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International Security (2018) 43 (1): 186–190.
Published: 01 August 2018
International Security (2009) 33 (4): 180–202.
Published: 01 April 2009
International Security (2008) 32 (4): 78–105.
Published: 01 April 2008
AbstractView article PDF
What do terrorists want? No question is more fundamental for devising an effective counterterrorism strategy. The international community cannot expect to make terrorism unprofitable and thus scarce without knowing the incentive structure of its practitioners. The strategic model—the dominant paradigm in terrorism studies—posits that terrorists are political utility maximizers. According to this view, individuals resort to terrorism when the expected political gains minus the expected costs outweigh the net expected benefits of alternative forms of protest. The strategic model has widespread currency in the policy community; extant counterterrorism strategies seek to defeat terrorism by reducing its political utility. The most common strategies are to fight terrorism by decreasing its political benefits via a strict no concessions policy; decreasing its prospective political benefits via appeasement; or decreasing its political benefits relative to nonviolence via democracy promotion. Despite its policy relevance, the strategic model has not been tested. This is the first study to comprehensively assess its empirical validity. The actual record of terrorist behavior does not conform to the strategic model's premise that terrorists are rational actors primarily motivated to achieving political ends. The preponderance of empirical and theoretical evidence is that terrorists are rational people who use terrorism primarily to develop strong affective ties with fellow terrorists. Major revisions in both the dominant paradigm in terrorism studies and the policy community's basic approach to fighting terrorism are consequently in order.
International Security (2007) 32 (1): 185–192.
Published: 01 July 2007
International Security (2006) 31 (2): 42–78.
Published: 01 October 2006
AbstractView article PDF
This is the first article to analyze a large sample of terrorist groups in terms of their policy effectiveness. It includes every foreign terrorist organization (FTO) designated by the U.S. Department of State since 2001. The key variable for FTO success is a tactical one: target selection. Terrorist groups whose attacks on civilian targets outnumber attacks on military targets do not tend to achieve their policy objectives, regardless of their nature. Contrary to the prevailing view that terrorism is an effective means of political coercion, the universe of cases suggests that, first, contemporary terrorist groups rarely achieve their policy objectives and, second, the poor success rate is inherent to the tactic of terrorism itself. The bulk of the article develops a theory for why countries are reluctant to make policy concessions when their civilian populations are the primary target.