Why does Western Europe Experience more Terrorism than America?

Category: Society
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The act of terrorism is what is defined as “intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government (Cornell, 2001). Acts of terror are something that have always existed but have been gaining popularity within extremist groups in recent history. While every country may experience some type of terrorism, America and Western Europe have historic and present events that coincide with major terrorism activity. A high number of these terror attacks have taken place between the two regions. A major reason for these can be related to the government, which make up two thirds of the definition of terrorism. Many different attack types can take place and in order to attempt to cease all terror activities, governments within each country create their own counter terrorism policies.

Comparison of Number of Terrorist Attacks

To attain a better understanding of why terrorism occurs within Western Europe and America, the numbers and reasons must be explored to make connections. Search criteria within the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) was specifically chosen to correlate with current events. The years that are examined are from 1990 to 2017 and the acts committed must fall under the criteria for terrorism. This criteria states that there must be a political, economic, religious, or social goals; evidence for trying to spread their message to a larger audience; and that the actions cannot pertain to wartime activities.

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The GTD can not only produce a report on the number of attacks, but also the type of attacks that have taken place. To compare, America since 1990 has had 640 terrorist incidents, whereas Western Europe has had 5466 incidents (START, 2018). Over the course of these 27 years that are inspected, Western Europe amounts to about 89.5% of all terror attacks (START, 2018). The database results expose a significant difference between the frequency of attacks between the two regions, which prove the theory that Western Europe is more prone to terrorism. This solidifies the question that is being asked within the thesis.

One can hypothesize that the population of a country would go hand in hand with the frequency of terroristic events. This thought happens to turn out as not expected. Western Europe, according to the website Worldometers, has an estimated current population of 194 million people (Worldometers (WE), 2018). Whereas America is estimated to contain about 327 million citizens (Worldometers (US), 2018), which is significantly greater than that of the Western European countries. This resulting data then proves that the population size of the regions can be deemed not necessary within the discussions of this paper. The graphs produced by the GTD detail that America has seen a significant uptick with terrorism within the past 5 years, whereas Western Europe has maintained an even trend of attacks. Even though there has been an increase of attacks in America, the quantity of attacks in Western Europe still dilute the thoughts of America being the safer country terrorism-wise. An explanation must be found for why Western Europe is so prone to terrorism when compared to America even though there is a small difference of population between the two regions.

Comparison of Governments

Within Western Europe and America, the government types vary immensely. Since Western Europe is such a large region with a large quantity of smaller countries and their own respective governments, this study will look at the French and British government systems and compare them to America’s. France and Britain make up roughly 80% of Western Europe’s population.

Between France and Britain, there have been 435 recorded attacks against governmental targets (START, 2018). Whereas, in America, there has only been 66 governmental oriented terror attacks since 1990 (START, 2018). The vast difference in attacks can either relate to how the respective citizens feel about their nation, or their liberties that they are granted. The governments can be considered the most important factor when terrorism is involved, because these are the groups representing the citizens of each respective nation. A very detailed report is necessary for the selected countries from Western Europe and for America to understand the root cause of the terror attacks that take place.

Britain’s government consists of a parliamentary democracy whereas France possesses a Republic. The main difference between these two types is what the citizens get to decide. The British government elects a Prime Minister, whereas the French elect a President who appoints a Prime Minister. While each country has rights to electing local officials, these are going to be omitted within this study due to the large quantity of officials. Reasons for terror attacks panned out on the government can coincide with citizens approval of their elected office or the governmental rights that they are given. France’s President Emmanuel Macron as of September 5 this year has an approval rating of 31% (Walsh, 2018). The United Kingdom’s Prime Minster, Theresa May, has a close approval rating of 34% (Public Opinion, 2018). When close to 70% of a country is upset with how their leaders that they elected in are preforming, this can lead to citizens wanting to “fight the resistance. If this type of idea is spread to the right number of people, mainly those who are unstable, attacks are bound to come. These individuals think that by targeting these in power that they will have the power to sway the ideas of others to enact change.

The United States government can be described as federation, which is self-governing. This government type uses a democracy as its base. A president is elected by the people of the nation in America, where the respective President has power to pick other politicians to control different sectors. As of November 23, of this year, President Donald Trump has a 42.5% approval rating (FiveThirtyEight, 2018). The comparison of all three countries show there is not much of a difference between approval ratings of French President Macron, British Prime Minister May, and President Trump. While there can still be attacks based on the approval of the respective leader, there seems to be more of a reason to attack the government based on how the citizens are treated.

The main difference between America and these two countries from Western Europe is how the laws are written. When America was founded, a Constitution was written, as well as a Bill of Rights. This document protects citizens in many ways, such as speech and a right to a fair trial. Britain and France do not process a Bill of Rights, but have a constitution where citizens may be protected, but not to the extent of America’s Bill of Rights. If the citizens of these Western European countries are not given a fair trial, certain ethnicities can be targeted. France has just recently passed new terrorism laws in May of this year, where the United Nations (UN) states that “Muslims in France have been the community primarily subject to exceptional measures (UN News, 2018). The UN released this statement due to evidence of religious encroachment on their individual freedoms due to the French closing mosques.  In Britain, a case study done by professors found that “relations between the police and [British Muslims] to be strained” which can amount to injustice on these respective citizens depending on if the cop is prejudice (Mythen, 2009). While these citizens of France and Britain are given liberties, it has been witnessed that the government has the power to take these liberties from the minority groups. This helps further describe as to why the number of terror attacks against the government in not only these two countries, but as Western Europe as a whole. While there may be prejudice against minorities in America, it has not reached the governmental level that it has in France and Britain. With these minority groups in Western Europe being treated differently, there is always at least one person who believes something should be done to change their conditions. Only so much peaceful protests can happen until things turn deadly, and with these events happening, more liberties are taken away. This creates a rotating wheel of terroristic events in Western Europe.

Comparison of Infrastructure

Western Europe contains a very dense area of population in relation to its size. Due to less land needing to be traveled, this produces more populous cities that contain large numbers of public transportation. America, when compared to Western Europe, is very large. To help understand better, France, whose area is about 674,843 km2, is smaller when compared to the U.S. state Texas, whose area is around 696,200 km2 (Lesswrong, 2013). In America, more citizens are spread out throughout the entire country, producing less dense cities. Individuals in America have the freedom to travel far distances by vehicle without having to cross borders. But the downsize to this shear area of land that America encompasses is that the main mode of transportation is airplanes.

The GTD defines a transportation attack one that is on the infrastructure of the respective country (START, 2018). The infrastructure can be defined as what helps everyday life happen for the citizens of these countries. Examples include transit systems such as busses and rail ways, bridges, and roads. By defining this type of attack within the criteria on the database, Western Europe has experienced 62 incidents, whereas America has experienced 4 incidents (START, 2018). While Western Europe has experienced more infrastructure-based attacks, another search criterion is available that is related to infrastructure, airports and aircrafts. Between the two regions, according to the GTD, America has experienced 10 airport and aircraft related attacks compared to Western Europe, who has only had 1 since 1990 (START, 2018). According to the Federal Aviation Administration, 2.6 million use airplane transportation everyday within the United States, proving to be a vital option for transportation. The significance of each attack type will be inspected and discussed to help describe the higher amount of attacks within Western Europe.

When a terror attack takes place, the actor wants to ensure that the highest amount of impact is felt by the citizens of the surrounding area. With Western Europe possessing the denser cities than that of America, an attack on a city within Western Europe produces the most results. When a form of transportation is attacked upon within Wester Europe, not only does it aid in helping spread the actors’ ideas, but it also creates a long-term effect on the infrastructure. With the cities being so tightly packed rebuilding of streets, buildings, or for example the rail systems need rebuilt after a terror attack. These attacks also affect any bystanders and considering about 30% of Western Europeans make their daily commutes by foot, even more casualties occur (Pucher, 1988). American cities are prone to experience these types of attacks, but the occurrence is low due to high security. Over the span of 27 years that are being examined, the September 11, 2001 airplane attacks that took place caused the largest impact on the United States. To this day, not only does America base their ideas of national security off this event, but so does the rest of the world. Creating fear within American citizens based off a very popular form of transportation still effects citizens to this day and their commutes considering the tight security that was put in place. These types of attacks are very unlikely to happen again within America. But for Western Europe, the threat is available every day for an attack in the high population cities. This vast difference in the number of attacks and the probability of them happening shows why the Western European countries are more likely to experience terror-based attacks.

Comparison of Counter-Terrorism Tactics

The problems that each region faces when it comes to terrorism is handled differently, which in order to understand the vast difference in terror attacks between the two, the policies that are in place for how these acts are prevented must be examined. According to Tracy Higgns of Indiana University, “A nation’s counterterrorism strategy is highly dependent on the political will of its leaders []” which goes hand in hand with the publics relation and how they view their governmental agencies (Higgins, 1994). These individuals within the higher power government create these policies to help stop terrorism before the attacks arrive to their respective homeland.

While counter terrorism was a part of policy within the United States before 2001, the September 11 attacks were the catalyst for “counter terrorism [to] immediately be[come] [George] Bush’s Administrations’ highest priority (Jenkins, 2017).  This involved Bush declaring a “War on Terrorism” which included America invading the Middle East. This “war is still unfolding today, with American troops still within the Middle East. The statement can be made that these actions that America made during this time period solidified the success found within the counter terrorism stand, but according to Daniel Byman of The Brookings Institute, “successful counter terrorism is difficult to measure (Byman, 2003). This is due to the high quantity of different extremist groups and their ability to evade the American troops. While the terrorism that America faces can be considered international, Western Europe is in much of a different situation. Western Europe, where every nation but the United Kingdom is apart of the UN, all abide to the same strategy that exists for preventing terrorism. The UN describes these actions under what they deem “four pillars” which are as follow: prevent, protect, pursue, and respond (Council, 2017). To define simply in ranking priority:

Pillar        Description

Prevent        “Radicalization and recruitment to extremist groups in 2008 where a revision was published in 2014 to combat the “evolving trends, such as lone-actor terrorism, foreign fighters, and the use of social media

Protect        “Citizens and infrastructure [] reducing vulnerability to attacks where a “passenger name record (PNR) is kept for any travelling person throughout the EU

Pursue        A hinderance to “Terrorists’ capacity to plan and organize and to bring these terrorists to justice

Respond        “Preparing, managing, and minimizing the consequences of a terrorist attack

(Council, 2017)

These methods have been revised with the changing times that Western Europe has faced within the recent years. More importance has been placed on counter terrorism based on the large number of attacks that Western Europe experiences, whereas America has started to become complacent to counter terrorism policies in past years.

Since the “War on Terrorism was declared, America has found themselves internationally involved preventing terrorism by going straight to the source. While homeland security is still considered, the Middle East gets the most attention. While this is a heavily debated topic on whether America should still be involved, the number of terror attacks has decreased and as large of an attack as 9/11 was has not been repeated. Western Europe, although, continues to experience many terror attacks even with the counter terrorism stand that they had taken. The UN states that their policies have been created and revised based on cooperation with the United Sates and other “international and regional organizations (Council, 2017). With these many measures that Western Europe and the UN, who oversees them, have taken, a resolution to the occurrence of attacks that happen may be more difficult to create. A large difference between how “successful the two regions’ counter terrorism can be influenced by many factors. The biggest one being the location of each. America’s location overseas from the extremist groups location makes the terror attacks harder to go through with, especially with the homeland and airport security the United Sates process. Western Europe, which can be consider a large distance away from these extremist groups, experience more attacks due the ease of traveling to these countries. Since they are all land locked with one another, persons who carry out the terror attacks can walk, drive, or take a train across the borders. The ease of transportation within Western European countries is what provides the higher number of attacks compared to America. The less hoops that someone must jump through in order to create a terror attack, the more likely they are to happen.


Through inspection of the most important make-ups of a country, a few of the reasons why Western European countries experience more terrorism than America was able to be found. This statement can be made from the facts found from the GTD since 1990. Western Europe had 4,826 more terroristic events than America during the period of those 27 years. The government can be considered the most important piece of a country due to their contributions to the laws and regulations that are created. How each respective population of these regions approve of their elected leaders can be correlated to the number of terror attacks. If a government and their officials create more prejudice and unfairness on the members of their society based on these terroristic events a constant stream of attacks towards these countries.

Western Europe has in recent history had more less-approved leaders than America, and while the United States has been unfair to nationalities that are tied within these attacks, the Western European countries have had more rules and regulations put in place to interfere immensely with these citizens. The infrastructure of the respective regions also carries a large influence on the frequency on the number of attacks. The main thought through the terrorists’ eyes is that the more people severely injured, both physically and mentally, create a more successful attack. In order to do this, more dense cities with population that rely on public forms of transportation are targeted more often. With Western European countries matching the exact criteria of infrastructure explains the higher number of attacks within their cities than America. In order to stop all these attacks, counter terrorism policies must be enacted with a strong presence. Western Europe and America both were able to successfully do this, but, Western Europe’s is controlled by the higher governing European Union. This makes terrorism harder to control due to a cookie-cutter formula being placed over different territories with different factors as to why terrorism occurs. Terrorism is also harder to contain within Western Europe due to the proximity of countries. America is only bordered by Mexico and Canada, whereas Western Europe is a bunch of smaller countries all placed beside each other. This makes traveling for terrorists easier within Western Europe. While both countries experience terrorism, Western European is more prone to more of these events due to how their government is perceived by the public and the regulations that are made, composition of the infrastructure within population dense cities, and the counter terrorism policies.

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Why Does Western Europe Experience More Terrorism than America?. (2019, Aug 07). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/why-does-western-europe-experience-more-terrorism-than-america/