How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns

By Audrey Kurth Cronin | Go to book overview
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If the implication of his remarks is that we should sit down
and talk with Mr Adams and the Provisional IRA, I can say
only that that would turn my stomach and those of most hon.
Members; we will not do it. I will not talk to people who
murder indiscriminately.

—British prime minister John Major, in reply to a question
from MP Dennis Skinner, November 1, 19931

DEMOCRACIES DO NOT NEGOTIATE with terrorists. At least that is what many officials claim. The idea of negotiating with groups that deliberately kill civilians to advance their political goals is repulsive to most people. Who could blame them for such a view? Showing firmness in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, refusing to talk to the perpetrators or consider their demands, could contribute to the future safety of other potential victims, by removing incentives for future attacks and demonstrating that terrorism “does not pay.”2 It also avoids granting recognition to a group that uses terrorism, satisfying a righteous impulse to reject and condemn such tactics. Holding the line against terrorism makes a great deal of sense, especially because talks with terrorists are risky and often unsuccessful.3

In fact, however, democracies do negotiate with terrorists: virtually all democratic governments facing terrorist campaigns have been forced to negotiate at some point, and many have even made concessions, although of course there are differences in degree.4 As distasteful as they are, talks of one form or another have been common. But do negotiations actually end terrorist campaigns? In answering this question, an overview of recent efforts reveals that idealistic platitudes are as misguided as righteous exhortations about the evils of terrorism. The data are surprising. After groups survive past the five- or six-year mark, for example, it is not at all clear that refusing to “talk to terrorists” shortens their campaigns any more than entering into negotiations prolongs them. On the other hand, negotiations can facilitate a process of decline but have rarely been the single factor driving an outcome. While existing academic research demonstrates that civil wars that include terrorist tactics are the most difficult


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How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns


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