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From Davos:  How Al Qaeda Ends

This is a little off the beaten track for me, but it is one of the reasons that people go to Davos – to learn about things they would normally not hear about. 

While at Davos, I had the good fortune to meet fellow academic .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), who is currently at the National War College in Washington (formerly at Oxford).  She is working on a new book, entitled How Al-Qaeda Ends:  Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns (Princeton University Press, forthcoming, 2009).  What I found fascinating about her work is that she has actually identified specific causes for the demise of terrorist groups.  They are:

  • Capture or killing of the leader
  • Failure to transition to the next generation
  • Achievement of the group’s aims
  • Transition to a legitimate political process
  • Undermining of popular support
  • Repression
  • Transition from terrorism to other forms of violence

What I found particularly fascinating (and which I didn’t know) is that there is actually a large body of knowledge about how previous terrorist movements have come to an end, which could usefully guide us in forming policy with respect to our handling of Al-Qaeda.  As Prof. Kronin says in a recent article:

Major powers regularly relearn a seminal lesson of strategic planning, which is
that embarking on a long war or campaign without both a grounding in previous
experience and a realistic projection of an end state is folly. This is just as
true in response to terrorism as it is with more conventional forms of political
violence. Terrorism is an illegitimate tactic that by its very nature is purposefully
and ruthlessly employed. At the heart of a terrorist’s plan is seizing
and maintaining the initiative. Policymakers who have no concept of a feasible
outcome are unlikely to formulate clear steps to reach it, especially once they
are compelled by the inexorable action/reaction, offense/defense dynamic
that all too often drives terrorism and counterterrorism. Although history does
not repeat itself, ignoring history is the surest way for a state to be manipulated
by the tactic of terrorism.

You can find the article from which this quote was taken (and which is quite thought-provoking in itself) here.

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