You are here: Home Knowledge Base Polity Dealing with Terrorism Proposals Dealing with Terrorism
Symposium 2008

Proposal - Dealing with Terrorism

The Challenge

Over the past years there has been a dramatic increase in terrorism all over the world. At the same time, many governments are at a loss on how to combat terrorism. Despite massive counter-terrorist ...

Over the past years there has been a dramatic increase in terrorism all over the world. At the same time, many governments are at a loss on how to combat terrorism. Despite massive counter-terrorist activities, terrorist attacks in weak states such as Afghanistan and Iraq have continued and the threat of attacks in developed countries remains strong.

As terrorism is a tactic employed by many different groups in may parts of the world in pursuit of many different objectives, it is a little misleading to think in terms of solutions per se. Terrorism, like other tactics, will continue to be employed as long as it succeeds in achieving the ends of those who deploy it. The solution then is to render the tactic ineffective.

This prompts the question, what is it that terrorists are trying to achieve? The most cursory look at the history of the tactic suggests that terrorists have been singularly unsuccessful in achieving the fundamental political change they often seek to effect: the return of the Caliphate, the abolition of capitalism, American and Israeli withdrawal from the Middle East, and so on. On the other hand if, as I believe, terrorists are also seeking more immediate motives, specifically, revenge for atrocities real and imagined; glory for themselves and their cause in order to redress the humiliation they perceive themselves as having suffered, and to provoke a reaction, preferably an over-reaction from the other, then the tactic of terrorism can be seen to have been quite effective.

I believe that an effective counterterrorism strategy is one that confines coercive measures exclusively to the perpetrators of the violence and that focuses on the communities from which terrorists derive their support and among whom they recruit. In short I think that the following six principles should guide our counter-terrorism strategy:

  1. Have a defensible and achievable goal:
    We cannot eliminate terror, or evil, or even solve terrorism. We can contain the threat from particular terrorists. We must educate our publics to the nature of terrorism and the nature of risk.
  2. Know your enemy
    The is simply no substitute for good intelligence in counter-terrorism
  3. Live by your principles
    If we are to persuade others to join us in repudiating terrorists we must demonstrate how we are different from them by ensuring that our actions match our rhetoric.
  4. Engage others with you in the campaign against terrorism
    By others I mean the international community, moderates in the countries that produce terrorists, and civil society
  5. Separate terrorists from the communities in which they operate and recruit.
    In order to do this we must develop a counter-narrative that is more appealing and more persuasive than theirs.
  6. Have patience and keep your perspective
    The asymmetry of power between those who deploy the tactic of terrorism and those who counter it is overwhelming. The main risk to the powerful is not the harm that terrorists can inflict on us but the harm we can do to ourselves by over-reacting to the threat they pose to us.

    Related Proposals

    Proposal
    Symposium 2008

    GES Summary - Dealing with Terrorism Panel

    It is unclear whether we will ever know what is at the root of terrorism. There are many factors—political, social, cultural as well as psychological—involved in whether individuals or groups adop ...

    It is unclear whether we will ever know what is at the root of terrorism. There are many factors—political, social, cultural as well as psychological—involved in whether individuals or groups adopt terrorism as a tactic in pursuing their goals. It would probably be impossible to reduce the threat entirely and we may have to learn to live with that fact—however hard that is. Nevertheless, drawing from the large number of studies, several actions stand out as medium to long term strategies which governments and societies can adopt to stem current levels and lessen the chance of future occurrences on

    Polity, Civil Society
    Proposal
    Symposium 2008

    Responding to the challenge of global terrorism?

    In the aftermath of September 11, 2001 President Bush declared war on terrorism and sought to marshal a coalition in a “war against terror”. It was clear at the time that describing the campaign a ...

    In the aftermath of September 11, 2001 President Bush declared war on terrorism and sought to marshal a coalition in a “war against terror”. It was clear at the time that describing the campaign as a ‘war’ was ill-conceived. The task was too complex, the ‘enemy’ too diffuse and the time horizon too long to sustain co-ordinated commitment. Most importantly, the common values that would sustain a long struggle were not in place. Lamenting the failure to achieve the desired result, Robert Leiken wrote in 2005: ‘With a few exceptions, European authorities shrink from the relatively stout security measures adopted

    Polity, Business, Civil Society
    Proposal
    Symposium 2008

    Dealing with Terrorism

    The various manifestations of terrorism are as diverse as its causes. Some terror movements are rooted in nationalistic attempts to gain independence, while others are founded in religious fundamental ...

    The various manifestations of terrorism are as diverse as its causes. Some terror movements are rooted in nationalistic attempts to gain independence, while others are founded in religious fundamentalism. Still others see their goal in fighting political and/or economic elitists or supposed imperialists. However, one common denominator is evident: virtually all members of terrorist groups see themselves as unjustly treated outsiders of society. Coupled with a strong sense of personal pride, they refuse to seek reintegration into the society in which they live. This attitude is promoted within a terrorist group, which develops its own code of social conduct

    Polity, Business, Civil Society