The terrorist bombing at Madrid's Barajas Airport on January 3rd,
which killed two people and injured about 20, has been "claimed" by the Basque
separatist movement ETA. It was the first ETA bombing in more than three years,
and comes nine months after negotiations led ETA to declare a "cease fire" in
its forty-year for the independence of the Basque provinces of northern
many voices across Spain condemned the attack, and the Spanish government
declared that the "peace process" was finished, and there were calls for a more
aggressive approach to eliminating ETA. But leading spokesmen for Batasuna, the
Basque separatist party that is generally regarded as ETA's political wing,
have distanced themselves from the attack. In fact, the attack is
uncharacteristic of ETA's past activities. Historically, ETA attacks have
tended to be focused on politicians, military personnel, and police officers
and officials, with very low risk to "civilians." The attack in Madrid was
different. This strongly suggests a rift in the Basque nationalist movement.
And that is nothing new in the history of insurgencies and resistance
the Irish Republican Army. The original IRA won independence for most of
Ireland in the early 1920s. But some elements in the movement refused to accept
the settlement, because it left Britain in control of Northern Ireland. This
led to civil war, and a continuing series of on-again, off-again terrorist
campaigns by splinter factions, usually against British interests in Northern
Ireland (fueled by the resentment of Catholics to blatantly discriminatory
treatment), and occasionally in the Republic, which officially opposes the use
of terror. And Americans may perhaps recall events such as 18th century "Shay's
Rebellion", or "The Whiskey Rebellion," in which some of the
"Patriots" needed to be reminded that the American Revolution was not against
the idea of government, but against non-participatory government.
by an insurgency usually is measured by some sort of compromise. This often
leaves some of the more committed rebels unhappy, for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps they "want it all," everything the "revolution" was fighting for, even
if it wasn't actually fighting for it. For example, the Algerian Revolution
against France in the '50s was a nationalist movement, but some of the
nationalists thought of it as a religious war, which has led to
protracted religious insurgency in the country. And some of the rebels
are often motivated more by a hankering for killing people and blowing things
up, than any ideological goal.
the past, the fringe elements of movements like the IRA or ETA could continue
the fight for decades. Under continuous secret service pressure, such groups
would tend to splinter into smaller and smaller fragments, over ideology, or as
popular support waxed or waned, or as their leaders cut deals to retire from
the fight. As the history of the various manifestations of the IRA
demonstrates, such "wars" can drag on indefinitely, characterized by sporadic
incidents and usually low casualties rates.
are important lessons here for the "Global War on Terror." Anyone can engage be
a terrorist. Defeating the "leadership" will not necessarily end the conflict.
In fact, there doesn't have to be a "leadership" at all. Anyone with an
alleged-grievance or a "vision" can undertake his own "war." This has happened
in the past. New York City had "Mad Bomber" George Metesky in the '40s and
'50s. The "American Republican Army" undertook two bombings in 1961. The
"Unabomber", Theodore J. Kaczynski, was active from the 1970s to the '90s.
These were actions of "super-empowered individuals," people with grievances and
access to explosives. But there's a difference between the past and the
world is now characterized by the near-instantaneous proliferation of
information and misinformation, ease-to-use communication systems, and
technologies that provide cheap, readily improvised WMD capabilities. At the
same time, the development of our cultural, social, economic, industrial, and
political structures offers vulnerabilities never dreamed of by earlier
terrorists. This presents unprecedented problems for security forces, problems
that are neither purely military nor purely law enforcement, but a mixture of
both, with a lot of complex intelligence demands. All this places complex
strains on governmental jurisdictions, and the intersection of the public and
private sectors, not to mention civil liberties, cultural traditions, and
to "the New Terrorism."