For states today that find themselves caught in fights with terrorist organizations, the tendency is to mirror the activities and movements of those organizations. This has proven itself to give the states an excellent chance to stay on top of what groups are doing. At the same time, there are some consequences to this kind of behavior. In some ways, states seek to maintain legitimacy over terrorist groups, and they seek to establish some level of difference between themselves and the groups. Without these things, it becomes much more difficult to bring together the international community and fight terrorism legitimately. There are many examples of countries that have mirrored terrorist groups, their movements, and their tactics over the years. These countries have in many ways given more legitimacy to the groups, made it easier for those groups to recruit, and made it more difficult to gain international leverage over the groups.
The French have had a long-going struggle with the National Liberation Front (FLN) in Algeria. Important, they have sought in some cases to mirror the tactics used by the FLN. France has used its own personnel to infect the country, to monitor the members of the FLN, and to push back against them (Andre, 2014). With this in mind, one of the consequences of this has been giving the FLN more legitimacy than it might have otherwise had (Gino, 2016). As soon as Algeria was able to win liberation from France’s rule, the FLN was able to take control of the country. Not only did it rule with an iron fist, but it also ruled with political power. The FLN was the only political party allowed to operate in the country for many years until more parties were allowed recently to compete for seats. Part of why this political power was possible was because of the way the French mirrored the tactics and movements of the FLN during their ongoing battle. Both within France and in North Africa, the French did not maintain a moral high ground and fight against this group with differential tactics. Rather, it sunk to the FLN’s level and got involved in a dirty campaign with them. This gave the FLN the air of legitimacy that they needed in order to become a respected political power in the country. Ultimately for France, this has been a negative development because it has made it much more difficult for the French to push the group out of power.
One of the reasons for why states suffer consequences can be seen in the interactions between the IRA and the British. The IRA has long been an Irish separatist group that has been looking for justice from the British government (Patterson, 2015). It has used tactics like bombings and such to bring to bear terror in the country. The hope is that the British will provide justice for the Irish if enough of these attacks continue to happen. One of the consequences of the British mirroring the movements and tactics of the IRA has been helping the IRA with its recruiting. At current, the IRA has the ability to recruit in a way that goes beyond many terrorist groups. It has enjoyed some exposure in the mainstream, which has helped with its recruiting. While most people know that Al Qaeda is a terrorist group, some people do not think of the IRA as being this kind of group. This is an important fact that suggests that the British approach was uncalculated in a way. It has bolstered the very support that it has been trying to eliminate.
The US is a good example of this, as well, as the US has in some ways improved the recruiting platform of both ISIS and Al Qaeda. The US’s strategy has involved the use of CIA black sites around Asia and Europe. In those sites, the US has waterboarded and other tortured terrorists. It has used some tactics that are right out of the book of ISIS (Milne, 2015). This has helped those groups go to people in the Middle East and drum up support. They are able to point to the things that the US is doing in order to justify even more hatred against the US. In doing so, these terror groups have been very effective in their approach. The US has also used approaches that do not mirror the tactics of these groups, of course. In freezing the money of these groups, the US has made it more difficult for them to operate. These types of tactics have shut down the terrorist groups. When the US has mirrored the behavior of the groups, however, it has sacrificed the strength of its position in a way that has damaged its efforts moving forward (Allendorfer & Herring, 2015).
Ultimately countries have a few different options when it comes to trying to deal with terror groups. None of these options is perfect, as there are often times when the terror groups are able to continue to operate at a high level despite the efforts of the nation. History has shown many different examples of ways in which countries have done things that are counter-productive, however. In the examples of the US, the British, and France, one can see nations that have in some ways mirrored their combatants and given those combatants tools that they can then use to grow their recruiting base, gain political legitimacy, and wage further war against those countries in the years to follow.
- Allendorfer, W. H., & Herring, S. C. (2015). ISIS vs. the US government: A war of online video propaganda. First Monday, 20(12).
- Andre, M. (2014). The FLN strike force: the specificities of the Algerian war in metropolitan France. REVUE HISTORIQUE, (669), 143-178.
- Ginio, R. (2016). The French Army and Its African Soldiers.
- Milne, S. (2015). Now the truth emerges: how the US fuelled the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq. The Guardian, 3.
- Ó Dochartaigh, N. (2015). The Longest Negotiation: British Policy, IRA Strategy and the Making of the Northern Ireland Peace Settlement. Political Studies, 63(1), 202-220.
- Patterson, H. (2015). The Politics of Illusion: A Political History of Sinn Féin and the IRA. Royal College of General Practitioners.