Is fighting terrorism worth it?

Unlike many challenges, there is no solution to transnational terrorism because it is a cost-effective tactic of the weak against a more formidable opponent. Very cheap terrorist attacks can create significant anxiety – the material cost of a suicide attack may be as little as $150 and on average kills twelve people (Hoffman, 2006; Pape, 2006). Some rogue nations utilize terrorism as an inexpensive means to destabilize or harm other nations. Even effective antiterrorism campaigns will only temporarily work until the terrorists either find new leaders or sources of resources. Even if a terrorist group is annihilated, a new group may surface for some other cause. Thus, terrorism can be put into remission but it cannot be eliminated. Granting terrorist concessions will signal to future terrorists that terrorism pays, so that compromise may fuel future terrorist campaigns (Sandler and Arce, 2003).

Three of the five “solutions” proposed here – business-as-usual, increased proactive responses, and enhanced defensive measures – have very adverse benefit-cost ratios under a wide range of scenarios, even when the most promising assumptions are invoked. The most effective solutions are the cheapest, but they must overcome the greatest obstacles that require either greater international cooperation or more sensitive and farsighted policymaking. Such qualities seldom characterize rich countries’ actions.

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