"To deter terrorism, U.S. deterrence strategy must threaten retaliatory responses that are appropriate to the actions by non-state actors the United States wishes to prevent. The effectiveness of those threats depends on the perceived credibility that America possesses the capability and willingness to execute them. Although U.S. policy focuses on preventive and preemptive counterterrorism strategies, this thesis argues that it contains relevant targets for retaliation but lacks credibility because its threats do not distinguish between types of attack. Instead of correlating threats to undesirable actions, it declares the same punishment for all terrorism, which is unrealistic ex post. On the contrary, the level of response should be proportionally related to the type and destructive effects of an attack and in tune with the level of public outrage the attack would generate. This thesis first provides theoretical support for the claim that recent U.S. policy documents contain valid threats for influencing non-state actors. Then, credibility is evaluated by comparing those threats to the expected U.S. response for two dissimilar scenarios: cyber and nuclear terrorism. The analysis suggests that policy threats lack credibility because the signaled response for terrorism holds constant across varying degrees of attack severity. Because the likely responses to these attacks differ in practice, the undifferentiated signals sent by recent policy weaken deterrence. As a result, the thesis recommends establishing a retaliation framework based on type of attack."
Naval Postgraduate School, Dudley Knox Library: http://www.nps.edu/Library/index.aspx