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Determinants of Terrorism

Terrorism is one of the most incessant and pressing issues witnessed in different parts of the globe in the 21st century. Delineated as the deliberate use of violence or brutality by a given sub-national group to accomplish a religious, ideological or political objective, terrorism is an act that poses a potential threat to the national security of any country (Krieger & Meierrieks, 2011). According Ismailand Amjad (2014) countries are making efforts to pre-empt or curb the acts of terrorism and their probable adverse impacts on the country and its people. Policies and strategies that focus on strengthening the security systems of the countries are believed to be effective in the control and prevention of terror attacks. However, Nasir, Ali and Rehman (2011) report that such approaches only work in the short-run, an understanding of the determinants of terrorism is necessary to adequately address the menace. This paper presents a discussion on the major determinants of terrorism that should be addressed in the control and management of terror activities.

Determinants of Terrorism

The determinants and causes of terrorism have been classified into social, economic, demographic and political factors. According to Nasir, Ali and Rehman (2011) under the economic factors, the GDP per capita of a country is a significant predictor of terrorism. Different opinions have been presented on the effects of a low or high GDP value on terrorism. One group of scholars has argued that an increased GDP value and growth is associated with lower chances of engaging in terror attacks (Krieger & Meierrieks, 2011). According to scholars, a higher GDP value increases the living standards of many people lowering significantly the opportunity cost of terrorism. On the other hand, Nasir, Ali and Rehman (2011) have reported that a high GDP value is associated with increased cases of terrorism, since the country is considered to be wealthy and more stable. A high GDP value is also associated with an enhanced state capacity level making insurgence a less attractive option and violent activities more striking, thus promoting terrorism. Depending on the nature of the economy, a high or low GDP value is associated with an increase in terrorist activities.

Social factors such as poverty and income inequality are also considered as major determinants of terrorism. According to Sanso-Navarro and Vera-Cabello (2018) in less developed nations that are characterized by high level of poverty and income disparities, are more prone to terrorist activities. High levels of income disparities create serious grievances amongst the deprived community, consequently leading to terrorism that is mostly implemented as a strategy to curtail the discriminations. Poverty and income inequalities contribute to economic deprivation of the citizens in a nation-leading to their engagement in violent activities. As reported by Chakraborty (2019) terror groups find it easier to recruit followers or agents to execute their terror attacks from a group of citizens who are frustrated and economically deprived of their anticipated benefits. Economic deprivation as a result of poverty and income disparity is likely to lower the opportunity cost of violence resulting in more terrorist activities.

Issues such as unemployment are also considered as contributors to terrorism. Apart from causing economic deprivation, unemployment is also linked with frustrations amongst the affected them, enhancing their possibility of engaging in violent acts. According to Morris and LaFree (2016) anger, stress and distress brought about by unemployment in a given population lead to the generation of significant support for terrorism and violence. Nevertheless, an insignificant relationship between unemployment and terrorism has also been presented by Ismail and Amjad (2014) who argued that unemployment is likely not to fuel terror activities as long as the unemployed are highly educated. Proponents of this view posit that violence can only be perpetrated by an individual who is less educated or illiterate, highly-educated persons cannot be engaged in such violent activities even when unemployed. Recent development has however seen more educated individuals being recruited into the terror groups due to the high rates of unemployment, especially in under-developed countries. The economic and emotional distress brought about by the increasing rates of unemployment exposes the economy to more cases of terrorism.

The nature of the political and institutional system of a country is another determinant of terrorism. According to Sanso-Navarro and Vera-Cabello (2018) democratic political system can prevent the occurrence of terror activities since it offers a platform for non-violent voicing of the people’s issues and complaints. However, such a political system may not be effective in controlling and curbing an ongoing terror attack. The autocratic government regimen may use their repressive approach in achieving hard counter-terrorism measures to assist in stopping the terror activities in a region. However, such acts may result in the creation of more grievances and political disenfranchisement enhancing the opportunity for more violence.

There is no sufficient evidence on the most effective political government system in the prevention and control of terrorism. Nevertheless, Morris & LaFree (2016) have posited that regardless of the government management systems, the strength, policies and ideologies of the government plays a major role in promoting or curbing terrorism. A strong government with effective foreign and domestic policies is not prone to terror attacks, in relation to weaker government. Such policies and government strengths make it difficult for terror groups to pursue their activities of recruiting people into the terror groups and their involvement in carrying out their planned attacks.

Political instability and transformation also promote terrorism. The change arising from such transformation and instability of the nation’s political environment causes significant political vacuums that can be exploited by the terror groups to execute an attack. According to Meierrieks (2014) radical groups and most violent people are challenged by such political vacuums and are thus likely to engage in terror activities. Political instability results in low economic promises for the nationals against an increasing payoff charge for recruitment into a terror organization (Nasir, Ali & Rehman, 2011). The political issues result in desperation amongst the population who would opt for alternatives that may entail involvement in terror activities. The implications are higher chances and possibility of experiencing terror attacks in economies with weak political systems.

The demographic factors of an individual including their personality, norms and religious beliefs determine their extent of engagement in terrorism. According to Krieger and Meierrieks (2011) character traits and psychological factors influence the occurrence of terror activities. Persons and groups believed to be involved in terrorism have been associated with some level of insanity, or violent behavior. Group dynamics and dominance of the group leader are also believed to result in group cohesion further encouraging the participants to engage in terrorism. Individual beliefs, specifically religious ideologies are also believed to fuel terrorism. Islamic extremism has been associated with terrorism activities, since their support violent attacks against civilian. Groups and individuals who uphold the religious values and beliefs of such extremism are likely to be involved in terrorist activities.


Terrorism is considered an issue of critical concern in various economies of the world. Apart from leading to destruction of families and properties, terrorism threatens the security and safety of citizens in a nation. The political, social, economic and demographic factors identified to promote terrorism include high/low GDP value, political instability and transformation, unemployment, poverty and income disparity and the traits and religious beliefs of an individual. Besides strengthening the security of a nation, it is important that the identified causes of terrorism are addressed to minimize the cases of terrorism reported in the respective economies.







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