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The Scale of Terrorist Attacks as a Signal of Resources


  • Per Baltzer Overgaard

    (University of Aarhus)


This article studies conflicts between terrorists and governments in a setting of asymmetric information. The government is initially uncertain about the level of resources available to a terrorist group for use in violent attacks. The conflict is modeled as a signaling game where the magnitude of terrorist attacks serves as a signal of terrorist resources. With complete information, optimal government retaliation depends nontrivially on terrorist resources. With asymmetric information, this provides terrorists with an incentive to convey the message that resources are large in an attempt to soften government retaliation. Thus equilibrium attack levels of high resource terrorist groups must be distorted upward if they are to convey any information to the government. In addition, we consider equilibria where attacks are uninformative of terrorist resources, but where the government softens its retaliation. In either case the government suffers under asymmetric information. We examine how varying the flexibility of government responses affects the likely outcome of conflicts, and this gives rise to an assessment of the value of government intelligence gathering and (partial) government commitment.

Suggested Citation

  • Per Baltzer Overgaard, 1994. "The Scale of Terrorist Attacks as a Signal of Resources," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 38(3), pages 452-478, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:jocore:v:38:y:1994:i:3:p:452-478

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    Cited by:

    1. Bruno S. Frey & Simon Luechinger, "undated". "Terrorism: Deterrence May Backfire," IEW - Working Papers 136, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    2. Vicki Bier & Santiago Oliveros & Larry Samuelson, 2007. "Choosing What to Protect: Strategic Defensive Allocation against an Unknown Attacker," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 9(4), pages 563-587, August.
    3. Hendel, Ulrich, 2012. ""Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under't": Mimicking behaviour of growth-oriented terrorist organizations," Discussion Papers in Economics 13998, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    4. Mario Gilli & Paolo Tedeschi, 2020. "European Union and Transnational Terrorism. A Normative Analysis of Strategic Spillovers," Working Papers 437, University of Milano-Bicocca, Department of Economics, revised Mar 2020.
    5. Ulrich Hendel, 2016. "‘Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t’: mimicking behaviour of growth-oriented terrorist organizations," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 27(5), pages 665-687, September.
    6. Reed M. Wood, 2014. "Opportunities to kill or incentives for restraint? Rebel capabilities, the origins of support, and civilian victimization in civil war," Conflict Management and Peace Science, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 31(5), pages 461-480, November.
    7. Michael Mandler and Michael Spagat, 2003. "Foreign Aid Designed to Diminish Terrorist Atrocities can Increase Them," Royal Holloway, University of London: Discussion Papers in Economics 03/10, Department of Economics, Royal Holloway University of London, revised Dec 2003.
    8. William M. Kroshl & Shahram Sarkani & Thomas A Mazzuchi, 2015. "Efficient Allocation of Resources for Defense of Spatially Distributed Networks Using Agent‐Based Simulation," Risk Analysis, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 35(9), pages 1690-1705, September.
    9. Nikoofal, Mohammad E. & Zhuang, Jun, 2015. "On the value of exposure and secrecy of defense system: First-mover advantage vs. robustness," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 246(1), pages 320-330.
    10. Gian Maria Campedelli & Mihovil Bartulovic & Kathleen M. Carley, 2019. "Pairwise similarity of jihadist groups in target and weapon transitions," Journal of Computational Social Science, Springer, vol. 2(2), pages 245-270, July.
    11. Bakker, Craig & Webster, Jennifer B. & Nowak, Kathleen E. & Chatterjee, Samrat & Perkins, Casey J. & Brigantic, Robert, 2020. "Multi-Game Modeling for Counter-Smuggling," Reliability Engineering and System Safety, Elsevier, vol. 200(C).
    12. Nicole Crain & W. Crain, 2006. "Terrorized economies," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 128(1), pages 317-349, July.
    13. Mohammad E. Nikoofal & Mehmet Gümüs, 2015. "On the value of terrorist’s private information in a government’s defensive resource allocation problem," IISE Transactions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 47(6), pages 533-555, June.

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