The University of Southampton

HIST6122 Terrorists vs. Counterterrorists: Past, present and future policy

Module Overview

Through the historical examination of U.S. counterterrorism methods, from the formation of Delta Force under President Carter, to the adoption of drone warfare by President Obama, this module tracks how America’s approach to national security in the face of terrorism has evolved over the past 40 years. It also explores how the U.K.s own counterterrorism strategy has evolved post-9/11, and considers areas of intersection and difference between the two models. Using careful scholarly analysis of what terrorism is, the motives of the U.S. and U.K.’s current terrorist enemies, and the methods these groups have adopted, the module uses a series of case studies to assess how successful different tools and legal approaches have been. These historical lessons are used to inform practical policy proposals to contemporary and future threats.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aims of this module are to: - develop your understanding of how terrorism has evolved in both its aims and methods over the past four decades - undertake an analysis of different counterterrorism methods, and the benefits and drawbacks of each approach - enhance your understanding of the long-term origins of current US policy - explore the historical debates surrounding the use of force to counter terrorism - introduce you to a diverse range of primary source material from both those considered terrorists, and those engaged in counterterrorism.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Have developed a broad knowledge of the most significant anti-Western terrorist groups of the past 40 years, their aims and the factors which have motivated them to take up arms
  • Be familiar with the wide range of scholarship produced by the global counterterrorism community, and the main arguments advanced for specific methods of counterterrorism
  • Have formed an understanding of the debate the use of force in counterterrorism
  • Have considered the most effective methods for countering specific terrorist threats
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Work independently and unsupervised for extended periods of time on complex tasks
  • Display effective time management
  • Interact purposefully, productively and confidently with both your tutor and peers
  • Make valuable, critical and valued contributions to discussions and debates
  • Write speedily yet fluently for extended periods, clearly articulating your ideas
  • Understand how the study of history can be used to inform policy decisions
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Complete an assignment using some of the methods and source materials explored in the module
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Gather, assimilate, synthesise and interpret a range of primary and secondary material
  • Fluently comment upon complex debates, citing relevant evidence in support
  • Demonstrate significant depth of knowledge and insight into the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of strategic approaches
  • Draw upon your acquired knowledge in debate, essays and under timed conditions


The module utilises flipped lectures, using pre-recorded lectures as a key part of seminar preparation. These lectures will cover the specific case studies of different U.S. approaches and tools, as well as detailing the evolution of the terrorist threat from the late 1970s to the present day. Each seminar engages with a specific debate regarding counterterrorism policy, focusing upon the tools available, the legal architecture which underwrites the use of these tools, and the differing strategies applied by the U.S. and U.K governments in their efforts to counter the terrorist threat. Indicative seminar content: - Why groups adopt terrorism - Which paradigm is best suited to counterterrorism – crime, or war? - State-sponsored terrorism - Pre-emption, prevention, and national defence - The ideology and methods of al-Qaeda - The legality of lethal force in US and UK counterterrorism - Detention, interrogation and prosecution of “Enemy Combatants” - Targeted killing and decapitation strategies - The Ideology and methods of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) - Terrorism and the media - Is a “war on terror” inherently unwinnable? - The future of terrorism and counterterrorism

Special Features

The module adopts a “flipped classroom” model of teaching, in which much of the content will be delivered online, making time for other learning activities to take place during face-to-face contact hours.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: Flipped lectures for additional learning support (see above) Learning activities include: Drafting a National Security Council memo National Security Council roleplay

Independent Study130
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Jeremy Scahill (2013). Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. 

(2004). The Challenges of Conceptualizing Terrorism. Terrorism and Political Violence. ,16 , pp. 77-94.

(2014). Attacking the Leader, Missing the Mark: Why Terrorist Groups Survive Decapitation Strikes’. International Security. ,38 .

Timothy Naftali (2005). Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism. 

Peter Bergen (2012). Manhunt: From 9/11 to Abbottabad – The Ten-Year Search for Osama bin Laden. 

Bruce Hoffman (2006). Inside Terrorism. 

Chris Woods (2015). Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars. 

John Rizzo (2014). Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA. 

Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger (2015). ISIS: The State of Terror. 

Stuart Gottlieb (ed.) (2014). Debating Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Conflicting Perspectives on Causes, Contexts and Responses. 

Audrey Kurth Cronin (2011). How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns. 

Claire Finkelstein, Jens David Ohlin and Andrew Altman (eds.) (2012). Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World. 

Loch K. Johnson (2011). The Threat on the Horizon: An Insider Account of America’s Search for Security After the Cold War. 

(2011/12). Assassination or Targeted Killings After 9/11’. New York Law School Law Review. ,56 .



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 80%
Individual Presentation  (10 minutes) 20%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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