What Terrorists Really Want: Terrorist Motives and Counterterrorism Strategy

Max Abrahms
2008 International Security  
What do terrorists want? No question is more fundamental for devising an effective counterterrorism strategy. The international community cannot expect to make terrorism unproªtable and thus scarce without knowing the incentive structure of its practitioners. 1 The strategic model-the dominant paradigm in terrorism studies-posits that terrorists are rational actors who attack civilians for political ends. According to this view, terrorists are political utility maximizers; people use terrorism
more » ... hen the expected political gains minus the expected costs outweigh the net expected beneªts of alternative forms of protest. 2 The strategic model has widespread currency in the policy community; extant counterterrorism strategies are designed to defeat terrorism by reducing its political utility. The most common strategies are to mitigate terrorism by decreasing its political beneªts via a strict no concessions policy; decreasing its prospective political beneªts via appeasement; or decreasing its political beneªts relative to nonviolence via democracy promotion. Are any of these counterterrorism strategies likely to work? Can terrorism be neutralized by withholding political concessions, granting political conces-
doi:10.1162/isec.2008.32.4.78 fatcat:exy5g7wddre3tlak42vz7c4mgm