Why Terrorism Doesn't Work
This is an interesting paper on the efficacy of terrorism:
This study analyzes the political plights of twenty-eight terrorist groups — the complete list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) as designated by the U.S. Department of State since 2001. The data yield two unexpected findings. First, the groups accomplished their forty-two policy objectives only 7 percent of the time. Second, although the groups achieved certain types of policy objectives more than others, the key variable for terrorist success was a tactical one: target selection. Groups whose attacks on civilian targets outnumbered attacks on military targets systematically failed to achieve their policy objectives, regardless of their nature.
The author believes that correspondent inference theory explains this. Basically, the theory says that people infer the motives of an actor based on the consequences of the action. So people assume that the motives of a terrorist are wanton death and destruction, and not the stated aims of the terrorist group:
The theory posited here is that terrorist groups that target civilians are unable to coerce policy change because terrorism has an extremely high correspondence. Countries believe that their civilian populations are attacked not because the terrorist group is protesting unfavorable external conditions such as territorial occupation or poverty. Rather, target countries infer from the short-term consequences of terrorism — the deaths of innocent citizens, mass fear, loss of confidence in the government to offer protection, economic contraction, and the inevitable erosion of civil liberties — the objectives of the terrorist group. In short, target countries view the negative consequences of terrorist attacks on their societies and political systems as evidence that the terrorists want them destroyed. Target countries are understandably skeptical that making concessions will placate terrorist groups believed to be motivated by these maximalist objectives.
This certainly explains a great deal about the U.S.’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Many people — along with our politicians and press — believe that al Qaeda terrorism is different, and they’re just out to kill us all. (In fact, I’m sure I’ll get blog comments along those lines.) The paper examines this belief: where it came from, how it manifested itself, and why it is wrong.