Let’s Talk Frankly About State Sponsored Terror.

2015-09-01 11.08.56

By The Gunship Blogger


A failed state is a cancerous entity which is capable of metastasizing and spreading to other countries with relative ease.  A failed state, as many of the readings stated, is a breeding ground for terrorism.  The failed state du jour in the articles is Somalia.  Somalia represents another of a long line of failures of the United Nations stabilization and rebuilding efforts (Maims, Gompert, Treverton, & Stearns, 2008).  However, despite the devastating failures of the UN and US administration at the time, the real state threats today represent a greater danger than scratched paint on a container ship from a pirate firing a light machine gun.  As the readings discussed, the situation to the southern border represents a unique threat which was somewhat glossed over in the Rand article (Jenkins, 2009).   Additionally in the news, we see the emergence of a failed state in Syria and the utter devastation it has wreaked on friendly nations attempting to assist is a case study in state terrorism in and of itself.

The article pertaining to the potential collapse of the Mexican government and the far left movement to annex the territory lost to the US during the Mexican American war describes a potential powder keg.  Interestingly, the cartels have cut off and tortured more people along the Mexican border than ISIS (al-Gharbi, 2014).  Additionally, third world diseases spread across the border from a failed medical system, causing massive stress on U.S. medical infrastructure (Dinan, 2014).   There is very good reason for people to flood from a state with drug wars massacring tens of thousands of people annually.  What the RAND article fails to acknowledge is the carriage of terror driven values across the border.  The article mentions how illegal immigrants fear reprisal from cartels, which is a driving factor behind their complacency or support of the cartels (Jenkins, 2009).  However, there might be more to the situation.  While cultural heritage and pride is important, so is assimilation into the culture.  If individuals never experienced true freedom and remain loyal to their former country due to lack of understanding, mentally they never escape the terrors they fled.  A fear of corrupt police and military drives crime reporting underground.  Communities remain culturally isolated and closed, emulating defensive mechanisms from living in an authoritarian regime where outsiders bring trouble.  While simply defensive mechanisms, they facilitate the creation of the terror from which they ran.  This is a difficult situation to overcome, but apparent in many state failures.

The Syrian dilemma illustrates a very complicated dynamic caused by a failing state.  As the news states, the civil war between Assad, ISIS and the rebels transformed the state into an inhabitable wasteland.  The surge of people fleeing the region has lead to terrorist attacks in Europe and massive stress on European infrastructure.  In a personal conversation with a Saudi citizen in Riyadh, the topic of KSA’s refusal to admit refugees arose.  While certainly not the spokesman for the country, the reply: “we don’t want them because they will bring their problems here”(citation omitted for privacy reasons) might have been calloused, but certainly more insightful than many world leaders.  It is interesting to note that the gulf nations have refused to take a single refugee from the crisis and prefer to deride western nations for not taking enough.  These countries understand how state terror is not geographically isolated, but rather tied to a failed state culture.  In the Mair article, the collapse of Somalia lead to other countries surrounding the horn of Africa to experience turmoil and terror (Mair, 2008).  In the Syria situation, the neighboring countries strictly enforce their borders and allow the terror to spill elsewhere, like water following the contours of a channel.

Why look at terrorist organizations as bands of ideologues?  They are businesses with clear cut business interests.  Looking at a terrorist organization with that lens provides insight on how they actually operate.  A start up company with investor funding has several investors who contributed capital to the business.  These investors expect their money returned to them, plus interest (Kaplan & Warren, 2013).  In many circumstances, the business owner or other like-minded individuals will band together to buy out investors who do not have the same short and long term goals (Kaplan & Warren, 2013).

The above concept is exactly the same as state terror.  The terror organization starts off needing funding or protection.  The state provides assistance via lack of oversight or political correctness.  Eventually, however, the activities of the terror group are at odds with the state or initial funders.  The organization then makes radial operational changes once it has another funding source or is self sufficient (BARRETT, 2014).  AQI’s transition into ISIS is the text book example.  AQ started off as Osama Bin Laden’s concept of an Islamic quick reaction force (BARRETT, 2014).  It was supposed to be an in house (Islamic house) solution for the middle east to deal with bad leaders or conflicting middle east nations.  It received great patronage from many mosques, wealthy benefactors and even states (Brisard & Martinez, 2014).  However, in Iraq, the specific brand of AQ became known as AQI.  Zarqawi, the founder of AQI, had diverging goals from Osama and the patrons of his movement (Brisard & Martinez, 2014).  Therefore, he continued terror operations sponsored by his funders until he amassed enough infrastructure to no longer have to bow to the wishes of his investors (Brisard & Martinez, 2014).  He effectively bought off those investors by finding another funding stream.

Therefore, the concept of state terror should be analyzed in this corporate takeover lens.  ISIS became dangerous when it separated from its AQ state sponsors and no longer followed their rules.  Perhaps the right action is not to force a separation between the state and terror organization, but leverage that control instead.  In the case of AQI, had all of the patrons been threatened financially or physically into pushing down less radical edicts to AQI and slowly collapse the organization, ISIS may not have been able to separate from its host.  A business who still struggles without its angel investors will never be able to buy them out.  And as such, that business will be at the mercy of the investors with regards to what products or services it creates.

State terror represents a very difficult problem for the international community.  While poverty is not a driving factor for terrorism, political instability is (Abadie, 2004).  Referencing the two examples above, perhaps countries with similar cultures and values who provide aid might be the best way to assuage the fleeing populace and reduce the export of terror.  A Syrian refugee in Sweden feels like they are on an alien planet, physically, social, spiritually and mentally.  However, if Saudi Arabia opened up the million + beds it maintains in Mecca for the Hajj to some of the Syrian refugees, the refugees have less of a cultural, physical and religious barrier to surmount in order to assimilate into the populace.  Perhaps then, aid should be provided to culturally and regionally similar states to encourage them to help their neighbors, rather than forcing their neighbors to move across the globe into an alien land and culture during their time of need.



Abadie, A. (2004). Poverty, Political Freedom, and the Roots of Terrorism. Cambridge: Harvard University.

al-Gharbi, M. (2014, October 20). Mexican Drug Cartels are Worse than ISIL. Retrieved from Al Jazeera: http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/10/isil-vs-mexican-drugcartelsunitedstatesislamophobia.html

BARRETT, R. (2014). The Islamic State. New York: The Soufan Group.

Brisard, J.-C., & Martinez, D. (2014). ISLAMIC STATE: THE ECONOMY-BASED TERRORIST FUNDING . New York City: Thompson Reuters.

Byman, D. (2008). The Changing Nature of State Sponsorship of Terrorism. Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institute.

Campbell, A. (2015, June 01). TSA Fails 95 Percent Of Airport Security Tests Conducted By Homeland Security: Report. Retrieved from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/01/tsa-fails-95-percent-tests-homeland-security_n_7485558.html

Collins, J. (2005, August). Army Recruiting Crisis: Problems, Responses and Prognosis. ARMY, pp. 12-18.

Dinan, S. (2014, October 06). Disease plagues illegal immigrants; lack of medications, basic hygiene blamed. Retrieved from The Washington Times: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/oct/6/diseases-still-problem-illegal-immigrant-families/?page=all

Jenkins, B. M. (2009). Could Mexico Fail. Santa Monica: The RAND Corporation.

Kaplan, J. M., & Warren, A. C. (2013). Patterns of Entrepreneurship Management. Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons Inc.

Maims, M. C., Gompert, D. C., Treverton, G. F., & Stearns, B. K. (2008). Breaking the Failed-State Cycle. Santa Monica: The RAND Corporation.

Mair, S. (2008). A New Approach; The Need to Focus on Failing States. Santa Barbara: Failed States.

Stohl, M. (2002). Networks of Terror, Failed States and Failing Policies After September 11. . Santa Barbara: University of California.

Stohl, R., & Stohl, M. (2008). Failing the Failed; The Bush Administration and Failed States. Santa Barbara: Failed States.



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