Misperceiving the Terrorist Threat

by Jeffrey D. Simon

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Although much attention has been focused recently on international terrorism, there has been little discussion about whether or not terrorism actually threatens vital U.S. interests. This report, a version of which originally appeared in the Summer 1987 issue of Foreign Policy, addresses the possibility that U.S. decisionmakers have misperceived the threat of terrorism, treating each incident as a "crisis" and trying to design high-level policies for what are essentially low-level threats. The author suggests that counterterrorist strategy regarding those incidents that can be absorbed by the United States with minimal or no damage to national security should be guided by a different set of responses than those appropriate for incidents that truly threaten vital interests.

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