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U.S. government decisionmakers face a number of challenges as they attempt to form policies that aim to dissuade terrorists from attacking the United States, divert youths from joining terrorist groups, and persuade the leaders of states and nongovernmental institutions to withhold support for terrorists. The successes or failures of such policies and campaigns have long-lasting effects. This report attempts to help these decisionmakers see the potential use of influence campaigns in the war on terrorism. To do this, the authors gauge the lessons learned from past U.S. operations, analyzing the “de-Nazification” efforts of postwar Germany, the psychological operations conducted during the Vietnam War, and the support of anticommunist movements and resources in Poland throughout the Cold War. Although stipulating that influence campaigns are highly sensitive to their respective operational environments, the authors arrive at the following general guidelines for the use of persuasion in the struggle against terrorism: match objectives, message, and delivery to the audience; incorporate feedback mechanisms in the planning stage; and set realistic expectations. They then apply these guidelines to three different types of audiences in the Muslim world-Yemen, Indonesia, and diaspora communities in Germany. The authors note that the use of strategic influence is not and probably never will be a “silver bullet” to removing the threat of terrorism; however, the research herein should help bring U.S. decisionmakers closer in refining how and in what circumstances such campaigns can best be applied.

The research described in this report was supported through the provisions of independent research and development in RAND's contracts for the operation of Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers: RAND Project AIR FORCE (sponsored by the U.S. Air Force), the RAND Arroyo Center (sponsored by the U.S. Army), and the RAND National Defense Research Institute (sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the unified commands, and the defense agencies).

This report is part of the RAND monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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