Negotiating with Terrorists: A Discrete Form of Diplomacy

In: The Hague Journal of Diplomacy
Guy Olivier Faure The Sorbonne University, Paris- Descartes, France PIN/IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria;, Email:

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Crisis negotiation has been burdened with an additional and most problematic task, that of dealing with terrorist issues. Negotiators must engage in a very peculiar type of diplomacy because, officially, states do not negotiate with terrorists. This track-II diplomacy involves an asymmetrical relationship between a state and an often nebulous and evasive group. Its management is most paradoxical, for the negotiation is a non-negotiation and the counterparts are the most unlikely of negotiators. This article analyses the very specific elements of such negotiation, in which the actors no longer play classical diplomatic roles but instead fulfil a much less urbane function that is embedded in the register of terror, even murder. It examines methods that are fundamentally alien to classical diplomacy because of the nature of the counterpart (who is not perceived as legitimate/equal), the issues at stake, the context, and the paradigms governing negotiating with terrorists, where psychological asymmetry and poor communication are basic attributes. Specific processes such as demonization and media management, as well as negotiation-effectiveness evaluation methods, are also studied. Two types of situations are finally investigated, those where discussions can take place immediately, such as hostage-taking via kidnapping or barricade hostage-taking, and those where the potential for negotiation must be created because the terrorists make no demands and consider their actions as strictly punitive.

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