U.S. Restraint and the Sharp Decline of Suicide Attacks Around the World Chicago Project on Security and Threats
Robert A. Pape  |  March 2, 2023

The world has witnessed a sharp decline in suicide attacks since 2015 to rates unseen for decades. Suicide attacks are the deadliest form of terrorism, and their steep and abrupt downturn is welcome news. Indeed, suicide attacks are returning to pre-U.S. occupation levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, fading away in Pakistan, and falling in Africa. Overall, the data, which is complete through December 31, 2022, shows that the most virulent form of terrorism has greatly diminished, challenging the idea that this danger to America would never end.

The global pattern is important because it bears directly on the debate over the value of “restraint” in American national security strategy.  With the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has adopted a more restrained counterterrorism policy – often called “over-the-horizon” or “off-shore balancing” – in the Middle East.  This report shows that this more restrained strategy is indeed a highly effective option for meeting the challenge of deadly suicide attacks. However, as the report cautions, the price of restraint is sustained vigilance, judicious use of air power and special forces, and enduring regional engagement.