Counterterrorism Approaches: Terrorism Prevention

There are five categories of counterterrorism approaches, including proactive, defensive, coercive, long-term, and persuasive. The primary strategy used by America for several decades is the coercive method. It employs a criminal justice and war model to deal with terror activities and terrorists (Tan, 2018). While wars occur within legal regulations, coercive techniques implemented in the war model tend to utilize maximal force for idealized, quick, and effective (Shad & Iqbal, 2020). Nevertheless, the US must consider a hybrid of two or more strategies for better comprehensiveness and effectiveness.

How Defensive and Proactive Approaches Can Complement the Coercive Method

The defensive approach presumes that terror attacks of some sort are inevitable and takes measures to prepare for them through prevention and mitigation. The defensive strategy can complement the coercive method through the preventive model, which involves hardening the targets, regulating and monitoring the flow of people and goods, and protecting critical infrastructure (Vorsina et al., 2019). Using this strategy, America will prevent active terrorists attacks within its boundaries. In addition to preventing attacks, the defensive approach will complement coercive approaches when responding to attacks that have already materialized. While responding to attacks, the government uses the psychosocial, public health, and natural disaster models. Therefore, the defensive model only complements the coercive approach in preparation for and response to terror attacks.

The proactive strategy complements the coercive approach by ensuring that terror attacks do not materialize. Using this method, America would use all its available resources to detect and stop terror plots and plans before they develop (Tan, 2018). The intelligence model is the central strength of proactive counterterrorism. The strategy would reduce the need for coercive methods because terror attacks would be significantly reduced and terrorist groups would be weakened.

When and How to Use Defensive and Proactive Strategies

While the defensive strategy is used at every stage of the counterterrorism process, the proactive approach is applicable primarily before terror attacks materialize. The proactive method requires multidisciplinary cooperation where external and internal security bodies such as domestic police, customs, border officials, and intelligence agencies, collaborate to monitor and track the movement of goods, services, and people to detect terror activities before they mature. For instance, the criminal justice engages in intelligence policing, use of informers and sting operations, early arrests, and preventive detention. Intelligence agencies broaden their surveillance, increase profiling, manage violence radicalization, and counter financing of terror activities. Military groups focus on targeted killings, surveillance drones, intervening in failing and failed states to suppress militant groups and terror activities. Intrusive techniques are also included in proactive counterterrorism, including surveillance, spycraft, eavesdropping, and wiretapping. The focus is to disrupt terrorist plots before developing too far.

In defensive counterterrorism, America can implement preventive and mitigation measures. The government can make targets such as prominent people, certain places, and particular events difficult and less attractive to terror attacks, diverting potential activities towards less costly and damaging areas. Identifying critical infrastructure for protection can be contentious, as stakeholders do not agree on them. Nevertheless, they are in the areas of industries, energy, banking, communications, transport, shopping malls, and urban residences (Vorsina et al., 2019). Most of these infrastructures are controlled by the private sector, which does not allow interventions from the government. Tracking the movement of services, people, and goods can deny terrorists access to weapons, food, financing, travel documents, shelter, communications, and other amenities. Mitigation responses must treat attacks as natural disasters because kill and wound people, destroy infrastructure, cause panic, are unpredictable, attract media coverage, and require urgent intervention from rescuers (McIlhatton et al., 2019). Health systems must be prepared to deal with the aftermaths of a terror attack.

Benefits to Counterbalance the Negatives of Coercive Approach

Proactive and defensive counterterrorism provide benefits that will counterbalance the negatives of coercive strategies. Defensive approaches aim at preventing and mitigating attacks, which will eliminate the need for coercive counterterrorism or reduce the resources and efforts used in the war model (McIlhatton et al., 2019). By thwarting terror plots before they mature and shifting attacks to softer targets, defensive strategies strengthen America’s resilience against terror attacks through better collaborations between agencies and bodies in security sector and investment in top-notch technologies and training. The mitigation aspect of defensive counterterrorism also reinforces the country’s health system, response coordination, media, and citizen’s approach to disasters (Crelinsten, 2018). For example, America will develop a strong command and communication structure for managing such crises, train its citizens on responding to active attacks, and empower the policing and health system for such major attacks.

If proactive counterterrorism is effectively practiced, America would experience les attacks over time. The intelligence model emphasizes us of a broader focus, high-level investigator training, improved surveillance and data access, and detection procedures (Crelinsten, 2018). The benefit here would be to focus on strong and resilient in country processes rather than coercively suppressing terrorism outside its borders. This approach also improves collaboration and coordination between government security agencies and the private sector. Coercive counterterrorism that majors on the criminal law and justice system delays the process and appears to favor terrorists because their operations may continue while they await judgment (Shad & Iqbal, 2020). Proactive methods advocate for early arrests and detention to prevent this likelihood. Overall, a hybrid approach is the most effective in countering terror activities and responding to attacks.


Crelinsten, R. (2018). Conceptualising counterterrorism. In Routledge Handbook of Terrorism and Counterterrorism (pp. 363-374). Routledge.

McIlhatton, D., Arnold, A., Chapman, J. D., Monaghan, R., Ouillon, S., & Bergonzoli, K. (2019). Current considerations of counter terrorism in the risk management profession. Journal of applied security research, 14(3), 350-368.

Shad, M. R., & Iqbal, S. (2020). The Criminal Justice and War Model in Understanding Counterterrorism in Pakistan. Journal of Research in Social Sciences, 8(1), 141-154.

Tan, A. T. (2018). Evaluating counter-terrorism strategies in Asia. Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, 13(2), 155-169.

Vorsina, M., Manning, M., Sheppard, J., & Fleming, C. M. (2019). Social dominance orientation, fear of terrorism and support for counter-terrorism policies. Australian Journal of Political Science, 54(1), 99-113.