How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaignsby Audrey Kurth Cronin
Amid the fear following 9/11 and other recent terror attacks, it is easy to forget the most important fact about terrorist campaigns: they always come to an end--and often far more quickly than expected. Contrary to what many assume, when it comes to dealing with terrorism it may be more important to understand how it ends than how it begins. Only by understanding
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Amid the fear following 9/11 and other recent terror attacks, it is easy to forget the most important fact about terrorist campaigns: they always come to an end--and often far more quickly than expected. Contrary to what many assume, when it comes to dealing with terrorism it may be more important to understand how it ends than how it begins. Only by understanding the common ways in which terrorist movements have died out or been eradicated in the past can we hope to figure out how to speed the decline of today's terrorist groups, while avoiding unnecessary fears and costly overreactions. In How Terrorism Ends, Audrey Kurth Cronin examines how terrorist campaigns have met their demise over the past two centuries, and applies these enduring lessons to outline a new strategy against al-Qaeda.
This book answers questions such as: How long do terrorist campaigns last? When does targeting the leadership finish a group? When do negotiations lead to the end? Under what conditions do groups transition to other forms of violence, such as insurgency or civil war? How and when do they succeed or fail, and then disappear? Examining a wide range of historical examples--including the anti-tsarist Narodnaya Volya, the Provisional IRA, Peru's Shining Path, Japan's Aum Shinrikyo, and various Palestinian groups--Cronin identifies the ways in which almost all terrorist groups die out, including decapitation (catching or killing the leader), negotiation, repression, and implosion.
How Terrorism Ends is the only comprehensive book on its subject and a rarity among all the books on terrorism--at once practical, optimistic, rigorous, and historical.
Peter J. P. Krause
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2010
"Cronin makes a significant contribution to the scholarly literature on terrorism and counterterrorism. While other scholars have written extensively on the motivations, methods, and means of terrorism, Cronin is the first to look seriously and historically at how terrorist campaigns come to an end."--Choice
"While the causes of terrorism have long been subject to avid research, Audrey Kurth Cronin's cogent and thoughtful text responds to the curious dearth of works attending to its ends. This is clearly a timely project, coming as policy-makers and academics are increasingly seeking alternative ways to think about and practice terrorism. . . . [The] case-studies are easily the most gripping and readable sections of the text. Cronin never flattens for the sake of parsimonious argumentation, rather allowing the specificity of each case to enlighten us for the continuities and differences at work. As a consequence, they are rich in fascinating detail and her derived conclusions are sophisticated. . . . Such insights should rightly guarantee the text a wide readership. . . . The timeliness, clarity and simplicity of the project contained in How Terrorism Ends should commend it to readers of all descriptions. Above all, Cronin's sensible and well-argued call for 'smarter'(pg. 193) strategies for dealing with terrorism today is one that deserves to be widely heard."--Nicholas Michelsen, International Affairs
"By writing How Terrorism Ends, Audrey Kurth Cronin . . . has provided a service to everyone with an interest in counterterrorism by providing much-needed perspective. . . . Cronin's analysis is textured, challenging and insightful. And, as with all good analyses, the assertions at the heart of the argument prompt further lines of inquiry for scholars and practitioners to explore. . . . How Terrorism Ends shines a light on the key issues that relate to an al-Qa'eda threat that is becoming increasingly diffuse, diverse and devolved--and, even with the benefit of Cronin's perspective, difficult to predict."--Christopher Mackmurdo, Global Policy
"In a new book with the blunt title How Terrorism Ends, Cronin . . . has filled that gap by collecting and analyzing as much information as possible about the demise of past terrorist campaigns and organizations. Eschewing sociological or psychological speculation about why groups opt to use terrorism, she focuses instead on the strategic consequences of their actions. The result is a refreshingly sober treatment of the subject."--Justin Vogt, The National
"Serious work on this subject has begun to emerge with Audrey Kurth Cronin's splendid recent study, How Terrorism Ends, providing a strong example."--Richard English, International Affairs
"I applaud the outstanding analysis in this book. By meticulously selecting, recording, and examining terrorism, Cronin has provided an excellent foundation for the planners and implementers of counterterrorism."--Terence Parker, Michigan War Studies Review
"The fact that Cronin's book raises more questions than it answers may ultimately be a positive, because she aims to provide a wide ranging analysis of a subject in its early phases that can serve as a springboard to future studies. How Terrorism Ends is, therefore, a worthwhile book for both academics and policymakers. If a reader agrees with some points and finds others lacking, but ultimately considers how to grapple with terrorism from a new perspective, Cronin will have succeeded in her aims."--Peter J. P. Krause, Journal of Strategic Studies
"Cronin has written an important book on how terrorism ends. Her analysis is equally illuminating for its insights into why people engage in terrorism in the first place."--Max Abrahms, Middle East Quarterly
"[A] broad variety of approaches benefit from Cronin's work. It is hard to imagine a thoughtful reader who won't be provoked by something in this book. It is still harder to imagine one who won't fine his or her work enriched by it."--Thomas Maddux, H-Diplo ISSF
"How Terrorism Ends is comprehensive, historical, and academically rigorous. Terror campaigns might seem endless, but as Cronin has so accurately depicted, terror campaigns always end and usually not in the favor of the terrorists organization. I highly recommend the book to anyone with an interest in understanding terrorist organizations and the political and military means to defeat them."--Ken Miller, Military Review
"For all the scholarly work that has been done during the decade on terrorism and counter-terrorism, remarkably little has been done to compare the ways in which terrorist campaigns come to a conclusion. Audrey Kurth Cronin fills this gap admirably in her book How Terrorism Ends [by] using intelligent analysis and a wide array of historical examples."--Colin Dueck, Claremont Review of Books
"This is an impeccable text, offering some hope to those who fear a terrorist cataclysm, ways to ameliorate situations that foster or encourage terrorist activity, and a clear strategy for governments to pursue."--Rabbi Dr Charles H Middleburgh, Charles Middleburgh Blog
"The volume is beyond doubt a valuable addition to the literature on terrorism. In fact, it is one of the more important works to appear in recent years. The analyses and insights are valuable, and the conclusions that she derives are compelling."--James M. Lutz, European Legacy
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How Terrorism EndsUNDERSTANDING THE DECLINE AND DEMISE OF TERRORIST CAMPAIGNS
By Audrey Kurth Cronin
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2009 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
CATCHING OR KILLING THE LEADER
[T]he cardinal responsibility of leadership is to identify the dominant contradiction at each point of the historical process and to work out a central line to resolve it. -Mao Tse-tung
Leaders of terrorist groups are often captured or killed in the final months of terrorist campaigns, dealing a death blow to the group and precipitating the demise of the movement. But the specific techniques of targeting vary, and the long-term effects of decapitation are inconsistent. While many campaigns end as a result, others barely falter and may even gain strength.
The immediate effects of removing a leader vary, depending on the structure of the organization, the degree to which it fosters a cult of personality, the availability of a viable successor, the nature of its ideology, the political context, and whether the leader was killed or imprisoned. This chapter employs comparative case studies of the arrest or assassination of top leaders so as to probe the complex relationship between their removal and the ending of terrorist campaigns. A clear finding in what follows is that arresting a leader damages a campaign more than killing him does, especially when the jailed leader can be cut off from communicating with his subordinates yet also paraded in humiliation before the public. More surprising, however, a crucial consideration in determining whether the removal of a leader will succeed in ending a campaign is not the type of action a state uses against him or even his operational effectiveness, as we might logically expect, but rather the effects of his removal on potential supporters of both the terrorist campaign and the counterterrorist operation. Killing the leader of a group that has widespread popular support either has no measurable effect or is counterproductive. In this case, as in many others, the reaction of terrorism's multiple audiences proves crucial.
The "propagandist in chief" who explains the rationale for terrorism is important, even if he or she is not directing the group's operations. Because organizations that rely on terrorist attacks typically lack the strength to employ more legitimate forms of violence, leaders must formulate a narrative that mobilizes followers and has consistent elements. First, whatever the political motivation, terrorist attacks demand a rationale that overshadows moral qualms about targeting civilians. Perception is at the core of terrorism. Without an articulated sense of political purpose, the violence is nothing more than murder and redounds against a group or its cause. Second, supporters must believe that there is no alternative to killing. This requires a carefully crafted story, infused with a sense of urgency. Grievances are a necessary but not sufficient ingredient: potential supporters must also accept that the best, in fact the only, way to remedy the injustice is by killing noncombatants. Third, followers must be convinced that civilians who are killed as a result of terrorist attacks are not really innocent, but represent "the Enemy." Finally, a compelling personality thrusts followers beyond the threshold of personal doubt. The leader convinces them that they are not only right in their actions and convictions, but innocent of the harm that they do.
All of these aspects of terrorism rely upon a carefully crafted argument. Though painful for potential victims to ponder, elements of both attraction and repulsion are essential for terrorist acts to resonate politically and to potentially be "effective." At the core of the apparent moral ambiguities, exploiting the confusing fusion between motivation and method, lies the narrative, which simplifies the complexities of life and presents terrorist attacks as a shortcut nudging history forward toward a new, more desirable reality.
Of course, not all leaders are magnetic ideologues, and not all groups require the creation of a narrative. Some pick up long-standing grievances with a built-in pedigree. Groups that pursue ethnonationalist causes have a ready means of mobilization over territory or identity, and leadership of these groups may be diffuse and discontinuous. Examples include the Basque separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) and the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale), whose campaign of violence helped to drive the French from Algeria. Others champion causes that are well-established, such as Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawammah al-Islammiyya) and the PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad). Charismatic leadership is not important to all groups at all stages and at all times. However, when a leader is identifiable, states find it hard to resist targeting him.
Decapitation is an expected impulse for the military or police, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Counterterrorism policy often involves mirror-imaging: police or military organizations tend to view the enemy in their own terms, as a hierarchically structured group that is directed by a leader. Sometimes this is true, but not always. More to the point, in the aftermath of an attack, those responsible for protecting the public naturally find it difficult to take a phlegmatic approach, not least because the people demand a response. Terrorism is emblematic violence that regularly employs a human mouthpiece: it makes sense to attack the head, if only to shut him up, exact vengeance, and demonstrate resolve.
The history of terrorism yields inconsistent outcomes for this approach. Depending on the structure of the group and its evolution, the leader may exercise variable degrees of political and operational control: some are merely figureheads, others carry out attacks themselves. And the role can change: Even leaders who exercise an operational role in the early years of a group may not continue to do so as an organization and its campaign of violence (and response to violence) unfold and evolve. To silence propaganda, to deliver a form of "justice," to remove the operational role of the leader, to undercut the group, to mollify a domestic population, to raise the morale of counterterrorist forces (and the population that supports them), to disrupt impending attacks-all of these are understandable, logical motives for the use of this technique. But when has it worked? When has decapitation been a catalyst for the demise of terrorist groups and their violent campaigns?
What Decapitation Means
To answer these questions, we must first clarify what we mean by "decapitation." For the purposes of this study, decapitation refers to the removal by arrest or assassination of the top leaders or operational leaders of a group. States that decide to target the leadership of a terrorist campaign must first determine whether the goal is to take the leader alive or not. Decisions about whether to capture or to kill the chief may depend on local conditions; but in their effects on a campaign they embody the classic dichotomy between the so-called law enforcement paradigm and the so-called war paradigm in counterterrorism. Capturing the leader reflects the view that he is a criminal, lawfully entitled to a trial; killing him is treating him as a combatant, fair game for attack. Thus, decisions about whether and how to target leaders reflect philosophies in a state's counterterrorism approach, and historical case studies indicate that these tactical choices have significant strategic implications for the outcomes of campaigns. While this chapter does not attempt a comprehensive statistical analysis of the effects of decapitation on the endings of all groups analyzed in this book, it uses comparative case studies to uncover significant findings about the conditions under which decapitation ends terrorism.
The Arrest of Top Leaders
Capturing a leader, putting him or her on trial and then presumably behind bars, emphasizes the rule of law, profiles leaders as criminals, and demonstrates the appropriate application of justice. All else being equal, it is much better to arrest and jail a terrorist leader so that his fate will be demonstrated to the public. There is nothing glamorous about languishing in jail. When terrorism is primarily treated as a criminal offense, either by the state or the international system, the existing legal mechanisms for responding to it are reinforced. If there is a fair trial, terrorist violence carried out in the name of a political cause is labeled strictly according to the illegality and immorality of the act. The cause for which the attacks were carried out may or may not have legitimacy, but the violent acts performed in its name definitely do not, as the use of legal mechanisms clearly demonstrates. Treating terrorist leaders as "bandits" also removes the pretext that they are combatants engaged in a war, a claim that can be very useful in perpetuating a cause and establishing a degree of equivalence between states and nonstate groups. Arrest can result in a succession struggle that paralyzes a group, stymied by the fact that the leader is still alive. Most important, interrogating leaders often provides valuable intelligence on the rest of the group. In an ideal world, arresting and prosecuting terrorist operatives is the optimal solution.
Unfortunately this is not an ideal world. As many commentators have pointed out, there are numerous practical disadvantages to arresting and incarcerating terrorist leaders. Sometimes the legal system frees them on technicalities; sometimes they continue to communicate with their followers from prison; sometimes, after serving short sentences, they are released to do more damage. Sometimes they become more radicalized: in May 1970, Ulrike Meinhof helped to free Andreas Baader, who was imprisoned for an act of political arson, and the two then engaged in a campaign of bloody violence. Jailed leaders can also be a huge liability for the citizens of the state holding them. There are scores of recent examples of hostage-taking and blackmail designed to force the release of jailed leaders.
The gloomy anecdotes abound. For example, in 1973, Black September attacked the Saudi Arabian embassy in Khartoum and took 10 hostages, among them the Saudi Arabian ambassador and chargés d'affaires from the United States, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. The gunmen demanded the release of an ambitious list of prisoners, including 60 Palestinian guerrillas held in Jordan, all Arab women jailed in Israel, Sirhan Sirhan, killer of U.S. senator Bobby Kennedy, and members of the Red Army Faction. When U.S. president Richard Nixon refused to negotiate, they shot and killed the Americans and the Belgian. Terrorist kidnappings and blackmailing continued into the 1980s and 1990s. British tourists were killed in Greece and Americans were taken hostage in Beirut because leaders were jailed in their home countries. Ten French citizens died in bombings in Paris because their government was unwilling to release Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1982 murder of Lt. Col. Charles Ray, an assistant U.S. military attaché in Paris. In 1994 Maulana Masood Azhar, head of a radical Pakistani group called Harkat-ul-Ansar (later renamed Harkut-ul-Mujahideen, or HuM), was captured. Five years later, he was released in exchange for 155 hostages on a hijacked Indian Airlines plane. Ansar promptly started another group, Jaish-e-Mohammad (linked to al-Qaeda), which carried out attacks in Kashmir.
Major cases of campaigns that were either destroyed or deeply wounded by the incarceration of a charismatic leader include the Peruvian group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey, the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA), and Japan's Aum Shinrikyo (Aum). These four cases have been selected for analysis because they represent disparate regions of the world, different motivations, have been thoroughly documented, and yield reliable data about the campaigns before and after their leaders' arrest.
Abimael Guzmán and Sendero Luminoso
Sendero Luminoso's leader Manuel Ruben Abimael Guzmán Reynoso, known as "Guzmán," a highly charismatic philosophy professor, built a powerful Marxist movement through a brutal campaign of executions of peasant leaders. The Shining Path may have been the bloodiest terrorist organization of the twentieth century; its 20-year campaign of violence resulted in the deaths of some 69,000 people. Ironically, Sendero Luminoso began to engage in violence just after extensive land reform and the restoration of democracy in Peru. The earliest attacks involved burning ballot boxes in the 1980 presidential election, the first balloting to occur in Peru in 17 years and the first ever in which there was genuine universal suffrage. At just the time when Peru was emerging from a long and turbulent tradition of military government, Guzmán and Shining Path launched revolutionary operations.
Beginning in the early 1960s, Guzmán had carefully built the movement from his position as a faculty member of the National University of San Cristóbal de Huamanga in Ayacucho, a remote and isolated part of Peru. Although it was an extremely poor, underdeveloped region, public access to university education had increased, enabling Guzmán, whose students were often the first members of their families to attend college, to radicalize a growing cadre of eager young supporters. He capitalized on the opportunity to gather followers among the poor, many of whom had made a precipitous leap from illiteracy to studying philosophy under his guidance. Within the group, Guzmán consolidated his power partly through expelling or executing dissenters, resulting in unquestioned obedience but also a highly individualistic leadership. His goal was to institute a kind of semipermanent, quasi-Maoist Cultural Revolution in Peru. He was good at it: by the early 1990s, Sendero Luminoso had brought Peru to the brink of anarchy.
Guzmán, whose supporters also called him President Gonzalo, was a brilliant strategist and excelled at organization. His elaborate philosophy for violence, developed during 17 years of organizational planning, was known as Gonzalo Thought, a form of Marxist-Leninist theory applied to a Peruvian context, characterized by clear moral codes, rote memorization, and oversimplified ideological explanations for every act. After initiating the movement, Guzmán went underground and was not seen in public. The group used tricks such as symbolically timed blackouts in the capital, Lima, and a huge light-display of a hammer and sickle on Guzmán's birthday to build up the cult of his omnipotence.
During the campaign against Sendero Luminoso, some experts predicted that the organization was so well structured, with such depth of leadership, that capturing or killing Guzmán would not result in its demise. Over the course of the campaign, the Peruvian government repeatedly claimed that Guzmán's key lieutenants had been captured and the organization crippled, only for them to be replaced by new militants. The organization had an elaborate, tiered membership structure, wherein members served first as sympathizers, then activists, then militants, then commanders, and finally members of the central committee. But the leadership also remained highly personalized: new militants were required to write a letter of subjugation, in which they pledged their lives, not only to the cause, but to Guzmán personally. Guzmán's role as the cultish, even deified intellectual leader was never in doubt; nonetheless Sendero Luminoso's organizational agility and depth seemed impenetrable and impersonal.
Guzmán's capture on September 12, 1992, dealt the group a coup de grâce. Guzmán was displayed in a cage, in a striped uniform, recanting and asking his followers to lay down their arms. Much of the top leadership was caught with Guzmán, along with computer disks that reportedly held records of the membership and financing of the movement. In the year following his capture, levels of violence fell by 50 percent and continued to decline thereafter. Guzmán's successor, Oscar Ramirez Duran, known as Feliciano, tried to carry on; but without Guzmán, the group factionalized and the number of active members and passive supporters sharply plummeted, further facilitated by the Peruvian government's offer of an amnesty to remaining fighters. Guzmán was tried in camera by a military court and sentenced to life in prison; although many called for his execution and President Alberto Fujimori urged a constitutional amendment to allow this (the Peruvian Constitution allowed the death penalty only in cases of treason during wartime), Guzmán survived. In subsequent years, Sendero has failed to revive itself as an ideological organization, although a blossoming connection to cocaine trafficking has some Peruvian officials worried that the group could become a resurgent threat, particularly if Guzmán (now 73) is allowed to reconnect with followers from his jail cell. (See figure 1.1.)
Excerpted from How Terrorism Ends by Audrey Kurth Cronin Copyright © 2009 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
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Adrian Guelke, author of "Terrorism and Global Disorder"
Meet the Author
Audrey Kurth Cronin is professor of strategy at the U.S. National War College in Washington, DC, and senior associate in the Changing Character of War program at the University of Oxford. She is the author of "Ending Terrorism: Lessons for Defeating al-Qaeda" and the coauthor of "Attacking Terrorism: Elements of a Grand Strategy".
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