Making and mobilizing moderates: Rhetorical strategy, political networks, and counterterrorism

Arjun Chowdhury, Ronald R. Krebs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Studies of counterterrorism have argued for the importance of bolstering, or "mobilizing," moderates in the confrontation with violent extremists. Yet the literature has not elucidated when states seek to mobilize moderates and marginalize extremists, how they do so, or when they prove successful. The received wisdom is that states should cultivate and strengthen moderate allies by reaching out to them. This approach, however, fails to grasp the political challenges confronting potential moderates, whose priority is to build and retain legitimacy within their political community. Inspired by network approaches, we maintain that moderates can more easily emerge when their political interactions with the authorities are relatively sparse. We further argue that the state's strategies, including crucially its rhetorical moves, can bolster the moderates' local legitimacy. At times, this will entail not reaching out to moderates but isolating them. Before moderates can be mobilized, they must be made, and the state's criticism, more than its love, may do much to help moderate political forces emerge. This article explains why mobilizing moderates is critical, when it is difficult, and how authorities can nevertheless play a productive role in moderates' emergence. We establish our theoretical framework's plausibility by examining two cases-India's ultimately triumphant campaign against Sikh extremists and Spain's gradual marginalization of Basque extremists. We then suggest what lessons these campaigns against ethnonational terrorism hold for the so-called War on Terror.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-399
Number of pages29
JournalSecurity Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
For helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this article, the authors are grateful to Robert Art, Risa Brooks, Daniel Byman, Bud Duvall, David Edelstein, Christine Fair, Reuven Gal, Stacie Goddard, Devashree Gupta, Daniel Nexon, Robert Pape, Gurharpal Singh, Paul Wallace, and the anonymous reviewers for and editors of Security Studies. For financial support of this research, Krebs thanks the University of Minnesota’s Grant-in-Aid Program, the McKnight Foundation through the University of Minnesota, and the Donald D. Harrington Faculty Fellows Program at the University of Texas at Austin; and Chowdhury thanks the Doctoral Dissertation Fellows Program at the University of Minnesota. For excellent research assistance, the authors thank Ashley Nord. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2007 International Studies Association Annual Convention, the 2007 meeting of the Interuniversity Seminar on the Armed Forces and Society, and the Minnesota International Relations Colloquium.


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