In a February 2008 interview in New Scientist Magazine, scientist Raphael Sagarin applies insights from marine biology — his area of expertise — to human security systems. He asks, “How do other creatures maintain their security, what systems have evolved and can we learn from them?”
He cites the fiddler crab, which has one huge ungainly claw that it waves at its adversaries — usually other fiddler crabs — who have almost identical claws with which to make similar threats. They posture and threaten, but almost never come to blows. He compares the scenario to Cold War nuclear deterrence: a stand-off in which the two sides are comparable, and more or less evenly matched weaponry. Of course both sides are always looking for an advantage, a way to upset the balance of power. But nature’s balance is quite resilient, and returns relatively quickly when upset, often in some modified form.
As for the current “War on Terror,” Sagarin is not very optimistic. The various insurgents, terrorists, and disgruntled citizens differ so greatly from a traditional enemy, that trying to attack them with masses of soldiers, technological devices, and extreme force is a complete waste of time and money. The adversaries are so completely different, that no balance, and therefore no security, can be achieved by those means.
Sagarin argues the need for a different approach. For starters, he suggests breaking up the massive Homeland Security agency into smaller autonomous units. He feels the current centralized approach might lend the appearance of control, but biology suggests that other strategies may prove more successful. The odds of attaining balance are greatly increased when people (or organisms) work through a problem simultaneously from many different directions, and when each individual or agency has a sense of autonomy.
So, can we win the war on terror? Sagarin responds: “It is politically expedient to say we are going to eliminate risk, so we have a “war on drugs”, or on terrorism. But organisms inherently understand that there is a risk in life. The idea that we can eliminate these risks would be selected against quickly in the natural world since any organism that tried to do so would not have enough resources left for reproduction, or feeding itself.” Or for dealing with disasters like Katrina, the search for alternative energy sources, or remedying the mortgage crisis, I might add.
Should anyone doubt the current system’s lack of success, I remind you that not a single terror suspect outside the U.S. court system has been tried since Sept 11. Not a single one. (Check the record for Spain to see how success can actually be achieved.) Guantanamo Bay Prison, and all the other black sites and secret detention centers have yielded little but injustice. Only a handful of Guantanamo detainees have actually been charged with criminal behavior, and not a single “enemy combatant” (as Rumsfeld reclassified these prisoners) has seen the evidence with which he is being held. You can’t have a trial until habeas corpus is restored. In addition, since information obtained under stress or through torture is usually unreliable, much of our country’s evidence against its detainees will find itself inadmissible in court. The way I see it, there is a good chance that none of the U.S.-sequestered detainees will ever be legally tried or convicted. That’s not to say there won’t be some show trials and executions; but legitimate trails, I doubt it.
How then, do we combat this elusive adversary? These days, being powerful requires not military intimidation and antagonism, but rather, economic prowess, development, and opportunity — exemplified by China for one. Increasingly, many around the world argue that China is the new model of security and prosperity, superseding the U.S. That China is not a democracy is generally viewed as unimportant, and even perceived by some as an advantage: its autocratic rulers can make a decision unhampered by haggling and politicking of democracy. While I’m not advocating autocratic rule, the current interpretation and implementation of democracy in the U.S. seems hypocritical and almost farcical — a rule by the few masquerading as a rule by the many. And to the rest of the world, this idea of democracy may be less appealing than we’d like to think.