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December 04, 2007

Political Science Abstract of the Day: Appeasement Edition

Ethan Bueno de Mesquita:

The model developed in this study yields three key results. First, it suggests an explanation of the observation that government concessions often lead to an increase in the militancy of terrorist organizations. Namely, concessions draw moderate terrorists away from the terrorist movement, leaving the organization in the control of extremists. Second, it provides an answer to the question of why governments make concessions in light of the increased militancy they engender. The government’s probability of succeeding in counterterrorism improves following concessions because of the help of former terrorists that directly improves counterterror and leads the government to invest more resources in its counterterror efforts. Thus terrorist conflicts in which concessions have been made are more violent but shorter. Third, it demonstrates how the ability of former terrorists to provide counterterror aid to the government can solve the credible commitment problem that governments face when offering concessions.

Full article here. (via)

December 4, 2007 | Permalink


Also, check out Bueno de Mesquita's article "The Quality of Terror" which seeks to reconcile conflicting evidence that 1) Terrorists tend to have higher income and be more educated than the populations they come from and 2) Economic downturns are associated with an increase in terrorist activities.

His explanation: terrorist organizations screen prospective members and the same traits that enable someone to earn money in the labor market makes for more effective terrorists (this finding has been supported by research by a Harvard economist on the effectiveness of Palestinian suicide bombers).

From the abstract: I present a model of the interaction between a government, a terrorist organization, and potential terrorist volunteers in which, as a result of an endogenous choice, individuals with low ability or little education are most likely to volunteer to join the terrorist organization. However, the terrorist organization screens the volunteers for quality. Consequently, the model is consistent with two seemingly contradictory empirical findings. Actual terrorist operatives are not poor or lacking in education. And yet lack of economic opportunity and recessionary economies are positively correlated with terrorism.

Posted by: J | Dec 4, 2007 3:22:54 PM

"Moderate terrorists"?

Posted by: Mac | Dec 4, 2007 4:58:46 PM

Makes me think of the text at the top of Obsidian Wings: "This is the Voice of Moderation. I wouldn't go so far as to say we've actually SEIZED the radio station . . . "

Posted by: Julian Elson | Dec 4, 2007 5:46:49 PM

These conclusions also suggest some specific strategies in making concessions--when possible you want to target your concessions to the complaints of the moderates, and make sure you concede on salient underlying issues rather than offering tactical concessions. Releasing imprisoned terrorists, for instance, is probably rarely a useful concession since it doesn't address the actual political objectives of the terrorists, it merely gives them reinforcements.

It also suggests the importance of behaving in ways that will seem reasonable from the perspective of the moderate terrorist. Responding to a suicide bombing with a brutal, poorly targeted counterattack that kills civilians reinforces the idea that you are a brutal oppressor and further radicalizes the moderates and drives new recruits to the organization. Responding with a police investigation that rewards cooperation and treats both non-suspects and suspects with respect not only doesn't further inflame tensions, but undermines the narrative of the unreasonable, repressive regime.

Posted by: Galen | Dec 4, 2007 6:14:16 PM

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