Peace Science Digest

Military Support and an Increased Vulnerability to Terrorist Attacks

Photo credit: The U.S. Army

This analysis summarizes and reflects on the following research: Du Bois, C & Buts, C. (2016). Military support and transnational terrorism. Defence and Peace Economics, 27:5, 626-643. DOI: 10.1080/10242694.2014.972087

Talking Points

  1. Deployment of troops to another country increases the chance of attacks from terror organizations from that country.
  2. Weapons exports to another country increases the chance of attacks from terror organizations from that country.
  3. 95% of all suicide terrorist attacks are conducted to encourage foreign occupiers to leave the terrorist’s home country.


The terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 introduced to the world the reality of large-scale transnational terrorism. The attacks in Madrid in 2004, London in 2005, and many others globally, proved that the United States was not alone on the list of potential targets. Terrorism research continues to explore relationships that may increase a country’s vulnerability to attacks based on the country’s foreign policy and military involvement.

Past research has found a relationship between the level of democracy in a country and their susceptibility to terrorist attacks. Other research suggests that it is not the type of government, but rather the aggressive foreign policy that both democratic and non-democratic countries display. This study advances these theories by arguing that a country’s likelihood of experiencing a transnational terrorist attack is a direct result of its military involvement and/or arms sales.

The authors build on the theory that terrorist attacks themselves are not the ultimate goal of a terrorist organization, but rather a method to achieve their goals. Kydd and Walter (2006) identified five principle categories of goals pursued by terrorist organizations: Regime Change, Territorial Change, Policy Change, Social Control, Maintaining the Status Quo. Even before the 9/11 attacks, research found 95% of all suicide terrorist attacks were conducted to induce foreign occupiers to leave the terrorists’ home country.

This paper analyzes 262 terrorist attacks against the 28 NATO countries over the course of 10 years (1998-2007), seeking support for the following hypothesis: The greater the military support of a country to countries with terrorist organizations, the higher the probability of a terrorist attack against citizens of that supporting country.

To measure ‘military support’, the authors included (1) number of troops deployed, (2) supply of military material, and (3) weapons exports. The results of the study found foreign military support significantly raises the probability of a transnational terrorist attack. When a country deploys troops to a foreign country it is more likely to be attacked by a terrorist group from that country. Sending troops increases the probability of not only battlefield casualties, but also fatalities among citizens from terrorist attacks during and following the military deployment.

Weapons exports have an even greater impact on the likelihood of an attack. A country is more than twice as likely to experience an attack from a terrorist organization from countries receiving weapons. However, supplying military material was not found to increase the probability of a terrorist attack. Additional review of the data showed that a country’s GDP or proximity of a terrorist organization to the country providing military aid had little to no effect on a country’s probability of a terrorist attack.

Contemporary Relevance

During the 10-year period analyzed in this study (1998-2007), almost 50% of the 262 terrorist attacks against NATO countries were conducted against United States targets. Based on the findings of this study, this statistic shows that U.S. policy on military intervention and arms dealing was a contributing factor in bringing about the high number of terrorist attacks. By decreasing military involvement and arms dealing, the U.S. can expect a decrease of attacks from terrorist organizations.

Practical Implications

This research shows that providing military support or selling weapons increases the chance of a terrorist attack. Considering the increased vulnerability of both deployed troops and citizens at home, governments should take this research into account when deciding whether to provide military support. Moreover, this research has the potential to shift the narrative and actions away from a militaristic response to terrorism toward the now proven nonviolent alternatives of non-military intervention and stopping of arms sales. Both approaches will be met with resistance, nevertheless advocates for non-military responses to terrorism can and need to insist that viable alternatives exist.

Continued Reading

US military support increases terror attacks on American Citizens, Study Shows by the London School of Economics and Political Science. (

Officials: Islamic State Arose from US Support for Al-Qaeda in Iraq by Nafeez Ahmed (

US Security Assistance and Terrorism: An Inconvenient Truth? By Ed Coughlan (

Keywords: arms dealing, military support, terrorism

The above analysis is from Volume 1, Issue 6, of the Peace Science Digest.