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Article

Max Abrahms and Joseph Mroszczyk

Terrorist groups exhibit wide variation in their targeting strategies, particularly the extent to which they engage in indiscriminate violence against civilian targets as opposed to more selective violence against military and other government targets. Differences in target selection are evident not only between militant groups but also within them over time. The academic literature on conflict primarily uses three lenses—the Strategic, Ideological, and Organizational Models—to explain terrorist targeting behavior. The Strategic Model views terrorist groups as rational actors that select targeting strategies based on their perceived ability to achieve desired political outcomes. The Ideological Model explains terrorist targeting strategies by examining a group’s political or religious foundation as the source of target selection decision-making. The Organizational Model attributes variation in targeting strategies to intra-organizational dynamics, namely the principal–agent problem, where terrorist operatives often engage targets in defiance of leadership preferences. Each approach has various benefits and drawbacks both theoretically and empirically. These three lenses of explaining terrorist targeting behavior suggest different counterterrorism approaches. The study of terrorist targeting strategies is complicated by multiple methodological limitations such as the availability of data, selection bias, and definitional challenges, all of which are common in the study of militant group dynamics more broadly.

Article

Max Abrahms and Joseph Mroszczyk

Within political science, the strategic model is the dominant paradigm for understanding terrorism. The strategic model of terrorism posits that people turn to terrorism because of its effectiveness in pressuring government concessions. The strategic model Is a specific type of rational actor model with intellectual roots in bargaining theory, which emphasizes in the field of international relations how violence enhances the credibility of threats under anarchy, elevating the odds of government compliance. The strategic model is stronger theoretically than empirically. Terrorism indeed enhances the credibility of threats by demonstrating that nonstate actors possess the will and means to inflict physical pain for political noncompliance. Under anarchy, targets cannot otherwise be certain that aggrieved nonstate actors have the ability and intent to impose physical costs for maintaining the political status quo; the use of terrorist violence against civilians enhances the credibility of the threat by leaving no doubt that withholding concessions to the perpetrators will be costly. Although terrorism enhances the credibility of the threat under anarchy, the empirical record demonstrates that terrorist violence is generally ineffective—even counterproductive—at coercing government concessions. Not only is terrorism highly correlated with political failure, but this form of violence appears to lower the likelihood of government compliance, often by empowering hardliners most opposed to political accommodation. This finding holds across a variety of methodological approaches, raising questions about why terrorism underperforms as a coercive tactic despite enhancing the credibility of nonstate threats.

Article

Charles A. Mangio and Bonnie J. Wilkinson

Intelligence analysis is defined as analysis carried out by intelligence organizations. The essence of intelligence analysis is determining the meaning of information to develop knowledge and understanding. The meaning derived from the analysis is used to address many different types of questions, which are categorized in variety of ways. A general classification of the questions, sometimes described as types of intelligence or analysis, includes strategic intelligence. The seminal publication for describing and explaining the processes and attributes of strategic intelligence is Sherman Kent’s 1949 book, Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy. The intelligence literature acknowledges that determining meaning is influenced by the analyst’s mindset, mental model, or frame of mind. A variety of factors influence mental models, including context and purpose, past experience, education, cultural values, role requirements, organizational norms and the specifics of the information received. A recurring theme in intelligence literature is the use of scientific methods in intelligence analysis and the discussion of the analytic process in terms of scientific methods. Key elements of the analysis processes include hypotheses, information research, and the marshaling of evidence, and how they affect the determination of meaning. Intelligence research also emphasizes the importance of rigor in analytic thinking. Despite the accumulation of a substantial amount of scholarly work on intelligence since the 1940s and 1950s, the literature has not advanced on the core aspect of determining meaning from information to address the full range of complexities in intelligence analysis.

Article

The process of foreign policy decision making is influenced in large part by beliefs, along with the strategic interaction between actors engendered by their decisions and the resulting political outcomes. In this context, beliefs encompass three kinds of effects: the mirroring effects associated with the decision making situation, the steering effects that arise from this situation, and the learning effects of feedback. These effects are modeled using operational code analysis, although “operational code theory” more accurately describes an alliance of attribution and schema theories from psychology and game theory from economics applied to the domain of politics. This “theory complex” specifies belief-based solutions to the puzzles posed by diagnostic, decision making, and learning processes in world politics. The major social and intellectual dimensions of operational code theory can be traced to Nathan Leites’s seminal research on the Bolshevik operational code, The Operational Code of the Politburo. In the last half of the twentieth century, applications of operational code analysis have emphasized different cognitive, emotional, and motivational mechanisms as intellectual dimensions in explaining foreign policy decisions. The literature on operational code theory may be divided into four general waves of research: idiographic-interpretive studies, nomothetic-typological studies, quantitative-statistical studies, and formal modeling studies. The present trajectory of studies on operational code points to a number of important trends that straddle political psychology and game theory. For example, the psychological processes of mirroring, steering, and learning associated with operational code analysis have the potential to enrich our understanding of game-theoretic models of strategic interaction.