Conflict is a major driver of terrorist activity

IEP research shows a strong link between the existence of armed conflicts in countries and terrorism.

Existing conflict is a primary driver of terrorist activity, according to the Global Terrorism Index.

In 2018, 95 per cent of deaths from terrorism occurred in countries where violent conflict was already occurring and the ten countries most affected by terrorism were all engaged in an armed conflict, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, India, Yemen, Philippines, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Insurgent groups use terrorism as a tactic of war and are more likely to target infrastructure, the police and state military, according to research from the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).

Over the last decade, both the level of conflict and the impact of terrorism around the world has significantly increased. In 2014, battle-related deaths reached a 25-year high while deaths from terrorism reached their highest point since 1998.

The close relationship between existing conflict and terrorism activity is also apparent in the data measuring fatalities for both categories. According to IEP calculations, battle-related deaths and deaths from terrorism tend to move together.

From 2011 to 2014, battle-related deaths increased 318 per cent, while deaths from terrorism increased 353 per cent. The downward trend over the past three years has also been remarkably similar, with battle-related deaths falling 49 per cent between 2014 and 2018 and deaths from terrorism falling 52 per cent over the same period. The same trend can be observed in the countries with the highest levels of terrorism.

Analysis of long-term data reveals that as the number of countries experiencing a significant amount of terrorism rises or falls over time, so does the number of internal armed conflicts.­­­


Within countries in conflict, a higher intensity of terrorism is generally associated with longer and deadlier armed conflicts. There is a significant statistical relationship between the intensity of internal armed conflicts and the number of terrorist attacks per year.

Countries with the highest rates of battle-related deaths per year, such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and India, also have very high levels of terrorism. In any given internal armed conflict, a ten per cent increase in the number of terrorist attacks per year is associated with a 4.5 per cent increase in the number of battle-related deaths per year.

Terrorism in the context of armed conflict also tends to be deadlier on average than terrorism outside of conflict, with terrorism that occurs in civil wars being especially deadly. Terrorist attacks in civil war countries are more than three times deadlier than attacks in non-conflict countries.

Vision of Humanity

Editorial Staff

Vision of Humanity is brought to you by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), by staff in our global offices in Sydney, New York, The Hague and Mexico. Alongside maps and global indices, we present fresh perspectives on current affairs reflecting our editorial philosophy.