Terrorism is often thought of as the province of relatively small nongovernment groups that more often than not exist despite the best efforts of governments to destroy them. Indeed, some observers define terrorism specifically to exclude violence conducted by governments, arguing that when nations engage in violence and killing as a means of reaching a particular political end, it should be called oppression, not terrorism. At the other extreme, some argue that nations are the deadliest of terrorists. The average country, they note, has considerably greater military and financial resources than the average terrorist group, and some states regularly use violence for political ends—violence that these observers argue should be considered terrorism.

Defining state terrorism is complicated because all nations rely on violence to some degree. War, for example, is a violent and deadly way for countries to settle their differences. War can ...

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