Why do armed groups choose terrorism? Within political science, the prevailing approach to explaining this choice is known as the strategic model. It assumes that terrorist groups make rational calculations of costs and benefits to decide whether to use terrorism, and that the choice is predicated on the goal of winning material concessions from an opponent. This article challenges this view by introducing a distinction between possession goals and milieu goals, drawing from research on the foreign policy goals of states by Arnold Wolfers. It argues that some specific types of terrorist groups may be more oriented towards achieving milieu goals – defined here as non-material, non-exclusive efforts aimed at shaping the international environment – than possession goals, such as concessions over territory or political power. Expanding the typology of terrorist goals to include milieu goals helps to address some of the persistent puzzles around the rationality of terrorism and raises new questions for theoretical and empirical research.
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The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) is a think-and-do tank based in The Hague, Netherlands. We provide research, policy advice, training and other solutions to support better counter-terrorism policies and practices worldwide. We also contribute to the scientific and publi.…