Henry Pascoe – IE University

Like Moths to the Flame: Do Aid Projects Attract Transnational Terrorism?


An important part of any counterinsurgency or state-building campaign is the effort to win the hearts and minds of the civilian population. To this end, governments and NGOs establish aid projects in order to improve the quality of life for local residents and to increase the legitimacy of the state. While recent news stories about aid workers being kidnapped or killed by terrorist groups are horrifying, they mask a broader question: Are aid projects effective in pacifying these areas, or does their presence actually attract more violence?  Even though humanitarian assistance is ostensibly non-political, aid projects themselves should make popular targets.  In addition to the potential for plundering the resources that the presence of aid projects entails, attacking these projects enforces the narrative of many terrorist groups that the incumbent government either cannot or will not protect civilians. To evaluate the effect of aid on terrorism, we combine geo-coded project-level aid data with a newly-assembled, geo-referenced version of the ITERATE database in order to examine the variation in transnational terrorism against aid projects in different areas of the world, as well as across project types. Are areas more likely to be targeted by terrorism if an aid project is established in the vicinity? What types of projects attract more violence than others? By addressing these questions, this project contributes both theoretically and empirically to the rapidly progressing area of inquiry examining the aid-terrorism connection.  We build upon extant macro-level findings regarding the aid-terrorism relationship by using high-resolution, subnational data to shed light on the mechanism(s) through which foreign aid actually affects terrorism.

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