A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

What Makes Terrorists Tick


Max Abrahms’s article “What Terrorists Really Want: Terrorist Motives and Counterterrorism Strategy” is a welcome critique of the many points taken for granted by rational choice interpretations of terrorist group behavior.1 His systematic review of the observable implications of rational choice perspectives on terrorism reveals some of the important shortfalls in the current literature. Abrahms overreaches, however, in rejecting strategic models of terrorism without providing ample empirical evidence or qualifications to his claims. Abrahms presents seven “puzzling” tendencies of terrorist organizations as anomalies for the strategic model. We argue, however, that a strategic perspective can account for these anomalous behaviors when one examines the group’s internal dynamics—particularly the relationship between the group’s leadership and its constituents—which may require scholars to consider this level of analysis to explain terrorist groupbehavior. We consider each of Abrahms’s puzzles in turn.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Chenoweth, Erica, Nicholas Miller, Elizabeth McClellan, Hillel Frisch, Paul Staniland, and Max Abrahms. 2009. "What Makes Terrorists Tick." International Security 33 (June): 180-202. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/international_security/v033/33.4.chenoweth…

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