sa98ban.gif (32700 bytes)


Nonstate Threats

In the core countries, and more and more over the globe, economies and infrastructure are increasingly integrated and people move more or less freely across borders. Mischief initiated in one place thus can now ripple across oceans and continents (e.g., an attack on information systems in the United States could be felt in Europe and Asia). This increased vulnerability magnifies the power of nonstate actors, making cooperation among the core countries against potential threats more desirable than ever.

International criminal activities, the focus of this chapter, include terrorism, which the United States has characterized as the use of illegal violence. Emphasizing its criminality has helped the United States strengthen the international consensus against terrorism, by underscoring the unacceptability of violence against innocent civilians, irrespective of the cause in whose name it is employed.

In addition to crimes motivated by causes, the other major international criminal activity is that motivated by profit. Criminal groups like the Russian mafya or the Italian Cosa Nostra are highly flexible, shifting the location and character of crimes whenever better opportunities for illegal gain present themselves. These groups rarely target governments directly, but their activities can undermine weak states. If the criminal groups decide to seek profits from smuggling weapons and military technology, particularly weapons of mass destruction (WMD), then their criminal activities can represent a serious challenge to international order.

U.S. Interests

The U.S. Government has an obvious interest in the physical protection of its citizens and their property. U.S. citizens appear to regard terrorist attacks as particularly disturbing crimes. Were the United States seen as not effective in protecting its people, especially its forces, that perception might create doubt about its ability to protect allies or punish enemies in far away regions.

Transition States

As part of its interest in promoting the successful transformation of transition states, the United States has an interest in seeing those states develop stable governments committed to the rule of law, at home and internationally. The United States has an interest also in helping transition states overcome what may be serious crime problems, owing to weakened governance, politicized criminal justice systems, and opportunities for easy money from breaking the rules during a time of rapid economic and institutional change. In some countries, such as Colombia, criminal activities finance guerrilla movements that threaten social stability, even if the prospects for those movements taking power are slim.

Mass Migration

Massive outpourings of peoples from their countries of origin increased in the 1990s. People who flee from conflict and cross international borders are generally recognized as refugees if they have a well-founded fear of persecution were they to return. In 1960, there were 1.4 million refugees; by 1980, the number was 8.2 million; and in 1997, there were about 15 million refugees. Refugee movements have increased not only in number but also in frequency and complexity. In civil conflicts, such as in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda, political leaders exploit ethnic, tribal, religious, and linguistic differences to incite neighbors to battle neighbors. The sweeping devastation forces overpowering numbers of refugees to seek safety at the same time, such as the Iraqi Kurds in 1991 and the 1 million Rwandans who poured into Zaire in a four-day period in July 1994.

Those who are displaced within their own country for the same reason that refugees flee across borders are called internally displaced persons. In 1997, they numbered approximately 30 million. Often, the internally displaced are trapped in the midst of armed conflict or in a country where governance has broken down, leaving no one with whom humanitarian organizations can negotiate access. In some cases, the government charged with protecting its citizens may refuse access to persons in territory held by rebel factions.

While refugees are those who flee involuntarily, migrants relocate voluntarily, usually out of the desire for a better life elsewhere or owing to deterioration in the living conditions in the home country. The illegal immigration of Caribbean people in the 1990s has been particularly troublesome; waves of migrants from Haiti and Cuba overwhelmed the response capacities of both the Coast Guard and civilian authorities, requiring intervention by the U.S. military, and the housing of migrants at the Guantanamo Bay naval base and in Panama.

Mass waves of refugees and migrants are a nonstate problem that will challenge the U.S. military in the future. When humanitarian organizations are overwhelmed by the scale of a disaster--including natural disasters--the military may be called on to assist in relief. It may also be called on to protect borders or to establish peace and carry out constabulary functions.

Deterring Terrorism

Terrorism can be a tempting tool for rogue states, particularly because they are not able to confront the United States more directly. Rogues can use anti-U.S. terrorism to intimidate U.S. allies into distancing themselves from the United States or denying access to facilities. Rogues need not be governments; they can be radical movements. Some such movements, lacking the political support to take power, find terrorism an attractive means with which to blackmail governments and gain publicity for their cause. In other cases, nonstate groups may be used to hide sponsorship of rogue states behind layers of cutouts through which money and technical support can be channeled.

Current Trends

Threats to U.S. Forces

On the whole, international terrorism--that is, terrorism involving citizens of several countries as victims, perpetrators, or sponsors--has been declining since the Cold War ended. Incidents of international terrorism fell to a 25-year low in 1996. In the 1990s, incidents have occurred most often in Europe, particularly as a result of the conflicts in Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia. Incidents have also been frequent in Latin America and the Middle East. Asia has had few of them, but these few included some particularly bloody attacks by Tamil ethnic movements in India and Sri Lanka. Indeed, the casualties from international terrorism issued overwhelmingly from a few spectacular incidents, like the Tamil attacks or the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, which was responsible for 1,006 of the 1,007 casualties from international terrorism in North America in 1991­97. Although the number of incidents is on the decline, casualties from them appear on the rise as terrorists use increasingly lethal explosives.

In the 1990s, most international terrorist incidents have targeted businesses rather than governments. For instance, in 1996, of the 296 incidents, 227 targeted business and 41 targeted governments, including 35 with civilian government targets and 6 with military targets. Anti-U.S. attacks are similarly usually against businesses: 50 attacks in 1996, compared with 6 against U.S. government targets, of which 4 were military.

The relatively few attacks on U.S. forces offer no reason for complacency, however. On the contrary, the small number of such attacks would seem to be a measure of U.S. success in force protection. After the June 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen, force protection became a higher priority for the United States, particularly in the Middle East and Bosnia. The hope is that the protection has discouraged terrorists, but some may shift their targets from U.S. forces to U.S. businesses, which are already the more common terrorist target.

Force protection has been accomplished by various means, but one of the most significant has been reducing unprotected physical proximity to locals, including limiting off-duty recreation and individual missions in the local community. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, most U.S. forces are isolated in the desert, with little opportunity to interact with the Saudi military, much less the Saudi civilian population. The challenge has been to achieve reduced contact without compromising other mission goals, such as training locals and maintaining U.S. force morale. The problems can be acute for a peacekeeping operation, as in Bosnia, in which the mission involves close interaction with locals. Where appropriate, another means to achieve force protection has been to mix so thoroughly with the local population that terrorists would have difficulty targeting the U.S. military. Techniques include wearing inconspicuous civilian clothing outside military installations and dispersing the housing for U.S. military among civilians in hotels and apartment buildings.


At least 45 ship crew members were killed by pirate attacks in the first nine months of 1997, according to the International Maritime Bureau. The typical 1990s pirate attack is armed robbery of a ship and its crew on the high seas. The most common location is in Southeast Asia, near the Straits of Malacca and in the South China Sea. Persistent if unconfirmed reports suggest that some governments turn a blind eye to piracy and that some low-level military officials cooperate with the pirates for cash.

Criminal Destabilization

Great changes in the global economy--stemming from disintegration of hostile power blocs, technological advances in transportation and communications, and diminished government controls over the flow of goods, services, and money--have fundamentally changed the context in which organized crime operates. Increased legal commerce provides a handy cover and justification for the movement of illegal merchandise and cash proceeds. That less than 3 percent of the 9 million large shipping containers entering the United States annually is checked by U.S. Customs only underscores the problem. The collapse of the Soviet empire and the reintroduction of capitalism in China have removed barriers not only to business but also to criminal activities. New opportunities have allowed criminal organizations to globalize their operations, move into new markets, and expand the range of illegal activities. Transnational criminal enterprises appear to share several key characteristics:

Within a country's borders, organized crime presents two broad types of threats to an existing political authority. One is that flagrant lawlessness and criminal threats to the legitimacy or integrity of governments will provoke the growth of extremist or authoritarian movements that promise to reestablish order and fairness. The other--almost a mirror image of the first--is that the activities of criminals will merge with and reinforce existing civil conflicts or separatist tendencies. These problems afflict many weak states, for instance, Albania and elsewhere in the Balkans, plus Nigeria and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. For the United States, an important case of the first threat type is in Russia, and an equally important case of the second type is in Colombia.

The grave weakening of state power in the former Soviet Union weakened the law enforcement and criminal justice systems. Porous frontiers and newly convertible currencies have increased the attractiveness to criminals of local markets for drugs. In the former Soviet countries, as a result, organized crime flourishes in various guises--drug trafficking, counterfeiting, stolen cars and art objects, commerce in illegal aliens, and arms smuggling. Police forces tend to be underpaid, underfunded, ill equipped, and demoralized. This situation encourages both the offer and acceptance of bribes, as well as the use of violence by organized gangs against honest law enforcement officials. An atmosphere of inadequate rule of law has weakened support for democratization and free markets, discouraged Western investment, retarded economic growth, and made a return to authoritarianism and state control of the economy seem attractive to some. In Russia for instance, intensified criminal activities fanned the discontent that produced the success in the December 1993 parliamentary elections of the ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, when his Liberal Democratic party won 23 percent of the vote. Zhirinovsky's platform included on-the-spot execution of criminal gang leaders and seizure of criminal assets to finance a reduction of government budget deficits.

In Colombia, the government's ability to control the country has been brought into doubt by the large armed forces of leaders of the drug trade. Paramilitary forces, often subsidized by drug traffickers, exercise more control over large areas than the government can. The most important of the approximately dozen such forces is that of Carlos Castaño, reported to have 2,000 men in uniform at a $400 monthly salary. These forces engage in violent conflict with guerrilla groups, the largest of which is the 8,000-soldier Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which takes the lion's share of the $700 million the guerrillas raise annually from the drug trade. This group spearheaded a boycott of the October 1997 local elections, using death threats to force 2,000 candidates to withdraw their names. Despite the intense terrorist threat and the government's poor control over large areas of the countryside, 45 percent of the eligible voters turned out, mainly because of the extensive role of the Colombian military: 84,000 soldiers joined 102,000 police officers to protect the voting.

The scale of violence by the drug traffickers is beyond police capabilities to control, necessitating a vigorous role for the Colombian military. The situation may worsen as cooperation between the Colombian and Russian organized criminals increases. Russian criminal groups were said in 1997 to have offered to sell Colombian drug traffickers a submarine, helicopters, and surface-to-surface missiles. The traffickers may have acquired at least two Russian combat helicopters.


Compared with the radical leftist and nationalist anti-Western terrorism that dominated the 1970s and 1980s, terrorism in the 1990s has come from more diffuse sources. The distinction between international and domestic terrorism has eroded, as shown by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which attacked Tokyo subways and had branches in several industrial countries, including the United States and Russia, from where it purchased and then imported into Japan an MI­17 helicopter. Much of the international terrorism of the 1990s has come from amorphous groups of individuals, not tightly knit organizations. In particular, radical Islamic fundamentalists were able to carry out several spectacular attacks, including the 1992 World Trade Center and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings, without any evident central organization. These terrorists, whose claim to act on the basis of Islamic principles is rejected by the overwhelming majority of Muslims, drew in part on the experiences of the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Financing for their activities comes from well-to-do individuals, such as the former Saudi citizen Osama Bin Laden, now resident in Afghanistan.

Of the seven governments on the U.S. terrorism list, there is little evidence that four of them--Cuba, North Korea, Syria, and Libya--are still sponsoring terrorism, though they continue to harbor terrorists and to maintain the infrastructure for terrorist training. Of the other three terrorist supporting states--Iran, Iraq, and Sudan--Iran is the main state sponsor of international terrorism. Some of Iran's recent activities include the following:

Shaping the Strategic Environment

In most circumstances, the military will be only a supporting actor in the fight against terrorism and other forms of international organized crime. The principal responsibility for combating these threats rests with the criminal justice system--the police, the courts, the prisons--and those who write the laws. But the military will be used in counterterrorism, as in rescuing hostages in hostile territory and reprisals against terrorist-sponsoring states. And the military will be involved in constabulary operations, as a supplement to the police. Some circumstances in which the military's unique skills will be used are:

With other core country militaries, the United States aims to build on multilateral cooperation initiatives for both counterterrorism and counternarcotics. As these phenomena threaten all who share the values and interests of the core countries, this aim offers the basis for developing common strategies and sharing the responsibility for implementing them.

With transition country militaries, the U.S. focus is on reinforcing the capabilities to assist the criminal justice system in countering terrorism and organized crime, while drawing the transition states' military forces into multilateral cooperation mechanisms like those with core countries.

In the face of rogues, the principal security aim of countercrime policy is to deter these states from sponsoring terrorism, including hidden support.

Hezbollah guerrillas

Avert Conflict

U.S. counterterrorism forces are part of the larger special operations forces, which have approximately 29,000 active-duty personnel and an annual budget of $3 billion. The portion of these forces and budget devoted to counterterrorism is classified information, but counterterrorism units train for a wide range of activities, including intelligence gathering, rescue operations, and combat missions. DoD policy prohibits divulging details about these forces or their use. The DoD willingly allows other entities to take credit for successful efforts for which its own counterterrorism forces have been responsible, both abroad and at home. Any advantages that might accrue from publicizing successful exploits are more than outweighed by the benefits of denying U.S. enemies information about how counterterrorism forces operate.

Military responses to terrorism are not limited to the use of special forces. One noteworthy example of a different response was the April 1986 air strike against Libya, a reaction largely to the bombing of a discotheque in Berlin popular with U.S. service personnel. The effectiveness of this reprisal remains unclear. To be sure, in the late 1980s Libya sharply scaled back its support for terrorism, but the change may have been due to a changed international environment (dramatically lower oil revenues, less support from the USSR). Further, Libya organized a particularly deadly attack after the 1986 strike, the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The U.S. Military on the Border

In 1989, the U.S. military began to operate a series of listening posts in unpopulated areas along the U.S.-Mexican border; currently there are about 200 posts. Since 1990, a Joint Task Force based in El Paso, Texas has carried out more than 3,000 operations in support of the Border Patrol.

Controversy erupted about the role of the U.S. military in assisting with control of the border in May 1997, when Marines on patrol shot and killed Ezequiel Hernandez, a south Texas youth, when they thought he was firing at them; others claim he was practicing shooting while watching the family sheep and may not have seen the camouflaged Marines. Concern about the death led Defense Secretary Cohen to suspend all ground-monitoring and observation activities in September 1997.

In theory, U.S. Armed Forces could be used to carry out combat missions against members of organized crime and their assets, but such actions would risk arousing nationalist sentiment in favor of the criminals, undermining anticrime goals, and possibly putting at risk the already weakened governance in a transition state. In many cases, a government under siege by organized crime may be unwilling to give approval for U.S. military operations directed against criminals. Were the United States to carry out strikes on the territory or in the airspace of foreign countries without their approval, these would almost certainly be seen as attacks on state sovereignty.

Even well-established criminal groups, like terrorist organizations, ordinarily do not possess permanent, irreplaceable infrastructure that provides targets for conventional military operations. For instance, a raid on terrorist camps may destroy only buildings and kill low-level caretakers, with little effect on the terrorist group's ability to carry out attacks. For these reasons, the principal overt use of the Armed Forces to counter organized crime abroad will be assistance to local military and security services.

U.S. allies are not likely to doubt the seriousness with which the United States views the issues of terrorism and counternarcotics, so long as these continue to receive high-level attention, as they have in the mid-1990s.

Promote Defense Reform

A major problem limiting the use of military forces in constabulary operations has been mixed reputations for fairness and effectiveness. Concerns about the human rights record of the Colombian military delayed provision of materiel for counternarcotics operations to both the military and the police, although the latter's record has been less doubtful. In 1996 and 1997, President Clinton authorized provision of nonlethal equipment for the Colombian counternarcotics effort contingent on agreement by the army and police on observing human rights. The police quickly agreed and received $100 million in equipment; the military agreed only in August 1997 and then was authorized to receive $50 million in nonlethal equipment.

Corruption in the Mexican military, though less rampant than in the Mexican police, has limited its effectiveness in counterdrug operations. Efforts to establish more professional accountability in the military are an essential component of counternarcotics policy, given that the vast sums of money changing hands in the drug trade create an inherent risk of terrorism. In February 1997, General Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, the director of Mexico's top antidrug agency (the 2,500-man National Institute to Combat Drugs), was arrested on charges of corruption. In March 1997, General Alfredo Navarro Lara was arrested for offering a $1 million-a-month bribe to the general heading antinarcotics efforts in Tijuana.

The United States also encourages fuller civilian control over the military in countries where order has been threatened by drugs and drug-financed guerrillas, as in Peru. (For more on these issues, see chapter Seven.)

Another potential role for the U.S. military is to reinforce the police, especially as part of U.S. intervention in small-scale contingencies (SSCs). (For a discussion of the role of the U.S. military in policing the new world disorder, see chapter 10.)

U.S. Military and Counterterrrorism in the United States

The role of the military in counterterrorism and other domestic constabulary activities is likely to be a function of the magnitude of the threat--the size and frequency of episodes--and the degree to which terrorism is sponsored by hostile states. At present, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has principal Federal responsibility for responding to domestic terrorist incidents and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the Federal response plan for the consequences of terrorism.

As a general principle, the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C. Sec. 831, 1385) prohibits use of "any part of the execute the laws," a provision extended to the sea services by regulation. However, a series of statutory exceptions enacted since 1981 permit use of the Armed Forces in specific situations, including counternarcotics operations and in dealing with terrorist threats that are exceptionally grave or beyond FBI capabilities to resolve. In practice, for a terrorist incident, written authority from the President is required and has never been sought. That said, the Armed Forces became involved in the 1993 episodes involving antigovernment activists at Ruby Ridge, Idaho (with reconnaissance flights), and Waco, Texas (e.g., with armored vehicles lent to the FBI), on the basis of alleged narcotics activities. The Posse Comitatus restrictions have strong support from civil libertarians, those who want to limit the powers of the Federal Government, and those who want the military to concentrate on traditional war-fighting. But the trend has been toward relaxing restrictions in cases of strong perceived threat, especially regarding guarding the borders (e.g., from narcotics smugglers and illegal aliens). In its December 1997 report, the National Defense Panel argued that domestic security will be one of three national security imperatives in 2020 (along with national survival and global economic and political stability). The panel argued, "Beyond its responsibility to secure our borders against attack, the Department of Defense must be able to assist civil authorities against a variety of threats to lives and property in the United States, regardless of their source." To this end, it recommended: "Use Department of Defense assets to advise and assist law enforcement in combating terrorist activities" and "Incorporate all levels of government into managing the consequences of a WMD-type attack."

In 1996­97, the military acquired an accelerated role in Federal preparations for possible WMD terrorism. As provided for in the 1996 Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act sponsored by Senators Nunn, Lugar, and Dominici, DoD began in April 1997 to train first responders in the nation's 120 largest cities, with 27 cities covered in FY 1997. A variety of WMD terrorism exercises were held (e.g., in Washington, D.C., prior to the January 1997 inaugural, and in Denver prior to the June 1997 G-8 summit). The U.S. Army Chemical and Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM) maintains a rapidly deployable monitoring and assessment system, and its Technical Escort Units can perform render-safe procedures on munitions as well as decontaminate equipment and personnel. The Marine Corps' Chemical Biological Incident Response Force is rapidly deployable to decontaminate victims, stabilize patients, and treat chemical and biological casualties.

U. S. Coast Guard searching for illeagal drugs

Complement Friends

Multinational initiatives can be vital for combating transnational threats. For instance, consider the successes in the mid-1990s at interdicting drug smuggling. Since 1995, the United States, Colombia, and Peru have sustained a complex, closely coordinated attack against the drug-laden aircraft traversing the so-called air bridge from the coca-growing regions of Peru to the processing laboratories in Colombia. This included efforts to share detection, monitoring, and other information to identify and track these planes, so that Colombia and Peru can force--and, if necessary, shoot--them down. The program's success has been one of the reasons for the post-1994 collapse of the coca price in Peru and a dramatic reduction in cultivation there.

In the Caribbean, DoD has sponsored a joint interagency task force (JIATF), JIATF/East, which includes liaison officers from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, whose forces are responsible for their territories in the region. The liaison officers assist in passing information between the United States and their countries, and they help in acquiring clearances concerning drug-enforcement flights that cross their borders. Since 1992, as the trafficking threat in the region shifted from air to seaborne smuggling, the United States has negotiated Maritime Counternarcotics Agreements with 11 nations bordering the Caribbean and is negotiating similar agreements with the United Kingdom, Netherlands, and France for their territories in the region.

In 1997, the United States and Panama reached agreement in principle on the formation of a multinational counternarcotics center, to be located in Panama. (For a discussion of this matter, see chapter Seven.)

Potentially Hostile States

In spite of the tragedy of the Khobar Towers bombing, the U.S. military's force protection policy has generally been successful; for instance, no casualties have been inflicted by terrorists in Bosnia, despite the high-threat environment. The paradox of successful protection measures is that they may encourage terrorists to consider larger or unconventional attacks that then inflict more casualties. Indeed, one of the reasons that the Khobar Towers bombing was so deadly was that the bomb was much larger than was believed within the capabilities of local terrorists. This problem, a kind of asymmetric attack issue, will be difficult to avoid. One response is to encourage imaginative thinking about the kinds of attacks terrorists could mount.


Few U.S. military units are organized or trained for law enforcement, which is the main instrument used against terrorists, drug traffickers, and other international criminals. Although the U.S. military will generally play only an auxiliary role in responding to nonstate threats, it alone can provide capabilities such as reprisal against terrorist-sponsoring states. The military will also assist in areas such as responding to the use of heavy arms and WMD and providing intelligence, logistics, and communications assets.

If the scale of the nonstate threat grows, especially if local police are being overwhelmed, the U.S. military will become more active. That is most likely in conjunction with U.S. military operations, e.g., protecting U.S. forces deployed overseas and in conjunction with SSCs. However, the U.S. military could also become involved in transition states or even inside the United States.

To a large extent, the training, doctrine, and equipment for accomplishing its periodic law-enforcement tasks will be an outgrowth of what the U.S. military prepares for SSCs. If escalating problems necessitate a larger military role in domestic defense in support of U.S. civilian authorities, careful attention to new training, doctrine, and equipment such as nonlethal weaponry will be needed. The U.S. military would have to balance military necessity and due vigilance for the lives of U.S. citizens who, when encountered in the field, must be presumed innocent.

| Return to Contents | Return to Top | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter |