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The Washington Quarterly 25.3 (2002) 97-108

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Do Terrorist Networks Need a Home?

Ray Takeyh and Nikolas Gvosdev

How are international business organizations and global terrorist networks similar? This question is not a riddle but an analogy made by policymakers ranging from Secretary of State Colin Powell to Russian presidential advisor Gleb Pavlovsky. The comparison seems apropos because the multinational corporation and the transnational terrorist network both utilize the existing global economic, transportation, and communications systems to organize and manage far-flung subsidiaries and to move funds, men, and material from one location to another.

The 2001 trial of Madji Hasan Idris, an Egyptian member of the radical Al Wa'd organization, revealed the extent to which terror has operationally adopted the global business model. Al Wa'd would send young Egyptian recruits to camps in Kosovo or Pakistan and then dispatch them to serve in the Philippines, Kashmir, or wherever else they were needed after their training and indoctrination were complete. Cell phones and e-mail kept the network in constant contact, while couriers provided cash advances, airplane tickets, and passports to facilitate operations.

The objectives of terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and the symbiotic organized-crime networks that help sustain these groups are also not confined territorially or ideologically to a particular region. They are instead explicitly global in orientation. In contrast, "traditional" terrorist organizations such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) or the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) have pursued largely limited, irredentist aims. Each terrorist group drew its membership largely from a specific population, even if they sought the sponsorship of a foreign patron for arms and logistical support. [End Page 97] Al Qaeda, in contrast, recruits adherents from around the globe and seeks out failed states everywhere to house its own, self-sufficient infrastructure.

Extending the analogy, then, these failed states are the global terrorist network's equivalent of an international business's corporate headquarters, providing concrete locations, or stable "nodes," in which to situate their factories, training facilities, and storehouses. Where the analogy differs is the type of state that each seeks. While the multinational corporation seeks out states that offer political stability and a liberal business climate with low taxes and few regulations, failing or failed states draw terrorists, where the breakdown of authority gives them the ability to conduct their operations without risk of significant interference. Today's terrorist does not need a strong state to provide funding and supplies. Rather, it seeks a weak state that cannot impede a group's freedom of action but has the veneer of state sovereignty that prevents other, stronger states from taking effective countermeasures.

The successful U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan has, in the short run, deprived Al Qaeda of one of its principal centers for bases and training camps. Does it matter? Naturally, Al Qaeda operatives are reportedly seeking to move personnel and equipment to new "hosts"—Somalia, Indonesia, Chechnya, the mountains of Central Asia, Bosnia, Lebanon, or Kosovo. In these places, the writ of state authority is lax or nonexistent, and vibrant civil societies do not exist to deny militants the ability to move and operate in the public mainstream. At the same time, these groups also seek to utilize "brown zones" in Western societies, whether specific neighborhoods or particular types of organizations, where state governments are reluctant to intervene. 1 Do terrorist networks need a failed state or other territorial home where it can base its operations, or can these organizations completely blend into global society?

Why Terrorist Networks Need Failed States

Failed states hold a number of attractions for terrorist organizations. First and foremost, they provide the opportunity to acquire territory on a scale much larger than a collection of scattered safe houses—enough to accommodate entire training complexes, arms depots, and communications facilities. Generally, terrorist groups have no desire to assume complete control of the failed state but simply to acquire de facto control over specified areas where they will then be left alone.

In Bosnia, for example, radical groups took control of a number of districts...


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pp. 97-108
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Archived 2009
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