On Thursday, the U.S. State Department published its Country Reports on Terrorism: 2015—a congressionally mandated analytical and statistical review of global terrorism. It is important to understand how the U.S. government defines this subjective phenomenon: “The term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”
Based upon my initial reading, there are five significant findings that stand out from the latest report.
There was an overall decrease in global terrorism. Reversing trends that had been established in recent years, there was a decrease between 2014 and 2015 in total attacks, from 13,463 to 11,774, and total fatalities, from 32,727 to 28,328. There was also a slight decline in the number of countries where attacks took place, from 95 to 92. However, to keep this slight decrease in perspective, it still represents a remarkable growth of 215 percent over the past five years—during President Obama’s first full year in office, in 2010, there were 13,186 individuals killed by terrorists around the world.
Terrorism continued to be a phenomenon that is clustered in a handful of countries. In both the 2014 and 2015 reports, just over half of all attacks took place in five countries (Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Nigeria), and three-quarters of all fatalities in five as well (Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria). Unsurprisingly, terrorism remains the preferred tactic of relatively weaker non-state actors who believe they can achieve their political objectives through violence.