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Preserving the Rule of Law in the Fight Against Terrorism


The Rule of Law in the Fight against Terrorism

Authors: Tiberiu Dragu and Mattias Polborn Institution: New York University and University of Illinois


This paper examines the crucial balance between the rule of law and executive power in the context of terrorism. It explores the paradox where citizens' demand for security seemingly necessitates a flexible legal framework for executive actions, potentially at the expense of the rule of law. Through a game-theoretic model, the authors argue that increased legal flexibility for executive officials does not always result in enhanced security from terrorism. This counterintuitive outcome suggests that the rule of law may play a vital role in ensuring security without compromising democratic principles.

Key Findings

  • Legal Flexibility vs. Security: The study demonstrates that granting executive officials legal flexibility does not guarantee increased security from terrorism. Instead, it can lead to a decrease in actual security levels.
  • Game-Theoretic Model: Through their model, Dragu and Polborn show that when executives are given the leeway to choose any policy they find optimal, the pursuit of electoral incentives to provide security can paradoxically result in less effective counterterrorism measures.
  • The Role of the Rule of Law: The findings underscore the importance of maintaining legal limits on executive power, even in times of heightened security concerns. The rule of law serves as a critical check on the potential overreach of executive actions in the name of counterterrorism.


This research has significant implications for policymakers and democratic societies grappling with the challenge of terrorism. It suggests that preserving the rule of law and ensuring accountability in executive decision-making are essential for achieving genuine security. By highlighting the potential pitfalls of excessive legal flexibility, the paper calls for a careful reassessment of how democracies respond to terrorism threats.


"The Rule of Law in the Fight against Terrorism" by Tiberiu Dragu and Mattias Polborn provides a thought-provoking analysis on the balance between security needs and democratic principles. It challenges the notion that increased executive power, unfettered by legal constraints, is the most effective response to terrorism. Instead, it argues for the indispensability of the rule of law as a foundation for both security and democracy.