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October 10, 2012

What the Vikings can teach us about terrorism

(Continued)

MONTEREY, Calif. —

And the kind of international order that President George H.W. Bush spoke of so hopefully in 1991 — in the wake of Desert Storm — has never emerged. Instead, it is a world that Zbigniew Brzezinski once presciently described as "out of control." The membership of the United Nations has nearly quadrupled since its inception at the end of World War II, but the number or nations that are failing to sustain basic state functions is high, and even growing. Indeed, Foreign Policy's 2012 "Failed States Index" notes only a few areas of stability — North America, Western Europe, and Australia — while all other regions teeter on the brink of disaster. This means that significant swaths of the world lie beyond notions of order, making them fertile ground for the seeds of terror.

If O'Connell and I are right, the implications for policy are to: 1) disengage from religious disputations about exactly who has "hijacked Islam"; 2) prioritize the establishment of societal order first in troubled areas, rather than government-in-a-box democracy; and 3) focus on improving the ability to detect and track terrorists in cyberspace. These three straightforward steps are unlikely to be taken, though, absent a willingness to consider the possibility that the true lineage of terror is radically different from the prevailing beliefs that shape the global discourse today.

Given the return of al Qaida to Iraq, its involvement in Syria and Yemen, and its new franchises in Africa and other parts of the world — along with increasing signs that other terrorist movements are now getting underway — perhaps it's time for a new paradigm.

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Arquilla is professor and chair of the defense analysis department at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and author, most recently, of "Insurgents, Raiders and Bandits."

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