Weekend Roundup: When Negotiating With Terrorists Works


Kathleen Miles is the executive editor of Noema Magazine. She can be reached on Twitter at @mileskathleen.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush once said, “No nation can negotiate with terrorists, for there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death.” Numerous leaders have made similar statements.

And yet, democratic governments have negotiated with internationally designated terrorist groups, including with the Irish Republican Army, the Basque separatist group ETA and ― making history this week ― the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. On Monday, the Colombian government and the FARC signed a peace deal promising to end a 52-year war. The Colombian people will vote on the agreement Sunday and are expected to approve it.

Both the FARC and the government committed human rights violations and inflicted terror for decades. Many are celebrating the deal as the long-overdue end of a conflict that has left about 220,000 people dead and more than 6 million displaced from their homes. Others are criticizing the deal as too soft on the rebels who, if they confess their crimes, will avoid serving their sentences in jail and will instead have to carry out acts of reparation to their victims.

So when does it make sense to negotiate with terrorists? Several factors facilitated negotiating with the FARC. First, the group was in a weakened, war-weary state after a brutal U.S.-backed Colombian military offensive that started in 2000. Also, the FARC doesn’t have an apocalyptic goal like, say, the so-called Islamic State. Although its ideology took a backseat to the drug trade over the years, the FARC was born under a banner of rural land distribution reform for the poor. In response, as a part of the pending deal, the government pledged to better support rural communities and to improve land accessibility.

In other words, negotiating with terrorists entails the psychologically and politically challenging concession that, in some cases, they are not simply criminals but also warriors with a cause that can be partially accommodated. Former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wanted the IRA regarded as common criminals. But the government needed to treat the group with more dignity than that before a peace deal could be negotiated.

One fear is that validating terrorists’ political goals also validates their violent means. However, this fear may be unmerited as long as the terrorists make enough concessions (maybe because they’re so weakened) that it’s clear they’re not being validated. Instead, the violent means to their end is being proven wrong, which, of course, is their crucial concession.

Sergio Munoz Bata asserts that U.S. military aid to Colombia ― through an initiative called Plan Colombia ― helped the country gain the upper hand against its FARC rebels, making negotiations possible. However, Bata notes, Plan Colombia was accompanied by egregious human rights violations and a failure to curb the drug trade and thus must be evaluated in its totality.

Reporting a WorldPost feature from remote southern Colombia, Sibylla Brodzinsky details the hopes and fears of a FARC squad commander as he prepares to leave behind guns and the drug trade to join society as a law-abiding citizen. Sara Elkamel, in collaboration with HuffPost international editions, brings us the voices of Colombians from various parts of the world who fled the civil war; they share a mix of hope and skepticism ahead of Sunday’s referendum vote.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim explains how peace in Colombia could lead to inclusive economic growth. World Reporter Nick Robins-Early explores the logistical challenges of implementing the ambitious deal.

A man well acquainted with the challenges of negotiating peace, former Israeli president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres died at the age of 93 this week. WorldPost Editor-in-Chief Nathan Gardels contends that Peres never stopped searching for new solutions to old problems ― the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict chief among them.

From New Jersey, reporter Willa Frej finds that refugee resettlement agencies ― struggling to meet the U.S. quota ― have left some refugees living in poor conditions. U.S. President Barack Obama had promised to resettle 85,000 refugees by the end of the federal government’s 2016 fiscal year, which ends Friday. The U.S. came close to meeting its goal, with 83,661 refugees resettled, including more than 10,000 Syrians.

Still, Turkish leaders, among many others, are adamant that the U.S. and Europe are not doing nearly enough to help the 4.8 million refugees of the Syrian war, Ilgin Yorulmaz reports. From Amman, Dominic Graham of Mercy Corps laments that Aleppo residents are in desperate need of humanitarian aid, especially baby formula, but his organization can’t deliver any of it because ongoing airstrikes and ground clashes continue to make roads impassable.

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton faced off in the first debate this week. Howard Fineman, who’s been traveling to presidential debates since 1988, dubs Trump’s showing the “worst debate performance in modern times.”

“It was so bad that in a normal year, it would disqualify him from getting anywhere near the White House,” Fineman estimates. “But this is 2016, a year so weird, unsettled and unsettling, that even the spectacle of an unprepared and almost incoherent Trump, reeling from blow after blow from Clinton, may not be enough to slow him down.”

Berggruen Institute fellow Sam Fleischacker tells us that “for a large number of Americans, Trump represents a heroic rebel against what they see as a massive conspiracy — among scientists, historians, journalists and policy experts — that governs what is taken as ‘fact’ in America.”

President Rafael Correa of Ecuador calls for the global community to work together to put an end to tax havens as they expand and drive inequality. In a photo piece, reporter Roque Planas shows us what the search for Mexico’s missing 43 students looks like, two years later.

Reporter Kate Abbey-Lambertz describes a “smog vacuum” that aims to clean China’s air and turn the pollution it collects into jewelry. Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden share with us a short film that puts a face to the prejudice felt by Chinese in Africa and Africans in China.

From New Delhi, Jeong In-seo reports on the “terminator train” that India has launched to combat dengue and chikungunya. To curb mosquito breeding, trucks spray insecticide on bodies of water along railway tracks.

Finally, our Singularity series this week looks at an embryo study that expands our understanding of how life begins.  

                                                 WHO WE AREEDITORS: Nathan Gardels, Co-Founder and Executive Advisor to the Berggruen Institute, is the Editor-in-Chief of The WorldPost. Kathleen Miles is the Executive Editor of The WorldPost. Farah Mohamed is the Managing Editor of The WorldPost. Alex Gardels and Peter Mellgard are the Associate Editors of The WorldPost. Suzanne Gaber is the Editorial Assistant of The WorldPost. Katie Nelson is News Director at The Huffington Post, overseeing The WorldPost and HuffPost’s news coverage. Nick Robins-Early and Jesselyn Cook are World Reporters. Rowaida Abdelaziz is World Social Media Editor.


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CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Moises Naim (former editor of Foreign Policy),Nayan Chanda (Yale/Global; Far Eastern Economic Review) and Katherine Keating (One-On-One). Sergio Munoz Bata and Parag Khanna are Contributing Editors-At-Large.


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