Terror and the Market State


The acquisition of Weapons of Mass Destruction by a globally networked terror group like al-Qaeda is no less likely an eventuality because it is difficult in the short run. One might add that as the market state itself is still emerging, it will have to mature before its symptoms fully develop. We do not know whether al-Qaeda or its successors will acquire WMD. In such uncertainty, we must decide whether to structure our defenses around unlikely horrific attacks, or in anticipation of less preventable but more predictable conventional assaults.

"If there’s snow, the germs all die in the cold […] Terrorists aren’t going to rely on weapons that are difficult to use or that will fizzle at the last minute," one analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies was quoted as saying. Right now "Washington," it has been said, "Is the capital of imaginary threats," which divert attention from measures that could prevent the most likely of terrorist attacks.

Terrorists can murder many Americans through small acts of attrition: Suicide bombing and the like. We have learned societies adjust to repeated small-scale assaults, however, even if cumulatively they take 40,000 lives – the number lost on U.S. highways every year. Rather it is the theoretical, mass-scale attack that can disrupt the political culture of a society. Market state terrorists are heroes of autonomy who maximize their options by targeting those who would restrict them, they compete to seize the attention of the otherwise distracted public. It has been reported that at least one attack on New York was stood down by Al-Qaeda leadership after 9/11 because it was deemed too unspectacular.

The appearance of mutated market states like al-Qaeda is propagated by the very conditions that brought us feasts. Such states of terror take the constitutional order of the market state – but renounce its mission of freeing the individual.

Of course we have had states of terror in the past. For them terror was a means to an end. Today states like market state terrorists will seek something like perpetual terror. This is manifested in the state’s desire to use WMD to enforce deterrence – the use of WMD to prevent defensive interventions on behalf of local allies. Iran or Iraq did not plan to attack Washington or London; rather, they sought WMD to prevent the U.S. and the U.K. from intervening when they attacked their weak regional neighbors. The use of WMD for compellance is not entirely new. The report that Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons to bring China and North Korean to negotiations in 1953, if true, is an example of compellance by means of WMD; so are Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What the state of terror in the current era seeks is a perpetual standoff to protect its predations. The terror becomes an end in it itself.

This transition from one constitutional order to another will occur over many decades, and there are many forms the market state might take. In the past, decades-long epochal wars have brought about these transitions. It may be that the wars against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein’s regime were the first engagements of this new conflict, the epochal wars of the market states, the Wars against Terror.

This is an edited extract from Terror and Consent by Philip Bobbitt. Published by Penguin and Allen Lane …rrp $35.00 Published: May 2008

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