The Evolution of Terrorism
Terrorism is continually changing. While at the surface it remains "the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fearů" it is rapidly becoming the predominant strategic tool of our adversaries. As terrorism evolves into the principal irregular warfare strategy of the 21st century, it is adapting to changes in the world socio-political environment. Some of these changes facilitate the abilities of terrorists to operate, procure funding, and develop new capabilities. Other changes are gradually moving terrorism into a different relationship with the world at large.
In order to put these changes into context, it will be necessary to look at the historical evolution of terrorism, with each succeeding evolution building upon techniques pioneered by others. This evolution is driven by ongoing developments in the nature of conflict and international relations. It is also necessary to consider some of the possible causes of future conflicts, in order to understand the actors and their motivations. Finally, we examine how terrorism will be integrated into this evolution of conflict, and what that will mean for U.S. military forces.
Early Theories of Terrorism
Early practitioners of terrorism, such as the Zealots and the Assassins did not leave any particular philosophy or doctrine on their use of terrorism. With the exception of spectacular failures such as Guy Fawkes' religiously inspired attempt to assassinate King James I and both Houses of Parliament in England, terrorism did not separate itself or progress beyond the normal practices of warfare at that time. As political systems became more sophisticated, and political authority was viewed as less of a divine gift and more as a social construct, new ideas about political conflict developed.
The period of warfare and political conflict that embroiled Europe after the French Revolution provided inspiration for political theorists during the early 1800s. Several important theories of social revolution developed during this time (see text box on the next page for summaries of the key revolutionary thinkers). The link between revolutionary violence and terror was developed early on. Revolutionary theories rejected the possibility of reforming the system and demanded its destruction. This extremism laid the groundwork for the use of unconstrained violence for political ends.
Two ideologies that embraced violent social change were Marxism, which evolved into communism, and anarchism. Both were utopian; they held that putting their theories into practice could produce ideal societies. Both advocated the complete destruction of the existing system. Both acknowledged that violence outside the accepted bounds of warfare and rebellion would be necessary. Communism focused on economic class warfare, and assumed seizure of state power by the working class (proletariat) until the state was no longer needed, and eventually disposed of. Anarchism advocated more or less immediate rejection of all forms of governance. The anarchist's belief was that after the state is completely destroyed, nothing will be required to replace it, and people could live and interact without governmental coercion. In the short term, communism's acceptance of the need for organization and an interim coercive state made it the more successful of the two ideologies. Anarchism survived into the modern era and retains attraction for violent extremists to this day.
20th Century Evolution of Terrorism
In the early years of the 20th Century nationalism and revolutionary political ideologies were the principal developmental forces acting upon terrorism. When the Treaty of Versailles redrew the map of Europe after World War I by breaking up the Austro-Hungarian Empire and creating new nations, it acknowledged the principle of self-determination for nationalities and ethnic groups. This encouraged minorities and ethnicities not receiving recognition to campaign for independence or autonomy. However, in many cases self-determination was limited to European nations and ethnic groups and denied others, especially the colonial possessions of the major European powers, creating bitterness and setting the stage for the long conflicts of the anti-colonial period.
Since the end of World War II, terrorism has accelerated its development into a major component of contemporary conflict. Primarily in use immediately after the war as a subordinate element of anti-colonial insurgencies, it expanded beyond that role. In the service of various ideologies and aspirations, terrorism sometimes supplanted other forms of conflict completely. It also became a far-reaching weapon capable of effects no less global than the intercontinental bomber or missile. It has also proven to be a significant tool of diplomacy and international power for states inclined to use it.
The seemingly quick results and shocking immediacy of terrorism made some consider it as a short cut to victory. Small revolutionary groups not willing to invest the time and resources to organize political activity would rely on the "propaganda of the deed" to energize mass action. This suggested that a tiny core of activists could topple any government through the use of terror alone. The result of this belief by revolutionaries in developed countries was the isolation of the terrorists from the population they claimed to represent, and the adoption of the Leninist concept of the "vanguard of revolution" by tiny groups of disaffected revolutionaries. In less developed countries small groups of foreign revolutionaries such as Che Guevara arrived from outside the country, expecting to immediately energize revolutionary action by their presence.