On November 2, 2020, Austria experienced a terrorist attack in its capital of Vienna. The attacker was later identified as an “Islamic terrorist” named Kujtim Fejzula, and it was discovered that the Jihadist group, Islamic State (IS), was responsible for the attack.[1] What is especially noteworthy about this attack, is that historically, terror attacks have been rare in Austria. Austria does seem to retain preconditions that may encourage some terror attacks, but it appears that they rarely experience terrorist attacks because both the preconditions and the precipitants of terrorism are not present, and perhaps most importantly, their international neutrality policy discourages terror attacks. 

       The Global Terrorism Index (GTI), which is produced by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP), demonstrates the relative uncommonness of terror attacks in Austria. The GTI scores each country on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 representing the lowest measurable impact of terrorism, and 10 representing the highest. The IEP gave Austria a GTI score of 1.655 in 2019, ranking Austria at 83rd out of 138 nations measured. By comparison, the US received a score of 5.691, putting this nation at 22nd highest. As evidence of Austria’s low terror rate compared with other European nations, information can be found in the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), managed by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). According to their data, Austria experienced a single terrorist event in 2017, for example, while the UK suffered 122 that year. Western Europe, as a whole, was reported by START to have had 291 total terror attacks.[2] 

       To understand why terrorist attacks in Austria have been relatively rare, the causes of terrorism must be considered in relation to Austria’s geopolitical circumstances. Stanford Political Science Professor Martha Crenshaw suggests that there are preconditions, or factors that set the stage for the occurrence of terror attacks, and precipitants, or events that immediately lead to terror attacks.[3] One precondition to terrorism is modernization. For example, modern rail systems and modern air transportation have made modernized countries more vulnerable to hijacking attacks and have made it easier for terrorists to travel abroad.[4] Another precondition to terrorism is urbanization, which increases the number of opportunities available to terrorists. According to Crenshaw, cities provide a multitude of targets, plus anonymity, audiences, and more.[5] A third precondition to terrorism is a government’s inability to prevent it through inadequate security measures. For example, some governments focus too much on the protection of civil liberties, and not enough on protection from terror attacks.[6] On the other hand, precipitants of terrorism are more than just factors that may provide opportunities, but are circumstances that may provide motivation and direction for terrorist attacks.[7] For instance, widespread injustice, resentment toward a religious or ethnic subgroup within a population, and a lack of access to political participation are contributing situations that may precipitate terror.[8]

       When Crenshaw’s causes of terrorism are considered in relation to Austria’s geopolitical circumsrtances, the results should explain why terror attacks have been historically rare, as countries that do not exhibit the possession of such circumstances should not invite, or encourage as much terrorism. Austria is a modernized country, which means it is more vulnerable to terror attacks due to its use of modern rail systems and air transportation. Urbanization, another precondition, certainly applies to Austria as well, with large cities such as Vienna, Graz, Linz, and Salzburg providing multiple targets of opportunity, large audiences, and greater anonymity. The population in their largest city of Vienna is 1.929 million, which is definitely large enough to create an opportunity for terrorists.[9] As evidence, comparably large cities such as Paris, which has a population of 2,138,551, experience a fair amount of terrorist attacks.[10] Paris experienced 11 terror attacks in 2017, for example. [11] Some scholars also argue that the security measures in Austria could use improvement, demonstrating a third precondition to terror. Following the recent attack in Vienna, government officials agreed to implement new anti-terrorist security measures in an attempt to remedy the flaws in their current system. For example, Austria has decided to work more closely with the FBI in the future, and since then, an investigation has been launched into why Austria didn’t have Fejzulai under observation despite being tipped off by Slovakian authorities that he had tried to purchase ammunition at a shop in Bratislava in July.[12]

       Comprehensively, each of Crenshaw’s preconditions for terrorism have been satisfied in Austria, but terrorism is still rare because the same can not be said for her precipitants of terrorism, and she fails to recognize what is arguably the most important precipitant of terrorism–neutrality.  Crenshaw’s first precipitant for terrorism is the existence of injustice or resentment toward a subgroup of a population, such as an ethnic, or religious minority. According to the Austrian Embassy, this type of injustice or resentment toward a certain subgroup is not accepted. They claim to be deeply opposed to racism and xenophobia and to have taken substantial strides toward the promotion of equal-treatment, resisting stereotypes, and promoting integration. The Embassy asserts that in addition to these crucial steps, the criminal protection against discrimination and hate crimes has been strengthened considerably over the last years. They also state that because the principle of equal-treatment is established in the Austrian Constitution, a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation is in place and is being continually enhanced.[13] The second precipitant is lack of access to political participation, as it can cause dissatisfaction with the regime. This precipitant does not apply, as Austria’s government is a democracy, so their government relies on political participation. Any Austrian resident over the age of 16 can vote without even having to register, with the exception of certain individuals whose right to vote is revoked, as part of sentencing for a serious criminal conviction.[14] 

       Of Crenshaw’s three preconditions for terrorism, an argument could be made that Austria possesses all three. Austria is modernized, urbanized, and could stand to improve its anti-terrorist measures. However, of Crenshaw’s two precipitants for terrorism, Austria’s geopolitical circumstances do not align with either. According to Crenshaw’s recipe for terrorism, Austria has a moderately attractive environment for potential terrorists, and possibly should be experiencing more terrorist attacks than they have, historically. However, she fails to recognize neutrality, which may be the most important precipitant of all. Following the end of the Cold War, Austria moved back into its central location in Europe and rebuilt long standing relations with its southern and eastern neighbors.[15] They later joined the EU, but belong to a small group of neutral countries in the EU that did not join NATO. Because Austria chooses to be neutral, they are less likely to be targeted by terrorists. 

       The connection between neutrality and low levels of terror attacks can be tested through a comparison of Austria’s Global Terrorism Index (GTI) to the those of other neutral countries (Finland, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, etc).[16] As mentioned above, Austria was given a calculated GTI of 1.655 in 2019, ranking the country at 83 out of 138 countries. However, other neutral countries also have similarly low GTI scores. For example, Finland was not far ahead of Austria, with GTI of 2.026, ranking the country at 81 out of 138 countries (just two spots ahead of Austria). In addition, Japan is only 3 spots ahead of Finland, with a GTI of 2.291, ranking the country at 78 out of 138. Switzerland, however, has a GTI score even lower than Austria’s, at 0.191, ranking the country at 118 out of 138.[17] This extremely low GTI makes sense because Switzerland has declared itself neutral since 1815, which is longer than any other country.[18] 

       Despite the latest terrorist attack in Austria, which took place on November 2, 2020 in its capital of Vienna, terror attacks there have been historically rare, as there was only one terrorist attack reported in Austria in both 2017, one in 2018, and zero in 2019.[19] Austria also has an exceptionally low GTI of 1.655 in 2019, ranking the country at 83 out of 138 countries. After comparing Austria’s environment to some preconditions and precipitants of terrorism, it can be concluded that Austria’s environment does have some preconditions that may encourage some terror some attacks. However, they may rarely experience terrorist attacks because they don’t also possess the precipitants of terrorism, and perhaps most importantly, because of their international neutrality policy, which seems to discourage terror attacks. This theory was evaluated using a comparison of Austria’s GTI to those of other neutral countries like Finland, Switzerland, and Japan, which proved that other neutral countries also tend to have low rates of terror attacks. 

[1] “Vienna Shooting: What We Know About ‘Islamic Terror’ Attack,” BBC News, November, 4, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54798508 

[2] “Global Terrorism in 2017,” START, August 2018. 


[3] Martha Crenshaw, Comparative Politics (City University of New York, 1981), 379-399. 

[4] Crenshaw, Comparative Politics, 379-399. 

[5] Crenshaw, Comparative Politics, 379-399. 

[6] Crenshaw, Comparative Politics, 379-399.

[7] Crenshaw, Comparative Politics, 379-399. 

[8] Crenshaw, Comparative Politics, 379-399. 

[9] “Vienna Population 2020,” World Population Review, Accessed November, 2020, https://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/vienna-population. 

[10] “Europe Cities By Population,” World Population Review, Accessed November, 2020, https://worldpopulationreview.com/continents/cities/europe. 

[11] GTD France, START, Accessed November, 2020, 

https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/Results.aspx?page=3&search=france&expanded =no&charttype=line&chart=overtime&ob=GTDID&od=desc#results-table. 

[12] The Associated Press, “Austrian Cabinet Agrees to Broad New Anti-Terrorist Measures,” ABC News, November, 11, 2020. 

[13] “Fight Against Terrorism,” Austrian Embassy Washington, Accessed November, 2020, https://www.austria.org/fight-against-racism. 

[14] Christoph Krones, “Your Right to Vote in Austria,” Metropole, February, 6, 2018. 

[15] Emil Brix, “The State of Austrian Foreign and Security Policy in Times of Geopolitical Change,” Austrian Studies Today, 2016. 

[16] “Neutral Countries 2020,” World Population Review, Accessed November, 2020, https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/neutral-countries. 

[17] “GTD 2019: Measuring the Impact of Terrorism,” Institute for Economics and Peace, November, 2019, 

https://www.economicsandpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/GTI-2019web.pdf. [18] World Population Review, “Neutral Countries 2020.” 

[19] GTD Austria, START, Accessed November, 2020, 

https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/Results.aspx?chart=country&casualties_type=&ca sualties_max=&country=15.