Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

Brandon C. Prins

Committee Members

Matt Buehler, Gary Uzonyi, Sam Ghatak


State-sponsored terrorism (SST) has for long been used as a tool by countries to inflict costs on rival states without direct confrontation, as the latter risks inviting limited to full-scale war. The literature on SST has so far focused primarily on the motivations, facilitating factors, and the timing of state sponsorship. What has been insufficiently studied, however, are the responses of victim states to SST. Why does state response to SST vary spatio-temporally in different countries, under different governments, and even under different leaders of the same ruling political dispensation in a country? Under what conditions does a state respond militarily or in a Rapoport-esque tit-for-tat fashion with their own SST as opposed to responding more mildly through economic sanctions, the use of diplomatic tools, and lodging grievances with IOs? I argue that an important reason for this variation in response to SST attacks occurs because of leader type, i.e. whether a leader is a hawk or a dove. Basing my characterization of hawk-dove leader type on Brown (2017), Snyder and Diesing (1977), and Keller (2005), this dissertation controls for other confounding variables and explores the above relationship empirically using a small-n research design by examining cases from several countries worldwide. In the first chapter, I analyze the decision-making of 12 leaders, from five different countries, responding to 19 separate terrorist attack incidents by groups supported by rival states. In the second chapter, I take a deep dive into the India-Pakistan rival dyad, examining responses by three different Indian leaders to five instances of alleged Pakistan-sponsored terrorism between 2000-2019. Finally, in my third chapter, I evaluate three responses of the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and one by his predecessor, Turgut Ozal, to SST attacks orchestrated by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an organization backed by multiple states (namely, Iran, Iraq, and Syria). While the response is often the result of complex calculations by the top decisionmakers in the victim state, I empirically demonstrate that variation in response occurs because of leader type.

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