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How to stop terrorists

by Colman Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 03:33:51 AM EST

Occasionally the successes of the peace process in Northern Ireland are dragged up as being a model for problems in Palestine, parts of Spain or the Middle East in general. It's suggested that the IRA were beaten by police work and all sorts of other fun conclusions are drawn. Mostly the analysis totally misses the point: the terrorist campaign in the North was mostly stopped by fixing the issues that drove it from the beginning.

Essentially, the Brits bribed their way out of the problem. Eventually.

From the diaries - afew

Now, I'm not expert on the details of the Troubles, but basically what happened is that a campaign to address the economic and political discrimination against Catholics in Ulster, mounted by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association provoked a violent reaction from the more extreme Unionists which provoked a backlash from the Catholic community that was hijacked by extreme nationalists and turned into a thirty year conflict fueled by the incompetence of the British establishment and their natural bias towards the Protestant majority.

By the time that the peace process had come into real existence all the original underlying complaints had been pretty much sorted out: until the recent boom in the Republic my cousins in the North were uniformly richer than us, had better school and health services and are not being discriminated against officially in any meaningful way - in fact recent rioting has been by the Protestent working class who feel that the Catholics have better opportunities than them. The British government (and now the EU) pours huge amounts of money into Northern Ireland - no Irish government can accept reunification even if it was offered since we could never afford the subsidies.

My point? You beat broad-based terrorism by addressing the underlying causes, not through police work, intelligence work, carpet bombing or carefully arranged diplomacy. Small scale radical groups are different: they have no broad based support and can be wrapped up by the security forces.

You don't give in to their demands, you give in to their needs.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 11:40:00 AM EST
That's a pretty snappy slogan, actually.

I'd pretty much concur with your analysis, from a mainland based perspective.

Mind you, there's a definite (and horrible) element to me of "playing the waiting game." In essence, both sides had to be convinced that they weren't going to get "total victory" and that came in part only with the passage of time.

That's a horrible thought because I'm suggesting that there wasn't many good ways to reduce the bloodshed.

I'll caveat by saying there were key moments, especially at the beginning, but one or two in the middle that might have been seized by one side or the other to make a difference, but I do feel for much of the middle period both sides were still so swept up in dreams of "total victory" that it's hard to see what could have been done to shorten the conflict.

I should note some extra factors:

  1. Not sure how much weight this had, but EU membership for Ireland definitely made a difference. It softened the national distinctions in a crucial way.

  2. More weighty, but difficult to assess from my relatively general knowledge is that there was a definite turning point in Irish government attitudes to the pIRA. The pIRA didn't just have broad-based support in the Catholic population of NI and the general population of Eire, they also had an ambiguous relationship with the government of Eire.

I don't have the knowledge to place the position of the Irish government in the relationship on the spectrum between "tacit support," "turning a blind eye" and "being politically unable to do much about them" but it was definitely in there at the beginning. It seemed to shift towards the beginning of the 80s and that seemed to have some slow impact on the pIRA.

So I'd add the notion that you need to engage with any official backers where possible as they can help influence the situation, not with immediate impact perhaps, but over time.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 12:34:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not really, apart from a few years in the '70s: the pIRA had the overthrow of the Dublin government and its replacement with a Marxist government among its aims as far I know, which made it pretty unpopular with the parties down here. They also were pretty much the only ones who killed members of our security forces, generally in bank raids and such things.

There was some talk very early on about all sorts of things, including an invasion of the North.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 04:05:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
i totally agree about your point on joining the EU.

for instance, if italy had not been part of the EU, bossi and the lega would have been able to do much more damage in italy.

as for nipping terrorism in the bud by taking care of needs, you put it brilliantly!

the parallel with terrible diet, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and the disease industry is all too obvious.

terrorists, and the evil fuckers who sponsor and encourage them, are like cancer cells in the population.

we need to remove the causes, not panic, or just seek prowess in chopping out tumours, poisoning or blasting them with death rays, that take a lot of healthy tissue out as well, (civil rights).


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 02:20:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes but if our governments began doing the obviously correct thing all of the time, what would we complain about?

All snark aside, I think you are absolutely right but you are neglecting one crucial factor: that terrorism is benefitting the very people in the position to stop it.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 05:07:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You are right of course.  This is always how it is done, when the desire to stop terrorism is real.  

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 10:40:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"We don't negotiate with terrorists", except when we do.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 07:12:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
or you give 'out' to their needs...

and recieve 'in' their transformation into useful members of a society in which they can see a viable future for themselves in-

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 02:23:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ETA is now officially back at it. It is quite clear what their demands are: "territoriality" [Navarra and the French Basque Country] and "self-determination" [political independence for the "territories"]. I think what they need is "peace with honour": to be able to lay down arms without feeling that they fought in vain, possibly an amnesty for "prisoners with no blood on their hands". In that sense, the Law of Political Parties is preventing them from becoming a political party like so many others did before them (Euzkadiko Ezkerra in the late 1970's, and Aralar in the last decade).

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 07:29:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I personally blame the right wing pro-unionist cabal in the upper echelons of the British civil, armed and secret services who effectively vetoed the idea of addressing the catholic minorities needs at the beginning of the 70s.

you have to remember that the army went into N Ireland to protect the catholic minority from the unionists. It was whole series of provocations by strangely unidentifiable units of armed service personnel who created the climate of belligerence that enabled the resurgence of the the IRA. You only have to read Peter Wright's Spycatcher and the claims of Colin Wallace about what went on to realise that a lot of unofficial policy at that time was really about defending Unionist superiority.

It was only in the late 80s that justice and equality returned to the debate.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 03:36:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is so brilliant, Colman, it should go on the wiki under "anti-terrorism policy" and be permanently pasted in front of politicians faces.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Thu Jun 7th, 2007 at 07:44:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sligthly off the topic of the diary, but on the topic of the title : does the French government really believes it is stopping terrorists by having three armed soldiers walking armed patrols around La Défense?

Automatic guns are useless against hidden bombs typical of terrorist attacks in France. The ongoing militarization of society that makes seeing armed soldiers (not gendarmes) doing "you are safe" propaganda in a civilian area seem normal frightens me.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 12:26:44 PM EST
People with submachine guns never make me feel safe.

Seeing them all over airports after 9/11 in the US was spooky, especially considering how [apparently] lax security was before.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 12:49:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Their weapons are not loaded: their ammo is in a sealed plastic bag and they must write tons of reports is they open one (last I heard about it, could have changed).

It's just more police patrolling around locations with lots of people.

by Laurent GUERBY on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 02:24:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Firstly they are soldiers, not policemen, so why the fuck are they doing policework, which they aren't trained for ?

Secondly, their weapons may be unloaded, but they certainly move around in a ready to fire look, sometimes with hands on the trigger.

It doesn't prevent anything, but is certainly efficient in making those who want to feel 'secure' (although it doesn't make them any more secure) better ; and in getting the general population used to seeing soldiers in the street (which is a bad thing).

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 07:51:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And if a situation arises when they need to use their weapons, they will be toast before they can open the plastic bags.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 07:40:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have heard that Norwegian police patrols do not carry guns, instead they are in a locked box in the police car. So in case they think they need guns they are to retreat to the car, radio it in and then (if they still see no other way) get the guns.

I think it sounds sound.

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by A swedish kind of death on Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 08:45:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes you are correct in what you have heard.  Usually the Norwegian police officers have to have the authorization from the police commissioner before they can carry guns.  

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.
by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 07:41:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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