Why Terrorism does not work

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13 Dec 2010
Why Terrorism Does Not Work-ABRAHMS
(1) terrorist groups rarely achieve their policy objectives, and (2) the poor success
rate is inherent to the tactic of terrorism itself
Terrorist campaigns come in two varieties: strategic terrorism aims to coerce a
government into changing its policies; redemptive terrorism is intended solely to
attain specific human or material resources such as prisoners or money.
Because my focus is on terrorisms ability to compel policy change, terrorism in this
study refers only to strategic terrorism campaigns.
Terrorisms effectiveness can be measured along two dimensions: combat
effectiveness describes the level of damage inflicted by the coercing power; strategic
effectiveness refers to the extent to which the coercing power achieves its policy
A potential objection to this approach is that terrorists possess extreme policy goals
relative to those of their supporters, and thus terrorist campaigns may be judged
unsuccessful even when they compel policy changes of significance to their broader
In the international mediation literature, limited objectives typically refer to
demands over territory (and other natural resources); maximalist objectives, on the
other hand, refer to demands over beliefs, values, and ideology, which are more
difficult to divide and relinquish
Civil wars were found to defy political resolution because they are frequently fought
over competing ideologies where the costs of retreating are comparatively high
The group is fighting to either (1) evict a foreign military from occupying another
country, or (2) win control over a piece of territory for the purpose of national self-
By contrast, a terrorist group has maximalist objectives when its demands are over
ideology. In this scenario, the group is attacking a country to either (1) transform its
political system (usually to either Marxist or Islamist), or (2) annihilate it because of
its values.
Target selection is a superior explanatory variable for predicting the outcomes of
terrorist campaigns. The Department of State defines foreign terrorist
organizations as groups that engage in premeditated, politically motivated violence
perpetrated against non-combatant targets.
Like other lists of terrorist groups, the Department of States does not distinguish
between (1) groups that focus their attacks primarily on civilian targets and (2)
those that mostly attack military targets, but occasionally attack civilians.
Terrorism is a coercive instrument intended to communicate to target countries the
costs of noncompliance with their policy demands.
This notion has important implications for explaining the poor track record of
terrorist groups. The following analysis develops a theory for why terrorist groups—
especially ones that primarily target civilians—do not achieve their policy objectives.
September 11 attacks and Israel to Palestinian terrorism in the first intifada.
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