Pape's argument is a somewhat controversial one that states that most people misconstrue suicidal bombings as simply religious extremism that must be addressed within a religious context. Instead, Pape is suggesting that suicidal bombings are part of a rational use of force—extreme force—to overwhelm the enemy and force his hand out of desperation to stop such violence.
He posits three main criteria to demonstrate his point:
- Suicide bombings are strategic.
- The logic behind bombings is to bring about significant concessions, particularly self-determination.
- Suicide bombings have increased over the decades because terrorists understand that they work in bringing about concessions.
Although Pape notes that suicide bombings can work in the short term, they fail in the long term as the overall damage inflicted is low to medium. Nations are also able to lessen damage through economic measures that disperse their impact.
He also writes that the best way to combat suicide bombers is neither through offensive action or concessions, but to undermine an organization's confidence that they will work. To do this, Pape suggests that countries should focus on border security and other defensive measures.
Pape uses the Tamil Tigers as an example of a non-religious, Marxist-Leninist group that utilized suicide bombings. However, the Tamil Tigers also had a tradition of hero worship that was part of the broader Tamil religious worldview. Further, what Marxist-Leninist groups share with religious fanatics is an orthodox belief system. That is, an unwavering belief system that does not consider any alternatives. So, although suicidal bombers can be secular, it is notable that the organizations they come from are fanatical either in a religious or political sense.