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Terrorism in Western Europe: Explaining the Trends since 1950

Author(s):Engene, Jan Oskar
Reviewer(s):Blomberg, S. Brock

Published by EH.NET (June 2005)

Jan Oskar Engene, Terrorism in Western Europe: Explaining the Trends since 1950. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2004. vii + 200 pp. $95 (hardcover), ISBN: 1-84376-582-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by S. Brock Blomberg, Department of Economics, Claremont McKenna College.

Why have many economies struggled with terrorist threats within a stone’s throw of economies living relatively peaceful existences? The answer, at least in Western Europe, according to Terrorism in Western Europe: Explaining the Trends since 1950, is that terrorism is the unfortunate consequence of development, democratization, and modernization. While providing a thorough analysis, the book is not entirely convincing. It is regrettable that the book did not go a bit further, and provide extensive formal theory, more insight into terrorism outside selected European borders, or even more discussion about terrorism during the late 1990s and 2000s. Still, this volume, written by Jan Oskar Engene, is a useful addition to any reading list in international relations.

The book is divided into three main parts: defining and explaining terrorism, discussing the novelty of the Engene’s dataset, and analyzing case studies for Western Europe. The chapters on defining and explaining terrorism are the necessary elements in any book examining this “big picture” question. The book does an excellent job of describing what is meant by terrorism and provides some of the usual suspects that determine terrorism — pursuing legitimacy at any means necessary.

While the volume does a good job of arguing for a specific view for terrorism, there is not enough explanation of how this could be integrated into formal modeling. For example, understanding the strategic behavior of a terrorist organization versus the state in a game-theoretic framework would go a long way toward validating Engene’s hypotheses. Unfortunately, the book has little to offer, as the relevant chapters do not consider the strategic interactions of the various players in the game.

The second section provides a wonderful analysis and description of the main data set employed in the book, the TWEED (Terrorism in Western Europe) data set. This data set is one of the richest and longest-standing data sets available. TWEED catalogs all terrorist events, including domestic and international events, in Western Europe over the last fifty or so years. This is definitely one of the strong points of the book. Most of the other relevant data sets are either only international in focus, e.g. the United States Department of State data or ITERATE (International Terrorism: Attributes of Terrorist Events), or have domestic events but over a smaller time sample, e.g. Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT) Terrorism Knowledge Base, which catalogs domestic events starting in 1998.

There are several useful facts that emerge from examining the TWEED data set. First, terrorism has become more widespread in Europe since the 1970s and most of the incidents have a domestic rather than international focus. These attacks originate from numerous terrorist organizations which tend to live relatively short lives. Second, the groups that do survive are more apt to strike in places where there are high levels of economic and political freedom. Engene concludes that economic modernization and democratization incubate the growth of these terrorist organizations.

Chapter 6, entitled “Terrorism and the West European Political Systems” goes into the most detail by examining each country and its associated main terrorist organization. The chapter draws on the earlier theoretical discussions by analyzing the issue of legitimacy. The book concludes that terrorism is related to problems associated with legitimacy, exhibiting itself in ethnically and politically heterogenous areas. The chapter emphasizes organized terrorism which may be related to state-sponsored terrorism in certain cases.

While the book provides wonderful case studies for various organizations and countries, the results are limited in scope by the nature of the countries and time period examined. Unfortunately, the entire focus of the data set is on Western Europe and so only eighteen countries are examined. Moreover, the extensive data analysis covers the time period 1950 to 1995, missing the last ten years that include the post-9/11 era. One wonders if these results might hold in other regions or time periods.

Still, the main point of the book is fundamentally important — understanding why terrorism prevails in the otherwise stable and advanced democracies of Western Europe. The book is useful to anyone interested in international relations and yet, sadly, it could have done more in explaining the most recent spate of terrorist attacks.

S. Brock Blomberg is author of “The Macroeconomic Consequences of Terrorism,” Journal of Monetary Economics (2004) and “Economic Conditions and Terrorism,” (with Gregory Hess and Akila Weerapana), European Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming.

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII