Monday, August 13, 2007

Terror to necessitate decentralization in the future?

A current article by John Robb at City Journal is entitled "The Coming Urban Terror." Some parts are pretty scary, but the article suggests a solution:
[...] Unfortunately, the improvements in lethality that we have already seen are just the beginning. The arc of productivity growth that lets small groups terrorize at ever-higher levels of death and disruption stretches as far as the eye can see. Eventually, one man may even be able to wield the destructive power that only nation-states possess today. It is a perverse twist of history that this new threat arrives at the same moment that wars between states are receding into the past. Thanks to global interdependence, state-against-state warfare is far less likely than it used to be, and viable only against disconnected or powerless states. But the underlying processes of globalization have made us exceedingly vulnerable to nonstate enemies. The mechanisms of power and control that states once exerted will continue to weaken as global interconnectivity increases. Small groups of terrorists can already attack deep within any state, riding on the highways of interconnectivity, unconcerned about our porous borders and our nation-state militaries. These terrorists’ likeliest point of origin, and their likeliest destination, is the city . . .

It is almost certain that we will see repeated, perhaps incessant, attempts to deploy bioweapons with new strains of viruses or bacteria. Picture a Russian biohacker who, a decade from now, designs a new, deadly form of the common flu virus and sells it on the Internet, just as computer viruses and worms get sold today. The terrorist group that buys the design sends it to a recently hired lab tech in Pakistan, who performs the required modifications with widely available tools. The product then ships by mail to London, to the awaiting "suicide vectors"--men who infect themselves and then board airplanes headed to world destinations, infecting passengers on the planes and in crowded terminals. The infection spreads quickly, going global in days--long before anyone detects it.

It’s very possible that many cities will fall in the face of such deadly threats . . .

In almost all cases, cities can defend themselves from their new enemies through effective decentralization. To counter systems disruption, decentralized services--the capability of smaller areas within cities to provide backup services, at least on a temporary basis--could radically diminish the harmful consequences of disconnection from the larger global grid. In New York, this would mean storage or limited production capability of backup electricity, water, and fuel, with easy connections to the delivery grid--at the borough level or even smaller. These backups would then provide a means of restoring central services rapidly after a failure.[...]
It is obvious to anyone that follows terrorism that advances in the technological capability of the individual have been fueling the terror movement. And there is a terror movement--terror is not just a weapon, as people sometimes assert. Shouldn't we also see advances in the technological capacity of the individual to protect himself and others and beyond that, to have a positive, and even transformative, influence in the world? Robb's idea that decentralization is the answer and his image of "startlingly innovative solutions" is suggestive, but perhaps he fails to fully contemplate the possibilities.

(Hat Tip: Real Clear Politics)

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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