War, Crimes, and Terrorism

  • Shingo NagamatsuEmail author
Open Access
Part of the Trust book series (TRUST, volume 2)


Unlike accidents or natural disasters, war, crimes, and terrorism are all incidents caused by people’s specific intentions. Nevertheless, these events, just like accidents and natural disasters, are greatly influenced by development of scientific technology and social structures of political disagreement and economic disparities. This chapter overviews structures and what are special about war, crimes, and terrorism.


Disparity Ideology Nation Religion Social isolation Violence 

9.1 War, Crimes, Terrorism, and Societal Safety Sciences

Nobody argues with the fact that war, crimes, and terrorism are threats to people’s lives and properties. These problems, however, have fundamentally different nature in contrast to accidents and natural disasters we have discussed in this book so far.

Accidents and natural disasters, in general, have differences in whether they are caused by men or nature; however, they are both unintended. War, crimes, and terrorism, on the other hand, always come with an individual, group, or government that intentionally starts them. In other words, accidents and natural disasters are unintentional and unfavorable results of societal activities by humans, and in contrast, war, crimes, and terrorism are actions started by human for specific intentions or purposes. For this reason, measures for protecting the societies from war, crimes, and terrorism center around how to manage these executors or their motivations. We will discuss four approaches below:

The first approach is to eliminate motivations to start war, crimes, or terrorism. For example, one of the fundamental reasons to start terrorism or war is economic, religious, or ideological conflict among countries or groups involved. If we can resolve such conflicts peacefully, we can avoid the breakout of war and terrorism. Crime rates, also, are known to have high correlations with economic poverty and disparity in the societies. Thus, if we develop the economy to remove the disparity, we should be able to reduce crimes. For these approaches to make actual effects, they will take long times and enormous efforts.

Then comes the second approach as an important method to control executors of war, crimes, and terrorism. This approach removes or constrains individuals or organizations with high probabilities of planning war, crimes, or terrorisms. The 2003 US military attack against Iraq and the bombing of Syria and Afghanistan upon declaring Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was a terror organization are typical examples of such approaches. For domestic crimes, police captures the suspect under the law. Actions against organized crimes and terror attacks include police investigation against illegal actions before the incidents.

The third approach manages results of war, crimes, and terrorism. This approach saves victims of military or terrorist attacks, controls the spread of damages, and provides care for the victims.

The fourth approach controls motivations for war, crimes, and terrorism. Arranging international rules and cooperation among international societies have continued in their efforts to raise the political price to pay for making military actions. From now on, it seems that we need approaches to socially encompass individuals that seem to turn radical and make terrorist acts and approaches to maintain environments with physical structures in cities that make it hard for crimes to take place.

Among these approaches, the third and the fourth not only reduce damages from war, terrorism, or crimes, but they can also contribute to mitigating damages from accidents or natural disasters. We will discuss the fourth approach, with similarities with countermeasures against accidents and natural disasters, in some detail.

First, we need to check the definition of war, terrorism, and crimes. Terrorism has large influence over interests of the international societies; thus, it has so many definitions that one can probably write a book on its definitions. There are, however, three points that are agreed among most studies: (1) the act has political or religious intention, (2) it targets civilians, and (3) it is a violent act. This chapter defines that terrorism meets all of these three conditions. A violent act targeting a citizen is a crime if it does not have a political or religious intention. We will not discuss nonviolent acts like a scam. As Fig. 9.1 shows, if a violent act with a political intention is not targeting civilians, it is a war which is an execution of the right of belligerency by a nation. The fact, however, is that some terrorist acts are backed by some countries blurring the borderline of war and terrorism; however, this book will not discuss this matter. Our explanation here gives a common understanding that war, crimes, and terrorism are all violent acts that individuals or groups of people make.
Fig. 9.1

Definition of war, terrorism, and crime, based on definition of terrorism from Ganor (2002) and Southers (2013)

9.2 War, Its Damages and Causes

First, we will review the amount of risk a war poses on our lives and properties. In the human history since the fifteenth century, the number of deaths due to war is not necessarily increasing, and Pinker explained that the number of wars is decreasing (Pinker 2013). Nevertheless, with the two world wars we experienced, the number of deaths with one war is increasing since the twentieth century. The history of Japan shows 3.2 million victims during World War II. The number is bigger by digits compared to the First Sino-Japanese War or the Russo-Japanese War. If we count the victims over the entire world, World War I resulted in 8.53 million deaths and World War II, 50 million, that is, the number of victims per each war abruptly increased.

We need to look at two factors to explain the sudden increase of victims with recent wars (Kihata 2004). The first factor is the change in how wars are fought. Up to the eighteenth century, knights and mercenaries fought wars, and the wars were between two kings. Once the countries adopted the draft systems to hire professional soldiers, wars involved the people of the countries. The two world wars in the twentieth century were typical examples, and they were battles among the full forces of the countries involved. A nation entering a full force war pours many of the economic resources into the war, and large portions of the citizens are entangled into the actions.

The second factor is the change in technologies of weapons. The advancement in scientific technology greatly increased the ability to kill with new weapons. Especially, nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons are so deadly as they have the power for human distinction. Recognizing the magnitude of devastation, a war can make now the world largely changed its concept about war. When war was a conflict between kings, it was just another method of solving the difference. The international society, however, recognized war as a “crime against peace” after experiencing World War I. The United Nations, established after World War II, enhanced the concept of group security assurance. The members, in general, view sanctions by the international society are necessary against military actions that threat the peace.

The new concept gradually reduced direct damages by war on the global basis; however, small military conflicts still take place frequently. On the other hand, the coordinated simultaneous September 11 attacks in 2001 was not a militant conflict between two countries but a new form of war between a small radical group and international peace, and this conflict is still present on our earth.

9.3 Damages from Crimes

9.3.1 World Comparison of Crimes

Murder is a typical outbreak of violent actions. Different countries have different definitions, e.g., in the United States, intentional killing is murder or voluntary manslaughter, and if the killing was unintended, involuntary manslaughter. Comparing damages from murder among different countries is, therefore, not necessarily an easy task.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that the worldwide murder victims in 2004 were 490,000. This evaluates to 7.6 for each 100,000 people. This number exceeds 20 in South America, Central America, Caribbean countries, and South Africa and, in contrast, is less than 5 in Europe, Oceanian countries, and East Asian countries (Malby 2010). Note that numbers announced by the jurisdiction are often quite different from numbers by health authorities. Hirschi wrote that people tend to take delinquent actions when the four elements of bond, “attachment,” “commitment,” “involvement,” and “belief” are weak (Hirschi 1969).

In a recent field of study, environmental criminology explains crimes with the environment that surrounds the society. A theory in the study field, “Routine Activity Theory” explained a crime breaks out when the three conditions of “potential offender,” “suitable target,” and “absence of capable guardians” are met. In other words, absence of capable guardians, like police, is one factor for a crime to take place; however, the presences of an individual with the tendency to commit a crime and an individual that is an easy target are equally important factors (Cohen and Felson 1979).

9.3.2 Trend of Crimes in Japan

Japan is known as a fairly safe country in the world. In the old days, however, the situation was not so. Figure 9.2 shows the history of number of crimes per population of 100,000 and their clearance rates. After World War II, the number of crimes went up for a few years to reach a peak in the second half of 1950. The number of murder cases was 3.49 per population of 100,000 in 1952, a value similar to the 2008 values of 3.5 in Taiwan and 3.2 in Nepal.
Fig. 9.2

History of number of identified crimes and their clearance rate, based on annual issues of criminal statistics (National Police Academy)

As Japan entered its years of high economic growth, the number of crimes dropped; however, with the structural recession from financial crises in 1997, the number quickly went up and reached another peak in 2002. After this peak, however, the number dropped rapidly. Vicious and violent crimes showed similar changes.

The clearance rates, i.e., the ratios of cleared cases vs. identified crimes, have shown the opposite trends. If the police force is constant, the number of clearances should also be the same; thus a rise in the number of cases would drop the clearance rate. Nevertheless, the clearance rate for vicious crimes of murder, armed robbery, arson, rape, and so kept higher clearance rates over general crimes. This means more efforts are put in clearing vicious crimes.

Okada pointed out the following three reasons as major factors in the drop of clearance rate. First, people in the society have less bonds now, and the force to deter minor crimes is dropping, and small problems that were not taken as crimes before are now reported to the police to raise the number of identified crimes. Second, new types of crimes like stalking, domestic violence, and cybercrimes complicate and diversify criminal investigation, and stricter procedures for the investigation exhaust the available resources. Third, uncharged offenses are more difficult to identify (Okada 2006).

9.4 Terrorism

9.4.1 Trend of Terrorism

Terrorism has a long history, and Global Terrorism Database (GTD) records international terrorist attacks since 1970. Figure 9.3, based on this database, shows the number of terrorism incidents and deaths over the world. This figure shows us two distinct features about terrorism. The first is the fact that the number of terrorist attacks has increased since the globalization in the 1980s. Second, after the 2001 coordinated simultaneous September 11 attacks, the number of victims has also increased in the war on terror. Especially in recent years, about 40,000 are killed by terror attacks annually.
Fig. 9.3

Numbers of terrorism actions and victims, based on the data of “Global Terrorism Database”

Many people think that Japan does not have terror actions; however, that is not the case from a global viewpoint. The Japanese Red Army aiming at a global revolution based on communism, for example, made a terror attack of hijacking an airplane in 1970, and the seven executors defected to North Korea. This army is also responsible for the 1972 Lod Airport massacre in Israel where they opened random fires and exploded grenades in the airport lobby killing 32 people. These actions by the Japanese Red Army were the first of international terrorist attacks and are positioned as the start of indiscriminate terror attacks (Kim 2016).

Political or religious demands should be made peacefully through political movements, speech activities, or public campaigns. At least the European and American countries, troubled by terrorist actions, grant such rights to everyone. Also, it is an undeniable fact that even if they may have similar beliefs with the terrorists, the overwhelming majority of people and groups prefer peaceful activities. An American terrorism researcher Richardson pointed out the following four fundamental reasons for terrorists to choose violent actions (Richardson 2006).

(1) Terrorists are always minorities. People that sense they are ousted from the social structure turn to terrorism when they have the urge to make changes. (2) Emergence of a leader that explains justice to people that feel they are treated unfairly leads to terrorism. (3) Philosophies that urge people to righteousness through violence and religious or unreligious ideologies move the people toward terror actions. (4) Existence of an environment that justifies the terrorist claims.

Globalization of the societies made it possible for the minorities in each country to communicate across the borders. When their networks share ideologies of social reformation or revolution, and when the ideologies bind with ideas that justify violence, they turn into radical terrorists. One of such terrorist groups that quickly demonstrated its violence was “Aum Supreme Truth” in Japan, well known worldwide. The cult was socially alienated from the residents near its center of activity. It also fielded a large number of candidates for the House of Representatives election in 1990, however, was badly defeated. The experience gave the cult members persecution complex, and the group took on developing biological weapons as its last resort of self-defense and deterrence. The cult looked hopeless in the court case about relocating its Matsumoto branch, and in 1994 it carried out the Matsumoto Sarin attack where they spread deadly poison sarin gas toward the official residential apartment where Nagano municipal court Matsumoto branch personnel lived. The attack killed eight people. When the cult learned the police was going to start a nationwide investigation, it sprayed sarin in Kasumigaseki station in Tokyo. This was the March 1995 Tokyo Metro sarin attack that killed 12 people. Some members of the cult, to the surprise of people, had high academic records. Aum Supreme Truth had teachings that lured the intelligent with high academic accomplishments, and the leader Shoko Asahara had some charisma. Members with ample scientific knowledge made it possible to develop chemical weapons and build well-thought thorough plans for the terror attacks, trends that we see in many recent terrorist attacks.

9.4.2 Changes with Terrorism

For many advanced countries, terror attacks were mostly carried out by foreign groups. An Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda planned the 2001 coordinated simultaneous September 11 attacks to the United States that shook the whole world. The 17 perpetrators had entered the United States with visas although some were staying illegally with expired ones. Given these facts, the US terrorism control concentrated its efforts into stopping the terrorists from entering the county. One of its main concerns is to protect the nation from threats of terrorists as demonstrated with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

During the past 10 years, however, the form of terrorism changed, and the above type of terrorism prevention is losing grounds. The first change is who turns into terrorists; people with the country’s citizenship, who received education in the country and are working on the grounds, are turning into terrorists. They are the so-called homegrown terrorists. The second change is the frequent emergence of terrorists called lone wolves that single-handedly plan terror attacks based on information from the Internet and without organizational connections with terrorist groups. The third change is the terror targets that used to be large political events or significant facilities. Recently concerts, events, local assemblies, and restaurants with less security are turning into targets of attacks. They are called soft targets.

The December 2015 San Bernardino attack was a typical example of such changes. The target was a training and banquet event for employees of San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. Of the about 80 employees there, 14 died from random shooting. Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the perpetrators, was an employee at the department. His parents were immigrants from Pakistan but Farook, born in the United States, had American citizenship. The other perpetrator, Farook’s wife Tashfeen Malik, was born in Pakistan, met Farook through the Internet, married Farook, and immigrated to the United States in 2014. The married couple had no criminal records and were not on the Terrorist Screening Database.

This type of terror attack is a big threat to local communities. The communities have to face the threat that a neighbor may 1 day turn to them as a terrorist. Bracing against these terror attacks will take, whether one likes it or not, local community involvement.

Federal, state, and county police forces will have to work with the communities as well. In this case, securing and explaining police authority is also a concern. For example, in September 2015, a 14-year-old high school student in the State of Texas, who was a Muslim, was arrested for the suspicion of being a terrorist and taken into custody. The student had put together a clock from loose parts and brought it to school. The clock resembled a bomb, and the school called in local police who arrested the student. Later the student was released without charges. An influential blogger learned about the incident through news and opened a form for people to send messages. President Obama, at the time, invited the student to Astronomy Night at White House. The student’s family filed some suits but were all dismissed. This case is an indication that it is not just terrorism but also acts of terror attack prevention that can cause serious confrontation in local communities.

9.4.3 Measures for Terrorism Prevention: Case of the United Kingdom

The problem of homegrown terrorists is not just for the United States. The Canadian daily newspaper The Telegram reported that the number of foreigners that moved to Syria and Iraq to become Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) soldiers was about 27,000–31,000 during the years 2011–2016. Among them, about 6000 were born in European and American countries (Kirk 2016). As of July 2017, ISIL has significantly lost its power, so the number of young people that head toward Syria must have greatly dropped; however, the trend of training terrorists across borders will probably continue.

The United Kingdom has started a program Channel, since 2012, to prevent its people from being drawn into terrorism. Channel is a program to identify individuals with risks of turning radical, evaluate the risk with a checklist, and provide support to prevent the individuals from entering terror actions. At the frontline of this program are about 70,000 local teachers, public health workers, and doctors who have gone through proper training to identify individuals with the potential of turning radical. A program like Channel, seen from its outline, is a different approach from allowing public authorities, like the police, to interfere with local communities. It rather places terrorism prevention along the line of local medicine, local community service, and social education to accomplish a safe community. The approach seems even in line with local disaster prevention. Some evaluate the method highly saying it has dramatically reduced the number of young people moving out to Syria; however, some others not so highly saying the drop is simply a result of ISIL losing its power, and the program itself is not so effective. Some point out that the Channel method merely identifies individuals with risks of turning radical following a manual and that it is far apart from ideal social connotation. In either case, without doubts, the method is symptomatic and has no solution of dealing with the fundamental factor leading to terrorism, that is, minorities bearing negative feelings toward the society where they are isolated and discriminated. How to accept minorities in the society and encompassing them within appears to be public service issues; however, they are equally important in terrorism prevention. Earlier, we discussed that weaker human relations in the communities are causing increase in crimes, and the same applies to the background of terrorism.

9.4.4 Current State of Terrorism Prevention in Japan and Problems

As we discussed above, Japan has its own share of terrorism concerns. A 2013 al-Qaeda linked terror attack in Algeria, took hostages, and killed 40 including 10 Japanese. It was the reality that overseas terrorism can target Japanese. Al-Qaeda and ISIL have repeatedly announced Japan as a target for terror attacks, and people in some international terrorist organizations have been in and out of the country. With the summer Olympics coming up in 2020 in Tokyo, the threat of terrorism is going up every year in Japan.

Under these circumstances, prevention of organized crimes like terrorism must take international cooperation. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (TOC treaty) turned effective in 2003. This agreement clarifies that it is a crime to take part in international criminal organizations or money laundering of profits through criminal actions.

TOC treaty obligates its signees to identify and punish “agreeing to perform a serious crime” or “participating in organizational criminal group activities” as a crime separate from attempted or committed crimes. For this reason, Japan had not signed the treaty for a long time. In 2017, the Second Abe Cabinet submitted a proposal for amending the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes to add “Crime for preparing terror attacks and alike.” The proposal gave authority to the administration to punish preparations at early stages before actually committing a variety of crimes and was met with strong oppositions from minor parties and the people of Japan saying that the amendment could lead to administration going out of control. The majority party, however, forced the proposal through and enacted the bill and then later ratified the TOC treaty. Ratification of the treaty is commended for enhancing the country’s prevention of terrorism; however, it also opened fundamental problems of how far we can allow the government power to expand and how we can stop the power if it goes out of control.

The more we enhance terrorism prevention, information from grassroots investigation turns more important, and there will be demands for more involvement of local communities. We are now faced with a mound of problems like if the power ends up splitting local communities, whether it will disturb human rights of people with different ideologies and foreigners, or how to avoid people excessively spying on each other. They are also problems that societal safety sciences have to look into.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Societal Safety SciencesKansai UniversityTakatsukiJapan

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