Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Dr OHG Sparrow (20 November 2001)

  The Committee has to hand two papers which were submitted from the web.[1] 1 One of these is concerned with an analysis of the users of terror, and of their management. The second paper takes a wider view, looking at the security environment in which we may find ourselves over the next 20 years. I hope that these have proved to be of use.

  This is, therefore, a short text. It tries to answer the fundamental question which was posed in the letter which your clerk sent to me: what are the threats, and what should we do about them?

  It is self-evident that social, political and economic entities that make up our world is becoming more closely coupled together. Environmental and resource issues respect no boundaries, and their solutions may often be innately trans-national. At present, however, only economic forces exist in order to bridge gaps, heal distinctions and provide motivation.

  Economic forces are frequently driving change faster that existing social and institutional structures can adapt. Indeed, reactionary forces often set out to slow adaptation. National political structures in the developing world are often the chief obstacle to an adaptive response, rather than its engine. In addition, international political constructs are developing very much more slowly than the problems which they are designed to solve.

  It is, therefore, most unlikely that these complex institutions will develop at a pace that meets world realities. As a nation, we must expect to deal with the largely-unmanaged overspill of ungoverned interests. We shall see rapidly-propagating economic disturbances. We shall have to deal with issues of public health, with the consequences of poorly contained dangerous technologies, with crime and agitation. We shall see more use of terror on our soil.

  Terror is a commonly-used tool in much of the poor world. The increased economic, social and—through IT and aviation—effective physical propinquity of these countries to Britain will inevitably increase in its use in our domain. The UK is a very "international" country and London is one of the four or so truly world cities. Britain will, therefore, face more of this than most.

  This trend will be exacerbated through three dynamics:

        First, the rich pickings in the industrial world will attract criminal elements, and with them the use of terror to police their supporters and enforce their will.

        Second, political groups which have axes to grind elsewhere in the world will use the industrial countries as operating bases, and the protagonists of this will act as conduits for crime ( to raise funds) and for terror (through which to wage proxy war, or raise the profile of their cause).

        Third, and the immediate cause of our current concern, traditionalist groups who reject the pace of social and economic change may set out to attack symbols of that change: corporate brand, aeroplanes, science, finance. The means by which they do this may become increasingly sophisticated and indirect—consider, for example, the introduction of agricultural disease such as foot and mouth as a potential act of terror.

  This will (continue to) present the UK with a major management task. However, I believe that it is a mistake to focus our management efforts on "international terrorism". Contrary to a somewhat comic book view of the world, it is in fact the case that where there are networks of terror, these tend to fight each other as much as they collaborate. Skilled individuals are, of course, parcelled around under assorted flags of convenience. Where there are resource providers, then the master of the purse controls something of what is done. Recent funding of anti-globalisation protest by two wealthy British citizens gives a sense of how integrated (and how self-destructive) such command structures can be.

  It is of course true that if a force is led from the top, then decapitating it has a major impact. Attempting to do the same thing in an amorphous sprawl of mixed ambitious and complex goals has no such affect. If we place emphasis on "catching the master criminals", therefore, we shall have only a limited impact on the use of terror.

  The sole exception to this occurs where one is dealing with an explicitly command-and-control structure, such as the Sendero Luminoso, where catching the elite (and decoupling it from the Peruvian cocaine traffic) led to its downfall. Breaking the confidence of the followers in the probity of their leadership has also proved effective, but once again, only in restricted circumstances and after immense effort. Most terrorist affiliations do not have intensely hierarchical structures, and ten would-be war lords sit around every drug baron or "ethnic entrepreneur".

  What is needed, therefore, is a long game which is based on intelligence, collective analysis of the issues and an adequate foundation of law. That is, we need to be clear that we have the powers that will be needed to manage "new" threats, including proactive intervention where this is appropriate. Such intervention will use all means by which Britain and its allies can project power, subject to clearly-understood limits and to firm governance of the agencies which are involved.

  The term "all means" needs to be considered carefully. If we are attempting to improve overseas institutions, and to change the expectations that citizens have of their government—which is innate to resolving the issues of tighter coupling, not to say the occupation of territories such as Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan—then these measures will not look like conventional force. In this light, an examination of how the Swiss, Danes or French use their commerce overseas is instructive. The importance of cultural vehicles such as the BBC world service needs to be re-evaluated. It is striking how the image of the US overseas is shaped by the output of its entertainment media. Many of the less educated people that I meet from the third world imagine life in the US as a continual series of gun fights and explosions.

  All of this is. Of course, a very long game, best pursued with allies. An immediate issue is, however, that of defining strategic rather than tactical targets for our own efforts.

  Assets take a long time to put into place in intelligence, staff need to learn a culture and a language if they are to analyse it effectively and we need, therefore, to systematise our approach to picking our targets. In particular, we need long-term, continual debate amongst the relevant agencies as to how the world is to be considered. Such debate prepares minds, sets goals that carry a well-understood but flexible boundary and provides a framework in which set ideas can be challenged.

  The attachment is a letter written to the Rt Hon G Hoon, MP in March of this year. It calls for just such an (inexpensive, unobtrusive) agency to be put in place. I am aware that the Cabinet Office has the germ of such a structure, but this is focused on unexpected events, rather than on the systematic assessment of world trends and our security response to them. I here repeat the offer of personal assistance which I make in the letter.

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