Why do some countries experience more terrorism than others? The role of bureaucratic capacity is intensely investigated by existing research to address this puzzle, and the previous studies show that having a strong bureaucracy is useful for states to be protected from political violence[1]. There has not yet been a consensus in measuring bureaucratic capacity within this literature. Additionally, the impact of bureaucratic capacity on terrorism has not been examined for distinct types of terror attacks. In this paper, I present a relationship between bureaucratic capacity and different types of terrorist activities, namely domestic and transnational terrorism, by offering empirical evidences which use a more comprehensive measurement of bureaucratic capacity. I use four indicators to measure bureaucratic capacity: rule of law, military influence on politics, corruption, and bureaucratic quality as predictor variables. I will first review the existing arguments regarding the role of different indicators of bureaucratic capacity on terrorism, which resulted in five testable hypotheses. Then, I will discuss my research design to test these hypotheses. Next, I will present the evidences of bureaucratic capacity on terrorism and discuss the results. Finally, the paper will conclude with suggested directions for future research to explore the effects of bureaucratic capacity on terrorism.

The Relationship Between Bureaucratic Capacity and Terrorism

Before discussing the role of bureaucratic capacity on violent activities of terrorism, I first want to explain the concept of bureaucratic capacity. Bureaucratic capacity is the extent to which states can collect and manage information from the population, which then enables them to exert their authority via nonmilitarized means[2]. States with high levels of bureaucratic capacity have competent and technocratic bureaucratic structures with a merit-based promotion system, and they can exert a significant degree of institutional authority over the country’s territory[3]. The existing arguments, with respect to the role of bureaucratic capacity on insurgency/terrorism, suggest that bureaucratic capacity, unlike military capacity, allows states to exert their authority via nonviolent means[4]. Some previous research studies stress that having a high military capacity might not be effective in winning the wars against insurgent/terrorist groups because conventional armies, with mechanized structures (e.g. artillery, tanks, helicopters, and other sophisticated weapons), may be an obstacle for them when attempting to partner with local populations to fight insurgent/terrorist groups. Not being able to interact with the local populace may reduce the ability of conventional armies to gather intelligence from these locals regarding insurgent/terrorist groups, which could eventually undermine the capacity of the armies to eliminate these violent dissident groups[5]. Furthermore, conventional armies are too powerful compared to terrorist groups, and terrorism as a “weapon of the weak”[6] is used by violent dissident groups when they face disproportionately powerful government forces due to not having an incentive to target noncombatants by using terrorist violence, instead of confronting state military[7].

Having high bureaucratic capacity does however, enables states to be informed about goings-on at the local level, which can help states gather intelligence about the whereabouts of terrorists as well as hamper the ability of the terrorist group to conduct terror attacks. In other words, the higher bureaucratic capacity of the state, the better they will be at identifying and tracking terrorists in addition to being more likely to interdict terror attacks[8]. Furthermore, bureaucratically capable states are also more likely to provide social service provisions to their citizens in a timely manner[9], and states providing more social services can reduce terrorism[10] . Providing social services may lead to an increase in support for the state: citizens of a state tend to disapprove of terrorist actions against a state when that state provides public services in a timely fashion. Thus, an effective bureaucracy is an important power source for the state since it enables governments to implement and enforce enacted policy, deliver public goods to redress popular grievances, and selectively crack down on violent dissidents[11], which may eventually reduce the likelihood of experiencing terrorist violence. Therefore, I argue that states with higher bureaucratic capacity will experience less numbers of violent terrorist activities. I also argue that the individual indicators of bureaucratic capacity have a significant impact on explaining terrorist violence.

I will discuss the four dimensions of bureaucratic capacity: corruption, rule of law, bureaucratic quality, and military influence on politics. First, corruption is the abuse of public office for private gains[12] and damages the government’s ability to provide public services in a nondiscriminatory fashion[13]. When the public services become available to those who pay bribes, the state will lose its legitimacy in the eye of certain disadvantaged groups and this may lead to economic dissatisfaction among those disadvantaged groups[14]. Simpson[15] argues that the loss of legitimacy caused by corruption may encourage use of terrorist violence by the dissidents because the inability of the state institutions to address the grievances can be conducive to the emergence of political violence[16]. Therefore, I argue that states with higher corruption rates will experience more terrorist violence. Second, the high levels of rule of law should include two primary components: a fair, objective, and efficient judicial system and a legitimate legal system with respected laws and nonarbitrary decisions.[17]. A fair and objective judicial system must have an independent judiciary with unbiased prosecutors, lawyers and judges and must have stable law enforcement personnel[18]. In this sense, as the state has a greater rule of law, it tends to provide a peaceful way for people holding grievances to express these within the judicial system, instead of leading them to use violence to redress their grievances[19]. Thus, I argue that states with greater rule of law are less likely to experience terrorist violence. Third, bureaucratic quality has also been shown as a significant factor that reduces terrorist violence. Hendrix and Young[20] found that states with higher bureaucratic quality experience a lesser number of terror attacks. States with high bureaucratic quality tend to provide public goods to their citizens in a timely fashion, which might increase the cost of using terrorist violence because the citizens enjoying the benefits of the government’s performance in delivering public goods might be less likely to support a terrorist campaign against that government. Hence, I argue that as the state has a higher bureaucratic quality, it is less likely to experience terrorist violence. Finally, military influence on politics could disrupt the decision-making process since military and civilian administrations have differing opinions about resolving the grievances of people in the society. The involvement of military in politics, even at a peripheral level, is a diminution of democratic accountability. In some countries, the threat of military take-over can force an elected government to change policy or cause its replacement by another government more amenable to the military’s wishes. Such a problematic system of governance is likely to create an armed opposition[21]. Given these arguments, I contend that states having undue military influence on politics might be more likely to experience terrorist violence than states without undue military influence on political affairs. Thus, I finalize this discussion with the following hypotheses:

H1: States with greater rule of law will experience less terrorist violence

H2: States with higher corruption rates will experience more terrorist violence

H3: States with higher bureaucratic quality will experience less terrorist violence

H4: States with higher military influence on political affairs will experience more terrorist violence

H5: States with higher bureaucratic capacity overall will experience less terrorist violence

Research Design

I will test my hypothesis with time series cross-sectional data, commonly preferred in political science fields for hypothesis testing. My unit of analysis is state-year. I will look at yearly variation in the number of terror attacks in a given state, given the change in the levels of bureaucratic capacity for the state. There are 147 countries in my data set. The time period covered in my statistical analysis is from 1984 to 2007. My data structure will appear as one observation per the number of terror attacks, the level of bureaucratic capacity and control variables for a given state in a given year.

Dependent variable

Since I investigate the variation in experiencing terror attacks given the level of bureaucratic capacity, my dependent variable is the number of terror attacks in a given state and year. I distinguish the effect of bureaucratic capacity on terrorism based on the type of terrorism. In other words, the bureaucratic capacity of the state might have different effects on violent terrorist activities committed by dissenters of the home country versus terrorism committed by violent actors from a different country. Therefore, I looked at both domestic and transnational terrorism experienced by a given state in a given year. For measuring terrorism, there are a few different options. One is the Global Terrorism Database (GTD)[22], commonly used in the literature, which reports all terror attacks in countries but does not distinguish the type of terrorist activities as domestic or transnational terrorism. Therefore, I used Enders, Sandler and Gaibulloev’s data[23] since they classify terror attacks from the GTD into domestic and transnational terrorism. By using their data, I was able to determine domestic and transnational terror incidents for countries in my database. According to Enders, Sandler and Gaibulloev, a terrorist incident is domestic if the perpetrators and the target are from, and in, the same country[24]. For their definition of transnational terrorism, a terrorist incident is transnational if 1) the nationality of the perpetrators is different from the victim(s) 2) the nationality of the victim differs from the target country 3) the attack targets foreign diplomats, international organizations, international peacekeepers, 4) the terrorist attack starts in one country but ends in another country 5) terrorists go across an international border to perpetuate the attack [25]. Because my dependent variable is a count variable, I use negative binomial regression as an estimation technique. Most state-year observations report zero domestic or transnational terror attacks in the data, which indicates that the dependent variable presents in skewed form, which is another justification for using negative binomial regression technique.

Independent variables

My independent variable is bureaucratic capacity, and I measured this concept with four indicators. Most studies have used the “bureaucratic quality” measure to operationalize this concept. Cole’s study[26] represents an exception because he used three indicators to measure bureaucratic capacity: corruption, military influence on politics and bureaucratic quality. In addition to these three indicators of bureaucratic capacity, I also added rule of law as a fourth indicator, which makes the measurement of the concept of bureaucratic capacity more comprehensive than the previous measurement. Rule of law is also an important dimension of bureaucratic capacity because implementing counterterrorism policies without committing to rule of law could lead to a disproportionate use of state power in fighting terrorism, which may then lead to civilian victimization within counterterrorism operations and the loss of public support for the government.

In measuring these four indicators, I used the International Country Risk Guide Database. Rule of law variable is a measure with a 7-point scale ranging from 0 to 6, with the higher scores in the scale indicating a greater degree of rule of law for a given state. Like the rule of law variable, military’s role in politics and corruption variables are also created based on a 7-point scale ranging from 0 to 6. However, the higher scores in the military influence on politics and corruption variable suggest a lower degree of military role in politics and a lesser degree of corruption. Finally, the bureaucratic quality variable is a measure with 5-point scale, ranging from 0 to 5, with the higher scores indicating higher levels of bureaucratic quality. While these four variables are created with ordinal scales, I should note that they have continuous values.

Control variables

I checked for certain factors that might potentially confound the relationship between bureaucratic capacity and terrorism. Whether the state is in a state of ongoing civil war is controlled because terrorism is commonly used within the context of civil war[27]. I use the UCDP Armed Conflict Dataset[28] to measure whether a given country is in a civil war in a given year. A dichotomous civil war variable is coded 1 if the state is in civil war, and 0 is otherwise. I controlled for regime type because a great deal of research shows a positive or negative link between democracy and terrorism, and I, therefore, controlled for this factor. I used Polity IV data[29] to determine regime type. Polity IV data creates a scale ranging from -10 to 10, and countries scoring 10 are the most democratic countries, and those scoring -10 are the most autocratic countries. I also controlled for state repression since repression is one of the strongest indicators of terrorism[30]. I used the Political Terror Scale[31] to measure state repression. The repression variable is a measure with a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 to 5 with the higher scores indicating higher levels of state repression. Past terror attacks are also controlled because there may be a temporal dependency between current and past terror attacks. I used the Global Terror Database to measure this variable. The past terror attack variable captures the average annual number of past terror attacks for a given state. Post-cold war era is controlled because terrorism is increasingly becoming a transnational security challenge especially after the cold war era ended. Finally, I control for GDP per capita and population since these variables are usually controlled in the previous studies, which made my results consistent with the literature. In the next section, I will present the results of my empirical analyses on the relationship between bureaucratic capacity and terrorism.


After building my data set to test the hypothesis on the relationship between bureaucratic capacity and terrorism, I analyze the data by using STATA 13 software to present the results of my empirical analysis. Tables 1 and 2 below present the findings of negative binomial regression on the effect of the four indicators of bureaucratic capacity on domestic and transnational terrorism. In the tables, I report the coefficients and standard errors, shown in parenthesis below the coefficients. I interpreted the results based on the coefficients. The coefficients with a positive sign indicate a positive relationship between a given independent or control variable and the dependent variable, and those with a negative sign indicates the opposite. The stars on the coefficients represent the significance level. One star suggests that the variable is statistically significant at 90 percent confidence level in predicting the dependent variable (p value is less than 0.1); two stars indicate that the variable is statistically significant at 95 percent confidence level (p value is less than 0.05); and three stars represent 99 percent significance level (p value is less than 0.01 level) in predicting the dependent variable. The coefficients without a star(s) show that a given variable has no considerable influence on the dependent variable.

According to the findings in Table 1, the sign of the coefficient of the rule of law variable is statistically significant with one star, suggesting that rule of law significantly explains domestic terrorism at a 90 percent confidence level, and negative sign of the coefficient suggests that states with greater rule of law experience a lesser number of domestic terror attacks. The coefficient for the military influence on politics is strongly significant (99 percent confidence level), suggesting that it is a good predictor of domestic terrorism. The negative sign of the coefficient of this variable indicates that higher scores of the military influence on politics variable (meaning less military influence on political affairs) is associated with a lesser number of domestic terrorism acts. The results of rule of law and military influence on politics support the hypothesis that a higher bureaucratic capacity is associated with less terrorist violence because they suggest that a greater rule of law and a lesser military influence on political affairs are associated with a lesser number of domestic terror attacks. While the findings on rule of law and military influence on politics support the theoretical argument, I could not find significant support for the hypothesis given the results for corruption and bureaucratic quality. The coefficients of the corruption variable and bureaucratic quality are not statistically significant. Therefore, these variables appear to not explain domestic terrorism. Regarding the findings for the control variables, all control variables are statistically significant, suggesting that they significantly explain domestic terrorism. Discussing the results of the individual control variables, the states in an ongoing civil war experience a higher number of domestic terror attacks. More populous countries and those with higher levels of GDP per capita are associated with more domestic terrorist violence. Concerning the finding for the regime type variable, the coefficients on all models suggest that more democracy predicts more domestic terrorist violence. For the repression variable, the coefficients show that more repressive states experience more domestic terrorist violence. In terms of the role of past experience on terror, states with higher numbers of past terror attacks also experience more domestic terrorism. Finally, the number of domestic terror attacks is lower in the post-cold war era than during the cold war era.

Table 1 Negative Binomial Results on the Effect of Bureaucratic Capacity on Domestic Terrorism


Model 1 Model 2 Model 3

Model 4

Rule of law -0.147*
Military influence on politics -0.237***
Corruption 0.0396
Bureaucratic quality -0.0824
Civil War 0.535** 0.708*** 0.566** 0.603**
(0.264) (0.232) (0.258) (0.263)
Population 0.396*** 0.389*** 0.364*** 0.385***
(0.0625) (0.0589) (0.0617) (0.0667)
GDP per capita 0.428*** 0.464*** 0.310*** 0.384***
(0.122) (0.120) (0.111) (0.121)
Regime Type 0.0646*** 0.0802*** 0.0680*** 0.0669***
(0.0161) (0.0170) (0.0173) (0.0170)
Repression 0.669*** 0.588*** 0.760*** 0.713***
(0.132) (0.119) (0.122) (0.123)
Past terror attacks 0.0183*** 0.0160*** 0.0179*** 0.0180***
(0.00597) (0.00484) (0.00555) (0.00569)
Post-cold war era -0.419** -0.434*** -0.539*** -0.539***
(0.209) (0.161) (0.170) (0.173)
Constant -7.702*** -7.469*** -7.225*** -7.636***
(1.239) (1.200) (1.226) (1.271)
Observations 2,127 2,102 2,102 2,102

Robust standard errors are in parentheses. *** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1

After discussing the results in Table 1, I will now interpret the results regarding the effect of bureaucratic capacity on transnational terrorism, which are included in Table 2. According to the results of the four indicators of bureaucratic capacity, rule of law and bureaucratic quality have no major influence on transnational terrorism. On the other hand, the military influence on politics variable is still statistically significant at 99 percent confidence level, and the coefficient has a negative sign, which suggests that less military influence on political affairs predicts a lesser number of transnational terror attacks. Unlike the expectation of the theoretical hypothesis, the coefficient of the corruption variable demonstrates that more corrupt countries experience more transnational terror attacks. The sign of the coefficient is positive, suggesting a positive relationship between corruption and transnational terrorism but note that the higher scores on corruption indicate a lower degree of corruption. The findings on all control variables are as statistically significant as they are in Table 1, and the signs of their coefficients are in the same direction as they are in Table 1. Thus, the control variables predict both domestic and transnational terrorism in the same way.

Table 2 Negative Binomial Results on the Effect of Bureaucratic Capacity on Transnational Terrorism


Model 1 Model 2 Model 3

Model 4

Rule of law -0.087
Military influence on politics -0.165***
Corruption 0.128*
Bureaucratic quality -0.0701
Civil War 0.519** 0.582*** 0.469** 0.539**
(0.244) (0.217) (0.236) (0.240)
Population 0.274*** 0.267*** 0.249*** 0.269***
(0.0591) (0.0535) (0.0609) (0.0596)
GDP per capita 0.369*** 0.438*** 0.265*** 0.365***
(0.102) (0.0921) (0.0892) (0.102)
Regime type 0.0695*** 0.0755*** 0.0673*** 0.0696***
(0.0122) (0.0130) (0.0130) (0.0126)
Repression 0.475*** 0.426*** 0.594*** 0.500***
(0.104) (0.0950) (0.104) (0.100)
Past terror attacks 0.00920*** 0.00864*** 0.00935*** 0.00930***
(0.00318) (0.00286) (0.00298) (0.00301)
Post- cold war -0.311** -0.313*** -0.380*** -0.376***
(0.125) (0.103) (0.110) (0.108)
Constant -6.793*** -6.941*** -6.658*** -6.908***
(1.033) (0.958) (1.050) (1.041)
Observations 2,127 2,102 2,102 2,102

Robust standard errors are in parentheses. *** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1

I have interpreted the effect of the individual indicators of bureaucratic capacity on terrorism. As the last part of this section, I will discuss the effect of overall bureaucratic capacity on domestic and transnational terrorism with the findings included in Table 3. To do that, I have created an index of bureaucratic capacity that includes all four indicators. This is an additive index that combines the scores of rule of law, military influence on politics, corruption and bureaucratic quality. As the scores of the index increases, the rule of law will be greater, the military influence on politics and corruption will decrease, and bureaucratic quality will increase. The findings on the effect of bureaucratic capacity index on domestic and transnational terrorism are reported in Table 3. The coefficients of the index show that as the overall bureaucratic capacity of the state increases, the number of domestic terror experienced decreases. This suggests that if a given state has greater rule of law, less undue military influence, engage less in corruption, and provides more public good and has more competent bureaucracy, it is feasible to expect that that state is more likely to experience less domestic terror. While the finding on overall bureaucratic capacity confirms the hypothesis regarding a reduction in domestic terror, the results also say that there is no significant relationship between the overall bureaucratic capacity and transnational terrorism.

Table 3 Negative Binomial Regression of the Overall Bureaucratic Capacity on Domestic and Transnational Terrorism






Bureaucratic capacity index -0.0657*** -0.0333
(0.0240) (0.0238)
Civil War 0.651** 0.556**
(0.263) (0.233)
Population 0.403*** 0.271***
(0.0591) (0.0577)
GDP per capita 0.493*** 0.403***
(0.123) (0.0992)
Regime Type 0.0683*** 0.0703***
(0.0173) (0.0126)
Repression 0.611*** 0.455***
(0.121) (0.100)
Past terror attacks 0.0176*** 0.00914***
(0.00564) (0.00304)
Post-cold war -0.464*** -0.342***
(0.176) (0.109)
Constant -7.881*** -6.889***
(1.209) (0.990)
Observations 2,102 2,102

Robust standard errors are in parentheses. *** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1


To conclude, the results of my quantitative analysis suggest that as the state has greater bureaucratic capacity, it is likely for the state to experience domestic terrorism in a lesser extent. Bureaucratic capacity, however, seems to not significantly affect transnational terrorism. More specifically, the results show that rule of law and military influence on politics are an important indicator of bureaucratic capacity that have significant impact on domestic terrorism. Military influence on politics, however, also has a significant impact on transnational terrorism. The potential reason for the different results on the effect of bureaucratic capacity on different types of terrorist violence might be the fact that a state is limited to project its capacity within its border[32]. States may not be able to prevent terrorist attacks arising from an external environment or actors by relying on their internal capacity.

Given the robust impact of this variable in the analyses, the future research on terrorism should further explore the role of military influence of political affairs on political violence. The recent literature on civil war includes some studies on the effect that civil-military relations has on intrastate conflict but more research on the impact of undue military influence or civilian supremacy on military could improve our understanding of the dynamics of intrastate conflict including terrorist campaigns. Unlike the previous research, I did not find evidence for the significant relationship between bureaucratic quality and terrorism. The findings on the bureaucratic quality for both domestic and transnational terrorism are not significant in my analysis. One unexpected finding in the analyses is regarding corruption. The analysis performed for transnational terrorism shows that states with less corruption experience more transnational terrorist attacks. Since transnational terrorism has seen a recent rise in Western countries that have relatively more clean records on corruption, this finding may not be necessarily surprising. However, I don’t have a strong theoretical explanation for this unexpected finding. The future research can focus exclusively on the effect of corruption on transnational terrorism. While some research addressing the link between corruption and terrorism has been done, the impact of corruption might differ by types of terrorism.




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  1. DeRouen and Sobek 2004; Blankenship 2016; Hendrix and Young 2014; Taydas, Peksen and James 2010
  2. Hendrix 2010; Hendrix and Young 2014
  3. Weber 1946;Mann 1993;Evans and Rauch 1999
  4. Blankenship 2016;Hendrix and Young 2014
  5. Lyall and Wilson 2009
  6. Crenshaw 1981, Lake 2002
  7. Hendrix and Young 2014
  8. Hendrix and Young 2014, p.336
  9. Taydas, Peksen and James 2010;Hendrix and Young 2010
  10. Burgoon 2006
  11. Goodwin 2001
  12. Sandholtz and Koetzle 2000; Taydas et al. 2010
  13. Taydas et al. 2010
  14. Ibid. p.200
  15. Simpson 2014
  16. Tilly 1978
  17. Choi 2010
  18. Choi 2010, p.944; Raz 1977, p.198-201
  19. Choi 2010
  20. Hendrix and Young 2014
  21. Howell 2011, International Country Risk Guide Database Methodology
  22. LaFree and Dugan 2007
  23. Enders, Sandler and Gaibulloev (2011)
  24. Enders, Sandler and Gaibulloev (2011)
  25. Enders, Sandler and Gaibulloev (2011)
  26. Cole (2015)
  27. Findley and Young 2012
  28. Gleditsch et al. (2002)
  29. Marshall, Gurr and Jaggers(2015)
  30. e.g. Quinn and Mason(2015); Polo and Gleditsch(2016);Piazza(2017)
  31. Wood and Gibney(2010)
  32. Salehyan 2007