The Effect of Counterterrorist Policy on Terrorist Success in Western Europe


The purpose of this study is to determine what types of counterterrorist policies are successful in curbing terrorist activity. The focus is on post-September 11 European counterterrorism efforts with country-year as the unit of measurement. The paper explains the nature of the terrorist threat and provides statistical analysis on counterterrorist policy effectiveness. I use negative binomial regression to test the relationship between counterterrorist policy and the total number of incidents and the total number of attacks, respectively. The results are mixed and do not indicate that the ordinal measure of counterterrorism policy is statistically significant. Using a binary measure of policy type, I find the opposite of my theory to be true--that the more comprehensive a counterterrorist policy, the more casualties are incurred. This project opens the pathway for future research on this ripe issue as we collect more and better data. This research is vital to fighting the terrorist threat, and in the future could prove useful to policy makers tasked with creating a counterterrorist strategy that will succeed in disrupting and eliminating terrorism, a global phenomenon.

Table of Contents: 


    In the new millennium, we have experienced resurgence in terrorism, both in attention to and activity worldwide. Countries are mobilizing more than ever before to combat terrorist groups and their influence around the world. Counterterrorist strategy is the main avenue towards fighting these forces, and the shape it takes is different across different countries and regions. This paper investigates the link between counterterrorist policy and acts of terrorism: which policies are most successful in limiting terrorist activity, casualties, and damage. This relationship relies upon the terrorist response to policy, which is not easily measured.

    The relevance of this study is obvious, as terrorism is an extremely hot topic not just in academia but also in the policy world. The intent is to determine which policies are the most successful in reducing terrorist activity and consequences which, when discovered, could be used for a broad range of policy recommendations on fighting terrorism, shifting the focus and the implementation of policy.

    My paper is divided into sections: the literature review, theory and hypotheses, research design, analysis, and conclusion. In the literature review I discuss the terrorist phenomenon in general as well as give an overview of the scholarly debate on counterterrorist policy. In the next section I develop a theory about this relationship between counterterrorist policy and terrorist success based on a paper outlining European Union (EU) counterterrorist policy as well as the general terrorist literature and derive a set of hypotheses based on this framework. Next, I outline my research design which includes explaining and operationalizing my variables in addition to sketching out the methodology I will use to test my hypotheses. Finally I will provide my results as well as my interpretation in the analysis section and wrap up with a conclusion.

    Literature Review

    Terrorism Overview

    The literature on terrorism is at best a compilation of incomplete assumptions about terrorist behaviors and motivations as well as a less-than-detailed analysis of counterterrorist measures employed to combat the growing threat. The literature is also divided about the roots of terrorist organizations, what sets of conditions actually give rise to these groups, and what policies or strategies are the most effective in seeking out, disrupting, and ultimately destroying the terrorist threat.

    Terrorism is a complex phenomenon with a wide range of definitions best explained by the common cliché, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” There is no consensus definition of terrorism, with countless scholarly researchers worldwide all disagreeing on a singular definition for the term. Robert Pape defines terrorism as “involving the use of violence by an organization other than a national government to cause intimidation or fear among a target audience” (Pape, 2003, p. 345). Terrorism is sometimes a practical, low-cost strategy through which subordinate groups leverage their power successfully to achieve their goals. Two key elements to any definition of terrorism are that it involves aggression against non-combatants and that the terrorist action itself is not expected by its perpetrator to accomplish a political goal but instead to influence a target audience and change that audience’s behavior in a way that will serve the interests of the terrorists (Victoroff, 2005). Despite these inconsistencies across the discussion of terrorism, the fact remains that these extreme practices have seized the attention of the world and have dominated the international politics of many nations.

    Political psychological theory suggests that the better a target group understands the roots of the terrorist mindset, the better that group may develop policies to effectively manage the risks of terrorism. By uncovering potential sources and motivations of the terrorist threat it will become easier to outline an optimum counterterrorism policy (Victoroff, 2005). Members of terrorist groups can be seen as rational actors, which merely implies that terrorists are goal oriented, can rank order their preferences, and act to maximize their preferences within budgetary constraints (Li & Schaub, 2004). A pertinent example is al Qaeda’s brutal transnational campaign, including the mass murders at New York’s World Trade Center in 2001, which may have not only rapidly advanced Osama bin Laden’s stated goal of removing the large U.S. military presence from Saudi Arabia but also served as an extremely potent recruiting tool to bolster his fighting force. This doesn’t even account for the spread of fear across the Western Hemisphere due to these incidents, despite the statistical fact that the likelihood of being killed in a terrorist attack is less than that of dying in a car accident (Spencer, 2006). Taking into account the rationality of terrorist actions as well as the nature of the terrorist phenomenon is vital to deciding a nation’s counterterrorist policy choices.

    To comprehend this phenomenon, it is important to understand why an individual would be willing to sacrifice his own personal identity and goals and subordinate himself to a particular organization’s ideology and goals, thereby agreeing to work towards advancing and accomplishing the objectives of the organization. This is a classic example of overcoming the collective action problem. This feat is accomplished by a rational individual absorbing the negative costs to his/her own personal welfare as long as the perceived benefit to the group is large enough to compensate for these losses (Gupta, 2005).

    But what are the conditions that produce potential terrorists? Terrorists are not grown overnight but are created as a result of certain social, political, and economic conditions combined with radical influences. Such influences are common in hotbeds of political strife where youth directly witness terrorist behaviors and seek to imitate them or, even more commonly, learn from their culture’s public glorification of terrorists (Victoroff, 2005). A great example is the variety of social learning promoted in Madrasas, which are religious schools for young Muslim boys. Madrasas have existed for centuries, but the recent worldwide resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism has led to an increase in their numbers, especially those who teach an extremist form of jihad and the acceptability of terrorist violence (Victoroff, 2005).

    Terrorist didactic learning also occurs through the diffusion of terrorist philosophy and methodology in communiqués, audiovisual tapes, compact discs, books, and Web sites which are easily accessible to the masses. Membership in a terrorist organization offers disciples a heady liquor of a well-defined personal role, a righteous purpose, the opportunity for revenge for perceived humiliations, and the lifting of constraints on the expression of otherwise prohibited behaviors. Group forces, including ideological indoctrination, repetitive training, and peer pressures, have been hypothesized to influence the group’s violence, whether or not individual members were predisposed to such behavior. This may occur because collective identity subsumes individual identity (Victoroff, 2005).

    Another of these motivations that prompts an individual’s involvement and willingness to give everything to the agenda of the group is the presence and influence of a leader or “political entrepreneur” who is able to frame the issue in a way that resonates with large segments of his target population and subsequently defines the contours of the group’s identity (Gupta 2005, 16-29). Some leaders are self-imagined idealists or altruists while others are driven by messianic delusions, ethnic or religious beliefs, or even by entrepreneurial ambitions.

    Terrorists are not outcasts, but are often regarded by their in-group as heroic freedom fighters (Victoroff, 2005). Nationalist-separatist terrorists must be distinguished from revolutionary, ideological, or extremist terrorists in this regard since the former are typically regarded as risking their lives for social welfare, while the latter attack their society of origin without hesitation (Victoroff, 2005). Also in keeping with the idea that terrorists are rational actors, terrorists are acting in ways that are encouraged and respected by their peers (other terrorists). This can be considered pro-social behavior from the perspective of the terrorists’ social group members who believe themselves to be serving society; they are judged by their in-group to be acting in its interests (especially religious extremist groups who believe God to be on their side) and also from the terrorist themselves whose actions tend to benefit their family which is compensated even if the terrorist dies (Victoroff, 2005).

    The underlying causes of terrorism are vital to understanding the phenomenon yet they do not paint the entire portrait of the terrorist threat facing the world today. In general, terrorism has two purposes: to gain supporters and to coerce opponents. There are tradeoffs between these objectives and terrorists can strike various balances between them by choosing certain types of terrorism or terrorist tactics. Demonstrative terrorismis directed mainly at gaining publicity to recruit more activists, to draw attention to grievances from soft liners on the other side, and to gain attention from third parties who might exert pressure on the other side while destructive terrorism is more aggressive, seeking to coerce opponents as well as mobilize support for the cause (Pape, 2003).Suicide terrorism is the most aggressive from of terrorism, pursuing coercion even at the expense of losing support among the terrorists’ own community. Suicide terrorism maximizes the coercive leverage gained, as a suicide attacker is a symbol of someone who cannot be deterred and believes the cause of the organization to be so vital that he or she is willing to give up life itself. It tends, however, to erode the support of their target audience. Maximizing the number of enemy killed alienates those in the target audience who might be sympathetic to the terrorists’ cause, while the act of suicide creates a debate and often loss of support among moderate segments of the terrorists’ community, even if also attracting support among radical elements (Pape, 2003).

    Different types of terrorists are likely to use different means and different tactics to achieve their aims. As rational actors, terrorists do not choose their tactics at random but pick those that are closest to their ideology, expertise, and organizational goals. Dipak K. Gupta (2005) outlines five specific types of attacks that branch off the more general demonstrative, destructive, and suicide classifications. First are Ideological terrorists whose attacks are inspired by ideological zeal and religious extremism as well as the personal charisma of the leader which is needed in addition to technical skills and logistical capacity to complete the job. Suicide attacks fit into this category, as a requirement of this form of attack is a replenishing supply of supremely dedicated members willing to give their lives for the cause. Professional terrorists are groups with specific skills including car and other bombings but are seldom motivated by acts of religious zealotry and tend to be a part of ethnic conflicts such as the ETA in Spain. While sophisticated in their tactics (e.g., using remote control detonators) and the use of destructive forms of terrorism, the deep ideological potency that gives rise to suicide terrorism is absent. Anomic terrorists are motivated by the need for financial gain and resort mainly to demonstrative acts such as hostage taking and kidnapping which are not aimed at killing large numbers of civilians or military personnel but at publicity as well as the financial benefits associated with ransoms. The final two categories areHooligan terrorists whose activities include arson and vandalism which don’t require technical skills and are usually aimed at crude destruction, and Vigilante terrorists, who embody more mob violence than covert planning and execution typical of other terrorist acts. Neither is used by formal terrorist organizations to advance their interests.

    Terrorism and terrorist activity and tactical choice can also be explained by the capacity of the group in question. The respective levels of legal and illegal activity carried out by a terrorist group depend on three factors: the relative costs between legal and illegal activities, the relative gains between the two types of activities, and the total resources available where a rise in the total resources of a group is expected to correspond with a rise in its overall terror activities (Li & Schaub 2004). Terrorist organizations often rely on the international trade network to sell contraband to fund their various operations. The increasingly fluid nature of the global investment and distribution networks makes such trade less risky and therefore much more likely (Li & Schaub). For instance, Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist network relied on illegal as well as legal international trade to fund its operations (Li & Schaub, 2004).

    Terrorism is thus a complex phenomenon, and requires comparably intricate policy solutions that acknowledge the complexity of the issue and plan accordingly in order to eliminate the threat.


    All the factors discussed in the previous section must be taken into account when speaking about the origins and the nature of the terrorist threat, as well as in deriving counterterrorist strategies to combat these terrorist groups. As a type of policy, counterterrorism encompasses a range of actions (e.g., freezing financial assets of terrorist organizations), specific decisions (e.g., a decision to join international treaties aimed at addressing different aspects of terrorism), general guidelines (e.g., provisions allowing for the use of military forces on the territory of other states), observable behaviors of states (e.g., police raids on possible terrorist sites), and verbal pronouncements of policy makers (e.g., promises of military and economic aid to other states struggling with terrorism) (Omelicheva, 2007). The literature on counterterrorism is divided on what methods are the most effective in curbing the terrorist threat. Some authors argue that the threat is an unquestionable security threat and must be dealt with through “hard power” or combinations of law enforcement and military forces as well as the use of intelligence, all aimed at rooting out terrorist organizations and killing and capturing their members, leaders, and cells. Others champion the “soft” approach, highlighted by diplomacy, negotiations, and social and economic reform.

    Supporters of the “soft” approach point out frequently that strict, forceful measures are not guaranteed to produce a reduction in terrorist activities, noting that these increasingly strict measures often have the opposite effect by inciting more violence and provoking targeted groups (Nacos, 2010). Also, due to the nature of terrorism, especially by non-state actors, military solutions are sometimes ineffective in targeting terrorists that hide among civilians in cities and towns and the presence can actually be a catalyst for onlookers to join terrorist organizations. Terrorists need community support to sustain their activities and when support fades, terrorists’ supply lines and recruitment reservoirs dry up which is key (those in favor of soft power approaches argue) to eliminating the terrorist threat. A person’s commitment to terrorism is the result of a gradual process, not a sudden conversion and so counter terrorist strategies emphasizing soft power will aim at mitigating the conditions that give rise to terrorism. Afghanistan gives the perfect example of the necessity of soft power where any successful counter terrorist strategy is contingent upon adopting a bottom up approach that involves working with local communities and in-groups (tribes, sub-tribes, and clans) that have either been victimized or marginalized by the Taliban who bring stability and radicalization to a historically decentralized region (Hoffman, 2010). Thus soft power proponents see community partnership and public diplomacy as the focal points of counter terrorist resources. Soft power in the form of new mass mediated and personal public diplomacy as well as generous disaster relief and targeted foreign aid that promote economic development are the most promising tools for depriving terrorists of their lifeblood: the popular support and breeding grounds among those in whose interest they claim to act (Nacos, 2010). Previous research has shown that the economic development of a country and its top economic partners reduces the number of transnational terrorist incidents within the country. Where trade and foreign direct investment promote economic development, economic globalization has an indirect negative effect on transnational terrorism (Li & Schaub, 2004).

    Some have even suggested that there is a link between democracy and terrorism where higher levels of democracy and political freedom lead to less chance of terrorism, a classic soft power claim. The extent of democracy in a country is negatively related to the probability of the same country experiencing transnational terrorism and in fact there seems to be a relationship between democracy and terrorism that looks like an inverse shaped U, suggesting that countries at intermediate levels of democracy are more liable to experience terrorism than purely authoritarian or purely democratic countries (Kiltgaard, Justesen, & Kelemmensen, 2006,). This could also indicate that nations that are in a sort of transition period from autocracy to democracy (or the reverse) are more likely to experience terrorism than purely democratic or authoritarian countries. A perfect example is Iraq, where the transition from authoritarian to democratic regime has been marred by spikes in terrorist activity.

    Proponents of the “hard” approach to counterterrorism often cite the claim, “poverty breeds terrorism” and refute it by showing examples of numerous terrorists that come from the well-educated and middle class and concluding that one of the chief weapons in the soft power arsenal, economic development, is a non-factor. Kiltgaard, Justesen, & Kelemmensen (2006) found that measures of poverty such as GDP per capita and the human poverty index seem to have very different associations with the probability of experiencing terrorism. HPI is never significant whereas GDP is significant and positive (i.e., wealthier countries have a higher probability of terrorist attacks) (Kiltgaard, Justesen, & Kelemmensen, 2006). So while there is no support for the thesis that poverty causes some countries to experience more terrorism than others, there is confirmation of the claim that wealthier countries are more likely to be hurt. Not only is foreign aid ineffective in battling terrorism, it also often exacerbates the problem because security concerns constrain development and waste funds (Rubin, 2010). The argument is that when terorists undermine stability, development aid is at its best ineffective and at worst encourages corruption making soft power counterproductive. Also,some scholars claim that responding to terrorism with diplomatic outreach or responding to demands incentivizes terror and that terrorists declared complaints often  do not correlate with concrete goals (Rubin, 2010). This is especially relevant due to the overwhelming shift in terrorist motivations in the 21st century. Whereas “old” terrorists sought short-term political power thorugh revolution, national liberation, or succession, the “new” terrorists seek to transform the world (Crenshaw, 2000). This distinction between the old, conventional terrorist model and the new extremist groups that have emerged as the most dangerous organizations classified as terrorists is more apparent via their respective strategies. The strategies of the “old” terrroists were discriminating; terrorsm was a form of communicating a specific message to an audience whereas, due to the unlimited ends of the “new” terrorist subculture, “new” terrorists seek to cause high numbers of casualties and are willing to commit suicide or use weapons of mass destruction to do so (Crenshaw, 2000). The rise of this extremist ideology in groups such as al-Qaeda who see no solution other than surrender or victory, has corresponded with the rise of “hard” power advocates who see no alternative other than military solutions which choose to counter extremism with comparable extreme measures. Thus the hard power approach, it is alleged, is key to an effective counterterrorism strategy. By striking at terrorists and their sponsors militarily, states amplify the cost to any group or government seeking to achieve its aims through terrorism and, in additon, by killing terrorist leaders and cell members, disrupt both hierarchical and lateral communications that are severe blows to any organization (Rubin, 2010).

    Traditionally, governments and their agencies have often used simple rational indicators to highlight ‘success’ in the ‘war on terrorism,” such as the number of attacks and casualties, arrested leaders, killed terrorists, or the amount of terrorist money which has been frozen since 9/11 (Spencer, 2006). Other common measures of effectiveness have been terrorist attacks that were aborted or intercepted due to the counterterrorism efforts of governments. The key issue with these measures is that they ignore the qualitative aspects of the phenomenon. While government officials tend to point to the decline in the number of terrorist incidents as sign of a successful counterterrorism campaign, terrorist incidents can decrease for a multitude of reasons. Inadequate measures of effectiveness can contribute to complacency, the wrong allocation of scarce resources, and even horrible surprises. For example, terrorists may be saving up their resources for a devastating attack; trying to give governments a false sense of security in an effort to encourage complacency, reduce their vigilance, and increase  the government’s vulnerability; or they may also be in a phase of recruiting and training new members or buying new weapons to strike another day (Spencer, 2006). At the same time, a terrorist group that is actually in decline may opt to attack more frequently and more violently in order to prove to governments, supporters, and the general public that it remains a force to be reckoned with, despite these attacks really representing the last twitches of a dying organization (Spencer, 2006).

    Despite the debate over methods, nearly all governments implemented some kind of counterterrorism policies following 9/11 and many have cooperated internationally to fight global terrorism, thus making the question of how to measure the effectiveness of counterterrorism policies important (Spencer, 2006). Despite the importance of counterterrorism measures in the current international environment, many things have plagued scholars in their study of such measures. A main flaw in terrorist and counterterrorist research is the apparent lack of empirical studies on terrorism, especially in regards to the effectiveness of counterterrorist policy and its influence on terrorist group behavior. The answer to why, if this policy area is so important to so many nations, it has not been studied empirically is first and foremost because counterterrorism policy is not clearly demarcated and actually spans a multitude of policy areas. Maria Omelicheva provides an excellent account of the dilemma:

    (Counterterrorism) is carried out by almost every governmental agency, not only those authorized with law-enforcement, intelligence, and defense functions. Counterterrorism measures do not stop at states’ borders. As the threat of terrorism blurs the boundaries between internal and international security, the concept of counterterrorism also blurs the distinction between foreign and domestic policy dimensions. As a result of this multiplicity of measures and actors involved in combating terrorism, many analysts sidestep conceptualizing what counterterrorism means in favor of describing some of the empirical manifestations of the concept. (Omelicheva, 2007, p. 2)

    In order to perform empirical studies, a clearly defined method that highlights the differences between various counterterrorist policies is critical.

    It quickly becomes apparent that simply relying on case studies to generalize about which policies are successful is at best an incomplete approach that will leave open possibilities for trouble where circumstances change but policies stay the same. In Europe, for example, counterterrorist policy reforms have swept across the continent. Despite this, many theoretical perspectives and previous research findings provide conflicting expectations concerning the suspected effects of these developments. Some have preached that this set of conditions predicts divergence while others suggest policy convergence has occurred. Two key instruments of counterterrorist policy, terrorist offense and the freezing of terrorist-related assets, characterize convergence on the part of the EU (Nohrstedt & Hansen, 2008). This shows the relative importance placed upon these policy strategies that are designed to pursue terrorists and disrupt their networks. Another important note is that countries are more likely to use strategies that have a high level of coercion.

    Regardless of how a policy is chosen or for what reason, the central goal is again to measure effectiveness in curbing terrorist activity. So, in the abstract, counterterrorism can be thought of as a mix of public and foreign policies designed to limit the actions of terrorist groups and individuals associated with terrorist organizations in an attempt to protect the general public from terrorist violence (Omelicheva, 2007). In a mapping of counterterrorist policies within the EU, four general policy areas were categorized according to the goals of the particular policy set. Based on the EU’s counterterrorist strategy, as defined by the European Council, the strands that are labeled are prevent, protect, pursue, and respond (EU, 2008). Unlike previous methods of classifying counterterrorist policy which are suboptimal for analysis covering a wide range of counterterrorism policy choices, this framework is general and encompassing enough to include all designated policies as well as make clear-cut the goals of such policies. This avoids dichotomizing multiple counterterrorism measures (hard vs. soft power) which conceals important variations and dimensionality of counterterrorism policies (Omelicheva, 2007). I will use this framework as the basis for my theory which will disclose why counterterrorist policy works better in some circumstances than others. Scholars have not studied whether certain types or combinations of counterterrorist policy are more successful than others. The qualitative pieces all simply provide symptoms of the threat to go along with incomplete analysis, so instead I will create my own method and give this topic some quantitative study.


    Evaluating the success or effectiveness of counterterrorist policies is at best an inexact science, as it is nearly impossible to measure the role and effectiveness of any specific policy or law. Thus, instead of a more detail-oriented approach that would investigate each policy individually, the best course of action would be to use general areas and aims of policies to distinguish among the strategies of different countries. My research question is as follows:  What are the factors and conditions that cause terrorist organizations to materialize and influence their choice of tactics?

    The notion that counterterrorist policy determines or even marginally affects the behavior of terrorist organizations stems from the assumption that terrorists are rational actors and will respond differently to different policies under different circumstances. Terrorist groups do not act randomly, but do so with careful consideration; ideology, expertise, opportunity, and general modus operandi all factor into the tactics used (Gupta, 2005). The actions of the opposing nation also can influence terrorist action. For example, no matter how successful a government has been at fighting terrorist activity, through the rhetoric of a nation’s leaders and a relaxation of policy, governments could be seen as complacent which would, despite any degree of weakening of a terrorist organization’s capabilities, incite them to use preemptory strikes to prove their relevance and assert that they should not be overlooked. Take Indonesia, for example, the Southeast Asian nation that had been free from terrorist attacks since 2005, until Jeemah Islamiyah, thought to have been weakened, executed an attack in July, 2009, against the Ritz Carlton and J.W. Marriott hotels in Jakarta. The attack was a response to politicians championing the success of their counterterrorist strategy in their campaigns and the terrorist’s need to prove his continued relevance.

    Counterterrorist policy can be divided into four main categories: those aimed at the prevention of terrorist attacks; those that protect citizens, sites, and infrastructure from actual damage; tactics that pursue terrorist groups and disrupt their networks (financial and human) and put actual pressure on the organizations; and response mechanisms in place to be adequately prepared to deal with the immediate consequences of terrorist attacks. The primary form a country’s counterterrorist policy takes determines the environment in which the terrorist organization has to operate, and dictates its strategy and effectiveness. A group determines its tactics according to the country’s counterterrorist policy.

    “Protect” policies are those that protect citizens from terrorist attacks (EU, 2008). Examples include those policies that enhance border and airport security and corresponding infrastructure and intelligence mechanisms to ensure safety and, in case of a terrorist plot, the reinforced system to spot and eliminate the threat. Terrorists are not likely to be deterred by “protect” oriented policies such as enhancing security forces and law enforcement agencies. Terrorist organizations, especially the more radical religion-based groups whose goals are very idealistic and not based on government concessions are not easily deterred by simple security measures. Terrorist cells, networks, and plans especially are adaptable to the various circumstances they face and can either plan to change their target or change their tactics altogether when faced with increased pressure from a country’s counterterrorist policy. For example, an increase in security measures such as installing more sophisticated airport security measures (such as metal detectors and x-ray scanners) was recently circumvented in the attempted 2009 Christmas Day attack where a man boarded Northwest Flight 253 headed for Detroit and attempted to set off plastic explosives sewn to his underwear. Thus, a protect-oriented policy, by itself, cannot realistically hope to eliminate the terrorist threat.

    “Prevent” refers to a strategy where states are taking measures to prevent vulnerable groups from resorting to terrorism (EU 2008). This can be as simple as providing alternative options for would-be terrorists such as jobs in a security force, or can be as comprehensive as Iraq’s new curriculum change that omits controversial subjects for secondary school children. The terrorist socialization process is not instantaneous but gradual, so fighting the ideology battle with youth potentially at risk will reduce the terrorists’ support base. The media can also be effective here. Again, while this strategy will undoubtedly mitigate the root causes in which terrorists’ culture thrives and consequently disrupt their recruiting process, a simple prevention strategy will not halt terrorists in their tracks. Soft power approaches such as this have utility but are ineffective, absent an effort to actually hunt down these criminals, and by itself may simply incite more terrorist violence (Rubin 2010).

    “Respond” policies that are geared toward dealing with the aftermath or immediate consequences of a terrorist attack are indispensible for keeping order in the midst of such chaos and quelling the fear instilled in the civilian population. Examples of this category of policy would be the use of damage control teams and utilization of the media to counter terrorist propaganda. Spreading fear is a primary objective of terrorist attacks and this state of paranoia and disarray actually aids their efforts by allowing them to work under the radar and get exposure for their cause. So while effective response mechanisms are vital to a nation’s crisis control after an attack, it is seemingly a non-factor in convincing terrorist groups not to plan and actually perform terrorist acts and may even influence them to step up their frequency and intensity. A perfect example is the concessions given to the Hamas group by Israel after a suicide terrorist campaign. The concessions did not appease or deter the terrorists but showed them that their efforts were paying off, which increased their confidence and attacks (Pape, 2003). A simple response to terror will not stop terrorism from reaching the response stage again.

    Finally the most important category of counterterrorist policy that is indispensible to reducing the frequency and casualty counts from actual attacks is “pursue.” Policies here are aimed at pursuing terrorist groups and disrupting financial and human networks (EU, 2008). This is the most important policy area, combining law enforcement and other military capabilities as well as intelligence networks. Pursue policies raise the price of engaging in terrorism so that the costs to terrorists and their sponsors outweigh the benefits (Rubin, 2010). By actually going after terrorists, they are denied safe havens to plan attacks and expand their influence and thus a drop in attack frequency will occur when implementing these sorts of policies as a result of their reduced capacity. The only caveat remains in the case of radical terrorist organizations that see their fight as one of apocalyptic proportions; such groups will continue to attack within their means to send the message that, although you have us on the ropes, we are still a factor and still fighting. These types of organizations, however, are unlikely to be deterred by any counterterrorist polices so “pursue” types that are directly affecting their capacity and capabilities are the most effective. These organizations are fighting not for a simple political concession, but are aiming to transform the global society, and thus their resolve will not be damaged and they will regroup and operate in any capacity they can manage (Gupta, 2005).

    These four policy areas are unlikely to be effective if used alone and thus most nations use a combination of different measures that attempt to spread their focus and resources across these general policy areas. Focusing on a singular policy area will only target certain aspects of the terrorist threat, and will not stop terrorist organizations from thriving. The best approach would be the maximalist approach that places an emphasis on all four policy areas. Examples of countries that use the maximalist approach are the UK and Germany (EU, 2008). These nations perceive terrorism as a multi-faceted phenomenon that can’t be eliminated by any one effort.

    The British government notes that there is no single issue behind terrorist attacks and, as such, comprehensive policy options are preferred in order to combat all arenas where the terrorist threat could materialize and disrupt activities that sustain groups, replenish numbers, or are directly connected to attacks (Home Department, 2009). Examples of counterterrorist policies in the UK are the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001) and the Terrorism Act (2006) that are embodiments of the pursue strand through their focus on targeting terrorists and their activity, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005) which deals with preventive measures aimed at containing the recruitment and spread of terrorist ideology, and response and protective laws and mechanisms that strengthen and solidify security and that show a commitment to defensive tactics as well as offensive ones. Prime Minister Gordon Brown poignantly summarized the UK’s maximalist approach when he said that “despite concerted efforts, the threat remains, and is always evolving. We can never afford to assume that the established way of doing things is enough (Home Department, 2009).

    This comprehensive approach is preferred for a multitude of reasons. Devoting adequate resources to all four policy areas shows a commitment to fighting the terrorist threat, but more importantly, eliminates the fertile environments in which terrorists grow and operate, as well as addressing the aftermath of any attack. All four policy areas combine elements of soft and hard power, leaving no room for terrorist groups to act. Missing one of the four corner tenet of a successful counterterrorist strategy can be detrimental and give terrorists an opening for exploitation. Balance among the policy areas is essential; instead of placing the majority of resources on one strand of policy, nations use all the tools at their disposal to combat the terrorist threat. There is no minimum amount of resources or minimum number of policies or statutes that will correspond to crossing the threshold of perceived emphasis, but there must be a general overall recognition of this policy area as important to national counterterrorist strategy, as well as the devotion of necessary resources to enforce the regulations emitting from a certain strand making them effective and comparable to the others. Again the UK provides a leading example through their 2009 contest policy that has outlined the framework though which it engages terrorism. Pursuing terrorists in order to stop attacks is carried out thorough sophisticated intelligence networks and up-to-date training and capacity building within the UK and also abroad, as well as developing more non-prosecution actions to increase the flexibility of the strategy (Home Department, 2009). Prevent policies, or those geared toward stopping people from becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism, are manifested by challenging the ideology behind violent extremism and disrupting those who promote violent extremism. This is done through recently organized efforts such as The Preventing Violent Extremism program: a community-led approach to tackling violent extremism led by the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) in partnership with local authorities and a range of statutory and voluntary organizations (Home Department, 2009). Protect policy, or measures that strengthen defenses against terrorist attack or reduce the vulnerability and susceptibility of the country to terrorist attacks, covers critical national infrastructure (CNI), crowded places, the transport system, borders, interests overseas, and protection against threats from insiders and the misuse of hazardous substances (Home Department, 2009. This is an acknowledgement that damage to critical areas can have severe economic effects, not to mention cause massive loss of life. Last, but not least, are response (prepare) policies that mitigate the impact of attacks through timely and appropriate reaction. This strand operates under the assumption that the terrorist attack in question cannot be stopped. The Government has put in place capabilities to deal with a range of emergencies, of which terrorism is one, by establishing organizations (notably local and regional resilience networks) and an improvement in capabilities such as the new Police Counterterrorism Network, which ensure all these capabilities are effective (Home Department, 2009). In the absence of policies in any one of these key areas, terrorists, despite any severe hindrances imposed by other areas, will still have an opening and weaknesses to exploit. The obvious advantages to such a comprehensive approach is that all the bases are covered, leaving no wiggle room for terrorist groups, as well as the possibility of overlapping between the policies to further bolster security and the concentrated power of counterterrorist policy.

    An important question is why, if this maximalist approach that emphasizes all four policy areas is, as alleged, more successful than other approaches, all states do not use this approach.  Resources available for counterterrorist policy differ from nation to nation, along with motivations of the state and what they believe to be the nature of the terrorist threat. States that have not experienced acts of terrorism and are not likely to may not have adequate resources devoted to response or prevent, while states such as the United Kingdom where the fight against terrorism is closer to home will diversify their policy strategy for the most effectiveness. States with a constrained budget are often forced to choose between policy options and are likely to choose protect, prevent, or pursue.

    France’s counterterrorism policy, for example, is focused solely on the pursue strand (EU, 2008), neglecting the other policy areas through a lack of policy emphasis and a lack of resources to be effective components of their strategy. This is evidenced in France’s focus on the judicial framework set up to prosecute certain activities deemed terrorist appropriated (such as financing terrorist groups, conspiring to commit terrorist offenses, or aiding or assisting or taking part in planning or implementing terrorist attacks), and whose framework includes many specialized prosecution and investigative techniques that are aimed at rooting out terrorist organizations as well as through cooperation domestically among state departments (Ministry of the Interior, National Police Directorate, National Territory Surveillance Directorate, Central Directorate of Information, Central Police Directorate, National Anti-Terrorist Division, Anti-Terrorist Co-ordination Unit, etc. ) and through multilateralism with the UN and EU (Council of Europe, 2006). France’s policies thus align with the pursue strand over other policy areas as a result of the active role it plays in combating terrorism in Europe through its various pursue tactics. Despite the crackdown, France has not been free from terrorist incidents, partially due to its neglect of other factors that influence terrorist actors. Balance between the strands is not the goal, but instead there should be a focus on each strand proportionate to the threat in each country and the resources available in order to attack the terrorist phenomena from all sides. This makes a nation’s perception of terrorism key to choosing a strategy. For example, Spain takes the confrontational approach which is characterized by high scores on all policy areas save the prevent score. This strategy emphasizes all aspects of counterterrorism that treat terrorism in the stages where it is already a danger and a risk. The ETA in Spain is the biggest influence on this policy strategy. Prevention is seen as futile as the Spanish government is unlikely to gain the loyalty of the Marxist Basques that make up the group, so Spain chooses to focus its resources on the physical threats as opposed to battling ideology. The perception of terrorism here is that it cannot be prevented, only contained and constantly challenged. Thus, despite the limitations states must undoubtedly go through, the most successful approach is one that places significant emphasis on all four policy areas in order to attack the terrorist threat on all levels, the maximalist approach.

    While policy is the primary cause that will be looked at here, it is not by itself sufficient to explain the terrorist phenomenon. The capacity of terrorist organizations, the nature of their conflict or motives of the group, as well as the regime type of the government they are fighting are all important factors and should be controlled for to strengthen the policy effectiveness results. All these factors will influence the tactics, behavior, and decision making of a terrorist organization which will directly influence the number of attacks that occur as well as how deadly those attacks are.

    Based on my theoretical approach, I have created the following hypotheses to empirically test:

    H1: States that use the maximalist approach, by utilizing all four policy areas, are more likely to be successful in curbing the terrorist threat and preventing terrorist incidents and limiting casualties.

    H2: More comprehensive policy strategies will not reduce the number of incidents and causalities through deterrence but will actually provoke terrorist groups to counterattack, inciting more violence.

    Research Design

    In order to test my hypotheses I will be analyzing the effectiveness of counterterrorist strategies in reducing the number of terrorist incidents and casualties. My unit of analysis is country by year. I have data on 11 countries, 10 with policy categorizations, and Sweden, which has no policy, for the years 2001 to 2008. These nations were chosen because each state’s counterterrorist policy was rated and categorized in a paper Mapping Counterterrorism written as a project by the European Commission. I compiled data regarding every terrorist attack in my sample of nations from 2001 to 2008. The majority of the data included are from the START dataset supplemented by cases form the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) and the World Incidents Tracking System (WITS). In addition to the terrorist incident resources, to gather data on my control variables I used the World Bank Database, the Penn World Table, and the Political Terror Scale. Now I will discuss all of my variables in detail.

    Dependent Variable

    The dependent variable in my test is a measure of the success of a country’s counterterrorist policy. Success is relative and can mean different things depending on who is asking or measuring the phenomena. One way to indicate success is by the frequency of terrorist attacks. If a counterterrorist policy is successful, it logically follows that it will be reducing the number of terrorist attacks that occur. While a reduction in the frequency of terrorist incidents is a good indicator of success, it tells us nothing about the actual consequences of a successful terrorist attack, i.e., the scale of the damage of the successful attack. An effective counterterrorist policy should thus not only reduce the frequency of terrorist attacks, but also lead to a corresponding decrease in the number of casualties (deaths and injuries). For example, if within the span of one year, hundreds of  terrorist attacks are thwarted as a result of excellent counterterrorist policies, but one terrorist effort, a large scale nuclear attack, slips through the cracks and is executed, the policy would still be judged a failure. Despite the low frequency of attacks, most would not characterize such counterterrorist activity as successful. These two indicators will measure my success variable. Both the attack frequency variable and the casualty and injury counts are interval or continuous variables.

    Independent Variable

    The independent variable in my study is the categorization of a state’s counterterrorist policy. The counterterrorist policy variable is an ordinal measure of policy type, measured as follows: 0, no policy strategy; 1, confrontational approach; 2, antagonistic approach; 3, human agent approach; and 4, maximalist approach. The five categories are based on the four policy strands: pursue, protect, respond, and prevent. The maximalist approach suggests that countries perceive terrorism as a multi-faceted phenomenon paying equal attention to all four strands to create a comprehensive policy option (EU, 2008). The human agent approach is focused on policy strands that take terrorism as a human situation rather than as an emergency situation, and places the emphasis on preventing terrorist circumstances, protecting from attacks, and pursuing terrorist groups (EU, 2008). The antagonistic approach is characterized by a focal point of all strands save prevent (pursue, respond, protect). This approach emphasizes all aspects of counterterrorism that treat terrorism in the stages where it already is a danger and a risk (EU, 2008). The last counterterrorist policy strategy category is the confrontational approach whose center is the pursue strand of policy. The sample places all 11 European countries into one of the five policy categories. The maximalist countries are the United Kingdom, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Denmark. Countries utilizing the human agent approach are the Netherlands and Italy. France and Portugal are antagonistic, while Poland and Spain are confrontational. Finally, Sweden has a policy that is not easily labeled.

    Control Variables

    The first control variable I will be using is a state’s total population. This variable comes from the World Bank website as well as the Penn World Table. We must control for population because the greater the population, theoretically the bigger the impact a terrorist attack can have on a nation due to an increase in opportunity. We do not have a total casualty and injury per capita rate so it is important to control for population to insure the results are not biased. Also from those two sources, the World Bank and the Penn World Table, is GDP per capita information, which will also be controlled for, as it is necessary to control for the variation in wealth among countries. How wealthy a country is could determine whether it will be targeted by terrorist groups and subsequently experience terrorist attacks. Groups whose grievances lie in economic realms are more likely to go after affluent nations that they perceive to be contributors to world economic inequality. Also GDP per capita could be an indicator of how likely a country is to use increasingly comprehensive policy options, which often cost more money. My final control variable is the Political Terror Scale for each country. The Political Terror Scale measures levels of political violence and terror that a country experiences in a particular year. Controlling for the political violence in a country is necessary, because if a country experiences more attacks it could be because that is simply a high risk area, regardless of its policy type. Poor human rights practices may also inspire more anti-government, terrorist attacks. The political terror scale is an average of the Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices terror scores.


    Because of the nature of my independent variable, the primary test I will be using is a Negative Binomial Regression, which is a better model to fit my data then a regular Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) Regression. Running an OLS regression would bias my results, due to the nature of my dependent variable, which is over-dispersed. Both of my success indicators are event counts of either incidents or total casualties and injuries, coding all of the years and countries that did not experience attacks as 0, which expanded my dataset. I will run two models, both using the Negative Binomial Regression, to judge the effectiveness of my counterterrorist policy variable. One model will use total casualties and one model will use total attacks, both indicators of how successful a counterterrorism policy is.


    I tested the impact of counterterrorist strategies using two separate models. The first measures the number of incidents as an indicator for success, and the second uses an aggregate casualty and injury count. The negative binomial regression is run using each of these dependent variables and the independent variables described earlier. The results are shown in Table 1.

    In the first model with total attacks as the dependent variable, there are no statistically significant independent variables, except the coefficient for the Political Terror Scale being significant (a consistent result throughout the analysis). This simply means that the level of political violence is related to the number of terrorist incidents in a country. The aggregate casualty and injury count model provides better results, as the Political Terror Scale and the GDP per capita coefficients are statistically significant. In addition, my counterterrorist policy variable is extremely close to significance (only .06 from significance) which was not the case in the attacks model. Even though most of the independent variables in both of my models were not statistically significant, I am close to showing that counterterrorism policy affects the number of casualties incurred by a country. The marginal coefficient shows that for a one unit change in counterterrorist policy, the number of casualties will increase by .454, which is counter to my theory and primary hypothesis.

    In order to further test my model and especially the impact of counterterrorism policy, I calculated dummy variables for the different counterterrorist policy options. My measure for counterterrorist policy is ordinal, so for each policy strategy category I created a corresponding dummy variable representing each policy option. I ran the models four times, once for each new dummy variable. The results are shown in Table 2.

    The only statistically significant result from the series of counterterrorist policy dummy variables is the maximalist type in the total casualty model. It can be interpreted as follows: for a one unit change in counterterrorist policy, the difference in the logs of expected counts of the response variable is expected to increase by 1.37 given that all our other control variables are constant. Using Clarify to conduct a post-estimation test, I found that by setting all my variables at their mean and using a non-maximalist policy, the expected number of casualties is 3.424 while a maximalist policy would produce 13.2 expected casualties. The increase confirms my original conclusion stated before my dummy variable tests, that using a maximalist policy is shown to be ineffective in reducing terrorist casualties and actually increasing them in relationship to other, less comprehensive policy types. The results also show the Political Terror Scale to be significant for the majority of the outcomes except in the attack models for the maximalist and confrontational policies. Although the Political Terror Scale is scored 1 to 5, a tabulation of the variable in my dataset shows that only countries with values of 1 to 3 were being used, Western Europe being a particularly stable region compared to others worldwide. The only other variable with minimal statistical significance is GDP per capita. Its coefficient is statistically significant across all policy categories in the casualty model, although they are not statistically significant in the attack models.

    The results seem to have very clear implications regarding the relationship between counterterrorist policy and terrorist attacks and their level of severity. Countries utilizing maximalist policies are also suffering the most casualties. At first glance, this observation would seem to indicate the universal failure of that policy type in reducing success (containing terrorist incidents and reducing casualties), but there are other factors that explain this result. Understanding causation is pertinent to accurately explaining the phenomenon. If the country adopts comprehensive policy measures as a preemptive blow to curtail a terrorist threat (i.e., continual terrorist attacks), that country can easily become a target and quickly become forced to bear the brunt of the terrorist’s organizational capacity. Countries that terrorists deem a potential legitimate hindrance to their plans are more likely to be targeted for attacks. In contrast, if the country has a somewhat continuous history of enduring terrorism and its manifestations and thus escalates its counterterrorist policy to  a more comprehensive maximalist approach, that nation is likely to anger targeted groups, inspiring the opposition and inciting increased and continued violence.


    Terrorism is not an easy topic to research, and thus has been mainly limited to qualitative rather than quantitative study. Due to the limited amount of time and resources, I had to make sacrifices in order to complete the project, but my results and the conclusions I derive are still valid. In order to improve my study, the main improvement would be a better measure of counterterrorism policy. My measure simply places countries into an ordinal categorization, but does not have information on the change in policy over time or the strength of the initiatives relative to countries in the same policy category. For example, the amount of resources allocated to counterterrorist policy in the United Kingdom easily dwarfs those of Denmark, despite both being “maximalist countries.” Also having actual interval scores for the different strands of counterterrorist policy (pursue, prevent, respond, protect) would also improve the measure of the variable. Using a wider sample that extended itself to other regions of the world would, I think, also alter my results. While in Western Europe my results show that more comprehensive policy options actually increase the number of casualties from an attack, this may not hold true in other regions. Being a homogeneous region that is united by the Embay lead terrorist organizations to simply target those countries that are dealing them the most damage or disrupting their operations the most. In addition, controls that account for the differences in the terrorist groups themselves are pertinent to gaining accurate results. Controls for the nature of the conflict or ideology of the terrorist group as well as the capacity of the terrorist organizations would accentuate the differences between countries and the reasons they use certain tactics, as well as why some are more effective than others.

    The idea that actually fighting terrorism aggressively and all-inclusive of the different policy options actually leads to more terrorism (casualties at least) would seem to indicate that the only way to deal with terrorism is to endure it, and not hope to “stick your neck” out too far that you become a target. This philosophy is flawed and will not eliminate the terrorist threat but will only encourage more. Not fighting or only marginally fighting is not a practical way to discourage these acts. Terrorists definitely become emboldened by successful attacks and a lack of a response or efforts to disrupt their activities will only give them room to grow. Even if a comprehensive policy seems to be having adverse affects, is this license to give up and give in to demands?  I would argue that this is far from the case. So it is important to continue this research in understanding the terrorist phenomenon and how terrorist groups and governments react to each other. Terrorism has a long history, and is unlikely to be completely eradicated in our lifetime, but in my opinion, it is necessary to fight and not roll over and give in to fear. Mitigating the effects of terrorism and the forces that cause people to join terrorist organizations is a top priority, and is vital to containing the threat in the future.


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    Table 1: Negative Binomial Regression

    Total Attacks
      Coefficients (Std. Error) P-Value
    Counterterrorist Policy
    .0008923 (.1462758)
    Political Terror Score
    1.174687 (.4398357)
    GDP (per capita)
    -.0000253 (.0000205
    5.73e-09 (9.09e-09)
    Total Casualties
      Coefficients (Std. Error) P-Value
    Counterterrorist Policy
    .4539397 (.2844078)
    Political Terror Score
    -1.20e-08 (1.50e-08)
    GDP (per capita)
    4.113287 (.6939876)
    -2.418741 (1.710025)

    Table 2: Negative Binomial Regression (Dummy Series) Coefficient (Standard Error)

      Maximalist Dummy  Human Agent Dummy  Antagonistic  Dummy Confrontational Dummy 
    Total Attack  Total Casualty  Total  Attack   Total Casualty  Total Attack  Total Casualty  Total Attack  Total Casualty 
    Dummy CT Policy  .134
    Political Terror Score  1.2
    .726 (.512) 3.32
    GDP (per capita)  -.0000263
    (.0000325)* .012 
    Population  6.20e-09