Guest Post by Matthew Wilson

Matthew Wilson has written a short synopsis of his article (jointly with James Piazza) entitled “Autocracies and Terrorism: Conditioning Effects of Authoritarian Regime Type on Terrorist Attacks” that appears in the October issue of AJPS.  The article sheds light on tools available to different regimes to deter terrorist activities.   Matthew writes:

  • Scholars have generally found that democratic countries tend to experience more terrorist attacks than countries with non-democratic or authoritarian governments.  The traditional explanation for this finding is that democratic countries, by design, permit greater political dissent, protect people’s rights and place limits on the power of police and military.  In contrast, authoritarian regimes have much wider latitude to quash political dissent and to use coercion against enemies of the state.
  • We theorized that a country facing a terrorist threat has two sets of tools at its disposal, coercive tools and co-option tools. Coercive tools can be used to deter terrorist activity, like military strikes against terrorist bases, mass detention of terrorists and supporters or repression of political dissent. Co-option tools can be used to neutralize terrorists and potential terrorists, by performing actions such as widening opportunities for political participation, agreeing to some demands for political reform or providing economic assistance or jobs to terrorist supporters.
  • Examining data for 166 countries for the period 1970 to 2006, we found evidence that suggests that countries with political regimes capable of maximizing both coercion and co-option tools should be best able to reduce and resist terrorism.  We find that countries that are limited to the use of co-option, such as democracies, and countries that are mostly equipped with coercive tools, such as military-run authoritarian regimes like Syria, are vulnerable to higher levels of terrorism.  On the other hand, non-democratic, authoritarian regimes that are party-based, that worked with legislatures and that have broad bureaucracies – countries like the former Soviet Union and some of the dictatorships of Latin America and Asia in the 1980s – experience the lowest levels of terrorism worldwide.  Such countries are best suited to employ mixes of coercion, when needed to crush terrorists and their supporters, and co-option, when needed to “buy off” and integrate potentially violent dissidents.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.