Working Paper No. 73 (PDF 303KB) from the Center for Global Development by Stewart Patrick is entitled Weak States and Global Threats: Assessing Evidence of “Spillovers”.
This is an excellent paper questioning the “conventional wisdom” in
relation to the connection between state weakness and global threats,
arguing that this connection is less clear and more variable than
typically assumed. Just as Patrick questions the causality between weak
states and “spillovers”, just how solid is the approach of basing any
analysis of security or related matters around the interaction of
nation states as actors?
Samuel Huntington posited a “Clash of Civilizations” in his now famous Foreign Policy piece:
a controversial theory that people’s cultural-religious identity will
be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. Much has
come to pass since his fine 1993 essay, with many critiques and
geopolitical changes providing rebuttals to his initial argument, one
of which comes from Arjun Appadurai in his recent book Fear of small numbers: An essay on the geography of anger.
Its arguable how much of Huntington’s forecast has actually
eventuated, and Appadurai argues more for “a civilisation of clashes”
as a better frame of reference.
Key to the thesis being developed in this piece is a paraphrase of
Appadurai, where part of the problem related to his “clash” is the
battle appears joined between “vertebrate” nation states and “cellular”
terrorist organisations. For the sake of this argument, consider the
entity of a nation state as a person or individual. Such an approach
provides 192 different people making up the community known as the
United Nations. Using people also serves another purpose - they are
Many commentators freely describe terrorist organisations as a
blight on humanity. A disease operating at a cellular level, travelling
around wreaking havoc inside the systems of their hosts. This activity
is scaleable: epidemics are the result of transmission of disease from
one vertebrate creature to another occurring through various
mechanisms, vector or vehicle borne for example.
These analogies are not new, and when we consider that support
networks for the transmission of the terrorist “pathogen” and
assistance for the operating mechanisms of cellular terrorist
organisations already exist, such as a global marketplace,
international banking, lax immigration laws (despite what we are led to
believe by our governments), they are hardly surprising.
An unfortunate limitation of the very structure we build around our
vertebrate selves enabling us to flourish is our construction of the
necessary conduits for successful transmission of the pathogens
otherwise known as terrorist groups. They are ideally suited to moving
about undetected, and continue to do so despite our best efforts at
vaccination and control. Executive Orders from US Presidents, sanctions
on international banking, freezing assets, excision of territory from
immigration zones and “Pacific solutions” - all have very limited
Further, the nature of our wonderfully efficient large scale
international and commercial structures delivers other limitations on
our control of terrorists. Slow to react, unwieldy, and inflexible are
characteristics not generally associated with rapid, targeted responses
Terrorism on the other hand works differently, with the term
cellular an apt descriptor for the operating mechanisms of many
At the operational level most are small, and free to move within the
structure of the vertebrate (nation state) system as easily as an
infectious disease moves through a closed community. In an effort to
combat this problem, what if we were to look at terrorist behaviour not
in terms of ideological bent, but more in the light of communicable
diseases? Can epidemiology inform our work in monitoring and predicting
the spread of terrorist behaviour?
Consider an approach where the use of epidemiological principles for
analysis of data provides direction for security and intelligence
action. Epidemiological information might be used in planning how to
control and prevent radicalisation in a community. Another approach
could be the identification of a patient zero for a particular
outbreak. Such an individual might then be investigated, which in turn
might provide details of the disease reservoir - where he or she first
trained and was radicalised.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
13 posts so far.