A theory of terrorist leadership (and its consequences for leadership targeting)
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States often target terrorist leaders with the belief that the leader’s death or capture will cause the terrorist organization to collapse. Yet the history of this strategy of “leadership targeting” provides a mixed record-for every example of effectiveness, there are similar examples of ineffectiveness. The central question of this article is: what makes a terrorist leader important? Specifically, what does a terrorist leader do that no one else can do (or do as well) for the organization? To answer this question, I develop a theory of terrorist leadership that argues that leaders might potentially perform two main functions: they can provide inspiration and/or operational direction (or not for both). I also theorize as to how and why the provision of these functions changes over time as the organization itself changes. The consequences for leadership targeting flow naturally from this theory-when leaders provide these functions to the organization, leadership targeting is most likely to be effective. Case studies of Algeria, Peru, and Japan offer insights into why some cases of leadership targeting were effective and why others were not. The conclusion extends this model with an analysis of al-Qaeda’s prospects after the death of bin Laden.
The article of record as published may be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2012.751912
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Freeman, Michael (Monterey, California; Naval Postgraduate School, 2010-02-17);Under what conditions is leadership targeting against terrorist groups likely to be effective? This paper develops a theory of leadership (based on work in sociology, organizational design, political science (collective ...
Taylor, Bradly S. (Monterey, California: Naval Postgraduate School, 1999-06);The question of targeting opponent leadership historically has focused on tactical and moral/legal issues. Can the leader be found? And, is it legal and ethical to attack the leader? Analysis rarely has been conducted to ...
Varden, James D. (Monterey, California. Naval Postgraduate School, 2011-03);Targeting terrorist leadership is a common strategy used by governments. The appeal of a quick strike with minimal casualties, combined with the possible swift defeat of the terrorist organization, makes it a very attractive ...