Today we see headlines about the foiling of a terrorist plot to blow up planes flying from the UK to the US. This resonates with me as I’m supposed to make that trip tomorrow. I will probably delay my flight – both to minimize risk and to avoid the hassle of extra security.One of the key elements of the heightened security is the banning of carry on luggage – down to elements like spectacle cases. It’s obvious that there are many ways for a suicide-bent terrorist to create something poisonous or damaging from apparently innocuous carry-on items, so these restrictions are not surprising. But they do make travel very unpleasant for all of us.I think there’s a fundamental point being missed in this “war on terrorism”. So far as I know, no country or power has every definitively won a war against a guerilla force. These forces are characterized by:
- Idealogical absolutism
- Deep anger
Points 1 and 2 mean that damage you do that doesn’t completely destroy them makes them stronger and more extreme. Point 3 means you can’t completely destroy them.
There is therefore only one way to deal with this kind of threat – remove their need to fight. In the end, wars mostly end because the cost is perceived to be too great to continue relative to the potential benefits. Vietnam was clearly like this.
The only solution, and it will take time, is to shift funds from weapons to aid. Gradually build up a culture of trust and openness and demonstrate the benefits of cooperation rather than collision. I propose a policy for the British and American governments: over a three year period transfer the budgets for defence activities outside the UK and US respectively to aid. Imagine how much good could be done by providing medical aid and education to the countries that need it.