Fighting Terrorism: The Democracy Advantage


Against the background of a global surge in terror covering most of the last decade and a half, and contrary to popular hype, a consolidated, high-quality democracy is increasingly proving to be the best counterterror organization known to humanity, notes Amichai Magen, head of the Diplomacy and Conflict Studies Program at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel. A liberal democracy is by its very nature as an open society built for enduring success against terror, he writes for the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy:

By maintaining pluralism and refusing to force individuals with competing civic and religious identities to make sharp choices among them, liberal societies provide potential sympathizers of radical Islam with diffuse but potent “opt-out” prospects that can help them steer clear of terrorism and terrorism-supporting activities. In an important sense, astute counterterror policy should seek to give those involved or potentially involved in political violence strong material and symbolic incentives to shun or quit such involvement. In a pluralist society, an individual may occupy identity and social spaces where competing civic and religious loyalties can coexist, even if in some degree of metaphysical tension. To brand any group collectively as a threat is to constrict such salutary spaces, and thus is poor policy.

At the same time, political leaders, security professionals, and voters in electoral and minimalist democracies can expect to reap greater safety from improved democratic quality, adds Magen, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT):

Multiparty autocracies—and external actors backing their liberalization—need to prepare for a curvilinear effect in which liberalizing authoritarian regimes will suffer increased incidents of terrorism unless and until they manage to get “over the hump” by attaining levels of democratic quality high enough to push terrorism back down. Closed autocracies, meanwhile, appear to have lost much of the antiterrorist advantage that they may have once enjoyed. Oppression and denial of political access cannot keep them safe.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email