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

By Audrey Kurth Cronin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Success
ACHIEVING THE OBJECTIVE

A victory, immediate, splendid, and decisive, such as that
obtained by an insurrection, is utterly impossible by means
of terrorism. But another victory is more probable, that of
the weak against the strong, that of the “beggars” of Holland
against the Spaniards. In a struggle against an invisible,
impalpable, omnipresent enemy, the strong is vanquished not
by the arms of his adversary, but by the continuous tension of
his own strength, which exhausts him, at last, more than he
would be exhausted by defeats.

—Sergei Stepniak-Kravshinski, 18831

SOMETIMES TERRORISM ENDS because it succeeds. Terrorist groups achieve their political aims and either disband or stop engaging in violence. This is an awkward reality that can be difficult to analyze objectively, not least because history is written by the “winners.” Leaders of groups that were engaged in terrorist attacks sometimes become revered statesmen, and their organizations become respected political parties or even ruling governments. Terrorism has periodically been used as a means to pursue admirable ends, such as the freedom and self-determination of an oppressed or displaced people, and the groups that engaged in those means have occasionally gained legitimacy over time. Recognizing that terrorism sometimes succeeds does not legitimize the tactic and may even be a necessary step toward reducing and eliminating it. Denying it, on the other hand, is wishful thinking and an impediment to objective analysis. Most Europeans begin the study of terrorism with the assumption that the tactic always fails in the long run, and work from there. Americans, traumatized by 9/11 and lacking the phlegmatic attitude common in Europe, tend to argue that it is uniquely dangerous and usually succeeds. The reality, of course, is somewhere in between. In any case, a comprehensive investigation of how terrorism ends must analyze why, how, and under what conditions terrorism succeeds. First, however, we must decide what “success” means in terrorist campaigns.

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