Five weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks,
This month, the Combating Terrorism Center at the
In fact, the Sept. 11 attacks exacerbated each of bin Laden's grievances against the West. Instead of safeguarding the Ummah from Western encroachment, the raid provoked a global "war on terrorism" that killed countless Muslims internationally. It mobilized Washington to invade and occupy Iraq, increasing U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf by a factor of 15. It unseated the Taliban, the strictest exemplar of Islamist governance in the world. It sapped U.S. support for Palestinian statehood. And it strengthened Western relations with unpopular, American-allied Muslim rulers in Pakistan,
Bin Laden accomplished little, but he died a wiser man. The evolution in his strategic thinking mirrors recent empirical discoveries in the social sciences. In 2006, I published "Why Terrorism Does Not Work," the first study to examine a large number of terrorist groups in terms of their political effectiveness. Contrary to the fabled image of terrorist "masterminds," they seldom if ever attain their strategic demands. My newer statistical research confirms — even after factoring out the relative strength of governments and perpetrators, and the oft-extreme nature of their demands — that across target countries, terrorism lowers the odds of government concessions.
Complementary results are found in public opinion data. In the face of terrorism, electorates are manifestly not cowed into appeasement and do not support more dovish politicians. Quite the contrary. Claude Berrebi and Esteban F. Klor have demonstrated that Israeli voters have historically shifted to right-bloc candidates such as
States also suffer at the bargaining table when they prey on civilians. In a 1996 study, Robert Pape analyzed strategic bombing campaigns worldwide from the
In sum, a spate of emerging empirical research indicates that bin Laden belatedly got something right: Killing civilians was at best an unproductive instrument for achieving his strategic demands.
His inchoate appreciation for nonviolence accords with another major empirical finding in the social sciences. In a new book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature," Steven Pinker shows that international actors are laying down their arms. In fact, we are currently experiencing the most peaceful period in human history, notwithstanding sensationalist media stories to the contrary. This trend holds true across indicators of international violence ranging from homicide rates to genocide, infanticide, rape, slavery, torture, war, wife-beating — even animal cruelty. In a related work, "Winning the War on War," Joshua Goldstein details the global decline in armed conflict that began after the
Earlier this month, I attended the annual conference of the International Studies Association, and the scholarly consensus was that the reduction of international violence cannot be dismissed as an artifact of measurement problems with the data. Little consensus exists, however, on the underlying reasons why. In all likelihood, there are multiple causal mechanisms behind our newfound gains in physical security, ranging from globalization to nuclear deterrence to the worldwide expansion of democracy and international institutions.
But strategic calculations are central. Recall, bin Laden began to vacillate over terrorism only when he began to doubt its value. Violence in all its manifestations will continue to decline whenever other practitioners reach the same conclusion — hopefully sooner.