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Wreaking instability in asymmetrical wars

Marketplace Staff Aug 4, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Hezbollah rockets landed 50 miles inside Israel today. That’s the farthest they’ve reached yet in the three weeks of fighting. Almost 200 rockets landed today in all. Most of them were crude, shot from portable launchers hidden around southern Lebanon. Israel continued its ground offensive. Extended its air strikes north of Beirut. F-16s using precision guided bombs. Commentator Benjamin Barber says there are economic consequences to the way Israel wages war.

BENJAMIN BARBER: What’s happening now is asymmetrical warfare: The use of overwhelming force against a vastly weaker adversary, where, because of the asymmetry of forces, the weak adversary prevails.

Why? Because today old-fashioned nations like Israel and the United States are impotent in the face of adversaries who can’t match their firepower but are nimble, ruthless and invisible.

The B-1 bomber can take out a city and destabilize an economy but it can’t target a homemade rocket in a backyard garage or kill a terrorist who is a “civilian” on his day job. Instead, asymmetrical warfare forces the big boys to annihilate whole apartment complexes, whole cities, whole societies, to get at the terrorists who might be hiding there.

But destroying a whole economic infrastructure doesn’t result in victory. It results in anarchy. And anarchy is exactly what terrorists are looking for.

The attacks of 9/11 were orchestrated by a non-state, unconventional, decentralized terrorist organization. In response, the United States acted like a 19th century nation-state. It puffed up its economic and military chest and went looking for a rogue state or two to punish: Afghanistan and Iraq.

The result? America’s enemies just got stronger as the states America occupied grew weaker. Rogue states are red herrings. It’s weak states — what Israel and the U.S. create with their firepower — that are terrorism’s real red meat.

Israel and the US now seem ready to take out both the Palestinian state and Lebanon — Syria and Iran, if necessary — to get at Hamas and Hezbollah. But paralyzing economies won’t work. They should think again.

Peace needs stability, economic prosperity and social justice. Terrorism runs on anarchy, fear and inequality, the very things we want to fight but, instead, are helping to create.

RYSSDAL: Ben Barber teaches at the University of Maryland. He also runs the non-profit Democracy Collaborative.

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