The objective menace: that which stems from world chaosUntil yesterday the enemy was known, stable and familiar. Today the enemy is evasive, strange and incomprehensible – but just as dangerous, if not more so. During the Cold War, all threats at a strategic level were constant, stable, slow, identifiable, indeed almost familiar (the Warsaw Pact). Even the terrorist threat was stable and explicable. Abu Nidal’s Fatah Revolutionary Council, for instance: its hideouts and protectors were known to all, as were the weapons and explosives it used. It was child’s play to “decipher” whichever calling card it happened to choose for its actions. Now, on the contrary, terror offers but a fleeting glimpse of a brutal, irrational face, as with the Aum sect or the GIA in Algeria.

Today the real menace derives from hybrid groups that are opportunistic and capable of transformation at lightning speed. The real conflicts (in the Balkans, Africa and so on) are by essence civilian conflicts, more often than not ethnic or tribal in nature. Like veritable melting pots of crime, they blend religious fanaticism, famine, massacres, piracy at sea or airline highjacking with the trafficking of human beings, drugs, arms, toxic substances or gems (“blood diamonds”).

Thus for the foreseeable future warfare, the supreme form of conflict, will possess a criminal or terrorist dimension, or a combination of both. Civilians will be increasingly affected (major cities, corporations, the population at large), as was dramatically witnessed by 9/11 and the Bacillus anthracis or anthrax attacks in New York in the autumn of 2001. Whether terrorist- or criminally inspired, these wars will originate in lawless zones around the planet:

  • Failed States which have plunged into temporary or permanent anarchy (Afghanistan, Albania, Liberia, Sierra Leone…);
  •  Vast urban sprawls in the developing world which are in the grip of total anarchy (Karachi, Lagos, Rio de Janeiro…), covering thousands of square kilometers and with entire districts and suburbs effectively under the control of organized criminal groups, terrorists, traffickers, etc.
Mega urban sprawls and terrorist or “criminal strongholds”

  •  Karachi, referred to in the press as a city, in the same way as Paris or Rome are cities, is in reality a shanty town of gigantic proportions, perhaps as big – and certainly with the same size of population – as the whole of Belgium. In Karachi, fanatical Islamists who openly support Bin Laden have organized demonstrations with more than three hundred thousand protestors.
  • Rio de Janeiro: its 600 to 800 favelas (hillside shanty towns) take up 1/3 of the metropolitan area with a population of one million, almost all squatters. Local NGOs describe the favelas as criminal strongholds in which one youth in four aged 10-19 belongs to a criminal gang. Gunshot wounds are the highest cause of mortality for the age group 10-19. According to police figures, 3-4 tons of cocaine are shifted through the favelas each month; 80% of these narcotics are destined for Europe or North America.

From impregnable bases such as these1, dangerous groups can strike with ease at centers in the developed world and their symbolic targets.

  • New hybrid forms of terrorism develop in world chaos

Around 1968, the IRA returned to the armed struggle against the British; Palestinian extremists began hijacking aircraft; the Red Brigades and the Red Army Fraction launched their urban guerilla attacks against the “center of imperialism” (Western Europe). Today, terrorism is everywhere. In particular it is a major component in warfare, which it has slowly but steadily contaminated over the past three decades.

In the early 21st century, terrorism is now the central security concern for our governments. It may even be observed that today terrorism has become war.

However this all-pervasive terrorism – every single day, somewhere around the world, bombs explode for a thousand reasons – has also undergone a significant mutation.

The State terrorism of the Cold War era, whether political or ideological, has almost disappeared. What remains of it continues in the same guise as before but based on a new logic. Moreover, since the Cold War ended, new players have emerged on the terrorist scene: the hard core are of course fanatics such as Islamist terrorists, but there are also non-political, criminal groups such as mafia gangs, doomsday sects and other such irrational and violent groups.

  • What constitutes the “new menace” in this context?

Observe the reality on the ground in the actual danger zones;

Take note objectively of where attacks originate, where real conflicts occur, how the flow of illegal goods and services is organized (modern slavery, narcotics, arms trade, stolen vehicles, etc) ;

All of this shows that, since the end of the bi-polar world order, the real menace for Schengen Europe comes from:

  • Militias, mutant guerilla groups, hybrid entities lumping together terrorists, fanatics, so-called patriot thugs and army deserters;
  • Headed by dissident generals, warlords, lunatics or plain criminals;
  • Unknown and obscure groups, capable of mutation and shifting alliances at lightning speed;
  • Contemptuous of international law and in particular humanitarian law;
  • Symbiotically linked to the criminal economy, rooted in that deadly triangle of narcotics, arms trade and dirty money .
  • The dangerous groups

To use scientific terms: the end of the bi-polar world order has brought about a mutation in groups which previously were purely terrorist or criminal, and their sudden and unpredictable slide from the technomorphous to the biomorphous domain.

Technomorphous: previously, transnational terrorism was carried out by groups retrieved by special services on behalf of States. Salaried and under orders, these groups acted mechanically, on a stop/start basis.

Biomorphous: today, complex and dangerous groups proliferate almost organically and so far uncontrollably; they are difficult to identify, define and understand, occurring in flows and territories which are themselves barely charted.

  • Common characteristics of dangerous groups in world chaos

Let us see if any similarities may be detected between most, if not all of the groups mentioned thus far.

  • These are not “Western type” organizations

In the first place, they have in common the fact that they not really organizations at all, in our usual and Western acception of the term, i.e. solid, even rigid structures. On the contrary these groups are fluid, liquid – when not actually volatile.

By way of example we may take what the United States Administration refers to as “al-Qaeda”, which it insists on presenting as a formal organization with a “No. 2” and a “No. 3” – with a hierarchy, in other words – and concerning which it alleges that “two thirds of the command structure has been eliminated”, again suggesting some sort of stable or permanent membership. Such fictions are spread further by influential agents or by charlatans in the guise of experts, who blithely estimate the “membership of al-Qaeda” at (to quote one example) 1 200…

It is, however, child’s play to demonstrate that “al-Qaeda” is not an organization in the way that – to stick with terrorism – the IRA is an organization. Or to show, to put it another way, that “al-Qaeda” is not simply a kind of IRA, only dedicated to Islamic militancy instead of being Roman Catholic.

Since August 1998 and its first attacks against the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, “al-Qaeda” has seen unleashed against it the fiercest wave of repression in world history. According to our data base, some 5 000 individuals referred to as its “members” have been arrested and interrogated in 58 countries around the globe, themselves nationals from as many countries again, if not more. Furthermore, in the Arab world especially, hundreds more arrests have been conducted in secret.

All the above, it should be noted, took place before the Iraq war in spring 2003 and the subsequent attacks :

  • in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia; may 2003, 35 dead; november 2003, 17 dead)
  • In Casablanca (Morocco, may 2003, 45 dead)
  • in Jakarta (Indonesia, august 2003, 12 dead)
  • in Istanbul (Turkey, november 2003, 69 dead)
  • in Madrid (Spain, march 2004, 202 dead)

Not to mention more than ten suicide-attacks in Iraq, having caused around 600 dead.

Let us now consider the case of two major organizations, properly so termed, which also have a global presence for professional reasons: a multinational corporation and an intelligence gathering service. Say, General Motors and the CIA. What would be left of these two giants if, at world level, 5 000 to 6 000 of their executive and salaried staff were thrown in prison, their offices closed down, their records pillaged, their working tools, bank accounts and financial resources confiscated? Quite simply nothing.

  • Other characteristics of dangerous groups in world chaos

Their nature is hybrid, part “political”, part criminal. Considerable exchanges between criminal and terrorist groups are currently being reported: the Neapolitan Camorra with the Basque group ETA and the GIA in Algeria, the Dawood Ibrahim gang in Karachi with Islamists groups close to Bin Laden such as Jaish-i-Muhammad, and the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen. Similar contacts link the IRA terrorists with the degenerate, proto-criminal guerilla movement FARC in Colombia.

They possess an ultra-rapid mutation capability, as a function of the now crucial dollar factor.

  • In most cases and most frequently they are nomadic, de-territorialized (or located in inaccessible areas) and transnational;
  • They are cut off from the world and civilized society. Their objectives may be criminal, fanatical or doomsday-driven; spurious, while in reality guided by bloodlust and greed (Liberia and Sierra Leone: the murderous bands led by Foday Sankoh under the name of the Revolutionary United Front or RUF), or quite simply near-incomprehensible (the Aum sect).
  • They generally lack State sponsorship of any kind – which makes them still more unpredictable and uncontrollable.
  • They inflict massacres widely, with the will to kill as many people as possible (Bin Laden, the GIA in Algeria, the Aum sect, etc.).

Confronted to these new and mutant entities, what should the major nation-states do?

There is a common perception in the present US administration that the main strategic danger now comes from “rogue states”. Following 9/11, the United States reacted to terrorism by a strong military operation against Afghanistan, as a rogue state. The plan – a state to state issue, a military reply to the “Taliban regime” – was to “find and punish culprit states behind 9/11”. Then it has been Iraq’s turn. But does this strategy really address the real problems of today’s chaotic world – and specifically, the terrorism problem? Is this “rogue states” strategy a serious diagnosis error?

Indeed, since the end of the Cold war indeed, the real threatening entities have been : terrorist nebulas, degenerated guerrillas, criminal cults, narco-terrorists, militarized mafias, warlord’s savage armies, etc. None of these entities are, have been, or will be any time soon, states. None of them has a vital need of any state to survive – see Somalia.

Thus even if destroying dictatorships is morally important, does targeting “rogue states” really solve today’s strategic security problems : terrorism and organized crime? the author seriously doubts it.


1 On Karachi, see Anne-Line Didier and Jean-Luc Marret, Etats échoués, mégapoles anarchiques, PUF, coll. Défense & Défis Nouveaux, 2001. For Brazil’s “criminal strongholds”, see the website of the Department for the Study of the Contemporary Criminal Menace , “Note d’Alerte” N°2 headed Cocaïne sur l’Europe: l’inondation approche” (“Cocaine on Europe: the flood is coming”)