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

By Audrey Kurth Cronin | Go to book overview
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Conclusion

[W]hile the horizon of strategy is bounded by the war, grand
strategy looks beyond the war to the subsequent peace.

—B. H. Liddell Hart1

UNDERSTANDING HOW terrorism ends is the necessary first step to fashioning an effective grand strategy against any terrorist campaign. We are learning at our peril that analyzing war termination is at least as important as dissecting the causes of war. Likewise, processes of ending for terrorist groups hold within them the best insights into which strategies succeed, which fail, and why. So the important question with respect to the current terrorist campaign and its counterterrorist response is not “How are we doing?” but “How will it end?” And, with classic strategies of leverage in mind, the second most important question is not “When will the next attack be?” but “What will we do after that?”

Thinking about how terrorism ends does not diminish the seriousness of the threat of terrorism. The United States and its allies may be attacked again at any time, conceivably even with weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear or biological weapons. But appreciating how terrorist campaigns actually end offers the best chance to remove ourselves from the strategic myopia that currently grips much of Western counterterrorism efforts, to avoid under- or overreacting when horrific events happen, and to steer clear of responding with passion-driven policies that are tactically gratifying but strategically unwise. Thinking through an endgame is the best way to inoculate ourselves against the strategies of terrorism, to avoid a dysfunctional action/reaction dynamic, gain the upper hand, and most important of all, to win—that is, to return the threat to a manageable nuisance. The United States and its allies cannot devise a more effective strategy for meeting the threat presented by the al-Qaeda movement unless we remove ourselves from the psychological framework of attack and counterattack and envision the end.

The historical record of how terrorist groups have met their demise has hardly been plumbed for patterns and insights for today. This book has sought to address this oversight with a conceptual structure on which future scholars and practitioners can build. Its purpose has been to fill a yawning intellectual gap, complementing the rich literature available on specific groups, regional analyses, ideological motivations, and other

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