Monday, April 26, 2010

What Do We Know About Terrorism?

. Monday, April 26, 2010

Time constraints prevent me from commenting in depth, but I wanted to pass along this article in the New Yorker surveying some political science research on terrorism and counter-terrorism. I liked this part in particular:

Because terrorism is such an enormous problem—it takes place constantly, all over the world, in conflict zones and in big cities, in more and less developed countries—one can find an example of just about every anti-terrorist tactic working (or failing to). One of the most prolific contemporary terrorist groups, the Tamil Tigers, of Sri Lanka, appears to have been defeated by the Sinhalese Buddhist-dominated government, through a conventional, if unusually violent, military campaign, which ended last spring. In that instance, brutal repression seems to have been the key. But the Russians have tried that intermittently in Chechnya, without the same effect; the recent suicide bombing in the Moscow subway by Chechen terrorists prompted an Op-Ed piece in the Times by Robert Pape and two associates, arguing that the answer is for Russia to dial back its “indirect military occupation” of Chechnya.

The point of social science is to be careful, dispassionate, and analytical, to get beyond the lure of anecdote and see what the patterns really are. But in the case of counterterrorism the laboratory approach can’t be made to scan neatly, because there isn’t a logic that can be counted upon to apply in all cases. One could say that the way to reduce a group’s terrorist activity is by reaching a political compromise with it; Northern Ireland seems to be an example. But doing that can make terrorism more attractive to other groups—a particular risk for the United States, which operates in so many places around the world.

The article isn't without flaws, and most of it is ho-hum for IR folks, but considering the audience I think it's a decent piece. I also think the popular debate would benefit from more articles like it.


What Do We Know About Terrorism?




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