NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 10, 2004

Poverty does not cause terrorism, according to a recent paper by Alberto Abadie, published by the Harvard University JFK School of Government. Instead, it is a lack of stable, political freedom that encourages terrorism.

Abadie analyzed statistics from the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base for 2003, which included 1,536 reports of domestic terrorism and 240 incidents of international terrorism worldwide.

According to Abadie:

  • Once the data was corrected for the influence of other factors, he found no significant relationship between a nation's wealth and the level of terrorism it experiences.
  • Instead, Abadie detected a peculiar relationship between the levels of political freedom a nation affords and the incidences of terrorism.
  • Though terrorism declined among nations with high levels of political freedom, it was the intermediate nations that seemed most vulnerable.

Apparently, nations transitioning from autocratic regimes to democratic regimes are most at risk. Repressive governments use their tight control to stamp out terrorism. Once these mechanisms are removed to make way for democracy, the country can become politically unstable and terrorism can more easily resurface.

Abadie also finds that certain geographic regions have a strong connection with terrorism. Areas without easy access offer safe havens to terrorist groups, facilitate training and provide funding through other illegal activities, like the production and trafficking of cocaine and opiates. Specifically, he mentions mountainous regions, like Afghanistan, and jungle regions, like Columbia.

Source: Alvin Powell, "Freedom squelches terrorist violence," Harvard University Gazette, November 9, 2004: based upon: Alberto Abadie, "Poverty, Political Freedom, and the Roots of Terrorism," Harvard University, JFK School of Government, October 2004.

For Powell text

For Abadie text$File/rwp_04_043_Abadie.pdf


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