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Does U.S. Intervention Overseas Breed Terrorism? The Historical Record

Ivan Eland

December 1998

Cato Institute

Executive Summary

According to Secretary of State Madeleine Al-bright, terrorism is the most important threat the United States and the world face as the 21st century begins. High-level U.S. officials have acknowledged that terrorists are now more likely to be able to obtain and use nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons than ever before.

Yet most attention has been focused on combating terrorism by deterring and disrupting it beforehand and retaliating against it after the fact. Less attention has been paid to what motivates terrorists to launch attacks. According to the Pentagon's De-fense Science Board, a strong correlation exists between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States. President Clinton has also acknowl-edged that link. The board, however, has provided no empirical data to support its conclusion. This paper fills that gap by citing many examples of terrorist attacks on the United States in retaliation for U.S. intervention overseas. The numerous incidents cata-loged suggest that the United States could reduce the chances of such devastating—and potentially cata-strophic— terrorist attacks by adopting a policy of military restraint overseas.

Text of Foreign Policy Brief No. 50 (PDF, 24 pgs)