Terrorism as Economic Warfare

I did a quick search for the title of this post and mostly found references to "asymmetric warfare", meaning warfare where there’s a large difference between each side’s military capability or methods of engagement. It’s a term frequently used to refer to terrorism. Then there’s economic warfare, which can be part of a military effort or completely non-military in nature.

It’s interesting to note that Osama Bin Laden’s version of terrorism makes for some pretty fine economic warfare in and of itself. One wonders what Bin Laden’s total investment has been in his adventures to date. Probably nothing over a few hundred million dollars or so, including labour, materials, equipment, etc.

But what has the rest of the world invested in fighting him? The U.S. tab is probably well over a hundred billion dollars. Add the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus in investments by other "coalition partners" like the U.K. and it’s not unreasonable to double that.

So that’s a thousand to one return on investment, conservatively. Worse yet, given a reasonably well established and autonomous organization, Bin Laden’s cost of ongoing operations is a fraction of his investment to date. Yet the cost of overthrowing governments, replacing infrastructure, improving economic opportunities and installing a resilient democracy remain astronomical. Moreover one can be cerain that the U.S. has invested a mere fraction of its final cost in Iraq so far. What’s that take the terrorist return on investment to? One to 100,000?

As far as I’m concerned the USSR collapsed under the economic weight of the cold war. With a far less efficient economy, it was only a matter of time before the West won. Now we find ourselves in a similar situation. All terrorists have to do is motivate the world’s larger military powers to mobilize their resources a few times and then wait. We’ll fall under the weight of being dramatically less economically efficient at the game. Asymmetrical economic warfare indeed.

Splice Babies

DNA testing has given sperm banks an interesting challenge. The concept of an “anonymous donor” has gone out the window. Now a simple, affordable DNA test can verify parentage. Perhaps of more concern is that as more people contribute DNA to public databases, it’s becoming easier to identify previously unknown siblings, which leaves just a short step to the father.

With genetic manipulation becoming such an easy thing to do, how long will it be before sperm banks start offering “synthetic” fathers? A few genes from this donor, a few from that, and a few more from over here to finish the job. A baby born from the resulting DNA could theoretically have any number of fathers, none of them traceable to an individual.

Of course it might be a tricky business if there’s more interrelationships between genes than previously expected. Then again, given sufficient care, the outcomes of various combinations could be tracked, selected for deireable traits, and in no time the banks would be out in the market with competing “superbaby sperm”.

Now there’s an ethical mess.