Cannon and Mosquito --- Random notes On Terrorism

There's a saying in China, "don't use a cannon to kill mosquitoes."

The mosquito is small, so small that you don't see the threat until it sucks your blood. It hums around, annoys you, and leaves before you feel the itch. It attacks you under most unexpected circumstances. Even the biggest cannon can not solve the problem. So is terrorism.

There are several things that makes terrorism scary.

First, terrorists are creative. They are good at surprises. Fighting a hot war is bad, but being scared of unknown enemy is worse. Terror itself can cause equal damage as the real attacks.

Second, modern technology exponentially increased terror groups' destructiveness. Terrorists have easy access to many cheap and lethal tools.

Third, our civilized world is set up like a domino. We are so inter-connected that one explosion may cause a global chain reaction. We made ourselves highly vulnerable when black swans show up.

In the past, the conventional superpower can rest assured and neglect the small groups of unhappy humans. Now they can't. Through terror, the small/minority/weak groups bring themselves to the attention of the whole world. People are forced to face and deal with the questions that are long forgotten.

At the same time, the terrorist attacks also bring war into the middle of modernity, where people are too used to peace and only observe wars on CNN or hear about the rising casualty of foreign people in remote areas. Examples are 9.11 in New York and the most recent bombing in Moscow. A Chechen rebel leader said, "If Russians think that the war is happening only on television, somewhere far off in the Caucasus, and it will not touch them, then we are going to show them that this war will return to their homes".

On the other hand: if you are a marginalized group who has constantly been endangered/weakened/neglected by the giant, the one remaining thing you can do is to sting the giant with all your force.

Terrorism against civilians is absolutely evil. However, we should also remember that suicide bombing is not the top choice for anyone. People turn to terror under desperation.

Now most of the anti-terror efforts are directed toward intelligence work, regional wars and fancier full-body scanner. How to prevent desperation in the first place is the topic that is worth working on. Using the "cannon-mosquito" parable: we shouldn't build new billion-dollar cannons. Instead, let's dry up the swamps where mosquitoes grow.

It's always easier said than done. The core problem here is: can the strong put down its pride and arrogance, and try to sincerely understand, listen to and cater to the need of the weak, before all disasters happen?


The Established Europe

This is my comments for one of our readings. Just sharing =)

I lived in Germany for a year before I come to the US, and I agree with Kagan in many ways.

Europe is "fully formed". People enjoy high quality of life in a highly industrialized and highly organized society. There is room for improvement, but not for fundamental changes.

As Kagan mentioned, Europe is in an established structure or institution. They generally have high level of education, and that education propagates same ideas in different countries. Therefore they can easily push forward carbon emission limits and other transnational regulations.

The reason behind this, I believe, is that Europe has fought their wars already! They have reached the balance of power over time. The stability of their structure is based on hundreds of years of wars and conflicts, centuries of clashes and integration.

At the same time, the high standard of living in Europe is built on hundred of years of exploitation of the rest of the world, tracing back to slave trade. And this kind of exploitation still exist in more subtle forms today, as the Europeans remain at the top of the industrial food chain. That's why they are more established and less troubled than the rest of the world.

In addition to that, the current international rules benefit Europe. In the end, it is the western rules, and Europe either made them, or has already got used to them. In comparison, many other countries are either learning, adopting, struggling, or trying to reshape these rules according to their own interests.

Kagan wrote the essay in 2002. Since then, many things has change. Junior Bush, especially the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, further alienated US' European friends. In Germany, only the older generation remembered that the US air force saved many German lives during Berlin Blockade. But the younger generation only sees increasing German casualty in Afghanistan.

The good news for US is: Obama is here. Europe likes Obama a lot. They even gave him the Nobel Peace Prize to express their adoration. Obama appeals to European value. He loves his family and he is a good husband and good father. He is wise, sophisticated and moderate. He abandoned the unilateralism of Bush.

And now, since the US and EU faces the common threats of terrorism, economic downturn and new rising powers, they are getting closer to each other again. At least physically. Let's see where things go.