The tragic events on Moscow's Metro system highlight several issues of relevance to an increasing number of countries in the world.
First, no society is invulnerable to a terrorist attack. If the intention to carry out an attack is present strongly enough in an individual or group, and they have the capabilities required to carry it out, then an attack can occur. It may be prevented if the authorities receive good and timely intelligence and act upon it; or it may fail as a result of factors ranging from the effectiveness of the terrorists' planning, preparation, and implementation to the success of anti-terrorism measures already put in place by the authorities at or near the target.
Second, attacks of the type seen in Moscow are one of the most difficult for any country to detect or prevent. At the strategic level, they were designed to demonstrate to the Russian government and the world beyond the terrorists' motivation and determination. At the operational level, and in order to achieve this, the terrorists chose to carry out back-to-back mass casualty suicide attacks against civilians going about their daily business on the Metro system. The overall number of terrorists needed to carry it out would have been small, and the planning and preparations required minimal, while access to the target was guaranteed. All of these factors weighed heavily in favor of the terrorists.
Third, the motivation behind a particular terrorist attack or series of attacks may change over time and in different places as individuals are arrested or groups are destroyed or neutralized. This will reduce the general threat from terrorism – but the phenomenon of terrorism itself will still remain. Government actions therefore cannot entirely eliminate the threat. In an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, governments need to be constantly alert to the possibility of a terrorist attack, whatever the source and motivation may be, and put into place measures to deter, detect, and prevent them. When they do occur, the immediate response must be fast and effective, and the criminal investigation thorough and exhaustive. Finally, appropriate lessons should be learned and promulgated as a matter of priority.
Lindsay Clutterbuck is a research leader at Cambridge-based RAND Europe, an independent not-for-profit research institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND Europe is part of the global RAND Corporation.
This op-ed was originally published in Korrespondent, a Russian-language Ukrainian newspaper.
This commentary originally appeared in Korrespondent on April 2, 2010. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.