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

By Audrey Kurth Cronin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Repression
CRUSHING TERRORISM WITH FORCE

We have scored a success in Chechnya. The problem has been
solved.

—Russian defense minister Sergei Ivanov, February 20071

ANSWERING THE THREAT of terrorism with repression, a state's strongest means of defending itself, is natural—even instinctive. Terrorism is meant to frighten and provoke, and state leaders are among those who get scared and angry. It is a basic human instinct to fight fire with fire, force with force, and terror with terrifying responses. The state's response takes the form of intervention, when the threat is based beyond the borders of the target state (as with Israel's 1982 involvement in Lebanon); or internal repression, when the threat is mainly domestic (as in Turkey with the PKK); or, as is typically the case, some combination of the two (as in Colombia).2 The nation-state was forged as a unique composite of law and strategy, the internal and external realms of authority; terrorism assaults both.3 We should hardly be surprised that states respond in the way that they were designed to respond.

Sanctimonious statements about the foolishness of force reveal an ignorance of history, or at least a selective memory. From the French Revolution to the present, repression—meaning the state's use of overwhelming, indiscriminate, or disproportionate force, internally or externally (or both)4—has been a common answer to terrorism, frequently bringing with it enormous costs. The Western nation-state was consolidated through terrorism: we are often reminded that the earliest modern use of the term dates to the Jacobin reign of terror between March 1793 and July 1794.5 History demonstrates that extremism and terrorism are birth pangs of the state, particularly during periods of broader global transition. At some point in the last two centuries, states in every part of the world have used oppressive force to stamp out terrorism at home or abroad.6 In fact, it is much harder to think of states that did not use repression than those that did. By comparison, the United States, notwithstanding the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has rarely used military force—not because it has been uniquely restrained, but because

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