Andrew P. Owsiak
The steps-to-war theory maintains that war results from the issues under dispute and how states handle these issues. Its foundation rests on the territorial explanation of war, which argues that territorial issues are more conflict-prone than non-territorial ones because these issues constitute a salient security threat that realism recommends be addressed via power politics (i.e., the use of force, including alliance- and armament-building). When states employ power politics, however, the dispute festers, thereby causing recurring militarized conflict; creating feelings of threat, enmity, and competition (i.e., rivalry); producing counter-alliances and arms races; and generally building the more hostile, war-prone world that states originally sought to avoid. Each step taken—from a territorial dispute to rivalry (i.e., recurring militarized disputes) to alliance-building to armament building—therefore increases the probability that war will occur.
Existing empirical evidence supports the steps-to-war theory’s predictions in numerous ways. Tests of the entire theory, for example, demonstrate the dangerousness of territorial disputes, the tendency to manage territorial disputes via power politics, and that individual steps reinforce one another. Other bodies of research connect the individual steps directly to the likelihood that war will occur or highlight the connections between these individual steps—much as the theory predicts. Despite strong empirical support, however, much work remains to be done. Future research should consider the sequencing of the steps to war, investigate why the effects of certain steps vary across different epochs (e.g., alliances differ in their effects on war during the 18th and 19th centuries), identify the alternative paths to war, and study the paths to peace more explicitly—as obtaining peace may not be as simple as removing the known causes of war.
Jacqueline H. R. deMeritt
Repression is the act of subduing someone by institutional or physical force. Political violence is a particular form of repression involving the use of physical force to achieve political goals. Acts of repression and/or political violence often violate fundamental human rights, and are sometimes referred to as human rights abuse. Most systematic research into these forms of human rights abuse, particularly as perpetrated by governments, is built on assumptions of rationality: repression and political violence are strategic policies that governments employ in pursuit important political and/or military objectives. Since the defining concept of the state is its monopoly on the legitimate use of coercion, those objectives are generally related to quiescence and the quelling of popular dissent.
Empirical research has investigated the causes of repression and political violence, focusing generally on the conditions and incentives that make these strategies most likely. To a lesser extent, scholars have also investigated the consequences of human rights abuse. This work is intimately tied to extant work on causes, and highlights an important feedback loop between repressive governments and those who oppose them. Finally, researchers have investigated methods of limiting and/or preventing state repression and political violence. Some of these methods are primarily domestic in nature (e.g., regime type and institutional design) while others have a decidedly international bent (e.g., advocacy campaigns).
Susanne Martin and Ami Pedahzur
Suicide terrorism has captured considerable attention since the attacks on September 11, 2001. Governments offered unprecedented support for scholars who were willing to research the phenomenon. One result has been a tremendous growth in the volume of research on terrorism. The research has also become more diverse. Until 2001, 84% of the articles appeared within the disciplines of political science and international relations. Since 2002, though, only 53% of articles belonged to these disciplines. Meanwhile, other areas (most notably economics) increased in prominence. Despite the growth in the volume and diversity of the research, important aspects of the phenomenon remain largely unexplored. This is particularly evident when it comes to studies of suicide terrorism. Two areas requiring further attention include the “theater of terrorism” and the role of culture. The case of ISIS demonstrates the significant roles of the mass media and culture in explaining contemporary suicide terrorism.
Paul R. Hensel
Territorial issues have been prominent causes of armed conflict and war in the modern era. This observation has led to a rapidly growing body of academic literature on the sources, management, and consequences of such issues. Although territory has gotten most of the scholarly attention, this literature has its roots in research on contentious issues that began in the 1960s. Academic research on contentious issues began with studies on issue areas in foreign policy analysis, focusing on such questions as how the foreign policy process differs from more traditional domestic policy processes. This line of research struggled to find mainstream acceptance until scholars began adopting a more substantive conception of issues, focusing on the nature of the values at stake. General patterns of foreign policy conflict and cooperation have been found to differ substantially across different issues. Importantly, territorial issues are the most frequent and most dangerous issues in armed conflict and war, leading scholars to focus much of their issue-related research on the dynamics of territorial contention.
Research on territory has stemmed from the main elements of issues theory that were developed earlier: issue salience, or the importance of the issue under contention; issue context, or recent interactions over the same issue; and institutional context, or the extent to which other actors and institutions are able to influence contention over this type of issue. Armed conflict is much more likely when the issue at stake is more salient, particularly when this salience involves intangible dimensions such as the presence of a state’s ethnic kin in the claimed territory. Greater issue salience also increases the likelihood of peaceful negotiations and nonbinding conflict management techniques like mediation. A recent history of armed conflict or failed negotiations over an issue increases the likelihood of armed conflict, bilateral negotiations, and nonbinding management. The normative and institutional context also appears to affect the likelihood of conflict and peaceful management over issues, although more remains to be done in this area.
The issues literature is beginning to make important strides beyond this initial work on territorial claim management. Scholars are beginning to geocode data on international borders, raising important potential benefits for the study of territory and perhaps other issues. International legal arguments appear to affect the management of territorial claims in systematic ways, and ending territorial claims seems to produce substantial improvements in relations between the former adversaries. The same general patterns seem to hold for river and maritime issues, as well as territorial issues, and these other issue types have more promising institutional contexts. Future research could benefit from considering additional issue types (including a recent effort to collect data on identity claims), as well as studying domestic and interstate issues.
The effect of foreign policy on terrorism is an important area of research that bridges work on international relations and intrastate conflict by highlighting how an outside country can influence attacks from a nonstate actor in another country. Research in this area is important for understanding how countries like the United States can best deal with the threat of international terrorism.
Research has generally demonstrated that states with active foreign policies are more likely to experience international terrorism, particularly democracies and the United States. This has been hypothesized to occur because active foreign policies create blowback, or negative feelings toward a state, leading to greater acts of terrorism against that state.
Beyond the effects of a state’s general foreign policy, others have looked at more specific policies, such as military occupation and intervention. This body of research argues that international terrorism is often a response to perceived occupation of an area. Groups see terrorism as a method to dislodge the occupying force. This argument has been refined by other scholars, who have presented conditions or extensions of this argument. Others have focused on military intervention, arguing that the presence of troops, the negative sentiment that they evoke, and their effect on strengthening the government all create incentives for groups to attack the foreign power that has deployed troops.
Foreign aid has been seen as a policy that can address the threat of terrorism. Aid has been argued to be able to improve local conditions and incentivize and reward local states for engaging in counterterrorism. Others have presented conditions under which aid is more or less likely to be effective, including the idea that military aid might actually increase the amount of terrorism, for reasons similar to military intervention, and create an incentive for states to maintain a terrorist threat.
Other foreign policy approaches have focused on legal attempts to stop terrorists from financing their organizations. These policies have been driven by the United Nations, coalitions of states, and individual states. This article also focuses on the methodological issues that all these studies face, as well as future research directions.
David C. Rapoport
Global terror began in the 1880s, but it took a century before a few scholars began to understand its peculiar dynamic. One reason for the difficulty was that many scholars and government officials had “historical amnesia.” When they saw it disappear, they assumed it had become part of history and no longer had contemporary relevance. But global terror disappears and then reappears. Another reason they failed to understand the pattern is that the concept of generation was rarely used to describe politics, a concept that requires one to recognize the importance of life cycles. Modern global terror comes in the form of waves precipitated by major political events that have important global significance. A wave consists of a variety of groups with similar tactics and purposes that alter the domestic and international scenes. Four very different waves have materialized: the Anarchist, the Anti-Colonial, the New Left, and the Religious. The first three have been completed and lasted around 40 years; the fourth is now in its third decade, and if it follows the rhythm of its predecessors, it should be over in the mid-2020s, but a fifth wave may emerge thereafter.
David C. Rapoport
The First Wave of global terrorism began in Russia. After Russia was humiliated in the Crimean War (1853–1856), Czar Alexander II decided to make it more like Western states which seemed so much stronger. In 1861, he freed 25 million serfs, roughly one third of Russia’s population. He then established local self-governments, “Westernized” the judicial system, abolished capital punishment, greatly expanded universities, etc. But the changes proved difficult. The serfs had little money to buy properties necessary for their livelihoods, and the Czar refused to establish a national legislature. Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will), a small group greatly influenced by anarchists, was formed in 1879, and in 1881 it assassinated Alexander II. Members were university students; women constituted one third of the group, the first time women had ever been involved in terrorist activity. Russian terrorism persisted for 40 odd years, though individual groups rarely lasted more than 5 years.
Assassinating prominent public figures was the principal tactic, and martyrdom was then sought in court trials. Efforts were always made to seek international support, i.e., foreign bases, Diasporas, other radical groups, etc. Two kinds of terrorist groups emerged on six continents: nationalists and anarchists. Anarchists produced the “Golden Age of Assassination” (1892–1901) in which more monarchs, presidents, and prime ministers were assassinated than ever before. The Wave’s high point was from 1890 to 1910. But that high point produced furious antiterrorist sentiment and no significant support from the poor, forcing many anarchists to abandon assassination and seek other methods like syndicalism for achieving their goals.
Major counter-terror practices were developed that are still employed. Police forces were re-made. They had always worn uniforms and responded to illegal actions after they occurred, but pre-emption efforts were then required to make it impossible for acts to happen. Uniforms were removed to observe actions without being identified in the process and to enable infiltration. Prisoners could not be treated as criminals. To avoid producing martyrs, Russia abandoned public trials. In 1 year, more than 1,000 were sentenced to death and were hanged or shot secretly within 24 hours. The treatment of criminals depended on the acts they committed. But terrorists had information about actions others would do, and torture was revived everywhere to gain that information. Terrorists could not be treated as prisoners of war because they did not follow the rules of war.
David C. Rapoport
The Versailles Treaty ending World War I established a new international order by creating the League of Nations and, dividing the defeated empires in Europe into a number of nation-states. The overseas empires of the defeated became League of Nations mandates, which the victorious powers administered until they were sufficiently developed for “self -determination.” Ironically, the first terrorist campaign began in a victorious power’s territory when the Irish Republican Army produced the first success in global terrorist history though it did gain all territory sought. Campaigns emerged then in other mandates and overseas territories of the victorious powers but all failed. But the Atlantic Charter drawn in World War II made the self-determination principle more obligatory by pledging that the imperial territories of the defeated powers would be freed immediately. When the war was over, the victorious powers often dissembled portions of their empires. Elements not freed largely contained conflicting ethnic elements unable to agree on how to be governed. Successful terrorist campaigns materialized in those territories, and the wave ended when the energies of governments not terrorists dissipated! But most successes were incomplete because bloody tensions between ethnic divisions in the new states persisted.
Important terrorist decisions helped their causes. The First Wave’s language tactics, strategy, and targets were changed and helped terrorists get less offensive media coverage and significant support from the international world, particularly the United Nations. They now described themselves as “freedom fighters” not terrorists. Assassination occurred rarely, violence was restricted to local territories and efforts to cooperate with group were abandoned. The police were the principal civilian element attacked, and warnings about attacks were often given to other civilians enabling them to seek safety.
David C. Rapoport
By the 1960s the international world changed dramatically. While the nuclear balance of terror created by the atomic bomb prevented war between the First and the Second Worlds, proxy wars between the superpowers were conducted in the “Third World.” The Cold War began and the Soviet Union attempted to arouse radical groups in the Third World, an effort that grew immensely as overseas empires of Western states dissolved. The UN membership expanded because of the great number of “new” states. Two events in Third World countries were critical: Castro’s triumph in Cuba and the long Vietnam War. Vietnam was particularly crucial in animating terrorist groups throughout the West. A total of 404 groups emerged: 192 Revolutionaries and 212 Separatists. There were two Revolutionary types: 143 Nationals and 49 Transnational. The Transnationals, a product of the developed world, saw themselves as Third World agents. Nationals and Separatists aimed to remake their own states. Nationals sought equality and Separatists sought a new state that often included elements from neighboring states. Separatists were present everywhere except Latin America where all groups were Nationals.
As in the First Wave, university students provided most of the initial terrorist recruits. Women became important again except among Separatists. Cuban and PLO training facilities intensified bonds with foreign groups. The PLO was the most conspicuous group because it conducted more assaults abroad than at home. Groups from different countries cooperated in attacks, that is, OPEC ministers kidnapping (1975). At home, targets with international significance like embassies were struck. Publicity again became a principal concern, which made hostage taking preeminent for the first time, a practice that became very lucrative for some groups. Over 700 hijacked airlines intensified the wave’s international character. The Sandinista took Nicaragua’s Congress hostage in 1978, which sparked a successful insurrection. Many Third World hostages were foreigners from the developed world involved in commerce, and their companies quickly paid enormous ransoms. Earlier waves produced more deaths.
The wave began ebbing in the 1980s; new groups stopped emerging. Israel eliminated PLO facilities for training terrorist groups. International counterterrorist cooperation became effective. Terrorists now found the UN hostile. Six of the eight successes occurred when the Cold War ended and Soviet support disappeared. Most were very limited. The PLO became so weak it was allowed to return home and negotiate for a two-state solution, one still not achieved. The South African ANC produced the only real success partly because its tactics were so restrained.
David C. Rapoport
Time gaps existed in the first three waves between precipitating political events and the development of terrorist activity. But now the time gap has disappeared because the precipitating events were directly associated with terrorism. All of those events occurred in the Islamic world where religion was employed to justify terror. Jewish, Sikh, and Christian terror groups emerged very quickly afterwards, but Islamic groups were larger, more durable, and had a more significant global impact. The international world changed; Iran’s religious revolution made it a major player; and the Soviet Union’s collapse intensified Islamic opposition to the United States.
Sikh, Jewish, and Christian terrorists came from a national base, but Islamic ones often emerged from many countries to join a particular group; and two critical groups, al-Qaeda and ISIS, aimed to re-establish a caliphate embracing the Islamic world. Diasporas provided financial support as they had in other waves, but some Islamic immigrants, like first wave anarchists, employed terror in their new homes and often left those homes to seek targets elsewhere. “Suicide bombing” or “self-martyrdom,” the wave’s distinguishing tactic, made it the most destructive wave. The only religious groups to embrace this tactic were Islamic, though ironically, the secular Tamil Tigers used it and did so more often than any Islamic group did. Islamic groups initiated social services for their societies, a program not seen earlier, and the Tamil Tigers adopted social services for their communities as well.
Al-Qaeda, born in the resistance to the Soviet Afghan invasion, became the wave’s most important group. After difficulties in helping uprisings outside Afghanistan in the Islamic world, it decided to strike the United States, and its 9/11 attacks, the wave’s high point, are the most destructive terrorist acts ever. The United States then invaded Afghanistan forcing al-Qaeda to leave that country. Instead of completing the job, however, the United States decided to invade Iraq to prevent Iraq from giving al-Qaeda weapons of mass destruction, weapons Iraq did not have. This over-reaction inflamed Muslims everywhere, enabling al-Qaeda to get more recruits and develop Iraqi resistance. One crucial focus of al-Qaeda in Iraq was its gruesome atrocities towards the Shia population, which produced violence between Sunni and Shia throughout the Islamic world. The United States ultimately eliminated al-Qaeda in Iraq, and al-Qaeda Central was unable to get another ground base. Al-Qaeda Central then adopted two methods to revitalize itself. The lone wolf strategy, developed first by U.S. Christian terrorists, did not produce many significant results. At the same time, many franchises were created but each focused on local activities and did not strengthen al-Qaeda’s global capacities.
A new situation developed with the “Arab Spring” in 2011, when peaceful secular demonstrations for equality and democracy were transformed into violent conflicts between Shia and Sunni sects. Syria, the bloodiest scene, attracted support from Shia and Sunni elements everywhere and encouraged Russia and the United States to get engaged. ISIS (Islamic State), the remnant of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was reborn and grew immensely there as it captured much territory in Iraq and Syria and became the wave’s most important group. Al-Qaeda Central also became involved and eventually turned against ISIS. In a short time ISIS lost most of the territory gained, and its European strikes to get the West more deeply involved in the conflict by sending troops to Syria and Iraq failed. Al-Qaeda and ISIS franchises continue to fight each other, a conflict that may end the wave.