I was thinking about yesterday’s attacks and the predictable response by some that perhaps Tony Blair might now reconsider the presence of British troops in Iraq. In this particular case, such a concession wouldn’t actually satisfy the “mujaheddin”. As Amir Taheri notes in today’s Times:
But sorry, old chaps, you are dealing with an enemy that does not want anything specific, and cannot be talked back into reason through anger management or round-table discussions. Or, rather, this enemy does want something specific: to take full control of your lives, dictate every single move you make round the clock and, if you dare resist, he will feel it his divine duty to kill you.
Now, there is always the danger of falling into the motivations-of-the-terrorist trap. To prevent or deter such incidents in the future or bring to justice anyone involved, it isn’t sufficient, (nor, I’d even say in most cases, necessary) to come to a deep understanding of the terrorists’ rationale any more than it is for an ordinary serial killer. But this wasn’t the precise issue which concerned me. It occurred to me that, regardless of how rational or achievable terrorists’ demands might be, that there was a specific problem attaching to any appeasement of a “low tech” terrorist or guerrilla group that didn’t apply in the case of a conventional army of more or less equal or slightly superior strength to yours (in the case of the overwhelmingly superior force, there is unlikely to be an opportunity to appease).
If you are faced with a “conventional” enemy, say your neighbouring country, and you have estimate a reasonably high probability of defeat, it is certainly worth exploring if some concessions might ward off war. In the case of a guerrilla group, which achieves its capacity to threaten through relatively inexpensive means, safety is not ensured even if that specific guerrilla groups withdraws its threat. If it becomes clear that concessions or demands may be obtained so cheaply, you create an incentive for further terrorist action by other groups.