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How can terrorist movements be defeated or at least rendered harmless? Two insightful new works point the way forward.

Audrey Cronin, a Professor of Strategy at the US National War College, has just publised How Terrorism Ends (Princeton), while the former US Treasury counter-terrorism expert Michael Jacobson has suggested ways to increase the number of terrorist dropouts. 

Cronin has analysed government responses to terrorism, from repression via auto-implosion to negotiation. Blanket repression, of the sort Uruguay visited on the Tupamaros, can lead to a 12-year dictatorship. Decapitation of a leadership succeeds only when the terror group is based on a cult of personality such as Shoko Asahara of Japan's Aum Shinrikyo. Exhibiting them in courts dissipates their spell, as it may do with the human shambles that is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed if and when the US tries him. By contrast, Cronin is sceptical of the long-term value of targeted assassinations, such as those practised by the Israelis, Russians and the US. All of the targeted terrorist groups are sufficiently broad-based and resilient for this tactic to represent little more than an operational setback. These assassinations also risk creating fresh martyrs. Anarchist and Marxist sects are most vulnerable to auto-implosion since the incoherent ideology of the founder generation is hard to transmit to their successors. "I was, I am, I will be again," declared the remnant German Red Army Faction with characteristic solecism as it dissolved itself in 1998. 

Then there are talks. Almost one-fifth of the 500 terrorist organisations active since 1968 have engaged in negotiations, but only one in ten of the talks can be deemed to have failed. Negotiations are "easiest" when there is something territorial and tangible to talk about, or they involve incorporating a wider constituency into an altered political framework, as we did in Northern Ireland, and Hamid Karzai is trying with the Taliban. Even when talks fail, the process itself can induce less effective splinter groups. The talks themselves can influence wavering bystanders with an alternative narrative to one based on the inevitability of conflict.

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