The U.S. has been successful in reducing the threat of terrorism, but it has wildly overspent in a futile attempt to achieve the goal of eliminating it. “After 9/11 we put our national security apparatus on steroids and decided that we were going to try to stop another attack from ever taking place,” says Stephen Flynn, a professor of political science at Northeastern University, who has advised the government on homeland security issues. “But much less investment was made to increase our society’s ability to respond to such events.”
In an age of fiscal constraints, analysts such as Flynn advocate a shift from terrorism prevention to “resilience.” The smartest and most cost-effective way of handling the threat of terrorism is “to build our capacity to cope with it” when something terrible transpires. That means, for example, de-emphasizing costly Pentagon weapons systems and steering resources toward local police, health-care providers, and first responders like those who performed so brilliantly when the bombs went off on Patriot’s Day. The dispatch with which Boston’s emergency personnel handled the crisis, transporting dozens of injured people to triage tents and hospitals in minutes, undoubtedly limited the death toll. Such heroism was no accident. Several physicians had experience working in Iraq and Afghanistan, and theWall Street Journal reported that the city has conducted simulated bombings to drill its first responders on how to react.
“The military value of terrorism is to cause disruption and to get maximum bang from an attack. But if you’re a terrorist and you have reason to believe it’s going to be a fizzle, it lowers your incentive to do it,” says Flynn. “Building resilience doesn’t solve the ‘nut’ problem. What it does is change the cost-benefit calculation of a terrorist or group of terrorists and lowers the value of engaging in terrorism on U.S. soil.”