Responding to acts of terrorism with violence is more likely to prolong civil conflict, a new study shows. But if governments negotiate or use sound counterterrorism efforts, they stand a better chance of bringing about a peaceful resolution.
“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,” says Jakana Thomas, assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University.
The study, published online in the American Journal of Political Science, analyzes 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 terrorist attacks. 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 says.
The findings are relevant globally. When terrorism in Africa is compared with the rest of the world, the types of attacks (such as bombings, armed assaults, and assassinations) and the targets of the attacks (such as governments, businesses, and civilians) are nearly identical.
The new 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.
An End to Civil War?
Thomas refutes the popular adage that governments don’t negotiate with terrorists. The study shows 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,” she says. “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.
“I’m not suggesting we should negotiate with Al-Qaeda,” she adds. “This is in the context of civil war 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 to end civil wars once they start. As much as terrorism is a problem, Thomas says, a government refusing to seek peaceful settlements is also a problem.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.