CounterStrike and Deterrence: Can a Cold War Tactic Stop Terrorism?


The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al-Qaeda

By Thom Shanker and Eric Schmidt


An Analytical Review


Chris Rottenberg

This book was not just made for the policy makers inside the belt-way since it has a clear distinction from other books about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This book goes beyond the long-suffering intelligence analysts and Special Forces who hunt down Al-Qaeda forces. It also addresses the targets of global terrorism-the American people. Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt have left us with some crucial questions. We now have to ask ourselves whether or not the war on terrorism is actually winnable. The authors do indeed depict how the U.S. government has undergone tremendous upgrades in its counterterrorism efforts since the September 11th attacks, but it also reminds readers that our vigilance and willingness to respond to the threat from Al-Qaeda cannot be detoured. Shanker and Schmitt discuss in their book a new deterrence strategy in conducting military operations against terrorism and reveal America’s new strategy to counter the next terrorist attack. Counterstrike depicts how the United States has evolved in its responses to the terrorist threat and has put trust in those who work around the clock to defend it. Shanker and Schmitt have gone behind the scenes to bring to light the successes, the painful failures, the gained and missed opportunities and reveal that serious issues in communication in the intelligence world continue to exist. The authors have also discussed the gaps in intelligence and politics over the past decade and look ahead to the nation’s uphill battle.

Perhaps the most interesting revelation in Shanker and Schmitt’s book digs into the heart of terrorist networks and explains how Counterterrorism strategists have found ways to apply Cold War-style deterrence to a new foe that has no country or standing army.  Two men in the Pentagon developed this new theory of deterrence, the Cold War veteran Barry Pavel and his up-and-coming superstar Matthew Kroenig. Their concept was edgy, yet bold in a way of thinking not employed since the times of Khrushchev, Gorbachev, or Dulles. Pavel and Kroenig identified nine key functions that are the lifeline for terrorism to thrive and to which Al-Qaeda give great value: Leadership, Safe Havens, Intelligence, Communications, Movement, Weapons, Personnel, Ideology, and Finances. If these values can be threatened or disrupted, terrorist acts can be degraded or made much more difficult. It is not necessary simply to kill as many terrorists as humanly possible.  As this new concept raced across the Pentagon, the intelligence and military world saw a whole new way to combat terrorism. This list proved you could not just function on one level, but had to facilitate a multi-pronged attack which would eventually lead terrorists to have to fund their own weapons, gather their own intelligence, pay for training, secure new communication routes, and even pay for their own accommodations. And as General Cartwright says, “Applying deterrence theories to terrorism may not eliminate the threat, but you can increase your chances of influencing an adversary’s behavior, his cost-benefit analysis-and perhaps deter an attack.”

Shanker and Schmitt have discussed publicly that it is still hard to claim any “victory” against terrorism when Al-Qaeda operatives can turn a printer cartridge into a bomb for a mere $4200. Although it was not successfully detonated, it cost the United States hundreds of millions to revamp security against this threat. This became an economic victory for Al-Qaeda. And no matter how many times U.S. technologically advances, the ingenuity of our adversary grows at a similar pace. The authors also say that although the “Underwear Bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and the “Times Square Bomber,” Faisal Shahzad, were both unsuccessful in their attempts at mass destruction and/or deaths, there was a psychological victory in the over-reaction of the American people. It is not true that terrorists have only to be successful once. An expectation of a 100% success rate shows that we have become complacent instead of becoming resilient. As the authors agree, another attack against the United States may be more difficult, but it will happen again in time. How the American people react to the next successful attack will go a long way in determining if we, as a people, understand the nature of the new deterrence, that is the ability to deny terrorists a victory that elevates their global standing, and demonstrate that the U.S. can survive their cowardly assaults. Only time will tell.

About Chris Rottenberg

Master of Arts in Diplomacy: Possesses broad knowledge in International Terrorism and has fluid knowledge in U.S. foreign and national security policy. Specializing in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Cambodia.

One Response to “CounterStrike and Deterrence: Can a Cold War Tactic Stop Terrorism?”

  1. When we look at the strategy of deterrence and consider how to apply this to Terrorism, this became a daunting task. As the principle ideologies emerged from the Pentagon, as what terrorists and terrorist networks hold dear, it has shifted the war on terrorism and helped us to isolate what is important to them. We have to also consider that financing, their reputations, social media use, and belief that it glorifies them can all be persuaded. This tactic is not a new one, but raises the value and may alter the thinking of someone who wants to commit an act of terrorism if they believe that their chances of success are greatly reduced. This book brings a lot of insight and shows the struggles of how the intelligence community has evolved and continues to do so. Even when the recommendations they make are not always heard.

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