Does Terrorism Beget More Terrorism? Survey Says…

A new report from RAND takes a statistical look at terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe from 1970 to 2013, digging into two main questions:

1.) “Does a significant terrorist attack somehow inspire other terrorist attacks?”

2.) “Can terrorist attacks be anticipated statistically?”

The report, titled “Do Significant Terrorist Attacks Increase the Risk of Further Attacks?“, investigates whether or not, according to four decades of data, terrorist attacks happen in clusters. In order to account for any shifts in the nature of terrorism, the timeline was divided into three shorter periods: 1970-1993, 1994-2002, and 2003-2013. Based on the data provided via the Global Terrorism database, the verdict comes back no. As discussed in the abstract, “the researchers find an absence of clustering for terrorist events around trigger events since 1994, no increases in terrorism on significant dates, and a decline of terrorism in the West since the 1970s, suggesting that the threat of terrorism should not affect individuals’ behavior and decisions in the United States and Western Europe.” Although terrorism in the West may have declined overall, the authors do note that the overall lethality of terrorist attacks has increased.

The Wire also covered the release of the report, focusing on the shortcoming of relying too heavily on historical precedence, as the rise, intent, and actions of ISIS may indicate a change in the statistical significance of attacks since the end of the observed data in 2013.

Heightened security remains at the top of best practices, a strategy which serves as both a deterrent and as a means to respond and/or intervene in suspicious activity or would-be attacks. Terrorism has traditionally been predictably unpredictable, and while the data provided by this report sheds light on the long-term trends of terrorism, the looming threat remains: “Current assessments of terrorism are driven not by what terrorists have done since 9/11, but rather by what terrorists might do in the future – replicate a 9/11-scale attack or worse using weapons of mass destruction.”