Norms and State Institutions in Counterterrorism: Britain and France’s Divergent Responses to Militant Islamist Groups
This talk will explore why two states faced with a similar terrorist threat, perceiving it in a similar way and drawing the same broad implications for their counterterrorist policies, have nevertheless displayed significant differences in their responses to that threat. I argue that British and French officials’ similar perceptions of the Islamist militants facing them (as focused on producing mass casualties) have led to some convergence between their counterterrorist policies. However, different institutional conditions and normative contexts in the two states are proving to be powerful factors for divergence. Firstly, pre-existing institutions and conceptions of the state strongly influence organisational reforms and the extent to which different branches of the state work together in the fight against terrorism. The contrasting institutional conventions found in Britain and France mean that the two states have achieved different types and degrees of co-operation between counterterrorist intelligence, law enforcement and prosecution. Secondly, I argue that a normative consensus on security issues in French society enabled the authorities there to be more invasive and indiscriminate in counterterrorist operations than the British, who were constrained by the high level of norm competition in their society on these issues.