RAND Review News for Spring 2005

After 9/11: How Should the United States Deal with the Muslim World?

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is easy to view a military response as the way to wage the war on terrorism. But according to Angel Rabasa, lead author of a new RAND study, America and its allies can reduce support for radical Islam and terrorism — and improve relations with the Muslim world — by empowering liberal and moderate Muslim sectors in what is essentially an ideological struggle within the Muslim world.

Doing so requires a strategy that, in turn, requires a better understanding of the political environment in the Muslim world. Rabasa’s report helps to develop that understanding. It charts the major ideological orientations in the different regions of the Muslim world — from Morocco to Mindanao to Muslim diasporas in the West — examining critical cleavages between Muslim groups and tracing the long-term and immediate causes of Islamic radicalism.

Rabasa and his research team developed a typology (see the figure) showing that Muslim groups fall along a spectrum — from those that uphold democratic values and reject violence to those that oppose democracy and embrace violence. This typology can help U.S. policymakers identify potential partners in the Muslim world.

Researchers highlighted those cleavages within the Muslim world — between Sunnis and Shi’ites, between Arabs and non-Arabs, and among ethnic communities, tribes, and clans — that have implications for U.S. interests and strategy. The researchers also pointed to some of the long-term factors, such as the failure of political and economic models in many Arab countries, that have fueled anger at the West.

Charting the Ideological Landscape Across the Muslim World Could Point Toward a Strategic Path

“While only Muslims themselves can effectively challenge the message of radical Islam, there is much the United States and like-minded countries can do to empower Muslim moderates in this ideological struggle,” Rabasa noted. He and his team suggested the following strategies:

  • Help to create moderate, international networks “to retrieve Islam from the hijackers.”
  • Disrupt radical networks.
  • Foster reform of madrassas (Islamic schools) and mosques.
  • Expand economic opportunities.
  • Support Muslim civil society groups that advocate for moderation and modernity.
  • Deny financial resources to extremists.
  • Calibrate the war on terrorism so that it does not play into the hands of Islamic radicals.
  • Engage Islamic groups in democratic politics.
  • Engage Muslim diasporas.
  • Rebuild close military relationships with key countries (Pakistan, Turkey, and Indonesia).
  • Assert a different kind of military presence in sensitive regions, reducing U.S. visibility as an “occupying power” and increasing its capabilities in areas such as civil affairs (offering medical assistance) and cultural intelligence (deploying more linguists and regional specialists). square
For more information:
The Muslim World After 9/11, RAND/MG-246-AF, 2004.

Countermeasures Not Ready to Protect Commercial Planes from Missile Attacks

A decision about installing countermeasure systems on commercial aircraft to protect them from shoulder-fired missile attacks should be postponed until such technologies can be developed and shown to be more compatible in a commercial environment, according to a new RAND study.

“At the moment, there are significant uncertainties about how much such systems will cost and how effective they will be in reducing our overall vulnerability to catastrophic airline damage,” said lead author James Chow. “Immediate and full installation of anti-missile systems would be more appropriate if we could operate them more cheaply or if the federal government would decide to spend more money on transportation security as a whole.”

The $2.1 billion annual operating cost would represent almost half of the annual budget spent on U.S. transportation security of all types.

He and his colleagues explained that installing laser jammers — the most promising near-term solution — on the nation’s fleet of 6,800 airliners would cost an estimated $11 billion, with operating costs ramping up to $2.1 billion annually upon full operational capability. The full life-cycle costs over 20 years would amount to around $40 billion. As a point of comparison, the $2.1 billion annual operating cost would represent almost half of the annual budget spent on U.S. transportation security of all types.

But if the recommended U.S. Department of Homeland Security reliability goals could be met and thus increase the dependability of laser jammers over their lifetimes, the operating costs could be cut in half, reducing the overall cost to around $25 billion over 20 years. Meeting the federal reliability goals, however, is a key uncertainty.

Marines launch a Stinger antiaircraft missile at a target aircraft.
Marines launch a Stinger antiaircraft missile at a target aircraft during a live fire exercise at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Beyond efforts to reduce uncertainties, the study also argues for a concurrent effort to better understand (1) exactly how shoulder- fired missile systems and other man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) damage airliners and (2) the likelihood that such damage will be catastrophic. Such an effort will help clarify the damage caused by single or multiple MANPADS hits, inform choices about possible mitigating measures, and assess the comparative seriousness of other forms of potential attack against airliners.

Finally, technical countermeasures alone will not completely remedy the problem. The study recommends taking a layered approach to defend against such threats. This approach includes, for example, striking and capturing terrorists abroad, impeding their acquisition of missiles, and preventing them and their weapons from entering the United States. square

For more information:
Protecting Commercial Aviation Against the Shoulder-Fired Missile Threat, RAND/OP-106-RC, 2005.

RAND Sees Mixed Results, Urges Flexibility in “War on Drugs”

Some measures show that America’s “war on drugs” might be considered successful; others show it to be generally a failure. Explaining such conflicting evidence and suggesting guidelines for improving policy are the aims of a RAND report that reviews 15 years of research on national drug problems and policy.

Because drugs are here to stay, the drug problem needs to be managed over the long term, with long-term costs and benefits in mind.

Explicit national policy goals relate primarily to reducing drug use. By this measure, the drug war has had a mixed record. The percentage of the population reporting “past-month use” of some illicit drugs declined by half between 1985 and 1992 but has since rebounded by about a third. Meanwhile, “current” use of marijuana by teenagers also increased in the mid- to late 1990s and has not decreased since.

But none of these conflicting trends can be uncritically credited to (or charged against) the war on drugs, because trends in drug use are not determined solely by government policy. Rather, they represent the national aggregation of a variety of factors. “While specific use-reduction targets represent laudable objectives, they may be very easy or very difficult to achieve, depending on factors largely outside the government’s control,” said study coauthor Jonathan Caulkins.

The RAND team offered four suggestions for a better policy mix and a healthier debate. First, because drugs are here to stay, the drug problem needs to be managed over the long term, with long-term costs and benefits in mind. Second, the critical decisions are about the mix of policies, since there are many kinds of policies that can contribute to reducing drug problems.

Third, the federal government should welcome and learn from variations in state drug control strategies that fall within the broad scope of national policy, rather than resisting such variations. Fourth, the public should demand information about the effects and effectiveness of drug policy.

The Mix of Control Strategies Should Be Timed to the Epidemic Cycle

Taking the nation’s experience with cocaine as an important example, the study notes that two factors within the government’s control may have contributed to shortfalls. First, the balance among the three control policies — enforcement, treatment, and prevention — has probably not been optimal.

Most of the drug control budget has gone toward enforcement, whereas — at least in the later stages of the cocaine epidemic — treatment of heavy drug users might usefully have played a more central role in reducing drug consumption, drug-related crime, and other consequences. Thus, besides the choice of strategies, their timing also determines the effectiveness of national drug policy (see the figure).

Second, the balance among the various enforcement strategies themselves also may not have been optimal. For example, cocaine consumption may have been reduced if some of the money spent trying to control cocaine in source countries or in transit had been spent instead on targeted types of enforcement within the United States. square

For more information:
How Goes the “War on Drugs”? An Assessment of U.S. Drug Problems and Policy, RAND/OP-121- DPRC, 2005.

VA Outpaces Nation in Delivering Recommended Care

Systemwide quality improvement initiatives established by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the early 1990s seem to have paid off, according to a new RAND/VA study. Today, VA patients are more likely to receive recommended care than patients in a national sample.

The differences between the VA sample and the national sample were greatest in the areas where the VA actively monitors performance.

The study compared the quality of outpatient and inpatient care for a national sample of patients (drawn from 12 metropolitan areas with populations of 200,000 or more) with the quality of care for a sample of VA patients (drawn from 26 facilities located in the Midwest and Southwest United States). The study, published in the December 2004 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, used 348 clinical indicators to assess the quality of care for 26 acute and chronic conditions — such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease — as well as for preventive care.

Overall, VA patients received 67 percent of recommended care compared with 51 percent for the national sample. VA patients received consistently better care across the entire spectrum of care, including screening, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up.

Performance Measurement and Accountability Systems: Effective Approaches to Quality Improvement

VA patients received 72 percent of recommended chronic care compared with 59 percent for the national sample. Quality of preventive care showed even greater differences, with 64 percent of indicated preventive care being delivered to VA patients compared with 44 percent for the national sample. The VA uses a sophisticated electronic medical record system and holds regional managers accountable for their performance based on measures of the quality of preventive care and selected chronic conditions.

The study found that the differences between the VA sample and the national sample were greatest in the areas where the VA actively monitors performance, with VA patients receiving 67 percent of recommended care in such areas versus only 43 percent of patients nationwide receiving such recommended care (see the figure). The VA also performed better in delivering care processes that were not specifically measured but were in the same general clinical areas that were monitored.

“These findings are important because they show it is possible to improve the care patients receive,” said lead study author Steven Asch, who has appointments at RAND, at the Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Health Care System, and at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“It challenges all of us to consider how the methods that the VA is using to improve care could be used to raise the bar in other health care settings.” square