The Staggering Cost of Terror
By Angela Koch
“Enough is enough,” declared British Prime Minister Theresa May in response to Saturday’s latest terror attack on London Bridge and a nearby food and drink market. It is the UK’s third terrorist hit in less than three months and just 12 days after the bombing at Manchester arena that killed 22 people, many of whom were children.
At least seven people died in this latest incident and dozens were injured when a van drove into pedestrians on the iconic London Bridge, one of the city’s most popular landmarks. ISIS has claimed responsibility. In her statement on Sunday Morning, Prime Minister May urged for new regulations on cyberspace to “deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online” and suggested a more rigorous crackdown on radical ideology. She claimed there is “far too much tolerance of extremism” in the United Kingdom.
Terrorism is clearly the scourge of our time. It’s a hateful and violent act that undermines human decency and destabilizes the global economy. As we watch images of the heavily armed Metropolitan Police, elite response units and trained snipers on the streets of London—we begin to understand the price of terror readiness. It is a credit to them that Saturday’s attackers were shot dead within 8 minutes of the event. Their salaries, crisis training, defensive equipment, armored cars and assault vehicles are the direct costs of safe-guarding the public. So is the price tag for post-attack emergency services, business interruption, physical destruction, work stoppage, site clean-up and new protective infrastructure outlays. The indirect costs, which are far more sweeping, include the economic fallout of shaken consumer confidence and increased risk in the markets.
Simply stated, terrorism is both tragic and expensive. A beefed up response to a single attack costs money and preventing new attacks costs more money. The long-term hit to tourism, reduced productivity, and counter-terrorism restrictions and regulations are hard to compute. In the almost 16 years since the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., it’s hard to calculate the exact price tag of the innumerable hours of added airport security checks, enhanced pat-downs, screening equipment, air marshals, crisis training, cock-pit door reinforcement, technology upgrades, etc.
And for all of our investment in advanced anti-terrorism surveillance and automation, the recent string of attacks was surprisingly straightforward and relatively primitive. They featured trucks, knives, nuts, bolts and suicide vests. They were cheap assaults that broke hearts, instilled fear and seized headlines around the world. According to a NATO study, the cost of a suicide bombing like the one that rocked Manchester could be as low as $150. Great Britain spends about £3 billion a year on counter-terrorism efforts. Since 9/11, the United States has spent about $5 trillion on the War on Terror. To put this in perspective, that’s more than the entire cost of World War II—and it doesn’t seem as if we’re winning.
Theresa May is right—ISIS does seem to be thriving in the dark spaces of social media. They’re actively recruiting online via encrypted messaging and attracting new supporters across the globe. They’re targeting poorer neighborhoods and disenchanted youth to serve as foot soldiers in their war against “non-believers,” particularly in the West.
Boston, San Bernardino, Paris, Brussels, Orlando, Nice, Berlin, Manchester, London—the lives lost are irreplaceable, and the ongoing threat is a costly and disruptive cycle that’s becoming all too familiar. The newest guerilla style tactics seem to be getting harder to stop, and the long-term impact on the world’s financial centers seems to be getting far more difficult to calculate.