Poverty and Terrorism: What is the Link?

The conventional wisdom is that poor countries are often at greater risk for developing some form of terrorism than rich countries. For example, this idea was put forward by Colin Powell,

Powell said “every day terrorists have fewer silent helpers … more outspoken adversaries, [and] more brave nations and individuals willing to stand up to them willing to confront the savagery and the hatred and nihilism that define terrorism.”

Daily, he said, the United States works with its friends and allies in the Middle East and beyond “to advance reforms that will eliminate the frustration, the injustice, the poverty, [and] the despair that gives rise to ideas of mass destruction.

Delivering the keynote address at the 60th anniversary dinner of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Powell said, “We understand the policy logic of encouraging good governance, of poverty alleviation, of fighting disease — so that societies won’t stagnate or implode, so states won’t fail.”

And this can also be seen on the Left as well.

Q. Is there any possibility that the Bush Administration will attempt to alter U.S. policy in the Middle East and elsewhere, so that more terrorists don’t grow out of the soil of mass poverty, lack of hope, dictatorial regimes and Western slights to their religion?

But is poverty a main driver behind terrorism? The short answer appears to be no. Over at Deinonychus antirrhopus you can find a slightly longer answer.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Middle East, National Security, Religion, Terrorism, , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. Mike Stiber says:

    Considering the number of millionaire and billionaire Saudis who support terrorism, it seems doubtful that poverty is the cause of terrorism. On the other hand, there’s not much in the way of political freedom in Saudi Arabia, so the Deinonychus antirrhopus comment makes more sense.

  2. Bruce says:

    I have travelled a lot in the South Pacific where there is intense poverty. They don’t really seem to care. And there is virtually no crime. I would have to go with the opression political theme too.