David C. Rapoport
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Non-state terrorism has been an intermittent activity for 2000 years at least, but the global form emerged in the late 19th century. The ideals of the French Revolution provided the political context for the new form. Demonstrations for nationalist (largely separatist) aims produced a series of uprisings throughout Europe in 1820, 1830, 1848, etc. No passports were necessary, and many individuals from foreign states joined those insurrections intensifying their international character and creating the “professional revolutionary.” Radicals, stimulated by the perfect world visions associated with the French Revolution, became significant; after the Paris Commune disaster of 1871, they felt another insurrection mode was necessary—small groups employing terrorism, a change made possible by important technological innovations. Dynamite made bombs more powerful, much less dangerous to potential users, cheaper, more accessible, and easier to transport. The dynamite bomb has been used in 40–50% of terrorist attacks ever since. The telegraph enabled one to transmit messages quickly over enormous distances, and events abroad were featured in mass daily newspapers elsewhere. Transcontinental railroad and steamships enabled many to travel, easily making diasporas useful as the 20th century began and terrorism appeared on six continents.
Terrorist activity has taken the form of waves that have succeeded each other. We have experienced four; three, anarchist, anti-colonial, and new left, have been completed. Each lasted 40 years, or a generation. The religious wave, the first with an anti-French Revolution purpose, is in its third decade. A wave consists of groups attempting a revolution in a single state and/or a dramatic reconstruction of the principle of legitimacy cementing the existing global system. Individual groups, the major focus of governments and analysts, have much shorter lives than their wave and are frequently replaced by others with similar purposes. Groups in a wave share some similar purposes and often interact. Each wave produced texts explaining its distinctive tactics; assassination, elimination of police forces, hostage taking and airline hijacking, and suicide bombing, which has produced more casualties than ever before. Dramatic political events stimulate each wave, transforming the international scene and providing hope to a new generation that successful revolutions are possible, a hope that diminishes over time—or in the case of the anti-colonial wave, became successful. Tocqueville argued that one could not adequately explain the historic dynamics in democracies without the concept of generation; eminent analysts have emphasized its importance; and Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’ s impressive work, The Cycles of American History (1986), was the first to use it systematically. But academics did not understand terrorism as a generation or wave phenomena. Before re-emerging in the 1960s, terrorism was considered a subject for historians. Government inability to understand the wave connection has been costly. When the Cold War ended, the United States eliminated offices concerned with terrorism and stopped funding terrorist research. The 1999 Crowe Commission Report Confronting Terrorist Threats examined attacks on embassies and criticized the government for greatly reducing intelligence resources. The 9/11 Commission Report found that the same indifference made the 9/11 strike easier.
Empirical research on civil war onset has been largely dominated by two approaches: a correlational or “correlates of civil war” approach which seeks to identify country-level characteristics associated with a higher likelihood of civil war outbreak, and a bargaining approach which starts from the assumption that warfare is costly and which views civil conflict as a by-product of bargaining failures. Correlational and bargaining studies of internal conflict onset have reached an analytical plateau because they fail to specify the precise mechanisms that yield civil warfare instead of a different type of violent or nonviolent outcome. An alternative, contentious framework is advanced for studying civil war onset. This framework situates the conflict event within a larger cycle of contention and specifies the mechanisms through which civil conflict is most likely to occur. According to this contentious perspective, civil wars are commonly produced by the combination of one structural condition—a state crisis of authority and/or legitimacy—and the interdependent effect of two mechanisms—radicalization and militarization. Through theory development and vignettes from a handful of civil war cases, the article makes the case that the contentious approach holds promise for elucidating how exactly civil conflicts break out. Despite holding initial explanatory power, the contentious theory of civil war onset advanced herein awaits more systematic empirical testing.
Cyanne E. Loyle
Armed conflict is ultimately about the violent confrontation between two or more groups; however, there is a range of behaviors, both violent and nonviolent, pursued by governments and rebel groups while conflict is ongoing that impacts the course and outcomes of that violence. The use of judicial or quasi-judicial institutions during armed conflict is one such behavior. While there is a well-developed body of literature that examines the conditions under which governments engage with the legacies of violence following armed conflict, we know comparatively little about these same institutions used while conflict is ongoing.
Similar to the use of transitional justice following armed conflict or post-conflict justice, during-conflict transitional justice (DCJ) refers to “a judicial or quasi-judicial process initiated during an armed conflict that attempts to address wrongdoings that have taken or are taking place as part of that conflict” (according to Loyle and Binningsbø). DCJ includes a variety of institutional forms pursued by both governments and rebel groups such as human rights trials, truth commissions or commissions of inquiry, amnesty offers, reparations, purges, or exiles.
As our current understanding of transitional justice has focused exclusively on these processes following a political transition or the termination of an armed conflict, we have a limited understanding of how and why these processes are used during conflict. Extant work has assumed, either implicitly or explicitly, that transitional justice is offered and put in place once violence has ended, but this is not the case. New data on this topic from the During-Conflict Justice dataset by Loyle and Binningsbø suggests that the use of transitional justice during conflict is a widespread and systematic policy across multiple actor groups. In 2017, Loyle and Binningsbø found that DCJ processes were used during over 60% of armed conflicts from 1946 through 2011; and of these processes 10% were put in place by rebel groups (i.e., the group challenging the government rather than the government in power).
Three main questions arise from this new finding: Under what conditions are justice processes implemented during conflict, why are these processes put in place, and what is the likely effect of their implementation on the conflict itself? Answering these questions has important implications for understanding patterns of government and rebel behavior while conflict is ongoing and the impacts of those behaviors. Furthermore, this work helps us to broaden our understanding of the use of judicial and quasi-judicial processes to those periods where no power shift has taken place.
Cyanne E. Loyle
How and why do governments choose the strategies that they do during armed conflict? While there is a substantial body of research on the use of different tactics by governments and rebels during armed conflict, this work has rarely made an attempt to engage with scholars of different tactics in order to develop a broader understanding of how and why actors make the behavioral choices that they do and how these choices advance certain intended strategies. Furthermore, the work across tactics does not have unified findings. Understanding both the range of behaviors by conflict actors and the motivations for these behaviors is an important and necessary step for understanding the course of armed conflict more generally and for developing relevant policy aimed at changing these behaviors.
Within existing literature on belligerent tactics, important lessons about government behaviors and why these specific behaviors are selected can be distilled. Objectives, strategies, and tactics should be disaggregated in order to think through the implications of different government decisions for understanding or changing behavior. This disaggregation aids us in identifying the areas of research in which we have confirmed findings and those questions regarding government behavior that require additional investigation. Moving forward we could and should develop a systematic list of the types of factors that impact certain behavioral choices, across tactics, but this is most useful if we can then link these factors to an understanding of the broader objectives and strategies that a government is trying to pursue.
We can distinguish between three moral approaches to war: pacifism, realism, and just war theory. There are various theoretical approaches to war within the just war tradition. One of the central disputes between these approaches concerns whether war is morally exceptional (as held by exceptionalists), or morally continuous with ordinary life (as held by reductive individualists). There are also significant debates concerning key substantive issues in the ethics of war, such as reductivist challenges to the thesis that combatants fighting an unjust war are the moral equals of those fighting a just war, and the challenge to reductivism that it undermines the principle of noncombatant immunity. There are also changing attitudes to wars of humanitarian intervention. One under-explored challenge to the permissibility of such wars lies in the better outcomes of alternative ways of alleviating suffering. The notion of unconventional warfare has also come to recent prominence, not least with respect to the moral status of human shields.
Karen A. Rasler and William R. Thompson
A central cleavage in the war making-state making literature is between advocates of the notion that warfare has been the principal path to developing stronger states and critics who argue that the relationship no longer holds, especially in non-European contexts. It is suggested that the problem is simply one of theoretical specification. Increasingly intensive warfare, as manifested in European combat, made states stronger. Less intensive warfare, particularly common after 1945, is less likely to do so. Empirical analysis of a more representative data set on state capacity (revenues as a proportion of gross domestic product [GDP]), focusing on cases since 1870, strongly supports this point of view. The intensiveness of war is not the only factor at work—regime type and win/loss outcomes matter as well—but the relationship does not appear to be constrained by the level of development.
The wave theory refers to the “Four Waves of Modern Terrorism,” which was published in 2004 by David C. Rapoport, Professor Emeritus at the University of California Los Angeles and a founding editor of the journal Terrorism & Political Violence. Wave theory made a unique contribution to the study of terrorism by positing a generational model that linked contemporaneous global terrorist groups based on their shared characteristics of ideology/theology, strategy/tactics, and visions for the future. Although wave theory is focused on the modern period, from the late 19th century to the present day, it is built on a thorough grounding of the history of terrorism, which dates from the 1st century
Women are playing an increasingly significant role in terrorism. As men are progressively targeted by security personnel, using female operatives provides terrorist organizations with a “win-win” scenario; if security forces avoid invasively searching women for fear of outraging the local conservative population (based on social norms of women’s modesty and the honor code), women are the ideal stealth operatives. If security personnel are too aggressive in searching women, they aid terrorist recruitment by outraging the men in that society and providing the terrorists with propaganda that “our women” are being violated. In most conflicts, women remain an untapped resource. Recruiting women allows terrorist organizations to access an additional 50% of the population. Female attacks generate greater media attention than those conducted by men. This is especially relevant when media attention is one of the terrorists’ main objectives. Although women’s involvement in terrorist and extremist activities is not a recent development, their presence as frontline activists, propagandists, and recruiters is increasing around the globe.