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Dealing with Terrorism – Stick or Carrot?

Bruno S. Frey

Emphasising a positive approach to dealing with terrorism (the carrot), this book provides a critique of deterrence policy (the stick) which can be ineffective and even counterproductive, and proposes three alternative and effective anti-terrorist policies: Decentralisation reduces vulnerability to terrorist attacks. A system with many different centres is more stable due to its diversity, enabling one part to substitute for another; Positive incentives can be offered to actual and prospective terrorists not to engage in violent acts. Incentives include: reintegrating terrorists into society, welcoming repentents and offering them valued opportunities; and Diverting attention by naming several terrorist groups potentially responsible for a particular terrorist act. The government thus supplies more information than the terrorist responsible would wish.
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Chapter 5: Polycentricity Reduces Vulnerability

Bruno S. Frey


MAKING PROSPECTIVE TARGETS SAFER A system composed of many different centres is more stable due to its variety, which enables parts to substitute for each other. When one part of the system is negatively affected, one or several other parts can take over. Polycentricity is effective in reducing risk and uncertainty. It corresponds to the old saying that it is wise ‘not to put all your eggs in one basket’. This basic insight from the field of socio-biology also applies to terrorism. A target’s vulnerability is lower in a society composed of many centres than it is in a centralised society. The more centres of power there are in a country, the less terrorists are able to harm it. In a decentralised system, terrorists do not know where to strike, because they are aware that each part can substitute for the other, so that a strike is not likely to achieve much. Polycentricity thus reduces both the probability of terrorists launching an attack and the damage caused in case of an attack. For these two reasons, terrorists have a lower incentive to attack decentralised rather than centralised societies. In terms of the figures presented in the previous chapter, the marginal benefit curve from the point of view of the terrorists shifts downwards, resulting in a lower equilibrium extent of terrorist activity (see Figure 4.6). In contrast, in a centralised system, most decision-making power with respect to the economy, polity and society takes place in one location....

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