Cover: The Eye of the Believer

The Eye of the Believer

Psychological Influences on Counter-Terrorism Policy-Making

Published 2002

by Jonathan Schachter

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This dissertation examines social psychological aspects of the foreign and counter-terrorism policy-making processes. It presents common psychological biases that affect how we understand the behavior of foreign actors in general and of substate terrorist groups in particular, discusses the impact of these biases on policies, and examines how the effects of those biases can be limited in the future. The author presents three illustrative historical case studies: Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's negotiation with Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War; the U.S.-Israeli understanding of the use of violence by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority; and the gross differences in perception of America's counter-terrorism deterrent messages by both the senders and receivers of those messages, which ultimately led to the deterrence failure on September 11. These cases demonstrate how often-imperceptible psychological biases affected the actors involved, distorting their situational assessments, constraining their subsequent decisionmaking, and resulting in harm to U.S. long-term interests and in substantial loss of life. The author suggests that counter-bias strategies, including creating awareness of preconceptions and biases, might have led to different sets of decisions. He concludes by presenting a critical analysis of specific counter-terrorism policy options for the near and long term.

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