A Comprehensive Strategy for Combating Terrorism

Publication Type:

Book Chapter


Combating Transnational Terrorism, Procon, Sofia, p.253-270 (2016)


Terrorism is a deadly problem with a long history. From the earliest accounts of the Zealots-Sicarii in Jerusalem in the first century to the violent atrocities of the ‘Islamic State,’ al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram in current times, terrorism has remained a perennial scourge. Many have tried to eliminate the threat of terrorism, but always with mixed and incomplete results. The main reason for this discouraging record is that terrorism is ultimately a tactic used by individuals and groups who want to force political change by means of violence against non-combatants. One cannot completely eradicate terrorism any more than one can stop murder, suicide, or theft. Therefore, counter-terrorism (CT) strategies are considered successful only to the extent that they reduce the incidence of terrorism to some manageable level. The elusive characterization of terrorism also complicates the development of comprehensive CT strategies. Insurgents frequently employ acts of terrorism against civilians, while also conducting guerrilla warfare against state security forces. For this reason, many CT strategies necessarily include elements of counterinsurgency. Additionally, some view terrorism as a form of warfare while others consider it an extreme form of criminal activity. President George W. Bush’s declaration of the “Global War on Terror” is the starkest example of the former approach and one that immediately attracted criticism that it would be no more conclusive than a “war on drugs” or a “war on poverty.” There are few absolutes and no magic solutions in CT. Sadly, history provides many examples of misguided CT strategies and relatively few success stories. Nonetheless, most effective strategies recognize terrorism as a complex political and social phenomenon and use a wide range of tools that are selectively targeted against specific threats. Terrorism is increasingly transnational in nature. This characteristic demands a ‘home game’ and an ‘away game,’ as well as extensive international cooperation. Good CT strategy requires simultaneous offense, defense, and consequence management. It is only as good as the organizations, people, and procedures used to implement it. Security remains a fundamental responsibility of the state, and therefore CT strategy is a necessary, albeit imperfect, endeavor.