Robert A. Pape

Suicide Terrorism is Caused by Foreign Occupation


Professor Robert A. Pape explains the research behind his book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, why Rep. Ron Paul is correct that groups who engage in suicide terrorism can only recruit in the name of fighting against foreign occupation – rather than devotion to any religion, promises of virgins in Heaven or a plot to take over the world – and why our government’s denial of this fact and its policy of regime change puts Americans in greater danger.

MP3 here.

(My first interview with Professor Pape from July, 2005, and an accompanying article I wrote can be found here.)

Robert A. Pape is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago specializing in international security affairs. His publications include Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House 2005); Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (Cornell 1996), “Why Economic Sanctions Do Not Work,” International Security (1997), “The Determinants of International Moral Action,” International Organization (1999); “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” American Political Science Review (2003); and “Soft Balancing against the United States,” International Security (2005). His commentary on international security policy has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, New Republic, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, as well as on Nightline, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, and National Public Radio. Before coming to Chicago in 1999, he taught international relations at Dartmouth College for five years and air power strategy for the USAF’s School of Advanced Airpower Studies for three years. He received his Ph. D. from the University of Chicago in 1988 and graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Pittsburgh in 1982. His current work focuses on the causes of suicide terrorism and the politics of unipolarity.

Author: Scott Horton

Scott Horton is editorial director of, director of the Libertarian Institute, host of Antiwar Radio on Pacifica, 90.7 FM KPFK in Los Angeles, California and podcasts the Scott Horton Show from He’s the author of the 2017 book, Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan and editor of The Great Ron Paul: The Scott Horton Show Interviews 2004–2019. He’s conducted more than 5,000 interviews since 2003. Scott lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, investigative reporter Larisa Alexandrovna Horton. He is a fan of, but no relation to the lawyer from Harper’s. Scott’s Twitter, YouTube, Patreon.

2 thoughts on “Robert A. Pape”

  1. Since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, there has been a steady rise in Islamist terrorism. Too many analysts underestimate the ideological basis of terrorism and argue instead that rational-strategic rather than ideological principles motivate Islamist terror groups. Comparison between terrorist groups with secular and religious agendas, however, suggests that ideology matters for both and that downplaying religious inspiration for terrorism in an effort to emphasize tactical motivations is both inaccurate and dangerous.

    Some researchers suggest that to understand terrorism it is more important to study what terrorists do rather than what they say.[1] University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape argues, for example, that Islam has little to do with suicide bombing. Rather, he suggests, that suicide bombers, wherever they are in the world, are motivated much more by tactical goals. He juxtaposes the suicide terrorism of the (non-Islamic) Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with Islamist suicide bombing to demonstrate that a desire to end occupation is the common factor rather than religion. Therefore, he suggests focus upon religion is a distraction and that policymakers seeking to stop the scourge of suicide attacks should work instead to address root causes, which he sees as the presence of troops or interests in disputed or occupied lands.[2]

    Despite the revisionism advanced by Pape and others, the fact remains that most suicide bombings since 1980 in the world in general and in the Middle East in particular are sponsored by Islamist and not secular terrorist groups. Pape avoids this conclusion by gerrymandering his data so that he does not need to include the significant numbers of suicide bombings conducted by Sunnis against Shi‘a in Iraq.[3]

    Middle East expert Martin Kramer suggests that Pape's theses may be comforting to Western readers who want to believe that if only the United States were to pull its military forces from the Persian Gulf and if only all occupation in the Middle East would end, that there would be no more suicide bombings. Western thinking admires empirics, metrics, and pie charts. The secular emphasis of Pape's theories also comforts. But comfort does not correlate with reality. Islamism is an ideology, and that it does not fit neatly into existing political theory should be beside the point.[4]

  2. The above comment is total nonsense. Pape never denies that radical religion plays a part. And he never says that foreign occupation is a sufficient condition for growth in suicide bombings – otherwise, even Germans and South Koreans would be rising up against their US occupiers. He only says that the unique situation of the Middle East makes foreign occupation a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for suicide bombings.

  3. Right; sure. And tbe other conditions needed for sufficiency are ….? Just the ideological issues Jen06 introduces.

  4. In his “Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”, Pape furthers an argument that implies the focus of suicide terrorism is primarily the rational-strategic function of “coercion”. It serves a rational, political, and utilitarian purpose–instead of ostensibly being important esoterically, as symbol.

    However, it is the symbol that is important, in an ideological realm, because ideology does not require material affirmation to survive. Ideology can inspire suicide bombers from now until any kingdom come, for any variety of reasons–not solely limited to any western academically inspired notions of “rationality” or “strategy”.

    I agree with Jen06 wholeheartedly, in the West we often ignore the subtle aftermath of suicide terrorism: the newly sparked atmosphere of anxiety, the self-reflective behavior of the target, the implosion/isolation that inevitably follows. The United States embarked upon an almost predictable reaction to 9/11. We came out swinging–at anyone, any state or group who dared contest the assertion of the American will. The result was an almost six year long engagement, which intensely drained the US of physical, political, and psychological capital.

    Still, the impression of the event drew the world’s attention and resources to the Middle East–that may have been the primary purpose to begin with. All eyes were redirected toward a part of the world, as well as protracted struggles, that the West has willfully obscured for some time…

    It’s no surprise that elements of Islam and some of its more extreme motivations, vis-a-vis terrorism, don’t fit into Western models of analysis or theoretical prescription. We’ve been trying to keep our true motivations for the area under wraps since the Cold War…

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