Counterterrorism Strategies: Leadership Decapitation vs Mid-tier Elimination

Open Access
Nichols, Philip
Area of Honors:
International Politics
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Peter Kent Forster, Thesis Supervisor
  • Michael Barth Berkman, Honors Advisor
  • Counterterrorism
  • Leadership
  • Mid-Tier Commanders
  • Violent Non-State Actors
Western nations have long seen the impact of terrorist activity in foreign environments, but after the tragic attacks on September 11th and the bombings in London and Madrid, western nations realize that they are no longer impervious to large magnitude terrorist attacks. In response, they have begun to utilize strategies that will deter or disrupt these lethal activities. The two strategies specifically analyzed in this research were those of the traditional leadership decapitation strategy, and the newer mid-tier elimination strategy. Previous statistical research that has focused on leadership decapitation strategies has produced arguments both for, and against, its effectiveness in reducing the threat violent non-state actors pose. However, while there has been much statistical analysis completed on leadership decapitation strategies, there has been no statistical research on the strategy of mid-tier elimination. Both strategies hold varying degrees of consequences, positive and negative, in their use, prompting this research to determine if there are certain epochs where one might be more efficient to use over the other. The conclusion outlines three major policy implications in identifying certain circumstances in which a leadership decapitation strategy will be more effective than a mid-tier elimination strategy, and vice versa.