Terrorism works, but only when governments allow it to

April 28, 2014
Terrorism does work, but only when governments respond to it in a violent fashion and play into the terrorists' strategy, argues Michigan State University's Jakana Thomas. Credit: Michigan State University

Terrorism can be a successful strategy for rebel groups during civil war, but only when governments allow it to work, finds a new study by a Michigan State University political scientist.

Responding to acts of terrorism with violence is more likely to prolong the conflict. However, if governments negotiate or use sound counterterrorism efforts, they stand a better chance of bringing about a peaceful resolution, said Jakana Thomas, assistant professor of .

Her study appears online in the American Journal of Political Science.

"Terrorism can work, but only if a government allows it to," Thomas said. "When governments attempt to quash the terrorists and kill civilians in the process – as so often happens – their response backfires and feeds into the terrorists' strategy."

Thomas analyzed civil conflict from 1989 to 2010 in Africa, which has seen a drastic rise in terrorism. Some 45 of the 106 African rebel groups in the study carried out . Rebels practicing terrorism in Somalia, Kenya, Libya and other African countries have threatened regional stability and posed security threats globally.

"That Western nations, including the United States and France, have begun devoting resources to support counterterrorism in Africa underscores its significance," Thomas said.

The findings are relevant globally. When Thomas compared terrorism in Africa with the rest of the world she found the types of attacks (such as bombings, armed assaults and assassinations) and the targets of the attacks (such as governments, businesses and civilians) were nearly identical.

Her study is one of the first to examine terrorism in the context of civil war. Previous research on the effectiveness of terrorism has been inconclusive.

Thomas refutes the popular adage that governments do not negotiate with terrorists. According to the study, rebel groups employing a greater number of terror attacks were much more likely to participate in negotiations and gain more concessions from the ruling party in the months following the conflict.

"Governments should consider negotiating with disaffected people in the country. That doesn't necessarily have to be the groups using terrorism; it can be other groups, such as civil groups operating on behalf of these armed rebels," Thomas said.

"I'm not suggesting we should negotiate with Al-Qaeda," she added. "This is in the context of with routine violence, when negotiating with these domestic rebel groups may be the only way forward."

Another way governments might deal with the problem is by finding ways of ending civil wars once they start. As much as is a problem, Thomas said, a government refusing to seek peaceful settlements is also a problem.

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2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2014
Unfortunately, the image of "terrorism" sold by "government" is straight out of Central Casting, specifically modeled for political effect. Carefully ignored are such things as that maybe the "terrorists" are right, in the sense of being genuinely aggrieved individuals who saw the power structure treat them only with contempt. In that way, "government" allowing "terrorism" to work includes those in power being allowed to continue raping the little guy! The image Washington sells is of people who woke up one morning "wanting only to kill Americans". The same Washington Charles Krauthammer praises for installing dictators that protect only "American interests". And, if the "terrorists" are sided with by the people, they don't view themselves as dying in attacks as so heinous, any more than soldiers are viewed as dying in a war. Since it seems the West hides CIA/Mossad/MI-5 operations in civilian areas, using people as "human shields", the locals may even welcome attacks.
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2014
USA sponsored terrorists mercenaries and nazis puppet government are working efficiently in Ukraine. Unfortunately corporatist police state USA has not invented 1,000,000 SPF sunblock against 65 megaton hydrogen bomb, or way to feed their population when bankster debt-driven economy implodes like aluminum can after FED forced gold to such low prices the Chinese bought it all

not rated yet Apr 29, 2014
"negotiate with Al-Qaeda'"? - indicates a lack of real research - Al CIADA has been a core player - hard to conclude much from such sophomoric sophistry. Proof is in the pudding eh? - - Are there not nation-states alive today whose existence came from freedom fighting/terrorism?

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