Summary

  • The nature of the grievance matters. Ethnically based terrorist campaigns can be harder to end decisively than politically based ones, because they often enjoy broader support among a population they seek to represent.
  • Political violence by itself can rarely achieve its aims, but it can sometimes do so in conjunction with less violent political action.
  • By the same token, deterring terrorism and prosecuting terrorists may be insufficient to end terrorism, especially when a large population supports the terrorists' cause. In such situations, negotiated settlements may provide the only solutions.
  • In Sri Lanka, the government appears to have concluded from its victory over the Maoist JVP that law enforcement and compulsion can end a terror campaign. However, the LTTE has a much broader base of support than the JVP ever did, and the LTTE is unlikely to go away simply through government-applied force.
  • One of the most effective strategies at governments' disposal may be to split off pragmatists from radical rejectionists. Such efforts can diminish public support for the terrorists and deny them a strong base from which to operate.
  • In the cases of the IRA and the PLO, the initiation of political negotiations has not conclusively ended terrorism, but it has swung public support behind a peaceful solution and helped diminish popular support for the terrorists.
  • Making concessions to causes espoused by terrorists can arouse hostility from those who believe that terrorism is "being rewarded." Weak governments find it difficult to make such concessions.
  • Peace overtures must be well-timed. Ideally, they should come at a time when the government is strong and the terrorist organization is undergoing a period of introspection. Good intelligence can make a difference in these cases.

In an attempt to better understand what governmental actions can hasten the end of political violence, on April 12, 1999, the United States Institute of Peace, together with the British-based Airey Neave Trust, convened a working group meeting on the subject "How Terrorism Ends." The workshop began with an overview of the problem by Martha Crenshaw. Her presentation was followed by three case studies. In the first, Paul Wilkinson of St. Andrews University discussed the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and in the second, Jon B. Alterman of the United States Institute of Peace discussed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Both were considered "successful" case studies, because the organizations in question have embraced political dialogue instead of violence to pursue their aims. In the third case study, Teresita Schaffer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies discussed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who have been fighting for autonomy for Tamil-populated areas in Sri Lanka for almost two decades. The LTTE was considered a "failed" case because government actions have been unable to end the violence.

 

About the Report

Political violence remains a serious threat to life in much of the world, and it can have a corrosive effect on the political processes that contribute to domestic and international peace. On April 12, 1999, the United States Institute of Peace, together with the British-based Airey Neave Trust, convened a working group meeting on the subject "How Terrorism Ends." The workshop, which attracted the participation of academic experts, current and former government officials, and security consultants, was conducted as an activity of the International Research Group on Political Violence, which the Institute co-sponsors with the Airey Neave Trust and which is chaired by the Rt. Hon. Sir Adam Butler.

Panelists at the workshop included:

Professor Martha Crenshaw, the John E. Andrus Professor of Government at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. She is the author of a number of works on political violence and terrorism and was co-editor of The Encyclopedia of World.

Professor Paul Wilkinson, professor of international relations and chairman of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He is the author of several authoritative works on terrorism and political violence. His book most recent book, Terrorism and Liberal Democracy, will be published shortly.

Jon B. Alterman, program officer in the United States Institute of Peace's Research and Studies Program, where he covers the Middle East. His most recent book is New Media, New Politics? From Satellite Television to the Internet in the Arab World.

Ambassador Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She is a thirty-year veteran of the Foreign Service and served as U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka from 1992 to 1995.

Institute President Richard H. Solomon moderated the meeting, which was attended by some forty authorities in the field of political violence. This report, written by Dr. Alterman with the help of former research assistant Sara Simon summarizes, the points made by the panelists.

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policies.