Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Removing the devil you know: Unraveling the puzzle behind decapitation effectiveness and terrorist group duration
by Price, Bryan C., Ph.D., Stanford University, 2009, 233; 3382946
Abstract (Summary)

Leaders matter, but they matter more in some organizations than they do in others, and they matter more during certain periods of an organization's life cycle than in other periods. Learning why, where, and when leaders matter in organizations is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a desire to understand how power is manipulated in our everyday social, economic, and political relationships. However, learning about leaders is especially important in understanding terrorist groups, including their formation, behavior, and dissolution.

The US has made leadership decapitation, a term that describes a policy of killing or capturing a group's head leader or leaders, a cornerstone of its counterterrorism strategy, yet there have been no systematic studies showing it is even an effective strategy in winning the so-called “war on terror.” We know very little about the effects of leadership succession on terrorist group behavior. Some studies even conclude that leadership decapitation strategies are not only ineffective, but counterproductive as well (Jordan, forthcoming). In this dissertation, the author uses a creative conceptual framework and a functional typology of organizations to show why leaders matter more in terrorist groups than in other organizational types. Additionally, it features an advanced statistical modeling technique from the field of biomedicine that is applied to an original data set of terrorist groups and their leaders. I use large-n statistical analysis and an in-depth case study of Hamas to unravel the puzzle of decapitation effectiveness and explain what covariates affect terrorist group duration and how.

Although removing leaders of terrorist groups may have some unintended consequences and is no guarantee of successfully dissolving the terrorist group, it substantially increases the mortality rate of terrorist groups, even after controlling for a group's operational capability, alliance network, ideology, and the target state's regime type and counterterrorism capacity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Sagan, Scott
School: Stanford University
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 70/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Political science
Keywords: Counterterrorism, Decapitation, Leadership, Leadership decapitation, Organizational approach, Succession, Terrorism
Publication Number: 3382946
ISBN: 978-1-109-45032-3
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