March 10, 2008


Counterterrorism Priorities Are Proving Wasteful (Bjorn Lomborg and Todd Sandler, 3/10/08, Real Clear Politics)

Recently, Copenhagen Consensus, whose purpose is to weigh the costs and benefits of different solutions to the world's biggest problems, commissioned new research into the merits of different methods of combating terrorism. The results are surprising and troubling.

Global annual spending on homeland security measures has increased by about $70 billion since 2001. Unsurprisingly, this initially translated into a 34 percent drop in transnational terrorist attacks. What is surprising is that there have been 67 more deaths, on average, each year. The rise in the death toll is caused by terrorists responding rationally to the higher risks imposed by greater security measures. They have shifted to attacks that create more carnage to increase the impact of fewer attacks.

Increased counterterrorism measures simply transfer terrorists' attention elsewhere. Installing metal detectors in airports in 1973 decreased skyjackings but increased kidnappings; fortifying American embassies reduced the number of attacks on embassies but increased the number of assassinations of diplomats. Since counterterrorism measures were increased in Europe, the United States and Canada, there has been a clear shift in attacks against US interests to the Middle East and Asia.

Spending ever-more money making targets "harder" is actually a poor choice. Increasing defensive measures worldwide by 25 percent would cost at least $75 billion over five years. Terrorists will inevitably shift to softer targets. In the extremely unlikely scenario that attacks dropped by 25 percent, the world would save about $22 billion. Even then, the costs are three times higher than the benefits.

...just about providing psychological comfort.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 10, 2008 9:10 AM
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