The inevitable conflict - empowerment of terrorism through appeasement

The inevitable conflict – empowerment of terrorism through appeasement

There is a need to unravel the many intertwined factors that affects governments’ decisions to negotiate or not with terrorist groups as part of their negotiating strategy to free the hostages. As long as negotiating with terrorist groups is ineffective and high risk, so the end result will be the spread of terrorism.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

Dr. Ahmed Magdy ElSoukkary

The story always begins when a group of terrorists releases a video statement or appear on social media (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and internet forums) to declare their responsibility for abducting hostages and dictating their release conditions. [1] Various governments have attempted to thwart the use of social media by terrorist organizations, whilst a huge debate prevails as to whether they should negotiate with such groups. [2] Some argue that countries should negotiate to save hostage’s lives; others arguing that the should never given in to terrorist violence. [3] This debate has had international dimensions, especially with the 444 day Iranian Hostage Crisis in Tehran [4]. The US and Israel have repeatedly announced strict no-negotiation policies, and even France vowed last September that there would be “no discussion, no negotiation” with an Algerian group linked to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants. Some states, such as Colombia, have even outlawed any contact with hostage-takers. Other countries, however, open the door to negotiations, with Turkey succeeding in liberating diplomats held by Daesh.

The nature of negotiating with terrorists

The nature of negotiating with terrorists is different. While the negotiation is based on conferring with a legitimate negotiating partner – using tools like diplomacy, economic influence, military power – in order to convince the other side that reaching a deal is in their interest. Diplomatic persuasion here is the art of convincing other states that their interests are best served by taking actions favorable to the interests of ones’s own state. Its principal instrument is dialogue, which consists of exchanges of assessments, estimates, apprehensions, preferences, options, intentions, commitments, reassurances, and verifications. Its purpose is to reach a common assessment of a situation or trend, to estimate its effects on each side’s interests, to identify interests that are shared, to affirm preferences for particular outcomes, to discuss options for achieving these outcomes, to clarify intentions, to enable joint or parallel actions to achieve agreed results, and to mangae such collaboration. Each step in this process is a prerequisite for the next.[6] However, for terrorists groups, their interests are different and linked to destablizing international peace and security.

The threat of terrorist groups

International terrorism remains a serious and ongoing threat. According to the UK Security Service (MI5), Islamist extremists continue to pose a significant terrorist threat to the UK, and to UK interests and nationals abroad. Al Qaida in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, led by Ayman al­-Zawahiri, provides the ideological lead for the global Islamist extremist movement. A number of significant terrorist attack plots against the UK originated from Al Qaida in the FATA and they continue to provide training and motivation for extremists.[7]

The emergence of affiliate groups that pledge allegiance to the Al Qaida senior leadership in the FATA has led to the diversification and growth of the threat from Islamist terrorists. The ‘Arab spring’ has been a key catalyst in increasing the number of Islamist extremist terror groups. All such groups seek to kidnap Western nationals to obtain funding through the ransom payments.[8]

There are several thousand individuals in the UK who support violent extremism or are engaged in Islamist extremist activity.[9] UK-based Islamist extremists have supported terrorism by radicalising individuals to believe in the legitimacy of joining a terrorist network or carrying out a terrorist attack. Fundraising for terrorist networks often comes through criminal activity, such as diverting money donated to legitimate charities, whilst the travel of radicalised British individuals overseas is facilitated.[10]

Difference between terrorism and terror

Groups such as al Qaeda clearly recognize the difference between terrorist attacks and terror. This is seen not only in the use of empty threats to sow terror but also in the way terrorist groups claim success for failed attacks.[11] Terrorist attacks are also relatively easy to conduct, especially if the assailant is not concerned about escaping after the attack. As AQAP has noted in its Inspire magazine, a determined person can conduct attacks using a variety of simple weapons, from a pickup to a knife, axe or gun. And while the authorities in the United States and elsewhere have been quite successful in foiling attacks over the past couple of years, there are a large number of vulnerable targets in the open societies of the West, and Western governments simply do not have the resources to protect everything – not even authoritarian police states can protect everything. This all means that some terrorist attacks will invariably succeed.[12]

Arguments in favor of negotiating with terrorists

Proponents of negotiating with terrorists generally believe that governments should negotiate with terrorists due to the following arguments:

  1. Negotiating with terrorist groups can represent a real chance to save hostages.
  2. In some cases, terrorists may actually want a reasonable peace negotiation. [13] The historic experience shows that countries who suffer from long history of terrorism including a civil war, like Algeria, will never accept to negotiate with terrorists as this kind of negotiation is like a blackmail by threats to kill their victims.[14]
  3. The alternative to negotiation will be resuming conflict with its high price (killing civilians). Negotiation is the only option available to the states to ensure the lives of the hostages.
  4. Negotiating with terrorists is neither a rare nor a bad idea, as such crises should be handled with more prudence, both in the negotiation and, if necessary, military responses. Governments should be open to negotiations with terrorist groups. This is not an atypical suggestion, however: governments already negotiate with terrorist organizations. This practice should not necessarily be undertaken in every occasion, nor is it always guaranteed success. However, automatically excluding the opportunity of a peaceful settlement to hostage or conflict situations leaves force – with the dangers it entails – as the only viable alternative. There often is sufficient ground for an agreement, and establishing some sort of working relationship today may enable building some degree of reciprocal trust and help defuse worse situations tomorrow.
  5. There is no other practical solution to free hostages, as armed intervention becomes very risky, since the hostages themselves can be harmed either by stray bullets or by the hostage-takers themselves. That makes the negotiation the most important aspect of any hostage crisis.[15]
  6. If the terrorists feel that it is not possible to oblige governments to accept negotiating with them, so they will try to finish the deal by killing civilians.
  7. While engagement with extremists carries many risks, it is not the act of negotiation that encourages or discourages terrorism; it is the terms of the negotiated agreement. The point is not whether to negotiate but how to negotiate creatively to moderate terrorist means. Negotiating here is an integral part of a wide-ranging policy which must be good preparation including the identification of methods and conditions and objectives, with the realization that the risk of encouraging terrorism does not lie in the negotiation itself. The question is how to negotiate to reduce violence and prevent the achievement of the objectives of terrorism. In this context, it may be separated from those militant groups that are prepared to negotiate the most prominent of the negotiating objectives. Negotiation may require work to understand the conflict environment, and understands the requirement of terrorist groups.
  8. Events in Iraq and Afghanistan confirms that the US has worked vigorously to promote the idea of ​​negotiating with rebel groups after failing to eliminate them militarily. The most prominent method used was the use of money to some of rebels in exchange for an end to armed operations against US forces.[16]

Arguments opposed to negotiating with terrorists

Proponents opposed to the negotiating with terrorists assert that:

  1. Negotiating with terrorists amounts to capitulation that only encourages more terrorism. Negotiating gives legitimacy to terrorists and their methods, undermining actors who have pursued political change through peaceful means. Talks can destabilize the negotiating governments’ political systems, undercut international efforts to outlaw terrorism, and set a dangerous precedent.[17]
  2. Terrorist attacks are going to continue to happen because there are a wide variety of militant groups and individuals who seek to use violence as a means of influencing a government – either their own or someone else’s.[18]
  3. Capturing hostages is a red line which can’t be acceptable for bargaining, not to mention that negotiation with terrorist groups can not be taken for granted.
  4. Any achievement that the terrorist groups will reach from negotiating with governments will be exaggerated and disseminated, especially via social media, encouraging other abductions. This will incentivise terrorist groups to continue their strategy.
  5. Negotiating with terrorist groups can weaken a country’s global standing and put their interests at risk by showing terrorist organizations they can win concessions by kidnapping hostages.[19]
  6. Negotiating with terrorist groups provides motivation and recognition for their actions, namely terrorizing citizens to achieve their goals and not fulfil parts of agreements out of negotiations.[20]

Key issues behind the decision to negotiate with terrorists

  1. To find out some answers on what the hostage taker wants, who he or she is, and what it will take to achieve a peaceful outcome, all while ensuring the safety of the hostages and other bystanders.[21]
  2. The psychology of hostage-takers and hostages?
  3. How complying with their demands affects the frequency and intensity of attacks? [22]

Key issues behind the decision not to negotiate with terrorists.

A non-negotiation policy can be successful if the government’s type is private information, and if terrorist benefits from attacks require that negotiations take place.[23]

The negative ramification of negotiating with terrorists

Negotiating with terrorist groups has negative ramifications for the international fight against global terrorism [24], with increased understanding that transnational terrorist incidents can have a huge impact on gross domestic product (GDP).[25] In these grave circumstances, the risks of negotiation between governments and terrorist groups attempting to achieve a ‘compromise’ is less that those of confrontation and catastrophe.[26]

The challenges that stem from future negotiating with terrorist groups: new challenges and continuing dilemmas

The decision to accept negotiating with such armed groups represents an encouragement for further terrorist groups to follow the same tactic of kidnapping more hostages to blackmail states. This will help such terrorist organizations to convert to be an influential non-state actor, especially in light of the success of Al-Qaida and Islamic State to transcend regional boundaries. The admission to negotiate with those organizations will represent a victory for their aggressive ideas.

Therefore, practitioners of terrorism lose a great deal of their ability to create terror if the people they are trying to terrorize adopt a proper mindset, particularly by placing terrorism in perspective.[27] This is especially so as such groups already have their own followers, resources and agenda. For example, Islamic State (IS), a fundamentalist Sunni army with more than 18,000 soldiers and billions of dollars in cash flow, has stormed territory throughout eastern Syria and northern Iraq since June 2014.[28]

Such climates create an attractive model for IS, enhancing the possibility of replication. The defeat of the organization will not be through a military campaign or air strikes, but through a political process based upon alternative routes, as when the Arab peoples and communities rose up in democratic revolutions. Moreover, how the media, governments and populations respond to those successful strikes will shape the way that the attackers gauge their success. Obviously, the 9/11 attacks, which lead the US to invade Afghanistan (and arguably Iraq) were far more successful than Bin Laden and company could ever have hoped. The London bombings on July 7, 2005, where the British went back to work as usual the next day, were seen as less successful.[29]

Getting to no with such radical-based groups on the most difficult issues can actually hamper reaching a real compromise on even the smaller matters. This stems mainly from the fact that some rough patterns of radical-based bargaining will result in increasing inevitable conflict with terrorism. This will be reflected in the proliferation of more religious hatred not appeasement, and a growing gap between international peace and security, on the one hand, and weak global efforts to combat terrorism.

Dr. Ahmed Magdy ElSoukkary is an Egyptian diplomat works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is specialized in the region of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the Balkans Affairs with a Ph.D. in International Negotiation Management from Cairo University. He published many contributions in the areas of international negotiation, dispute resolution, conflict management, foreign policy analysis, managing international relations, European integration and Turkish affairs. A lecturer of the International Negotiations Diploma and Adjunct Faculty of the Euro-Mediterranean Studies Program (PhD Level) at Cairo University.


  1. “Terrorism and social media”, Website of the free encyclopedia Wikipedia, In: (Accessed October 11, 2014).
  2. Scott Stewart, ” Separating Terror from Terrorism”, Security Weekly, Website of Stratfor Global Intelligence, 30 December 2010, In: (Accessed November 2, 2014).
  3. Peter R. Neumann, “Negotiating With Terrorists”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 86, Issue No.1 (2007), In: (Accessed October 13, 2014).
  4. For more details about The hostage Crisis in Iran, see: “The Iranian Hostage Crisis: November 1979 – January 1981”, Website of Series of American Experience, In: (Accessed October 14, 2014).
  5. “French PM vows ‘no negotiation’ with Algeria hostage-takers”, Website of, 23 September 2014, In: (Accessed October 14, 2014).
  6. Chas. W. Freeman, JR., Arts of Power: Statecraft and Diplomacy (Washington, D.C., United States Institute of Peace Press, 2nd printing, 2000), p.121.
  7. “International Terrorism”, Website of UK’s national security intelligence agency M15, (Accessed October 18, 2014).
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Scott Stewart, ” Separating Terror from Terrorism”, Security Weekly, Website of Stratfor Global Intelligence, 30 December 2010, In: (Accessed November 2, 2014).
  12. Ibid.
  13. “Should governments negotiate with terrorists?”, Website of, N.D., In: (Accessed October 12, 2014).
  14. “Compromise or Blackmail?”, Website of Middle of the left, 15 April 2014, In: (Accessed October 12, 2014). We can refer here that the Guardian newspaper reports that, since 2008, Western governments have paid ransoms totaling between $40 and $65 million to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other factions for the release of nationals kept hostage. Furthermore, the French government attempted (unsuccessfully) to negotiate the release of intelligence agent Denis Allex from Al-Shabab for several years before attempting to rescue him (unsuccessfully) by force. An additional example can be seen by Israel’s occasional collaboration with Hamas—which both Tel Aviv and Washington define as a terrorist group—both in enforcing truces in Gaza and in an important prisoner exchange. Even the United States negotiated with the Taliban over a possible settlement of the Afghan situation, and the British and Spanish governments engaged the Irish Republican Army and Basque movements to resolve their own conflicts.
  15. Ed Grabianowski, Ed.  “How Hostage Negotiation Works”, Website of, 24 June 2005, In: (October 14, 2014).
  16. I. William Zartman and Guy Olivier Faure (eds), Engaging extremists: trade-offs, timing, and diplomacy (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2011), In: (Accessed November 2, 2014).
  17. Peter R. Neumann, “Negotiating With Terrorists”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 86, Issue No.1 (2007), In: (Accessed October 13, 2014).
  18. Scott Stewart, ” Separating Terror from Terrorism”, Security Weekly, Website of Stratfor Global Intelligence, 30 December 2010, In: (Accessed November 2, 2014).
  19. We can refer here to the case of kidnapping US Army Sgt. Bowe Robert Bergdahl by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network in Afghanistan from June 2009 until his release on the 31st of May 2014. Bergdahl was released on May 31, 2014, as part of a prisoner exchange for five Taliban members who were being held at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. This exchange quickly became a political controversy within the United States. It provoked a state of angry of some people against the enthusiasm over the his release because his freedom involved the conditional release of five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay, not to mention that such kidnap shows terrorist organizations they can win concessions by kidnapping Americans.
  20. See: Alan Gomez, “Is it ever right to negotiate with terrorists?”, op.cit.
  21. Abit Hoxha, “How can negotiating with terrorist affect the reduction of violence?”, Website of Global Public Policy Watch, 3 October 2014, In: (Accessed October 13, 2014).
  22. Ed Grabianowski, Ed.  “How Hostage Negotiation Works”, Website of, 24 June 2005, In: (October 14, 2014).
  23. K.Peren Arin, Eberhard Feess and Otto F.M. Reich, “Negotiating With Terrorists: The Costs of Compliance”, 17 May 2011, In:, P.4.
  24. Laron K. Williams, Michael T. Koch and Jason M. Smith, “The Political Consequences of Terrorism: Terror Events, Casualties, and Government Duration”, International Studies Perspectives, (2012), P. In:,%20Koch%20and%20Smith%202012.pdf, (Accessed October 20, 2014).
  25. Khusrav Gaibulloev and Todd Sandler, “Growth Consequences of Terrorism in Western Europe”, Kyklos, Vol. 61, no. 3 (August, 2008), pp. 411–424, In: (Accessed October 18, 2014).
  26. Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, Julian J. Rothbaum Distinguished Lecture Series, Vol.4, 1993), p. 153.
  27. Scott Stewart, ” Separating Terror from Terrorism”, Security Weekly, Website of Stratfor Global Intelligence, 30 December 2010, In: (Accessed November 2, 2014).
  28. Michael Wilner and Herb Keinon, “Thirteen years on, Obama opens new front against terrorists in Syria”, Website of the Jerusalem Post, 11 September 2014, In: (Accessed October 14, 2014).
  29. Scott Stewart, ” Separating Terror from Terrorism”, Security Weekly, Website of Stratfor Global Intelligence, 30 December 2010, In: (Accessed November 2, 2014).

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