the option of at least credibly threatening the USA with military conflict. This is one of the major driving forces behind enlarging and strengthening the EU. If European politicians are already thinking in terms of fighting against the USA, then they are not going to be in any hurry to oppose the wave of Islamism which is currently the USA’s most active enemy. Just as France supported North American rebels against the British Empire in the 1770s, and Britan and France supported the Confederacy against the Union in the 1860s, these Europeans are likely to be sympathetic to any minor power that is likely to weaken the USA. I am attempting to characterise a political view that is widespread across Europe. In Britain, it is known as the “Post-War Consensus” — essentially the mainstream political othordoxy prior to the Thatcher revolution. It is a significant minority view in Britain, but is
still the dominant ideology across much of the Continent, notably France, and, equally importantly, in the institutions of the European Union. The key elements of this ideology are a highly regulated economy, protected industry, the welfare state, and international institutions such as the EU and the UN. Since 1980, some compromises have been made on the economic front, towards liberalisation of trade and deregulation of markets, but they have been strongly resisted and there is still a huge constituency for reversing them. It can be described as a left-wing but it was shared by the mainstream right until the 1980s, and is in a sense conservative — seeking to return to the status quo of the 1960s and 70s. If you ask a member of this group whether there is a “clash of civilisations”, he will probably tell you that there is. But the threat to civilisation he sees is not militant Islam, it is Hollywood, and deregulated markets, and globalised world trade. It is not the crescent moon that is overwhelming Old Europe — they’re coping with that fairly well — it is the Stars and Stripes that is the banner of the enemy. That is the real problem, as far as many Europeans are concerned, with the War on Terror. There are ways of dealing with a terrorist threat at home, other than attacking its sources abroad. These ways may be more effective or less effective, but that is not the issue. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, whatever their effect on Islamist terror, demonstrate that there is one military superpower in the world, that can act alone even beyond its traditional “sphere of influence”. This is more of a shock to them than a few airliners flying into skyscrapers. Even to moderate British, who would not align themselves with this Post-War Consensus view, there is still a tradeoff: damaging terrorism is good, but it has to be set against making the USA more powerful and confident. It must be amusing to the anti-American thinkers in France or Germany when American critics paint them as weak or effete allies, when in fact the reason they are not joining the fight alongside the USA is that their sympathies lie with the other side.

Updates: Thanks for your comments. Please look also at the follow-up post looking at Europe’s chances of actually attaining superpower status.

Professor Reynolds also linked to Transatlantic Intelligencer, by John Rosenthal. I’m concentrating on Britain, and he’s looking at US-European relations with the emphasis on France and Germany. As I would expect, he finds no evidence of “Islamisation” but a very high degree of ingrained anti-Americanism.

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