04 September 2007

Terrorism and its increasing lethality over time

One of the lovely things one can do at the MIPT Terror Knowledge Base is slice through the accumulated terrorist activities that have been going on since the late 1960's and get a feel for some of the overall trends in activity. This is the 'by the numbers' look at things, and is very grossly unfair to some groups that cross multiple categories in their espousing of why, in particular, they should be killing folks. Be that as it may, I will start at the beginning of 1979 as that is really the year the US had to pay attention to things. We had, indeed, been attacked numerous times before that in various parts of the globe, but this is a pointed look at things. Thus start at the beginning:

Terrorist Incidents > by GroupClassificationRange: 01/01/1979 - 01/01/1989
Group ClassificationIncidentsInjuriesFatalities
Right-Wing Conservative255919
Right-Wing Reactionary100

This conforms with the general view of terrorism of that time, that there were two main forms of it: Left/Communist - 871 incidents and Nationalist/Separatist - 878 incidents. That said the Left/Communist types were a pretty benign variety, with only 0.32 deaths/incident. These include things like attacks on property, infrastructure, hijackings and such.

The Nationalist/Separatist folks were out to make a point at 878 incidents and with 1.73 deaths/incident, they had a lethality scale nearly 6 times that of the Left/Communist sort.

Topping them both, however, is the Religious terrorists, with 190 incidents and a whopping 2.9 deaths/incident. It appears that while there were not that many religious based attacks, they were quite deadly.

This pretty well sums up where terrorism was moving from the Iranian Revolution - with the Left/Reds being relatively light on casualties (think of the various Red Brigades and Red Armies here), the Nationalist/Separatists that inflicted themselves upon governments and their supporters and random passers-by (think IRA, ETA, PLO here) and the virulent religious-based organizations (think Hezbollah and Hamas here).

Moving up one decade and here is what the 1989-1999 era looks like:

Terrorist Incidents > by GroupClassificationRange: 01/01/1989 - 01/01/1999
Group ClassificationIncidentsInjuriesFatalities
Right-Wing Conservative402
Right-Wing Reactionary220

Left/Communist - 815 incidents and 0.49 deaths/incident
Nationalist/Separatist - 597 incidents and 1.86 deaths/incident
Religious - 294 incidents and 5.98 deaths/incident.

Each of the major categories has become more lethal, with the religious incidents more than doubling in lethality while the Left/Communist types almost doubled in lethality. Trailing are the old, homegrown Nationalist/Separatist that only became 10% more lethal over the previous decade.

This is a major change in terrorism from the previous decade. Nationalist/Separatist organizations staged 32% fewer incidents (878 vs 597) but saw the death rate climb by 10% per incident. This is due almost entirely to the sidelining of most of the IRA-based organizations, although some of the more fanatical sorts are still around of course. What remains *are* the more deadly organizations as they want to show *results* to their members. That is not a good trend, at all.

The Left/Communist groups also saw a decline in incidents by 6% (871 v 815) but the deadliness of them increased harshly, going up to 163% of the previous decade. Apparently with the death of the USSR came a change in attitude by such groups that to remain viable they, too, had to show *results*. Additionally some of those organizations (like FARC and Shining Path) had lost primary funding and supply sources (USSR, Cuba) and have resorted to more home grown criminal circumstance with FARC taking over a portion of the narcotics trade in Columbia. So not only results but a shifting from showmanship to a need get revenue to sustain their movements.

It is the religious side that is most worrying, however. The number of incidents climbed to 153% (190 v 294) of the previous decade and the lethality of each incident skyrocketed to 206% of the previous rate. That is a horrific trend which points to the venom with which such attacks are carried out and the shift to 'suicide bombers' that would, in itself, increase the lethality of such attacks. That sole shift would nearly account for the numbers, save the fact that that was not an across-the-board change by all groups. What was seen, however, was more use of rockets, RPGs and VBIEDs. While Israel would suffer the most from suicide bombers, it would be those organizations carrying out VBIED attacks (Hezbollah and al Qaeda) that would shift the balance overall.

Finally there is 1999 to the present:

Terrorist Incidents > by GroupClassificationRange: 01/01/1999 - 09/04/2007
Group ClassificationIncidentsInjuriesFatalities
Right-Wing Conservative8412247
Right-Wing Reactionary11814

Left/Communist - 2215 incidents with 0.92 deaths/incident.
Nationalist/Separatist - 3149 incidents with 2.21 deaths/incident.
Religious - 2244 incidents with 5.11 deaths/incident.

The majority of new attacks are in Iraq, which has served as a major point for Islamic terror organizations to organize. Apparently, though, even with the large number of civilians that are being attacked, the actual dead per incident has *dropped* (5.98 v 5.11) over the previous decade. Remove the 9/11 attacks (counted as 3 attacks by MIPT for NYC, Pentagon and Shanksville) and the death toll (2982) that leaves you with 2241 incidents and 8477 killed for a ratio of 3.78 deaths/incident. Outside of 9/11 the attacks going on by Islamic groups in Iraq and elsewhere are far LESS deadly, by 48%, because they are no longer attacking unprepared targets. Also the violence in places like Somalia is dispersed, save for a few concentrated attacks, so that overall casualty rates drop as violence is pushed from urban to rural environments.

With that, however, is less good news as the Left/Communist organizations have ramped up the number of their incidents (2215 v 815) by 272% of the previous decade (again with many staging in Iraq and Afghanistan, but upticks in S. America with FARC being a main contributor). Worse still is that their lethality per incident has increased (0.92 v 0.49) to 188% of the previous decade. Although still less lethal than their Islamic counterparts, this is nearly a 300% increase of the 1979-89 era in fatalities. This rate has not declined but increased over time and consistently so.

On the Nationalist/Separatist side have steeply ramped up incidents (3149 v 597) over the previous decade (in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, East Timor/Sri Lanka, India/Kashmir, Somalia, PKK and still the traditional ETA) by 527% of the previous decade. Here there is also some accounting for Nationalist backlash against outside organizations, increases in separatists movements and by such things as the AUC going after FARC and similar Turkish groups going after the PKK and Islamic organizations. Additionally the casualty rate has increased to 119% of what it was the previous decade (2.21 d/e v 1.86 d/e). This, perhaps, is worse because so little reporting is done on it and the traditional media pays little or no attention to purely Nationalist or Separatist terrorism. In the US, if it is not attacking Americans, it is getting little coverage.

And the decade span is not over yet.

These organizations waging illegitimate and predatory warfare upon Nations and peoples has slowly grown in violence, decade on decade, and are *only* countered by force of arms that is trained to deal with them. By operating outside of the Nation State framework, these organizations are outlaw to it, by the law of nations. To effectively counter these movements and organizations, they cannot be treated as mere criminals violating a particular law here or there: they are a class of organization that threaten all peoples and Nations by seeking to undermine them.

The most virulent and deadly predators are the Islamic sort, but the trends for the other two major types is upwards, decade on decade, with the Nationalist/Separatist organizations now hitting in the same region of deadliness as the Islamic organizations. While their attacks are not major showmanship pieces, often taking place in far off places, the attacks are pointed and lethal. Separatists, in particular, don't tend to throw their lives away in suicide attacks, and thus they keep organizational skills and tactical abilities over time and increase them. With the spread of Islamic disorder has come the spread of organizations that seek to further disturb the order of Nations by their undermining of them through predatory war.

If we concentrate on the purely Islamic sort of predators, we miss the other predators that are also growing in virulence and lethality over time. The US, in particular, cannot afford to treat the Islamic predators *alone* and attempt to differentiate them from those that also seek to destroy the order of all nations. Hitting that sort hard with military capability is something that the US , even with conscription, can do on a global scale. This disease has spread too far, too widely and is engendered by a world awash in 'small arms' that includes inexpensive mortars, RPGs and even such fun things as SAM systems.

It is a pure luxury to think that we can treat only the Islamic predators and leave the rest untouched. That is why we cannot and should not attempt to use a 'semantic battlefield' and 'redefine them' by their own terms: we lose track of what these organizations are and what they do. If the Islamic communities cannot confront such things and properly address them, then those Nations that abide by the law of nations must simply name those predators as outlaw and deal with them summarily as threatening civilization. That is why the Piracy laws deal simply with such individuals when brought in: when found to be a Pirate you get life imprisonment.

That is a civil crime when captured and brought in, but on the battlefield Abraham Lincoln had the full right not only as Commander in Chief but as Head of State to decide that the law of nations needed to be enforced with summary finding on the battlefield. Stopping those who attack in a predatory fashion without sanction from another Nation, requires the harshest penalties civilization can render as such individuals are a true hostis humani generis... an enemy of mankind. Name them for what they do, and the punishment appears to fit the activity. The easy days of warfare between Nations has sunk back to trying to stop predators before they overwhelm the law of nations. And there is a damn sight more of them out there than JUST the Islamic sort.

And they are ALL your enemy.

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