If waves of terrorism continue to last roughly 40 years, then the Josef Korbel School of International Studies' Professor Karen Feste thinks the current wave the world finds itself in will end in about 2020, when terrorism will become outdated again. But until then one can expect the tactic of terrorism to continue.
"Terrorism has emerged as the world's most salient and worrisome form of combat," Feste said. "The news from the terrorism front is not so good for the west. Credible threats against the U.S. continue."
In the wake of explosive devices found in two air cargo packages earlier this week, the U.S. has already implemented new security measures. Feste said this event shows that terrorists already know how to get under the radar.
In her Monday lecture on "Terminating Terrorism: Lessons of the Past," based on her book released earlier this year Terminate Terrorism: Framing, Gaming, and Negotiating Conflict, Feste defined terrorism, explained its purpose and outlined how to best defeat it.
But the first issue of definition has proved difficult to do.
"There are more than 100 definitions of terrorism," Feste said. "This suggests there is a problem and people can't agree on what it is. Without defining it they can't have teeth in the laws that exist."
Feste defined terrorism as violence designed exclusively to cause physical harm to unsuspecting persons or to destroy property carried out by individuals or small cadres as a mechanism for expressing grievances against the policies or actions of government.
"Terrorism is regarded now as a perfectly rational strategy," Feste said. "Rational in a sense that it helps parties achieve the goals they desire. It doesn't mean it's reasonable."
She added that its purpose is to secure government attention through coercive power techniques as a way to enter political discourse and affect policy choices.
But ending the terrorist threat is possible.
"To terminate terrorism does not mean root causes have been contained nor does it mean disputing parties have reconciled differences to come to friendship," she said.
Feste explained that terrorism ends when the immediate threat to the citizens of the targeted country vanishes.
"Governments end terrorism in three ways," she said. "fighting to achieve victory by rubbing out the opposition; yielding to terrorists' demands; or problem solving through negotiated settlement."
Feste added that negotiations only result when fighting leads to a stalemate that is costly to both sides. Terrorism has proved to be an effective tactic that groups will not give up easily.
"They do it because it pays," she said. "It's truer than we can possibly imagine."
Feste's lecture was in preparation for the Bridges to the Future kick-off event Thursday, in which former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke will discuss "Homeland Security and America's War on Terror," held Thursday at 7 pm in the Newman Center for the Performing Arts.
- M. Schwinn, MA candidate in International Security
Josef Korbel School of International Studies