Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 16:20 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 16:20 | SYDNEY

A new terrorism (part 2)


Sam Roggeveen


12 March 2008 10:32

This post is a continuation of some thoughts I laid out yesterday on the relative ineffectiveness of terrorism as it is currently practised, and how bad it might be for us if terrorists ever adopt better tactics.

So given that current methods of terrorism suffer from diminishing returns and true mass casualty attacks are very difficult to pull off, what other methods could terrorists employ to stay relevant?

Terrorists will likely be attracted to any tactic that creates large effects for minimal outlays, and on those criteria, attacks against systems and infrastructure score very high. The threat of agro-terrorism, for instance, gets little attention but could devastate our rural sector and export reputation. Bushfires can cause deaths and cost millions at the price of a box of matches. And organised criminals are figuring out how to use the internet for extortion — cyber-terrorism could be close behind.

There is some evidence that terrorists understand this, given the attacks on oil pipelines and other infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Not all terrorists are innovative: one of the two men involved in the failed car bombings in London and Glasgow Airport last year was a doctor, who could have done substantial damage to British society by sabotaging parts of the National Health Service. He chose instead to drive a car bomb into one of the better-protected targets in any country, an airport terminal. The attack failed.)

Advanced economies like ours would take big hits from systems attacks, but we would likely get through it, particularly if we improve our resilience to such threats. As Thomas Barnett argues, developing countries are far more vulnerable, so the race is on to see whether these economies can be made more robust before terrorist groups find the means to undermine them.

UPDATE: Just to head of any criticism that I am aiding terrorists by giving them ideas, I realise there is a risk of this. But all of the issues I'm discussing here are already in the public debate, and I would argue that the small risk of spreading this information is balanced by the benefits of discussing it is a means to improve our counter-terrorism policies.