International Organization

Politics and the Suboptimal Provision of Counterterror

Ethan  Bueno de Mesquita  a1
a1 Center in Political Economy at Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.

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I present a model of interactions between voters, a government, and a terrorist organization. The model focuses on a previously unexplored conceptualization of counterterrorism as divided into tactic-specific observable and general unobservable tactics. When there is divergence between voters and government preferences, strategic substitution among different modes of attack by terrorists and agency problems between the voters and government create a situation in which the politically optimal counterterrorism strategy pursued by the government in response to electoral and institutional incentives is quite different from the security maximizing counterterrorism strategy. In particular, in response to electoral pressure, the government allocates resources to observable counterterror in excess of the social optimum. This problem is particularly severe when governments put great weight on rent-seeking or care less about counterterror than do voters and when terrorists have a large set of tactics from which to choose. Voters can decrease the magnitude of the agency problem by increasing the benefits of reelection by, for example, slackening requirements for nonsecurity related public goods. a


a I have received valuable comments and advice from Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Randy Calvert, Martin Cripps, James Fearon, Amanda Friedenberg, Robert Powell, Matthew Stephenson, and Barbara Walter. I thank the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy at Washington University for financial support.