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Theory and Terrorism. PO 483: The Politics of Terrorism. What is Theory?. A theory is an interrelated set of logically consistent and parsimonious fact-like statements about a broad class of similar phenomena with the ultimate goal of explaining and predicting occurrences within that class.

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theory and terrorism

Theory and Terrorism

PO 483: The Politics of Terrorism

what is theory
What is Theory?
  • A theory is an interrelated set of logically consistent and parsimonious fact-like statements about a broad class of similar phenomena with the ultimate goal of explaining and predicting occurrences within that class
what is the purpose of theory
What is the Purpose of Theory?
  • Answer Important Questions Relating to a Certain Class of Phenomena
    • Generalization of Causes and Effects
  • Reduce the complexity of real-world phenomena
    • Provides Means for Understanding Events with Multiple and Sometimes Conflicting Impetuses
why is the use of theory important to the study of terrorism
Why is the Use of Theory Important to the Study of Terrorism?
  • Several researchers have claimed that terrorist violence is best studied atheoretically
    • Such researchers feel that the configuration of factors leading to terrorist violence is unique to each situation, and so defies attempts at generalization
  • Indeed, many components of counterterrorism in the policy realm reflect this lack of focus on theory
why is the use of theory important to the study of terrorism5
Why is the Use of Theory Important to the Study of Terrorism?
  • However, there are indications that a theoretical approach to terrorism is likely to be fruitful in answering several broad and important questions associated with the topic
    • Which types of individuals are likely to join terrorist groups?
    • What historical trends have led to the vast increase in terrorist violence in the past three decades?
    • Exactly when are certain groups likely to choose terrorism as their preferred mode of insurgency?
    • What types of tactics will terrorist groups (or different types of terrorist groups) use?
theory and terrorism rationality
Theory and Terrorism: Rationality
  • Logical Behavior? Reasonable Behavior?
  • Problem of Subjectivity
  • Scientific Definition:
  • Individual recognizes choices and respective outcomes
  • Ranks favorability of outcomes
  • Acts to achieve most favorable outcomes, within constraints of COST, INCOMPLETE INFORMATION, and STRATEGIC INTERACTION
theory and terrorism psychology
Theory and Terrorism: Psychology
  • Unlike rationality, psychology claims that individual actions are the result of the mental need to equilibrate one’s psyche
    • Thus, actions are not necessarily relatable to any cost/benefit calculation or deliberate action, but may be the result of deep-seated psychological needs
  • From this perspective, formative experiences and the need for acceptance and belonging can drive action
theory and terrorism realism
Theory and Terrorism: Realism
  • Even some of the theoretical propositions associated with major IR theories can be germane to the study of terrorism
  • Classical Realism
  • Human Imperfection (Hobbes)
  • Centrality of Power (Thucydides)
  • Anarchy Prevails
  • Foreign Before Domestic Considerations (Governments are Key Actors)
  • Promote Peace by Preparing for War
which realist lessons may be important to the study of terrorism
Which Realist Lessons May Be Important to the Study of Terrorism?
  • Imperfection and Anarchy
  • State is Central Actor in Traditional IR
  • Power is Either the Central Goal or Central Means in IR
  • *Since Actors Use Power to Get What They Want, the Distribution of Power Capabilities Across a System Explains Political Activity and Outcomes
theory and terrorism liberalism
Theory and Terrorism - Liberalism
  • Human Perfectibility - Human Nature is Essentially Good, or at Least Perfectible Via Education; Altruism and Morality can Prevail
  • Institutional Choice and Peace
    • Cooperation Can Prevail in Anarchy; War is Made by Selfish People Who Have Not Yet Been Educated or Who Have Established Faulty Institutions
theory and terrorism two important liberal propositions
Theory and Terrorism: Two Important Liberal Propositions
  • The Democratic Peace
  • Democratic Peoples Have to do the Fighting, and Are Generally Averse to it; Democratic Leaders, Beholden to the Wishes of People, Do Their Bidding
  • Democratic Institutions Allow For More Thorough Consideration of Issues During Crises, Forcing More Pacifistic and Reasoned Decision-Making
theory and terrorism two important liberal propositions12
Theory and Terrorism: Two Important Liberal Propositions
  • Interdependence Theory
  • Global Interconnection; Sovereignty Diminishing
  • Power is No Longer States’ Primary Concern; Numerous Issues Have Become More Important (Economy, Technology)
  • Traditional Power Resources (i.e., Capacity to Use Force) Less Applicable or Useful; Shift in Issue Importance Means Different Actors Are Powerful in Different Issue Areas
  • Necessitates Reliance Upon Institutions to Set Agendas
components of existing theoretical frameworks germane to the study of terrorism
Components of Existing Theoretical Frameworks Germane to the Study of Terrorism
  • Individuals act strategically to maximize benefit in an uncertain and potentially dangerous world (Rationality)
  • Individuals view the world based on their formative experiences, and act to fulfill needs to belong and to be accepted (Psychology)
  • Relative power is a very important consideration in political relations (Realism)
components of existing theoretical frameworks germane to the study of terrorism14
Components of Existing Theoretical Frameworks Germane to the Study of Terrorism
  • Technological advances, coupled with the decreasing applicability of the use of force by the state, means:
    • There are many more important actors in the political realm in addition to states
    • Considerations other than the simple distribution of military capabilities across states are also important determinants of power (Liberalism)
  • Leaders of different types of states are sensitive to different audiences. Democratic leaders must concern themselves with the opinion of the electorate if they wish to remain in power (Liberalism)