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Cross-Milieu Terrorist Collaboration: Using Game Theory to Assess the Risk of a Novel Threat

Cross-Milieu Terrorist Collaboration: Using Game Theory to Assess the Risk of a Novel Threat


This article uses a game-theoretic approach to analyze the risk of cross-milieu terrorist collaboration-the possibility that, despite marked ideological differences, extremist groups from very different milieus might align to a degree where operational collaboration against Western societies becomes possible. Based upon theoretical insights drawn from a variety of literatures, a bargaining model is constructed that reflects the various benefits and costs for terrorists' collaboration across ideological milieus. Analyzed in both sequential and simultaneous decision-making contexts and through numerical simulations, the model confirms several theoretical arguments. The most important of these is that although likely to be quite rare, successful collaboration across terrorist milieus is indeed feasible in certain circumstances. The model also highlights several structural elements that might play a larger role than previously recognized in the collaboration decision, including that the prospect of nonmaterial gains (amplification of terror and reputational boost) plays at least as important a role in the decision to collaborate as potential increased capabilities does. Numerical simulation further suggests that prospects for successful collaboration over most scenarios (including operational) increase when a large, effective Islamist terrorist organization initiates collaboration with a smaller right-wing group, as compared with the other scenarios considered. Although the small number of historical cases precludes robust statistical validation, the simulation results are supported by existing empirical evidence of collaboration between Islamists and right- or left-wing extremists. The game-theoretic approach, therefore, provides guidance regarding the circumstances under which such an unholy alliance of violent actors is likely to succeed.

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Full Citation: 

Ackerman, Gary A., Jun Zhuang, and Sitara Weerasuriya. 2016. "Cross-Milieu Terrorist Collaboration: Using Game Theory to Assess the Risk of a Novel Threat." Risk Analysis (April). http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/risa.12624/abstract?systemMessage=Wiley+Online+Library+will+be+unavailable+on+Saturday+14th+May+11:00-14:00+BST+/+06:00-09:00+EDT+/+18:00-21:00+SGT+for+essential+maintenance.Apologies+for+the+inconvenience.

START Author(s): 
Gary AckermanJun Zhuang
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