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

By Audrey Kurth Cronin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Reorientation
TRANSITIONING TO ANOTHER MODUS OPERANDI

Because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst
thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.

—A pirate, in St. Augustine's City of God1

TERRORISM CAN “END” when the violence continues but takes another form. Groups may transition out of a primary reliance on terrorist tactics toward either criminal behavior or more classic types of regular or irregular warfare. This transformation may be good or bad news for the state. It is good news when a violent group stops killing civilians and turns to petty criminality, as occurred with elements of the PIRA following the Good Friday Accords.2 The state is better designed to deal with this kind of criminal behavior, which falls squarely within a legal framework and usually does not intimidate its citizens to the same degree. Or the transformation can be bad news when the group gains enough strength that it no longer relies primarily upon terrorism (an inherently weak tactic, as we have seen) because it has developed more effective means, such as guerrilla warfare, insurgency, or even major conventional war. This has happened at various times over the history of the Tamil Tigers, for example.3 Terrorism can instigate or escalate into other forms of violence; the end of terrorism is not necessarily the beginning of “peace.”

Transition to criminal behavior implies shifting away from collecting resources as a means of pursuing political ends toward acquiring goods and profits that are ends in themselves. Groups that have undertaken such transitions in recent years include Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines and the so-called narco-terrorist groups in Colombia.4 Of course, international terrorist and criminal networks overlap, confounding facile generalizations; but when a group shifts toward criminal behavior, it diverts its energies from a political goal that challenges the status quo toward personal or collective material gain within the current order. The driving purpose becomes personal profit. This changes both its ability and incentive to attract a popular following, and it has implications for the type and degree of threat posed to the state and to the international system.

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