Fatal Future?

[ History ]

Fatal Future?

Transnational Terrorism and the New Global Disorder

By Richard M. Pearlstein

This groundbreaking book examines the evolution of terrorism in the context of the new global disorder.



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6 x 9 | 214 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-70265-3

The nature and goals of terrorist organizations have changed profoundly since the Cold War standoff among the U.S., Soviet, and Chinese superpowers gave way to the current "polyplex" global system, in which the old rules of international engagement have been shattered by a new struggle for power among established states, non-state actors, and emerging nations. In this confusing state of global disorder, terrorist organizations that are privately funded and highly flexible have become capable of carrying out incredibly destructive attacks anywhere in the world in support of a wide array of political, religious, and ethnic causes.

This groundbreaking book examines the evolution of terrorism in the context of the new global disorder. Richard M. Pearlstein categorizes three generations of terrorist organizations and shows how each arose in response to the global conditions of its time. Focusing extensively on today's transnational (i.e., privately funded and internationally operating) terrorist organizations, he devotes thorough attention to the two most virulent types: ethnoterrorism and radical Islamic terrorism. He also discusses the terrorist race for weapons of mass destruction and the types of attacks, including cyberterrorism, that are likely to occur in coming years. Pearlstein concludes with a thought-provoking assessment of the many efforts to combat transnational terrorism in the post-September 11 period.

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • One. What Is Terrorism?
  • Two. The Rise of the New Global Disorder
  • Three. Transnational Terrorism and the New Global Disorder
  • Four. Ethnoterrorism: Menace from Within and Without
  • Five. Holy Rage
  • Six. Superterrorism: What's in It for You?
  • Seven. After September 11: Responding to Transnational Terrorism
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

It is a crisp, sunny morning in America's heartland. The date is September 15, 1995. The place is the corner of Fifth and Robinson Streets, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I can see an enormous crater where a massive office building once stood. I also see the damage to nearby buildings, some of which appear near collapse. I can hear the bulldozers going about their grim work, the soft weeping of bystanders. I can touch the rubble, the fence festooned with poetry, prayers, and toddlers' sneakers. I can smell the diesel exhaust, the dust, the indescribable smells of disaster. It is nearly five months since the Oklahoma City bombing. I have never personally witnessed a scene such as this. Terrorism is no longer an abstract academic topic to me—it is a reality.

It is a warm, clear, and bright afternoon in America's largest city. The date is July 31, 2002. The place, a viewing platform along lower Manhattan's Church Street, is adjacent to a site now known simply as Ground Zero. I can see a sixteen-acre crater where mighty twin skyscrapers—once the most recognizable image of New York City—and other buildings once stood. Upon that crater stands a simple makeshift cross composed of rusty steel girders. I again see the damage to nearby buildings—dusty, abandoned skyscrapers now shrouded by dark meshlike material. An enormous American flag and a banner conveying words of eternal remembrance for the victims, their families, and the city's gallant rescue workers are sewn to one of those shrouds. I also see hundreds of other visitors: a large church group from Portugal, a cluster of Muslims reading passages from the Quran, an impeccably dressed young businessman who clutches his briefcase and leans against the metal fence. Was he a friend or loved one of one of the nearly three thousand souls who perished here? Had he, long ago, resolved to make a daily visit to this now-hallowed ground? I do not know, and I cannot bring myself to ask. I can hear the Portuguese church group praying and singing, the Muslims softly murmuring their prayers. Again I touch the rubble. I can feel the pain in my teeth, which—perhaps in subconscious dread of this pilgrimage—I had been grinding in my sleep. The odor of burned buildings hangs in my nostrils. Again, I smell the diesel exhaust, the dust, those now all too horribly familiar odors of unimaginable tragedy. But this dust is much more than mere dust. I pause and remember the thousands of photographs posted by frantic family members and friends after the collapse of the towers. It is nearly eleven months since that hideous day in September.

Will the human race ever witness an end to this scourge? Most of us acknowledge that we cannot expect to eliminate terrorism, any more than we can expect to end other major crimes, such as rape or murder. Nonetheless, terrorism has undergone a dramatic evolution in recent years. What are the environment and nature of this evolution? What does this evolution tell us about the future of terrorism?

Do you remember where you were when you first learned of the terrorist attacks in Oklahoma City, New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania? Who did you immediately assume was responsible for these monstrous deeds? Given the growing number of attacks against Americans by foreign-based terrorists, most Americans, including me, assumed that foreign terrorists were to blame in each case. In the first instance, our assumptions were wrong. The fact that so horrible an act was planned and executed by American citizens was in itself profoundly shocking. Yet the foreign-based terrorist attacks of September 11 were many times more disturbing, for on that day our national home, our collective sanctuary, our safe haven was violated and desecrated by outside infiltrators. To a great extent, our very sense of "home" has been forever lost.

We ask: Why? There are no simple answers. A new form of terrorism is at our door. What led us to this point?

In addressing these questions, Fatal Future? Transnational Terrorism and the New Global Disorder focuses on two closely related themes. The first is the evolution of a global system once dominated by fairly predictable diplomatic or military relationships among dominant nation-state actors on a well-structured global stage. In recent years, this well-ordered system has been deliberately undermined by new actors—such as transnational terrorist organizations—which follow no clear rules. Second, Fatal Future? examines the gradual transformation of terrorism from a relatively restrained form of domestic, or intranational, conflict to a much more threatening form of transnational conflict, which, unlike its intranational predecessor, intentionally spills over the borders of nation-states.

Fatal Future? consists of seven chapters. Chapter One, "What Is Terrorism?" seeks, quite obviously, to define the term terrorism. This chapter also classifies and describes the various "generations" of terrorist organizations. Chapter Two, "The Rise of the New Global Disorder," analyzes the old global order's nature, demise, and replacement by a new global disorder marked by turbulent interactions between global actors—particularly new types of actors—on a new global stage. These major players include not only traditional nation-states, but also intergovernmental organizations and transnational organizations. Chapter Three, "Transnational Terrorism and the New Global Disorder," examines the evolution of terrorism from the old global order through the new global disorder. and also highlights the origins and nature of transnational terrorism. Chapter Four, "Ethnoterrorism: Menace from Within and Without," examines the continuing specter of ethnonationalist terrorism as well as how and why this form of terrorism now violates the borders of so many nation-states. Chapter Five, "Holy Rage," analyzes the political, religious, and ideological factors which have culminated in a new and even more formidable form of transnational terrorist organization. Most disturbingly, what the perpetrators of this new form of terrorism may have accomplished is to thrust upon the global stage a prototype or model for the transnational terrorist organization of the future. Chapter Six, "Superterrorism: What's in It for You?" probes the now widely accepted prospect that transnational terrorists will expand their use of nonconventional weapons of mass destruction. Chapter Six also explores the relative likelihood, and consequences, of the transnational terrorist employment of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons. Chapter Seven, "After September 11: Responding to Transnational Terrorism," addresses some of the many efforts—some successful, some controversial—to combat transnational terrorism in the post-September 11 period.


Richard M. Pearlstein is Associate Professor of Political Science at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. He is also the author of The Mind of the Political Terrorist.

"As the media has zeroed in on the individual victims, heroes, and perpetrators of 9/11, followed the fighting in Afghanistan, and chronicled the 'war against terrorism' at home, there has been a crying need for a short, sober book like this one . . . [to] provide a broader context. It shows that 9/11 was not unexpected, if unpredicted."

—J. Garry Clifford, Professor of Political Science, University of Connecticut