errorist groups at-tack civilians to coerce their governments into making policy concessions, butdoes this strategy work?
If target countries systematically resist rewardingterrorism, the international community is armed with a powerful message todeter groups from terrorizing civilians. The prevailing view within the ªeld ofpolitical science, however, is that terrorism is an effective coercive strategy. Theimplications of this perspective are grim; as target countries are routinely co-erced into making important strategic and ideological concessions to terrorists,their victories will reinforce the strategic logic for groups to attack civilians,spawning even more terrorist attacks.
This pessimistic outlook is unwarranted; there has been scant empirical re-search on whether terrorism is a winning coercive strategy, that is, whethergroups tend to exact policy concessions from governments by attacking their
Max Abrahms is a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of California, Los Angeles. Hewrote this article when he was a Research Associate in terrorism studies at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The author would like to thank the following individuals for offering valuable advice and com-ments: Peter Krause, Deborah Larson, Marcy McCullaugh, David Rapoport, Steven Spiegel, MarcTrachtenberg, Micah Zenko, and especially Robert Goldenberg, Evan Spring, and the anonymousreviewers for
1. For decades, terrorism specialists and political scientists have recognized that groups use terror-ism to achieve policy objectives. See, for example, Martha Crenshaw, “The Causes of Terrorism,”
Vol. 13, No. 4 (July 1981), p. 379.2. The logic of this argument is explored in Ehud Sprinzak, “Rational Fanatics,”
No.120 (September–October 2000), p. 68; Robert A. Pape, “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,”
American Political Science Review,
Vol. 97, No. 3 (August 2003), pp. 13–14; and Robert A. Pape,
Dyingto Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism
(New York: Random House, 2005), pp. 61, 75–76. Seealso Alan Dershowitz,
Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge
(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002). In recent years, numerous writers have arguedthat terrorism is both rational and effective. See, for example, David A. Lake, “Rational Extremism:Understanding Terrorism in the Twenty-ªrst Century,”
Vol. 1 (January 2002), p. 15;Andrew Kydd and Barbara Walter, “Sabotaging the Peace: The Politics of Extremist Violence,”
Vol. 56, No. 2 (April 2002), p. 263; Andrew Kydd and Barbara Walter, “TheStrategies of Terrorism,”
Vol. 31, No. 1 (Summer 2006), p. 49; Arie W.Kruglanski and Shira Fishman, “The Psychology of Terrorism: ‘Syndrome’ versus ‘Tool’ Perspec-tives,”
Terrorism and Political Violence,
Vol. 18, No. 2 (Summer 2006), p. 207; Noam Chomsky, “TheNew War against Terror” (transcribed from audio), recorded at the Technology and Culture Forumat the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, October 18, 2001, http://www.chomsky.info/talks/20011018.htm; and Scott Atran, “Trends in Suicide Terrorism: Sense and Nonsense,” paper pre-sented to the World Federation of Scientists’ Permanent Monitoring Panel on terrorism, Erice, Sic-ily, August 2004, http://www.sitemaker.umich.edu/satran/ªles/atran-trends.pdf.
Why Terrorism Does Not Work
Why Terrorism Does Not Work
Vol. 31, No. 2 (Fall 2006), pp. 42–78© 2006 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.