Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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The Dangers Of Forgoing Long-Term Assessments
I was taken by the Washington Post's Anne Applebaum's recent column on the lack of attention that led to the current situation in Georgia.

She points out, rightly, that:

The time to deal with this conflict is not now but was two, or even four, years ago. For a very long time it has been clear that there was a security vacuum in the Caucasus; that this vacuum was dangerous; that war was likely; that Georgia, an eager ally of the United States, would not emerge well from a confrontation; and that a successful invasion of Georgia, a country with U.S. troops on its soil, would reflect badly on the West.

Cowardice, weakness, lack of ideas and, above all, the distraction of other events prevented any deeper engagement. And now it may be too late.

The truth is there is virtually no effort to develop an understanding not just of the world as it is-and the Caucasus, like much of the rest of the world, is not really known in policy and intelligence circles now-but what it may look like in a decade or two.

This has to do with many issues, including the criminal structures, their overlap with terrorist group, the reach these groups have into governments and weapons supplies, what supplies remain available, and what is the present and likely future presence of radical Islam and other violent non-state actors.

There are multiple states that now operate as criminal enterprises (and Russia seems well on its way to joining their ranks) that offer the key havens for the growing criminal-terrorist nexus. For a broader look at these issues, see this paper I did for the NEFA Foundation.

These are different advantages from those offered by truly failed states or regions. Criminal states provide weapons, end-user certificates, travel documents, aircraft registries, banking facilities and much more to groups-including radical Islamist groups-who can buy or talk their way into the game in these havens.

There are much broader questions that are also going unaddressed:

What are the regional, ethnic and factional strains, the impact of population shifts, resource flows and other cross-cutting dynamics that will drive the behavior of people and states.

I don't know if Ms. Applebaum is correct when she says that "Islamic terrorism may one day be considered the least of our problems." I doubt that is true, but I agree that, in its present form, that may be the case.

What we will be facing in the future (and already face in some places, such as Afghanistan and Colombia) is the hybrid terrorist-criminal organization, where the revenues are derived from lucrative illicit activities, freeing the groups almost completely from state control. Yet these organizations and affiliations will prosper in criminal states because of the mutual need of these states and non-state actors.

The resources from drugs, human trafficking, black market commodity deals and countless other criminal enterprises will feed the coffers of terrorist/criminal groups. And then we will really have our hands full, in part because we are not even trying to figure out what is coming at us.

Al Qaeda at 20-Some thoughts
The Emerging Russia's Terrorism Issues
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