Counting Cats in Zanzibar Rotating Header Image

Let’s look at the stats

I seem to have run into some flak recently, so I thought I would test some of the ideas against the historical record. The Rand corporation published “How Terrorist Groups End-Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida” by Seth G. Jones, Martin C. Libicki.
They examined 648 terrorist groups that existed between 1968 and 2006. They found that they ended for two major reasons:
1. members decided to adopt non-violent tactics and join the political process (43 percent of the time), or
2. local police and intelligence agencies arrested or killed key members of the group (40 percent).
Military force has rarely been the primary reason how terrorist groups have ended (10 percent), and few groups have ever achieved victory (7 percent).
In testimony to congress they noted “When a terrorist group becomes involved in an insurgency, it does not end easily. Nearly 50 percent of the time, groups ended by negotiating a settlement with the government; 25 percent of the time, they achieved victory; and 19 percent of the time, military forces defeated them.
So history suggests that the military option has less than a 1 in 5 chance of success, whereas getting them to join the political process or arresting/killing key members of the group as I suggest elsewhere, has a better than 4 in 5 chance of success.
It maybe worth repeating, I don’t support Hamas murder anymore than Israeli murder. I just see beyond the “Jews good, Muslims bad” meme. The extremists (and their apologists) on both sides are just murderers or accessories.


  1. NickM says:

    At no point did I play the “Jews good, Muslims bad” card. The likes of Hamas are no more representative of say Bangladeshi Muslims than the IRA were of Polish Catholics. It is a very specific conflict. Hamas do though represent a serious threat (due to their backers in high places and we all know who they are) to a sovereign state. In a very real sense those backers don’t back Hamas enough to have any realistic chance of victory because they see this as a feature rather than a bug. They keep public attention fixated. If they ever won or indeed “Good Friday-ed” it with Israel then their backers would have to look at putting their own houses in order. Arguably to a certain extent this is happening right now. It’s kinda like this. Folk in the Mid East are increasingly not buying, “If only we got rid of Israel then everything would be hunky-dory” and looking inward at their own nutters in charge. Now the fact the only co-ordinated. resistance to the likes of Assad is Islamists is almost incidental if unfortunate. I guess you can see it in much the same way the English civil war against the despotism of Charles I was lead by Puritans because they could organise.

  2. Tim Newman says:

    I used to be involved with the running of an industrial oil and gas facility, and we used statistics to analyse our maintenance works. We found that 43% of the time we only needed to carry out routine maintenance, e.g. replace the wear parts, apply some paint, etc. 40% of the time we needed to strip down the machinery on a regular basis and replace some major parts. The remainder of the time the machinery was utterly fucked due to poor material specification and design, and needed to be completely replaced. Looking at the statistics, maybe it would have been better to just apply a dab of paint to that last group?

  3. Paul Marks says:

    Definitely time to move on to the lady in the hat – the lady has had her hand up for some time now. Thank you for your contribution Sir, but we really have to move on to the lady in the hat.

  4. oldfossil says:

    Very impressive, SAT! Insurgency and terrorism are the greatest threats to the security of any nation today. Millions and billions of people have debated, discussed and argued about solutions, with little success. But here in just 255 words including the intro and the wrap, you’ve made the answer blindingly obvious. What a relief! No more bombs, no more rockets, no more hijackings, just endless serenity, now that the secret is out. The answer was staring us in the face!!! &c &c

  5. RAB says:

    Ok, you want to play Stats? here’s some for ya…

    I thought all these Muslims were brothers? So why are there any camps? Why have they not been intergrated into the surrounding countries and populations? These camps have been in continuous existence since 1948… why?

  6. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    RAB, For the same reason that if Israel occupied Wales, you wouldn’t find any camps in Paris for taffies

  7. RAB says:

    Palestine could have been a State in its own right in 1948. But all its friends said (all those who still keep them in camps by the way 😉 ), don’t bother, we’re going to sweep the Jews right into the sea, and attacked the very next day. They lost, they continued to lose but they will never stop trying to eradicate Israel. But nothing whatsoever will change even if they do.

  8. Julie near Chicago says:

    It was around the time I started college, 1961 or thereabouts … that people began calling the inner-city Negro neighborhoods as “the ghetto.”

    I thought that was appalling. Those neighborhoods had nothing whatsoever to do with ghettos. (It was, I suspect, a term hijacked by the New Left or possibly their predecessors, as a way of blackening America yet again. Standard agitprop in fact.)

    It was appalling in the degree of disrespect of the people who were subjected to life in the REAL ghettos of Europe and the Pale. To imply that the situation of those in American Negro inner-city neighborhoods was the same as the situation of those in the Jewish ghettos was and is insulting to the people in the latter case.

    I’m sure everyone understands why this recollection is not off-topic.

  9. NickM says:

    Very interesting Julie.

    On a similar note (which may or maybe not of interest or use here) “The Pale” has lost meaning in the UK. It used to mean during the occupation of Ireland by the UK the area around Dublin that was safe-ish. It now just means within reasonable behaviour as in “When you puked in the salad bowl that was beyond the pale”.

    Might I suggest something. OK, this is going to be controversial as hell but I do know the USA quite well. The Civil Rights Centre in Atlanta is worth a punt if you are waiting forever for Delta to get a-flying. Hartsfield is their hub. Apart from anything it is home (via an exchange program) of the most dismal exhibit I have ever seen – Gandhi’s personal effects. One walking stick, a pair of Nasher specks, a couple of books, and an adult nappy. That is how you found a nation of over a billion.

    Julie, you ought to love me for this! What do you reckon the “M” in NickM is?

    We built Chicago. And if it wasn’t done with a few kick-backs, bribes, the odd killing etc then I am truly ashamed 😉 . I came close to applying for a PhD at Chicago. Various family members thought somewhere in the NE USA would be better but when the Italian Navigator entered The New World and found the natives very friendly… That was the dispatch to the White House when Enrico Fermi built his pile in a disused squash court. Blimey, I would have been a grad student (always with the grad students) with a bucket of boron and a concerned look. Bring it!

    It is always better to live than to worry about dying.

  10. Ross says:

    Those are interesting stats but do the authors of the study account for the overlap between the categories? For example FARC currently seem interested in negotiating a settlement with the Colombian government- but that seems largely due to Colombia really hitting FARC hard militarily- in other words it is the military approach that has made the diplomatic approach plausible.

  11. Julie near Chicago says:

    Dammit, Nick. I wrote a nice long chatty reply and WordPress ate it. High points only:

    McHugh. Tres interessant.. Kick-backs etc.: When in Rome. Management rising through ranks, “some time spent working in the field” not acceptable: Harvard/Princeton MBA’s req’d, or Harvard/Yale/Princeton JD’s. Got it from Atlas Shrugged. Congratulations on the Co. There used to be some really good ones in Chicago in spite of everything. When did that branch of McHughs arrive here? And, I do take your other point (the one not about bribes, offings, etc. 😉 ). Don’t like the red brick buildings in general, but that one is quite attractive. :>)

    Not coming to UC for PhD: Unacceptable, you skunk, therefore belong in Chicago, Indian word for “skunk cabbage” it is said. Have not Looked It Up. First-Year students in 1961 registered for our classes in the athletic building surrounding Stagg Field on 3 sides. Despite their being rickety, UC’s no longer having much of any athletic program, WW II being over for ~ 1/4 century, Regenstein Library built on Stagg Field’s grave. Tsk. Great library though, size of collection, open stacks mostly (in 70’s anyway).

    I’m just as glad my Honey missed Chicago Pile 1. But we do have a sample from it, encased in thick plastic. Hard to believe: That was the 6 mos. before I was born. You’d have been slightly too non-existent to be much help to the other grad students there, I think. :(

    . . .

    Delta?? No, no. Sneak aboard FedEx. Maybe cling to undercarriage instead of in plane. Like what’s-his-name. What to do re O2 tanks? Hm.

    . . .

    The Pale. Mod. Gen. probably has no idea. But we used to use “the pale” same as you. Mom would have said the Sith et al. were “beyond the Pale.” Rather often I think. Never hear the phrase anymore. Of course, we also used to hear that so-and-so had been (wrongly or rightly or shoulda been) “sent to Coventry.” No offense 😉 .

  12. TDK says:

    There’s a fundamental problem here. By removing data from pre 1968 and post 2006 the results risk being skewed.

    We don’t now for sure that the terrorist threat from later settlements has permanently receded. Has the IRA threat gone for good. Will that tick in the “settlement column” disappear in time?

    Equally one might say that the problems of terrorism in the post war era result from limitations on acceptable government response. Controversy over the handling of the Mau Mau revolt was fairly muted compared to what would happen from the 1960s onwards. It has been a persistent complaint of police and military that they are asked to deal with the situation “with one hand tied behind their back”

    The anarchist threat was prevalent prior to World War One. How was that contained and defeated. The Sidney Street siege resolution fit more into the military solution than the police one. It seems to have solved the issue. How typical was that? Would we accept that today?

    I’m not saying that I think the military option would be better. Only that we need to ask if that 19% really is a true reflection of the efficacy of a military option or an artifact of the times we live in.

  13. TDK says:

    bah. “don’t now” = “don’t know”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *