How Terrorist Groups End: U.S. Should Rethink “War On Terrorism”
September 8, 2008 by js3262
I came across a fascinating study from the RAND Corporation. It is entitled “How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering Al Qaeda”. The authors compiled and analyzed a data set of 648 terrorist groups that existed from 1968-2006. They conclude that of the 648 groups, only 7% of them ended by means of military force and most of these were small groups of under 1,000 members. In fact, the overwhelming majority of terrorist groups ended (that is, at least in terms of using terrorism as a tactic, they were “defeated”) by either peaceful accommodation with their government (43%) or through penetration by local police forces (40%). Indeed, the authors conclude that “there is no battlefield solution to terrorism” and that in reality “Military force usually has the opposite effect from what is intended: It is often overused, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment.” This analysis is in line with numerous prominent academic studies that find that foreign interventions more often than not do more harm than good. If anything, this study is very telling especially when one considers “the good war” in Afghanistan. Here are some excerpts from their Research Brief:
This was the first systematic look at how terrorist groups end. The authors compiled and analyzed a data set of all terrorist groups between 1968 and 2006, drawn from a terrorism-incident database that RAND and the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism jointly oversee. In 10 percent of cases, terrorist groups ended because they achieved victory. Military force led to the end of terrorist groups in 7 percent of cases.
What does this mean for counterterrorism efforts against al Qa’ida? After September 11, 2001, U.S. strategy against al Qa’ida concentrated on the use of military force. Although the United States has employed nonmilitary instruments — cutting off terrorist financing or providing foreign assistance, for example — U.S. policymakers continue to refer to the strategy as a “war on terrorism.”
But military force has not undermined al Qa’ida. As of 2008, al Qa’ida has remained a strong and competent organization. Its goal is intact: to establish a pan-Islamic caliphate in the Middle East by uniting Muslims to fight infidels and overthrow West-friendly regimes. It continues to employ terrorism and has been involved in more terrorist attacks around the world in the years since September 11, 2001, than in prior years, though engaging in no successful attacks of a comparable magnitude to the attacks on New York and Washington.
Al Qa’ida’s resilience should trigger a fundamental rethinking of U.S. strategy.
The summary of their study concludes:
Our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism. Military force usually has the opposite effect from what is intended: It is often overused, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment. This strategy should also include rebalancing U.S. resources and attention on police and intelligence work. It also means increasing budgets at the CIA, U.S. Department of Justice, and U.S. Department of State and scaling back the U.S. Department of Defense’s focus and resources on counterterrorism. U.S. special operations forces will remain critical, as will U.S. military operations to counter terrorist groups involved in insurgencies.