Despite the hype, terrorism is in decline
A friend just emailed me a copy of Paul Robinson's article 'The good news about terrorism". While it was published in the Spectator in April, his commentary is still highly relevant and worth a read. Robinson is a Lecturer in Security Studies at the University of Hull in the UK.
"We are facing the gravest threat that this nation has ever faced.’ Elizabeth I, speaking of the Spanish Armada? Winston Churchill, in the aftermath of Dunkirk? No. Home Office minister Baroness Scotland on Newsnight, justifying the new Prevention of Terrorism Act by reference to the threat from al-Qa’eda."
‘Hang on,’ I said to myself on hearing the Baroness, ‘that can’t be right.’ My mum can remember lying in bed hearing bombs drop, and she once saw a V1 go over and heard the engine cut out as she watched.
Robinson argues that vested interests in the defence establishment have pulled off a confidence trick to convince us to live in fear, by in large to justify their own existence. "The collapse of the Warsaw Pact eliminated the need for 90 per cent of our armed forces" and a good deal other military spending to boot....
"Far from being more dangerous, the world is safer now than ever before; and far from being an ever-growing problem, terrorism has been in sharp decline for over a decade. This is not a matter of opinion. It is provable.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) and Canada’s Project Ploughshares both annually track the number of armed conflicts taking place worldwide. Sipri counts only those which result in 1,000 deaths or more in a given year, so its figures are slightly lower. Even so, it agrees with Project Ploughshares that the amount of fighting on the planet is declining. According to Sipri, there were only 19 conflicts in 2003, down from 33 in 1991. With its broader definition, Project Ploughshares reports a decline to 36 in 2003 from a peak of 44 in 1995.
More good news follows, I’m afraid. Battle-related deaths rose slightly from 15,000 in 2002 to 20,000 in 2003 because of the Iraq war, but even these figures are substantially down from the annual tolls of 40,000 to 100,000 during the Cold War. Global military expenditure also fell by 11 per cent in real terms between 1992 and 2000, and the Congressional Research Service in Washington notes that international arms sales fell from £22.8 billion in 2000 to £14.3 billion in 2003. In short, there are fewer wars, fewer arms sales and fewer people dying, each year, than at any time since the second world war.
Robinson also denies that global terrorism poses a new and unprecedented threat to our security. He uses figures from the Rand Corporation MIPT (Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism) database to show there was a big peak in terrorism in the late 1970s and early '80s, followed by a steady decline ever since. "During the 1980s, the number of international terrorist incidents worldwide averaged about 360 a year. By the year 2000, it was down to just 100....Bluntly, terrorism is a declining problem, despite our best efforts to provoke it."
It also should be pointed out that conservative Republicians attempted to whip up fears about international terrorism when Reagan took office in 1981. Libya became the official punching bag. Qaddafi may have been a thug, but most importantly he did not have the military capability to effectively fight back against US aggression. Unlike the USSR Qaddafi did not possess nuclear weapons.
Perhaps the worst failure of the current foreign policy of the Bush administration is that it is teaching Iraq, Iran and North Korea that possession of nuclear weapons and other WMDs represent the only defence that will prevent a US invasion. In those countries, fear is rebounding on the US.