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Cronin, Audrey Kurth. How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns.

Cronin, Audrey Kurth. How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2010. 311pp. $29.95

Audrey Kurth Cronin's engaging and enlightening book examines how terrorist movements come to an end, focusing almost exclusively on terrorist organizations over the last half-century. She offers six pathways by which terrorist groups end: decapitation, negotiation, success, failure, repression, and reorientation.

One of the book's strengths is that it captures the full spectrum of possible outcomes for terrorist organizations and explains why particular campaigns did or did not end. The organization of the book is laudable--by looking in each chapter at tactics and strategies for ending terrorism, rather than simply marching through case studies, one is able to examine more soberly specific strategic approaches to counterterrorism and their effects. In this regard, this book will be very useful for policy makers and counterterrorism practitioners.

Cronin is cautious in making causal claims. For example, in her chapter on decapitation she recognizes that killing the leaders of terrorist organizations has sometimes contributed to the eventual end of the organization (Sendero Luminoso, for example) but in other cases has not (Hamas). Though she does offer insights into the different outcomes, she tempers her conclusions by emphasizing that the act of decapitation provides "critical insight into the depth and nature of a group's popular support." In effect, one cannot know in advance.

The final chapter, "How Al-Qaeda Ends," attempts to apply some of these lessons. Cronin convincingly argues that decapitation will not end al-Qa'ida. Beliefs that decapitation will have a dramatic impact on that organization are "tinged with emotion, not dispassionate analysis." Killing Bin Laden, Cronin argues, might "actually enhance his stature, in practical terms."

Although Cronin firmly states that all terrorist groups end, this reviewer read the final chapter wondering whether there are numerous aspects of al-Qa'ida (all of which Cronin notes in some capacity) that make it a candidate for some form of irrelevant perpetuity among terrorist organizations. It is transnational in influence like no other group in Cronin's study. In 2001, al-Qa'ida struck an unprecedented blow against the sole global superpower. Cronin asserts that the group's message will have staying power for some people as a call for resistance that will endure for many years, no matter what Bin Laden's fate. This may be an unprecedented recipe for unusual longevity.

A combination of increased counterterrorism measures, a military offensive in Afghanistan, and al-Qa'ida's own under-recognized organizational and operational deficiencies have rendered the group unable to execute a successful attack in the United States since 9/11. There is good reason to expect that 9/11 will prove to have been the apex of al-Qa'ida's operational effectiveness. But a final ending for the group's following may be generations away, when the memories of both 9/11 and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have faded.


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Author:Stigler, Andrew L.
Publication:Naval War College Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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