Thomas P.M. Barnett‘s overarching thesis is that the areas in the world that produce threats to American national security are the areas of the world least connected to the global economy.
How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida, examined 268 terrorist groups that ended between 1968 and 2006. The authors — including Seth Jones, former advisor to U.S. Special Operations Command — found that the vast majority of terrorist groups were eliminated because they either were infiltrated by local police and intelligence agencies (40 percent) or reached a peaceful political agreement with the government (43 percent).
Meanwhile, military force — think drones and Navy SEAL raids — eliminated terrorist groups only 7 percent of the time. The reason? “[O]nce the situation in an area becomes untenable for terrorists, they will simply transfer their activity to another area, and the problem remains unresolved.” This is certainly the case in Pakistan, where the CIA drone campaign has killed suspected senior al Qaeda officials, midtier operatives, and more than 1,000 low-level militants. The Associated Press reported on Sept. 3 that, according to two senior U.S. officials, drone strikes have made would-be militants “skittish, prompting some to leave Pakistan for other battlefields in Syria, Yemen, Iraq or their home countries.” Reportedly, some 250 militants have fled in just the past month to fight in Syria, depressing the price of secondhand weapons in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
They flee to the corners of the world that remain largely unaffected by globalization. Killing them is all fine and good in my opinion but ultimately we will not kill our way to safety. In Iraq we co-opted the Sunni insurgents and gave all sides a place at the table. The question is how do we achieve something similar in countries where we don’t have boots on the ground and large sway with the government? We have to connect the rest of the world to the economy and raise people out of poverty and ignorance to eradicate terrorism. Ambassador Stevens was a true friend of the Libyan people and ultimately that approach is the long term solution to national security.
The Arab Spring may not produce secular democracies immediately and we must be careful not to confuse populism with democracy. Yet we must support the forces of democracy in these countries secular or otherwise. The last thing America needs is to retreat to Operation Ajax like thinking. Kill active members of terrorist groups plotting against America and our allies and provide economic and diplomatic support to democratic movements throughout the world. This is the way forward.