In light of Jack’s recent post, it may be useful to examine another facet of the growing atomization of the political and military map of the world. That is how the growing fragmentation, lawlessness in such fragmented areas, and violence can and is being manipulated by external actors (both state and non-state) in order to advance their own interests. This can work across multiple levels; chaos in one country can directly weaken that one, while spreading second- and third-order effects to partner countries.
Now, none of this is by any means new. At its most basic, it is the operating tenant of any terrorist strategy. As an aside, I am using the term “terrorist” here in its strictest meaning, i.e., someone who deliberately avoids engaging the police or military of their target country, instead focusing on violence toward the civilian populace in order to force political change through a form of extortion. “Terrorist” has become increasingly an Information Operations buzzword. Most times it is used in reference to forces best described as “guerrillas,” who do engage in combat with police and military, while in some situations offering parallel state institutions for the civilian populace.
The strategy of the political terrorist is to either force concessions (or a change in government) through weariness of the constant, low-level violence, or to force the government to become so oppressive in attempting to counter the campaign of terror that the general populace rises up against that government in rebellion.
The chaos does not have to be purely violence. It can take the shape of what John Robb refers to as “systems disruption.” An attack on a power sub-station denies electricity to a neighborhood that already doesn’t trust the government to look after its interests. Attacks on infrastructure can create just as much chaos, if not more, than death squads and attacks on police stations.