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The Effectiveness of Counterterrorism Measures

Please respond to the following discussion topic. 75-150 words in length. Then,

Pick one of the counterterrorism measures discussed in our readings for this week and provide examples of when they successfully achieved a counterterrorism goal as well as when they failed. At what point do you think the failures outweigh the successes?

The Utility of Hard and Soft Power in Counterterrorism

Hard power consists of coercive techniques that force other parties to change their behaviors regardless of their desire to do so.

Soft power consists of co-opting techniques that encourage other parties to change their behaviors because they view it is in their best interests to do so.

Military Hard Power

Military Retaliation/Reprisal

  • Military retaliation or reprisal refers to military action taken against an entity as punishment for acts that entity has already committed.
  • Military forces can target terrorist organizations, state-sponsors of terrorist organizations, or both, depending on the desired effect.
  • International law is generally understood to define the legal use of military reprisal when:
    • Peaceful redress has failed.
    • Retaliatory action results in damages proportional to those caused by the offending act and does not harm innocent people.
    • Occurs within a limited time period following the offending act, usually interpreted to be within seventy-two hours.

Military Preemption

  • Preemptive attack refers to military strikes in advance of a hostile act in order to prevent it from occurring, such as when an attack is deemed imminent, or to avoid injury should it occur, such as when an attack would result in catastrophic destruction even if its occurring it not deemed imminent.
  • While military preemption against terrorist organizations has its time and place, approaches relying on traditional criminal justice techniques or co-opting terrorist organizations into a legitimate political process has historically outperformed military preemption as an effective counterterrorism strategy (indeed, it is the most effective method so far).

Commando Raids

  • Unlike full military interventions or highly public air strikes against enemy targets, small groups of elite forces – often referred to as “commandos” – can be deployed to neutralize specific parts of a terrorist organization or its capabilities.
  • Besides their ability to be deployed discreetly, commando raids have historically high accuracy rates and place innocent people at must lower risk than larger scale attacks.


  • In the context of this course, assassinations refer to the targeted killing of individuals who represent key terrorist capabilities.
  • When governments employ assassinations, they generally do so only with careful consideration and often deny their use, as in most circumstances the public rarely feels that assassinations represent a counterterrorism method consistent with their values and the balance between security and justice.

Hostage Rescue Missions

  • For a variety of reasons that we have already discussed, terrorist organizations may elect to take hostages, which often forces counterterrorist organization to employ a combination of informal negotiation and military action to free hostages.
  • Though hostage rescue missions are always high-risk operations, they are more likely to achieve their goals when conducted in permissive environments – meaning environments where the general political, social, and security context does not favor those holding the hostages.

Nonmilitary Hard Power: Economic Sanctions

  • Due to the nature of interdependent economic activity, both states and non-state organizations rely on their ability to maintain economic relationships with others, be that through the traditional exchange of goods, services, and capital, or through direct aid provided by a foreign state to support that state’s own interests.
  • The use of sanctions, therefore, can result in costly damages to the targeted state or non-state organization, although only when enough of a target’s economic partners agree to and enforce sanctions sufficiently to deny the target access to alternative relationships.
  • Sanctions, however, can be a double-edged sword, as those who impose sanctions are also surrendering the benefits of direct economic relationships to the target, as well.
  • Research on sanctions has so far neither confirmed nor denied their effectiveness as a nonmilitary hard power, but the generally feeling is that sanctions are ineffective if not counterproductive.
  • corollary approach to sanctions as a nonmilitary hard power is the use of financial intelligence operations to disrupt terrorist organizations’ access to funding, although in practice this approach is more effective at identifying key nodes in terrorist organizations so that other counterterrorism techniques can be applied against them than it is at neutralizing terrorist threats.

Soft Power and Counterterrorism


  • Some scholars have determined that deterrence is ineffective against terrorist organizations because once such organizations have adopted a willingness to use political violence, they are already prone to taking risks at levels above the threshold that deterrence achieve.
  • Others, however, have determined that deterrence can effectively undermine a terrorist organization’s ability to achieve its political goals, which is a critical aspect of the organization’s capability to survive over time.


  • Diplomacy plays a key role in solving specific terrorist situations, persuading other governments to participate in counterterrorism coalitions, and – in the case of state-sponsors of terrorism – to cease their support of terrorists.
  • Diplomacy is an essential aspect of counterterrorism coordination, and without diplomatic agreements, counterterrorism organizations can only rarely achieve effects outside their own state – a critical vulnerability in the case of transnational terrorism.
  • While diplomacy is usually thought of in terms of direct, formal, state-to-state relationships, diplomacy also consists of informal talks between governments that may otherwise have a hostile relationship.

Talking to Terrorist Groups

  • While governments and non-state organizations almost always claim they do not negotiate with terrorists, the reality is that governments and non-state organizations often do communicate with terrorist organizations, either directly or through a proxy, as a means of achieving their goals.
  • Terrorist organizations may often have interests that align with those of their enemies, and finding ways to fulfill those mutual interests plays an important role in either reducing terrorist organizations’ willingness to commit political violence or converting them into a legitimate political entity, which we have already seen is one of the most effective methods for neutralizing them.

Public Diplomacy

  • Similar to a marketing campaign, public diplomacy is when the representatives of a government reach out directly to the population of a foreign country in order to foster a positive reputation for that government (or the people, culture, or economic institutions the government represents) and encourage the target population to expect favorable relationships between the two countries.
  • Public diplomacy has historically played an important role in achieving US security goals, and one area of active engagement consists of targeting religious moderates in Muslim countries, encouraging them to sponsor an environment hostile to militant radical extremists who claim the monopoly on Islam.

Conciliation and Peace

  • One of the least acknowledged forms of soft power in counterterrorism is the ability to achieve reconciliation between terrorist organizations and their targets, although historically this method has successfully been used to bring an end to a terrorist threat.
  • Conciliation and peace is most effective, however, when the conflict exists between two state governments or between a government and a domestic, non-state actor, as opposed to a conflict between a state government and a foreign, non-state actor.
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