This study was, of course, ignored. As a general rule, the US government’s interest in advice is inversely proportional to the relevant expertise and knowledge of the source. Best of all is to know little about the subject, but have an active imagination and firm grasp of what the answers should be.
- “How Terrorist Groups End – Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida“, Seth G. Jones and Martin C. Libicki, RAND, 2008
All terrorist groups eventually end. But how do they end? The evidence since 1968 indicates that most groups have ended because (1) they joined the political process (43 percent) or (2) local police and intelligence agencies arrested or killed key members (40%). Military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups, and few groups within this time frame have achieved victory. This has significant implications for dealing with al Qa’ida and suggests fundamentally rethinking post-9/11 U.S. counterterrorism strategy: Policymakers need to understand where to prioritize their efforts with limited resources and attention.
The authors report that religious terrorist groups take longer to eliminate than other groups and rarely achieve their objectives. The largest groups achieve their goals more often and last longer than the smallest ones do. Finally, groups from upper-income countries are more likely to be left-wing or nationalist and less likely to have religion as their motivation. The authors conclude that policing and intelligence, rather than military force, should form the backbone of U.S. efforts against al Qa’ida. And U.S. policymakers should end the use of the phrase “war on terrorism” since there is no battlefield solution to defeating al Qa’ida.
Excerpt: Ending the “War” on Terror
Al Qa’ida’s resurgence should trigger a fundamental rethinking of U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Based on our analysis of how terrorist groups end, a political solution is not possible. Since al Qa’ida’s goal remains the establishment of a pan-Islamic caliphate, there is little reason to expect that a negotiated settlement with governments in the Middle East is possible. A more effective approach would be adopting a twofront strategy.
First, policing and intelligence should be the backbone of U.S. efforts. In Europe, North America, North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, al Qa’ida consists of a network of individuals who need to be tracked and arrested. This would require careful work abroad from such organizations as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as well as their cooperation with foreign police and intelligence agencies.
Second, military force, though not necessarily U.S. soldiers, may be a necessary instrument when al Qa’ida is involved in an insurgency. Local military forces frequently have more legitimacy to operate than the United States has, and they have a better understanding of the operating environment, even if they need to develop the capacity to deal with insurgent groups over the long run. This means a light U.S. military footprint or none at all. The U.S. military can play a critical role in building indigenous capacity but should generally resist being drawn into combat operations in Muslim societies, since its presence is likely to increase terrorist recruitment. A key part of this strategy should include ending the notion of a war on terrorism and replacing it with such concepts as counterterrorism, which most governments with significant terrorist threats use.
The British government, among others, has already taken this step and abjured the phrase war on terror. The phrase raises public expectations—both in the United States and elsewhere—that there is a battlefield solution to the problem of terrorism. It also encourages others abroad to respond by conducting a jihad (or holy war) against the United States and elevates them to the status of holy warriors. Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors.
Our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism. Military force usually has the opposite effect from what is intended: It is often overused, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment. This strategy should also include rebalancing U.S. resources and attention on police and intelligence work. It also means increasing budgets at the CIA, U.S. Department of Justice, and U.S. Department of State and scaling back the U.S. Department of Defense’s focus and resources on counterterrorism. U.S. special operations forces will remain critical, as will U.S. military operations to counter terrorist groups involved in insurgencies.
There is reason to be hopeful. Our analysis concludes that al Qa’ida’s probability of success in actually overthrowing any government is close to zero. Out of all the religious groups that ended since 1968, none ended by achieving victory. Al Qa’ida has virtually unachievable objectives in trying to overthrow multiple regimes in the Middle East. To make matters worse, virtually all governments across Europe, North America, South America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa consider al Qa’ida an enemy. As al Qa’ida expert Peter Bergen has noted, “Making a world of enemies is never a winning strategy.”
About the authors
Seth G. Jones is a political scientist at RAND and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. He received an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He specializes in stability operations and counterinsurgency. He is the author of…
- In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan (W. W. Norton, forthcoming)
- The Rise of European Security Cooperation (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
He has published articles in such journals as International Security, National Interest, Security Studies, Chicago Journal of International Law, International Affairs, and Survival, as well as such newspapers and magazines as the New York Times, Newsweek, Financial Times, and International Herald Tribune. His RAND publications include
- “Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan”, RAND Counterinsurgency Study, Volume 4 (2008);
- “Establishing Law and Order after Conflict” (2005);
- “The UN’s Role in Nation-Building: From the Congo to Iraq” (2005);
- “America’s Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq” (2003).
Martin C. Libicki is a senior management scientist at RAND. He received a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. His work focuses on the relationship between information technology and national security. His is the author of two commercially published books:
- Conquest in Cyberspace: National Security and Information Warfare (2007)
- Information Technology Standards: Quest for the Common Byte (1995)
And numerous monographs, such as:
- “What Is Information Warfare” (1995)
- “The Mesh and the Net: Speculations on Armed Conflict in a Time of Free Silicon” (1994)
- “Exploring Terrorist Targeting Preferences” (2007)
He was also an editor of the RAND textbook, New Challenges, New Tools for Defense Decisionmaking (2003). His most recent assignments:
- to create and analyze a database of post–World War II insurgencies
- devise a strategy to maximize the use of information and information technology in countering insurgency
- explore terrorists’ targeting preferences
- develop a post–September 11 information technology strategy for U.S. Department of Justice and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Terrorist Information Awareness program
- conduct an information-security analysis for the FBI
- assess CIA’s R&D venture, In-Q-Tel.
Other work has examined information warfare and the revolution in military affairs. Prior employment includes 12 years at the National Defense University, three years on the Navy staff as program sponsor for industrial preparedness, and three years as a policy analyst for the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s Energy and Minerals Division.
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