Panel Paper: Shoring Up Soft Targets: Where Should the US Deploy Its Resources?

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 10:25 AM
West End Ballroom D (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Kathleen Deloughery and Tina Chang, State University of New York, Albany
With the rise of academic interest in terrorist events, social scientists have been working to determine which factors increase a country’s likelihood of being attacked.  However, the majority of these studies only considered the location of the attack as the target.  In reality, terrorist organizations sometimes strike their target’s interests abroad, in a proxy attack.   For operational purposes, an attack is considered to be a proxy attack if the location of the attack is not the same as the nationality of the modal victim.  Therefore, an interesting, but overlooked, question is how terrorist organizations choose proxy targets for attacks.  When examining attacks against US interests, only 30.6 percent took place on US soil. It is important to understand how proxy targets are chosen, so that the US can protect its interests abroad.

When choosing a proxy target, some combination of economics, politics, culture, and location all interact with probability of success to inform the terrorist organizations decision.  This research will expand the current literature on target choice by examining how organizations choose the location of an attack when the target of the attack and the location do not match.  We propose to examine five potential explanations for the choice of location in a proxy attack using a spatial autoregressive (SAR) process: the geographic distance of the proxy from the perpetrating terrorist organization, the geographic distance of the proxy from the target, the economic distance of the proxy from the target, the political distance of the proxy from the target, and the social distance of the proxy from the target.

Currently, the US is spending over $300,000,000 per year to work with foreign countries to reduce America’s risk from transnational terrorism.  Therefore, determining locations where the US is vulnerable to proxy attacks leads to a secondary question of how our financial resources should be managed to reduce the risk of terrorism abroad.  Since almost 70 percent of attacks against US interests take place abroad, the ability to better predict which locations are the most likely targets of proxy attacks is invaluable.  With better predications, this money can be targeted more effectively and the US’s scarce resources for preventing terrorism can be used more efficiently.