How The Global War On Terror Is Like The Cold War

Posted: August 7, 2011 in Songs of Space and Nuclear War
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The game overOverseas Contingency Operations (OCO, pronounced oh-koh) is the administration’s attempt to rebrand the Global War On Terror (GWOT, pronounced gee-wot).  But whether we’re talking OCO or GWOT, or even WTF (that’s winning the future), there are lessons learned from the Cold War that have mapped over to today’s anti-terror effort. 

Those lessons are those of deterrence, not quite the traditional deterrence of the Cold War, but an even more broad definition of the term which at its most fundamental is about stopping an others from taking undesired action(s). 

First rule: if it ain’t funded, it ain’t, and that includes terrorist networks.  How is this like the Cold War?  The USSR’s collapse was fueled by the ineptness of a command and control economy.  Terrorists who lack funding can’t communicate, plan, travel, or buy the killing tools they need. 

Next, psychological operations are in the eye of the beholder. During the Cold War, we used things like the Voice of America to get out a pro-U.S. message.  While that’s still done, with the OCO/GWOT, there have also been elements of a disinformation campaign (BTW, that’s one of my dream jobs).  It seems the U.S. may have created some over-the-top internet jihad pap (itself likely to be in competition with terrorist created over-the-top internet jihad pap) which works to the detriment of the terrorist recruitment cause.

Third, command and control requires communication.  Can’t communicate except by passing notes written on napkins or thumb drives?  Expect your effectiveness to diminish.  And in time, expect your courier(s) to be found, fixed, tracked, targeted, and to lead to Mr. Big Shot Terrorist.  From there, it’s just a matter of time.

Fourth, even suicide bombers respond to the world around them.  That is to say, they have egos, and conversely, fears.  These fears seem to revolve around the desire to not appear inept, foolish, or incompetent.  A suicide bomber who has a plausible but distant chance to take out some friendlies may be a serious threat; one who thinks he has zero chance of success and will only be killing or injuring himself is much less dangerous.

Finally, in areas where terrorists are operating, the locals have to pick a side to be on, even if they are not ideologically committed to jihad.  Picking the terrorist side may result in “a drop in well-being” of the individual’s family.  That is also known as making an offer that won’t be refused.  Again, deterrence (someone is stopped from doing something, fearing the consequences).

So is ‘”terrorist deterrence” at its heart the stuff of nuclear deterrence?  In many ways, yes.  And as an aside, although the article asserts “There simply was no way for America to capture and kill its way to victory,” that is more an issue of real politic.  The truth was there was no way Americans would take the anti-terrorist actions (that is, waging total war, like World War II) needed to capture and kill its way to victory.

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