Should We Negotiate with Terrorists?

Table of contents

Terrorism is a worldwide problem that has devastating effects.  It deprives people of the freedom to travel and enjoy themselves for fear of terrorist attacks.  It subjects innocent people to assaults, kidnappings and murders as they are used as pawns in deadly political games.

The question of whether a government should negotiate with terrorists has been widely debated.  Some think it is beneficial.   Others think it does more harm than good.  This paper will explore some arguments both for supporting and against negotiation with terrorists.

Arguments supporting negotiation with terrorists

Saving lives

The most obvious and immediate advantage of negotiating with terrorists is the saving of lives.  If terrorists hold many innocent people hostage in exchange for the fulfilment of their demands, then negotiating with them would most likely result in the expeditious saving of those people. This view supports the idea that everything should be done to save a life.

Enables communication, learning and understanding of terrorists.

Negotiating enables communication with the terrorists and can therefore lead to a greater understanding of them, as well as a greater capacity to influence them, which may help resolve the conflicts between the terrorists and the government and may even open the way for peace.  Communication with terrorists can also aid in acquiring valuable intelligence that can be later used against them.

Al Qaeda appears to be open to negotiation

Some experts have argued that Jihad is a defensive doctrine, and the attacks against the West should be understood as retaliatory, provoked attacks which would cease if the West gives in to their demands of reduced military presence in Islamic countries, political and military aid to Israel, and aid to other Middle Eastern countries (Zalman 2007).

Ayman Al Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, has said words that suggest a willingness to negotiate.  He stated in December 2006 that the United States will be negotiating and failing in Iraq, until it is ‘forced to return to negotiate with the real powers’ (Zalman 2007).

All solutions must be tried before terrorist groups obtain nuclear weapons

An argument for negotiation is that it can put a halt to terrorists before they obtain nuclear weapons. There are constant indications that Osama Bin Laden is searching for nuclear materials (Zalman 2007), and it can be argued that everything should be done, including negotiating, to stop the threat of nuclear war which of course would result in an enormous amount of innocent deaths.

Arguments against negotiation with terrorists.

More lives are saved in the long-run

The biggest reason to not negotiate with terrorists is that it serves as an incentive for terrorists to keep making demands, in this way encouraging more terrorist activity. In the long run, if terrorists know that governments will not negotiate with them, they are unlikely to keep making demands.  For example, during the terrorist school siege in Beslan, Russia did not negotiate with the terrorists.  It can be argued that the people who died in Beslan would not have died if Russia had negotiated with the terrorists and had given them what they wanted.  However, in the long run, Russia disencouraged terrorists from holding schools ransom or trying similar stunts by showing them that such attempts to negotiate are unsuccessful.

Negotiation is ineffective and a sign of weakness

Terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda are considered to be radical Islamic extremists who seek the destruction of all negotiations with the United States and its allies (Zalman 2007).  Therefore, negotiating with them would be ineffective.  Moreover, it will be seen as a sign of weakness and would encourage them to exploit it.

Negotiating with terrorists rewards terrorist activity and destabilizes honest political systems

By negotiating with terrorists, a government can be argued to be rewarding terrorists for their violent behaviour, something which should never be done.  If terrorists are given what they want, they will come back and ask for more. Furthermore, negotiating with terrorists erodes and weakens the value of non -violent and pacifist means of achieving political change (Zalman 2007).  Negotiation with terrorists destabilizes political systems by encouraging terrorists to keep making demands, and establishes a dangerous precedent (Zalman 2007).

Terrorists may not honor the terms of their demands

Terrorists cannot be trusted to comply with the terms of a negotiation.  Truces with terrorist groups don’t always hold, as has been the case with Israel and Hamas, and with Spain and ETA (Zalman 2007). Furthermore, even a truce with a terrorist leader, for example Osama Bin Laden, does not guarantee that the entire worldwide Al Qaeda terrorist group will honor the terms of the truce.  This makes negotiating harder and less effective.


Zalman, A. (2007). Why Not Negotiate with Terrorists- -Pros and Cons of Talking to Al Qaeda. (Online) Retrieved April 2 2007.

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