The analysis of political violence and terrorism and, consequently, their impact on the security of the United States and its allies has been a major aspect of the Nelson Institute’s programming since its inception. The Institute, however, interprets its mandate broadly and seeks not only to analyze specific terrorist threats, but also to understand the historical, cultural, philosophical, and religious factors that drive terrorist groups and the consequent challenge that they present to free societies. It also seeks through conferences, lectures, and publications to provide a forum where national security, in its widest understanding, can be studied and debated as democracies respond to the threats they face.

In addition to the study of the terrorist phenomenon in se, the Nelson Institute takes its cue from the National Security Strategy of the United States of America which noted that “weak states…can pose a great danger to our national interests as strong states. Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers. Yet poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders.” Consequently, it acknowledges what the attacks of September 11, 2001, made it clear: that failed states are a danger, even when they are not led by non-ideological rulers.