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.
Max Abrahms and Joseph Mroszczyk
Before the late 1960s, terrorism was commonly viewed as an internal problem that belonged to the realm of policing rather than foreign policy. The Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s airplane hijackings in Europe, combined with the 1972 Munich Olympics wherein eleven Israeli athletes were captured and held hostage by Black September, gave rise to some foundational counterterrorism policy features; for example, no negotiations with terrorists. But it was not until the 1983–1984 attacks on its embassy and the Marine barracks in Beirut that the United States began to see terrorism as a policy concern. The terrorist attacks of September 11 also led scholars to become increasingly interested in integrating work on international terrorism into international relations (IR) and foreign policy theories. The theories of IR, foreign policy concerns of policy makers, and terrorism studies intersect in areas such as the development of international law governing terrorism, poverty, economic development, globalization, military actions, and questions of whether deterrence is still possible in the age of decentralized terrorist groups and suicidal terrorism. Despite decades of research on terrorism and counterterrorism, some very basic and important gaps remain. Issues that the academic literature on foreign policy or terrorism must address include the effects of the evolving organizational structure of terrorist groups, illegal immigration, the radicalization of European Muslims, and the phenomenon recently identified as “swarming.”
Caron E. Gentry
The public/private divide assumes that men are the (public sphere) actors gendered toward the possibility of violent action, specifically as soldiers, combatants, guerrillas, or revolutionaries, whereas “proper” women within the private sphere are gendered to be non-violent or peaceful actors. Women who engage in the political sphere are condemned for deviating from the private, and more so when they are involved in violence. Indeed, women who operate as agents of political violence are accused of transgressing both gender norms and the normative conceptualization of a state’s monopoly on violence. Feminists have challenged the veracity of this public/private circumscription through their evaluation of women as agents of political violence. Earlier feminist work dehumanizes politically violent women, making their violence more damaging and mental health more damaged than men who commit the same violence. Feminists later moved away from this dehumanization and instead portrayed women as helpmates to the politically violent organization and its male members. Some or most mainstream approaches refer to women involved in sub-state political violence as “terrorists,” and women terrorists are socially constructed as doubly illegitimate actors. Instead of focusing on what must be wrong with the women who engage in political violence, research should identify the reasons behind their actions, such as perceived injustices against them, their community, and/or political and civil rights.
The internet has emerged as an important medium for terrorists. Two key trends can be discerned from cyberterrorism: the democratization of communications driven by user generated content on the internet, and modern terrorists’ growing awareness of the internet’s potential for their purposes. The internet has become a favorite tool of the terrorists because of the many advantages it provides, such as easy access; little or no regulation, censorship, or other forms of government control; potentially huge audiences spread throughout the world; anonymity of communication; fast flow of information; interactivity; inexpensive development and maintenance of a Web presence; a multimedia environment; and the ability to influence coverage in the traditional mass media. These advantages make the network of computer-mediated communication ideal for terrorists-as-communicators. Terrorist groups of all sizes maintain their own websites to spread propaganda, raise funds and launder money, recruit and train members, communicate and conspire, plan and launch attacks. They also rely on e-mail, chatrooms, e-groups, forums, virtual message boards, and resources like YouTube, Facebook, and Google Earth. Fighting online terrorism raises the issue of countermeasures and their cost. The virtual war between terrorists and counterterrorism forces and agencies is certainly a vital, dynamic, and ferocious one. It is imperative that we become better informed about the uses to which terrorists put the internet and better able to monitor their activities. Second, we must defend our societies better against terrorism without undermining the very qualities and values that make our societies worth defending.
Poststructuralism is an International Relations (IR) theory that entered the domain of Security Studies during the Second Cold War. During this period, poststructuralists engaged with power, security, the militarization of the superpower relationship, and the dangers that the nuclear condition was believed to entail. Poststructuralism’s concern with power, structures, and the disciplining effects of knowledge seemed to resonate well with the main themes of classical realist Security Studies. At the same time, the discursive ontology and epistemology of poststructuralism set it apart not only from Strategic Studies, but from traditional peace researchers who insisted on “real world” material referents and objective conceptions of security. The unexpected end of the Cold War brought challenges as well as opportunities for poststructuralism. The most important challenge that arose was whether states needed enemies. The terrorist attacks of September 11 and “The War on Terror” also had a profound impact on poststructuralist discourse. First, poststructuralists held that “terrorism” and “terrorists” had no objective, material referent, but were signs that constituted a radical Other. They viewed the actions on September 11 as “terror,” “acts of war,” and “orchestrated,” rather than “accidents” committed by a few individuals. The construction of “terrorists” as “irrational” intersected with poststructuralist deconstructions of rational–irrational dichotomies that had also been central to Cold War discourse. These responses to “the War on Terror” demonstrated that poststructuralist theory still informs important work in Security Studies and that there are also crucial intersections between poststructuralism and other approaches in IR.