Deterring Rational Fanatics provides a full-scale discussion of deterrence theory concepts and controversies, assessing the utility of relying on the logic of deterrence to counter contemporary terrorism. Alex S. Wilner's analysis shows that militant behavior can indeed be altered through the logic of deterrence.
2015 | 264 pages | Cloth $65.00
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Introduction 1
Chapter 2. Deterrence Theory: Exploring Core Concepts
Chapter 3. Deterring Terrorism: Contemporary Debates
Chapter 4. Targeted Killings: Theory, Practice, and Consequence
Chapter 5. Targeting the Taliban: Coercive Lessons from Afghanistan
Chapter 6. Moving Ahead with Deterrence Theory
Appendix: Research Design and Methodology
For decades, deterrence theory was the veritable bedrock on which American, British, Soviet, Chinese, Indian, and Israeli foreign and military policies were based. During much of the Cold War, these and other states tailored their relations and interactions with foes and friends alike on the basis of coercion, compellence, and deterrence. Classical deterrence theory is a product of that period: The development and proliferation of nuclear weapons in particular necessitated that wars between great powers be avoided or contained. Academics did their part by exploring the intricacies behind the logic and theory of deterrence and by outlining the promises and pitfalls of applying the theory to the practice of warfare. Few other theories of international relations have received such an extended period of attention and assessment.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Communist bloc, however, deterrence theory was shunted off center stage. Major war between the great powers seemed exceptionally unlikely and rampant nuclear proliferation never occurred. Moreover, the conflicts that did emerge during the 1990s were often brushfire affairs or involved fighting within (rather than between) states, conflicts that deterrence theory was generally ill-prepared to properly address. Deterrence theory lost even more ground with the eventual refinement and ascension of competing doctrines, like counter-proliferation, preemption, and prevention, which offered states alternative ways to secure their national interests. But it was al Qaeda that sealed the theory's decline. Its 2001 terrorist attack on the United States seemed to defy the very premise on which deterrence theory was based. Terrorists were deemed irrational, stateless, and often fanatically (and religiously) dedicated to an immutable ideological cause. That al Qaeda had resurrected the kamikaze in its suicidal operatives was deemed particularly problematic: "The religious orientation of the Islamists," American political commentator Fareed Zakaria explained in 2003, "breaks down deterrence. How do you deter someone who is willing, indeed eager, to die?" That sentiment was expressed in U.S. counterterrorism and strategic doctrine. In a 2006 address to the United States Military Academy, President George W. Bush warned: "The enemies we face today are different in many ways from the enemy we faced in the Cold War. Unlike the Soviet Union, the terrorist enemies we face today hide in caves and shadows . . . have no borders to protect, or capital to defend. They cannot be deterred." The unsettling consensus was that deterrence had lost its utility, that the theory could not be applied to counter contemporary terrorist organizations, and that terrorists were themselves altogether undeterrable. In counterterrorism, the best defense, U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld concluded, was "a good offense." The bottom line was that terrorists responded to force, not to the intricacies of coercion, and offensive and defensive counterterrorism trumped any and all talk of deterrence.
This book challenges the conventional wisdom. By expanding the scope of traditional deterrence theory and pairing it with a more nuanced understanding of contemporary terrorism, a variety of deterrents can be constructed and levied against terrorist organizations. When tailored appropriately, states can use the logic of deterrence to influence, coerce, and deter terrorist groups, delimiting the type and ferocity of the violence those groups are willing to use, and influencing their behavior more broadly. Deterrence theory is not a panacea for terrorism, but it can serve as a strategic guide for state responses. And although a healthy dose of skepticism may be prudent, relegating deterrence to the dustbin of strategic theory is both shortsighted and premature.
In the years following 9/11, deterrence skepticism ran deep. Bush's arguments were echoed by an array of political and strategic commentators. At least part of this skepticism was a result of our collective reaction to 9/11. The tragedy was met—quite justifiably—with an impulsive, an emotional, and even a reflexive response. Terrorism was not new, but the scale of the destruction visited on New York City and Washington, D.C.; the audacity of the attack itself (in which civilian airliners were used as guided missiles); the (supposed) religious justification underpinning the act; and the use of suicide operatives for tactical improvement seemed to overwhelm traditional forms of discourse. The unbridled and wanton destruction of life and property simply shocked the senses. In a 2003 remark that captures much of the immediate sentiment that surrounded al Qaeda's attack, Elie Wiesel, the venerable Nobel laureate, Holocaust survivor, and author, argued that "unlike their distant predecessors," contemporary terrorists "attack people, any people, all people at a certain place, simply because they happen to be there, at that moment." According to Wiesel, there was little reason behind 9/11 except to wreak havoc and spread fear. Deterrence experts seemed to agree. British scholar Sir Lawrence Freedman, in his 2002 volume Superterrorism, writes that modern terrorists were "much readier to inflict massive loss of life and move to ever more horrific methods in their efforts to do so." Whereas terrorist organizations had once sought maximum publicity—going so far as to hold press conferences; offer communiqués and explanations; and, at the very least, publicly claim responsibility for their acts of violence—today's terrorist, skeptics calculated, want maximum destruction above all else. Charles Krauthammer, a hawkish American political commentator, came to a natural conclusion: "the obsolescence of deterrence." And if nonstate militant groups like al Qaeda were "inherently undeterrable" then a more aggressive and assertive U.S. foreign policy that altogether eschewed deterrence was surely needed.
Broadly speaking, deterrence skepticism incorporates five core arguments. First, the fundamentalist religiosity of al Qaeda and the religious motivation of many contemporary militants interrupts rational decision making, contradicting rational deterrence theory. This particular view resonates with academics, decision makers, and the general public. "For the religious terrorist," American terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman explained, "violence is first and foremost a sacramental act or divine duty executed in response to some theological demand or imperative. Terrorism thus assumes a transcendental dimension, and its perpetrators are consequently undeterred by political, moral, or practical constraints." Unlike the nationalist, separatist, or Marxist militants of years past, religious terrorism approaches the divine; violence is rationalized as a religious obligation. To an extent, these arguments appear particularly relevant when interpreting al Qaeda and its followers: They present themselves as pious, devout, and dutiful Muslims. It is important to note, then, that whereas we speak in descriptive terms—of catastrophic suicide terrorism, for instance—al Qaeda speaks in religious terms: 9/11 and the thousands of acts of terrorism that followed are martyrdom operations; the foot soldier is not an indoctrinated or a suicidal drone but a shaheed, a venerated martyr romantically pursuing his or her religious responsibility in exchange for an afterlife in paradise; al Qaeda and its supporters represent the Islamist vanguard in a global and cosmic war with the unholy West; and this war, supported by fatwas and various religious decrees, is legitimate, meant to reassert Islamic doctrine and God's rule over parts of the globe.
For illustration, consider the case of the Chechen "suicide squad" dispatched by the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR) to Moscow, Russia, in 2002 on orders to attack the Dubrovka Theatre. Operatives clipped bomb-belts around their waists and wired the pillars, walls, and ceiling of the theater with explosives, underscoring that they were, as their spokesperson explained, "more keen on dying than you [the hostages] are keen on living." In a tape delivered to the Moscow bureau of Al Jazeera, one of the nearly two dozen female terrorists involved in the attack added: "It makes no difference for us where we will die. We have chosen to die here, in Moscow, and we will take the lives of hundreds of infidels with us." Although Western audiences interpreted this contemptuous desire for murder-suicide as sheer lunacy, the squad's message was a carefully crafted script laden with religious symbolism dating back a millennium. In 634 CE, Khalid ibn al-Walid, the commander of the outnumbered Arab army preparing to battle the Persians at Mada'in, sent a message to his adversaries: "In the name of God, the All-Compassionate, the Merciful . . . enter into our faith [lest we come with] a people who love death just as you love life." The Moscow operation was absolved by invoking God's rule. Al Qaeda is fond of tapping into these religious allegories as well. In its statement immediately following 9/11, it, too, warned that "the Americans should know that the storm of plane attacks will not abate. There are thousands of the Islamic nation's youths who are eager to die just as the Americans are eager to live." And as Osama bin Laden himself has put it: "He who God guides will never lose." How can we possibly apply deterrence to that?
Second, skeptics assume that fanaticism creates diverging rational contextualizations, "second realities," and "deformed consciousnesses," which negate deterrence theory and practice in various ways. This may be especially true of contemporary suicide bombers. As Lewis Dunn offers, the suicide operative's "commitment to jihad has made the sacrifice of their lives simply an avenue to a new life after death." In fact, as members of the Chechen squad admit, death is welcome. Without fear, the threat of punishment or retaliation—a critical element of deterrence theory—cannot be properly issued. And indeed, militants may desire military retaliation to galvanize would-be supporters into action or to lend credence to their worldviews. If fear is absent or military reprisal sought, deterrence will not work. Contemporary terrorists are thought to weigh the costs and benefits of their actions in ways that are irrational or, at the very least, markedly different from the manner in which Western governments weigh their own actions and expectations. An adversary "that prefers escalation regardless of the consequences," Daniel Whiteneck reminds us, "cannot be deterred." Other scholars argue that terrorists do not adhere to behavioral principles outlined in the strategic model of terrorist behavior, which assumes that terrorist groups are rational actors that attack civilians in order to achieve political ends. The work of Max Abrahms is particularly relevant here. Abrahms finds that terrorist behavior contradicts the principles of the rational model in a number of important ways: Terrorists usually fail to achieve their political goals by attacking civilians, and they continue to attack civilians even after further gain is unlikely; terrorists use violence as a first resort and usually reject opportunities to evolve into nonviolent political movements; terrorists often attack anonymously, negating the possibility for states to offer concessions; and terrorist groups resist disbanding even after having failed to achieve their political objectives. Other scholars add that some terrorist groups may need to perpetually sustain a terrorist campaign to prove their resiliency, vitality, and continued importance. This, too, may impair deterrence. And, finally, religiously self-assured terrorists are prone to be highly motivated, decidedly risk-accepting, and innately resolute. Their threshold for pain and their willingness to accept extraordinary risks may be particularly high as a result. Some may believe they have nothing to lose. All of these arguments complicate the practice of deterrence in counterterrorism.
Third, some skeptics remark on the seemingly absurd objectives sought by some contemporary terrorist groups. As the adage goes: Modern terrorists don't want an invitation to sit at the table; they want to destroy the table and kill those already seated. American scholar Mark Juergensmeyer goes so far as to suggest that the "new" terrorism appears "pointless since it does not lead directly to any strategic goal. . . . It is the anti-order of the new world order of the twenty-first century." If an adversary considers conflict and warfare a success and political compromise a failure, then deterrence can never be applied. Likewise, militant objectives appear to have shifted from securing publicity to seeking maximum punishment and pain. They kill for killing's sake, to serve some abstract purpose of their own fantastic construction. In this vein, 9/11 was "symbolic drama," an attack that fit al Qaeda's fantasy of a "pure Islamic David" combating the American Goliath. The 9/11 attacks themselves were less about structuring a classic Clausewitzian victory against a stronger adversary and more about fulfilling the "collective fantasy" of radical Islam; winning may not have been al Qaeda's primary objective or motivation. Historically, this has not always been the case. Terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins laments that the terrorists of the past "had a sense of morality, a self-image, operational codes, and practical concerns." Less so today. Contemporary terrorism, deterrence skeptics maintain, is not only ruthless but also strategically rudderless. Everything and anything could and should be expected (hence, Rumsfeld's proverbial "unknown unknowns"). This is problematic: Violence devoid of strategy is difficult if not impossible to deter.
Fourth, deterrence skeptics note that terrorist organizations lack a "return address"—a target of value, usually territorially based, against which a retaliatory threat can be issued and carried out. In interstate (or, state-on-state) deterrence, threats are levied against an adversary's territory and sovereignty, industrial base, population centers, civilian and military infrastructure, and so on. Deterrence requires that a punishment be levied against something, somewhere. During the Cold War, both Washington and Moscow threatened each other with obliteration, a credible threat (given the destructive power of nuclear weapons) that informed and influenced behavior. But terrorist organizations rarely control territory against which military threats can be issued. And the territory terrorists may at times rule—in, for example, the ungoverned patches of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, and Syria—almost always rests within the boundaries of an internationally recognized sovereign state, which complicates how military threats and operations can be issued and carried out. The U.S. government's 2002 National Security Strategy made careful note of these particular dilemmas: "Traditional concepts of deterrence will not work against a terrorist enemy . . . whose most potential protection is statelessness." With few targets to threaten, deterrence becomes moot.
Finally, the immediate and reflexive interpretation of al Qaeda's 9/11 attack suggested that the felling of the Twin Towers and the strike on the Pentagon was a deterrence failure of grandest proportion. After all, the attacks proved that al Qaeda had not been dismayed or deterred by the distinctive power and military prowess of the United States. During the 1990s, it was common to speak of the United States as the sole remaining superpower. In military terms, it had no peer. It was too big to bully, its strength palpable. And yet, bin Laden did not seem to care. Put simply, al Qaeda's strike on U.S. soil, skeptics argue, was a failure of conventional U.S. deterrence. "Had these people had ballistic missile technology," John Bolton, then the top arms control official at the U.S. State Department, declared, "there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that they would have used it." But why stop there? Al Qaeda's attack was also a failure of U.S. strategic nuclear deterrence. After all, on the eve of 9/11 al Qaeda knew full well about the U.S. nuclear arsenal. And still it was not deterred. "If al Qaeda had had a nuclear weapon," James Kraska too easily concludes, "it would have used it." Kraska's assertion parallels Bolton's: If al Qaeda had had other, more devastating tools at its disposal on September 10, it would have used them without reservation or care for U.S. military capabilities. In sum, not only are terrorists, like al Qaeda, and terrorism, more broadly, undeterrable, but deterrence itself as a concept, theory, and strategy failed spectacularly on September 11, 2001.
Deterrence Skepticism . . . Revisited
Put together, these arguments suggest that deterrence, in both theory and practice, has grown increasingly irrelevant and is not applicable at all to counterterrorism. And yet a more nuanced appreciation of the logic on which deterrence theory is based and a more robust understanding of how terrorist organizations function can provide some counterintuitive findings. Coercing terrorists and influencing their behavior is not as impractical as skeptics assume. Terrorists may be fanatical, but they are "rational fanatics." The late Ehud Sprinzak, a leading Israeli scholar of political violence, warned that we should not blindly accept the notion that terrorists are willing and ready to do anything at any cost. They are not. "The perception that terrorists are undeterrable fanatics who are willing to kill millions indiscriminately," he argues, "belies the reality that they are cold, rational killers" who use violence to achieve specifically defined political and social objectives. Though individual militants may embrace and accept extremist ideologies, fanatical worldviews, and violence in the name of scripture, the organizations they join have strategic priorities and goals. Terrorism and political violence is purposeful; it is calculated violence. Even the suicidal terrorist willingly forfeiting his or her life in order to destroy others, is, to a certain degree, acting rationally. Professor Mia Bloom, in Dying to Kill, explains: "The organizations [using suicide terrorism] do cost-benefit analyses. . . . Suicide bombings should be disaggregated into two levels of analysis—the individual bombers who blow themselves up and the organizations that send them. To varying degrees, both parties . . . are acting rationally in the strictest sense of the term since they are pursuing goals consistent with picking the option they think is best suited to achieve their goals." All terrorism, even suicide terrorism, may be a product of rational calculations, calculations that can be altered using the logic of deterrence theory if the right leverages are found and used. This holds at both the individual and group levels. "It is hard to think of any instance in history of a state or similar power grouping," British defense expert Sir Michael Quinlan writes, "that had no assets which it wished to retain, no collective concern for the lives of its members and no interest in the survival of its ruling regime." And if such concerns exist, then it is feasible—at least in theory—to identify ways to manipulate those concerns and alter behavior. Deterring terrorism is possible; it involves picking apart the terrorist threat and developing coercive leverages that speak to the unique qualities of each adversary.
Likewise, terrorists may be stateless, but they are not asset-less. They have (and hold on to) things they value. As organizations, they have personnel, training facilities, gear and equipment, leaders, friends and allies, even technical expertise. Terrorists also have aspirations and goals that they would rather not unnecessarily jeopardize, and they have ideas and sentiments they believe are worth protecting. In form and function, all of these are assets that terrorists consider valuable. These assets are not (usually) territorially based and certainly do pose a problem for certain coercive processes and concepts, like deterrence by punishment or the Cold War's mutual assured destruction (MAD). But statelessness is not a problem for deterrence theory writ large: Unique assets simply require unique threats. So although some, or even most, terrorists may scoff at traditional threats that target land-based resources in traditional ways, they may be sensitive to other threats that are tailored more specifically against certain possessions and values. If we can identify what it is that specific terrorist groups value, we can develop threats that influence behavior.
Finally, 9/11 was not a deterrence failure; it was a failure to apply deterrence theory. Instead of looking up from the smoldering evidence of the World Trade Center and extrapolating from there that al Qaeda was undeterred, that U.S. conventional and nuclear power was muted, or that deterrence was altogether obsolete for managing contemporary conflict with nonstate militant organizations, we must ask whether the United States even tried to deter al Qaeda in the first place. Deterrence does not just happen. And it rarely springs forth, naturally and on its own, from the mere possession of certain military hardware. Instead, deterrence is something states do; it is something they purposefully put into motion. Deterrence is a communicative process in which military capabilities are purposefully packaged into coercive threats and then broadcast to a specific adversary in hopes of altering or manipulating the behavior of that adversary. So although Rumsfeld suggested that the 9/11 terrorists "were clearly not deterred by doing so from the massive U.S. nuclear arsenal," simply having those weapons was not enough. Washington needed to translate its military and nuclear capabilities into specific coercive threats that al Qaeda could have understood.
As will become evident in the following chapters, practicing deterrence requires fulfilling certain prerequisites. If and when threats are absent, muddled, miscommunicated, or weak, or if the perceived benefit of action outweighs the cost of punishment in an opponent's decision calculus, deterrence in practice may fail while deterrence in theory analytically succeeds. Deterrence does fail, writes George Quester, "when statesmen and military leaders fail to notice, and be deterred by, powerful modes of retaliation." But deterrence failure in practice should not be confused or equated with failure of deterrence theory. The distinction between theoretical and practical deterrence failure is important when discussing counterterrorism. A more nuanced evaluation of 9/11 would have to assess whether the United States had been actively, openly, and credibly attempting to deter al Qaeda and whether al Qaeda received and accurately interpreted U.S. deterrent threats. On both counts, the answer is no.
First, prior to 2001 the United States failed to communicate a credible deterrent threat against al Qaeda. Neither the Bush nor the Clinton administrations had done much to discourage or dissuade al Qaeda. In his many audio and written messages, bin Laden describes the United States as a paper tiger, epitomizing the false courage shared by the Western world. Bin Laden considers these the lessons of pre-9/11 history: American and French disengagement from Lebanon after the bombings of the barracks in Beirut (1983) and the embassies in Kuwait City (1983); Soviet capitulation to the Afghan mujahideen (1988-89); Western withdrawal from Yemen following the Gold Mohur Hotel bombings (1992); no (apparent) American response to the World Trade Center bombing (1993); Western departure from Somalia following the Battle of Mogadishu (1993); a weak American response to the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (1996) and the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (1998); no response to either the failed suicide attack on the USS The Sullivans or the successful attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen (2000). For bin Laden (and other militants), these events highlighted the West's inability to effectively combat terrorism and its disinterest in doing so. American Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis suggests that decades of counterterrorism neglect were interpreted as an "expression of fear and weakness rather than moderation." In fact, al Qaeda may have been encouraged by the tepid U.S. response. And the process was cumulative. By 2001, al Qaeda's experience suggested that it could target Westerners with near impunity. Al Qaeda was undeterred from carrying out 9/11 not because it was irrational or insensitive to costs, but rather because the United States and its allies had given it little reason not to carry out that mission.
In addition, al Qaeda neither properly understood nor fully appreciated the consequences of its actions. Indeed, it may have anticipated a limited or an anemic American response. "The success of the 9/11 operation," American terrorism scholar Marc Sageman writes, "backfired on al Qaeda." That the Bush administration (and the Obama administration, as well) acted fiercely, by freezing known al Qaeda sources of finance, mustering a grand coalition of the willing, destroying al Qaeda's Afghan sanctuary and training facilities, and eliminating thousands of militant leaders and operatives in short order, may have been unanticipated. Consider Abu al-Walid al-Masri's reaction. An al Qaeda theoretician, he later denounced bin Laden for so recklessly misinterpreting U.S. capabilities, for entangling al Qaeda in a war it would lose, and for bringing about the destruction of the only purely Islamic emirate (i.e., Afghanistan). Bin Laden, al-Masri concludes, was a shortsighted and "catastrophic" leader. A similar argument can be made of al Qaeda's 9/11 suicide hijackers: They too were undeterred because they went untested, over and over again. The operatives were cautious and "risk averse," did not want to get caught, and were far from reckless, yet the U.S. security system repeatedly failed to challenge them at the "threshold levels necessary to deter their attack." A threat unmade is a threat unheeded. Neither al Qaeda's leaders nor the 9/11 operatives could have possibly interpreted a coercive threat that did not exist; they also could not fully appreciate the costs and consequences of their actions.
A Road Map to This Book
The purpose of this book is twofold: to update theories of deterrence so that they better address contemporary terrorist threats and to explore whether and how targeted killings, in particular, manipulate militant behavior. In the first case, I take issue with the conventional thinking that terrorism cannot be deterred and that deterrence theory is outdated or obsolete. I suggest otherwise and illustrate how deterrence theory can be adapted, expanded, and applied to nonstate militant adversaries. In the second case, targeted killings have become an increasingly prominent (if not also controversial) feature of U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Although not an especially novel practice—targeted killings and assassinations have been around for centuries—developments in drone technology have certainly facilitated a rapid increase in their use in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. In discussing drones and targeted killings in 2009, Leon Panetta, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was characteristically blunt: "[I]t's the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership." Armed drones are here to stay and will continue to be used in targeted operations. But the strategy itself requires in-depth scholarly analysis. By assessing the effects that targeted killings have on militant behavior, this study taps into and adds to nascent debates that explore the promises and pitfalls of eliminating militant leaders in precision strikes and special operations.
My argument unfolds accordingly. First, I evaluate how and where deterrence theory can be applied to counterterrorism. By assessing the distinct literatures on deterrence theory and counterterrorism, I propose ways in which the logic of coercion, punishment, denial, and delegitimization might be tailored to the specifics of nonstate militancy and political violence. This discussion leads to the exploration of a number of avenues for deterring terrorism. I then explore one of these avenues in particular: the deterrent and coercive effect of targeting and eliminating militant leaders. In brief, targeted killings are the intentional slaying of individual terrorist leaders and facilitators. In the language of deterrence theory, targeted killings represent a cost to planning and participating in political violence, a cost that should, in theory and in practice, influence or coerce group and individual militant behavior. By reviewing the literature on targeted killings, I assess whether and how they might function as an instrument of deterrence by punishment or denial in counterterrorism. Finally, I turn to an empirically driven analysis of how targeted killings in Afghanistan have had a coercive effect on the Taliban's behavior. The primary methodological assumption is that a within and cross-case comparison of various Afghan targeted killings will reveal behavioral patterns on the part of the Taliban that inform particular aspects outlined in both the targeted-killing and deterrence literatures. The eliminations themselves introduce a break (or control) on the longitudinal behavior of the Taliban, such that behavioral changes can be measured after each strike. The empiricism is designed as a structured and focused comparison of related cases. Four targeted killings from the Afghan theater are analyzed: Mullah Dadullah (killed May 12, 2007), Mullah Mahmud Baluch (killed June 9, 2007), Qari Faiz Mohammad (killed July 23, 2007), and Mullah Abdul Matin (killed February 18, 2008). My findings suggest that these eliminations did indeed coerce, manipulate, and alter Taliban behavior in ways outlined in theories of deterring terrorism.
This book is presented in six chapters. This chapter is an introduction to deterring terrorism and exposes the various arguments skeptics have made. It positions the subject matter within the broader theoretical context of international relations theory, highlights how global events have shifted contemporary debates regarding deterrence theory's continued utility, and anchors the subsequent exploration. Chapter 2 establishes the foundation on which deterrence theory is built. A detailed overview of the literature is presented, establishing the logical underpinnings and building blocks that inform the use of deterrence in practice. Included here are discussions of the various causal logics (like deterrence, compellence, coercion, and influence) and theoretical iterations (like deterrence by punishment versus deterrence by denial) that underpin traditional deterrence theory.
Chapter 3 applies the traditional theory of deterrence to the practice of countering violent nonstate actors and terrorism. The discussion begins by first unpacking terrorist groups into their various organizational characteristics (that is, militant leaders, foot soldiers, financiers, societal and state facilitators, and ideological legitimizers) and disaggregating terrorism into its distinctive processes (i.e., recruitment, indoctrination, training, and action). Breaking terrorism into its parts and processes helps identify the individual actors and processes that may be sensitive and vulnerable to the logic of deterrence. Some terrorist actors (like financiers, for instance) may be especially susceptible to threats of punishment (that is, imprisonment or death). Similarly, certain terrorism processes (like target selection) might be manipulated by applying the logic of deterrence by denial (that is, hardening infrastructural defenses). By broadening the traditional scope of deterrence, this chapter also illustrates how core tenets of deterrence theory can be applied to unconventional and nonstate adversaries, like terrorists, insurgents, and militants. Coercive dilemmas are also reviewed: how states should identify terrorist values and goals; communicate threats with nonstate adversaries; recognize and manipulate terrorist self-restraints; use punitive and nonpunitive influences and positive inducements; and deal with asymmetries in power, capability, intent, and motivation. A separate discussion then addresses the role deterrence has in countering conventional terrorism and in countering chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) terrorism. In sum, the chapter broadens traditional theories of deterrence so that core concepts can be properly applied to the intricacies of deterring terrorism and coercing nonstate militant adversaries.
Chapter 4 focuses on the deterrent effect targeted eliminations have on militants and groups. Targeted killings are an example of how states can apply the logic of deterrence by punishment to counter political violence. By communicating an intention and a capability to target and capture or kill militant leaders, states might be able to coerce, influence, and deter terrorists. The chapter begins by defining the theoretical and practical parameters of targeted killings as they apply to contemporary counterterrorism. A two-part discussion then explores why targeted killings do and do not work in diminishing militant capabilities and deterring violence. For instance, although it is argued that eliminating a group's leader may lower his followers' morale, a leader's death may have the opposite effect, too: creating a martyr with which to attract attention and galvanize supporters and new recruits. Other related issues, like a group's deprofessionalization and the normative and legal dilemmas that accompany targeted killings and the use of drones to dispatch militants, are also discussed. The chapter concludes with a detailed discussion of how and why targeted killings coerce adversaries, and it establishes the theoretical groundwork on which the empirical chapter is based.
Chapter 5 presents the book's empirical findings. It begins with a description of the Taliban's leadership and describes the 2007 U.S./NATO "Most Wanted" campaign, which helps situate the data set itself. The comparative analysis of the four cases is then carried out. (A description of the methodology, research design, and data collection is presented in the Appendix.) The findings suggest that the targeted killings had a coercive and deterrent effect on the Taliban, influencing the type and nature of the violence the organization was willing to orchestrate and was capable of carrying out. When assessing deterring terrorism, it is not only the amount of violence but the nature of that violence that is important. Terrorist and militant organizations have behavioral preferences. The type of violence they engage in rests as much on the effect they are trying to have as it does on their capacity and motivation to muster efforts toward particular goals. With these preferences in mind, this chapter reveals that after the targeted killings, suicide bombings, for instance, dropped by more than 30 percent. This is in keeping with the degree of difficulty, amount of time and expertise, and level of leadership that is required to coordinate effective suicide bombings. Overall levels of violence, however, are only a minor part of the analysis. The research also reveals a decrease in Taliban professionalism following the targeted killings, with drops in the proficiency of Taliban improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide attacks. The data further suggest that the targeted killings influenced the Taliban's selection of targets; soft targets were more often selected (as a percentage of all targets) after the leadership strikes. Chapter 6, which functions as the book's conclusion, discusses these findings and offers lessons for studying contemporary deterrence theory and applying targeted killings in counterterrorism.
Success in counterterrorism requires diminishing a group's ability to organize and orchestrate acts of violence, as well as undermining a group's motivation to use violence. The former flows from the use of offensive and defensive capabilities. The latter relies on the logic of deterrence, compellence, and influence and involves manipulating an organization's willingness to use violence and its supporting community's enthusiasm to facilitate it. Today, counter-motivation strategies are underdeveloped and understudied. In this regard, applying deterrence theory to counterterrorism is a promising field of research. By illustrating how traditional tenets of deterrence, like punishment and denial, along with newer concepts, like delegitimization and mitigation, might be used to coerce, compel, influence, and deter terrorists, this study suggests ways in which states might counter and combat political violence strategically. Although it is true that deterring terrorism will be difficult and complex, especially when compared to deterring state rivals or the former Soviet Union, targeting what terrorists value, desire, and believe might nonetheless influence militant behavior in ways that diminish the scale, scope, and ferocity of the violence they orchestrate. Deterring all terrorism may be impossible; but deterring some terrorism is feasible and, ultimately, necessary.