Cover: Unconquerable Nation

Unconquerable Nation

Knowing Our Enemy, Strengthening Ourselves

Published Jul 14, 2006

by Brian Michael Jenkins


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Brian Michael Jenkins presents a clear-sighted and sobering analysis of where we are today in the struggle against terrorism. Jenkins, an internationally renowned authority on terrorism, distills the jihadists’ operational code and suggests how they might assess their situation very differently from how we might do so. He distills the jihadists’ operational code and outlines a ferociously pragmatic but principled approach that goes beyond attacking terrorist networks and operational capabilities to defeating their entire missionary enterprise by deterring recruitment and encouraging defections.

Jenkins believes that homeland security should move beyond gates and guards and become the impetus for rebuilding America’s decaying infrastructure. Americans need to adopt a realistic approach to risk and get a lot smarter about security. We need to build upon the nation’s traditions of determination and self-reliance. Above all, we need to preserve our commitment to American values. Preserving these values is no mere matter of morality, he argues; it is a strategic imperative.

Jenkins brings to his prose the driving rhythm, no-nonsense language, passion, and energy of a warrior, and he brings to his analysis the steady, informed perspective of a historian. Unconquerable Nation is a rallying cry from a man who has dedicated his life to defending America, who has been dismayed by the propagation of homegrown terror, yet who refuses to surrender his faith in what he believes are America’s finest, unconquerable values.

How America deals with the terrorist threat is one of the major challenges of this century. Jenkins points the way forward.

"[Jenkins] is not a Pollyanna, but he believes that 'controlling' (even if not eradicating) terrorism is possible and offers concrete ideas. One intriguing thought is that much of the Islamic World is also threatened and that we should use the dynamic of a shared enemy to better advantage… The [book] is relatively short and worth reading by those concerned with 'strengthening ourselves'."

- Air Power History, Spring 2008

"Among the many books that purport to point the way forward for America in the wake of 9-11, this one stands out, chiefly for its clarity and sensibility. Author Brian Michael Jenkins' counterterrorism credentials are legendary and he has a gift for expressing truly significant and subtle insights on terrorism with simple clarity. It is often difficult to deny the common sense of his commentary. Unconquerable Nation is sensibly structured, opening with an examination of how Americans prevailed over challenges like the Civil War and the Great Depression. Jenkins plainly states his convictions, the most fundamental of which are that America's courage is the ultimate source of its security, and that whatever we do, we must preserve American values. He also does not shy away from declaring where he agrees and disagrees with current official policy… Jenkins has written an assessment of the global war on terror that is an indispensable addition to any security bookshelf. With so much riding on our war against terrorism and against extremism in Iraq, reading this book is a must."

- Security Management, November 2007

"Brian Jenkins began RAND's terrorism research program in 1972 after serving in the Vietnam War in the Special Forces, and he is now senior advisor to the president of RAND. In 'Unconquerable Nation: Knowing Our Enemy, Strengthening Ourselves', he has synthesized his shorter writings on terrorism from the past six years into a single volume that assesses the current situation, delves into the need for a deeper understanding of the terrorists and their motivations, prescribes a new set of strategic principles to guide our efforts in the Long War, and addresses how the Nation can strengthen itself… His careful explication[s], combined with a willingness to take on some of the shibboleths of the past 5 years ('fighting them there instead of here', the color-coded alert system) and a level-headed reminder to keep the terrorist threat in perspective, make for thought-provoking reading."

- Joint Force Quarterly, 1st Quarter 2007

"Using as inspiration Chinese strategist Sun Tzu's words, 'Being unconquerable lies with yourself', terrorism expert Brian Jenkins lays out a strategy for dealing with the modern terrorist threat, one unlike any the US has seen in its history. Jenkins provides an assessment of the current situation and of the enemy we face. He then outlines the strategic principles for defeating our terrorist enemies and the strategies that we can use to strengthen ourselves while avoiding irrational fear."

- Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International, Fall 2007

"Long before international terrorism became a salient issue for Americans, many years before 9/11 bred a legion of supposed 'experts' on terrorism, Brian Michael Jenkins was pioneering serious study of the subject. His work at the RAND Corporation beginning four decades ago is a foundation of modern scholarship on terrorism. Jenkins is one of only a few students of terrorism whose expertise is sufficiently profound and longstanding to be able to put the subject into the broad, historically conscious context that is required to understand it but is all too often missing from current commentary on the topic. Unconquerable Nation distills much of Jenkins's painstakingly acquired wisdom about terrorism and applies it to today's challenge of countering the global jihadist movement. Anyone looking for a concise guide to understanding jihadists (Jenkins's preferred term for the type of Islamist terrorists exemplified by the members of Al Qaeda), formulating policy responses to the terrorist danger they pose, and assessing counterterrorist policies already in place would do no better than to read this book. The two halves of the book's subtitle indicate the two main portions of its content. Much of the first half of the book is devoted to explaining the jihadists' motivations and objectives and their leaders' strategies…. he second half of the book, on how to respond to the jihadist challenge, outlines a comprehensive strategy that recognizes the need to use all available policy tools but also the inability of any single tool to do the job itself… As he writes in the final paragraph of his book, 'our most effective defense against terrorism… will come from our own virtue, our courage, our continued dedication to the ideals of a free society'. That last thought is the basis for what is, in the end, an optimistic message of this book, as expressed in its title: that America's values will keep it unconquerable. We should hope that Jenkins is right, but the damaging attitudes and misdirections that have prevailed over the last five years and that he accurately describes should temper our optimism."

- Reviewed by Paul R. Pillar, The Journal of Strategic Studies, February 2007

"Unconquerable Nation combines into one volume some of homeland security's best writing, scholarship, history, critical thinking, pragmatism, personal opinion, and political acumen. The book draws its title – and its central analytical premise – from one of Sun Tzu's less well-known aphorisms: Being unconquerable lies with yourself… Jenkins reviews some of the common misperceptions about the enemy, and then focuses on their words. One intriguing feature of the chapter is an analysis of the jihadist ideology and three generations of jihadist leaders… Another section especially worth reading is a hypothetical briefing given to Osama bin Laden about how al Qaeda and the jihad are doing, five years after the attack on American soil… Jenkins' final principle for redirecting homeland security efforts is to preserve American values. One often hears that the Constitution is not a suicide pact…The sentiment Jenkins expresses is essential to homeland security."

- Homeland Security Affairs, The Journal of the Naval PostGraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security, February 2007

"Brian Jenkins is one of the greatest experts on terrorism in the world and has been studying the subject for more than 40 years, that is ever since he came to RAND as a specialist in insurrections and guerrilla warfare. His slim book is in some respects a summa of his experience, but above all it is a cry of pain at how the United States has undertaken its 'War on Terror' and a clear and brief description of what should be done… [This] is a book to read, one that allows you to make an important step forward in your understanding of the terrorist phenomenon and the best strategies for containing and combating it."

- International Spectator, Jan.-Mar. 2007

"I was not prepared to like this book but instead found it to be a comprehensive, well-written, interesting book detailing what the United States is facing in its war on terror. The book begins with a clear analysis of the situation we are in and the dangers we are facing. He then outlines a practical and principled approach to dealing with the situation, while managing to maintain a rational balance of political criticism for both parties and their handling of the struggle. It is a hard-hitting, thought-provoking read that even high school students should read."

- 2007 Guide to University Press Books Selected for Public and Secondary School Libraries, (Review by Janet W. Hilbun, PhD, AASL)

"Jenkins offers a number of interesting thoughts on terrorism, including terrorist motivation, successful anti- and counterterrorism tactics and specific analysis of jihadi terrorism… Particularly well suited to advanced graduate students and faculty. A number of the author's points will serve to spur further research and challenge terrorism experts to reconsider long-held views. Recommended. Graduate students through practitioners."

- CHOICE, February 2007

"How do we win the conflict against radical Islamic terrorist groups and their supporters? Who are these groups, what is their ideology and operational code? What are the metrics to measure the effectiveness of our response? These are some of the questions that Brian Michael Jenkins attempts to answer in his important book, 'Unconquerable Nation'. Mr. Jenkins is one of America's veteran experts on counterterrorism, having established the country's first major terrorism studies program at the RAND think tank in 1972… The book's main contribution is Mr. Jenkins' formulation of a counterterrorism strategy to destroy what he terms the 'jihadist enterprise'. This enterprise is not a single organization (e.g., al Qaeda) but a worldwide 'marketplace' of jihadists in which these groupings either spontaneously, or under the direction of al Qaeda's operatives, organize to achieve what they conceive to be their path of 'glory'. Thus, different measures are required to respond to each segment of the jihadi marketplace… To strengthen the American homeland's defense against terrorism, Mr. Jenkins recommends a two-pronged strategy. The capabilities of local police forces need to be enhanced to monitor potential terrorists, since they are ideally positioned to identify suspicious activities in their own communities. The second component is a realistic assessment of the terrorist adversary's actual attack capabilities and intentions to attack the U.S. homeland. Mr. Jenkins' sound advice is well articulated in this compelling book and enhances our understanding of what constitutes effective counterterrorism strategy."

- Washington Times, Reviewed November 21, 2006, by Joshua Sinai

"Brian Michael Jenkins from RAND, one of the foremost terrorism experts in the world who has been studying the subject since the 1970s, released a new book this week, entitled 'Unconquerable Nation: Knowing Our Enemy, Strengthening Ourselves…' It's the first full-length book that Jenkins has written since 9/11, and well worth the wait; it's one of the best analyses of how we've waged the war on terror over these last five years, and offers solid recommendations about the course we need to follow in the coming years. Jenkins takes the title of the book from Sun Tzu: 'Being unconquerable lies with yourself'. His overarching point in the book that America's ability to prevail in the war on terror depends on a ethos of clear resolve and patient discipline, not fear and hasty reactive gestures… …The book contains an excellent bibliography, taken from Jenkins' own library and broken into a number of categories. Overall, an excellent book – highly recommended."

- Christian Beckner on Homeland Security Watch, August 18, 2006

"[Brian Michael] Jenkins foretells that we must thrive on our liberties, values, and resolve, as airline travel is yet again targeted by our enemies. We will not succumb to terror, but rather will outlast our terrorist foes. However, he advises that the US public must learn how to help in homeland security and how to be proactive in preparedness and response to likely future attacks against the US… Brian's writing, while personable, is clear and concise; his book will appeal to the counter-terrorism expert and the novice alike. He skillfully uses simple anecdotes to underscore his hypotheses. Brian offers his judgments and opinions, while avoiding partisanship and divisiveness. He is critical of some executive branch decisions, supportive of others, and offers his roadmap forward based on our current circumstances. 'Being unconquerable lies within yourself', (quote by Sun Tzu) not only applies aptly to our great nation but also to Brian Jenkins himself as our nation's stalwart terrorism expert and sage. This book, written by one of the foremost authors in the genre of terrorism, is a 'must have' for your terrorism book shelf."

- Terrorism Research Center, review by Jennifer Hardwick

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