A government should engage with any terrorist group that has a viable following. Not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s necessary and ultimately, inevitable. This sums up the point Jonathan Powell is making. And he would know. Mr Powell spent his life talking to the Irish Republicans as a secret British negotiator.
The point Jonathan wants to make, is that in the end, governments always end up talking to terrorists. It’s not that they want to, it’s that in the end, talking is the only way terror stops. Governments need to learn how to do it right. And soon. One problem is that governments always insist they will never negotiate with terrorists. The problem with this stance, is that they give up the institutional skill of negotiation with them. And when in the end they do negotiate, as they must, they have to learn how all over again. This book is a series of lessons on how to conduct negotiations with terrorists, written by the man, who knows how, and has dedicated the rest of his career to working to end armed conflict.
Governments initially always believe that the security apparatus can stamp out terrorism. With more policing, more laws, and more encroachment on civil rights, they attempt to ‘take a hard line’. This inevitably fails. And often makes the situations worse by creating more terrorists. Jonathan argues that policing is necessary. Murder is murder. And new laws are not usually needed. Pressure must be kept up to ensure that terrorists are uncomfortable and marginalized enough that they will negotiate. But when this happens, the onus in the government to negotiate.
The books quotes fascinating studies about how terrorist conflicts end. And it’s only in rare, rare circumstances that they are militarily defeated. More often, they eventually end up being part of the political system. Acknowledging this early could lead to thousands of lives saved around the world. Let’s hope this lesson as not been lost on Western governments during it’s War on ISIL. Eventually, we will need to talk.