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7 May, 2011

Study Links U.S. Foreign Policy and Terrorism Against U.S. Citizens

The announcement that US forces have killed Osama bin Laden, the alleged terrorist mastermind, is set to trigger more violence and geopolitical instability, creating further complications for the travel & tourism industry in terms of costs, security measures, visa curbs, racial profiling and other impediments to travel.

Industry leaders hoping to continue sweeping this looming threat under the carpet and live in denial about the link between US foreign policy/military actions and terrorism need to be alerted to a study by two professors at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Essex, published last February. This study showed that US military support for foreign governments encourages terrorist groups to attack Americans.

The study, claimed to be the first to show a statistical correlation between American foreign policy and terrorism against its citizens, said that terrorist attacks on Americans are more likely to come from countries where the US provides military aid, stations troops and sells arms.

The research, ‘Foreign Terror on Americans’, was published in the new edition of the Journal of Peace Research and explores the systematic patterns which appear to govern terrorist action. The authors are professor Eric Neumayer, from LSE, and professor Thomas Plümper, from the University of Essex.

According to an LSE media release, they examined details of terrorist attacks by foreigners on Americans between 1978 and 2005 to establish not only their number but also the country from which the action originated. Anti-American attacks were carried out by people from 91 different countries and 568 US citizens were killed (for the 9/11 attacks, only victims in aeroplanes were included).

The authors devised a statistical analysis of the figures. They estimated the effect of the level of US involvement (military aid, arms exports and troops stationed there) in each country – adjusted for that nation’s overall military strength  –  on the number of attacks originating from each country as well as the number of Americans killed.

Their model showed that US military support had substantively strong effects on foreign terror on Americans: a significant rise on the measure of military aid (equal in statistical terms to a one standard deviation change) increased anti-American terrorism by 135 per cent. The same rise in arms exports corresponded to an increase in terrorism of 109 per cent and of 24 per cent in the case of military personnel.

The model is illustrated by events in, for example, Saudi Arabia whose people carried out no terrorist attacks on Americans before 1995. However, following the first Gulf War, the US temporarily stationed large numbers of troops in the country. Although most were soon withdrawn, this was followed by large amounts of weapons delivered to the Saudi regime for the rest of the 1990s. From 1995 to 2000, 43 Americans were killed by Saudi terrorists.

Professors Neumayer and Plümper were quoted in the release as saying that the statistical pattern bears out their theory of international terrorism as one in which terror leaders follow rational calculations. Terror groups engage in violence because their country does not allow democratic participation or because their goals are too unpopular to command support.

In order to coerce a more powerful domestic regime, the sponsors of terrorism target the regime’s foreign supporters even though they are not its main opponents. However, suggest the authors, the foreign targets possess a strategic value because attacks on them deliver media attention and acknowledgement from peer groups and because the domestic government may owe its survival to foreign military aid.

Professor Neumayer said: “We have empirically demonstrated that the more governments are dependent on US military support, the more attacks against Americans by terrorists from those countries can be expected. Our results suggest that Americans will, on average, be less at risk of terrorism if the USA reduces or even withdraws its military support from countries heavily dependent on it.”

Professor Plümper said: “It is an entirely different question whether withdrawing this military support serves the USA’s best interests. The political, economic and social gains from supporting political friends may outweigh the costs of foreign terror on Americans, but these costs need to be taken seriously.”

The authors point out that their analysis isn’t only relevant to the US but could be applied to any country which invests military support overseas. However they chose the US because of the readily available data on military aid, personnel and arms exports.

Direct quote from the research:

What are the policy implications of our analysis?

Our results suggest that Americans will, on average, be less at risk of terrorism if the USA reduces or even withdraws its military support from countries whose governments are heavily dependent on US support.

The results do not support those who argue that ‘there is no reason to assume that terrorist enemies would let America off the hook if it retreated’ (Betts, 2002: 34), even though a reduction in anti-American terrorism may come with a significant time delay after the USA retreats.

In the short run, terror organizations may even increase the number and severity of attacks on US targets in order to demonstrate to their peers a causal link between their attacks and US retreat. In the long run, however, we expect terrorist activities against American targets to decrease, because the strategic benefit from attacking Americans declines as America reduces its military support.

Note, however, that if terror groups such as Al Qaeda have wider regional ambitions, then withdrawing military support merely from one country in the region without reducing support for other countries simultaneously is unlikely to reduce the terrorists’ incentive to target Americans.

It is an entirely different question whether withdrawing military support from countries in which governments face violent opposition from terror groups serves the USA’s best interests.

The benefit of reduced risk of terrorism needs to be carefully balanced against the costs of exposing a weakened government to the terrorists’ challenge. The political, economic and social gains from supporting political friends may outweigh the costs of foreign terror on Americans.

End Quote

For more information contact:

Professor Eric Neumayer, Professor of Environment and Development, LSE, +44 (0)207 955 7598 or 07943 258649 e.neumayer@lse.ac.uk|

Professor Thomas Plümper, Professor of Government, University of Essex, +44 (0)1206 873567 tpluem@essex.ac.uk

Further background reading — Two Dispatches from the post-9/11  Archives of Travel Impact Newswire

“Karl Marx Led To My Arrest As A ‘Terrorist’ In Germany”

Stay Away, Arab-American Leader Tells Terrorists

Terrorism to Continue Until Arab-Israeli Problem is Solved, Says New Report

Independent UN Human Rights Experts Seek Facts On Bin Laden Killing

New York, May 6 2011 (UN News) — Two independent United Nations human rights experts today called on the United States to disclose further details of the recent killing of Osama bin Laden, particularly if there were plans to capture him alive.

The founder and head of Al-Qaida was killed early Monday morning (May 2) by US forces at a compound in the town of Abbottabad, located close to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

“In respect of the recent use of deadly force against Osama bin Laden, the United States of America should disclose the supporting facts to allow an assessment in terms of international human rights law standards,” Christof Heyns, the expert dealing with extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Martin Scheinin, who deals with human rights and counter-terrorism, said in a joint statement.

“For instance it will be particularly important to know if the planning of the mission allowed an effort to capture Bin Laden,” they added. “It may well be that the questions that are being asked about the operation could be answered, but it is important to get this into the open.”

The experts, who report in an independent and unpaid capacity to the UN Human Rights Council, noted that in certain exceptional cases, use of deadly force may be permissible as a measure of last resort in accordance with international standards on the use of force, to protect life, including in operations against terrorists.

“However, the norm should be that terrorists be dealt with as criminals, through legal processes of arrest, trial and judicially decided punishment,” they stated. “Actions taken by States in combating terrorism, especially in high profile cases, set precedents for the way in which the right to life will be treated in future instances.”