On SAGE Insight: Can foreign aid be used as a counterterrorism tool?

Article title: Foreign Aid as a Counterterrorism Tool: More Liberty, Less Terror?

From: Journal of Conflict Resolution

Preventing terrorist attacks is one of the most significant challenges that nation-states face today. The urgency and importance of this problem creates strong incentives for policy makers to design efficient counterterrorism policies. Western democracies have embraced the idea that in order to eradicate terrorism, one must first fight poverty. Although fighting terrorism by foreign aid continues to find resonance in the policy circles, the scholarly community is more skeptical of this policy, given the scant empirical evidence linking poverty to terrorism. The authors of this paper show that governance and civil society aid provides a potentially peaceful way to assist afflicted governments without having to resort to invasive counterterrorism responses. The findings, therefore, provide additional rationale for policy makers to continue using democracy assistance programs to promote both democracy and security in aid-receiving countries.


Is foreign aid effective in reducing terrorism? The existing evidence is mostly negative. We argue that this pessimistic outlook on the efficacy of aid as a counterterrorism tool is partly a function of focusing on only one type of aid: economic aid. Governance and civil society aid can dampen the participation in and support for terrorism by altering the political conditions of a country. We expect countries that receive high levels of governance and civil society aid to experience fewer domestic terrorist incidents than countries that receive little or none. Using a sample of aid eligible countries for the period from 1997 to 2010, we find that governance and civil society aid is effective in dampening domestic terrorism, but this effect is only present if the recipient country is not experiencing a civil conflict. Our findings provide support for the continued use of democracy aid as a counterterrorism tool.

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Article details

Foreign Aid as a Counterterrorism Tool More Liberty, Less Terror?

Burcu Savun, Daniel C. Tirone

Journal of Conflict Resolution,

First Published 5 May 2017

DOI: 10.1177/0022002717704952


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