Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Poverty and Terror -- Crit Cowboy

Becker and Posner each argue that there is no connection between poverty and terrorism. I will not engage their emprical data, but rather attempt to complicate their theoretical grounding. They fail to distinguish between state-sponsored and non-state-sponsored terrorism. State-sponsored terrorism is a geopolitical question, not an economic one.

Any analysis which fails to distinguish between state-sponsored and non-state-sponsored is fundamentally incoherent. State-sponsored terrorism likely has entirely different motivations from non-state sponsored terrorism. Non-state-sponsored terrorism is often revolutionary (such as the various Marxist groups like the Red Brigades and Baader-Meinhof [to the extent they were not sponsored by the Soviets] cited by Becker, and also like the IRA), while state-sponsored terrorism may have as a significant motivation changing the balance of power in traditional realpolitik terms (consider the various groups sponsored by various Arab states, historically, as a way to conterbalance Israel military power, after direct military force failed. Note that some, but not all, of the Arabic groups might fairly be described as "terrorist" -- the modern PLO, for example, has been fundamentaly non-terroristic since Arafat and Rabin came together in 1993).

Non state-sponsored terrorism seems to be largely correlated with (a) ethnicity, (b) religion, and/or (c) ideology. This is the basic "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" point. Those ethnicities, religions, and ideologies which are out of power in the states in question, and see no direct electoral way of success, are more likely to resort to terrorism. There, I agree with Becker and Posner that there is no reason to believe poverty will be a significant factor in the non-state-sponsored terrorists, except insofar as poverty is a consequence of the same disenfranchisements that lead to the terrorism in the first place.

However, when we consider state-sponsored terrorism, a different picture appears. The paradigm case of state-sponsored terrorism, of course, are the groups historically sponsored by Syria, Libya, Iran, etc. -- most famously Hamas and Hezbollah.

The key feature to notice about these groups is their forming in response to the military failures of their sponsor states. Many Arab nations allied to destroy Israel by ordinary military force, but were utterly humbled in the Suez War, the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, etc. etc. etc.

The allied terrorist groups (and groups like the PLO that turned their back on terrorism) can be seen as first an extension of this effort, and, finally, a response to the failure of this effort. The Arab states realized they could not defeat Israel by ordinary military force: Israel had the backing of the U.S., superior armed forces, superior technology, etc. -- all driven by the wealth of the U.S. -- and so they took a page out of Che Guvera's book and went to guerilla warfare, also known as terrorism. (Military weakness, of course, is correlated with poverty. Oil notwithstanding, running a military is very expensive, and only those nations rich both in population, resources, trade and industrialization, can afford to compete in that particular market. Each of those is a form of wealth: raw materials like oil alone do not confer wealth if the country doesn't have the population and tax base to support an army.)

If we look at state-sponsored terrorism from a geopolitical standpoint, we see thus that it is indeed connected to poverty, or at least to weakness: those nations that are too weak/poor to realize their (choose your bias: imperialist/liberational) ambitions through ordinary warfare attempt to do so through terrorism.

(Even to the extent the Marxist groups were sponsored by the Soviets, this was so only because the Soviets didn't have the resources to conquer the contries involved directly. They didn't need to use terrorist groups to destabilize Eastern Europe, and so they didn't.)