Price is not the first to examine the question of what causes terrorist groups to collapse, fade away, or cease to be violent. Seth Jones, associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at Rand Corp. and an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, has also studied the issue working with Rand’s Martin C. Libicki.
Their major findings indicated that since 1968, there have been two major reasons for the defeat of terrorist groups: the terrorists either adopted nonviolent tactics and joined the political process or local police arrested or killed key members of the group.
To reach their conclusions, which were issued in a report a few years ago, Jones and Libicki analyzed nearly 40 years of terrorist group demises. Specifically, they took a look at 648 total groups that were active at some point between 1968 and 2006; 268 ended during that period. Another 136 groups splintered, and 244 remained active.
Forty-three percent of the groups ended through nonviolent/political means, according to the researchers. In assessing that approach, it’s important to note that most of the groups that ended because of political settlements had relatively narrow policy goals. Often a peace agreement precipitated the group’s decision to stop using terror tactics; one example is The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement between the Irish Republican Army and the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.
Of course, this approach also entails governments negotiating with current or former terrorists; the frequency with which that happened surprised Jones. “[It] happened more than I think I had anticipated.”
Some groups have goals that would never allow them to join the political process, such as al Qaeda, which the reports noted aims for a “pan-Islamic caliphate.”
When there is no way for the group to join the political process, then Jones and Libicki found that the best bet in ending the group was to remove its leadership.