Does terrorism work? We studied 90 groups to get the answer

Meanwhile, among the 45 groups that chose not to use terrorism, 26 – or 57.8 percent – achieved their objectives, while 19 did not.

Short-term success, long-term failure
Many people see the few examples of when terrorism “works” as evidence that it is an effective long-term strategy.

For example, Hezbollah is a Lebanese terror group that, among other goals, opposed Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000 with kidnappings, bombings and assassinations. The group claimed success in 2000, when Israel decided to end their long and expensive occupation of Southern Lebanon. However, the “victory” deserves greater scrutiny.

There is evidence that Israel’s withdrawal was more a result of domestic Israeli politics than anything Hezbollah did. Moreover, the region Hezbollah “controls” in Lebanon is the poorest, most economically backward and politically repressive place in the country, according to a report from The Atlantic magazine. It’s ruled more by fear of the terrorists than any sort of competence such leaders demonstrate to justify their legitimacy. Many Lebanese see Hezbollah as needlessly provoking Israel into attacks on their border.

It’s hard to call this a clear victory for terrorism. Terrorists may be adept at setting off a bomb or designing a suicide vest laden with explosives.

As political scientist Robert Pape points out in his book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, they might even occasionally achieve a limited goal, as Hamas was able to undermine the fragile Israeli governing coalition in the next election, with a campaign of suicide bombings.

But when it comes to accomplishing broader strategic goals, such as destroying the entire Israeli state or forcing a complete Jewish evacuation of the West Bank, terrorists usually fail.

Terrorists can threaten modern nation-states into offering minor concessions, such as giving up a small piece of territory, forcing the resignation of a leader or promising to return to the negotiating table, Pape writes.

But nation-states are too militarily and economically strong to be overthrown by terrorists, or to surrender their own aims that they see as vital to national security, according to Pape.

Additionally, terrorists – if they participate in the democratic process – may well be shunned by voters when the fighting stops. Or, instead of achieving those lofty aims, they may achieve a hollow political victory at best, ending up with power over a failed state that could dissolve into anarchy.

Those who claim terrorism works typically point to Israel and the election of terror leaders Menacham Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.

This example ignores that the fact that it took decades for these leaders to eventually come to power, as Israeli voters repeatedly rejected them at the ballot box, in favor of more moderate candidates. For example, Begin lost eight elections before he finally won his first. Only when these former terrorists moderated their positions did they become acceptable to the public.

John A. Tures is Professor of Political Science, Lagrange College. This article is published courtesy of The Conversation.