5/23/07

Perspective on modern conflict - Part 2

Who would have thought that one determined man, with no powerful state backing, sixty thousand dollars, and two dozen men could kill 3,000 civilians, and cause over one quarter of a trillion dollars in losses to the US?

Sadly, few.

Even after the original unsuccesful attack on the WTC by Ramsey Useff, we couldn't as a nation, come to grips with the growing reality that it no longer took another nation to destroy us; it could be done by as few as one man.

That failure of public consciousness is an equal -if not greater ingredient- than the motivations of Osama Bin Ladin in what transpired on September 11th (Bin Ladin's second successful attack on the WTC). To our great national detriment, it seems that the fresh horror of September 11th, and corrosponding public appetite for security, is once again draining below a level likely needed to stave off future attacks.

We have Bin Ladin on the run, but he's just one in legions-to-be of super-empowered individuals.

Who are these men? What makes them different from maniacs of the past? One thing: Technology.

That's it. It's a simple mathmatical reality: As technology's efficacy increases, so too does the ability for one man to use it more effectively to destroy. Put another, perhaps more frightening way: technology increases geometrically (as opposed to linearly...Your computer, for instance, doesn't make steady utility increases in a straight line, but follows Moore's Law, and generally multiplies in processing power over short spans of time, returning vastly increased processing power), in addition, technology democratizes geometrically (take the cost to communicate...150 years ago: The difficulty and cost of communication made it available to few. In increments of 50 years, if put on a graph, the diffusion of that technology is geometric, and the reason that 1/2 a billion chinese are on cell phones today, when 10 years ago, most didn't even have access to a fixed-line telephone). Using those two accelerating realities to describe technology's destructive potential: If you put on a graph the increase in technological efficacy to destroy, the diffusion of that technology to those with an appetite for destruction, and time: well, you have an inevitable rendezvous with calamity. And not just one. In my view, September 11th was the first, and likely to be among the least destructive types of consequence owing to that intersection between angry men, and the ever increasing empowerment technology affords.

Our public sense of urgency needs rallying. In reading countless books and material on WMD proliferation, I've come to understand the myriad ways in which whole tens of thousands to millions of innocent civilians could be killed. Unfortunately, it's only a matter of time before realized. It is, however, within our national purvue to radically increase the time between attack intervals, and radically diminish the severity of each. In my view, it starts with recognizing the threat these empowered individuals pose. In the same way we recognized the threat the Soviet Union did, but multiplied by the number of empowered and dangerous men (yes, I'm suggesting that we should view this emerging threat as thousands, even tens of thousands of unique, equally lethal Soviet Unions). Then, as I'll suggest in later posts, determine the most efficient ways to defeat them.