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Why Violence Abates: Imposed and Elective Declines in Terrorism Attacks

Why Violence Abates: Imposed and Elective Declines in Terrorism Attacks


Previous scholarship on variations in violence within a given terrorist organization has primarily focused on factors that lead to the inception or destruction of that organization. However, violence varies substantially even during the “prime” of an organization's life. This article aims to understand why violence varies in the short term within many organizations, and places a special focus on declines in violence. Specifically, I argue that terrorists face countervailing incentives in terms of how much violence to use, and that when declines in violent activity do occur, they can be divided into two types: a) elective declines, which are usually temporary and used for organizational or reputational recovery; and b) imposed declines, which are dictated by changes in the relative capability of an organization, and are more likely to be permanent. The causal pathways to each type of decline are discussed, and a plausibility probe, consisting of case studies of three terrorist organizations, is then developed to substantiate this theory. The findings have notable implications for counterterrorism policy, as they illustrate not only when and why terrorists choose to curtail violent attacks, but also the conditions that determine whether declines in violence are temporary or permanent.

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Full Citation: 

Becker, Michael. 2015. "Why Violence Abates: Imposed and Elective Declines in Terrorism Attacks." Terrorism and Political Violence (March): 1-21. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09546553.2015.1011799

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