I recently received Jonathan Powell s Terrorists at The Table Why Negotiating is the Only Way to Peace for free through Goodreads First Reads I have just begun reading this book and will promptly update my review when I finish reading it I was looking forward to listening to Powell s argument for negotiating with terrorists versus other approaches This has become one of the leading political topics especially in the U.S since 9 11.All in all, the author exceeded my expectations The book details negotiation tactics from history, and first hand experiences in talking to terrorists The recommendations for communicating with terrorists in the future I found compelling I am just unsure if negotiating is the only way to peace as the subtitle suggests. Should Governments Talk To Terrorists Do They Have Any Choice Without Doing So, Argues Author Jonathan Powell In Terrorists At The Table, We Will Never End Armed Conflict As Violent Insurgencies Continue To Erupt Across The Globe, We Need People Who Will Brave The Depths Of The Sri Lankan Jungle And Scale The Heights Of The Colombian Mountains, Painstakingly Tracking Down The Heavily Armed And Dangerous Leaders Of These Terrorist Groups In Order To Open Negotiations With ThemPowell Draws On His Own Experiences Negotiating Peace In Northern Ireland And Talks To All The Major Players From The Last Thirty Years Terrorists, Presidents, Secret Agents And Intermediaries Exposing The Subterranean World Of Secret Exchanges Between Governments And Armed Groups To Give Us The Inside Account Of Negotiations On The Front Line These Past Negotiations Shed Light On How Today S Negotiators Can Tackle The Taliban, Hammas And Al Qaeda And History Tells Us That It May Be Necessary To Fight And Talk At The Same TimeUltimately, Powell Brings Us A Message Of Hope There Is No Armed Conflict Anywhere In The World That Cannot Be Resolved If We Are Prepared To Learn From The Lessons Of The Past By Martin LangfieldFinanciers sometimes like to compare negotiations to military strategy, with books like Sun Tzu s The Art of War co opted for the purpose Jonathan Powell s provocative Terrorists at the Table is a reminder that the art of the deal matters on a whole different level when the result really is life and death It s a primer like few others, written by a British former political operative and diplomat of few illusions and stubborn hope It s also darkly funny.Powell is no ivory tower theoretician A former Foreign Office diplomat who served for 10 years as chief of staff to Prime Minister Tony Blair, he was the chief British government negotiator on Northern Ireland As such he had a significant hand in implementing the 1998 Good Friday accord there that largely ended three decades of sectarian killing.Powell extracts lessons, tips and anecdotes from a dozen conflicts involving armed non state groups, drawing on negotiation theory but also personal experience and interviews with many of those involved Some of the conflicts are now over, for example in South Africa and Indonesia, some are now in advanced talks, as in Colombia, and others are unresolved They cover nationalist, ethnic, religious and political strife.Though conflicts vary, his basic framework is this Make initial contact with the armed group difficult, dangerous and sometimes even illegal in itself develop a back channel independent of public rhetoric which may need to last for years build trust in secret deniable talks often via small personal gestures, or sharing food and lodging then move to formal negotiations, ideally without preconditions Engineer a solid win on a topic of importance for each side at the start, ensure the process is clear and robust, and keep going when things get tough.A third party can often help, and indeed Powell says peace making has entered a venture capital phase in the last decade, with individuals and small NGOs taking on the role previously exercised by the United Nations and governments The cost is low, and one success in 100 makes the effort worthwhile Powell in 2011 set up Inter Mediate, a charity focusing on mediation and negotiation in especially intractable conflicts around the world.While the participants in a conflict are the only ones who can make peace, certain qualities in a mediator can help, Powell writes, including the ability to tactfully soften or censor messages from one side to the other a capacity for charm bordering on manipulation a temper never lost except on purpose and infinite patience, for example during marathon recitals of historical grievances He approvingly cites British diplomat Percy Cradock s first law of diplomacy The hardest negotiations are with your own side.Powell sees the quirky and human side of a grim business At a key point in one peace process a diamond shaped table has to be brought in so that two adversaries can sit at it partly facing each other, as one of them wishes, and partly side by side, as the other demands Two leaders of rival rebel factions from Indonesia never speak to each other but sometimes meet accidentally along the aisles of a supermarket in Stockholm, where they both live An unexpected th dansant at a London hotel requires Israeli and Palestinian back channel contacts to shout secret proposals to make themselves heard over the orchestra as aged couples twirl on the dance floor.Financial dealmakers will recognize some of the strategems and tactics, but will also concede that what for them may often be little than a lucrative game can, in Powell s world, save lives that would otherwise end violently.No conflict is insoluble, the author says Any armed movement with significant political support or buoyed by a real grievance will need to be spoken with in the long run, though often while still fighting Definitive victory over such groups is very difficult to achieve, and usually won t resolve the underlying issues No democracy can kill all its enemies, he argues, and trying to do so is a misunderstanding of the role of military force.Creating instead conditions for violent groups to take a political path saves lives and reduces human misery, though many unsavory compromises can be required Memories are short, and how to defuse conflicts must be constantly relearned, he says The biggest mistake lies in declaring any group off limits for dialogue, though governments routinely do this before finding in the end that talking is their least bad option after all.Powell s precepts will anger some readers, who might wonder if they apply, for example, to jihadist groups Yes, he says eventually, on some topics, and with some members or factions History suggests violent groups that lack support fizzle out Those with staying power may be fought, and the hearts and minds of their supporters wooed, but talking is also an effective strand of counterinsurgency. This builds on an exciting premise, and not because of the author s own tales of derring do negotiating with the IRA under Tony Blair s government In an age that makes not negotiating with terrorists a mark of heroism, a virtue, and tends to over value toughness, a realpolitik approach to ending armed conflicts with non state actors using terrorist methods can seem counter intuitive, even revolutionary Powell argues that it must be done, as such armed groups are rarely defeated militarily There are some important lessons to be gleaned here, from the examples given such as Aceh in Indonesia, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the FARC in Colombia, etc, but also from some crucial viewpoints presented I ve always been among those who thought the US War on Terror to be deeply misguided, both for its fundamental misunderstanding of terrorism as a totalizing worldview rather than a tactic, and for its playing directly into the hands of groups like Al Qaeda Powell points out that labeling individuals and groups as terrorists makes them harder to talk to Once they are presumed beyond the pale the likelihood of working to a solution diminishes The book goes on to discuss the building of trust, the establishment of channels, common mistakes in negotiating, and the lessons history can offer the future Powell concludes with a discussion of the so called new terrorist groups Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and so on, though one could easily apply his ideas to Islamic State He argues that they are not so new after all Groups before them have had non negotiable, unreasonable demands They have also refused to negotiate with governments But they have also encountered realities like aging leadership and constituencies that tire of the violence and pressure them toward a political solution I think, again, of the US and its incessant military campaigns against terrorist groups that result in an increased sense of grievance in the surrounding population, the recruitment of fighters, and the root causes of the violence unresolved One obstacle is our idea of negotiation as weakness, which books like this one can help to overcome if their lessons are taken seriously. Uncomfortable, but Mr Powell presents an interesting hypothesis to the age old problem of terrorism That is, the only solution to terrorism is to engage with and negotiate with the terrorists He comes to this belief through his experiences with the IRA, as well as with other terrorist groups His arguments are persuasive Coming from a lifetime career in law enforcement, I was extremely uncomfortable with the idea I still am This made for a very tough read for me, but I m glad I stuck it out Powell does make a lot of sense While I still believe in the old ways , I see his point I m very glad that there are people with the patience of Mr Powell to deal with the terrorists.
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- 336 pages
- Terrorists at the Table
- Jonathan Powell
- 12 May 2017 Jonathan Powell