This House would negotiate with terrorists

“We do not negotiate with terrorists.” This is something we regularly hear, both in movies, and from governments. In the hostage situation the gas field at Amenas in January 2013, Algeria Communication Minister Mohamed Said repeated Algeria’s determination “We say that in the face of terrorism, yesterday as today as tomorrow, there will be no negotiation, no blackmail, no respite in the struggle against terrorism”.[1] Algeria’s determination was in part due to its long history of terrorism in the country including a civil war from 1990 to 1999 in which up to 200,000 died against Islamist groups such as the Islamic Salvation Front (who had won an election). The war was a guerrilla campaign and there were numerous massacres on both sides, not something that encourages a moderate attitude.[2] Yet part of the reasoning may also have been that the terrorists in question were only threatening western hostages, they had said they only wanted the Christians and Infidels so the Algerians in the gas complex were safe – possibly not the best way to coerce the Algerian government.

So what is a terrorist? While there is no comprehensive definition that is recognised by everyone the United States defines international terrorism as activities that

“(A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;

(B) appear to be intended—

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum;”[3]

C can be ignored as the question of whether to negotiate applies equally to domestic as international terrorism. From the definition however the size of the attack does not matter, it can range from a stabbing in Woolwich[4] to the attack on the two towers or bigger.

The key point of the definition is that the terrorists want something from the government and are using violent means to get it. This means that there is clearly something that could be the subject of negotiation. Often the demands are not proportionate or the government is not in a position to answer the demands. In the Algerian example mentioned above the demands included an end to the French action in Mali, something that the Algerian government has no power over and would an immense demand if negotiating with the French government. The other demands by the hostage takers was the release of Islamists from Algerian prisons and a safe corridor to the Malian border, both are much more achievable by the Algerians even if unpalatable.[5] This then could have been the basis of a negotiation.

[1] Reuters, ‘Algeria govt says had to storm plant, action continues’, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 17 January 2013,  http://www.trust.org/item/?map=algeria-govt-says-had-to-storm-plant-action-continues/

[2] Fisk, Robert, ‘It sounds like a replay of Algeria’s civil war. Don’t bet on a happy ending’, The Independent, 16 January 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/it-sounds-like-a-replay-of-algerias-civil-war-dont-bet-on-a-happy-ending-8454664.html

[3] 18 USC § 2331 – Definitions, Legal Information Institute, http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2331

[4] Dodd, Vikram et al., ‘Woolwich killing: meat cleaver, knife and jihadist claims filmed on mobile’, guardian.co.uk, 22 May 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/may/22/woolwich-attack-cleaver-knife-jihadist

[5] RIANovosti, ‘Algerian Terrorists Demand SUVs and Corridor To Mali’, 17 January 2013, http://en.rian.ru/world/20130117/178834922.html

 

Title 
Negotiation saves lives
Point 

Almost all terrorist groups kill people, whether innocents or members of the military. Even those who limit casualties by giving warnings of their atrocities are unperturbed when they do end up taking lives. Negotiation can then be the best way to save lives both in the short and long term. In the short term negotiating can mean a cease fire, and if there are hostages their release. Over the long term negotiation is necessary if there is to be any peaceful conclusion to the conflict. As the right to life is the most fundamental right, and the duty of the states to protect its citizens is primary role of the state it is clear that the protection of these lives should be the main consideration for the state.

Counterpoint 

In the long term negotiation and compromise of some form is needed to bring about a final peace but it is not correct that negotiations in the short term saves lives. First of all not all terrorist groups will initiate a cease fire if they are negotiating with the government, about half continue their violence while negotiating,[1] and even if they do there is no saying all their supporters will take part. Negotiating also shows that the government is weak; the determination to 'save lives' can end up costing more lives as the terrorists see that they violence is paying dividends. They may come to the conclusion that if they kill more they will gain more concessions.

[1] Cronin, Audrey Kurth, ‘Negotiating with groups that use terrorism: Lessons for policy-makers’, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue Background papers, 2008, http://www.hdcentre.org/uploads/tx_news/91AudreyKurth-CroninNegotiatingwithgroupsthatuseterrorism.pdf p.6

Title 
No negotiation encourages the hunt for a bigger lever
Point 

When fighting terrorists the state either needs to answer some of the terrorists demands or fight back. When the state fights back the by the terrorists response is almost always more bloodshed using more and more extreme methods for example the first intifada was fought using sticks and stones, but when this, and the peace process that followed it failed, or rather did not show the results that was hoped for, the second was a major step up to suicide bombing. This is because when the terrorists fail they are unlikely to pack up; instead they will try to find a bigger lever to course the state into making the move they want. In this case Arafat hoped a round of violence would bring about concessions.[1] The best way to prevent this cycle of violence is to negotiate, even if this is mostly to buy time. Even when there is no cease fire there will be no reason for the terrorists to escalate if their demands are being taken seriously.

[1] Pressman, Jeremy, ‘The Second Intifada: Background and Causes of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’, The Journal of Conflict Studies, Vol. CCIII, No.2, Fall 2003, http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/jcs/article/view/220/378

Counterpoint 

Buying time only helps the terrorists. It gives them time to arm themselves and gain allies abroad so enabling a more deadly series of attacks later on. Terrorist groups usually only have a very finite number of resources so the state should seek to press the terrorist group until it has nothing left to fall back on. It is notable that each time Israel has failed to destroy groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza they have quickly been resupplied b allies in Syria and Iran making them more difficult to fight next time.[1]

[1] Spiegel, Peter, and King, Laura, ‘Israel Says Syria, Not Just Iran, Supplied Missiles to Hezbollah’, Los Angeles Times, 31 August 2006, http://articles.latimes.com/2006/aug/31/world/fg-hezbollah31

Title 
Negotiation encourages moderation
Point 

In every terrorist movement there are different factions and disagreements about how best to achieve their collective aims, and often terrorist groups have either direct or indirect ties with political parties with whom they share the same goals. It is clearly then in the interest of the state to strengthen the more acceptable parts of the movement whether can seriously talk to. The only way to strengthen the moderates is to negotiate. This then makes their path to a solution the more credible course for the movement as a whole to take. To demonstrate a negative example the United States and Israel were unwilling to negotiate with moderates within the PLO for fifteen years during which time not only was there a lot more bloodshed but much more radical groups formed on the Palestinian side making negotiations much more complicated in the long run as there would be multiple groups who would need to sign up to a final peace treaty.[1]

[1] Chamberlin, Paul Thomas, ‘When It Pays to Talk to Terrorists’, The New York Times, 3 September 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/04/opinion/when-it-pays-to-talk-to-terrorists.html?_r=0

Counterpoint 

Whether this happens really depends on the negotiations. Unfortunately negotiations without result are likely to strengthen the radicals who can show that the peaceful route is not going anywhere. The only way to strengthen the moderates is to give them what they want, and if this has to be done the concessions could have been given before there was a turn to terrorism.

Title 
Negotiation is the only way to solve the underlying problem
Point 

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated in 2003 “terrorism will only be defeated if we act to solve the political disputes and long-standing conflicts which generate support for it.  If we do not, we shall find ourselves acting as a recruiting sergeant for the very terrorists we seek to suppress.”[1] Terrorist campaigns don't just come out of nowhere (with the exception of some single individual acts), there is a grievance behind the acts. The terrorist is trying to have this grievance dealt with and believes the best way to this end is through violence. It is clear that the easiest way to end the conflict is simply to resolve the grievance. Even when there are no negotiations the state will usually attempt to resolve some of these grievances, however doing so unilaterally will simply show that the terrorist's violence is working without getting any guarantees of an end to the violence in return. Negotiation therefore benefits both sides. It is notable that 43% of terrorist groups that have ended since 1968 have done so as a result of negotiations compared to only 7% being defeated militarily. [2]

[1] Annan, Kofi, ‘Ability to reason vital in fighting terrorism, Secretary-General tells conference’, un.org, SG/SM/8885, 22 September 2003, http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2003/sgsm8885.doc.htm

[2] Jones, Seth G., and Libicki, Martin C., How Terrorist Groups End, RAND, 2008, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG741-1.pdf p.xiii, xiv

Counterpoint 

There is nothing wrong with attempts to solve the individual grievance without reference to the terrorist group. The aim of resolving the grievance is to prevent more people joining the extremists and to isolate them from the people. When this is done it will be much easier to catch the people who are responsible for the terrorist atrocities and bring them to justice. Being willing to negotiate with the terrorist group on the other hand will likely lead to some of the concessions being that terrorists or former terrorist manage to escape justice for their acts as they will want such an amnesty to be a part of the concessions they receive in return for giving up violence.

Title 
Negotiation isolates those who are only interested in violence
Point 

Just as negotiations strengthen the moderates they isolate those who are most radical and interested in a violent solution. This isolation is key to actually winning a fight against groups using terrorist methods because terrorists are almost always hiding within the community. The only way to prevent these acts is therefore to encourage their community to persuade the terrorists to reject violence, or if they are not willing to change to aid the state. The need for help from the community is recognised in almost all conflicts against terrorist groups and insurgencies. The state succeeds when it gets the moderates on board, this is shown by the conflict in Iraq where the United States turned the tide against al Qaeda in the Al-Anbar Awakening. This victory was only made possible through the engagement and cooperation with local leaders who wanted an end to violence so were willing to talk to, and join with the US military if the result was likely to be security.[1]

[1] Smith, Niel, and MacFarland, Sean, ‘Anbar Awakens: The Tipping Point’, Military Review, March-April 2008, pp.41-52, http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA486828 p.48

Counterpoint 

Negotiations are not needed to isolate terrorists. The vast majority of citizens will abhor violence as they simply desire a quiet life in which they can make a peaceful living. The best way for the government to isolate the terrorists is to ensure the security of the community and meet some of their grievances. When the community sees that they government is in a better position to provide what they want they will support the government. The situation in Iraq was unusual in that there were important people in the community who at one point or another actively supported Al Qaeda so there needed to be negotiations with these people. In most circumstances the important members of the community are on the sidelines so negotiating with them would not be analogous to negotiating with terrorists.

Title 
Negotiations cannot take place while innocents are being threatened
Point 

Governments cannot negotiate while innocent civilians are being threatened by illegitimate violence. The state is the only wielder of legitimate violence in the form of the police and military that are needed to keep order and defend the state's citizens. To negotiate with terrorists is to provide them with legitimacy making violence an accepted way of achieving political aims. Before legitimacy is granted upon the terrorist group they must first give up their weapons and renounce violence. By taking such a position the state ensures that no lives will be taken during the political process.

Counterpoint 

A precondition that terrorists must give up their arms and renounce violence before negotiations will ensure that negotiations never come and the violence will continue indefinitely. Terrorists realise that their influence is only as a result of their threat of violence; once this has been renounced the government will never have any reason to give them what they want. The only response to such a precondition is to force the government to drop that condition through violence.

Title 
Negotiation encourages more terrorism
Point 

There are two ways in which negotiation encourages more terrorism. First it shows that violence can achieve its aims, a group that has committed violent acts and received negotiations in return will believe that they will gain even more from greater levels of violence. Secondly as argued in the previous point negotiations with terrorist groups gives legitimacy to political violence. This in turn will encourage other groups to resort to violence to achieve their political goals as they have seen it work for another group. Thus for example when the Fatah movement and the Palestine Liberation Organisation were legitimised by a peace process and the recognition of a form of Palestinian government other groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas came to believe that they could take terrorist actions further in order to liberate Palestine through an armed struggle.[1]

[1] Schweitzer, Yoram, ‘The Rise and Fall of Suicide Bombings in the Second Intifada’, Strategis Assessment, Vol.13, No.3, October 2010, http://www.inss.org.il.cdn.reblaze.com/upload/(FILE)1289896644.pdf p.40

Counterpoint 

There is no question that violence can sometimes achieve its aims but each individual campaign is different and is responded to in different ways thus for example a terrorist group that achieves minimal aims through violence cannot be used as a model by a group whose aims present an existential threat to the state. Thus for example the IRA achieved devolution after years of bombings but this does not them mean that the Real IRA was ever going to be successful in obtain a complete break with the UK.

Title 
Negotiation provides more resources to terrorists
Point 

Negotiation can help the terrorists who are negotiating in several ways. First it buys time; if the terrorist group has previously been hard pressed by the state's military then this time can be used to rest, recover and resupply, in effect for preparing for the next campaign. This is what happens whenever there is a ceasefire, or a unilateral break, in the campaign in Lebanon or Palestine as those states which are aligned to the terrorist groups such as Syria and Iran seek to resupply their allies.[1]

Second in some cases negotiation can involve the state handing over resources to the terrorist group. This is most often the case with hostage negotiations where the terrorists demand the release of other terrorists who have been captured so boosting the groups manpower or else demand a ransom in return for the release of hostages. Somalia has over the last decade regularly seen payouts of ransoms to groups of pirates who have links to islamists[2] and are accused of having links to terrorists. While pirates are the highest profile ransoms the same occurs with terrorist groups, it is estimated that $70million has been paid to secure the release of western captives since 2010.[3] Releasing terrorists can also sometimes be used as a confidence building measure leading up to negotiations, which can mean helping the terrorist groups even before there are negotiations. This has most recently occurred with Israel releasing 26 Palestinian prisoners, including Yusef Irshaid who murdered an Israeli, three suspected ‘collaborators’ and planned car bombings, in order to restart peace talks.[4]

[1] Spiegel, Peter, and King, Laura, ‘Israel Says Syria, Not Just Iran, Supplied Missiles to Hezbollah’, Los Angeles Times, 31 August 2006, http://articles.latimes.com/2006/aug/31/world/fg-hezbollah31

[2] Spiegel Staff, ‘Terror on the High Seas: Somali Pirates Form Unholy Alliance with Islamists’, Spiegel Online, 20 April 2009, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/terror-on-the-high-seas-somali-pirates-form-unholy-alliance-with-islamists-a-620027.html

[3] Press Association ‘David Cameron To Tell G8 ‘Stop Paying Ransoms To Terrorists’’, Huffington Post, 18 June 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/06/18/david-cameron-to-tell-g8-ransoms-terrorist-_n_3457570.html

[4] Harris, Ben, ‘Who Israel released’, Jewish Telegraphic Association, 14 August 2013, http://www.jta.org/2013/08/14/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/who-israel-released

Counterpoint 

It is very rare for such negotiations to provide a benefit to terrorist groups. Many states, such as the UK and USA, are unwilling to provide ransom payments so where they are provided they are often privately raised thus cannot be considered to be a result of negotiation. In such circumstances the state will have secured the release of hostages and the life of a state's citizens should be placed above comparatively small amounts of money. Where prisoners are being released as a confidence building measure the terrorists will usually be making some concession as well such as giving up some arms so the state does not end up worse off but there is more trust to enable negotiations to prevent more violence.

Title 
Terrorists can’t be trusted – better to crush them
Point 

Any group that is willing to resort to violence cannot be trusted not to simply take up arms again as soon as they perceive some new grievance. Groups that believe they can achieve what they want through force of arms will turn to violence again and again. This can be seen all over the world; thus ETA regularly declares ceasefires and breaks them just as often (1989, 1996, 1998, 2006),[1] or civil wars that have seemed to be coming to a close reignite because one or more groups believe they can gain more from another round of fighting. Thus the Tamil Tigers fought what might be considered to be four separate wars with the Sri Lankan state with a lot of ceasefires along the way.[2] It was however not negotiations but the pursuit of a ruthless military campaign that finally brought the reunification of the country.[3]

[1] Dingle, Sarah, ‘ETA militants declare end to armed struggle’, ABC The World Today, 21 October 2011, http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2011/s3344858.htm

[2] ‘Sri Lanka profile Timeline’, BBC News, 16 May 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12004081

[3] Smith, Niel A., ‘Understanding Sri Lanka’s Defeat of the Tamil Tigers’, NDU Press, 2009, http://www.ndu.edu/press/understanding-sri-lanka.html

Counterpoint 

Simply because a terrorist group has broken ceasefires numerous times does not mean that the next attempt will get nowhere – in ETA’s case the current ceasefire is holding.[1] We should also remember that not every time the terrorist group breaks a ceasefire it has been result of actions by the terrorist group – the state can also be the one that is walking away from talks. Ultimately there needs to be trust on both sides, to the terrorists the state seems as untrustworthy as the terrorists do to the state.

[1] ‘Spain and ETA Always around’, The Economist, 17 August 2013, http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21583715-weakened-terrorist-group-remains-presence-basque-region-always-around

Title 
Even if negotiation with one group is successful others will take their place
Point 

Terrorist groups are rarely static, they change, evolve, and break up. Negotiating with one group may create peace with that group while at the same time causing a split that creates another group that is more willing to use violence. This is what happened in Northern Ireland where the peace process tamed the IRA and spawned the Real IRA,[1] a group that was more even more willing to kill innocents than its predecessor through attacks such as the Omagh bombing which killed 29 people in 1998.[2]

[1] Moran, Michael, ‘Terrorist Groups and Political Legitimacy’, Council on Foreign Relations, 16 March 2006, http://www.cfr.org/terrorism/terrorist-groups-political-legitimacy/p10159#p5

[2] Elliott, Francis, ‘Real IRA admits to Omagh bomb and disbands’, The Telegraph, 20 October 2002, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1410723/Real-IRA-admits-to-Omagh-bomb-and-disbands.html

Counterpoint 

The real IRA also shows how negotiation is successful. The new group did not have the tacit support from abroad in the form of the Republic of Ireland or the USA or resources of its predecessor. The violent campaign destroyed any public support and the group disbanded, its leaders were eventually found liable for the bombing.[1] The political process through the Stormont Parliament is now the accepted way to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

[1] McDonald, Henry, ‘Four Real IRA leaders found liable for Omagh bombing’, theguardian.com, 8 June 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/jun/08/omagh-real-ira-leaders-liable

Bibliography 

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‘Sri Lanka profile Timeline’, BBC News, 16 May 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12004081

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