Logic and Strategy in Suicide Bombings

A while ago Christopher Brown suggested to me that terrorism in democratic societies is aimed at its polity so that it can place pressure on its government.  I thought it was wrong at the time, and still do to a large extent.  But there seems to be some evidence that this logic holds for suicide bombings, which has been largely used in and against representative democracies.  Robert Pape discusses his research in The American Conservative.

“Many people worry that once a large number of suicide terrorists have acted that it is impossible to wind it down. The history of the last 20 years, however, shows the opposite. Once the occupying forces withdraw from the homeland territory of the terrorists, they often stop—and often on a dime.

In Lebanon, for instance, there were 41 suicide-terrorist attacks from 1982 to 1986, and after the U.S. withdrew its forces, France withdrew its forces, and then Israel withdrew to just that six-mile buffer zone of Lebanon, they virtually ceased. They didn’t completely stop, but there was no campaign of suicide terrorism. Once Israel withdrew from the vast bulk of Lebanese territory, the suicide terrorists did not follow Israel to Tel Aviv.

This is also the pattern of the second Intifada with the Palestinians. As Israel is at least promising to withdraw from Palestinian-controlled territory (in addition to some other factors), there has been a decline of that ferocious suicide-terrorist campaign. This is just more evidence that withdrawal of military forces really does diminish the ability of the terrorist leaders to recruit more suicide terrorists.”

Also see this overview of the latest research, including Pape’s, in Slate. (Hat tip: Ram)