Deterring Terrorism: a New Strategy

Max Abrahms


Terrorists are poor candidates for deterrence. They are difficult to deter because they are motivated by a wide variety of personal and strategic aims. The diversity of these aims practically ensures that many terrorists will derive utility from their actions regardless of how governments respond. In fact, even opposite government responses tend to generate utility for terrorists due to the complexity of their incentive structure. To an extent, however, terrorism may still be deterred by dissuading terrorist supporters since they are critical for mounting large-scale terrorist campaigns. Compared to terrorists, their supporters are more deterrable due to the relative simplicity of their incentive structure. People generally support terrorists for a single reason—to achieve their political demands. Fortunately, a growing body of empirical research finds that terrorism is a losing tactic for perpetrators to induce major concessions from governments. The policy community can help to deter terrorism by teaching its supporters about the tactic’s politically counterproductive effects.

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Perspectives on Terrorism is  a journal of the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

ISSN  2334-3745 (Online)

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