But this knee-jerk rejection of negotiation with radicals is deeply misguided and likely to do more harm than good. The smart question is not to talk to terrorists, but, instead, terrorists to talk to and to talk to them.
Many nonstate militants are weak and peripheral; they can be quickly squashed or contained without any need for negotiation. For instance, violent left-wing groups such as the Red Brigades in Italy and Weather Underground in the US were eliminated in the 1970s without negotiation.
But some terrorist and insurgent groups are very powerful. They are embedded in robust social networks, generate revenues from areas under their control, and have enough military power to impose serious costs on governments. They cannot be easily crushed, nor can they be wished away.Negotiations and cease-fire talks, or their offer, should be seen as one of a range of tools for overcoming militancy. Indeed, there are three good strategic reasons to talk to these kinds of armed organizations.
First, and most ambitiously, it is possible that an arrangement can be made with militant groups to end violence. The Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland, African National Congress in South Africa, and Mizo National Front in northeastern India have all been fully brought into the political system. The Maoist rebels in Nepal, meanwhile, may be heading in this direction.