What I’m reading


For pleasure, Rust and Bone by Craig Davidson (gripping; occasionally jarring) and Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk, an elegant and book that somehow makes me feel melancholic about a city that previously brought me only joy.

For our purposes here, however, I’m reading How Terrorism Ends by Adurey Kurth Cronin, a professor of strategy at the U.S. National War College.

Cronin examines the histories numerous terror groups, from South Africa to South America to Middle East. The result is an important book. I won’t try to sum it up here, but a few points:

Terrorism does end. The average lifespan of terror groups is eight years, and few achieve their objectives.

This brings up the obvious question: How does terrorism end? Cronin looks at and evaluates several tactics that might speed along a terror groups demise, including killing or arresting its top leadership (decapitation); wider repression directed against it supporters and foot soldiers; and negotiations.

Here’s what she has to say about the latter:

“Negotiations are best thought of as an essential element in a broader range of policies to marginalize a group, as conciliatory gestures or proposals change the dynamics of support; to exploit differences, hive off factions, and enable members to leave or constituencies to turn elsewhere; to provide crucial information about how a group functions; and to reduce the degree and intensity of attacks over time, as groups lose momentum and make errors. Negotiations carry with them many benefits; however, instantaneously ending the violence is not one of them. Given the small number of operatives needed for terrorist attacks to continue, negotiations do not typically end the violence alone, and it is foolish to promote expectations that they will.”


What I’m reading

  1. Has there ever been a successful case in which terrorism (in the strictest sense of the term) was brought to an end? I am leaving out Northern Ireland since I think it remains to be seen whether that has truly ended.

  2. Terrorism is a tactic employed because of perceived injustice and asymmetrical power. If negotiations are not about dealing respectfully and honourably with the injustice, they won't work. 'Peace' may be negotiated with the original resistance groups, but new ones will spring up or splinter off in the short or long run (as is happening in the six counties of 'Northern' Ireland that are still claimed by the British). Someone from the U.S. National War College isn't likely to look at how U.S. foreign policy might have something to do with terrorism (resistance? freedom fighting?) against the U.S.

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