Democracy vs Authoritarianism in combatting Terrorism.

 After a recent conversation about the downfall of Aleppo and the Middle East, the topic of Authoritarianism  and political/social stability arose. Do Authoritarian regimes bring about more stability than democracies? And if it weren’t for the western intervention in the Middle East would there be more stability in the region? In order for me to assess the differences between the two political systems I decided to chose a Authoritarian regime that was relatively neutral to western tampering, thus I decided to make a comparison between China (the upcoming supposed powerhouse) and the current superpower the US, and how they both combat terrorism and which is more effective in mitigating (reducing) threats of terrorism.

Terrorism is one of the most controversial issues the global modern world is challenged with addressing. Most nations have employed variations of strategies to combat the risk of terrorism, however the threat of terrorism still remains a major concern for governments and societies globally. Some scholars suggest that the most effective way to minimize the risk of terrorist attacks is to implement particular regimes; the most common regimes argued to be effective at minimising terrorist threats are democratic regimes and authoritarian regimes. However, these regimes are fundamentally different in their approaches in managing society. Democracies encourage freedom and participation, and authoritarian states encourage conformity and subjugation. Democratic states implore a more liberal approach in reducing the risk of terrorism, by providing its constituents with the freedom of expression, arguing that if minorities are able to voice their grievances through democratic processes they will be less likely to have the need to participate in acts of violence for political purposes. Authoritarian regimes, however, argue that stricter surveillance, security and restrictions are required in order to maintain order and stability within a nation.

It can be extrapolated (hey hey big word, meaning “assumed”) from their differing strategies that democratic nations experience less internal terrorist activity due to it’s liberal freedoms, but experience higher levels of transnational terrorist threats due to its involvement in foreign policy and influence. Contrastingly authoritarian nations experience less transnational terrorist activities due to their conservative and reluctant stance on international relations, however experience higher levels of internal terrorism due to their extreme oppression of minority groups and lack of liberal ideals. It can be argued that both regimes contribute to their own terrorism issues and both regimes also create a form of stability, however democratic regimes are more successful in harnessing stability without sacrificing its constituent’s civil liberties.

The United States of America have been very active on a global stage in their “War against Terror” campaign following the September 11 attacks from transnational terrorist group Al Qaeda, despite being a democratic nation with minimal terrorist activity within the nation (in comparison to non-democratic nations which experience higher levels of terrorism from local terrorist groups). It can be argued that the demand for terrorism is minimised in democratic nations such as America as the population have more access to liberties and are more likely to be able to demonstrate their grievances without fear of repercussions. However, other scholars who oppose this position state that democracies enable terrorist groups and extremists to gain traction and supporters, as democracies do not constrain opposing and possibly harmful rhetoric that can influence vulnerable minorities. This means that constituents of said nations are able to speak freely (to an extent) in opposition of the norms of the state. This also means that there is heightened religious tolerance of all denominations in comparison to authoritarian regimes, therefore minority groups are allowed to freely gather and practice their religion without fear of persecution.

However, to Authoritarian regimes this is considered as a possible chance for terrorist groups to plot against the state, therefore this form of tolerance, particularly in relation to Islamic groups is minimal in Authoritarian regimes. Despite this argument, functional democratic states such as the United States are more effective statistically at minimalizing internal threats of terrorism in comparison to non-democratic nations. Acts of terrorism in functioning democracies are generally linked to transnational acts of terrorism from terrorist organisations, offshoots of terrorist organisations or lone wolf terrorists who act in representation of said organisations, such as Al Qaeda or ISIS. It could be assumed that this is due to the democratic nations involvement in overseas issues and foreign policy, and the democratic nations attempts to democratise Islamic nations with western ideals of democracy, which opposes that of the terrorist organisations who aim to build a caliphate.

The western world and in particular the United States’ strategy to minimise terrorism post September Eleven was to implement democracy into the eastern world where the most substantial modern threat to western society is supposedly formed. However, this rationale assumes that if there were globalised democracy there would be no terrorism, which there is no credible evidence supporting said notion as it assumes that democracies are free from all internal forms of terrorism. Some scholars believe that terrorism is not linked to regime types, but are correlated with religion, particularly Islam. This would explain the some of the acts of terror within democratic nations that have been linked to particular religious extremists such as ISIS. However, it can also be argued that these extremist groups use religion to legitimise their actions in order to gain popularity, to then go on to pursue more political agendas. Therefore it can be assumed that most acts of terrorism have political agendas, however may not necessarily be linked to issues caused by a regime type. Terrorism, particularly in relation to the West, has also been linked to a response to the West’s attempts to dominate the Middle East.

157186_600.jpgFurthermore, it can be speculated that implementing democracy into these dominantly Islamic nations may not have the desired impact that western states suggested they would, as most Islamic terrorist organisations in said areas are more concerned with the implementation of an Islamic state which can incorporate democratic activities such as elections and parliament. However, in the 2013 National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Reponses to Terrorism, Global Terrorism Database, the statistics suggested that “not free” and “partly free” countries (such as said authoritarian regimes) had a vast majority of terrorist attacks occur within said counties in comparison to the small percentage of terrorist attacks that occurred within “free” democratic nations. However, this does not exclude the fact that terrorist activity does still exist in democracies. It also fails to consider that there is a larger percentage of countries that are considered “not free” and “partly free” and there is long history of turmoil and war within these areas, as well as more economic, social issues and instability within many of said countries.



There has been a variety of Authoritarian states that have attempted to combat terrorism, some failing to do so and others succeeding through extreme military force and a disregard for human rights. For example Authoritarian Algeria in their success in eliminating the Armed Islamic Group through “dirty war” tactics. These forms of military interventions often imposed inhumane social situations on populations, removing civil liberties from nations in return for some form stability. As an Authoritarian state China’s policies favour a more “secure state” in return for minimal civil liberties of its constituents. In the case of China internal terrorism from minorities is seen as a threat to the nations stability, therefore China has implemented a state of security and surveillance, particularly enforcing these notions of zero tolerance in dominantly Muslim provinces (such as the Xinjiang province).

Woman on crutch shouts at Chinese paramilitary police wearing riot gear as crowd of angry locals confront security forces on street in Urumqi

The Muslim communities are alienated, with the Islamic religion being repressed and religious freedoms restricted such as wearing religious attire, growing of the facial hair and restrictions placed on the possession of Islamic propaganda on electronic devices (which are monitored by authorities). However these harsh acts of religious oppression from the state only contribute to and facilitated more frustration and alienation of minorities, causing young men to radicalise and in turn become more of a threat through public displays of violent protests against their oppression. The Chinese government uses the language of “terrorism” and “war against terror”, similar to that of the modern United States in order to suit their objective of repressing the Islamic minority. However, the acts of opposition from minority groups are still considered terrorist activity within China, even though outsiders may consider it as action against oppression. Nonetheless China experiences lower threat of transnational terrorist attack possibly due to their reluctance to involve themselves in transnational issues.

Democratic and authoritarian regimes in modern society both still maintain situations of vulnerability to terrorism and terrorist attacks. Democracies are more successful statistically at minimizing the risk of internally fuelled terrorist attacks, however stimulate more of a threat to their own security from terrorism in their attempts to democratise the Middle East, imposing on the goals of Islamic extremist groups. Democracies also generally come from a position of historical stability and control, therefore terrorism is less likely due to the social conditions so a fair comparison is difficult to produce, as the terrorist activity may not necessarily be linked to the regime type but from the history of social issues and turmoil, where the implementation of a democracy may have little to no impact on the ongoing social and religion related problems. Furthermore nations such as the United States may have more internal stability but they are more susceptible to transnational acts of terrorism as suggested in propaganda from Islamic extremist groups, and recent attacks in westernised nations such as France from offshoots of radical Islamic groups. Authoritarian nations have fewer terrorism issues on a transnational scale with international extremist groups, however maintain terrorist activity issues internally and contribute to the fostering of such issues by oppressing minority groups, which in turn radicalises the oppressed. Perhaps neither authoritarian or democratic regimes strategies are more effective than the other, and it can be suggested that both regimes actually contribute to their own terrorism issues. However, democracies seem to be the lesser of two evils, as they aren’t as likely to be victim to internal terrorism and violate less human liberties in order to obtain stability.






3 thoughts on “Democracy vs Authoritarianism in combatting Terrorism.

  1. interesting read , i don’t think that a state of authoritarianism promoted domestic terrorism in most cases , more the fact that for a long time the region has been destabilized by external influence such as america in Iraq in the early 2000’s, now most of the region is essentially lawless , look a Libya for example , gaddafi was in power for a long time , no civil uprising, gaddafi gets killed essentially by the US for trying to implement a gold trading scheme for Libyan oil , now Libya is in complete meltdown , from being controlled to now being a lawless country, all of a sudden people are just killing whoever they want in the streets. Libya opens it borders creating a gateway to Europe, refugees come through, what has changed in the middle east between now and in the 70’s is just balance of power through external influences , not the fact that authoritarian methods are used

    not even sure if this is on topic but your article got the brain juices flowing

    Liked by 1 person

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