Greater Threat: Domestic or International Terrorism? Research Paper

Pages: 8 (2488 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 9  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Terrorism

As Mantri points out, "The domestic attacks disprove the idea that the United States, as a nation, is immune from radicalization at home" (2011, p. 91). In fact, Mantri (2011) suggests that notwithstanding the numerous examples of domestic terrorism cited above, the potential for even more such attacks in the future may be far greater because of the ideological attraction that these acts hold for some people. In this regard, Mantri notes that, "Even more disturbing has been the concept that this is driven by so called 'lone wolf' attacks, of people self-radicalizing through the internet and without the support of a much wider terrorist infrastructure or radical community" (2011, p. 91). In fact, a recent highly controversial report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that labeled returning Gulf War veterans potential threats stressed that, "Lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States" (quoted in Jasper, 2009, p. 24). Clearly, the scholars disagree concerning what source of ideological influence will have the most impact on domestic terrorism acts in the future, but virtually everyone agrees that it is not so much as matter of "if" but "when" such further attacks will occur. Therefore, determining which source of terrorism represents the biggest threat to the national interests of the United States is a complicated enterprise, and these issues are discussed further below.

Discussion and Analysis

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Research Paper on Greater Threat: Domestic or International Terrorism? Assignment

Despite the availability of a working definition for terrorism in general, there are some problems in neatly pigeonholing every act of terrorism in a given country as being international or domestic terrorism. In fact, some authorities suggest that there is some degree of overlap between the two types irrespective of their underlying motivation. For example, according to Enders and his associates (2011), "The cause of transnational terrorism will likely differ from that of domestic terrorism. Transnational terrorism is apt to be partly influenced by 'spillover terrorism,' where domestic grievances in other countries result in terrorist incidents being staged where the attack captures the most publicity" (p. 323). In other words, although the motivation for a terrorist attack may differ in international terrorism from domestic terrorism, these events appear to precipitate yet further such incidents elsewhere. While precise figures are difficult to come by, an analysis of transnational terrorist attacks compared to domestic terrorist attacks conducted by Enders et al. is reflective of this trend as shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Domestic and transnational terrorist attacks: 1970-2005

Source: Enders et al., 2011, p. 328

Although not mirror images of each other, the trends illustrated in Figure 1 above make it clear that there is a connection between the incidence of international terrorism and the incidence of domestic terrorism. This connection indicates that it is possible for acts of international terrorism that occur in other parts of the world to produce an increased number of domestic terrorist attacks without any particular intention to do so. Based on their analysis of domestic and international terrorism, Enders and his colleagues identified the following ways that domestic and international terrorism levels can correspond:
  1. Planned domestic terrorist incidents may occasionally result in collateral damage to foreign interests, thereby giving rise to transnational terrorist events.
  2. A domestic campaign may begin to include transnational terrorist attacks in order to garner greater media attention.
  3. Domestic terrorists may seek safe havens in nearby countries. As they subsequently cross a border to attack their home country, a transnational terrorist incident ensues.
  4. Domestic terrorist incidents may have a demonstration effect on transnational terrorist incidents and vice versa as terrorists and authorities copy one another's innovations.
  5. Terrorists seek soft targets, which may mean that the type of attack at a given time may result from the greater target opportunity.
  6. Political events (e.g. The Arab -- Israeli wars or the U.S. retaliatory raid on Libya in April 1986) may generate a backlash that gives rise to domestic and transnational terrorist incidents. Common grievances against governments may result in campaigns by both domestic and transnational groups (p. 330).
Taken together, these findings indicate that it is impossible to completely separate domestic terrorism from international terrorism, with both types of terrorism acting in mutually reinforcing ways.


The research showed that terrorism from whatever source represents an ongoing threat to the interests of the United States at home and abroad. There has been an increase in both types of terrorism in recent years, leading some scholars to believe that there is a connection between international religious fundamentalism and the incidence of domestic terrorism in the United States. While it is reasonable to conclude that many so-called "home-grown" terrorists are in fact either motivated by or sponsored by international terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, the historical record also made it clear that domestic terrorism is not a new phenomenon, and these types of events have occurred since the nation was founded -- but they appear to be on the rise today. This increased incidence of domestic terrorism was shown to be directly related to the incidence of international terrorism, making the determination as to which represents the greatest threat difficult if not impossible. In the final analysis, though, the primary source of terrorism today was shown to be international terrorism that has not only directly affected the interests of the United States at home and abroad, but continues to fuel radicalization of disaffected Americans as well.

  1. Enders, W., Sandler, T. & Gaibulloev, K. (2011, March). Domestic vs. transnational terrorism: Data, decomposition, and dynamics. Journal of Peace Research, 48, 319-339.
  2. First strike: global terror in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Greater Threat: Domestic or International Terrorism?.  (2011, November 28).  Retrieved August 15, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Greater Threat: Domestic or International Terrorism?."  28 November 2011.  Web.  15 August 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Greater Threat: Domestic or International Terrorism?."  November 28, 2011.  Accessed August 15, 2020.