The lingering fear

On February 26, 1993 a truck bomb detonated below the North Tower of the complex commonly known as the Twin Towers. The people who made this bomb hoped that 250,000 people would die but a misplacement of the bomb meant only 6 people would die (although about 1000 were injured). Although the people who made the bomb had some passing associations with al-Qaeda, there is no evidence that al-Qaeda was responsible and the US government has never claimed that it was.

On September 11 2001, al-Qaeda did manage to destroy the Twin Towers. They only managed to kill around 3000 people and injure about 25000. They set off a global conflict that saw America taking military action in almost every Muslim country around the globe.

At the time, there was a lot of chatter about terrorist using weapons of mass destruction. It was one of the major justifications for the massive blood and money poured into the “War on Terror.” The idea was that if we let terrorist organizations continue to get better and to keep trying, eventually they will pull off an attacked that is truly damaging to the US. It was easy to feel that the third time very well could be a 6 or 7 figure causality attack on American soil.

And so America killed a lot goat herders. Americans dropped a lot of space age weapons on people who could not read or write. Al-Qaeda was reduced to a shadow of its former self. All of its top leadership on that time of the Twin Towers attacks were killed or died of naturally causes. No major attacks every happened on US soil. And America got tired of the endless war all over the world.

Now the Taliban control more of Afghanistan then they did in 2001 and American is back to being more worried about Russia and China then they are about some random non-state actor hoping to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans. But I am still worried about New York City’s fate. I still expect to see it go up in flames. I expect there to be a third and final attack with a weapon of mass destruction that ends it as a functioning city.

To be clear, this is an emotional expectation on my part and not a rational one. I don’t think there is any non-state group that can do this right now. And I don’t think any state group (not even Iran) is crazy enough to do it at the current time. So if rationally, I don’t think it is possible at this time, why do I have this feeling that it is going to happen?

The foundation of my fear is that there are about 100 million people in the world that think that nuking New York City would be a good idea. The basis for that figure comes from surveys taken after 9/11 where it was found that…..

Gallup polls conducted in late 2001 and early 2002 in seven Muslim-majority countries indicated that between 4 percent and 36 percent of respondents believed that the 9/11 attacks were justifiable. Translating percentages into absolute numbers, this would – if the polling samples were representative – have meant that almost one in 15 Muslims – or 100 million people – considered these attacks “justifiable”.

And this is not just old news. Polls consistently find that around 10% of Muslims (the number goes up and down a little depending on the country and on the poll) support terrorist attacks against civilian targets. To use polling surrounding a more recent terrorist attack as an example…..

An ICM poll taken after the attacks on the London transport system on 7 July 2005 claimed that 20 percent of British Muslims sympathize with the 7/7 bombers – which would have been the equivalent of 600,000 Muslims if the survey can be considered representative. Those Muslims who said that they fully supported the attacks were 6 percent of all Muslims in the UK – the equivalent of more than 100,000 Muslims. Another poll conducted in 2006 by NOP Research claimed that 25 percent of British Muslims said that the 7/7 bombings (which killed 52 people, and injured over 700 others, including Muslims) were justified. That level of support was apparently predominantly a youth phenomenon, for another opinion survey by Channel Four in 2006 noted that 31 percent of younger British Muslims said that the 7/7 bombings were justified – while only 14 percent of those over 45 held the same opinion.

From what I have been able to see, the trend of younger Muslims becoming increasingly blood thirsty is a worldwide phenomenon. Young westerners are becoming ever more woke and young Muslims are becoming ever more convinced that the way to bring justice to the world is through an ocean of blood.

Of course, most Muslims don’t support all this bloodshed. Most Muslims are at more risk from dying to a terrorist attack then anyone in New York City is (at least at this moment). But while all this is true, it don’t change the fact that poll after poll shows that around 10 percent of Muslims do support terrorist attacks against the west. There is said to be 1.6 million Muslims in the world and Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. 10% of that figure is a lot and it is growing number.

Having said all that, saying that there are 100 million people in the world who would approve of New York City going up in flames is a lot different than saying that there are a 100 million people who care enough to work on making it happen. A radical Muslim youth in India might approve of New York City going up in flames but he likely has targets closer to home that are more meaningful to him. In general, the 100 million supporters of terrorist attacks are going to have targets in their own neighborhood that they are more passionate about then New York City.

But that calculation might change if a group inclined to terrorism got its hand on a nuclear weapon. If you are an Egyptian who hates the Jews it is hard to hit a target in Israel without having the fallout impact your own neighbor hood. On the other hand, hitting New York City can kill a lot of Jews, arguable weaken the state of Israel’s main sponsor, and potentially bring down the entire western world’s banking system.

The thing that really concerns me is the irrational nature of human aspirations. When humans decided to go to the North Pole or to put a man on the moon, cost benefit calculations are not a factor once the idea has taken hold of imagination of a generation. For example, the US spent about 2% of total GDP for over a decade just so that they would be first on the moon though it is arguable that the balance of power would not have been changed one iota if some other nation had made it there first. Ideas often have a hold over people’s minds that defies rational explanation.

I feel that the idea of destroying New York City has a similar hold over the minds of those inclined to hate the US. There are arguably better targets (in terms of doing more lasting damage to the US) and there are certainly easier targets, but will that matter to group that has a bomb to use? Arguably, if a group had control of a couple of high jacked airliners they could have used them to better and more lasting effect then to crash them into the twin towers. But in the minds of those making the decisions, attacking New York was the thing to do. And the recent Iranian threats to nuke New York City shows that New York is still the target to name if you want to boast of your power for reasons that are not entirely clear to me (why not Washington City?).

The point I am trying to make is that it does not matter what happens to whoever the terrorist group of the moment is. As far as we know, the first group to hit the twin towers was different from the second group to have a go of it. The one thing they did have in common was that they came from a demographic group that felt it had reason to hate America. As long as there are 100 million people who think that killing Americans is a good thing, there will always be another group to come along who wants to give it a shot regardless of how many terrorist the US kills.

So granting large numbers of people in the world have the motive, the question remains do they have the means? Right now, it seems that the odds are against those that want to turn New York City to glass. Most of the world’s weapons are securely held and the nation states of the world don’t seem keen to commit suicide (Iran’s bluster notwithstanding, the President of Iran still plans on visiting the UN in New York). However, I don’t think this happy state of affairs will last for long.

There are many reasons for thinking this. Pakistan’s precarious state is certainly one of those reasons. But even if Pakistan falls, everyone in the entire world will be focused on what happens to their nukes. Nations like India have every incentive to take extreme action to make sure they don’t get lose. So while the prospect of Pakistan going the way of Sri Lanka is not something we should take lightly, it is also something the powers to be have thought about and to a certain extent prepared for.

A worse and more insidious problem is the collapsing of modern world. The west is again looking at China and Russia as its greatest threats but those countries are likely going collapse sooner and worse the Anglo Saxon West. But like the Eastern Roman empire, being the last man standing does not mean peace and prosperity. This is particular true because the nations doing the collapsing have large arsenals of weapons of mass destruction.

It is one thing to try to plan how to secure Pakistan’s nukes (as supposedly Delta has practiced doing) and it is quite another to think about doing it to a nation like Russia. But Russia is heading towards collapse with a freighting mathematical certainty. As I wrote back in 2008……

Since the Russian state is still has over 14,000 nuclear arms in its possession, this is a crisis that threatens the whole world. If you are worried about the scale of problems that threatens America’s banking system, you should be hysterical with fear over Russia’s problems. Every day that you pay $4 a gallon for gasoline you should be getting down on your knees and thanking God for the high oil prices that sustain the Russian state. You should be hoping that at economic slowdown in the Western world does not significantly affect the income of oil producers.

The fact that people are not inclined to do any of those things demonstrates that people are not very good a rationally judging the severity of various threats. The results of the implosion of Russia would be far worse than the implosion of America’s banking system, and yet people tend to be more worried about the latter then the former.

This sanguine attitude is in part supported by the usual lies that people tell when they don’t want to face the truth. For example, there are a lot of stories out there pointing to the uptick in Russian births and the down tick in Russian deaths as proof that Russian demographics are turning the corner. But as anyone who has looked into the matter could tell you, this does not represent good news.

The collapse of Russia is closer now then it was before regardless of how the war in Ukraine goes (although Russia now only has about 6 thousand useable warheads now if published sources can be believed). This collapse is going to be so brutal that I think a lot of people of people who know the facts have a hard time accepting how bad it will be. Given how shaky Russia control over their weapons of mass destruction got during the collapse of communisms, I fear that the coming collapse of Russia will lead to even less control over the nukes.

Hopefully all these fears are groundless. But you should not let the every changing headlines fool you to a few facts that have not changed since 2001. The first is that 100 million people hate America bad enough that they would make heroes out of anyone who manages to kill millions of Americans. And the second is that the greatest threat external to America comes from the weakness of Russia and China not their strength.

The next 20 years are going to be about dealing with a collapsing world order. Who knows what groups are going to profit from that collapse? But I fear that a group that wants to make a name for itself by taking out New York City will be one of them.

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