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Open Access Publications from the University of California

States and Terrorist Groups that Collaborate: Strong Bonds, Sensitive Transfers and the Issue of Control

  • Author(s): Klein, Robyn W.
  • Advisor(s): Weber, Steven
  • et al.

Cooperative relationships between states and terrorist groups have remained a constant source of concern for policymakers since the 1970s, but especially over recent years as the potential for high consequence transfers of state support to terrorists emerged as a primary focus of attention and a justification for war. Strangely though, despite their prominent place on the international political landscape, little real understanding exists about these relationships or state decision-making regarding allocations of support. Using documents captured in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, interviews, and other historical evidence, this dissertation addresses this significant gap in knowledge, providing important new understanding of the dynamics that shape state relationships with, and resource transfers to, terrorist groups.

The simple yet powerful insight this dissertation research uncovers is that the quality of support states are willing to provide to terrorist groups increases as the degree of control that states maintain over terrorist groups--or in rare cases, that terrorist groups maintain over states--increases. For states, control is the mechanism that narrows the gap between how a state wants a terrorist group to behave and what the terrorist group actually does. Control, however, is not inherent, cheap, or easy for states to acquire. This means that states face critical trade-offs when deciding how much control to seek. By highlighting those trade-offs and the key variables that cause control to rise and fall, this study provides an important new window into the often opaque relationships between these actors and states' calculus for allocating different levels of support to individual terrorist groups.

This research fills an important gap in the scholarly literature. It also holds enormous practical value for national security analysts and policymakers. Rather than treat cooperative relationships between states and terrorist groups in either a sui generis or homogeneous fashion, it creates a theoretical framework that can be used to parse the actual threat posed by specific relationships, including by identifying some of the circumstances that could produce high consequence state transfers of support. In addition, these findings suggest a number of principles that can be employed to enhance the effectiveness of international efforts to diminish the threat of high consequence terrorism.

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