Research Approaches to Terrorism: A Way Forward for New Zealand

Authors: Barnett, E. & Nelson, N. R.
Published in National Security Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2019

government agencies. It is likely, however, that much, if not all, of this research is ortho­dox in nature: adopting a problem-solving approach, maintaining terrorism as a major public policy concern that limits itself to fulfilling government agendas, and producing knowledge that maintains existing power structures. While this has short-term benefits, it suffers from being insufficiently sensitive to the ways in which knowledge and power are connected. It also results in the development of a number of subtle gate-keeping processes that protect power by restricting access to data and policy-makers to very few ‘insiders’ who share the same, dominant perspective. This poses a longer term risk – de­nying the opportunity for terrorism to be explored through alternative frameworks that have the potential to broaden and deepen our understanding of the phenomenon. This, in turn, severely limits the opportunity to identify new innovations which may more effectively address the threat that terrorism poses in the longer term.

Perhaps there is an opportunity for New Zealand to take note of the significant benefits accrued by the more recent approach to terrorism research in France and the Nether­lands where primary source information is readily shared between agencies and aca­demics. To do this will require the political will and courage to seek productive inter­actions between the agencies and academia that allow both approaches to researching terrorism to be pursued. Doing this will provide the opportunity for trained research­ers to utilise their methodological and disciplinary capabilities to develop useful and, potentially, counter-intuitive insights into how New Zealand might best address the threats posed by terrorism. Not doing this risks the stagnation of terrorist research in New Zealand as a consequence, to quote Marc Sageman58 of the fact that we have “a sys­tem of terrorism research where intelligence analysts know everything but understand nothing, while academics understand everything but know nothing”. This will in no way help New Zealand and its fight against terrorism moving forward.