NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Evaluating Deterrents to Terrorism

March 21, 2002

As with consumers, terrorists are constrained by financial resources. If a product becomes more expensive, consumers will buy less of it. For terrorists, if an act is made more difficult or dangerous, they will perceive that the cost is raised and may be deterred. For example, when metal detectors were first installed in airports in 1973, there were far fewer airline hijackings the next three years.

Research by Todd Sandler at the University of Southern California and Walter Enders at the University of Alabama finds that terrorists respond to deterrents by shifting strategies.

  • After the installation of metal detectors at airports, terrorists sought ways to circumvent them -- among the most effective was to make bombs out of liquids.
  • After terrorists bombed American embassies in the 1980s, the government fortified the compounds -- resulting in a shift in strategy among terrorists which involved an increase in assassinations of officials and military personnel outside of American compounds.
  • They note that terrorist activities ebb and flow in cycles -- waning in the 1990s, then picking up after Americans began to relax security measures.

The researchers advise a policy of addressing existing terrorist methods, while anticipating new methods and technologies.

Retaliation seems to encourage further terrorist response -- as seen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But in the Afghan war, the cost to terrorists has been raised so high that this retaliation will be more effective than past efforts.

The best hope of preventing terrorism is to focus on terrorists' resources, the researchers contend.

  • Find and confiscate terrorists' money -- and make future financing more difficult.
  • Undermine the recruiting and training of terrorists -- including discouraging nations from harboring them -- and redouble efforts at international cooperation.

Source: Jeff Madrick (Cooper Union), "Economic Scene: Effective Victory in the War Against Terror Hinges on Cutting of Resources," New York Times, March 21, 2002.


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