International Security: Vol. 36. No. 4.
Newsletter Article, Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Quarterly Journal: International Security
International Security: Vol. 36. No. 4.
"Targeting Top Terrorists: How Leadership Decapitation Contributes to Counterterrorism"
Bryan C. Price
Despite the conventional wisdom that leadership decapitation is ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst, new evidence suggests that states featuring the tactic prominently in their counterinsurgency strategy, including the United States and Israel, may be on the right track. Terrorist leaders are more susceptible to targeting than other group leaders, such as drug lords and heads of state, because they lead violent, clandestine, and values-based organizations. Terrorist groups are also especially vulnerable if successful decapitation occurs early in a group’s lifespan, so resources should be concentrated on targeting the leaders of relatively young groups.
"Does Decapitation Work? Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Targeting in Counterinsurgency Campaigns"
Patrick B. Johnston
A recent, data-driven study suggests that leadership targeting in counterinsurgency campaigns is a surprisingly effective tactic. Successful leadership decapitation can decrease campaign length, improve campaign success rate, and lessen the intensity of conflict and the number of terrorist attacks. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that possible negative effects, such as the “martyrdom effect” and decentralization, outweigh the benefits of successful decapitation. Although leadership decapitation is not a silver bullet, it is an effective technique that should be considered carefully in counterinsurgency strategy.
"Barriers to Bioweapons: Intangible Obstacles to Proliferation"
Sonia Ben Ouagrahm-Gormley
Bioweapons knowledge may be less transferable than many scholars and analysts have thought. A new look at past weapons programs reveals that intangible factors, such as work organization, program management, structural organization, and social environment, can affect a program’s success rate. Because these intangible factors are especially restrictive for clandestine organizations such as terrorist groups, they should be considered carefully both in terms of threat assessment and the development of more effective counterproliferation strategies.
"Trading on Preconceptions: Why World War I Was Not a Failure of Economic Interdependence"
Erik Gartzke and Yonatan Lupu
A close look at the events leading up to World War I reveals that the war was not a failure of economic integration as many scholars have claimed. The conflict began in a weakly integrated portion of Europe, and the more integrated powers were roped in through their alliances. Before the war, the interdependent powers were able to resolve crises without bloodshed, but they were also incentivized to increase their commitment to the less interdependent powers. Had globalization pervaded Eastern Europe, or if the rest of Europe had been less locked into events in the east, Europe might have avoided a “Great War.”
"Confronting Soviet Power: U.S. Policy during the Early Cold War"
Paul C. Avey
U.S. policy during the early Cold War is better explained by balance of power logic than ideology. Not only did the United States initially seek to cooperate with the Soviet Union, shifting toward a confrontational approach only when the balance of power tilted in the Soviet Union’s favor, but it later sought to engage communist groups that promised to undermine Soviet power. Given the vast differences between U.S. and Soviet ideology, the United States’ willingness to put ideology aside in these instances suggests that relative power concerns are more important in generating and shaping confrontational foreign policies than is ideology.
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
For Academic Citation: