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How Effective are Military Responses to Terror Threats?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Military
Wordcount: 3860 words Published: 28th Mar 2019

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The effectiveness of any form and role of military intervention to the threats posed by transnational terrorism is contingent upon the degree of adaptability to the dynamic and interdisciplinary nature of these phenomena. This paper analyzes the role of the military in deterrence doctrines, the struggles in defining terrorism and threats, the options available to counter such threats, types of military interventions, the public perception along the risk of over-militarization, and ultimately the UK perspective. The framework for the analysis is based on the differences between the principles of counter-terrorism and the principle of war in relation to the successful integration of a military element in counterterrorism initiatives.[1] The effectiveness of a military response is measured as a function of the socio-political implications to the population affected and the impact on terrorists’ activities. This work advocates that a military response is only useful and effective when operationally implemented rather than constituting a war model.

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Among theorists and students of terrorism Professor Yonah Alexander, Director of International Center for Terrorism Studies, remarked on the effectiveness of a military response to terrorism’s threats.[2] There is consensus on the emergence of the era of “New Terrorism” and the proliferation of the former terms that certainly contributes to a prolonged confusion over the conceptual and doctrinal roles of the military in combating current and future challenges on all geographical levels.[3] From the study of contemporary international politics emerges the empirical challenge of conceptualizing “terrorism”.[4] A definitive and widely agreed upon definition of the concept has proven elusive for many years.[5] It could be argued that there is an epistemological limitation of the term arising from differences in morphology of the hierarchies, actors, structures, ideologies, beliefs, identities, modus operandi, and areas of influences. Furthermore, epistemological limitations to the use of history as a learning tool greatly influence the process of establishing the effectiveness of a military response to terrorism-related threats.[6] However, a historical perspective provides evidence that this phenomenon is nothing new (e.g. terror at war during the Roman Empire).[7] The war model has proven to be the favourable model of response in some instances (e.g. August 1969 Northern Ireland riots);[8] however, the effectiveness of the war model should be assessed in quantitative terms. The ability of terrorists to operate covertly all over the world, the asymmetrical nature of their operations and the absence of quantifiable assets affects the ability to measure the success or failure of a military intervention. Moreover, the principle of proportionality should also be observed by the foreign policy responding to those threats.[9]   

Global terrorism poses one of the most immediate and asymmetric threats to security, stability and prosperity of the world population.[10] Threats of terrorism have taken many forms in recent times, and the level of intensity is ever changing. Acts of terrorism are mostly characterized by the use of some degree of violence, violating human rights, affecting individuals and/or institutions, sought to achieve political objectives with serious social, political and economic implications. [11] An historical analysis reveals that terrorism threats are shaping administration’s foreign policies. Recent events call for a global defence network based on a multipronged strategy through a combined effort of the criminal justice system, global financial system and the private sector in conjunction with a multilateral tactical implementation of military power; military operations not wars.[12]

It should also be considered the axiomatic relationship between terrorism and globalization, taking into account the evolution of transnational terrorist threats into a global phenomenon. Counter-terrorism (CT) refers to the tactics and techniques used by governments and other groups to prevent and minimize terrorist threats. [13] Literature is broadly available describing several doctrines aiming at justifying and supporting military interventions; especially following the historical landmark of the 9/11 attacks, the War on Terror, 7/7 in London, the rise of ISIL and recent successful terrorist attacks within the western world. In the long-term, government’s CT ability to understand and address the root causes of terrorism will also depend on the inherited ability to collect, analyze, and carry out collective activities aimed at shaping the environments from which terrorists and their networks emerge.[14] Pedahzur and Ranstorp remarked on the strategic nature of available counterterrorism’s frameworks. They describe three plausible options: the “criminal justice model” where counterterrorism remains under the jurisdiction of law enforcement agencies; the “hybrid model‟ heightened criminal justice model in which military personnel provide specialized support to law enforcement agencies; and the “war model‟ when the military assumes overall responsibility for counterterrorism.[15]

It could be argued that the effectiveness of a military response is a function of the intrinsic advantages and disadvantages of the implementation of a war model. The conflicts in former Yugoslavia, the Chechen conflict with Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan in 2001-2, and the ongoing fight against ISIL are clear examples of wars involving terrorism. Key features of the conflicts are attacks on civilians, a gross violation of human rights, polarization, long duration, intense violence, long-term involvement of UN and other IGOs/NGOs.[16]  Despite diversities in the origin of these conflicts, a military intervention has proven to be not only effective but also necessary in order to restore peace and security.[17]

In assessing the type of military intervention, Gus Martin classifies military actions into two: suppression and covert operations. Suppression involves military attacks targeted against areas affiliated with terrorists and their infrastructures. Furthermore, it entails the use of “military or paramilitary assets to punish, destabilise, or destroy terrorist and their supporters”[18]  Examples of suppression campaigns include the 2002-3 Israeli organised Operation Defensive Shield and the 2001-2 Afghanistan war; an all-out war waged against armed non-state actors. Therefore, military and paramilitary strikes could be in response to terrorist aggression (punitive strikes) or expectancy of terrorist aggression (pre-emptive strikes).[19] Covert operations involve secretive operations that include the destabilisation and sabotage of suspected terrorist infrastructures as well as kidnapping and assassinations of individual terrorists.[20] Examples of covert operations are: the Israeli unit known as Wrath of God tracking and assassinating Black September terrorist after the 1972 Olympic massacre;[21] and the US drones strikes that killed members of Taliban, Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Pakistan between 2004 and middle of 2011.[22]

The advent of the “War on Terror” created a plethora of debate on the strategic use of military power and its usefulness.[23] Although, It should also be considered that according to Ersen and Ozen  military forces are successfully employed in the war against terrorism because it meets the public and media demand for tough action against the sponsors and perpetrators of terrorism.[24] Further use of terrorism and its sponsorship is discouraged as the military inflicts heavy costs on terrorists and their sponsors. Potential attackers and state sponsors all over the world are alerted against the use or support of terrorism. The war model offers the possibility of providing a psychologically damaging setback to the enemy leadership. This, in turn, might undermine enemy leaders and hasten their removal from power. They also argue that military action discourages terrorist backing and inflicts destruction on terrorists and their sponsors.[25]

In order to set up a yardstick for a representative measurement of military effectiveness in July 2008, the RAND Corporation published a study “How Terrorist Groups End”.[26] It emerged that there are four principal reasons for a terrorist group’s demise: police work, military force, a shift to non-violent politics, or the group achieving its goals. A move to non-violent politics had been the most common reason for a group to end (43 per cent). Only some 10 per cent of groups had effectively declared victory, and military force had been a critical factor in the remaining 7 per cent.[27] Although the study analyses the major actors and factors in those instances, the military has a broader responsibility in the fight against terrorism. In 2002 at the NATO-Russia Conference the former Secretary General, Lord Robertson spoke about the three main roles of the military in combating terrorism.[28] First, anti-terrorism: defensive measures to reduce the vulnerability to attack of our populations, territory, infrastructure, and information and communications systems. Second, counter-terrorism: offensive measures to track down, prevent, deter and interdict terrorist activities. And third, consequence management: measures to limit the consequences of terrorist attacks, and to stabilize the situation in the aftermath of such attacks, in support of civilian authorities.

On the other hand, an empirical study conducted by Cin Du Bois and Caroline Buts analyses the relationship between the provision of military support and the probability of becoming the target of a terrorist attack.[29] The results are quite alarming; there is a positive and significant correlation between military deployment and terrorist attacks. Moreover, Kuipers claims that the use of military force in tackling terrorism erodes the confidence and trust of the people.[30] Military reprisals that cause the death of innocent civilians bear the risk of loss of sympathy in the judgement of the international community. A unilateral undertaken military reprisal may cause strong disagreement among the members of the international community and may not be supported by allies. Military reprisals may procedure false expectations among the general public of early success in conquering terrorism. The public may expect similar or intensified military action to resolve similar situations in future. Kuipers also debate that the most appropriate method against terrorism comprises the withholding of direct military confrontation and the acquisition of new weapons: gain the trust and cooperation of the general population.[31]

The United Kingdom Counter-Terrorism Strategy, CONTEST provides the strategic framework for responding to terrorist threats. A newly revised version of CONTEST highlights the use of the military within several aspects of the plan.[32] Once again the usefulness of the military intervention is perceived at the operational level. Moreover, the UK government recognizes the importance of “Adaptability” of the armed forces as it is the core of the Future Force 2020 vision set out in 2010.[33] The doctrine set out by the Joint Force 2025 requires even greater adaptability by the armed forces; military personnel and capabilities reflected the Government’s ambition to create a military force that has the capability to deter, respond, and disrupt international terrorist networks that pose a threat to the UK’s global interests and support crisis response at home and abroad.[34]

As terrorism is a complex multidimensional phenomenon, effective responses to terrorism may need to take into account, and to some degree be individually configured to respond to, the evolving goals, strategies, tactics and operating environment of different terrorist groups.[35] An example of the effectiveness of the UK multipronged and multilateral military intervention is the contribution to the Global Coalition against Daesh committed to degrading and ultimately defeating Daesh. This supports the hypothesis that a military response is only useful and effective when operationally implemented rather than constituting a war model.


Loo, B. (2005) The Military and Counterterrorism. IDS Commentaries, 89/2005, available at: http://www.comw.org/tct/fulltext/0512loo.pdf, accessed 19 Jun 2016.

Alexander, Yonah and Woolsey, R. James (2002) Combating Terrorism Strategies of ten countries (University of Michigan).

Crenshaw, Martha (2007) The Debate over “New” vs. “Old” Terrorism (Center for International Security and Cooperation Stanford University), available at: http://start.umd.edu/sites/default/files/files/publications/New_vs_Old_Terrorism.pdf, accessed 19 Jun 2016.

Firth, Lisa (2011) International Terrorism (Cambridge: Independence Educational Publisher).

LEONARD WEINBERG , AMI PEDAHZUR & SIVAN HIRSCH-HOEFLER (2004) The Challenges of Conceptualizing Terrorism, Terrorism and Political Violence, 16:4, 777-794, DOI: 10.1080/095465590899768, available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/095465590899768, accessed on 19 Jun 2018.

Blake, Christopher and Sheldon, Barrie and Strzelecki, Rachael and Williams, Peter (2012) Policing Terrorism Policing Matters, (London: Sage).

English, Richard (2010) Terrorism how to respond, (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 (November 2015), available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/555607/2015_Strategic_Defence_and_Security_Review.pdf, accessed on 19 Jun 2018.

Martin, Gus (2013) Understanding Terrorism – Challenges, Perspectives, Issues. 4th Edition (London: Sage).

Weiss, Thomas G. and Crahan, Margaret E. and Goering John, (2004) Wars on Terrorism and IRAQ (London: Routledge)

Builta Jennifer A. and Heller (Sep 2011)  Reflections on 10Years Counterterrorism Analysis (Studies in Intelligence Vol. 55, No. 3) available at: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol.-55-no.-3/pdfs/Builta-Heller-CTBestPractices-Eversion-7-Oct-2011.pdf, accessed on 20 Jun 2018.

Pedahzur, A. & Ranstorp, M. (2001) “A Tertiary Model for Countering Terrorism” in Liberal Democracies: The Case of Israel. Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 13(2).

Hoffman, Bruce (2006) Inside Terrorism (New York: Columbia University Press).

Pearson, Erica (2018) Operation Wrath of God ISRAELI ASSASSINATION CAMPAIGN. Encyclopedia Britannica,  available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Operation-Wrath-of-God.

Ejime, Raphael (Nov 2017) Countering Modern Terrorism: Military and other Options. European Scientific Journal November 2017 edition Vol.13, No.32 ISSN: 1857 – 7881 (Print) e – ISSN 1857- 7431. Available at: http://www.eajournals.org/wp-content/uploads/Countering-Modern-Terrorism-Military-and-Other-Options.pdf. Accessed on 20 Jun 2018.

Ersen, M. Uğur and Özen, Cinar (2008) Use of Force in Countering Terrorism (Berlin: IOS Press).

Seth Jones and Martin Libicki, How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida (Washington, DC: RAND Corporation, 2008). Available at: https://rusi.org/system/files/After_The_War_On_Terror.pdf. Accessed on 21 Jun 18.

NATO (09 Dec 2002) “The Role of the Military in Combating Terrorism – Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson”,available at: https://www.nato.int/docu/speech/2002/s021209b.htm accessed on 21 Jun 2018.

Cind Du Bois & Caroline Buts (2014): Military support and transnational terrorism, Defence and Peace Economics, DOI: 10.1080/10242694.2014.972087, Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277952061_Military_support_and_transnational_terrorism Accessed on 21 Jun 2018.

Kuipers, Benjamin ( 18 May 2004) How to Defeat Terrorism. Available at: http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/kuipers/opinions/defeating-terrorism.html. Accessed on 21 Jun 2018.

CONTEST The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism June 2018. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/counter-terrorism-strategy-contest-2018. Accessed on 21 Jun 2018. 

HM Government, National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015: A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom, November 2015, available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201617/jtselect/jtnatsec/153/153.pdf Accessed on 21 Jun 2018.

CRS Report for Congress (12 Mar 2007) “ Combating Terrorism: The Challenge of Measuring Effectiveness” available at: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RL33160.pdf  accessed on 21 Jun 2018.

[1] In line with the work conducted by: B. Loo (2005).

[2] Y. Alexander, R. J. Woolsey (2002).

[3] M. Crenshaw (2007); see also G. Martin (2013), p.41-43.

[4] L. Weinberg, A. Pedahzur, S. Hirsch-Hoefler (2004).

[5] L. Firth (2011), p.2.

[6] E. H. Carr (1961)

[7] B. Hoffman (2006), p.83.

[8]  C. Bleake, Et al (2012), p.15.

[9]  R. English (2010), ch.4.

[10]  National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015

[11] G. Martin (2013), p.38.

[12] T. G. Weiss, et al (2004), p.211.

[13] L. Firth (2011), p.41.

[14] J.A. Builta and E.N. Heller (Sep 2011).

[15] Pedahzur, A. & Ranstorp, M. (2001), p.5.

[16] James D. Kiras (2006) Terrorism and Globalization. In J. Baylis and S. Smith (2006), p.480-497.

[17] Ibid.

[18] G . Martin (2013), p.432.

[19]  Id.

[20] G . Martin (2013), p.432.

[21] “Operation Wrath of God”, available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Operation-Wrath-of-God.

[22] “U.S. drone strike kills Pakistani Taliban members in Afghanistan”, NEWS, 08 March 2018, available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/u-s-drone-strike-kills-pakistani-taliban-members-afghanistan-n854761.

[23] Ejime, R. (2017), p.5.

[24] Ersen & Ozen (2010), p.108.

[25] Id.

[26] S. Jones and M. Libicki (2008), p.12.

[27] Id.

[28] NATO (2002) The Role of the Military in Combating Terrorism, https://www.nato.int/docu/speech/2002/s021209b.htm

[29] Cind Du Bois & Caroline Buts (2014)

[30] B. Kuipers (2004). How to Defeat Terrorism. Available at: http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/kuipers/opinions/defeating-terrorism.html

[31] Id.

[32] CONTEST The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism June 2018.

[33] National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015.

[34] Ibid, p.26.

[35] CRS Report for Congress (2007) https://fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RL33160.pdf p.2.


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