This is the second in a two-part series on stateless warfighting. The first part can be found here.
In his controversial remarks a few weeks ago, Newt Gingrich wondered whether a new kind of Geneva Convention might be necessary:
"And, I further think that we should propose a Geneva convention for fighting terrorism which makes very clear that those who would fight outside the rules of law, those who would use weapons of mass destruction, and those who would target civilians are in fact subject to a totally different set of rules that allow us to protect civilization by defeating barbarism before it gains so much strength that it is truly horrendous."
One of Al Qaeda's organizing principles is an absolute indifference to international law. If international law is reorganized to deter such groups as Al Qaeda, then it is likely that those groups will simply reorganize themselves to continue to flout international law. Being much more nimble than the states which spend years crafting treaties and conventions, Al Qaeda has the freedom to do so quite easily.
Al Qaeda is organized such that it can operate anywhere in the world if given the opportunity. Of course, its operatives have to be careful to avoid government efforts to find them, but Al Qaeda itself has no rules of its own that prevent it from crossing boundaries, whether they are geographic, administrative, bureaucratic, or even moral. In many ways then, Al Qaeda is like a virus, free to propagate wherever a suitable environment may be found, whether it be Waziristan, Somalia, southern Thailand, or the housing projects in the outskirts of London. Not only does it seek physical spaces, but it also seeks amenable minds to bend to its will. It is an opportunistic and ruthless virus.
Might we then conceive of a similar organization that serves as an antibody? What might be the characteristics of such an "Anti-Qaeda"?
One of the prerequisites would be freedom of movement: The forces of Anti-Qaeda would possess the ability, whether legal or not, to cross international borders at will.
Anti-Qaeda would be free to develop its own network of contacts throughout the world. Many of these would be within the intelligence agencies and militaries of established states. These contacts might actively feed information to Anti-Qaeda as a result of the policies of their states. Alternatively, they might do so merely out of sympathy with the goals of Anti-Qaeda, and might be approached and recruited in the same manner that foreign intelligence agencies attempt.
One way or another, money would not be an issue for Anti-Qaeda. Through some system of donations, it might raise funds directly from sympathetic people all over the world. It might receive contributions from states, though it will be hesitant to do so if strings are attached. For example, a state might fund the organization with one large endowment-like contribution, allowing it to operate as a trust in perpetuity, though without any oversight from the state.
This comes to a final characteristic about Anti-Qaeda: it would operate best in an environment of state forbearance. States might gain information about Anti-Qaeda activities that would make for evidence in prosecutions, but they might decide not to enforce the law in the case of Anti-Qaeda.
All of the above describes how an organization such as Anti-Qaeda might be imagined. But it leaves out what its purpose might be. Would it be narrowly defined, such as merely chasing terrorists? Might it be broader in scope, such as commencing military activities against states that support terrorism? The answers to these will probably depend upon the nature of relationships that Anti-Qaeda has with states in the West who will be best positioned to thwart its goals, whatever they are. In fact, whereas the critical vulnerabilities of other military forces in the past have been national will, or materiel and logistics, or doctrine, Anti-Qaeda's might be its relationships with states that can stop it.
One of the big issues for Anti-Qaeda will be to clearly define the limits of what is and is not acceptable conduct. How will its members accomplish their missions without losing their souls? In Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler defined this paradox quite well. An aging and disillusioned Bolshevik is lecturing his daughter, who is caught up in the Party:
. . . The Party has taught you all to be cunning, and whoever becomes too cunning loses all decency. It's no good shrugging your shoulders," he went on angrily. "It's come to this in the world now that cleverness and decency are at loggerheads, and whoever sides with one must do without the other. It's not good for a man to work things out too much. That's why it is written: 'Let your communication be, Yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatever is more than these cometh of evil.'"
There is a final question to all of this, one that is perhaps most important. In Mark Bowden's book Killing Pablo, he described the role played by a loosely organized terror group that called itself Los Pepes. Basically a conglomeration of other drug dealers and criminals whom Pablo Escobar had victimized in one way or another, Los Pepes began to slowly attack all of Pablo's supporting apparatus: they killed his lawyers, intimidated his family, killed his associates, bombed the quarters of his henchmen and so forth. The relationship between Los Pepes and the Columbian police and military units was always hazy at best. At worst, they had actively colluded together, making the Columbian government a reluctant accomplice to the crimes of Los Pepes, which in the end, did actually work toward Pablo's death.
If the West might be defined in part as a civil society built upon layers and layers of law and tradition, what does it mean if it is necessary to circumvent those laws or traditions in order to defend itself? Is this the result of an inherent problem in the genetic code of the West, or has it come about due to advances in warfare? Or is it merely a problem of political will? Moreover, if, as so many have attested, one of the goals of the West is to increase the realm of the world that is built upon the rule of law , does this strange paradox of having to shed or ignore the law in order to defend itself de-legitimize the very mission it seeks to accomplish?
If this is true, then we should be forthright, admit it and get on with it, rather than use cutouts and secrecy, obscure funding and state forbearance in order for a would-be Anti-Qaeda to slip into the night and go about its work.
Josh Manchester is a TCSDaily contributing writer. His blog is The Adventures of Chester (www.theadventuresofchester.com). Manchester would like to credit Philip Bobbitt's Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute with spurring his thinking on these topics.