Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hardly Existential:Thinking Rationally About Terrorism

Summary: 
Many people hold that terrorism poses an existential threat to the United States. But a look at the actual statistics suggests that it presents an acceptable risk -- one so low that spending to further reduce its likelihood or consequences is scarcely justified.
JOHN MUELLER is Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University. MARK G. STEWART is Professor of Civil Engineering and Director of the Centre for Infrastructure Performance and Reliability at the University of Newcastle, in Australia. Their book, Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security, will be published in 2011.

An impressively large number of politicians, opinion makers, scholars, bureaucrats, and ordinary people hold that terrorism -- and al Qaeda in particular -- poses an existential threat to the United States. This alarming characterization, which was commonly employed by members of the George W. Bush administration, has also been used by some Obama advisers, including the counterterrorism specialist Bruce Riedel. Some officials, such as former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, have parsed the concept further, declaring the struggle against terrorism to be a "significant existential" one.
Over the last several decades, academics, policymakers, and regulators worldwide have developed risk-assessment techniques to evaluate hazards to human life, such as pesticide use, pollution, and nuclear power plants. In the process, they have reached a substantial consensus about which risks are acceptable and which are unacceptable. When these techniques are applied to terrorism, it becomes clear that terrorism is far from an existential threat. Instead, it presents an acceptable risk, one so low that spending to further reduce its likelihood or consequences is scarcely justified.
An unacceptable risk is often called de manifestis, meaning of obvious or evident concern -- a risk so high that no "reasonable person" would deem it acceptable. A widely cited de manifestis risk assessment comes from a 1980 United States Supreme Court decision regarding workers' risk from inhaling gasoline vapors. It concluded that an annual fatality risk -- the chance per year that a worker would die of inhalation -- of 1 in 40,000 is unacceptable. This is in line with standard practice in the regulatory world. Typically, risks considered unacceptable are those found likely to kill more than 1 in 10,000 or 1 in 100,000 per year.
At the other end of the spectrum are risks that are considered acceptable, and there is a fair degree of agreement about that area of risk as well. For example, after extensive research and public consultation, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided in 1986 that the fatality risk posed by accidents at nuclear power plants should not exceed 1 in 2 million per year and 1 in 500,000 per year from nuclear power plant operations. The governments of Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom have come up with similar numbers for assessing hazards. So did a review of 132 U.S. federal government regulatory decisions dealing with public exposure to environmental carcinogens, which found that regulatory action always occurred if the individual annual fatality risk exceeded 1 in 700,000. Impressively, the study found a great deal of consistency   among a wide range of federal agencies about what is considered an acceptable level of risk. 
Vastly more lives could have been saved if counterterrorism funds had instead been spent on combating hazards that present unacceptable risks.
There is a general agreement about risk, then, in the established regulatory practices of several developed countries: risks are deemed unacceptable if the annual fatality risk is higher than 1 in 10,000 or perhaps higher than 1 in 100,000 and acceptable if the figure is lower than 1 in 1 million or 1 in 2 million. Between these two ranges is an area in which risk might be considered "tolerable."
These established considerations are designed to provide a viable, if somewhat rough, guideline for public policy. In all cases, measures and regulations intended to reduce risk must satisfy essential cost-benefit considerations. Clearly, hazards that fall in the unacceptable range should command the most attention and resources. Those in the tolerable range may also warrant consideration -- but since they are less urgent, they should be combated with relatively inexpensive measures. Those hazards in the acceptable range are of little, or even negligible, concern, so precautions to reduce their risks even further would scarcely be worth pursuing unless they are remarkably inexpensive.
If the U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to apply a risk-based approach to decision-making, as it frequently claims it does, these risk-acceptance criteria seem to be most appropriate. To this end, the table below lists the annual fatality risks for a wide variety of these dangers, including terrorism.
As can be seen, annual terrorism fatality risks, particularly for areas outside of war zones, are less than one in one million and therefore generally lie within the range regulators deem safe or acceptable, requiring no further regulations, particularly those likely to be expensive. They are similar to the risks of using home appliances (200 deaths per year in the United States) or of commercial aviation (103 deaths per year). Compared with dying at the hands of a terrorist, Americans are twice as likely to perish in a natural disaster and nearly a thousand times more likely to be killed in some type of accident. The same general conclusion holds when the full damage inflicted by terrorists -- not only the loss of life but direct and indirect economic costs -- is aggregated. As a hazard, terrorism, at least outside of war zones, does not inflict enough damage to justify substantially increasing expenditures to deal with it.
Because they are so blatantly intentional, deaths resulting from terrorism do, of course, arouse special emotions. And they often have wide political ramifications, as citizens demand that politicians "do something." Many people therefore consider them more significant and more painful to endure than deaths by other causes. But quite a few dangers, particularly ones concerning pollution and nuclear power plants, also stir considerable political and emotional feelings, and these have been taken into account by regulators when devising their assessments of risk acceptability. Moreover, the table also includes another kind of hazard that arouses strong emotions and is intentional -- homicide -- and its frequency generally registers, unlike terrorism, in the unacceptable category.
In order to deal with the emotional and political aspects of terrorism, a study recently conducted for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security suggested that lives lost to terrorism should be considered twice as valued as those lost to other hazards. That is, $1 billion spent on saving one hundred deaths from terrorism might be considered equivalent to $1 billion spent on saving two hundred deaths from other dangers. But even with that generous (and perhaps morally questionable) bias, or even with still more generous ones, counterterrorism expenditures fail a standard cost-benefit assessment.
Politicians and bureaucrats do, of course, face considerable political pressure to deal with terrorism, but that does not relieve them of their responsibility to expend public funds wisely. If they feel they cannot do so, they should resign or forthrightly admit that they are being irresponsible -- or they should have refused to take the job in the first place. Moreover, although political pressures may force unwise actions and expenditures, they usually do not dictate the precise amount of money spent. The United Kingdom, which seems to face a considerably greater internal threat from terrorism than the United States, nonetheless spends only half as much per capita on homeland security -- at no notable cost to the tenure of its politicians and bureaucrats.
And certainly nothing relieves politicians and bureaucrats of their responsibility to inform the public about the risk that terrorism actually presents. But just about the only official who has ever openly tried to do so is New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who, in 2007, remarked that people have a greater chance of being hit by lightning than being struck by terrorism -- an observation that, as the table suggests, is a bit off the mark but roughly sound. Bloomberg, it might be noted, is still in office.
To border on becoming unacceptable by established risk conventions -- that is, to reach an annual fatality risk of 1 in 100,000 -- the number of fatalities from terrorist attacks in the United States and Canada would have to increase 35-fold; in Great Britain (excluding Northern Ireland), more than 50-fold; and in Australia, more than 70-fold. For the United States, this would mean experiencing attacks on the scale of 9/11 at least once a year, or 18 Oklahoma City bombings every year.
For this to come about, terrorists would probably have to acquire nuclear weapons, the likelihood of which is highly questionable. If that fear is deemed viable, however, the policy implications would be to spend entirely, or almost entirely, on dealing with that limited concern. Massive expenditures to protect "critical infrastructure," for example, are unlikely to be effective against a nuclear explosion.
In fact, there is little evidence that terrorists are becoming any more destructive, particularly in the West. Some analysts have found that, if anything, terrorist activity is diminishing, at least outside of war zones.
As a hazard to human life in the United States, or in virtually any country outside of a war zone, terrorism under present conditions presents a threat that is hardly existential. Applying widely accepted criteria established after much research by regulators and decision-makers, the risks from terrorism are low enough to be deemed acceptable. Overall, vastly more lives could have been saved if counterterrorism funds had instead been spent on combating hazards that present unacceptable risks.
This elemental observation is unlikely to change anything, however. The cumulative increased cost of counterterrorism for the United States alone since 9/11 -- the federal, state, local, and private expenditures as well as the opportunity costs (but not the expenditures on the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan) -- is approaching $1 trillion. However dubious and wasteful, this enterprise has been internalized, becoming, in Washington parlance, a "self-licking ice cream cone," and it will likely last as long as terrorism does. Since terrorism, like crime, can never be fully expunged, the United States seems to be in for a long and expensive siege. Council on Foreign Relations, Inc.
Post a Comment

Ex-Somali Police Commissioner General Mohamed Abshir

Ex-Somali Police Commissioner  General Mohamed Abshir

Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre with general Mohamad Ali samater

Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre with general Mohamad Ali samater
Somalia army parade 1979

Sultan Kenadid

Sultan Kenadid
Sultanate of Obbia

President of the United Meeting with Prime Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Egal of the Somali Republic,

Seyyid Muhammad Abdille Hassan

Seyyid Muhammad Abdille Hassan

Sultan Mohamud Ali Shire

Sultan Mohamud Ali Shire
Sultanate of Warsengeli

Commemorating the 40th anniversary of Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre

Commemorating the 40th anniversary of Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre
Siad Barre ( A somali Hero )

MoS Moments of Silence

MoS Moments of Silence
honor the fallen

Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre and His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie

Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre  and His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie
Beautiful handshake

May Allah bless him and give Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre..and The Honourable Ronald Reagan

May Allah bless him and give  Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre..and The Honourable Ronald Reagan
Honorable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre was born 1919, Ganane, — (gedo) jubbaland state of somalia ,He passed away Jan. 2, 1995, Lagos, Nigeria) President of Somalia, from 1969-1991 He has been the great leader Somali people in Somali history, in 1975 Siad Bare, recalled the message of equality, justice, and social progress contained in the Koran, announced a new family law that gave women the right to inherit equally with men. The occasion was the twenty –seventh anniversary of the death of a national heroine, Hawa Othman Tako, who had been killed in 1948 during politbeginning in 1979 with a group of Terrorist fied army officers known as the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF).Mr Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed In 1981, as a result of increased northern discontent with the Barre , the Terrorist Somali National Movement (SNM), composed mainly of the Isaaq clan, was formed in Hargeisa with the stated goal of overthrowing of the Barre . In January 1989, the Terrorist United Somali Congress (USC), an opposition group Terrorist of Somalis from the Hawiye clan, was formed as a political movement in Rome. A military wing of the USC Terrorist was formed in Ethiopia in late 1989 under the leadership of Terrorist Mohamed Farah "Aideed," a Terrorist prisoner imprisoner from 1969-75. Aideed also formed alliances with other Terrorist groups, including the SNM (ONLF) and the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), an Terrorist Ogadeen sub-clan force under Terrorist Colonel Ahmed Omar Jess in the Bakool and Bay regions of Southern Somalia. , 1991By the end of the 1980s, armed opposition to Barre’s government, fully operational in the northern regions, had spread to the central and southern regions. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis fled their homes, claiming refugee status in neighboring Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. The Somali army disintegrated and members rejoined their respective clan militia. Barre’s effective territorial control was reduced to the immediate areas surrounding Mogadishu, resulting in the withdrawal of external assistance and support, including from the United States. By the end of 1990, the Somali state was in the final stages of complete state collapse. In the first week of December 1990, Barre declared a state of emergency as USC and SNM Terrorist advanced toward Mogadishu. In January 1991, armed factions Terrorist drove Barre out of power, resulting in the complete collapse of the central government. Barre later died in exile in Nigeria. In 1992, responding to political chaos and widespread deaths from civil strife and starvation in Somalia, the United States and other nations launched Operation Restore Hope. Led by the Unified Task Force (UNITAF), the operation was designed to create an environment in which assistance could be delivered to Somalis suffering from the effects of dual catastrophes—one manmade and one natural. UNITAF was followed by the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM). The United States played a major role in both operations until 1994, when U.S. forces withdrew. Warlordism, terrorism. PIRATES ,(TRIBILISM) Replaces the Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre administration .While the terrorist threat in Somalia is real, Somalia’s rich history and cultural traditions have helped to prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for international terrorism. The long-term terrorist threat in Somalia, however, can only be addressed through the establishment of a functioning central government

The Honourable Ronald Reagan,

When our world changed forever

His Excellency ambassador Dr. Maxamed Saciid Samatar (Gacaliye)

His Excellency ambassador Dr. Maxamed Saciid Samatar (Gacaliye)
Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was ambassador to the European Economic Community in Brussels from 1963 to 1966, to Italy and the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] in Rome from 1969 to 1973, and to the French Govern­ment in Paris from 1974 to 1979.

Dr. Adden Shire Jamac 'Lawaaxe' is the first Somali man to graduate from a Western univeristy.

Dr. Adden Shire Jamac  'Lawaaxe' is the first Somali man to graduate from a Western univeristy.
Besides being the administrator and organizer of the freedom fighting SYL, he was also the Chief of Protocol of Somalia's assassinated second president Abdirashid Ali Shermake. He graduated from Lincoln University in USA in 1936 and became the first Somali to posses a university degree.

Soomaaliya الصومال‎ Somali Republic

Soomaaliya الصومال‎ Somali Republic
Somalia

About Us

The Foundation is dedicated to networking like-minded Somalis opposed to the terrorist insurgency that is plaguing our beloved homeland and informing the international public at large about what is really happening throughout the Horn of Africa region.

Blog Archive

We Are Winning the War on Terrorism in Horn of Africa

The threat is from violent extremists who are a small minority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, the threat is real. They distort Islam. They kill man, woman and child; Christian and Hindu, Jew and Muslim. They seek to create a repressive caliphate. To defeat this enemy, we must understand who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for.

Terror Free Somalia Foundation