Predatory War or Preventive War? Two New Theories about Why States Fight against Terrorism

Although the term “terrorism”—derived from the French word terrorisme that described Robespierre’s Reign of Terror at the onset of the French Revolution—is relatively modern, the history of terrorism dates back to the first century. Terrorism is broadly defined as “violence—or, equally important, the threat of violence—used and directed in pursuit of, or in service of, a political aim,” and practices fitting this description have only increased with the advancement of human civilization.

Worldwide concern about terrorism reached its zenith following the attacks of September 11, 2001, represented by NATO’s invocation of its common defense clause on September 12 and President Bush’s call for a War on Terror on September 20.

With the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the world is preparing for yet another international campaign against terror. Recent polls show that many Americans believe the US should take more active measures to fight against ISIS.

Countries combating terrorism often justify their actions by claiming that they are protecting their populations against terrorist attacks. A recent study published by the American Journal of Political Science shows that there might be other reasons driving countries to invest significant resources in fighting terrorism.

In particular, this study examines the roots of anti-terrorist behavior in countries whose economies rely heavily on natural resources, such as oil, diamond mines, and valuable minerals. The researchers analyze data retrieved from the Global Terrorism Database on a subset of African countries, including Rwanda, Congo, Kenya, and Tanzania. They also use World Bank data on the natural resource rents of these countries. Resource rents are defined as the amount of money a state generates from the natural resources it extracts. To assess whether a state “initiates” an attack on another state, or “receives” an attack as a response to terrorism in its own territory, Militarized Interstate Dispute data (MID4) are used. The incidents of attacks are recorded as dichotomous variables.

The research lays out a new framework offering two additional reasons states may fight against terrorism: preventive war and predatory war. “Preventive war” is fought by governments to prevent strategically valuable territory from falling into the hands of terrorist groups. Conversely, governments wage “predatory war” as an opportunistic attempt to take advantage of the rival state in the event that it is suffering from a terrorist attack. When a state is unable to protect its territory from terrorists, it may be seen as weak by rival states, which might then take the opportunity to attack or pursue territorial expansion into the primary state’s area. The researchers predict that these motivations are even stronger when valuable resources, such as gold or oil, are at stake.

The researchers test two main hypotheses. First, they test whether preventive conflicts are more likely to occur if terrorist activity thwarts the government’s ability to extract resources from the territory. Their second hypothesis is based on the idea of predatory war. It posits that the greater the resource rents of the state experiencing terrorist activity, the higher the probability that its neighboring states initiate a predatory “war on terror.”

Both hypotheses are supported through statistical analyses. The study finds that states are over three times more likely to initiate preventive war when they perceive that their resources are threatened by terrorist activity—such as a terrorist group plundering diamond mines. Similarly, neighboring states are twice as likely to initiate wars on terror when the primary state has rich resources.

These ideas are mostly applicable for countries confronting terrorism from within their borders, as opposed to attacks by terrorists from the other side of the world. For countries in North America or Western Europe that neither rely much on their territory to preserve their power nor face challenges to their sovereignty, the results of the study may not seem applicable. However, regardless of the degree of a country’s dependence on territory or solidity of its sovereignty, the basis of the initiation of war on terrorism is the same for any country: preventive or predatory. The findings of the present study will help us better understand and predict states’ reactions to terrorism.

Article Source: Bapat, N. A. and Zeigler, S., “Terrorism, Dynamic Commitment Problems, and Military Conflict.” American Journal of Political Science. (2015) doi:10.1111/ajps.12211

Feature Photo: cc/(U.S. Army Europe Images)

Jeeyoon Ashley Ahn
Jeeyoon ('16) is a staff writer for International Affairs. She is interested in international security in particular alliance and terrorism.

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