Kinsman: Should a state ever consider negotiating with terrorist organizations? And if so, under what circumstances?

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June 5, 2014
Jeremy Kinsman
Former ambassador to the European Union and high commissioner to Britain

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists” is a slogan without substance. States need to negotiate with anybody able to conclude a necessary outcome. They generally do, if under the radar or via intermediaries. Moreover, negotiation doesn’t mean validation of a cause or withdrawal of hostility to it. Nor is it just bargaining over the price to pay for hostages. Hostage negotiations need to have on the table the alternative of credible recourse to all-out force against the hostage-takers, including for repeat acts.

Circumstances are also different for each case. The Bergdahl case has virtually nothing to do with the past kidnapping of Fowler and Guay who were peaceful envoys of the UN Secretary-General. Would anybody suggest there should NOT have been negotiations to free the Canadians? The fact that our colleagues have their lives back and the kidnappers have been on the run ever since appears to be the best possible result.