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Provocation and the Strategy of Terrorist and Guerrilla Attacks

  • David B. Carter

Violent nonstate groups are usually weaker than the states they target. Theory suggests that groups carefully condition their choice of tactics on anticipated state response. Yet scholars know very little about whether and how groups strategically plan attacks in anticipation of state response. Scholars do not know if and under what conditions groups employ violent tactics to provoke or avoid a forceful state response, although extant theory is consistent with both possibilities. Relatedly, there is little systematic evidence about why groups choose terrorist or guerrilla tactics and how this choice relates to anticipated state response. I develop a theoretical and empirical model of the interaction between groups and states that generates unique evidence on all three fronts. Using data on attacks in Western Europe from 1950 to 2004, I show that guerrilla attacks are sometimes associated with provoking forceful state response, whereas terrorist attacks are generally associated with avoiding forceful response. Groups effectively choose their tactics to avoid forceful state responses that are too damaging for themselves but provoke forceful responses that disproportionately harm civilians. These findings survive several robustness and model specification tests.

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International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
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