The UK faces a threat to public safety and public order from suicidal, murderous, home-grown jihadists whose actions are to some extent coordinated by a range of Muslim lunatics labelled ISIL. Other EU states face a similar threat – as does the United States. As the perpetrators are home-grown the solutions will vary from country to country. Selfishly perhaps, I am predominantly concerned with the UK.
Some thoughts beyond the obvious revulsion, sympathy for the French etc.
This may or may not be a terrorist attack, and it may or may not be one man going off on one (a la Dunblane). Both happen, both are ghastly and at the point of delivery both are similar, although clearly one-man attacks are more contained by definition.
One man attacks are very much harder to predict – if the man (and I believe it always is) gives no indication of going off the rails to his friends (if he has any) then there is nothing that can be done.
Islamic Fundamentalists are exploiting this, by inciting individuals to kill westerners (and themselves). As a disruptive form of attack it is brilliant, as the transmission is one way and no logistics or coordination are required so much of the formidable western intelligence capability is bypassed. A climate of fear is generated (possibly aided by media and social media), repressive measures made more likely, and isolation of and disaffection within the Muslim community increased.
It is relatively simple to convert everyday tools like trucks, cars and aeroplanes into weapons capable of killing civilians in bulk. Obtaining effective firearms is slightly more complicated (particularly in UK) but not essential. There is little that can be done to counter it at national level – a government may ban pistols, but it can never ban HGVs
Connecting with disaffected, isolated individuals working alone is hard, if not impossible, for governments and government agencies. It might be possible via friends / family reporting concerns that so and so is depressed and increasingly isolated, but that is likely to swamp agencies with false leads rather than provide useful raw data. Moreover, as at least some reading this post will know, feeling depressed, angry, vengeful and suicidal is not a rare condition.
So societies are broadly impotent against the lone suicidal gunman/bomber/trucker.
Which means that not every bombing or shooting is a terrorist attack. We should be very careful about ascribing such events to terrorism until it is clear that they are. Terrorist attacks generate fear, outrage and a desire for government vengeance. Suicidal long gunmen/bomber generate fear, dismay and a desire for government prevention. This is a less corrosive response, although as governments are largely impotent it will in turn lead to frustration at firstly government and then, upon reflection, the human condition.
With regard to dealing with Islamic fundamentalist (or, for that matter, any other misplaced ideology) terrorism, it comes in two flavours.
Firstly, the incitement of lone actors. There are (I guess) technologies available to security services that enable them to obtain indications of both the location of sites and who might be watching. But if there are it’s a huge amount of data to sift, classify and correlate with other actions. I’m sure the sites are also chased and cyber attacked to reduce their capacity to broadcast, again a huge effort. The reality is that there will always be leakage.
Secondly, dealing with the more structured Islamic fundamentalist threat. This is probably slightly easier, although much harder than dealing with Republican terrorism in Ulster because:
(1) the Republican goal of a united Ireland had a resonance and historic reality and there was a credible political aim behind republican terrorism. This constrained their actions. By contrast, the Islamic threat is nihilistic, they just want to kill westerners; there is no political constraint and no restraint on their actions.
(2) Republican terrorism had a command structure, which was vulnerable to penetration. This took a decade to achieve, but it was and at that point being an IRA commander became very dangerous. Islam is more distributed, there is no central administration of it akin to the Christian church and so there is a much flatter command structure. If security forces are able to penetrate one sect they still won’t know what others are doing. Penetrating all sects will take more than a decade, not least as the nature of Islam is that new Imams pop up as old ones retire.
(3) Republican terrorist activity was confined to just 6 counties of UK – with the odd foray elsewhere. This made it easier to swamp with security forces (10,000 regular army, 10,000 UDR and 10,000 RUC for a population of 1.5 million i.e. one security force person per 50 head of population). Islamic target is the West, and there is lots of it. Interdicting on weapons, recruitment etc. is therefore impossible. Schengen does not help, but in UK it is unlikely that we would ever be able to afford or condone the deployment of 1.2 million members of the security forces. That is around 3% of the working population, or 15 times the size of the current Army. Similar maths applies to the rest of Europe and the US.
(4) While the Catholic church certainly did not distinguish itself in opposing republicanism, it was part of the mainstream culture of (part of) Ulster and at close to parity with the Protestant church. This meant that while almost all republican terrorists were Catholic, and at least some Catholics sympathised it was not the case that being a Catholic was immediately alienating (indeed 20% of regular army was catholic).
Yes, there were huge discrimination problems. But they were far simpler than the problem with Islam, which is that only around 5% of UK population are Muslim. They are an easily identified minority to discriminate against, which means that they are less likely to foster close relations with law enforcement. The UK is probably well ahead of France in this respect, but we need to accept that it is a more challenging environment than Ulster.
(5) International. Republicans enjoyed a porous border with Eire and some financial support from US. However, we got increasingly adept at interdicting their arms supplies, not least due to the geography (weapons had to get to Ulster). Parts of the Saudi state (and others) support parts of the Islamic threat. We can whinge (as we did to the US) but if we want/need their oil we can’t go toppling their regimes (which ends badly). With US, until the Reagan years we had a similar problem, and by the time Reagan got to power we had penetrated the IRA so had evidence.
So what (as we used to ask cadets at Sandhurst)?
- I hate to say it, but we need to get used to this.
- Beating terrorism is simple – don’t be afraid. (I didn’t say it was easy). After 7/7 the City went back to work. On the next scare, rather than evacuating we sat in stairwells on laptops and kept working. The message to Islamic terrorism has to be simple – “You are not winning and you will never win.” This can then morph into “You have no political aim, let alone an achievable one. You are just killing” and that message must be forced upon every Muslim and Imam. Yes, 99% (or whatever) of Muslims do not countenance what is being done. Great, now do something about it. Its murder, not jihad and that is hypocritical.
- Resource security forces sensibly, but manage expectations. They are virtually powerless against the individual, and there will be leakage. Encourage the media to avoid blame culture when it goes wrong.
- Resist the allure of inclusive multiculturalism and don’t sympathise with (e.g.) calls for integration of Sharia Law. This may require Mrs May to instruct her successor at Home Office to execute a smart about turn. That’s what minions are for…
- Jump hard on discrimination against Muslims, or anyone else. No need for new laws, just use them.
- If and when security forces need new powers, grant them. But make sure that they are limited to security force personnel working in pursuit of terrorism – don’t let local government abuse them as has happened before.
- This is a rerun of the battles of the enlightenment. Get a serious grip on education, particularly English and science.
Or, more succinctly, keep calm and carry on.
Today Parliament is debating whether RAF jets should be used to drop bombs on IS in Syria as well as Iraq. Cameron wants to do it, as it seems do many MPs, Corbyn does not. Having been a soldier I’m no terrorist sympathiser, but I do think that Corbyn’s conclusion is correct. Let’s review the facts.
Firstly there are plenty of jets from other nations already dropping bombs on IS in Syria. The availability or otherwise of a few RAF Tornados will not make a significant difference as there are already plenty. There is a technical point, which is that only the RAF has Brimstone (a very clever weapon) but this has not been widely raised and although Brimstone may be best other systems are adequate. So whether or not the RAF joins the bombing has no significant military relevance.
Some have stated that it’s time we stand shoulder to shoulder with are allies. We already are, as we have done since the end of the cold war. Bosnia, Gulf War Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq again. Where were the Germans? Or most of the rest of the EU? It’s a fatuous point.
Secondly, as any soldier or historian can tell you, bombing alone cannot deliver a military outcome. The one exception was the nuclear bombing of Japan; otherwise no strategic military result has been delivered by air action alone. Yes, the Vietnamese were brought back to the peace talks by B52s, but at the time there were several hundred thousand GIs on the ground (who lost). Yes Serbia was cowed by a bombing campaign, but it was ground troops who liberated Kosovo. And if you are reliant upon ground action there is no point in starting to prepare their battlefield though air strikes until you have a workable plan. As far as I am aware there is not yet any such plan for Syria (let alone a workable one).
Thirdly, dropping bombs always causes some collateral damage, which is jargon for demolished buildings and dead innocents. While it is not the case that the infidel west is waging war on Moslems, pictures of bomb damaged buildings adorned in scattered Arab body parts is an image that is easily exploited to support this argument. This risk is of course exacerbated by the bombs that miss their target, and many bombs do miss. Even when they hit, there is often some question as to whether the target was legitimate, or the intended one. There are better, more accurate ways to destroy individual terrorists, but these can only be performed on the ground.
Anyway, all the evidence points to the perpetrators of the Paris killings coming from within Europe. They may or may not have received their motivation, training and equipment from IS in Syria (as opposed to IS in Iraq – which we are bombing already) but they were home grown, as were the 7/7 bombers and that maniac who killed Fusilier Lee Rigby. As Rod Liddle pointed out in last week’s Spectator, the logical retaliation for the French Air Force wold be to bomb Brussels (which, incidentally, would probably get UKIP support).
Finally bombs are expensive, and so are the planes required to drop them. Flying two Tornadoes from Cyprus to Syria and back is not cheap; I estimate the fuel alone as costing £50,000. One Brimstone bomb is another £100,000 so a cost of £250,000 per sortie in fuel and bombs seems sensible. Add in some maintenance, supporting aircraft and 100 or so airmen and £1,000,000 per day seems about right. Let’s just remember our country is bankrupt.
If you want to prevent terrorism in the UK (which is part of Dave’s job) then all you need to is secure the borders and keep the militant parts of the domestic population in check. That has far more to do with getting a grip on immigration control, the UK Border Agency and supporting police and security services than dumping HE in middle east. We are in a more secure position than mainland Europe as we have the additional vetting opportunities arising from being an island. We also have very strict gun controls and more cameras than France and the rest.
The terrorist threat IS poses to UK is not existential. It is far more akin to Bader Meinhoff and the Red Brigades than the IRA. The clue to defeating terrorism is not to be terrified, and I am not. The jihadist morons are far less likely to kill me than bad drivers and this point needs to be emphasised. Yes, at some stage there will probably be another outrage in UK. If it was as effective as 9/11 and killed 3,000 then my chance of being one of them is under one thousandth of a percent. I’m more likely to win the lottery – and so are you.
If you want to bring peace to the Middle East then good luck with that; my guess is that the choice is either supporting a nasty, secular dictator type like Assad or breaking up the artificially created countries a la Yugoslavia is the way to go. If Saint Tony can’t achieve it then Call Me Dave has no chance. But, lunatic terrorists aside, I don’t much care if there is a caliphate or not. The British Empire had few problems with the Ottoman Empire as we’re separated from them by the rest of Europe. I see no reason to fear one being created, particularly now that there is a world glut of oil.
If Cameron really wants to solve the problem he needs to put reliable (spelt British and other NATO) troops on the ground and keep them there until the job is done. Unfortunately he’s sacked most of them and already demonstrated that he does not have the ability to persuade the British population that it is worth the effort.
While I disagree with Corbyn’s creed, on this matter his analysis is broadly correct.
Terrorism is defeated by intelligence, which seems to be in short supply in Westminster.
Under the banner headline “War on Freedom” today’s paper recounts yesterday’s murderous assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Shock, outrage and fear fill the pages. An attack on a satirical magazine’s offices is equated with an attack on the freedom of speech, and thus an attack on democracy. Without supporting the terrorists, nor diminishing the sadness, I do think that we need to maintain a sense of proportion.