One assumption made about terrorism is that you shouldn’t, or can’t, negotiate with terrorists because it will only incite more violence and encourage further terrorism. Many people have made this claim, from politicians to leading scholars in the field. At the height of terrorist activity from the Irish Republican Army, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher vowed to never negotiate with terrorists. Likewise, after the 9/11 attacks in America, President George Bush vowed to never negotiate with terrorists because it would only encourage them towards more violence. Similar claims have been made by many world leaders, including leaders from Turkey, Spain, and Columbia. But world leaders aren’t the only ones who make this claim. Paul Wilkinson, a well-known scholar, after attacks in Egypt in 1997 that resulted in the deaths of dozens of tourists, stated that it would be ‘totally unacceptable’ to open discussions with the responsible terrorists. Many scholars agree with his assessment and feel that negotiations only incite further violence.
Why does this aversion to negotiate exist? Many of those that argue for truth of this assumption have stated that negotiating with terrorists legitimizes them and in the process weakens democratic governments, leading to continued terrorist actions. Is this assumption valid? It is very important to study this assumption because it addresses both academic and social needs.
From an academic standpoint, taking a strong stance against negotiations means preventing a ‘systematic exploration’ of the best way to tackle negotiations. Academics need to look at answering several questions. Which terrorists are likely to negotiate? And when and how should that process begin? Another point of concern is that many terrorism studies today are focused on the short-term and are problem focused. But this neglects the long-term issues and prevents studies which will question important assumptions and ideologies. From a societal standpoint, there could be benefits to negotiating and it would be premature to take that option off the table. You can’t say that negotiations will work in every case, but likewise you can’t say that they will never work either. Governments need to study this and consider how to go about negotiations without weakening their position or setting dangerous precedents that lead to further terrorist activities.
It is important to consider that not all situations are the same and not all terrorists are the same. Should there be blanket policies against...