Department of Conflict Resolution Studies Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Conflict Resolution Studies

First Advisor

Charles Zelden

Second Advisor

David Kilroy

Third Advisor

Ransford F. Edwards, Jr.


counterterrorism, extremism, methodology, national security, terrorism


Terrorism is frequently studied as a linear transaction between actors, usually a government and one or more extremists of some sort, be they individuals or groups. The focus in this thesis is on the United States government and international jihadist extremists, specifically Al-Qaeda, a conflict which often is covered in one of two ways: extremist action is the provocation and government policy (up to and including military engagement) is the reaction, or alternatively, foreign policy is the initiating action and what we call "terrorism" is merely a response.

This paper argues that neither approach is sufficient and proposes a model that focuses less on the proximate provocations leading up to any given extremist action or government intervention, and more on the ways that the actors change and evolve as they participate in a feedback loop of actions and reactions with one another. This model is useful for its ability to highlight the way both the American security apparatus and Al-Qaeda calcified into self-perpetuating enterprises, and its potential for tracking and even predicting the long-term trajectory along which conflicts like the Global War on Terror evolve.