Sunday, April 19, 2009

Exploring The Structure Of Terrorist WMD Decisions: A Game Theory Approach

Raymond E Franck & Francois Melese
Defense and Security Analysis Vol. 20, No. 4, pp355-372, December 2004

Franck and Melese begin the article by breaking terrorist groups into two categories, political and fanatic. Regardless of the category the goals of a terrorist operation are to "damagea target government and influence a target audience." Terrorist organizations that fall into the fanatics category are more likely to view inflicting damage as a main objective, as oppose to influencing a target audience. Therefore they are more likely to be attracted to using WMDs.

When applying game theory, the authors' model is a set of four stages or "moves." The first move is from the terrorists and involves making a decision between acquiring WMD or staying with conventional weapons. The arguments for acquiring a WMD depend on the certainty of inflicting mass casualties, damaging the target government, and influencing the target audience. The arguments against acquiring a WMD are the costs, and increase in vulnerability to government counter-terrorism efforts. The second move is the decision of a target government to counter a potential WMD attack with "defensive" or "disruptive" measures. In the third move the ball in back in the terrorist's court over whether to carry out an attack with a WMD.

The final move is not from governments or terrorists but "chance." The authors lay out four possible outcomes.

  • ineffective operation (i.e., failure to achieve intended damage and casualties);
  • effective operation which impresses the audience;
  • effective operation which alienates the audience; and an
  • effective operation that has a neutral effect on the audience.

In the second diagram the authors demonstrate how the probabilities of the different outcomes can depend on availability and use of WMD or conventional weapons and the government's use of defensive or disruptive countermeasures.

What follows are two tables that show the function of a player's decision. Table 1a shows probabilities that an attack will be effective and Table 1B shows probabilities of whether the attack will have its intended effect on its target audience. The variables presented in the tables are used in equations for the game to give governments an idea of whether they should invest in defensive or disruptive counter-measures.

The authors conclude that political terrorist groups even if they possess a WMD are less likely to use it than fanatic groups for fear of alienating their target audience. The kind of counter-measures a government utilizes is also a major factor in whether terrorists would pursue the WMD option or not. If terrorist feel that disruptive operations against them are too effective then they may be encouraged to carry out more conventional attacks.

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