What is the most effective strategy for fighting terrorism? Answers to this question have become more pertinent in the ugly face of the globalizing trend of a phenomenon that seems to have so far defied all the strategies adopted by nations afflicted with this scourge to check it. From the United States to Britain, Spain to India, Israel to Nigeria, from one troubled part of the globe to the other, terrorism continues to withstand all the overt and covert attempts to crush it. There seems to be no available strategy that seems able to stem the forceful tide of this apocalyptic Tsunami.
This piece juxtaposes the two major strategies for fighting terrorism the world over – the Containment and War-Making approaches – and suggests a method that is often overlooked, but which probably constitutes the most effective solution to this problem – the Joint-Problem Solving approach.
The Containment approach to fighting terrorism is a non-adversarial method that is aimed at limiting the damage caused by terrorist attacks. It involves the arrest and trial of terrorists as criminals. It is a reactionary approach to fighting terrorism, which leverages on existing anti-terrorism legislations to limit the effects of terrorist attacks. Terrorists detonate bombs in a crowded area, resulting in several deaths, some scapegoats are arrested, trial commences and ends sometimes in the conviction or release of suspects, life goes on after all the fuse. That is how the Containment approach works. Spain, Italy, India, France et al, adopt this method.
One of the major weaknesses of the Containment approach is that it does not seem to have the ability of deterring would-be terrorists from embarking on their deadly missions; it rather enamors them. You arrest a terrorist, prosecute and convict him, and after a few months another terrorist more vicious than the one in the gallows carries out a deadlier bombing mission in defiance of whatever effect you think the conviction of his brother has on him. Just like common criminals who, despite been aware of the existence of laws prohibiting their illegal conduct, still go ahead to commit the same crimes, damming the consequences of their actions, most terrorists attacks are carried out by extremists versed in the intricacies of the laws prohibiting their activities. The citizens of countries that belong to the Containment school are usually at the mercy of terrorists; like the victims of natural disasters, they pick up the pieces and continue with their miserable lives after all the noise surrounding a particular terrorist act has died down, until another bomb goes off somewhere else.
Another strategy for fighting terrorism is the War-Making approach, which is a punitive method. Revenge is the driving force behind this approach. It has the advantage of satiating the desire to immediately and decisively strike back at perpetrators of terrorist acts wherever they may be located. Israel, United States of America, Britain, and Russia adopt the Confrontational method in their war on terrorism. Targets of this approach also include states that aid and abet acts of terror. The US-led war against the Al-Qaida-backed Taliban Government in Afghanistan, which commenced after 9/11; the Israeli MOSSAD-led “Operation “Spring of Youth” and Operation “Wrath of God” which were meant to liquidate the terrorists that carried out the Munich Olympic massacre, together with its bombing campaigns against terrorists targets located in some of the mostly hostile countries surrounding it, and are classic cases of the use of the War-Making style of countering terrorism.
Apart from the ability to punish perpetrators of terrorist acts, the War-Making approach is also a very proactive style of countering terrorism, as countries adopting this method can leverage on their “First Strike” capabilities to sniff out and annihilate would-be terrorists and their backers. It involves taking the fight to the turf of terrorist groups, and not waiting to be struck before reacting. Using mostly clandestine methods, which involve massive intelligence gathering and the use of advanced technology, terrorist activities are closely monitored and appropriate action expedited to stop them from executing their missions. America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Britain’s MI5 and MI6, Russia’s defunct KGB, Israel’s MOSAD, are some of the secret service organizations that have fought proxy wars against terrorist organizations the world over.
However, the War-Making approach has the disadvantage of sometimes causing collateral damage in the event of a terrorist act, as the perpetrators of most terrorist acts usually die in such attacks, leaving no one for the victim country to physically punish, as was the case after 9/11. The quest for revenge most times results in the death of individuals who had nothing to do with the terrorists. The war in Afghanistan has so far resulted in the death of so many innocent people – including women and children. Israel’s airstrikes on Hezbollah targets in Beirut has not resulted in the death of members of this group alone, but of other casual bystanders.
Separating the actual perpetrators of terrorist acts from casual onlookers poses the greatest challenge for exponents of the punitive method. Again, the ricochet effects of the careless application of this approach is that thousands more enemies are unnecessarily created than you started out with, as some unintended victims of most reprisal strikes form a new army of mass murderers seeking revenge to offset their own loses.
From the excursion so far, one singular fact stands out: that both the Containment and War-Making approaches to countering terrorism have not succeeded in wiping off this problem or even limiting it. The globalization of terror attests to this fact. This has necessitated the need for the adoption of another approach; a time-tested approach that has been used since ancient times for effectively resolving human conflicts: the Joint-Problem-Solving approach, which involves the granting of concessions by the combatants – national governments and terrorist groups; negotiated settlements of the burning issues at stake by the stakeholders; an approach that leaves all stakeholders satisfied.
It should be pointed out that some of the extremist groups operating in different sections of the globe, today – like the institutions or individuals they seek to destroy or overthrow – are also driven by philosophies and goals that define their actions; and that it is the traditional tendency of state institutions to ignore the demands of these groups that most times results in the bloody escalation of these conflicts. Most national governments – in attempts to avoid setting wrong precedents that would supposedly give room for future blackmail by fundamentalist organizations – adopt the principle of non-negotiation in dealing with groups with objectives that are viewed as being contrary to their larger national interests.
However, the truth remains that – whether people accept it or not – none of the combatants involved in the several internecine wars of attrition across the globe are going to vanish overnight. The Nigerian State and Boko Haram are not going to disappear overnight. The USA, its allies, Al- Qaeda and ISIL are not suddenly going into extinction. Neither are the State of Israel, Hezbollah, Hamas and its backers going away without achieving the goals they’ve been fighting for all these years. All the parties involved in these bloody exchanges fire and iron are going to be around for a long time.
People can throw around all the high-sounding grammar they want about “defeating or crushing terrorism”, “chasing Boko Haram and other similar apocalyptic groups into the desert”, but the painful truth remains that if the proper things are not done, the issues that have kept humanity apart for so long will continue festering like ugly sores.
No matter how many times terrorist groups are “crushed”, they will keep regenerating. There are too many frustrated people in the world who have nothing to lose, and too many relatives and friends of the dead, asking to be avenged. Both sides are gulls for provocation, looking for any excuse to overreact and make things worse for everybody, except the undertakers. No one wants to accept the inevitable – that at some point they must strike a bargain, no matter how much they say it is against what they stand for – values or creed.
It may take years, decades or more, but the time will come when all the combatants will start experiencing battle fatigue; time when they will all get tired of the whole nonsense; time when they will realize that there was no need for all the blood-letting after all; that the issues at stake would have been easily resolved if they had given room for dialogue. When that time comes, all the parties will sit down and begin to jaw-jaw on common solutions to their common problems.
The carnages of violent conflicts – as devastatingly demonstrated by the arcane activities of extremist groups around the world – can only be overcome with the politics of peacemaking: disarmament, reconciliation, education for peace, and genuine moves towards a just and sustainable world. This is the vision for which everybody must, and should, work and walk towards.
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding”, according to mystically minded Albert Einstein. For peace, tranquility and the progress of humanity to begin to hold sway, the time has come to sit down and start talking! The earlier, the better – Shalom!