From the supposition in the question, we can assume terrorism is primarily a strategy, suggesting a long-term political agenda. The term ʻweakʼ is subjective and must be considered within a contextual framework such as political representation, operational dynamics and psychological factors in the group strategy. The first aim of this analysis is to take an instrumental approach and review the tactical advantages and limitations in terrorist methodology which can show how the strategy works primarily for disadvantaged actors.
As an extension of the instrumental approach, the second part of this analysis hinges upon psychological factors in the terrorist strategy. In the context of a long-term political agenda, this piece will demonstrate how terrorism is used as a form of communication for social influence which differentiates it from other forms of political violence. In discerning several variables involved in the process of transmission, this analysis will highlight the parameters within which those using terrorism as a strategy can feasibly be described as ʻweakʼ. An analysis of the terrorist strategy requires an adequate definition of the phenomenon which has proved problematic. This study is based on the definition offered by Hoffman:
Terrorism is specifically designed to have far-reaching psychological effects beyond the immediate victim(s) [or targets]. It is meant to instill [and exploit] fear within, and thereby intimidate a wider “target audience” [through violence or the threat of violence].
The crucial aspect of this definition for our purposes is:
Terrorism is designed to create power where there is none or to consolidate power where there is very little. Through the publicity generated by their violence, terrorists seek to obtain leverage, influence, and power they otherwise lack to effect political change. ʻ[S]mall organizations resort to violence to compensate for what they lack in numbersʼ. Some of the tactics that terrorists use in order to address this imbalance include assassination, targeted or indiscriminate bombing, kidnapping, hijacking and suicide terrorism.
Whilst terrorism is often ʻan unavoidable instrumentʼ when other routes of political coercion are depleted, terrorism can be an effective strategy for weak actors. Terrorism extends the combat zone infinitely until populations hitherto unrelated to particular ideologies or groups, cannot escape their influence, conveying terrorists as more dangerous than a small, ʻweakʼ group. This is evident in the aftermath of 9/11 – the ʻWar on Terrorʼ. This pronouncement significantly impacted international security, creating a climate of fear and a constant ʻstate of warʼ. This target reaction, or overreaction, keeps terrorism, and al-Qaeda, at the forefront of public discourse. Furthermore, the inability to win this ʻwarʼ creates a disconnect between a target regime and its population, either diminishing government support or increasing the ranks of terrorists. Concurrently, terrorists risk an ʻescalation trapʼ which alienates potential constituents through increased, indiscriminate violence. Awareness and manipulation of this ʻrisky shiftʼ determines success. An example of this is the FLNʼs (Front de Libération Nationale) harrying of the French military, causing violent repression and highlighting the ʻbankruptcy of French ruleʼ. Tactical provocation plays to the strengths of organizations ordinarily incapable of openly confronting the target.
Terrorism is economical for ʻweakʼ groups, requiring fewer participants, funds and resources. Despite the view of suicide terrorism as irrational, there is a “strategic logic” in the perception that martyrdom is purposeful, and will confer status and remuneration to oneʼs family. Additionally, the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) hijacking of an El Al flight in 1968 as leverage for the release of Palestinian terrorists in Israel constituted an evolution in the terrorist strategy. This shows strategic adaptation and the manipulation of a conflict situation by comparatively ʻweakʼ actors.
Group structures reflect the compromise between efficiency and security which affect weak actors. A top-down military structure can be operationally strong but rendered weak if ʻdecapitatedʼ. Contrastingly, groupuscules within a network strengthen security but not efficiency. More recently, ʻacephalousʼ indoctrination and training is available on the internet, removing the need for contact but drastically increasing the chances of failure. Despite limitations, these factors highlight how the tactical and organizational advantages of terrorism can facilitate weak actors. This does not preclude that a strategy of pure terrorism can succeed. History has shown that installing a successor is more difficult than removing an enemy, requiring the mobilization of mass support and conventional participation. An example would be ETAʼs (Basque Homeland and Freedom) permanent cessation of armed activity in 2011 in favour of ʻdirect dialogueʼ. As demonstrated, Crenshawʼs rationalist argument that terrorism constitutes an equalizer in an unequal struggle is accurate.
Analyzing certain psychological factors can help explain perceived weaknesses of those that employ terrorism. Analytically viewed, terrorism is a form of communication designed to coerce change inflicting or threatening violence. This ʻpropaganda of the deedʼ constitutes an ʻindirect dialogueʼ. Although not mutually exclusive, terrorism differs from other forms of political violence because the ʻmessage functionʼ is the primary goal rather than territorial acquisition. Technological advances have assisted rapid information transmission to significantly larger audiences, rendering terrorism ʻrepugnantly voyeuristicʼ.  This can circumvent official channels to broadcast globally, allowing terrorists to set the conditions of the targetʼs response and blur the distinction between the (arbitrary) target of violence and the target of influence. This removes the targetʼs control of a situation and diminishes its capacity to protect its citizens.
However, ʻ[t]errorists and newspapermen share the naive assumption that those whose names make the headlines have powerʼ. Audiences may be alerted to the terroristsʼ cause, but the subsequent stages in social influence campaigns present weaknesses. Terrorists cannot gain political transformation without attaining approval and retention of their message. Retention requires frequent and increasingly spectacular terrorists acts, stretching the capabilities of weak actors, and potentially causing feelings of rejection, anger and inurement, rather than fear and capitulation.
Whilst the use of terrorism can provide short-term concessions and ʻinfamyʼ, it is not ideally suited to a long-term social influence campaign. Incumbent regimes have the power to publicly dismiss terrorists as ʻweakʼ and directionless, providing a counter-narrative to the terrorist rhetoric. In less liberal states, terrorist acts may receive no publicity whatsoever, halting them at the primary stage of exposure.
Whilst terrorism can occur as a response to perceived grievances and the loss – or fear of loss – of power, it can also occur in response to political concessions which Narodnaya Volya, for example, viewed as a sign of weakness. A more recent example is ETA whose group rationality, it can be argued, mutated to mere survival. Their ʻonly sense of significance [came] from being terrorists [and to cease violence] would be to lose their very reason for being.ʼ This view indicates group psychological weakness through an absence of alternative identity and would concur with Postʼs supposition that terrorist violence constitutes the end itself, rather than a means to political change.
Terrorism is often viewed as a strategy of weak actors because its main purpose is to coerce political change through the psychological manipulation of fear. With rapid media available at any hour, terrorist acts can command the attention of billions. Terrorism comprises a strategic, military logic, designed for an operationally weaker side to engage a foe in combat without risking annihilation. In pure numbers, a terrorist group is without a doubt weaker as is always the case when sub- and non-state actors engage an enemy, but the methodology employed and the adaptability of organizational structures provide forms of tactical armour which help level the playing field and act as an ʻequalizerʼ.
Whilst these methods have often been successful in past (ethno-/nationalist) conflicts, it must be noted that this success depended on concessions. To reiterate, pure terrorism as a strategy does not often succeed because popular support cannot be achieved without the cessation of violence and the transition to conventional political participation. As is often the case when attempting to define typologies in terrorism studies, the strategy often depends on the specific context of a given conflict. However, we can conclude that terrorism constitutes a ʻstrong strategyʼ for ʻweak actorsʼ who wish to destabilize a more militarily capable target by removing its capacity to control a situation and fulfill its primary goal of protecting its citizens. Beyond this stage, the strategy of terrorism becomes a negative influence, often destroying the promise of political change.
 This piece will avoid the study of individual psychology. Despite attempts at profiling, there are no infallible determinants – social, political, economic or otherwise – that explain why some turn to terrorism. See Bognar et al (eds.) (2007).
 Gerwehr & Hubbard in Bognar et al (eds.) (2007) p. 87
 Schmid (2004)
 Hoffman (2006), pp. 40-41
 Crenshaw in Reich (ed.) (1998), p. 11
 Heinzen in Laqueur (ed.) (1979) p. 55
 Neumann & Smith (2005) p. 591
 ibid., p. 588
 Hoffman (2006) p. 61
 Pape (2005)
 Neumann (2011)
 Cronin (2011) p. 31
 The Guardian (20 Oct 2011)
 Summarized by Post in Reich (ed.) (1998) p. 35
 Cronin (2011) p. 4
 Laqueur (1979) p. 252
 Gerwehr & Hubbard in Bognar et al (eds.) (2007) p. 88-91
 Post in Reich (ed.) (1998) p. 38
Max Abrahms, “Why Terrorism Does Not Work”, International Security, 31(2) (2006), pp.42-78
Max Abrahms, “What Terrorists Really Want: Terrorist Motives and Counterterrorism
Strategy”, International Security, 32(4) (2008), pp. 78-105
N.O. Berry, “Theories on the Efficacy of Terrorism” in Paul Wilkinson and A. Stewart (eds.),Contemporary Research on Terrorism (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1987)
Bruce Bongar, Lisa M. Brown, Larry E. Beutler, James N. Breckenridge and James
Zimbardo (eds.), Psychology of Terrorism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)
Michael Burleigh, Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism (London: Harper Press, 2008)
Martha Crenshaw, “The Logic of Terrorism: Terrorist behavior as a product of strategic choice” in Walter Reich (ed.), Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind(Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1990, republished 1998)
Martha Crenshaw “The psychology of terrorism: An agenda for the 21st. century”, Political Psychology, 21(2) (2000), pp. 405-420
Audrey Kurth Cronin, How Terrorism Ends : Understanding The Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns, (Princeton, NJ,: Princeton University Press, 2011)
Paul K. David and Kim Cragin (eds.), Social Science for Counterterrorism: Putting the Pieces Together (Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 2009)
James DeNardo, Power in Numbers: The Political Strategy of Protest and Rebellion
(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985)
The Guardian, “Basque separatists announce end to violence” – video, (20 Oct 2011), full video at:http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2011/oct/20/basque-separatists-endviolence Accessed: 1st Nov 2011
Lawrence Freedman, “Terrorism as a Strategy”, Government and Opposition, 42(3) (2007), pp. 314–339
Karl Heinzen, “Murder” in Walter Laqueur (ed.) The Terrorism Reader: A Historical
Anthology, (London: Wildwood House, 1979) pp. 53-64
Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006)
Andrew H. Kydd and Barbara Walter, “The Strategies of Terrorism”, International Security, 31(1) (2006)
Walter Laqueur, “Terrorism – A Balance Sheet”, in Walter Laqueur (ed.) The Terrorism Reader: A Historical Anthology (London: Wildwood House, 1979), pp. 251-267
Walter Laqueur, A History of Terrorism (New Brunswick, NJ: London 2001, originally
published: New York: Little, Brown, 1977)
Carlos Marighella, Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla (Montreal: Abraham Guillen Press, 2002). Full text: www.marxists.org/archive/marighella-carlos/1969/06/minimanual-urbanguerrilla Accessed: 1st Nov 2011
Peter R. Neumann, Lecture titled “Terrorist Groups: Organization and Processes” in
Terrorism and Counterterrorism module, (London: Kingʼs College London, 2011)
Peter R. Neumann and M.L.R. Smith, ‟Strategic Terrorism: The Framework and Its
Fallacies”, The Journal of Strategic Studies, 28(4) (2005), pp. 571-95
Peter R. Neumann and M.L.R. Smith, The Strategy of Terrorism: How It Works, and Why It Fails (London: Routledge, 2008)
Robert A. Pape, Dying To Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, (New York:
Random House, 2005)
Jerrold Post, “Terrorist psycho-logic: Terrorist behavior as a product of psychological
forces” in Walter Reich (ed.), Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies,States of Mind (Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1990, republished 1998)
Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004)
Alex Schmid, ‟Terrorism – The Definitional Problem‟, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, 36(2-3) (2004), pp. 375-419
Leonard Weinberg, “Turning to Terror: The conditions under which political parties turn to terrorist activities”, Comparative Politics, 23(4) (1991)