Combatting Terrorism Today: Three Imperatives

John Richardson

For what they are worth, here are three “imperatives for preventing conflict and terrorism” (from the 10 that conclude Paradise Poisoned) that seem particularly relevant to this discussion. These are excerpted from “elevator talk” I gave to Board members of the US Association for the Club of Rome a year or so ago.

[1] First, imperative:  meeting the needs and aspirations of fighting age young men should be the number one priority of national government policies and of programs funded by international donors. This is the most important imperative all, and especially, I believe, an imperative for USACOR and the Club of Rome. There is one circumstance fighting age young men share with many other cohorts in societies of the Global South; they seek opportunities to better their circumstances, but do not find them. They tend to be preponderantly disadvantaged. In a second circumstance, however, they differ from many others. They are more willing to take risks and make sacrifices, including risking and even giving up their lives in the hope of effecting change. The young suicide bomber who killed my colleague, civil rights lawyer Neelan Tiruchelvam and the assassin who shot and killed an esteemed mentor, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadigamar, as he was taking an evening swim at his home, fall into this category. That a significant segment of society with the greatest power to disrupt should perceive themselves to be among those greatly and unfairly disadvantaged, In terms of opportunities for advancement,  seems paradoxical.

[5] Fifth Imperative: Development policies that meet human beings common  aspirations – to feel good about their lives, the circumstances in which they live and future prospects for themselves and their children,  will contribute most effectively to keeping violent conflict and terrorism within acceptable bounds.

This seems like a common-sense imperative. However, sadly, far too many performance measures used to design and evaluate development policies, have been chosen for reasons other than the intrinsic merits of the world view they are alleged to promote.  Imposition from above of development policies framed by those performance measures is likely to evoke feelings of hostility and alienation.  Performance measures dictated by what has become known as “The Washington Consensus” provide an example of this, as an excellent recent book by our Club of Rome Colleague, Chandran Nair points out.  His views are shared by many.

[10] 10th Imperative. There must be realistic, rigorous, opportunity costs analyses of military options, versus equivalent expenditures for non-military options,  before proceeding down the slippery slope of “military solutions” to complex development problems.

Here is another excerpt from my conclusion.

“In June 2002, an Associated Press news article assessed opportunity costs  for the Iraq invasion and occupation, based solely on funds appropriated, so  far, by the U.S. government, $119.4 billion at that time.  This sum, the article   reported, would provide 748,495 four year scholarships to Harvard University  and 2,806,506 scholarships to an average U.S. state university. It would provide  each resident of Iraq with $4,776, a sum roughly equivalent to eight times Iraq’s  per-capita income in 2003.”

You might also want to revisit a piece with which I am sure you are familiar,  Gananath Obeyesekere’s fine article on participants in the JVP insurrection, “Some Social Comments on the Social Backgrounds of the April 1971 Insurrection in Sri Lanka (Ceylon),” Journal of Asian Studies 33(3), pp.  367-384. (1974).

Even though, as you know, my attention is predominantly focused on China, I appreciate your mailings and always make time to read them.

With best wishes,  John


Sackur …


By happenchance, I listened to Stephen Sackur of HARDTALK grilling a French politician in the context of killings by individual Islamic jihadists in France (and Vienna) recently. I was profoundly disappointed in the narrow focus guiding Sackur and feel strongly that we need to widen our compass by embracing a wide variety of what can be called “martyrdom operations” – including self-immolation or disembowelling (seppuku) in protest. This led to two presentations in Thuppahi and John Richardson’s MEMO is a result of these.

I have also been induced to return to some of my old academic essays on the suicidal operations of the Tamil Tigers studied in comparative terms and will be re-presenting selected essays.

BIO-NOTE re Professor Richardson

John Richardson. Special Advisor, Safety Harbor (Florida) Arts and Music Center ( Emeritus Professor, School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C.   (Formerly, Visiting Professor Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy & Adjunct Professor & Resident Fellow, Residential College 4, National University of Singapore). 

Roberts: “The Muslim Commitment to Allah: Desultory Thoughts,” 3 November 2020,

Roberts: “Allahu Akbar! Missing Dimensions in Contemporary Reportage,” 6 November 2020, ……………… /

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