Belfer Center Home > Experts > Maria Stephan > Why Terrorism Does Not Work

EmailEmail   PrintPrint Bookmark and Share

"Why Terrorism Does Not Work"

"Why Terrorism Does Not Work"

Journal Article, International Security, volume 31, issue 2, pages 42-78

Fall 2006

Author: Max Abrahms, Former Research Associate, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Quarterly Journal: International Security



This is the first article to analyze a large sample of terrorist groups in terms of their policy effectiveness. It includes every foreign terrorist organization (FTO) designated by the U.S. Department of State since 2001. The key variable for FTO success is a tactical one: target selection. Terrorist groups whose attacks on civilian targets outnumber attacks on military targets do not tend to achieve their policy objectives, regardless of their nature. Contrary to the prevailing view that terrorism is an effective means of political coercion, the universe of cases suggests that, first, contemporary terrorist groups rarely achieve their policy objectives and, second, the poor success rate is inherent to the tactic of terrorism itself. The bulk of the article develops a theory for why countries are reluctant to make policy concessions when their civilian populations are the primary target.


For more information about this publication please contact the IS Editorial Assistant at 617-495-1914.

For Academic Citation:

Abrahms, Max. "Why Terrorism Does Not Work." International Security 31, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 42-78.

Bookmark and Share

"Could There Be a Terrorist Fukushima?"
By Graham Allison and William H. Tobey

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.