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Hard Targets: Theory and Evidence on Suicide Attacks

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  • Eli Berman
  • David Laitin

Abstract

Who chooses suicide attacks? Though rebels typically target poor countries, suicide attacks are just as likely to target rich democracies. Though many groups have grievances, suicide attacks are favored by the radical religious. Though rebels often kill coreligionists, they seldom use suicide attacks to do so. We model the choice of tactics by rebels, bearing in mind that a successful suicide attack imposes the ultimate cost on the attacker and the organization. We first ask what a suicide attacker would have to believe to be deemed rational. We then embed the attacker and other operatives in a club good model which emphasizes the function of voluntary religious organizations as providers of benign local public goods. The sacrifices which these groups demand solve a free-rider problem in the cooperative production of public goods. These sacrifices make clubs well suited for organizing suicide attacks, a tactic in which defection by operatives (including the attacker) endangers the entire organization. The model also analyzes the choice of suicide attacks as a tactic, predicting that suicide will be used when targets are well protected and when damage is great. Those predictions are consistent with the patterns described above. The model has testable implications for tactic choice of terrorists and for damage achieved by different types of terrorists, which we find to be consistent with the data.

Suggested Citation

  • Eli Berman & David Laitin, 2005. "Hard Targets: Theory and Evidence on Suicide Attacks," NBER Working Papers 11740, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11740
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w11740.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:cup:apsrev:v:97:y:2003:i:01:p:75-90_00 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Eli Berman, 2000. "Sect, Subsidy, and Sacrifice: An Economist's View of Ultra-Orthodox Jews," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(3), pages 905-953.
    3. repec:pri:indrel:dsp01bk1289895 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Hamermesh, Daniel S & Soss, Neal M, 1974. "An Economic Theory of Suicide," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(1), pages 83-98, Jan.-Feb..
    5. Azzi, Corry & Ehrenberg, Ronald G, 1975. "Household Allocation of Time and Church Attendance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 83(1), pages 27-56, February.
    6. Alan B. Krueger & Jitka Maleckova, 2002. "Education, Poverty, Political Violence and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?," NBER Working Papers 9074, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Berrebi Claude, 2007. "Evidence about the Link Between Education, Poverty and Terrorism among Palestinians," Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 13(1), pages 1-38, December.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Friedrich Schneider & Tilman Brück & Daniel Meierrieks, 2010. "The Economics of Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism: A Survey (Part I)," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1049, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    2. David A. Jaeger & M. Daniele Paserman, 2006. "Israel, the Palestinian Factions, and the Cycle of Violence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 45-49, May.
    3. Jean-Paul Azam & Véronique Thelen, 2008. "The roles of foreign aid and education in the war on terror," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 135(3), pages 375-397, June.
    4. Berman, Eli & Laitin, David D., 2008. "Religion, terrorism and public goods: Testing the club model," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(10-11), pages 1942-1967, October.
    5. Anton Lowenberg & Timothy Mathews, 2008. "Why Iraq?," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 19(1), pages 1-20.
    6. Laurence Iannaccone & Eli Berman, 2006. "Religious extremism: The good, the bad, and the deadly," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 128(1), pages 109-129, July.
    7. Shahbaz, Muhammad, 2013. "Linkages between inflation, economic growth and terrorism in Pakistan," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 496-506.
    8. Eric D. Gould & Esteban F. Klor, 2010. "Does Terrorism Work?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(4), pages 1459-1510.
    9. Kjell Hausken & Dipak K. Gupta, 2016. "Determining the ideological orientation of terrorist organisations: the effects of government repression and organised crime," International Journal of Public Policy, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 12(1/2), pages 71-97.
    10. Soumyanetra Munshi, 2013. "Analysis Of Conflict Within A Contested Land: The Case Of Kashmir," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 24(3), pages 261-292, June.
    11. Cathérine Müller & Joppe de Ree, 2009. "The Threat of Terrorism: The Perspective of a Policy-Maker," Economics of Security Working Paper Series 3, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    12. Karen Pittel & Dirk T.G. Rübbelke, 2012. "Decision processes of a suicide bomber—the economics and psychology of attacking and defecting," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 23(3), pages 251-272, June.
    13. Jean-Paul Azam, 2012. "Why suicide-terrorists get educated, and what to do about it," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 153(3), pages 357-373, December.
    14. Travers B. Child & David Scoones, 2017. "Community preferences, insurgency, and the success of reconstruction spending," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 28(1), pages 34-52, January.
    15. Sami Miaari & Robert Sauer, 2011. "The labor market costs of conflict: closures, foreign workers, and Palestinian employment and earnings," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 9(1), pages 129-148, March.
    16. El-Attar, Mayssun, 2009. "Could Education Promote the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process?," IZA Discussion Papers 4447, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    17. Efraim Benmelech & Claude Berrebi, 2007. "Attack Assignments in Terror Organizations and The Productivity of Suicide Bombers," NBER Working Papers 12910, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Zaman, Nadeem Uz & Ghutai, Gul & Khan, Kaneez Raza, 2012. "The nature, sources and the socio-economic effects of terrorism in Balochistan," MPRA Paper 37075, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    19. Raphael Bossong, 2011. "Public Good Theory and the 'Added Value' of the EU's Counterterrorism Policy," Economics of Security Working Paper Series 42, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    20. Efraim Benmelech & Claude Berrebi, 2007. "Human Capital and the Productivity of Suicide Bombers," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(3), pages 223-238, Summer.
    21. Kjell Hausken & Sheheryar Banuri & Dipak Gupta & Klaus Abbink, 2015. "Al Qaeda at the bar: coordinating ideologues and mercenaries in terrorist organizations," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 164(1), pages 57-73, July.
    22. Radha Iyengar, 2010. "The Impact of Asymmetric Information Among Competing Insurgent Groups: Estimating an 'Emboldenment' Effect," CEP Discussion Papers dp1018, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    23. S. Blomberg & Gregory Hess & Yaron Raviv, 2009. "Where have all the heroes gone? A rational-choice perspective on heroism," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 141(3), pages 509-522, December.
    24. Pierre-Emmanuel Ly, 2007. "The charitable activities of terrorist organizations," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 131(1), pages 177-195, April.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H56 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - National Security and War
    • Z12 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Religion
    • D71 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Social Choice; Clubs; Committees; Associations
    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • H40 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - General

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