Deterring Terrorism Versus Combating Terrorism

Terrorism remains a danger to peace and security worldwide. Terrorism refers to political violence that intentionally targets civilians to frighten and start trembling with fear and insecurity. Though beyond other criteria can be applied, then it gets politically motivated definition. Terrorism is a shadowy world of faceless enemies and irregular tactics.  It is a strategy to achieve ends through violent means.

In olden times, violence was resorted to when the rulers failed to redress their people’s grievances, and their rights were oppressed and infringed. However, today terrorism has political overtures and highly violent means to achieve its aims. The purpose of terrorism is to demoralise the civil population and use this discontentment against the government.

The primary effect of terrorism is psychological. The effectiveness of terrorism lies in capturing attention due to the dramatic eruption of terror incidents as they catch the media attention. The 9/11 terror attack on World Trade Centre in the US changed the political and cultural landscapes of the US. Thus, there was a paradigm shift in terrorism from the 1970s to the 2000s.

The present multifaceted technological society is enormously susceptible to unanticipated and brutal attacks of terrorism because transportation centres, communication facilities, oil fields and refineries, and factories cannot always be safeguarded against the arbitrary and violent acts of terrorism led by small but strongminded and radicalised terrorists.

Violence is the principal means of all terrorist organisations. Though this assumes different manifestation, and different groups of terrorists use different methods to achieve their aims. Terrorists’ methods have evolved from primitive means to the most sophisticated weapons, including killer gases. The origin of the current wave of violent terrorism can be traced back to West Asia. Wherein terrorism started way back in 1968, mainly driven by ideologies. Hijacking, kidnapping, suicide bombing, arson, Improvised Explosive Device (IED), etc., are the standard methods used by the various terrorist groups.

Policies to deter and combat terrorism can be placed along a gamut involving more or less force dealing with terrorism and terrorist organisations. States may undertake small- or large-scale operations to neutralise the terror outfits. Every state which that undertake counter-terrorism policies uses the combination of ‘Deterrence and Combating Terrorism’ methods.

Countering terrorism. The countering of terrorism incorporates military tactics, which governments, military, paramilitary forces and law enforcement agencies adopt to prevent terrorism. Our responses to terrorism are rooted in the way we understand or theorise terrorist actions. Counter-terrorism strategy is a government’s plan to use the various apparatuses of national power to eliminate terrorists, their groups, and their systems to reduce them powerless to use violence to instil fear and coerce the government or its citizens to react the terrorists’ goals.[1]  If terrorism is part of a wide-ranging insurgency, then counter-terrorism may conduct counter-insurgency actions. The first counter-terrorism unit ever came up in Britain in 1883 to fight against Irish Fenians. A Special Irish Department unit was established by then Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt. Harcourt envisioned a permanent unit dedicated to preventing politically motivated violence through contemporary methods such as covert permeation. This ground-breaking branch was the first to be trained in counter-terrorism techniques.[2]

Counter-terrorism forces enlarged with the apparent increasing threat of terrorism in the late 20th century. Specifically, after the 9/11 terror attacks, many governments worldwide made counter-terrorism endeavours an urgency and included more foreign cooperation, shifting tactics involving red teams and preventive measures. The enormity of the attacks intended that no one could stand and mere onlooker anymore. The fight had become international because the impact of terrorism was being felt everywhere across the borders.

The aim of counter-terrorism are:

  • Identification of Terrorist Organisations.
  • Identification and elimination of terrorist suspects.
  • Preventing terrorists’ movements, especially across the borders.
  • Tracing the terror financing resources. Disrupting the flow of terrorist funding is critical to curtailing their activities. Any crime which results in a profit can be used to finance terrorism.
  • Social media analysis is essential since terrorists use social media for radicalisation, recruitment, funding, planning, and terror activities.

To confront the threat of terrorism, a diverse tactic is needed. In this framework, socio-economic development should be given precedence so that susceptible sections of society do not get trapped by the propaganda misinformation of terrorists, giving them false hopes, wealth and equity. Furthermore, the administration, mainly the service delivery devices, needs to be responsive to people’s genuine and long-standing complaints. These are redressed promptly and cannot be subjugated by terrorist organisations. There is a need for multidimensional approaches such as choking their finances, multi-lateral dialogues and creating intelligence networks, operating centres, and joint anti-terror operations to limit the sphere of influence of terrorist organisations.

Deterrence of Terrorism. Deterrence is the psychological mechanism of employing another’s behaviour by intimidating with sufferings. It includes persuasion a potential enemy that one should one’s interest avoid the specific course of action.  This mechanism employs credible threats of force as a means of influencing the decision-makers. However, it does not involve the actual use of force but rather the threat of its application.

It is an art of conveying to terrorist organisations not to take on a given course of action, which may be risky and costlier than its benefits. Thus, deterrence stresses two factors: one cost plus risks, two not to allow the adversary to take advantage of the given situation. Deterring terrorism represents state of the art in the influencing of terrorist behaviour. With beneficiation from leading researchers in the field, it integrates the most advanced thinking on deterrence with rich empirical studies of the handling of contemporary terrorist problems.[3]

This threat-based preventive method of conflict escalation prevention acts on the political will of an opponent, who is expected as a result of this method to make a rational cost-benefit analysis and decide against any offensive action.

However, this slender classic understanding of deterrence as an instrument of dissuasion does not appear to deter potential jihadist terrorists successfully. Terrorists aim for the highest result with an attack. This result can be measured in physical damage (loss of lives, wounded people, destruction of buildings or infrastructure), economic damage, and the spreading of fear and social unrest in societies.  Terrorists also carry out attacks to generate attention for a political cause and legitimise the means used in their struggle to reach that aim. It is essential to appreciate that in drafting their strategy, they do not make the same kind of rational decisions in weighing the pros and cons of an attack in the same manner as we do.

Counter-terrorism policies based on deterrence employ methodological individualism and do not consider larger social, political and economic contexts. Numerous studies on dissuasion as a part of the counter-terrorism policy showcase the significance of the issue and the problems of comprehending an effective and efficient deterrent policy against terrorist organisations. Various offensive and defensive actions are initiated against terrorist organisations are directed at preventing terrorism. However, it is difficult to deter a terrorist organisation but much easier to deter a sovereign state because the very nature of a terrorist organisation is covert. Moreover, these terrorist organisations do not operate based on a reasonable cost-benefit basis.

The global war on terrorism is similar to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  The war on terrorism is, in other words, a war in need of a strategy of cumulative deterrence. Israel has neighbours who have threatened it for most of its existence with total eradication. Moreover, Israel’s ‘no choice option policy’ carries a substantial social and economical price label. Thus, Israeli doctrine depends heavily on the forecast of deterrence. The comprehension of Israeli deterrence doctrine is based on the difference between three national situation levels: Routine, Emergency and War and the role of compliance and pre-emption of the enemy’s offensive capabilities. Eventually, Israel has thrived in preserving strategic deterrence vis-à-vis neighbouring states.

India has been fighting cross border terrorism with success since independence in 1947 when the Indian subcontinent was divided on two-nations theory. Moreover, Pakistan’s fear of a likely nuclear upswing has usually constrained subsequent Indian governments in retorting such attacks. This apprehension came after when India and Pakistan carried out nuclear tests in 1998. From the 1990s onwards, India’s responses to terrorist attacks, hijackings and bombings have generally been reactive, diffident and restrained. The punitive strikes along the Myanmar border against the NSCN(K) in June 2015 were the first calibrated step. On 29 September 2016, India announced a surgical strike against militant launch pads across the Line of Control in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and inflicted significant casualties.  Finally, India’s bombing on a terrorist camp in Balakot deep into Pakistan territory in February 2019, in answer to a terrorist attack by Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Muhammad that killed nearly 40 Indian troops, indicates a possible change Indian thinking.

Deterrence cynicism reached a climax following the 9/11 terror attack in the US. Sceptics assume the following:

(i) The fundamentalist religiosity of Al-Qaeda and others terror organisations negates rational decision-making.

(ii) Extremism generates different contextualisation and a desire for risk-accepting, maximalist, and resolute behaviour.

(iii) Individual who has conceptualised a wonderful life after death fears neither retaliation nor punishment.

(iv) Non-state organisations lack a ‘return address’, a territorial target against which threats can be issued and fulfilled.

The disturbing consent of these arguments is that deterrence cannot be applied to combat terrorist organisations and that terrorism is altogether undeterrable. For counter-terrorism, the most real understandings of deterrence are the wide-ranging ones that suggest a range of terrorist activity – from suicide attacks against civilians to acquiring and using chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) a variety of tailor predispose weapons made deterrents.

Combating Terrorism. All sovereign nations pursue their perceived national interests. At the apex level, a nation’s vital interests would encompass matters about territorial integrity, state sovereignty, and the security of its people. Combating terrorism refers to efforts by a government to seek, defeat or destroy the terrorists and their networks. Political considerations must drive military and other counter-terrorism efforts. The argument of Carl von Clausewitz that the “political object….will be the standard for determining the aim of military force and amount of efforts to be made” holds good for combating terrorism.[4]

Whether we like it or not, terrorism/insurgencies have usually brought to an end on the battlefield instead of the peace negotiating table. Terrorist groups survive on securing combat support from outside. These terrorist organisations have a good strategy, sound tactics, structured organisational setups, and a proper information system.

In India, all three of them stands seriously challenged by non-state actors. Though most non-state actors have come upon indigenous narratives, some are promoted, propped or supported by nation-states inimical to India. This has given rise to internal conflict in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), parts of Northeast India, and the hinterland where Maoist violence has spread to many districts.

Terrorism is, unquestionably, the most potent threat to universal peace and security. With progress in technology and an overflowing ‘Cyber world’, terrorists are obtaining an approach to endless resources of “DO IT YOURSELF” tools on matters ranging from making bombs to executing, beheadings, and securing communications and funds flow. Moreover, the proponents and perpetrators of these nefarious acts cleverly adopt emerging technologies for furthering their ideologies and accomplishing their evil acts.

Any act of terrorism, undertaken by anybody, anywhere and for any purposes and resolves, is an offence and hence has no validation. All acts, methods and practices of terrorism intended to destroy the human rights, foundational freedoms and democracy, threatening the territorial integrity, security of the nations, and that the worldwide community should take the required steps to enhance the cooperation to prevent and combat terrorism, including the cross-border movement of terrorists. However, terrorism can not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group.

India believes that the only effective way to tackle terrorism is through intensive worldwide cooperation and genuine collaboration. Through extradition, prosecution, information exchange and capacity building, international efforts go a long way in countering terrorism threatening the global community. The flow of resources to terror-linked entities has to be stopped by collective inter-state efforts. The international community cannot and should not be selective in dealing with the terrorist groups or dismantling terror infrastructure.

The fight against terrorism should seek to eliminate terrorists, disrupt terror organisations/networks, identify/hold accountable, and take strong measures against States that encourage, support, and finance terrorism and provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups. Sustained international efforts can counter terrorism, and that the UN may be best suited for taking forward practical global efforts preventing and countering terrorism. Therefore, we fully support the leadership provided by the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism at the UN.

With the tactic of terrorism adopted by Israel to hasten the British out from Palestine in 1948, the State of Israel has found herself subject to terrorist attacks, especially since the beginning of the Intifada in 1987. Israel’s experience has led to an inclusive counter-terrorism policy driven by the critical belief that the country’s survival is at stake.

The threat of terrorism is not theoretical but prevalent and persistent against Israel. In the last seven decades, Israel has not known a single day free from terrorism. Out of necessity, it has established a long-standing practice of experts in the field of counter-terrorism, extending the way of assisting victims of terror. Israel is treating victims immediately after the terrorist act. Within the first 24 hours, the victims’ families are treated and accompanied by social workers from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services. About 1,375 people have been killed by Palestinian violence and terrorism since September 2000.

The perception of Israel’s national security as one that is unique is essential. It profoundly influences Israeli politics and policy, including the definition of national interest and the strategies required to deal with Israel’s security problems.[5] In Israel’s case, a government believes it cannot rely upon outside governments to ensure its safety and well-being. Furthermore, the Israeli government also realises that military action alone will not solve the terrorism issues with its neighbours.[6] Consequently, the IDF, the ISA, and Shin Bet employ strategies to decrease terrorist attacks and lower direct and collateral damage. These tactics are employed in three critical areas of the nation’s counter-terrorism strategy: defensive, offensive, and punitive.

Nevertheless, the Israelis consider these punitive actions as methods aimed at discouraging future terrorists. Punitive measures punish the perpetrators, the architects, co-conspirators, and anyone else involved in terrorist attacks. Interestingly enough, there is a difference between the penal system carried out within Israel and the Occupied Territories.[7]  Generally speaking, the  Israeli combating-terrorism strategy has been successful in preventing terrorist attacks. Israeli counter-terrorism measures aim at several different groups that attempt to carry out terrorist attacks within Israel and the Occupied Territories. For example, Palestinian groups have employed spectacular suicide terrorist attacks to force Israel to abandon the West Bank and Gaza.[8]  Indeed, the terrorist organisations operating in Palestine territories are not going to fade away anytime soon. So to have an effective combating-terrorism strategy, Israel needs to understand the goals and motives of these groups and their tactics. This understanding, in the end, will further the effectiveness of Israel’s combating-terrorism strategy.

Operative counter-terrorism entails a more broad-based strategy. It requires a continuous process of assessment and fine-tuning. However, Israel does not have all the answers and counts mainly trial and error for different contexts. Nevertheless, both India and Israel can learn from each other to combat terrorism effectively. India should learn from Israel’s tragic experience, but make sure to learn suitable lessons.

Conclusion: Terrorism encompasses a range of complex threats, so it is essential to identify the terrorist organisations, their functioning and prevent their activities well in advance. These threats are organised terrorism in conflict zones, foreign terrorist fighters, radicalised ‘lone wolves, and attacks using chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive materials. Terrorist groups incite individuals, often young people, to leave their communities worldwide and travel to conflict zones. The way recruits are targeted and radicalised has shifted, focusing on social media and other digital channels. Biometric data is of increasing importance in identifying foreign terrorist fighters and preventing them from crossing borders.

The response instruments require coordination among the various worldwide agencies, including police, customs, border controls, public health professionals, the military, intelligence services and environmental management.

It is amply clear that present-day terrorism embodies a latent danger to the security and probably threat democratic states. Therefore, with the intent to eliminate such threats and thwart future terrorist acts against the state, counter-terrorism involves an array of methods, tactics, and policies utilised by governments to either destroy the terrorist organisations or incapacitate them to operate effectively. Boaz Ganor outlined in ascending order three potential goals of counter-terrorism policy: prevention of conflict escalation in the context of terrorism, minimisation of damage caused by terrorism, and elimination of terrorism.

Policies of deterrence will continue to form an integral part of the counter-terrorism measures in the conceivable future. Though the strategies of denial and punishment have a limited and short-term deterrent effect upon terrorist organisations, the application of deterrence theory in the long term appears futile. Nevertheless, this ostensible futility can be ascribed to the dominance of a state-centric policy of combating terrorism. Therefore, in conjunction with valuable denial and punishment strategies, longer-term counter-terrorism strategies must attempt to isolate and dissociate terrorist activities from the socio-political framework, which is their survival. Instead, counter-terrorism must focus upon the actions of terrorists themselves and address the underlying causes of terrorism. Thus, a combination of effective ‘deterrence and combatting of terrorism’ strategies would go in the long run to fight the menace of terrorism.

[1] Stigall, Miller, and Donnatucci (October 7, 2019). “The 2018 National Strategy for Counterterrorism: A Synoptic Overview”. American University National Security Law BriefSSRN 3466967.

[2] Aniceto Masferrer, Clive Walker (2013). Counter-Terrorism, Human Rights and the Rule of Law: Crossing Legal Boundaries in Defence of the State. Edward Elgar Publishing. p. 294. ISBN 9781781954478

[3] Paul R. Pillar, Centre for Peace and Security Studies, US.

[4] Carl von Clausewitz, On War (New York Penguin, 1968, p-109)

[5] Daniel Bar-Tal, Dan Jacobson, and Aharon Klieman, Security Concerns: Insights From the Israeli Experience, (Stamford, Connecticut: JAI Press, Inc., 1999) p. 37.

[6] Smith, Jerry D. The Effectiveness of Israel’s counter-terrorism strategy 2005-03, Monterey California. Naval Postgraduate School.

[7] Smith, Jerry D. The Effectiveness of Israel’s counter-terrorism strategy 2005-03, Monterey California. Naval Postgraduate School.

[8] Robert A. Pape, “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 3, p. 343, August 2003

About the Author
Colonel Balwan Nagial retired from the Indian Army in 2019 after serving for thirty years. Managed administration, security, project mgt throughout his service. He loves writing and contributing in newspapers and magazines in India. He loves Israeli culture.
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