US military support for foreign governments encourages terrorist groups to attack Americans, demonstrates a new study from the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Essex.
Terrorist attacks on Americans are more likely to come from countries where the US provides military aid, stations troops and sells arms finds the study – the first to show a statistical correlation between American foreign policy and terrorism against its citizens.
The paper, ‘Foreign terror on Americans’, is published in the new edition of the Journal of Peace Research and explores the systematic patterns which appear to govern terrorist action. The authors are professor Eric Neumayer, from LSE, and professor Thomas Plümper, from the University of Essex.
They examined details of terorist attacks by foreigners on Americans between 1978 and 2005 to establish not only their number but also the country from which the action originated. Anti-American attacks were carried out by people from 91 different countries and 568 US citizens were killed (for the 9/11 attacks, only victims in aeroplanes were included).
The authors devised a statistical analysis of the figures. They estimated the effect of the level of US involvement (military aid, arms exports and troops stationed there) in each country – adjusted for that nation’s overall military strength – on the number of attacks originating from each country as well as the number of Americans killed. Their model showed that US military support had substantively strong effects on foreign terror on Americans: a significant rise on the measure of military aid (equal in statistical terms to a one standard deviation change) increased anti-American terrorism by 135 per cent. The same rise in arms exports corresponded to an increase in terrorism of 109 per cent and of 24 per cent in the case of military personnel.
The model is illustrated by events in, for example, Saudi Arabia whose people carried out no terrorist attacks on Americans before 1995. However, following the first Gulf War, the US temporarily stationed large numbers of troops in the country. Although most were soon withdrawn, this was followed by large amounts of weapons delivered to the Saudi regime for the rest of the 1990s. From 1995 to 2000, 43 Americans were killed by Saudi terrorists.
Professors Neumayer and Plümper say the statistical pattern bears out their theory of international terrorism as one in which terror leaders follow rational calculations. Terror groups engage in violence because their country does not allow democratic participation or because their goals are too unpopular to command support. In order to coerce a more powerful domestic regime, the sponsors of terrorism target the regime’s foreign supporters even though they are not its main opponents. However, suggest the authors, the foreign targets possess a strategic value because attacks on them deliver media attention and acknowledgement from peer groups and because the domestic government may owe its survival to foreign military aid.