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

By Audrey Kurth Cronin | Go to book overview

Introduction

There are two things that a democratic people will always
find very difficult, to begin a war and to end it.

—Alexis de Tocqueville, 18401

TERRORIST campaigns may seem endless, but they always end. Why?

There is vast historical experience with the decline and ending of terrorist campaigns over the past two centuries, yet few are familiar with it. Analysis of the lessons of that experience is vital if we are to inoculate ourselves against the psychological manipulation of terrorist violence, rise above unfounded assumptions and short-term passions in the wake of attacks, and think strategically about dealing with current and future threats. Modern terrorism draws its power from the nation-state, and the only way to avoid being drawn into a tactical dynamic of attack and counterattack is to understand how individual terrorist campaigns have ended and then drive toward that aim. Viewing this counterterrorism campaign as an endless “long war” is counterproductive and potentially self-defeating. The United States and its allies can use the lessons of how terrorism ends to avoid prior mistakes, save lives, conserve resources, and, most important of all, face their adversaries with a broader strategic perspective so as to win.

This book scrutinizes the closing phases of terrorist campaigns to lay out an intellectual framework that explains the recurrent patterns, common elements, and crucial points leading to their demise. Many people focus on the causes of terrorism, but few direct attention toward its end.2 Yet, as we shall see, understanding the causes of terrorist campaigns tells us no more about how they actually end than understanding the causes of war explains war termination: naturally the question has some relevance, but it is overshadowed as the conflict unfolds. Objectively analyzing the historical record of how terrorism ends can clarify how best to construct a counterthrust.

Studies of terrorism are often event driven, spurred by attacks and the need to respond to a specific threat. As a result, the bulk of research is descriptive analysis focused on one group, detailing its organization, structure, tactics, leadership, and so on. True to this pattern, since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there has been an outpouring of research on al-Qaeda, but little attention to analyzing terrorism within a wider

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