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Public Choice (2006) 128:7-39 DOI 10.1007/s lll27-006-9043-y



An analyticalhistory of terrorism,1945-2000

William F. Shughart II

Received: 5 September 2005 / Accepted: 15 October2005

  • C Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2006

Abstract This paper traces the history of modem terrorismfrom the end of the Second

WorldWar to the beginning of the twenty-firstcentury. It divides that history into three stylized waves:terrorism in the serviceof nationalliberation and ethnic separatism,left-wing

terrorism, andIslamist terrorism. Adopting a constitutional politicaleconomy perspective, the paperargues thatterrorism is rootedin the artificialnation-states created during the interwar

period and suggests solutions grounded in liberalfederalist constitutions and,perhaps, new

politicalmaps for the Middle East, CentralAsia andother contemporary terroristhomelands.

Keywords Terrorism - Nationalliberation - Ethnic separatism -



Left-wing terrorism


Rationalchoice - Constitutional politicaleconomy

Thatcould very well have happened, becausewhat did not happen backthen?

1. Introduction

  • - FyodorDostoevsky ([1872] 1994, p.


On the morning of 8 May 1945 most of the worldwas celebrating V.E. Day. The boulevards


Paris, Londonand New Yorkwere filled to

overflowing with jubilant crowds awakening

to news thatthe Nazis had capitulated at long last. So, too, were the streetsof the Algerian

markettown of


wherethe colons were gathering to join in spirit their compatriots in

metropolitan France rejoicing in the ending of themother country'sfive-year-long nightmare of surrenderto Hitler's armies,occupation, collaborationand massive destruction at the hands


the liberating Allied forces (Home, 1977, p. 23).

Marching toward S6tif's monumentaux morts, where they intendedto lay a commemora-

tive wreath, thecolons were confronted by a Muslimmob pouring in fromthe outskirts of town

with somethingaltogether differentin mind.Some 8000 strong,carrying the green-and-white

W. F. Shughart II

Department of Economics, The University of Mississippi, P. O. Box 1848, University, MS 38677-1848 USA




PublicChoice (2006) 128:7-39

flag symbolizing resistanceto Frenchcolonialism and unfurling banners bearingprovocative

slogans such as "Forthe Liberation of the People, Long Live Free and IndependentAlgeria!",

the Muslimshad seized the day markingEuropean release from the ThirdReich's grip to

demonstratein favorof Algerianindependence (ibid., p.


With only twenty small-town gendarmes availableto

maintain order, the inevitablesoon

happened: someonetore a bannerfrom the handsof a Muslim demonstrator, a

shot rangout,

andblood already hoton bothsides boiled over. It took five days for peace to be restored. By the

timeFrench troops hadbeen mobilized and rushed to Sdtif, scoresof womenhad been brutally

raped, 103 Europeans had been murdered,many of

their corpses mutilated horrifically, and

perhaps anotherhundred had been wounded. By a laterofficial count, between1020 and 1300

Muslimsdied in the vigilantism and indiscriminant reprisal the massacre provoked; Cairo

radio immediately claimedthat 45,000 native Algerians had been killed (ibid.,pp. 25-27).

Thus, even beforethe Enola Gay had sortiedunder Harry Truman'sorders to inaugurate the

nuclear age at Hiroshima, the postwar era of terrorismhad begun.

This paper summarizesthe history of terrorismfrom the bloodbathat Sdtifto December

2000. The discussionis organized aroundthree overlapping waves of terrorismthat succes-

sively have takencenter stage in worldaffairs since the end of the SecondWorld War. The

firstof these waves, whichstarted at Sdtifand ended with the withdrawalof American troops

fromthe jungles of Southeast Asia, saw terrorism placed in the serviceof ethnic separatism

and nationalliberation. Unleashed by the shrinking of the Frenchand British empires, and

emboldened by the self-determination language of the Atlantic Charter, colonial peoples in

Algeria, CochinChina (Vietnam), Palestineand Cyprussought, often by violent means, to

rid themselvesof foreign rule andto createtheir own independent nation-states.The second

wave began on 22 July 1968, whenPalestinian terrorists, to avengeEgypt's defeatin the 1967

Six Day War,hijacked anEl Al flight fromRome to TelAviv. Terrorism was elevatedto thein-

ternational stage over the next two decades as ethno-national movements in the Netherlands, Turkey and elsewhere attempted to duplicate the Palestine Liberation Organization's success in galvanizing popular opinion. Fueled by opposition to the Vietnam War, conscription and

anti-Americanismin general,left-wing terrorist groups in Europe andNorth American, such

as the Red Brigades, the Red Army Factionand the Weathermen,occasionally aided and

abetted by the PLO,waged campaigns of political assassinations,bombings and hijackings

that continueduntil the fall of the Berlin Wall, at which time the thirdwave of postwar

terrorism already was underway. This last wave,mostly Muslimin origin, was set in motion

by the IranianRevolution in 1979, and is still ongoing,pushed forwardin CentralAsia by

the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the MiddleEast by animusto American support of Israel,

and inspiredeverywhere - from Algeria to Chechnya,Kashmir, Indonesia, the Philippines

and beyond - by pan-Islamic dreamsof uniting fundamentalistMuslim states, freed from

westerncultural contamination, under Caliphatehegemony andShar' ia law.

The overarchinganalytical frameworkfor the discussionis one of cartographic andcon-

stitutionalfailure. Terrorism is seen as a predictableresponse to the artificialnation-states

createdat the ParisPeace Conference, when the colonial powers,presiding at the autopsy

of the Ottoman Empire,reconfigured much of Europe and the MiddleEast without regard

for traditionalethnic homelands or customarypatterns of trade (Fromkin,1989; Macmillan,

2002; Shughart,2004). Someclose-knit groups weredivided by new, unwantednational bor-

ders; otherswere

marginalizedpolitically under governments controlled by irreconcilably

differentethnic or religious factions.In the interwar period, internalconflicts, never farfrom

the surface,were for the most part held in checkby autocratssupported at arm'slength by the

imperialpowers, by colonialadministrators

who ruledindirectly through puppet regimes, or

by repressiveSoviet hegemony. Once the firsttwo of thesestabilizing forces weakened at the


Public Choice (2006) 128:7-39


Second WorldWar's end, ethnic nationalists activelybegan to seek the self-determination

they had firstbeen promisedby WoodrowWilson. Because these groups couldnot success-

fully wage conventionalwar against the larger, better equippedstanding armiesfielded either

by distantcolonial rulersor by local autocratsbent on maintaining controlof the levers of

politicalpower, terrorismbecame the strategy of choice.

2. Terrorismdefined

Each of the active groups, while proselytizing and spreading its side-branchesto in-

finity, has as its task, by a systematic and denunciatorypropaganda, ceaselessly to

underminethe importance of the local powers, to produce bewildermentin commu-

nities, to engendercynicism and scandal,complete disbelief in anythingwhatsoever,

a yearning for the better,and, finally,acting by means of fires as the popular means

parexcellence, to plunge the country, at the prescribedmoment, if need be, even into


-Fyodor Dostoevsky([1872] 1994, p. 547)

They strikeat the outskirtsof the camp. Then when we soundthe call to arms,they

vanish.This is the most demoralizing kindof warfare.

Terrorismis theater.


Vidal ([1964] 1986,p. 428)

Brian Jenkins'

It is conventionalto start any discussionof terrorism by attempting to defineit (e.g., Hoffman,

1998, pp. 13-44; Pillar,2001, pp. 12-18). Is terrorismthe same thing as guerrilla warfare?

Does it include kidnappings andassassinations of political leaders?Can the termbe applied

to a state'smethodical repression of its own citizens, as in the cold-blooded purges of the

Stalinist era, in the depredations of Papa Doc's Tonton Macoutes, or in the horrorof Pol

Pot's killing fields?Must it be transnational,originating in one country but targetinganother,

or can terroristsbe home-grown, as were TimothyMcVeigh and his accomplices?What, if

anything,distinguishes a terroristfrom a "revolutionary",

an "insurgent", a "freedom fighter",

a "martyr" or an ordinary criminal?

  • 2.1. Orthodoxdefinitions of terrorism

Title 22 of the UnitedStates Code, S2656f(d), definesterrorism as

premeditated,politically motivatedviolence perpetratedagainst noncombatant targets

by subnational groups or clandestine agents,usually intendedto influencean audience.

(Office of the Coordinatorfor Counterterrorism, 1997, p. vi)

That is the definition adoptedby the US Department of State. The FederalBureau of

Investigation andthe Department of Defenseboth give slightly different meanings to the term,

highlighting the terrorist's "unlawful use of force or violence" (emphasisadded), explicitly

including both peopleand propertyas potentialtargets, and creditingterrorism with furthering

1Quoted in Coll (2004, p. 139).




Public Choice (2006) 128:7-39

social, religious, or ideologicalgoals, in additionto political ones - objectives which are

pursuedthrough coercionor intimidation (Hoffman,1998, p. 38).

As theliterature on terrorismhas evolved, thedefinition of theterm progressively hasbeen

embellished. Contemporaryscholarship attributesat leastfour distinctive characteristics

to it.

Firstand foremost, terrorismis violence (or its threat) for political effect (ibid.,p. 15;Sandler,

2005). Second, terrorismis "a planned,calculated, and indeed systematic act" (Hoffman,

1998, p. 15). Third, terroristsare not bound by establishedrules of warfareor codes of

conduct (ibid.,p. 35), and,fourth, terrorismis "designed to have far-reachingpsychological

repercussionsbeyond the immediatevictim or target"(ibid., p. 43).2

Whilethese embellishments have identified and clarified importantaspects of the terrorist

enterprise, the concept remains unavoidablysubjective, especially so in the case of anti-

colonial terror. Resorting to legalisms is not particularlyhelpful. Defining terrorism as the

"unlawfuluse of violence", for example, forces one to classify as terroriststhe Americans

who rebelled against the lawfully constituted government of King GeorgeIII. One man's

terroristwill always be anotherman's freedom fighter. ConorCruise O'Brien, for example,

refuses to attachthe terroristlabel to anyoneresisting an authoritarian

regime (Crenshaw,

1990, p. 13). According to Yassir Arafat, "thedifference between the revolutionary andthe

terroristlies in thereason for whicheach fights. Forwhoever stands by a just causeand fights

for the freedomand liberation of his landfrom the invaders, the settlersand the colonialists,

cannot possibly be called a




(quoted in Hoffman,1998, p. 26).

Although it does not steer clear of all of the normative stumblingblocks, the US State

Department comesclosest to supplying a comprehensive definitionof terrorism,provided that

it is expanded to includenot only actualviolence directed at noncombatant targets, butalso its

threat. Terrorists, in short, seek to achievetheir goals, whatever they may be,3 by disrupting

daily life and creating a senseof

insecurityamongst ordinary people, intentionally generating

"massivefear" (Cooper,2001, p. 883). Uncertainty is thereforea key elementin the terrorist

group's brutalcalculus: "A man can face known danger. But the unknown frightens him"

(Heinlein[1966] 1994, p. 75). Or, to put it in termsmore familiar to economists, "thereare

few incentivesmore powerful thanthe fear of randomviolence - which, in essence, is why

terrorismis so effective" (Levitt & Dubner,2005, p. 62).

Creating a climate of fear requiresfostering the belief that everyone is a potential tar-

get - "collateral damage is not in [terrorism's]lexicon", as the 9/11 Commissionobserved

(National Commissionon TerroristAttacks upon the UnitedStates 2004, p. xvi; emphasis

in original) - and, as one of this section's epigraphssuggests, realizing that objective in turn

requires terroriststo


their bloody tradein ways that attractextensive media coverage.

Publicity is essentialto terrorismbecause terrorist groups do not in general aim to effect

policy change directly or necessarily even

to elicit sympathy for theircauses. Indeed, ter-

roristviolence can, by producing indiscriminantdeath and destruction, turn publicopinion

against the responsiblegroup (Crenshaw,1990, p. 17), compromising its ability to oper-

ate clandestinely and to raise needed funds, both of which reduce its chancesof success.

  • 2 The last two distinguishingcharacteristics


modemterrorism are exemplified in the

proclamation of the

Frontde Lib6rationNationale (F.L.N.), issuedon theeve of the launching of full-scaleMuslim revolt against

Frenchcolonialism in 1954,nearly a decadeafter V.E.

woulduse "every means" necessary to realizeits



makethe Algerianproblem a


eventsat S6tif. TheF.L.N. announced that it

including "actionabroad to


reality forthe entire world" (Home,1977, p. 95).

3Terrorists, as we shall see later, sometimeshave no clearly articulated goals. The lack of well-defined

objectivesplayed an important rolein ending of the waveof left-wing terrorthat plaguedEurope during the

secondhalf of thetwentieth century.


Public Choice (2006) 128:7-39


Terroristsinstead choreograph theirattacks mainly to intimidate, to panic an alarmedciti-

zenry into demanding thatnational leaders somehow putright the perceivedwrongs that serve,

at least to the terrorists themselves, as justifications for their murderous campaigns(ibid.,

p. 18).

  • 2.2. Terroristsas rationalactors

No matterhow terrorismis defined,however, it is increasingly clear that many of its


can be understood by modeling terroristsas rationalactors. Until very recently, the schol-

arly literatureon terrorismwas dominated by psychologists and sociologists, who looked

for psycho-social reasons underlying behavior that, at least on the surface, seems absurdly

irrational.The outwardaberrations of terrorisminclude not only the terrorist's willingness

to takeinnocent lives but, most spectacularly in the case of suicide bombers, his readinessto

die for a cause.4

Scholars adopting the psycho-socialpoint of view sought to locate terrorism's origins

in charactertraits predisposing individualsto rebelliousnessand violence, in conditionsof

poverty and politicalpowerlessness leading to disaffectionand disengagement from society at

large, andin the social dynamics of terrorist groups themselves (e.g., Post, 1990).5Attempts

to develop a compositepersonality profile of the typical terroristhave by and large been

unsuccessful, however. Although "mostterrorists have been young, some very young", and

"the vast majority have been male" (Laqueur,1999, p. 80), no common threadsof race,

ethnicity,education, income, employment or social statusrun through the individualsand

groups who have engaged in terrorist activities, eithernow or in the past. Nor, apparently,

does terrorismhave systematic causes rootedin

"geneticfactors, psychological difficulties

in early childhood, a disturbed family life, or identificationwith the underclass" (ibid., p.

79). As a uniquepersonality type, the representative terroristdoes not exist; "therenever was

such a person"(ibid.).

The rationalchoice perspective(e.g., Landes,1978; Sandler, Tschirhart, & Cauley,1983;

Crenshaw,1990; Enders& Sandler,1993, 1995; Frey,2004),


contrast, treatsterrorists

and terrorist groups as deliberateactors whose behaviorcan be modeledwithin the same

framework developedby economiststo study humanaction in more ordinarysettings. Within

that framework,terrorists, like Homo economicus, are assumedto be motivated primarily,

but not solely, by self-interest. They maximize utility,broadly defined, not

or wealth.As such, decisions to join a terrorist group and to participate in




hinge on the individual'sevaluation of the probable benefitsand costs to him personally, both

suitably discounted.The

potentialgains from participation includethe expectedpayoffs to

members (wealth,power, fame and patronage) if the group is successful; the potential costs

of becoming a terroristinclude the possibilities of arrest,imprisonment, injury and death.

Participation decisions also turnon the individual'sevaluation of the relativebenefits and

costs of joining the opposition, a choice which may provide salientrewards if terrorismis

suppressed, but which also increaseshis visibility as a terrorist target, as well as those of

4A terroristact carrying with it certain death may not be irrationalat all in an


"the minimum requirement for a suicidal altruistic gene to be successful is that it should save more than

two siblings (or children or parents), or more than four half-siblings (or uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces,

grandparents,grandchildren), or more than eight first cousins, etc. Such a gene,

on average, tends to live on

in the bodies of enough individuals saved by the altruistto compensate for the death of the altruistitself"

(Dawkins [1976] 1989, p. 93).

  • 5 See Reich (1990) and Turk (2004) for

additional analyses in the psycho-social tradition.



Public Choice (2006) 128:7-39

remaining inactive.The rational-choicecalculus informing the last option takesinto account

suchfactors as the costs the individualwill incurif his failureto act increasesthe likelihood

thatthe terrorist group will succeedand his expectation of being a counted among the statistics

of collateral damage.6

The fruitsof terrorismare something of a public good. Because the benefitsof a suc-

cessful terrorist campaign will be shared by everyonebelonging to the group as well as

by outsiderswho are sympathetic to its cause, selective incentives,including pecuniary re-

wards; access to education,job training and social servicesotherwise unavailable to group


their families (Zakaria,2003, p. 142); promises of compensation to relatives

in the event of disablementor death; and even the assuranceof a martyr'sparadise often

will be necessary to elicit optimal individualeffort and to overcomethe free-riding thatin-

evitablyplagues collectiveaction (Olson, 1965; Tullock,1974; Rathbone& Rowley,2003,

p. 559).

Rationalchoice modelingyields insights into terroristbehavior not amenableto expla-

nation by other social science methodologies.Although most terroristacts are compara-

tively cheap,involving as they generally do small numbersof participants and inexpensive

weaponry, the resourcesat a terrorist group'sdisposal necessarily are limitedrelative to the

many and varied options availablefor accomplishing its purposes. As a result, a terrorist

group faces the economic problem of allocatingmoney and manpowercost-effectively, both

across potentialtargets and over time, so as to maximizethe expected net returnsto its

violent campaign.Viewing terrorismas primarily rationalin the sense of economics gener-

ates testable predictions abouthow terrorist groups will go about solving that optimization

problem and, in particular, how they will respond to changes in the anticipated benefitsand

costs of terrorist activity. The theoretical predictions of therational-actor

model have been of

distinctvalue in understanding

the consequences of publicpolicies designed to parry terrorist


It is important to recognize, in that regard, that terrorists enjoy a numberof strategic

and tactical advantages over governmentpolicymakers charged with the responsibility of

protecting theirhomelands against terroristattacks. Target selectionis among the chief of

these comparativeadvantages. Becausenations cannot safeguardpeople and propertyevery-

where, terrorist groups can strikewhere countermeasures

remain feeble. Terrorist groups are

well-positioned to exploitexisting vulnerabilitiesbecause they typically arebetter informed


strengths and weaknessesof a nation'sdefensive measures than governments are


sizes, locationsand effectivenessof terrorist cells, and they are organizationally

less hierarchical,operationally more independentand, hence, morenimble and innovative in

acting than public law enforcementand counterterrorism

agencies arein reacting(Hirshleifer,

1991; Sandler,2005).

Governments,especially democratic governments, are constrainedfurther in their re-

sponses to terrorism by the force of public opinion.Indeed, in additionto creating a cli-

mate of fear, terrorist groupsmay be able to

achievetheir goals by provokinggovernments

into adoptingrepressive countermeasuresthat underminecivil libertiesor simply disrupt

daily life so much so that the citizenryturns its ire, not against the terrorists themselves,

but against the governingregime. Extensive securityprecautions may also serve a terror-

ist group's cause by contributing to the public'sperception of its power (Crenshaw,1990,

p. 19).

6 A more formal exposition of these ideas, applying rational-choice thinking to revolutionsand coups d'etat, is containedin Tullock (1974).


Public Choice (2006) 128:7-39


Terrorists rationally searchout "soft" targets and consequentlyrespond in predictableways

to antiterroristmeasures.7 Consistent with rational-choice theory, the historicalrecord sug-

gests thatterrorist groups substituted kidnappings andassassinations of foreign-serviceper-

sonnelfor embassybombings when steps weretaken to protect embassies against suchthreats.

Similarly, terrorist hijackings of commercialaircraft declined in favorof other hostage-taking

missionsafter airportsecurity was tightenedby installing metaldetectors to screen boarding

passengers(Landes, 1978).8 In an age of transnational terrorism,defensive actions taken

by one countrymay merely induceterrorists to transfertheir attacks to less-securevenues

abroad (Sandler,2005, 2006). The available empirical evidencelends support to these and

other predictions of the theory(Enders, Sandler& Cauley,1990; Enders& Sandler,1993,

1995, 2004).

Terrorism, it is important to emphasize, does not arisein a vacuum.It emerges frominter-

group conflict- over landor other physicalresources, overcontrol of the leversof political

power,including patronage, and so on. "Gain (or avoidanceof loss) is the commonreason

for undertaking warfare" (Tullock,1974, p. 87); terrorismdiffers from war in means (and

perhapsscale), butnot in ends. Inter-groupconflict, whether real or imagined,may supply the

conditions necessary for overcomingfree-riding by terrorist group members.Russell Hardin

(1995, p. 5), in fact, argues thatindividual "self-interest can often successfully be matched

with group interest" (i.e., collective action is easier to organize) when a group's "benefit

comes fromthe suppression of another group's interest."

2.3. Terrorist"waves"

Terrorismis age old, going backas faras the JewishZealots (sicari), who wereactive during

Rome's occupation of Palestine (Laqueur,1999, pp. 10-11). In more recent times, it was

given impetusby Robespierre'sregime de la terreur (June 1793-July 1794) and, indeed,

EdmundBurke has been creditedwith adding the wordterrorist to

the English lexiconin his

Reflections on the Revolution in France, which railed against the "thousands of those Hell



let loose on the people"by the

Jacobins, regularly assisted by

Dr. Guillotin'sfamous invention (quoted in Hoffman,1998, p. 17).9

7 The IRA, "for example,

cleverly changed its methods for detonatingbombs, using devices ranging from

equipment, to stay ahead of the British use of electronicmeasures to prevent

radar guns to photographic .... flash

detonations" (Pillar,2001, p. 39).

8In contrast, Landes (1978) found that,

owing to their anonymity, the placing

terrorist hijackings.

of federal sky marshals on

commercial aircraftdid not significantly deter

More recent tests of the effectiveness of

sky marshals have likewise produced insignificant results, perhaps because their deterrent effects, if any,

cannot be disentangled empirically from the many other security upgrades implemented in the wake of


9Although "terrorist" may have been coined by Burke, Thomas Hobbes used its root more than a century

earlier.Because Hobbes did not think that a mutuallyagreed to covenant elevating humankindfrom the state

of nature would be self-enforcing, "therebe somwhat else required",namely, "a Common Power, to keep

them in awe, and to direct their actions to a Common Benefit." Moreover,

the only way to erect such a CommonPower


is, to conferreall their power and strengthupon one Man,

or upon one Assembly of men, that may reduce all their Wills, by

This is the generation of that great LEVIATHAN...

to which wee owe


plurality of voices, unto one Will ....

our peace anddefense. For by this

Authoritie,given him by every particular man in the Common-Wealth, he haththe use of so muchPower

and Strength conferredon him, that by terror thereof, he is able to conformethe wills of them all, to Peace

at home, and mutuall ayd against their enemies abroad. (Hobbes

([1651] 1996, pp. 120-121; emphasis




Public Choice (2006) 128:7-39

Despite its murkyorigins, contemporary studentsof the history of terrorismtend to trace

its modem beginnings to the founding, in 1878, of NarodnayaVolya ("People's Will" or

"People'sFreedom"), apparently the first groupsystematically to replace the "propaganda

of ideas"with "propagandaby deed", a strategic reorientationattributed to Carlo Pisacane,

who perishedforty years earlier during an unsuccessfulItalian revolt against Bourbonrule

(ibid.;Rapoport, 2004, pp. 50-52). NarodnayaVolya did not,however, engage in a campaign

of indiscriminantviolence. Like the Thermidorian Reign of Terrorbefore it, Narodnaya

Volya was organized, deliberateand methodical in selecting its victims, mostof whomwere

prominent Russian governmentofficials, culminating in the assassinationof TsarAlexander

  • II on 1 March1881 (Hoffman,1998, pp. 17-18).

Despite inevitabledifferences in the identities,objectives and tacticsof the many terror-

ist groups that would come afterwards, David Rapoport, for one, nevertheless argues that

NarodnayaVolya launchedthe firstof what he identifiesas the four waves of modem ter-

rorism, an "anarchistwave" that spread from Russia to Western Europe, the Balkansand

Asia, reaching its "highpoint ...

in the 1890s, sometimescalled the 'Golden Age of As-

sassination"' (Rapoport,2004, p. 52). The wave of anarchistterrorism eventually foundits

way to the United States,where, in September1901, PresidentWilliam McKinley fell to an


In what follows, I adopt Rapoport's useful concept of terroristwaves to organize the

history of terrorismsince 1945. Beginning withthe waveof "post-colonial" or "anti-colonial"

terrorismthat originated in the 1920sand continued for two decades beyond theSecond World

War's end, the discussionmoves on to

the wave of "NewLeft" terrorism that swept the globe

during the middle of the second half of the twentieth century, and from thereto the wave

of "religious",mostly Islamist, terrorism ignitedby the IranianRevolution. Arranging the

history of terrorismin this way is not meantto imply that everygroup activeat any one time

worethe samelabel. History is messy.Groups formedaround "anti-colonial",

"NewLeft" and

"religious"ideologies appear in all threeterrorist waves; the cycles of violence overlap one

another.Terrorism nevertheless has changed characterover time in ways distinctive enough

to warrant separate treatment.

Thereis a unifyingtheme, however.As argued in


the post-Second WorldWar period originated in

section6 below, muchof the terrorism

the grievances of ethnic and religious

groupsmarginalized politically in artificialnation-states created by the colonial powers in

the latenineteenth and early twentiethcenturies. Nationalist and ethnic separatistmovements,

aimed at achievingindependence and self-determination,certainly played significant roles

in motivating the firstand thirdof the terroristwaves to have emerged in the period since

  • 1945. To the extentthat the left-wing terroristsof the second wave claimed solidarity with

the "oppressedpeoples" of Palestineand other Third World nations, the arbitrarinessof the

borders imposed on CentralAsia, the Balkansand the Middle East, reinforced by


constitutionsand despoticrulers, can be said to be root causes of all threewaves of modern


Thereare exceptions, of course.The eventsof 1914-1922 do not explain the activitiesof

today's LatinAmerican terrorists,many of whom are involved heavily in drugtrafficking.

Nor do they have anything to do withthe violence perpetratedby Japan's Aum Shinriyko and

likeminded"cult" terrorist groups, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, or the Sudanese People's

Liberation Army. In what follows, it is nevertheless argued thatthe history of terrorismsince

  • 1945 is in largepart a consequence of the decisionstaken immediately in the wake of the

FirstWorld War and of the unkeptpromises made by the superpowers both then and forty

years on.


Public Choice (2006) 128:7-39


  • 3. Terrorismin the service of national liberation [A]ll these panslavisms andnationhoods - it's all too old to be new.

-Fyodor Dostoevsky([1872] 1994, p. 36)

The SecondWorld War gave new life to a "post-colonial" or"anti-colonial" wave of terrorthat

already was underway in the 1920s. It

lastedfor roughly 20 yearsbeyond war's end, waned

for a brief periodduring which left-wing terrorist groups held center stage, and reemerged


a vengeance in the last decade of the twentieth century. This first post-war wave of

terrorist activity saw terror placedchiefly in the serviceof nationalismand ethnic separatism,

decisively so in the creationof the new statesof Algeria,Cyprus, Irelandand Israel,among

others (Rapoport,2004, p. 53).

3.1. Beginnings

The origins of terrorismmotivated by nationalist goals, or at least that of the twentieth

century's second half, can be traced directly to the decisionstaken by the victorsat the Paris

Peace Conferencethat concludedthe First WorldWar (Rapoport,2004, p. 52). Woodrow

Wilson, who had reluctantly and belatedlyentangled the United Statesin European affairs

and mired American troops in the mud of Belgium and France,naively thought that the

"Warto End all Wars" had, by smashing the Ottoman Empirebeyond repair,supplied a

golden opportunity for nation-building underthe principle of "self-determination",

a term

he may have coined. Sailing aboardthe GeorgeWashington with the American delegation

to the peace conference, Wilson proclaimed, "We say now that all these people have the

right to live their own lives under governments which they themselveschoose to set up"

(Macmillan,2002, pp. 3, 11). Thatcredo had been memorializedin the president's famous

"Fourteen Points", which framedthe position Americawould take at Paris.Point number

five sweepingly calledfor

a free, open-minded, and absolutelyimpartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based

upon a strict observanceof the principle that in determining all such questions of

sovereignty, the interestsof the populations concernedmust have equalweight withthe

equitable claimsof the government whose title is to be determined. (Quoted in ibid.,p.


Wilson'sother points addressedmore specific issues thatwould vex theconferees in clear-


the politicalwreckage of global conflict.These included appeals for "a readjustment of

the frontiersof Italy


along clearlyrecognizable lines of nationality"; "thefreest opportu-

nity of autonomous development" for the peoples of Austria-Hungary;

"therelations of the

severalBalkan states to one anotherdetermined


alonghistorically establishedlines of al-

legiance and nationality",accompanied by "international

guarantees" of the states' "political

and economic independence and territorial integrity"; "secure sovereignty" for the Turkish

portions of the prostrate Ottoman Empire, but also "an undoubted security of life and an

absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development" for othernationalities then

underTurkish rule; andan "independent Polish state"created from "the territories inhabited

by indisputably Polish



Wilson'snew worldorder was to be supervisedby



generalassociation of nations ...

formedunder specific covenantsfor the purposeof

affordingmutual guarantees of politicalindependence and territorial integrityto greatand

small statesalike" (ibid., p. 496). As partof its responsibility,this League of




Public Choice (2006) 128:7-39

accept "mandates"for managing the affairsof peoples not yet ready for full sovereignty, but

preparing them "byfriendly counsel"for eventualstatehood.

In the event, unwilling to compromise, weakened by illness - the Spanish'flu, not, as

commonlybelieved, a minor stroke (Barry,2004, p. 387) - and unable to slake French

thirstfor vengeanceagainst the Hun, an exhaustedWilson returned home from Paris to

serve out his presidential term and, aftera brief flurry of domestic politicking on behalfof

American participation in the League of Nations, to

dominatedUS Senaterefused to ratify the Treaty of

watchin nearsilence as the Republican-

Versailles (ibid.,pp. 487-492). Crippled

by America'swithdrawal from the world stage and fulfilling the termsof the secret Sykes-

Picot Agreement of 1916, the League's mandatesin the non-Europeanparts of the defeated


andOttoman empires weredivided between Britain and France.

Thelatter was grantedmandatory powers in Syria and Lebanon; theformer assumed mandates

for Egypt, whereshe hadruled "temporarily"

for decades (Fromkin,1989, p. 415), the Sudan,

Palestine,Transjordan, Iraq (then known as Mesopotamia) and much of the territory now

comprising the Gulf States.

In a preview of things to come afterthe SecondWorld War, local resistanceto the manda-

tory powers surfacedin short order as former imperialsubjects, aggrieved by unbidden

administrationfrom London or Paris,began demanding the home ruleWilson had promised

to them.Disorder began in Egypt, where"the principal British fantasy aboutthe Middle East

  • - that it wantedto be governedby Britain, or with her assistance- ran up against a stone

wall of reality"(ibid., p. 420). Apparently "unawareof the implications of the profound

social andeconomic changesbrought about by the war; the new classes and ambitionsthat

had emerged, the new interests, the new resentments, and the new sourcesof discordand

disaffection", British militarypersonnel andcivil servantsbecame the human targets of anti-

colonial sentiment,culminating "on 18 March [1919] in

the murderof eight of them- two

officers, five soldiers, and an inspector of prisons - on a trainfrom Aswan to Cairo" (ibid.,

pp. 418-419).

Rebellion against the mandatorypowers also envelopedAfghanistan. The assassination

of the Emiron 19 February 1919 triggered a roundof tribal infighting that in due course

pulled Britaininto a Third Afghan War (ibid.,pp. 421-423). By 1920, violencehad erupted

across virtually all of the Middle East and CentralAsia. "In the summerof 1919, three

young British captains were murderedin Kurdistan"; before the next springarrived, Arab

raidingparties in Mesopotamia(Iraq) had killed six Britishofficers and had executedtwo

political officials takenas hostages. British outposts were overrun throughout the region;

jihad was proclaimedagainst Britainin Karbalah and, in an act condemnedin newspaper

headlinesas "Arab Treachery", a sheikh serving as legendary Colonel GeraldLeachman's

host at a meeting of tribal allies, orderedhim shot in theback after persuading him to release

his armedescort. "How much longer", The Timesdemanded on 7 August 1920 (ibid., p.

452), "arevaluable lives to be sacrificedin the vain endeavorto impose upon the Arab

population an elaborateand expensive administrationwhich they neverasked for anddo not


Roused by the BalfourDeclaration of 1917, which expressed the British government's

willingness to

look favorably on proposalsleading to the establishmentof a Jewishnational

homeland, the interwar period also witnessedthe beginnings of the bloodshedthat would

engulf Palestine,Transjordan and Lebanonfor the remainderof the century and beyond.

The Irgun Zvai Le'umi, led by futureIsraeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, was born in

Palestine"in the late 1930sas the armedwing of the right-wingRevisionist Party" (Laqueur,

1999, p. 22). Othergroups active in the years following the FirstWorld War included the

Irish RepublicanArmy, foundedin 1916, althoughnot initiallyas a terrorist organization


Public Choice (2006) 128:7-39


(Rapoport,2004, p. 48); Russia'sso-called Black Hundred, which engaged in a terrorcam-

paign against the Bolsheviks; the German Freikorps, small bands of studentsand former

soldiersformed for similar purposes, whose most prominent victims were, in 1919, Rosa

Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, two heroesof that country's abortivesocialist revolution,

followed, in 1922, by the German foreign ministerWalter Rathenau; and the Ustasha, a ter-

rorist groupsupported by BenitoMussolini in its pursuit of Croatiannational independence

and responsible for the doublemurder of King Alexanderof Yugoslavia and French prime

ministerBarthou during their joint meeting in Marseillesin April 1934 (Laqueur,1999, pp.


Nationalismand ethnic separatism also were the prime motives underlying the terror-

ism that emerged in the immediatewake of the SecondWorld War. The promises of self-

determinationcontained in WoodrowWilson's Fourteen Points had been reaffirmedbefore

PearlHarbor in an eight-point document signedby FranklinRoosevelt and Winston Churchill

when they meton a warship off thecoast of Newfoundlandin 1941.Point two of theso-called

AtlanticCharter "declared unequivocally thatneither Britain nor the UnitedStates desired to



territorial changes thatdo not accordwith the freelyexpressed wishesof the peoples

concerned"' (Hoffman,1998, pp. 46-47). Point threecommitted both countriesto "respect

the right of all peoples to choosethe formof government underwhich they will live" (ibid.,p.

47). Those principlessubsequently were includedin the Declarationof the United Nations,

acceptedby the two allies on 1 January1942, and later signedby all countriesat war with


Colonial subjects once again were given reasonto expect the return of peace to at the very

least initiate processes to terminate foreign rule and to lay the foundationsfor


to national independence. It turned out, though, that the promises made by some of the

signatories to the Atlantic Charterand to the UN Declarationwere promises "they had

no intentionof keeping"(ibid.). Winston Churchill, for one, never meantthe principle of

self-determinationto "apply eitherto Asia or Africa,especially not to Indiaand Palestine,

but only to those peoples in hitherto sovereign countries conqueredby Germany,Italy and