A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Conciliatory counterterrorism strategies could limit terrorist groups’ lethality

Mixed CT strategies correlate with more civilian deaths

New data reveals that violent nonstate actors in the Middle East are most likely to kill a greater number of civilians when governments pursue counterterrorism strategies that combine violence and negotiation, according to a study by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).  The study suggests that when it comes to limiting a VNSA’s lethality, conciliatory strategies are more effective.

Analyzing data from 1998-2012, the research team evaluated why some VNSAs are highly lethal – having killed more than 100 civilians in terrorist attacks over the course of a year, or having caused more than 100 battle deaths over the course of a year.

The team found that when solely punitive strategies were used, the probability that a group was highly lethal increased 106 percent over the baseline average. When a mixed strategy was used, the probability that a group was highly lethal increased 900 percent over the baseline.

The research team -- Victor Asal, R. Karl Rethemeyer and Joseph Young – also examined the way in which network structure affects lethality and the way lethality affects alliance choices.

The project’s findings include:

  • VNSAs are most likely to inflict more than 100 battle deaths in one year when they control territory, are highly connected to other VNSAs, and are large (though there is a strong relationship between size and controlling territory);
  • VNSAs that are socially isolated tend to be less lethal and tend to stay relatively less lethal; and
  • Social isolation is a relatively stable state; however, there are factors that help to drive organization alliance formation like shared location, ideology, and preference for closed relationship – a friend of friend tends also to be a friend.

Funded by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s Office of University Programs, “An Analysis of Violent Nonstate Actor Organizational Lethality and Network Co-Evolution in the Middle East and North Africa” is based on the Big Allied and Dangerous (BAAD) Data Project. BAAD, which is directed by Asal and Rethemeyer through the University at Albany – SUNY’s Project on Violent Conflict (PVC), focuses on the creation and maintenance of a comprehensive database of terrorist organizational characteristics that may be linked to prominent event, insurgency and country-level characteristics datasets.