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New Report - Terrorism Research: Critical Lessons For Policymakers

Today we're publishing a new report that analyzes the empirical research addressing terrorism and counter-terrorism, distilling the findings of leading academic work into actionable policy recommendations for a broad range of policymakers. After analyzing literature on psychology, criminology, and development theory-this paper concludes that Globalization Theory offers the most complete and useful framework for understanding the challenges of contemporary counterterrorism policy. Successful counter-terrorism strategy should address three systemic areas:

  • Sustained Economic Engagement with the developing world, especially in the Middle East and North Africa
  • Democracy Promotion that helps build the pillars of civil society abroad, empowering populations to develop personal and political agency
  • Rule of Law that builds on best practices in domestic and multilateral security in order to create open and safe environments

Click here to download the full report.

Terrorism Research: The Role Of Development

This is part two of our advance teaser for Terrorism Research: Critical Lessons For Policymakers. Yesterday we pre-released the Executive Summary and below is an excerpt that examines the role of economic development and comes to some counter-intuitive conclusions about the commonly understood relationship between poverty and violent extremism. The full report and policy  recommendations  will be released tomorrow. 

Development Theory

Perhaps even more than psychologists, development experts were able to elevate their work to the forefront of counter-terrorism discussion shortly after 9/11. It was widely believed by policymakers that poverty and lack of education were responsible for terrorist sympathies, therefore bringing development firmly into the realm of national security. President Bush articulated this argument succinctly in 2002 when he declared that "we fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror." While the efficacy of hope is difficult to measure, analyzing poverty's impact on terrorism quickly revealed rather counter-intuitive findings.

Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova examined levels of education and poverty among terrorists and their supporters in the West Bank, Israel, and Lebanon. Among the Palestinian population they studied, it was revealed that by "a 68 point margin, those with more than a secondary school education support armed attacks against Israeli targets." Similarly, when studying Hezbollah they found "that the poverty rate is 28 percent among Hezbollah militants and 33 percent for the population...and in terms of education; the Hezbollah fighters are more likely to have attended secondary school than those in the general population. Importantly, these demographic realities were not limited to Arab, Muslim, or anti-Israeli movements. When analyzing the membership of the Israeli Gush Emunim, a violent terrorist group that led many attacks during the 1970s and 1980s, the authors found that those "extremists were disproportionately well-educated and in high-paying occupations."

While skeptics are likely to point out that these studies examine only nationalist/territorial terrorist groups, the relationship they identified comports to what we know about much of al Qaida. Nearly all of the 9/11 terrorists were well-educated and relatively privileged while Osama bin Laden was the beneficiary of vast hereditary wealth. While these data suggest that education and income are not effective determinants of violent radicalization on an individual level, it remains paradoxically true that when the frame is pulled back, society-wide, aggregate levels of education and poverty do seem to correlate with pockets of instability and terrorism.  Daniel Lerner may have had some insight into this apparent paradox back in 1958 when he wrote that the "data obviate the conventional assumption that the extremists are simply the 'have-nots,' suggesting rather that they are the 'want-mores.'" A more sophisticated model, then, that takes into account macroeconomics, broader social forces, and collective -rather than relative-opportunity might shed more light on the forces actually at work.


Foreign Policy Chat - Lobbying Paves The Way For Delisting Of Terrorist Group

It appears that the MeK - a dissident Iranian terrorist group currently based in Iraq - is about to win a major concession from the U.S. Government; Being removed from the official list of designated terrorist organizations. Most objective analysts find this decision surprising given that no one at the Department of State or in the broader intelligence community has ever argued that the group doesn't continue to sponsor terrorism and seek to conduct more terrorism in the future. The MeK was originally designated a terrorist organization because of their role in assassinating American officials in Iran during the 1970s. The fact that Saddam Hussein was harboring the MeK was even used, originally, as part of the official case for invading Iraq. And though the group officially renounced terrorism in 2003, they have continued to support and sponsor the assassination of civilian nuclear scientists inside of Iran. And therein lies part of the story as to why the government is considering delisting them. In addition to a successful - and likely illegal - lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill, the MeK is now the enemy of an enemy. Adam Serwer's assessment seems just about right:

MEK has American blood on its hands, but today the group is reportedly a huge help to Israel in assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists-perhaps part of the reason it is being delisted. Memo to terror groups: If you want to get off the US terrorism list, make sure you kill the "right" civilians and offer generous speaking fees. 

This whole affair hints at a double standard in enforcement: High profile politicians can advocate for listed terror groups without fear, but someone like Tarek Mehanna, the Bostonian who was convicted of material support for terrorism in part for posting Al Qaeda propaganda on the Internet, can look forward to long prison terms.

And who exactly received those speaking fees? The payola flowed to a bipartisan group of influential former Administration officials, including Howard Dean, Fran Townsend, Wesley Clark, Ed Rendell, Rudy Giuliani, and Tom Ridge.

The State Department is, of course, reluctant to state the obvious reality of this situation - that Washington, DC is open for business if international terror organizations want to spend enough money on lobbyist and start killing people who are politically unpopular. Instead, they have suggested that the "State Department was looking favorably at delisting MeK if it continued cooperating by vacating a former paramilitary base inside Iraq, called Camp Ashraf, which the group had used to stage cross-border strikes into Iran." So the Administration's position is that the decision to delist the group is based off of their potential willingness to relocate to a more convenient location. It's entirely unclear to me, however, why the location of a group's headquarters would be the relevant factor in determining whether or not they are a terrorist organization; Especially given that the State Department admits that they continue to stage cross-border terrorist activities. Call me crazy, but I'm of the view that terror designations should be the result of objective intelligence analysis rather than lobbying and payola; A minority opinion, apparently.

Terrorism Research: Critical Lessons For Policymakers

Later this week, we'll be releasing a new paper analyzing the latest academic research on terrorism and suggesting a way forward for policymakers. This research suggests that a solid understanding of globalization is the best lense through which to view our ongoing struggle with global terrorism and that this conceptualization frames the most appropriate strategies for countering it. Below is the exectuive summary of that report. We'll be teasing the paper throughout the week and releasing the full report on Thursday. 


Executive Summary

More than ten years after the tragic events of 9/11 and a year after the death of Osama bin Laden, counter-terrorism professionals have at their disposal a vast trove of empirical and theoretical research on the nature and causes of international terrorism. Interest in this scholarship has risen to unprecedented levels over the past decade as heightened interest and strategic relevance has been supported by surging departmental budgets and federal funding. Charles Strozier, Director of the Center on Terrorism at John Jay College, has observed that prior to 9/11 "terrorism was almost exclusively studied by political scientists...[but] when we became aware of this new form of violence in the world, we realized that you had to come at it from many disciplinary perspectives." This proliferation of multidisciplinary perspectives provides important insight for policymakers as they craft new laws and develop regimes to manage the ongoing defense against terrorism.

In order to evaluate this theoretical work and for it to serve as an effective tool for policymakers, it must meet at least four conditions: These studies must be understandable by their intended audience. They must reveal some kind of observable truth. They must be relevant to the challenges being faced. And most importantly, they must be actionable in some useful and feasible way.

Terror scholarship that does not meet these conditions, while perhaps insightful and novel, is unlikely to spread beyond the domains of universities, conferences, and academic journals. Work that does meet these conditions, however, has the possibility of providing policymakers with a kind of "Moneyball" insight. Like Billy Beane's famed application of systematic statistics to baseball, highly relevant terror studies can help pull back the curtain and reveal to policymakers what is really happening beneath the surface.

After analyzing literature on psychology, criminology, and development theory-this paper will conclude that Globalization Theory offers the most complete and useful framework for understanding the challenges of contemporary counterterrorism policy. The actionable policy recommendations that follow are firmly grounded in empirical research, strategically relevant, and should inform the work of interested policymakers. 

Foreign Policy Chat - Will The French Pull Out Of Afghanistan?

Newly elected French Prime Minister Francois Hollande has pledged to begin removing the 3,300 French troops from Afghanistan almost immediately -- far sooner than the previously committed withdrawal date at the end of 2014. Top US officials have been sent to Paris, hoping to persuade Hollande to reconsider his decision ahead of next weeks major NATO summit in Chicago. A premature French pull-out, if unable to be avoided, would almost surely have negative implications for the success of NATO's exit and stabilization strategy. Anthony Cordesman, a leading expert on the Afghanistan conflict who holds the Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS, warned that:

Every new force cut that comes faster than previously planned, or weakens ISAF unilaterally and before 2014, makes a successful transition even more difficult. It undermines ISAF's ability to act and plan an effective transition, it makes it harder to predict what aid and civil activities can continue, and it risks triggering more cuts from other countries and a rush to the exits.

As polls show low and shrinking levels of public support -- both in the U.S. and in France -- for the ongoing operation in Afghanistan, it appears unlikely that the commitment and resources necessary to allow for a sound transition will actually be deployed. At this point, most planners are simply hoping to dodge the worst case scenarios.

Foreign Policy Chat - Sen. Lugar: A Casualty Of Our Broken Institutions

Senator Dick Lugar was defeated in last night's Republican primary by Tea Party-supported state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Over his 36 year career in the Senate, Lugar has served as one of the GOP's leading elder statesmen on foreign policy. He was widely respected on both sides of the isle and helped craft key arms reduction regimes at the close of the Cold War. His rational and moderate positions on issues like international law, multilateralism, and immigration, though, have become increasingly heterodox within a Republican party that has shifted far to the right over the last few years. As national security reporter Spencer Ackerman predicted, Lugar's ouster has already prompted countless deferential eulogies from various "Washington Serious People."

Senator Kerry joined the chorus, releasing a lengthy statement describing Lugar's loss as a "tragedy for the Senate." And it is. President after President has slowly aggrandized more power over foreign affairs and the shifting media and electoral environments have made politicians less interested in the complex and distant realm of foreign policy, favoring domestic economic and parochial issues that tend to pay off at the ballot box. Senator Lugar was one of a dying breed, not just of moderate Republicans, but of elected legislators willing to invest the sustained effort needed to develop the skills, knowledge, and relationships necessary for the effective and responsible conduct of American foreign policy. In his concession statement, Lugar acknowledged that he was running afoul of the enforcers of right-wing orthodoxy, and opined that "ideology cannot be a substitute for a determination to think for yourself, for a willingness to study an issue objectively, and for the fortitude to sometimes disagree with your party or even your constituents."

Jacob Heilbrunn has a less fawning and more realistic take on these events over at Foreign Policy. Senator Lugar was not only a man in his eighties with his most productive years behind him; he increasingly operated as a rogue in a system no longer conducive to his style of policy making. "In a party that will become increasingly torn between its neoconservative wing on the one hand and its Tea Party wing on the other, Lugar had become a party of one." The larger, and more troubling, reality is that the ceremonious eulogizing should not be for the loss of Richard Lugar, but for the political system that allowed him to flourish. 

Foreign Policy Chat - Netanyahu Cancels Israeli Elections, Forms New Government

The breaking news from Israel last night was an 11th hour move by Prime Minister Netanyahu that resulted in the formation of a new government with opposition party Kadima, and voided the early elections which had been scheduled for September. The deal, which was finalized just moments before the latest Parliament was to be seated, is a big win for two men: Bibi Netanyahu and the brand new head of Kadima, Shaul Mofaz.

The news came as a surprise to many, as Mofaz has been vocal since his ascension to the top of the party list two weeks ago about his unwillingness to join a government with Netanyahu. In a recent interview with Haaretz, he not only accused Bibi of "manipulatively exploiting the Iranian nuclear threat for political reasons," but unambiguously declared that "Kadima under my leadership will remain in the opposition. The current government represents all that is wrong with Israel, I believe. Why should we join it?" For all of Mofaz's criticism, the only concession he appears to have extracted from Likud was support for repealing the 'Tal Law,' which exempts the ultra-orthodox from the mandatory military service all other Israelis are subject to.

While early speculation suggested that the deal had something to do with solidifying support for Netanyahu's aggressive policy toward Iran, it is becoming clear that the move was really about partisan politics and preserving power in the face of an increasingly hostile political map for both men. Kadima has been slipping into drowsy irrelevance for years now, and polling suggested that a number of left-of-center parties, namely Labor, Meretz, and Yesh Atid, were poised to increase their numbers significantly in the September 4th election - paving the way for a center left coalition government that would likely leave both Kadima and Likud out in the cold. Mofaz will formally enter government as the Vice Minister - who assumes the Prime Minister's responsibilities when he's away - but in an unusual move, none of the other 27 members of Kadima will be promoted. An anomaly that seems to highlight the self-serving nature of the arrangement. While these recent machinations have short-circuited the likely formation of a more liberal government, Bibi having command of a larger majority will allow him, theoretically, to be less deferential to smaller parties to his right.  It's yet too soon to determine the full implications, but this post by a DC-based analyst suggests some of the likely effects on US-Israel relations.

Foreign Policy Chat - European Elections Round-Up

European Elections Round-Up

The big story of the weekend was the elections in Europe. Voters went to the polls in both France and Greece, throwing out the ruling parties. Francois Hollande was elected to take over for Sarkozy as the French elected their first Socialist in over 15 years. The Greeks, while also repudiating the status quo, have elevated an unstable combination of niche parties that seem unlikely to be able to form any kind of functioning government. I've rounded-up some of the best analysis on the evolving situation.

Paul Krugman believes the elections reveal that "time is clearly running out for the strategy of recovery through austerity - and that's a good thing." Harris Mylonas analyzes the unexpected Greek election results, concluding that they "increase the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Eurozone since a stable government in Greece seems unlikely." In reviewing the impact of Hollande's ascension to the French presidency, Matt Yglesias argues that "the real question is whether he can inject some much-needed perestroika into Eurozone-wide economic governance." The New Yorker's John Cassidy writes that the weekend's results present both good and bad news for President Obama, while the UK's Daily Mail delves into Golden Dawn, the far-right "neo-nazi" party that won 21 seats in the Greek parliament. 

On Chen Guangcheng, Romney Blames Obama First and Asks Questions Later

Over the last three days, the Obama Administration has been engaged in highly-sensitive negotiations with the Chinese government on both the safety of Chen Guangcheng - A Chinese dissident who sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy -and regarding  vital economic and trade reforms. The government in Beijing has initially met Chen's demands, agreeing to let him pursue higher education in safety and allowing the American government to monitor his situation on an ongoing basis, ensuring he would not suffer from any state-sponsored retribution. After Chen chose to leave the American Embassy - under his own volition - he apparently received threats against his family from the Chinese police, and changed his mind - asking to immigrate to the United States. It now appears that a new deal was brokered by the State Department allowing Chen to bring his family safely to New York City.

While the Administration worked tirelessly to resolve this highly charged situation in a way that preserved the full range of U.S. interests abroad, the Romney campaign and their GOP surrogates lined up to assail them. The ire of the Republicans was not directed at the Communist Party of China, whose repression actually caused the crisis, but at the State Department that was working night and day to save the life of Chen and his family. Romney apparently believes that yesterday was a 'day of shame' for Obama, rather than for the Chinese whose human rights abuses are now being exposed on the world's stage.

The Obama Administration, meanwhile, was able to keep their eye on the ball and resolve this human rights issue while also understanding the larger, strategic framework of the U.S.-China relationship. Cal Jillson, a political science professor at SMU observed that while "human rights are a critical interest to the U.S. and we want to see the government treat all its citizens well...the administration knows that it's a decades-long work in progress and they have economic issues and other pressing issues that are the first priority." It is the disciplined and careful diplomacy of the Administration that allowed them to not only resolve the Chen situation with the best realistic result, but also secure long-sought economic commitments from China, who vowed to "limit its export subsidies, encourage domestic consumption and consider reforms to its state-owned enterprises." Those are results that any rational observer would commend. But not Mr. Romney.

It is said that politics used to "stop at the water's edge," suggesting that the Presidents' conduct of foreign policy should be free of pure political gamesmanship. While giving the Executive carte blanche on global affairs is clearly unwise, defense and diplomacy decisions should clearly be judged based on honest assessment of their efficacy rather than reactionary partisanship. The Romney campaign jumped into an ongoing and sensitive international negotiation seeking to blame Obama first and ask questions later.  Yesterday's verbal attacks on the President and the Secretary of State were made with very little concrete information while lives literally hung in the balance. That conduct sharply diverges from the image of a sober, level-headed executive that the Romney campaign is trying to portray. It instead reveals a craven desire to score political points at the expense of the nation's security and promotion of America's global interests.

It is the Obama White House seeking to act sensibly and thoughtfully to promote the full range of U.S. concerns abroad, while the Romney campaign lashes out at anything the President accomplishes in order to boost his own political fortunes. The American public recognizes this distinction, which is one of the reasons that Obama is outpolling Romney on national security by a 17 point margin. Romney's irresponsible rhetoric along with his neocon war-cabinet suggest that he's anxious to return America to the world of unilateral, shoot-from-the-hip foreign policy that had such disastrous consequences under George W. Bush. Voters would be wise to deny him that opportunity.

This essay is also published and available for comment at PolicyMic.

Foreign Policy Chat - Romney Plays Politics With Chen & A New Dempsey Doctrine

Romney Plays Politics With Chen

As the Obama Administration continues to navigate the complicated diplomatic situation involving Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, the Romney campaign and their surrogates have lined up to criticize the President's handling of the situation. The GOP apparently believes that this is a 'day of shame' for the Obama campaign, rather than for the Chinese whose human rights abuses are being exposed on the world's stage. If he weren't so anxious to politicize the incident, you would expect the former Governor to be assailing the government in Beijing instead of the State Department who has been trying to save the activist's life.

These critiques, in addition to being crassly political and misdirected, are also devoid of any hint at what alternative Republicans would endorse. Just as Romney attacks the President's Iran policy without any suggestion of what he would do differently, so too is he quick to indict the White House while remaining silent on his preferred method of handling this delicate confrontation. The U.S. has many interests in China - economic, energy, diplomatic, regional, etc - in addition to human rights interests. Any prudent leader has to approach an event like this rationally and strategically, taking full account of the implications of our actions. One of the reasons that Obama is out-polling Romney on foreign policy by double digits is that Americans value having a Commander and Chief who prudently and thoughtfully analyzes decisions in ways that promote American interests, rather than jumping into far-flung wars based off of gut instincts. Romney's rhetoric along with his neocon war-cabinet suggest that he's anxious to return us to the world of unilateral shoot-from-the-hip foreign policy that had such disastrous consequences under George W. Bush. American voters would be wise to deny him that opportunity.

The Dempsey Doctrine

General Dempsey gave a highly anticipated speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Wednesday and his remarks are being billed as the first major articulation of the "Dempsey Doctrine." Martin Dempsey, who was sworn in late last year as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has kept a relatively low profile in recent months-but took the opportunity this week to articulate what he believes to be the animating principle that should guide military strategy in the near future. "I would say where we're headed is a global networked approach to war...The military instrument should never be wielded alone." This vision of multilateralism and burden sharing was on full display during the successful NATO operation that removed Muammar Gaddafi from power in Libya last year.

The Chairman went on to frame the Pentagon's new defense strategy as composing three main elements: The early 21st century American defense challenges will be comprised of rebalancing toward the Pacific, a renewed commitment to building effective partnerships with traditional as well as emerging allies, and the integration of newly developed capabilities such as intelligence gathering technology, cyberspace, and special operations forces.

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