Deterring Terrorism: Theory and Practice

Deterring Terrorism: Theory and Practice

Deterring Terrorism: Theory and Practice

Deterring Terrorism: Theory and Practice


During the Cold War, deterrence theory was the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, however, popular wisdom dictated that terrorist organizations and radical fanatics could not be deterred-and governments shifted their attention to combating terrorism rather than deterring it.

This book challenges that prevailing assumption and offers insight as to when and where terrorism can be deterred. It first identifies how and where theories of deterrence apply to counterterrorism, highlighting how traditional and less-traditional notions of deterrence can be applied to evolving terrorist threats. It then applies these theoretical propositions to real-world threats to establish the role deterrence has within a dynamic counterterrorism strategy-and to identify how metrics can be created for measuring the success of terrorism deterrence strategies. In sum, it provides a foundation for developing effective counterterrorism policies to help states contain or curtail the terrorism challenges they face.


What is impressive is not how complicated the idea of deterrence
has become, and how carefully it has been refined and developed,
but how slow the process has been, how vague the concepts still
are, and how inelegant the current theory of deterrence is
—Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict

DURING THE COLD WAR, the U.S. government was scandalously slow to learn, or at least to put into operation, the rudiments of deterrence. We must hope that learning how to deter terrorists may go more smoothly and more rapidly. I cannot tell just when that learning may have started; there is no obvious benchmark like Hiroshima, and there was no Pearl Harbor-like stimulus before 9/11. The comparison of progress post-Hiroshima and, say, post-9/11, is not very satisfying: the earlier problem was comparatively elementary, almost simplistic, compared with the chiaroscuro mess these authors have to deal with.

Furthermore, the post-Hiroshima era was not a history of successful deterrence. The North Koreans were not deterred in 1950. There is some hint that the North Koreans or their Soviet mentors took seriously a U.S. diplomatic statement that seemed to leave Korea out of the declared U.S. area of responsibility; still, they knew they were facing U.S. nuclear weapons. The People’s Republic of China, that same year, was not deterred. North Vietnam was not. Egypt and Syria risked Israeli weapons in 1973. Argentina must not have bothered to consider British weapons in its ambitious campaign to recover the Falklands. Saddam Hussein was not afraid in 1991. Deterrence does not come without effort. Still, the one transcendent confrontation, between the USSR and the United States, or the Warsaw Pact and NATO, was a success (for both sides!). “Mutual deterrence” worked, and I would say quite comfortably after 1962. But mutuality was unique to that particular confrontation, until India and Pakistan entered such a relationship in the 1990s.

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