British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

International Terrorism and the Clash of Civilizations

Eric Neumayer and Thomas Plümper*


Huntington referred to a ‘clash of civilizations’ revealing itself in international terrorism, particularly in the clash between the Islamic civilization and the West. The authors confront his hypotheses with ones derived from the strategic logic of international terrorism. They predict more terrorism against nationals from countries whose governments support the government of the terrorists’ home country. Like Huntington, they also predict excessive terrorism on Western targets, not because of inter-civilizational conflict per se, but because of the strategic value of Western targets. Contra Huntington, their theory does not suggest that Islamic civilization groups commit more terrorist acts against nationals from other civilizations in general, nor a general increase in inter-civilizational terrorism after the Cold War. The empirical analysis – based on estimations in a directed dyadic country sample, 1969–2005 – broadly supports their theory. In particular, there is not significantly more terrorism from the Islamic against other civilizations in general, nor a structural break in the pattern of international terrorism after the Cold War.

(Online publication July 17 2009)


* Department of Geography and Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science (email:; and Department of Government, University of Essex (email:, respectively; both authors are also at the Centre for the Study of Civil War, International Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). The authors wish to thank Han Dorussen, Vera Troeger, Christina Schneider, Hugh Ward, Kristian Gleditsch and several of the Journal’s referees for helpful comments. Previous versions were presented at the 2007 Midwest Political Science Association and American Political Science Association Conferences, and in seminars at the University of Oxford, Trinity College Dublin and the University of Exeter.