How terrorism ends: negotiating the end of the IRA’s ‘armed struggle’
Introduction There is an international debate over whether states should or should not ‘talk to terrorists’.1 Neoconservatives are prominent opponents of negotiations because they interpret ‘evil terrorism’ in the most demonic way and see negotiations as appeasement and a sign of the state’s weakness. ‘Talking to terrorists’, therefore, encourages terrorists to increase their violence in renewed hope of victory. ‘Conciliators’ by contrast argue that ‘talking to terrorists’ can be an effective way of bringing about a peaceful end to armed conflict. Conciliators see the Northern Ireland peace process as a key example of the effectiveness of politics and diplomacy in resolving entrenched and violent conflict because that process did involve extensive talks with Republican and loyalist paramilitaries which resulted agreements in 1998 and 2007 that have led to a more peaceful accommodation. Since 2007, and the establishment of a stable powersharing government in Northern Ireland, some Neoconservatives have tried to take the ‘hard case’ of Northern Ireland and attempted to argue that it actually supports their argument for ‘nearly never talking to terrorists’ (Bew et al. 2009; Reiss 2010). They have argued that, by the early 1990s, hard power and the ‘dirty war’ waged by the British state had effectively ‘defeated’ the IRA. The peace process was, therefore, an IRA ‘surrender process’ in which the British Government took an uncompromising fundamentalist stance in negotiations laying down ‘clear red lines’ and refusing to compromise ‘democratic norms’. From this they deduce the lesson that terrorists should not be talked to until they have been defeated through ‘hard power’ and ‘dirty war’ and call for a more repressive security policy to deal with Republican Dissidents. For Neoconservatives the world is a morality tale in which good behaviour by states leads to good consequences (Bew et al. 2009). This chapter is a critique of the Neoconservative’s attempt to capture the Northern Ireland peace process in the global debate on the role of ‘talks’ in how to end terrorism. It is argued that ‘talks’ with ‘terrorists’ can be a very effective way of ending armed conflict. The IRA was not ‘defeated’ by the early 1990s but the conflict between the British state and the IRA was stalemated or
deadlocked. Because the conflict was stalemated, the peace process was not a ‘surrender’ but involved difficult, if not tortuous, negotiations between much more equally matched governments and political parties. Governments faced difficult moral dilemmas and compromises in which ‘red lines’ – for example, on the ‘permanence’ of the IRA’s ceasefire and decommissioning – were crossed and democratic norms were compromised. The peace process was successful precisely because it was generally characterised by an often courageous, ‘pragmatic realism’ which attempted to combine realism with idealism in order to achieve a more peaceful future for the people of Britain and Ireland. This chapter will: first, describe the general debate over whether to ‘talk to terrrorists’. Second, explain the general Neoconservative position on engaging with terrorists. Third, analyse the Neoconservatives’ analysis of the Northern Ireland peace process. Fourth, critique the Orthodox Neoconservative view that the IRA was ‘defeated’, which is the claim on which their argument is constructed. The conclusion highlights the pragmatic realism of the negotiators of the peace process and their difficult moral choices that they faced. The Neoconservatives’ account of the peace process is deeply flawed, but this may be irrelevant if their ability to propagandise their account is successful.