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State-Sponsored Terrorism and Retaliation (From Terrorism and America: A Commonsense Strategy for a Democratic Society, P 65-79, 1998, Philip B. Heymann, -- See NCJ-191436)

NCJ Number
Philip B. Heymann
Date Published
15 pages
This chapter examines military retaliation and its prospects when terrorism is supported by another state.
Retaliation is a morally and politically complicated matter, risking the lives of innocent people to make a point with their leaders and generating a powerful opposition as well as fear. These risks are present when the United States uses military force to respond to state-supported or tolerated terrorism. Supporting a terrorist group has similar advantages to supporting a rebellious army or a foreign nation at war with an enemy, but it has one more as well: if the sponsorship can be hidden, the violence against one’s enemy can be safe and unaccountable. The reasons why states might strike back at another state that is sponsoring terrorist attacks are that the strike might incapacitate some of the terrorist group, it might accomplish “specific” deterrence reminding the sponsoring state of the costs of its support of terrorism, and it might send a message of “general deterrence” to all states that might be tempted to sponsor a terrorist attack. Purposes such as incapacitating, deterring, or “getting even” need not involve military action; the alternative is economic or diplomatic sanctions. But generally these require substantial international cooperation. The inevitable confusion about underlying facts, the lack of clarity of international law, the certainty of civilian casualties, and the general uncertainty of deterrence should create a strong preference for economic, diplomatic, and travel sanctions rather than military action to deter a state supporting a terrorist group.