Deadly Connections: States That Sponsor Terrorism

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MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS Deadly Connections: States that Sponsor Terrorism, by Daniel Byman. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005, xi + 311 pages. Map. Appendix to p. 333. Bibl. to p. 357. Index to p. 369. $30.

Anyone brave or foolish enough to wrestle with the contentious issue of state sponsorship of terrorism is immediately confronted by several obstacles. The first is a problem that has long corrupted research in the terrorism field: the frequently imprecise, partisan, and indeed propagandistic uses of terms such as "terrorism" and "state sponsorship." The second is the question of whether, in an era when transnational terrorist networks operating in far-flung regions are increasingly dominating the headlines, traditional ways of thinking about state sponsorship of terrorism have become outmoded, i.e., an example of "old-think" (p. 2). Although Georgetown University professor Daniel Byman has not managed to resolve all of the thorny issues related to his chosen topic, he deserves credit both for not ignoring these problems and for helping to clarify various matters that have often not been given adequate consideration.

Byman's focus herein is on "the nexus between terrorist groups and state sponsors" (p. 8), and he defines state sponsorship as "a government's intentional assistance to a terrorist group to help it use violence, bolster its political activities, or sustain [its] organization" (p. 10). Although this focus on active state support for non-state terrorist groups precludes a consideration of acts of terrorism carried out directly by the security forces of particular states, he later devotes an entire chapter to "passive [state] sponsors" who "deliberately turn a blind eye to the activities of terrorists in their countries but do not provide direct assistance" (p. 13). Indeed, the entire middle portion of his book is devoted to illustrative and intrinsically interesting case studies of state sponsorship of terrorism (Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and the Taliban's Afghanistan).

The first and last portions of Deadly Connections are instead more theoretical and/or policy-oriented. In chapter 1, he rightly emphasizes that there are "several types of state sponsorship" of terrorism and offers a typology of four categories of state support: "strong supporters" are states with both the desire and the capacity to support terrorist groups; "weak supporters" are those with the desire but not the capacity to offer significant support; "lukewarm supporters" are those that offer rhetorical but little actual tangible support; and "antagonistic supporters" are those that actually seek to control or even weaken the terrorist groups they appear to be supporting (p. 5). In chapter 2, he correctly notes that "[understanding motivations is vital both for predicting when a state might support a terrorist group and for determining how to end this backing" (p. 21 ), and he goes on to identify three primary motivations that lead states to risk supporting terrorist groups: "strategic" reasons, above all to weaken or destabilize rival regimes; "ideological" reasons, especially to export their doctrines or political systems; and "domestic" reasons, in particular to gain popular support by aiding "oppressed" kinsmen (p. 32). In chapter 3, he argues that states provide six types of support to terrorists: "training and operations; money, arms, and logistics; diplomatic backing; organizational assistance; ideological direction; and (perhaps most importantly) sanctuary" (p. 59). He concludes, perhaps unjustifiably, that terrorist groups that receive significant amounts of state support are far more difficult to counter and destroy than those that do not.

Later, Byman addresses the complex issue of how to stop state sponsorship of terrorism. In chapter 9, he argues that states which support terrorism are difficult to deter, either because they have already calculated that the strategic benefits of sponsoring terrorist groups outweigh the potential costs - inasmuch as sponsoring terrorism is often perceived as vital to their own geopolitical or domestic interests but is not usually viewed as an outright act of war by the states that are victimized - or because they are ideologically driven to do so in spite of those costs. …