The Next Lenin: On the Cusp of Truly Revolutionary Warfare

The Next Lenin: On the Cusp of Truly Revolutionary Warfare

Mini Teaser: Only an oppressive police state could assure total government control over novel tools for mass destruction.

by Author(s): Fred C. Ikle

Bumbling Enemies with Ski Masks

Alas, America's future enemies will not necessarily fight according
to our Marquis of Queensberry rules. As A.J. Bacevich has recently
written, "those disadvantaged" by the existing rules of warfare will
have a powerful incentive to recast "the terms of conflict in ways
that play to their strengths and exploit our vulnerability." Bacevich
anticipates that the "disadvantaged" will use "subversion, terror,
and banditry" and that, "in the future, such unconventional methods
could become more effective still if combined with . . . weapons of
mass destruction." Others have warned of Russia's inadequately
protected nuclear slag-heap from which a terrorist group, or a
country that sponsors terrorists, could acquire materials to make
nuclear bombs or even obtain a finished weapon. However, when today's
military planners seek to anticipate such eventualities they tend to
postulate enemy strategies that reflect our past experience with
terrorism. Pentagon briefings on nuclear terrorism are likely to
depict the perpetrators as youthful fanatics with ski masks, wanton
enemies who might well cause grievous harm--but fumbling enemies
nonetheless. The briefing charts will not show the potential
Napoleons or Lenins undoing the existing world order with a grand
strategy based on weapons of mass destruction.

Past experience with terrorists is a poor guide for a truly
revolutionary use of mass destruction weapons. By and large,
terrorists either have acted as if they were subject to at least some
rules of war, or else have badly botched what they were trying to do.
For some terrorists it may have been their self-image that ruled out
certain types of violence. For others their code of conduct may have
been dictated by the need to attract new recruits to their cause or
to maintain a level of support in the society at large. In any event,
during recent decades the perpetrators of the majority of terrorist
acts have not employed the kind of sophisticated technologies that
could presumably have been obtained by them without an insurmountable
effort. Consider the safeguards against terrorism used by commercial
airlines. Even airlines that are prime targets for terrorists, such
as El Al, have managed with rather basic precautions to thwart
utterly conventional terrorist attempts. Or consider the cement
planters, with their dried-out juniper bushes, that now ring federal
office buildings. Isn't it reassuring that terrorists refrain from
using a rocket that would fly over these junipers? No need for fancy
new technology: the perpetrators could copy the old Congreve rocket
with which the British attacked--remember the red glare?--Fort

Fortunately, there have been few occasions in modern times when
terrorists, acting in violation of all rules and traditions of
warfare, have sought to kill tens of thousands of people. And
mercifully, in each instance so far, they have gone about it in such
a bumbling way that the intended cataclysm shrank, at most, to a
localized disaster. They have caused dozens of fatalities, not tens
of thousands, and have achieved none of their political goals. The
1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York exemplifies such
bumbling. Even more compelling is the case of the pseudo-religious
Japanese sect, Aum Shinrikyo, which produced several types of poison
gas, and one day in l995 scattered sarin in Tokyo's subway. Experts
estimated that Aum Shinrikyo had acquired the technical capability to
kill tens of thousands of people. In actuality, twelve people were
killed in that subway attack.

Pseudo-religious cults can indeed inflict a great deal of harm--on
their members as well as on society. Walter Laqueur is right to warn
us of the many sects and cults nestled in our midst that "could
attempt to play out a doomsday scenario" (for instance, by blowing up
the Temple Mount in Jerusalem at the end of this millennium), sects
that "have their own subcultures, produce books and CDs by the
thousands, and build temples and communities of whose existence most
of their contemporaries are unaware."

But the story of the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult provides an object
lesson concerning the innate contradictions of nihilist terrorism. At
one level such groups can, with astonishing competence, prepare
technologically complicated, destructive acts--a truly frightening
prospect in our age of mass destruction weapons. At another level,
however, their nihilism stultifies their strategy. Aum Shinrikyo's
leader was able to build up a complex criminal organization, extort
hundreds of millions of dollars from his followers, recruit Japanese
youths highly skilled in science and technology, enlist competent
business managers who organized his worldwide supply network as well
as a large affiliate in Russia, all the while having informants and
defectors murdered with impunity. Surely, some extraordinary evil
competence was at work here.

But in sharp contrast, Aum Shinrikyo's leader proved totally
incompetent when it came to thinking through the sect's overall
policy and shaping a grand strategy. He apparently wanted to cause
mass casualties that would destroy the Japanese government; but his
vision of what was to follow remained totally vacuous--some fantasy
of a new realm over which he would rule. The means for causing havoc
were in hand; the plans and preparations to seize power were not.
Unlike purposeful revolutionaries (who may use terrorist means),
nihilist movements like Aum Shinrikyo sooner or later are bound to
employ careless tactics and bizarre strategies. He who merely seeks
to destroy for destruction's sake is not likely to prepare for
possible mishaps along the way, or for realistic follow-up strategies
to exploit success. Leaders who believe they must bring about and
preside over the end of the world will attract followers who are
imbued with lunatic ideas, are eager to flirt with suicidal projects,
and have their minds stuffed full of patently false assumptions. The
absurdity of their goals does nothing to mitigate the grief and pain
that nihilist groups can inflict on people. But it does limit the
scope of the calamity.

From Terrorism to Revolution

We can be sure that the time will come when serious and ambitious
revolutionaries organize themselves to use mass destruction weapons
for realistic political ends, not for clumsy terrorism or
self-destructive nihilism. A ruthless and able leader of a
totalitarian movement--another Lenin--could develop a strategy for
these weapons that would serve his political plan. Temptations to act
out some religious--or secular--fantasy would never divert him. He
would resolutely reject any terrorist acts that were strategically
inconsequential and merely risk punishment. Such a leader would also
prohibit any enterprise that only served to inflict revenge, and
would deride as "infantilism" (Lenin's scolding word) the grim and
pointless vengeance on which many terrorist movements spend most of
their time and assets. Instead, this leader would seek to destroy the
political order of a nation, or even of a group of nations, by
attacking his chosen enemy from within. While he would use mass
destruction weapons to serve his political ends, he would also
shrewdly shape and adjust his ends the better to exploit these

When Lenin seized power in Russia in l917, he imposed a purposeful
ruthlessness on his Bolshevik organization, rejecting the kind of
nihilist fantasies and aimless anarchist exploits that were in favor
among some nineteenth-century revolutionaries and would-be reformers.
However, he was able to succeed only because the First World War had
ravaged Russia for two and a half years, decimating and demoralizing
its soldiers and sailors and inflicting near starvation on its
people. Given this devastation, the socialist revolution in February
1917 (which ended the czarist regime and preceded Lenin's seizure of
power) quickly led to the undoing of the entire political order.
Alexander Kerensky wrote retrospectively that the word "revolution"
was inapplicable to what happened at that time in Russia: "A whole
world of national and political relationships sank to the bottom, and
at once all existing political and tactical programs . . . appeared
hanging aimlessly and uselessly in space." The First World War had
thus created the platform of political devastation on which Lenin
could build his totalitarian dictatorship.

A twenty-first century "Lenin" will not need to wait for a third
world war to create such a platform. A strategically purposeful use
of mass destruction weapons could do the trick. This use would be
totally different from the kind of nuclear attacks that American
deterrence theory has focused on from the late 1940s until this day.
The aggressor to be deterred would not sit in the Kremlin--the
dominant scenario for U.S. nuclear strategy during the Cold War. Nor
would the aggressor rule over some rogue country utterly vulnerable
to U.S. retaliation--a frequently mentioned scenario today.

To seize power by using mass destruction weapons, this future
terrorist leader might well require some foreign support. However,
the foreign sources of such support need not present the victim of
aggression with suitable targets for retaliation. Recall that in the
late 1970s and early 1980s the Irish Republican Army (IRA) received
the hard-to-detect Semtex explosive through Libyan diplomatic
pouches. Libya did not suffer British retaliation. The IRA also
received monies and arms from sympathizers in the United States, the
better to commit acts of terrorism against the British government.
Her Majesty's Government did not deem a retaliatory strike against
these Americans a viable option. If retaliation is ruled out, so is

Essay Types: Essay