Terrorism Survey

Rob Tagorda finds it hard to get excited by the State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003 even though it shows “the lowest annual total of international terrorist attacks since 1969.” Why? Because the report uses an outdated methodology:

Whereas our enemy is flexible, we struggle to keep up with a rapidly changing world, and we end up devoting little attention to domestic terrorism, non-state actors, and other emerging trends.

Indeed. And, of course, if its methodology kept up with the changing nature of the threat, it would be almost useless as a tool of historical comparison.

These reports are incredibly flawed, though, even aside from methodological considerations. For one thing, they’re incredibly influenced by political considerations, meaning that the list includes marginal terrorist sponsors who are on our “bad guys” list and excludes some of the worst regimes on the planet because we don’t wish to offend them. And, of course, it’s somewhat dated. In a roundtable discussion on the 9/11 attacks I participated in a few days after the event, I noted with some bemusement that Afghanistan wasn’t on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. I ironically predicted that they’d make the next list.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.