A road map for the fraught, fragile road to possible peace with terrorist organizations.
British diplomat Powell (The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World, 2010, etc.), who served as Tony Blair’s chief of staff, has worked as an international negotiator for nearly two decades with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue based in Geneva and his own NGO, Inter Mediate. The author argues emphatically that negotiation is the only way to deal with terrorists, however morally repugnant that idea may seem. Rather than debate political theory, he offers pragmatic advice: practical steps for making contact with terrorists, building trust, handling third parties, working through the process of talks, and fostering implementation of agreements. Beyond addressing those few who may be actively involved in future negotiations, he responds to the concerns of many who believe that terrorism must be quashed by military force, that bringing terrorists to the table legitimizes their claims, that terrorists are psychopaths, and that negotiation can potentially undermine moderates and destabilize governments. Marshaling an overwhelming number of examples of terrorism in countries that include Sri Lanka, Colombia, South Africa, Spain, Peru, Israel, and Palestine, Powell emphasizes that talking to terrorists is not the same as conceding to their demands. He acknowledges repeatedly that negotiation is a delicate art requiring flexibility, strength, patience, and perseverance. As Shimon Peres once said, “the good news is there is a light at the end of the tunnel; the bad news is there is no tunnel.” Negotiators do the arduous task of digging. Readers with ISIS in mind may feel dispirited when considering one scholar’s assertion that the success of talks sometimes depends on the nature of the terrorists’ organization, leadership, and their constituency’s tolerance for ongoing violence; hierarchical groups with a strong leader have an advantage for successful negotiations over groups “that cannot control their members’ actions” and are decentralized.
Powell’s urgent, reasoned, and impassioned argument for negotiation has the potential to contribute significantly to public debate.