Study Reveals: 13-year US War on Terror Has Only Fueled Terrorism
November 21, 2014
Christopher Ingraham / The Washington Post & Kathy Gilsinan / The Atlantic
Since 2000 there has been over a five-fold increase in the number of deaths from terrorism. Worldwide, the number of terrorist incidents increased from less than 1,500 in 2000 to nearly 10,000 in 2013. More than 80 percent of last year's terrorism fatalities occurred in just five countries -- Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria -- all of which have borne the brunt of US military interventions.
After 13 Years, 2 Wars and Trillions in Military Spending,
Terrorist Attacks Are Rising Sharply
Christopher Ingraham / The Washington Post
WASHINGTON (November 18, 2014) -- Last year saw the highest number of terrorist incidents since 2000, according to the latest Global Terrorism Index released by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Worldwide, the number of terrorist incidents increased from less than 1,500 in 2000 to nearly 10,000 in 2013. Sixty percent of attacks last year occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria.
The report suggests that US foreign policy has played a big role in making the problem worse: "The rise in terrorist activity coincided with the US invasion of Iraq," it concludes. "This created large power vacuums in the country allowing different factions to surface and become violent." Indeed, among the five countries accounting for the bulk of attacks, the US has prosecuted lengthy ground wars in two (Iraq and Afghanistan), a drone campaign in one (Pakistan), and airstrikes in a fourth (Syria).
The report defines terrorism as "the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation."
The US will invest somewhere between $4 and 6 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with untold additional resources spent on anti-terrorism efforts elsewhere, according to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. While we haven't suffered any major terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11, the Global Terrorism Index numbers cast considerable doubt on whether that money's been well-spent. And they give some credence to the notion that our ham-handed foreign policy is actually a destabilizing factor in world affairs.
In other news, the Obama administration recently approved doubling the number of troops we currently have on the ground in Iraq.
Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.
The Geography of Terrorism
Kathy Gilsinan / The Atlantic
(November 18, 2014) -- While last year's terrorism fatalities may have been concentrated in a small number of countries, the authors do note that overall, "Since 2000 there has been over a five-fold increase in the number of deaths from terrorism, rising from 3,361 in 2000 to 17,958 in 2013."
Much of that period corresponded with massive international military efforts to root out terrorism. And as the US winds up its war in Afghanistan -- a country that saw a 13-percent increase in terrorism-related fatalities last year -- and considers the extent to which it wants to intervene militarily to halt the spread of ISIS, it's worth asking: How does terrorism actually end?
The question is one that the Rand Corporation addressed in a 2008 study that the Global Terrorism Index authors cite. That report examined 268 terrorist groups that halted their attacks between 1968 and 2006. In only 7 percent of those cases, the report found, military intervention brought about the end of a terrorist group.
That finding suggests the debate over whether to put boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria -- and whose boots, and how many, and whether they should be combat boots or just training-and-advisory boots -- misses a larger point about the conditions that are most associated with terrorism. The report's authors devote the final section of the study to examining the factors that correlated with higher levels of terrorism in 2012-2013; among the most significant they found were ethnic and religious tensions, as well as levels of state repression including, for example, human-rights abuses and extrajudicial killings.
"This can be viewed in two ways," the authors write. "Either increased terrorism leads governments to implement stricter, authoritarian and illegal acts toward its citizens through torture or state violence, or the repression results in terrorist acts as retaliation. This can create a vicious cycle of violence making it difficult to clearly identify causality."
These correlations also speak to the relationship between terrorism and conflict more broadly. "The most common context for the onset of terrorist violence is within an ongoing conflict," the authors write. About 70 percent of the fatal terrorist attacks recorded in the Global Terrorism Database between 1970 and 2013 took place in countries with serious ongoing conflicts.
This point -- that war breeds violence -- is not particularly novel or satisfying. But the fact that Afghanistan and Iraq continue to top the list of countries most affected by terrorism does highlight the limitations of foreign military intervention in ending terrorist violence. And warnings about threats to the homeland notwithstanding, it's not primarily Americans who suffer for it.
Kathy Gilsinan is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where she covers global affairs. She was previously senior editor at World Politics Review.
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