Alex Schmid

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Alex Schmid on 15 January 2008 in London

Alex Peter Schmid is a Dutch born terrorism expert who is director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrews University - one of the most influential terrorism research centres in the world. [1]



Alex Schmid is Professor of International Relations and Director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St Andrews. Prior to this appointment in May 2006, Professor Schmid served as Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations’ Terrorism Prevention Branch in Vienna, where, from 1999 to 2005, he held the position of a Senior Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer. Before joining the United Nations, Alex Schmid held the Synthesis Chair on Conflict Resolution at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He also taught International Relations at the Department of Political Sciences of Leiden University where he acted as Research Coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Research Programme on Causes of Human Rights Violations (PIOOM). He was an Einstein Fellow at the Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, and served on the Executive Board of the International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme. Professor Schmid is a member of the World Society of Victimology and a Senior Fellow of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. He is also a Corresponding Member of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences of the Netherlands and a member of the European Commission’s Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation. Alex Schmid is co-editor of the journal Terrorism and Political Violence. [2]

Defining Terrorism

On 15 January 2008, Alex Schmid presented a paper at the London School of Economics under the Chatham House Rule. That is, one is not allowed to quote and attribute anything he said at that lecture (NB: that is a rule he insisted on). Most of the lecture dealt with different definitions and their implications. Schmid is a major player in the "terrorism definition" process, and several major organizations like the United Nations, the Supreme Court of India, and others have adopted his definitions.

Schmid's definition of terrorism (1988):

Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat- and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperilled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought".[3]

The Supreme Court of India adopted Alex P. Schmid's definition of terrorism in a 2003 ruling (Madan Singh vs. State of Bihar), "defin[ing] acts of terrorism veritably as 'peacetime equivalents of war crimes.'"[4]

There is a problem with the word "terrorism" in that it is (1) vague, (2) doesn't indicate the reason for violence, and (3) the "ism" refers to an act, not to individuals or groups. Thus if one uses a definition for "terrorism" possibly with an adjective attached, then it may apply to a given culprit, but the same definition could then apply to major state actions like those of the United States, UK, etc. So, much effort has been put into defining "terror", "terrorism" so that it isn't a double edge sword. The leger demain is usually applied by referring to acts of major state violence as part of "war fighting" where purportedly different rules apply.

Given a definition, it is then possible to go about "measuring" terrorist acts, and Schmid's greatest concern is the creation of such databases. The unfortunate aspect of this quantitative approach to the study of state and non-state violence is that the violence is de-natured, its context is removed and the reasons for its occurence are ignored. A chart with "terrorism occurrences" showing a upward trend hides the reasons for what is really happening, and a very shallow understanding of violence can be obtained. This is very much Schmid's approach and that of the CSTPV.


Contact, References and Resources


Address: Room 233, School of International Relations, St Andrews University, Arts Faculty Building, Library Park, The Scores, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9AX, Scotland; Tel: +44 (0)1334 462933; Fax: +44 (0)1334 463005; Email: ; Website: ; Website:



  1. Edna F. Reid, Hsinchun Chen, ‘Mapping the contemporary terrorism research domain’, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 65 (2007) 42–56
  2. World Who's Who - EUROPA BIOGRAPHICAL REFERENCE, SCHMID Alex P. (accessed 1 May 2009
  3. Definitions of Terrorism, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 27 June 2007. For more detailed information, see: Schmid, Jongman, et al. Political terrorism: a new guide to actors, authors, concepts, data bases, theories, and literature. Amsterdam: North Holland, Transaction Books, 1988.
  4. In the supreme court of India criminal Appelate jurisdiction criminal appeal no. 1285 of 2003 (word doc), 2 April 2004.