Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Return of God

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles site links to news about UAV 'flocks' that are being developed as anti-terrorist weapons.

A heterogeneous flock of UAVs, each with its own capabilities, has one “leader.” The leader spots the target, conducts a “tender” among the flock members, decides which has the best chance of destroying the target, and assigns the mission to that member. ... When a malfunction is detected in a flock member, or one simply runs out of fuel, that member is returned to the base for repair or refueling, while the mission continues.

The Israeli researchers developing this weapons system may simply be copying a tactic Al Qaeda had stumbled onto earlier. Dr. Gordon Woo described terrorist attacks as a species of "swarm" warfare in the Mathematical Aspects of Terrorism Hazard. Compare his description of the organizational characteristics of a terrorist network with the the 'flock' of UAVs above.

In 1994, Algerian terrorists planned to fly a jet into the Eiffel tower in Paris. Unbeknown to both MI5 and CIA, as early as 1995, dissident Afghan waiters in London were soliciting American signatories on applications for flight training in USA. The planning for September 11 had begun at least seven years earlier. Faced with the contrasting prospects of paradise, if they succeeded, or prison, if they failed, the leaders of the suicide hijack mission were rational in taking meticulous care over every detail of their planning.

Not just the preparation time, but also the swarm attack is a feature of al-Qaeda strategy which is comprehensible in game theory terms. In an al-Qaeda training manual, found in an apartment in Manchester, England, missions are listed as including the destruction of embassies, urban bridges, and centres of vital economic interest. If one specific class of target is selected for attack, (e.g. embassies, bridges, ports, etc.), defences would inevitably be strengthened after a strike, making a second attempt more difficult. Already this has happened with US airport security. Hence an opportunist terrorist strategy would be to launch a simultaneous attack on many individual targets within the same class, so stretching homeland defence. Al-Qaeda have managed to synchronize surprise attacks on US embassies and landmark buildings. In conventional military strategy, the casualty rate resulting from such simultaneous attacks might be prohibitive. The strategist, Sun Tze, argued against using troops like a swarm of ants; a strategy bound to lead to high casualties.

The social insect metaphor is intriguing for a terrorist network such as al-Qaeda, prepared to launch martyrdom missions. Astonishing levels of spatial swarm intelligence are achievable by colonies of ants, which can fulfill their programmed functions without the need for central instruction. If terrorists depended heavily on communication with a command hub, swarm attacks might be quite susceptible to counter-intelligence. However, participants may operate essentially individually, and may not be stationed together in any one locality. Instead, they may form emergent virtual cells, the members of which would be dispersed over the world, communicating via the internet to plan an attack.

The NIC 2020 Report of the National Intelligence Council recently concluded that the Islamic "swarm" will continue to grow, linked together by asynchoronous communication.

The key factors that spawned international terrorism show no signs of abating over the next 15 years. Experts assess that the majority of international terrorist groups will continue to identify with radical Islam. The revival of Muslim identity will create a framework for the spread of radical Islamic ideology both inside and outside the Middle East, including Western Europe, Southeast Asia and Central Asia. ... Informal networks of charitable foundations, madrasas, hawalas, and other mechanisms will continue to proliferate and be exploited by radical elements.

But the Islamic swarm will not be alone. In one of the most dramatic developments of the new century, secular 'interntionalist' ideologies are declining in the face of resurgent ethnic and religious identities. In its chapter on New Challenges to Governance, the National Intelligence Council pointed out that as aging secular centers of Europe continue into eclipse, the world ratio of believers to nonbelievers will begin to shift dramatically in favor of Christians and Muslims in the Third World.  God, who Marx confidently predicted would soon be out of business, has turned the tables on him.

Over the next 15 years, religious identity is likely to become an increasingly important factor in how people define themselves. ... For example, Christianity, Buddhism, and other religions and practices are spreading in such countries as China as Marxism declines, and the proportion of evangelical converts in traditionally heavily Catholic Latin America is rising. By 2020, China and Nigeria will have some of the largest Christian communities in the world, a shift that will reshape the traditionally Western-based Christian institutions, giving them more of an African or Asian or, more broadly, a developing world face. Western Europe stands apart from this growing global “religiosity” except for the migrant communities from Africa and the Middle East.

Samuel Huntington in an interview with Kyodo News observed the same thing.

There is global resurgence of the importance of religion in a wide variety of countries. We see the identity of countries increasingly taking on more of religious character. In countries like India, Turkey, Israel, not to mention Iran, you have had religious movements develop, challenging the secular definition of those countries' identities by their (modern) founding leaders in the early 20th century, such as Nehru, Ben-Gurion, Ataturk and the Shah of Iran. It is a fairly widespread phenomenon that people are thinking of their country in more religious terms. Even in secular Western Europe, religion is becoming more important. By enacting a new law banning Muslims scarves in schools, the French feel the need to reassert their religious identity which happens to be the tradition of secularism. That is their religion.