Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Terrorism Delusion, by John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart

Most of my entries here at The Reading Glutton are book reviews, but I read a journal article the other day that I thought worth passing along.  Like many Americans, I have been terribly frustrated by the overly expensive and largely ineffective expansion of state power in the name of defeating terrorism.  John Mueller, of Ohio State University, and Mark G. Stewart, of the University of Newcastle (Australia), argue in "The Terrorism Delusion" that our collective response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was overblown and has lead to unnecessary expenditures.

In the immediate wake of 9/11, the common theme from government officials and the media was that the attacks were the first of many to come, that we had entered a new era of warfare.  The belief was commonly held that the attacks were a harbinger of things to come, not an aberration.  Anti-terrorism efforts and increased security measures sprang up without regard to cost, and, unlike policies regarding programs dealing with natural disasters or other emergency situations, no thought was giving to cost/benefit analysis.

Based on accepted risk analysis methods, Mueller and Stewart demonstrate that in order to justify the expense for expanding domestic security, we would have to 333 attacks each year.  Obviously, we haven't had anything close to that number.  The author's examine 50 thwarted attacks in the years since 9/11, and found that all of them have been described by words like "incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, inadequate, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational, and foolish."  Even if any of the would-be terrorists had succeeded perfectly, none would have come close to the devastation of 9/11.

The bottom line is that money is being spent without regard to effectiveness.  Funds are being wasted, lives are not being saved, and, ultimately, our freedom and prosperity are being eroded.  I wish policy makers everywhere would spend a few minutes reading this article or their book on the subject.

International Security, vol 37, no 1 (Summer 2012), pp. 81-110.  (Lest you think this is some right-wing diatribe, note that International Security is a peer-reviewed journal published by Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.)

The article can be found here:

The book can be found at

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