Sunday, November 18, 2012


The following analysis develops a theory for why terrorist groups—especially ones that primarily target civilians—do not achieve their policy objectives. The basic contention is that civilian-centric terrorist groups fail to coerce because they miscommunicate their policy objectives. Even when a terrorist group has limited, ambiguous, or idiosyncratic objectives, target countries infer from attacks on their civilians that the group wants to destroy these countries’ values, society, or both. Because countries are reluctant to appease groups that are believed to harbor maximalist objectives, CCTGs are unable to win political concessions.
"Why Terrorism Does Not Work" Max Abrahms
I find myself going back to read this paper every time things in the Middle East escalate. I don't really know why I do this, because it simply makes me depressed. While the plight of the Palestinians garners a certain level of international sympathy for their willingness (if you can call it that) to gamely suffer yet another ass-beating at the hands of the Israeli military every time hostilities reach a boiling point, the fact of the matter is that the path that Hamas, Hezbollah, et al have chosen is simply has yet to work. For them, or for anyone else. During the time period covered by Mr. Abrahms paper, the success rate of groups achieving their stated policy objectives through attacks on primarily civilian targets was 0%.

By the same token, because groups like Hamas are not formal military bodies, and do not have bases and barracks that may be easily targeted, Israeli attacks on them can lead to numbers of civilian casualties (Although it seems that sometimes, the definition of "civilian" is anyone who didn't have a weapon in their hand right at the moment a bomb or missile blew them to smithereens.), thus leading the Palestinians (and others, for that matter) to infer that Israel wants to destroy Palestine's values, society, or both. And this creates a situation where concessions on the part of Palestinian leadership are viewed as appeasement of a hostile other that "doesn't understand peace."

And so the cycle of useless violence continues. The Palestinians, it must be said, were on the receiving end of a raw deal. But even if that could be undone, launching rockets and sending bombers into Israel is not going to manage that. And so people die, and keep dying, in vain.

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