13 October 2005

You keep using that word

I do not think it means what you think it means:
The idea that a non-state actor could seriously threaten our national security was virtually inconceivable 50-plus years ago.
(From the confirmation hearing of John "Death Squads" Negroponte for DNI, via Secrecy News.) In all seriousness, Pat Roberts is full of shit here, but what else is new. 59 years ago, in the FAS book One World Or None, physicist Edward Condon had an essay, "The New Technique of Private War," in which he explained how nuclear arms provide individual saboteurs (what we would now call terrorists) with as much destructive potential as whole countries. True, most of the discussion was in terms of countries using sabotage against each other, but the basic point - that national armies were no longer needed to inflict mass destruction and small groups of individuals could now accomplish that - clearly recognized the same realities, even without buzzwords like "non-state actor[s]." And even one of Dr. Condon's examples of past sabotage in WWII is structurally (morally is a whole 'nother issue) not very different from some modern terrorism: a non-govermental rebellion with loose ties to (and some support from) countries opposed to their enemy (in this case, the Norwegian underground's sabotage of the heavy water production at Rjukan.) "Non-state" terrorism isn't some super-modern novelty, it's just a convenient rhetorical bludgeon to, somewhat fittingly, justify the kind of police state Condon warned would be both tempting and ineffective.



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