Global Terrorism and Foreign Aid
The greatest threat of the 21st century is arguably the rise of global terrorism. The devastating effects of this threat have been felt from France to Turkey, to Orlando. Organizations like Boko Haram, al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of men, women and children all across the globe.

Finding ways to combat these current groups and stopping more from taking their place must be a primary focus of the world’s governments. Investing in foreign aid is one such way.

In 2009, the Institute for the Study of Labor commissioned a study analyzing over 40 years of data on international terrorist events to identify why they occurred. The study concluded that domestic political instability is a fundamental cause of terrorism because it allows for terrorist organizations to develop the military, strategic and organizational skills necessary to carry out international attacks. Indicators of conflict and political instability such as civil wars, guerrilla warfare and riots have been known to increase terrorism by up to 30 percent.

Foreign aid can help to reduce terrorism by targeting both political stability and civil conflict. Studies by professor Erin Baggott of Harvard University and professor Paul Collier of Oxford University have both found that the more aid is given to a country, the less political instability and conflict there will be in that country. Specifically, Collier found that a combination of policy reform and increased foreign aid to a country lowers the risk of conflict by around 30 percent after five years.

A variety of different types of international aid can serve to stabilize a country and reduce the likelihood of violent conflicts.

Programs that help to improve the agricultural capabilities of a country, for example, can have the greatest impact by increasing the food security of that country. This is important in the context of political instability because the World Food Program found that food insecurity increases the “risk of democratic failure, protests and rioting, communal violence and civil conflict.”

More broadly, Namsuk Kim of the United Nation’s Organization found that “low levels of human development increase the risks of conflict outbreaks and recurrence.” This tends to have a cyclical effect as conflict can “destroy the accumulated physical, social and human capital” of a country thus further lowering human development. Aid programs that can raise the developmental level of countries can help to break this cycle.

Many see the fight against global terrorism as a military conflict that can only be solved militarily; however, this is an incomplete view. Killing individual terrorists will never solve the problem unless the underlying factors that cause global terrorism are confronted. Investing in foreign aid can help to address some of those factors.

James Long

Photo: Flickr