Trends in the Incidence of International Terror Attacks on Americans After the Cold War
Project on Defense Alternatives Briefing Memo #29
Introduction: This briefing memo addresses trends in the incidence of terror in the post-Cold War period by comparing the number of international terror attacks on American interests1 with the overall number of terror attacks worldwide. We present the data year by year and as three year moving averages. We use data from the U.S. Department of State2 which is frequently cited as authoritative and usefully summarizes annual statistics.
World Terrorist Attacks and Attacks Against American Interests with and without Attacks on the Colombian Oil Pipeline 1993-2002
World Terrorist Attacks and Attacks Against American Interests with and without Attacks on the Colombian Oil Pipeline
(persons and objects)
|Year||Attacks Against American Interests as Percent of Total World Attacks||Attacks Against American Interests minus Colombian Oil Pipeline as Percent of Total World Attacks minus Colombian Oil Pipeline|
1. We use the phrase "American interests" as a label of convenience to encompass the wide variety of types of attacks that are included in the data source (U.S. Department of State reports.) "Interests", in the sense we use it, refers to a limited set: specifically those objects of attack included in Department of State statistics. It should be noted that the use of "interests" in this sense is significantly different from the way diplomats and international relations scholars usually talk about American interests.
Among the types of attacks that are counted as "terrorist" by the Department of State are attacks on civilians (including hostage takings and kidnappings), assassinations, attacks on off-duty or unarmed military personnel, and attacks on objects of value to the U.S. and its commercial interests such as pipelines. The aggregation of so many different types of acts into one data set may obscure important differences, especially differences pertaining to the purposes and objectives of the attackers.
In order to explore what lies below the surface of the statistics we distributed to several sub-categories the 140 incidents listed in the Chronology of Significant Terrorist Incidents, 2002, itself a selection of the 199 total terrorist incidents reported in 2002. It should be noted that about half of the 59 incidents not included in the Chronology were sabotage attacks on the Colombian oil pipeline.
We found that 80% of the incidents in the Chronology appeared to be principally about a civil or intra-state conflict with their reported international aspects only coincidental. A majority of these involved the Kashmiri rebellion against Indian rule and the Palestinian rebellion against Israeli occupation. A table presenting our assignment of incidents to various categories follows. Because of either overlapping categories or ambiguous incident descriptions, some incidents have been assigned to two or more categories -- consequently percentages add up to more than 100%.
|Number of incidents||Percentage|
|Incidents in Chronology||140||100|
|Incidents with five or more deaths||28||20|
|In context of civil or intrastate conflict||112||80|
|Bombings or shootings targeting civilians||74||53|
|Bombings or shootings targeting officials||46||33|
|Kidnappings or hostage takings||9||6|
Citation: Carl Conetta and Melissa Murphy, Trends in the Incidence of International Terror Attacks on Americans After the Cold War, Project on Defense Alternatives Briefing Memo #29. Cambridge, MA: Commonwealth Institute, 26 June 2003. http://www.comw.org/pda/0306bm29.html
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