What drives illicit violence by substate groups such as terrorists, insurgents, and criminals—and how can states counter these threats?
Our two guests argue that social science provides tools to understand why illicit violence occurs. By focusing on individual incentive structures, rather than group identity labels, states can develop targeted sanctions and military strategies that disassemble and disrupt violent nonstate groups. This approach has implications for how policymakers and practitioners can counter violent actors from the strategic to the tactical level. Our guests provide several examples from the Treasury Department’s counter–threat finance efforts during the post-9/11 era.
Juan Zarate served as the deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for combating terrorism from 2005 to 2009, responsible for developing and implementing the US government’s counterterrorism strategy and policies related to transnational security threats. Mr. Zarate was the first ever assistant secretary of the treasury for terrorist financing and financial crimes, where he led domestic and international efforts to attack terrorist financing, the innovative use of the Treasury Department’s national security–related powers, and the global hunt for Saddam Hussein’s assets. He is the author of the book Treasury’s War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare, in which he discusses America’s fight against the illicit financial networks of state and nonstate actors.
Dr. Gary Shiffman is a professor at Georgetown University, founder and CEO of the software company Giant Oak, and author of the book The Economics of Violence: How Behavior Science Can Transform Our View of Crime, Insurgency, and Terrorism. The arguments of the book provide the basis for this episode’s conversation. Dr. Shiffman has also served as the chief of staff for US Customs and Border Protection, as a national security advisor at the United States Senate, and as a US Navy surface warfare officer.
The Irregular Warfare Podcast is a collaboration between the Modern War Institute and Princeton University’s Empirical Studies of Conflict Project. You can listen to the full episode below, and you can find it and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, TuneIn, or your favorite podcast app. And be sure to follow the podcast on Twitter!
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Given that the title of our article above is "War Entrepreneurs: Economic Drivers of Insurgency, Terrorism, and Crime" — given this such title, should we not first attempt to define what the "war" we are talking about actually looks like?
This such "war," of course, being the war to transform the states and societies of the world (to include those of the U.S./the West); this, so that these states and societies might better provide for — and better benefit from — such things as globalization and the global economy.
With regard to this such "war" — and most importantly the characteristics therein which (routinely?) lead to such things as insurgency, terrorism and crime — let us:
1. First look at the following from Samuel P. Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" (see the section therein entitled "Torn Countries"):
"During the past decade Mexico has assumed a position somewhat similar to that of Turkey. Just as Turkey abandoned its historic opposition to Europe and attempted to join Europe, Mexico has stopped defining itself by its opposition to the United States and is instead attempting to imitate the United States and to join it in the North American Free Trade Area. Mexican leaders are engaged in the great task of redefining Mexican identity and have introduced fundamental economic reforms that eventually will lead to fundamental political change. In 1991 a top adviser to President Carlos Salinas de Gortari described at length to me all the changes the Salinas government was making. When he finished, I remarked: "That's most impressive. It seems to me that basically you want to change Mexico from a Latin American country into a North American country." He looked at me with surprise and exclaimed: "Exactly! That's precisely what we are trying to do, but of course we could never say so publicly." As his remark indicates, in Mexico as in Turkey, significant elements in society resist the redefinition of their country's identity. … "
2. Next look at the following from Robert Gilpins "The Challenge of Global Capitalism: The World Economy in the 21st Century (see the Introduction):
“Capitalism is the most successful wealth-creating economic system that the world has ever known; no other system, as the distinguished economist Joseph Schumpeter pointed out, has benefited ‘the common people’ as much. Capitalism, he observed, creates wealth through advancing continuously to every higher levels of productivity and technological sophistication; this process requires that the ‘old’ be destroyed before the ‘new’ can take over. … This process of ‘creative destruction,’ to use Schumpeter’s term, produces many winners but also many losers, at least in the short term, and poses a serious threat to traditional social values, beliefs, and institutions.”
3. And last look at this from Jerry Z. Miller's "The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought" (see the section therein on Fredrich Hayek):
"All in all, the 1980s and 1990s were a Hayekian moment, when his once untimely liberalism came to be seen as timely. The intensification of market competition, internally and within each nation, created a more innovative and dynamic brand of capitalism. That in turn gave rise to a new chorus of laments that, as we have seen, have recurred since the eighteenth century: Community was breaking down; traditional ways of life were being destroyed; identities were thrown into question; solidarity was being undermined; egoism unleashed; wealth made conspicuous amid new inequality; philistinism was triumphant.”
Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:
As can be seen from the information provided above, efforts to transform states and societies — for example, so as to better provide for and better benefit from such things as globalization — these such efforts routinely cause (a) "significant elements in society to resist the redefinition of their country's identity" (Huntington), (b) "produce many losers and pose a serious threat to traditional social values, beliefs, and institutions" (Gilpin) and (c) cause "communities to break down; traditional ways of life to be destroyed; identities to be thrown into question; solidarity to be undermined; egoism to be unleashed; and wealth to be made conspicuous amid new inequality," etc. (Miller).
This being the case, then might we agree that:
a. The "wars" (or, if you prefer, "the circumstances" or "the formula?") that gives rise to entrepreneurs of terrorism, insurgency and crime — yesterday as today —
b. These are the (exceptionally disruptive and destabilizing; see my items 1 – 3 above) "wars" to alter the ways of life, the ways of governance, the values, etc., of the states and societies of the world (to include our own)?
(The negative effects of which can now be used to explain — not only September 11, 2001 — but also January 6, 2021?)
As two earlier examples — which may tend to support my "unwanted transformation attempts are the root cause of terrorism, insurgency and crime" thesis above — consider the following:
a. First, from the time of the Roman Empire:
"Zealot: A member of a Jewish sect noted for its uncompromising opposition to pagan Rome and the polytheism it professed. The Zealots were an aggressive political party whose concern for the national and religious life of the Jewish people led them to despise even Jews who sought peace and conciliation with the Roman authorities. A census of Galilee ordered by Rome in AD 6 spurred the Zealots to rally the populace to noncompliance on the grounds that agreement was an implicit acknowledgment by Jews of the right of pagans to rule their nation. Extremists among the Zealots turned to terrorism and assassination and became known as Sicarii (Greek sikarioi, 'dagger men'). They frequented public places with hidden daggers to strike down persons friendly to Rome. In the first revolt against Rome (ad 66–70) the Zealots played a leading role, and at Masada in 73 they committed suicide rather than surrender the fortress, but they were still a force to be reckoned with in the first part of the following century. A few scholars see a possible relationship between the Zealots and the Jewish religious community mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls."
b. And, next, from the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan:
"The overt attack on Afghan social values was presented, by the resistance forces, as an attack on Islamic values. This was also seen as an attack on the honour of women. The initiatives introduced by PDPA (the Afghan Communist Party) — to impose literacy on women and girls — inevitably raised questions as to the potential role of women outside the home. This provoked defensive actions from men, concerned with protecting the honour of women with their families, and to also ensure that traditional roles of women within the domestic sphere continued to be performed. It also generated fears that the important roles of women, as the primary vehicles for passing traditional and Islamic values from one generation to another, would be undermined if they were exposed to external and, particularly, non-Islamic values. This enabled the exiled radical Islamic parties to claim leadership of the resistance and to also declare a jihad." (Item in parenthesis above is mine.)
(See the book "Afghanistan, Armies and Empires" by Peter Marsden, on Page 58, in Chapter 4, entitled "The Soviet Military Intervention.")
[Herein, one may also wish to note the folly of the U.S./the West, after 9/11, following in the "transformational war"/"girls schools" footsteps of the Soviets/the communists?]
Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:
Our article above begins with this question:
"What drives illicit violence by substate groups such as terrorists, insurgents, and criminals—and how can states counter these threats?"
As to the Part One of this question, might we say that:
a. "Transformational attempts" —
b. Such as those that I point to above but in our case today designed and undertaken by the U.S./the West so as to better provide for and better benefit from such things as globalization and the global economy —
c. THIS is the answer to our authors' "what drives" question?
As to Part Two of our authors' introductory question above — to wit: "How can one counter these threats?" — this, also I suggest, must be answered in consideration of the "transformational war being waged by the U.S./the West both at home and abroad" thesis that I provide above.
(In this regard, do you not want to consider my "transformational war" thesis above, for example, as being the "root cause" of the events of January 6, 2021; wherein, might one say, the "rebels" fought — in this case also — in the name of such things as traditional values, traditional ways of life, traditional prejudices, etc.; all of which stand directly in the way of the "transformational modernizing" needed so as to better provide for, and better benefit from, such things as globalization and the global economy?)