Retaliating Against Terrorism
University of Leicester, UK
It is probably fair to say that Western democracies in general have not rushed to embrace military force as a standard response to terrorism. In Europe, while states have certainly been willing to use force to end hostage and siege situations, such action has usually been seen as a tactic of last resort, with first preference traditionally going to negotiated settlement. Campaigns of assassination against terrorist groups have not been favoured, at least not openly. Unofficially, the story has sometimes been very different. UK governments, for example, certainly appeared to tolerate an undisclosed 'shoot-to-kill' policy in dealing with the IRA in the 1980s. In a number of high-profile cases, IRA members were shot dead by the security forces (usually elite SAS teams) in circumstances where their non-violent arrest seemed readily achievable. These deaths were often highly controversial, for example when three unarmed IRA members were shot dead in Gibraltar in March 1988 or when one civilian was killed by the security forces in 1987 in an SAS ambush that also killed seven IRA members in Loughgall.
Other states have been far more open in their use of lethal force and indeed some nations have made violent retaliation a cornerstone of the national effort to combat and defeat terrorism. Israel certainly stands out as an example of a state that has embraced military force as a solution to terrorism. However, research on the effectiveness of military force as a response to terrorism is thin on the ground. In a familiar story with research on