Friday, March 25, 2016

Irish Terror Trouble by Richard English

Why do significant terrorist campaigns begin?  How are terrorist campaigns sustained? Why does terrorism end?

Each side in the Irish conflict preferred an outcome which would see the state representing their own national tradition (Irish or British), their own religious orientation (Catholic or Protestant), their own economic interests (broadly, Protestant Ulster had thrived within the industrial, imperial UK framework more strikingly than had the more nationalist remainder of the island), and their own cultural (more Gaelic-influenced for nationalists, more emphatically centered on Britain for the unionists.) There was, therefore a long-rooted problem of contested legitimacy in Ireland, and the resolution of this in the 1920s was messy.  The partitioning of Ireland into north and south left a sizeable minority of Irish nationalists  in the Northern Irish part of the UK, many of them feeling that the state they inhabited was neither legitimate or fair. If the whole of Ireland were to be separated from Britain, then a strong and concentrated north-eastern minority of unionists would themselves be in the wrong state and hostile to it. Thus the politics of nationalism and the problem of unresolved self-determination were long present in the Irish-British relationship and they formed the vital historical context within which to place the eruptions of various terrorisms in Ireland (1969-2005).

The political aims and justifications of terrorism- whether Irish Republican (opposed to UK membership), or pro-UK Ulster loyalist – therefore had deep historical roots. In each case, there was for the practitioners of violence not only an urgent need for such aggressive action, but also a legitimization of it in terms of the nation: even though most co-nationals did not enthuse over your violence, it was still seen as essentially democratic  because it was carried out in pursuit of what were perceived as historically legitimate national rights. The Provisional IRA in the 1970s presented themselves and their violence (they killed 1,045 people during the decade) in precisely these terms, pointing back to the authentic Irish republic which had been declared by the Easter rebel of 1916 and then embodied in the legitimate Irish Republican parliaments created during 1918- 21. According to this view, the IRA was

the direct representative of the 1918 Dail Eireann parliament . . .as such they are the legal and lawful government of the Irish Republic . . . The Irish Republican Army, as the legal representatives of the Irish people, are morally justified in carrying out  a campaign of resistance against foreign occupation forces and domestic collaborators…the moral position of the IRA, its right to engage in warfare is based on: (a) the right to resist foreign aggression; (b) the right to revolt against tyranny and oppression; and (c) the direct lineal succession with the Provisional government of 1916, and the second Dail of 1921.

According to such views, IRA violence was not anti-democratic terrorism but rather democratically justifiable struggle in pursuit of national rights and freedom, against the by day-to day unfairness and Catholic communal disadvantages they experienced under British rule which then prompted the 1960S civil rights movement for reform precipitating inter-communal conflict from which the Troubles subsequently ensued. So too in the 1970s, the IRA claimed that the source of violence lay ‘in the social and economic deprivation suffered by the nationalist’s people in Northern Ireland’: peaceful attempts to deal with the problems had failed, force was ‘the only means of removing the evil of the British presence in Ireland.’

The specific sequence of events which led to the birth of the Provisional IRA points to other key aspects of explanation and understanding. One is the psychological and emotional force behind such violence. As civil rights demonstrators clashed with rival unionist/loyalist protestors and with policed, and inter-communal violence escalated during 1969, there emerged an understandable urge within some Catholic areas towards the provision of a new IRA defense force. But just as the existence, actions and fear of the IRA had helped prompt awful loyalist violence in the 1960S, so too violence from the loyalists and then from tye British army after its 1969 deployment, in turn generated a nationalist desire to strike back. The Provisionals were rarely ever abler to defend their community effectively; they did, however succeed in hitting back: ‘first, I think, it was defense of the ghettos . . . and then to retaliate too. Defense and retaliation were the terms we used to use. With increasing friction between British soldiers and the Catholic working class, searches, arrests, and street and other clashes  led to an increasing desire for revenge. Why join the IRA?  One ex-member reflected: ‘It was because of a process of British repression as clearly distinct from any sort of attachment to republican ideology.’

For some in the movement, ideological inheritance a tradition did mean a considerable amount… Future Brighton bomber Patrick Magee had an IRA grandfather, but he also stressed that his own arrest and beating-up at the hands of British soldiers played its part in leading him to join the IRA; there was, he says, ‘a sense of anger. Real anger. I felt I just couldn’t walk away from this, and I did join up.’  Another man reflected: ‘Probably one of  the deciding factors would have been constant harassment of British troops on the streets. It generally created an atmosphere of violence and the desire to fight back and not accept that type of state.’

In addition to the desire to strike back and exact revenge paramilitary recruits also gained rewards in terms of status, power, prestige, excitement, camaraderie, influence and kudos among one’s peers.

Evidence accumulated that, really, the six-county area (Northern Ireland) was irreformable, that it was impossible to change it by civil means. ‘Irish history is littered with the corpses of Irish politicians who genuinely believed that political processes set up by the English would achieve justice and freedom. The six counties is a politically contrived and manipulated ‘state’ designed specifically to allow the permanent domination of one section of the community over the other. Any reforms which it is forced to accept are only cosmetic and not worth the paper they are written on . . the Republican movement will not settle for anything less than British withdrawal.’ As Gerry Adams said in 1989: ‘The British government does not respond to the force of argument. It only understands the argument of force, this is why armed struggle is a fact of life, and death, in the six counties’

The IRA strategy is very clear. At some point in the future, due to the pressure of the continuing and sustained armed struggle, the will of the British government to remain in this country will be broken. That is the objective of the armed struggle . . .we can state confidently today that there will be no ceasefire and no truces until Britain declares its intent to withdraw and leave our people in peace.

Bombs in British cities and violence against British soldiers was an attempt to coerce the wider public into pressurizing their own government towards giving the IRA what it wanted. It was the well know  Clausewitzean strategy of war: your opponent had to be put in a position which was more oppressive to them than it would be for them to give you what you wanted.

If dispassionate analysis is necessary to explain the complexities which produced serious terrorism [albeit in an abbreviated form here], then what of our second question: How are terrorist campaigns sustained? The Provisional IRA 1969-2005 campaign provides a bloody and durable case study. In the first place, however it is not simply true that “Once you start the business of killing, you just get ‘deeper and deeper, without limits. Although escalating communal violence  played an important role in the emergence of the Provisional IRA as a serious force, the highest rates of annual killing occurred early on, the later conflict characterized by much lower rates of fatal violence. A better explanation for the ‘sustainability’ of the Ulster Troubles was escalating violence on the part of the British government. The Falls Curfew in July 1970 : an extensive search  of Belfast’s Lower Falls district during which many houses were damages, and people killed. Though many weapons were seized, in Gerry Adam’s words, “The Falls Road Curfew made popular opposition to the British Army absolute in Belfast … After that recruitment to the IRA was massive.” Then the British government was induced by Ulster Unionists to introduce internment without trial and in August hundreds of people were  lifted on the basis of weak intelligence and given very harsh treatment. When British soldiers fatally shot fourteen anti-internment marchers on 30 January 1972 in Derry (Bloody Sunday’) the IRA gained more potential recruits than it could easily cope with. Both republican and loyalists played their parts in the escalating hostility but violence against civilians, one-sidedly directed at the Catholic communes played a dramatic part in stimulating the growth of precisely that organization against which their actions had been  directed.

Sustained by inter-communal violence and the heavy-hand of the government, intra-communal violence also played a role in sustaining the terrorist strategy. Within the Republican movement there repeatedly developed feuds and splits between the warring Provisional and Official factions which spawned a hostile offshoot in the form of the Irish National Liberation Army. In these intra-movement battles tit-for-tat vengeance played a part, as did rival conceptions of the best strategy or ideological path and competition between alternative leaders and leaderships. Similar intra-communal struggles were apparent also on the loyalist side.

Although leaders of the IRA initially expected an early success, in  the late 70s  most had settled into the prospect of a long war, Gerry Adams by 1973. As they saw it their war was just, the Irish had rights to national self-determination and to liberation from colonial enslavement: it was destined for success, as suggested by the late twentieth-century decline of the British Empire.  Sustenance  was also provided by cultural-national enthusiasm or socialist millenarianism. Support also came from external actors , such as diasporic sympathizers in the USA and Colonel Gaddafi. Mundane but significant momentum was provided by organizational dynamics themselves: training, meetings, campaigning, fund-raising, commemorations establish the identity, solidarity and comradeship.

But one cannot explain the durability of the Provos brutal campaign without acknowledging that behind it was a serious and recognizably important contest over political legitimacy.

Multiple causation is clearly at work in the generation and sustenance of terrorism, and the same is true when we turn to our third major question: Why does terrorism end?

By 1986 Gerry Adams had acknowledged the reality of a situation of deadlock in which the IRA was able to block the imposition of a British solution but were unable to force the British to withdraw.. By 1990, this military stalemate was being clearly noted by other sharp-eyed republicans. Adams himself had apparently been in indirect dialogue with British politicians during 1986-, a crucial factor. Provisional IRA violence had emphatically political roots and aims and- potentially- resolution; those involved were as normal and rational as other political actors tend to be, and when years of struggle had taught the lesson that violence was bringing, not the anticipated victory, but instead pointless stalemate, then such people looked for alternate ways of achieving political momentum. When those involved in terrorist violence recognized that they had potentially more to gain from non-violent than from violent politics, they eschewed the latter in favor of the former.

The distinctive  1990s engagement with Northern Ireland by the Clinton regime in Washington added impetus towards a fruitful peace process (especially as it reassured Irish republicans that there was someone involved in the initiative who as more powerful than the British and who was, if anything, sympathetic to the nationalist rather than the unionist politics in Ireland.) The harmonious relationship of British and Irish politicians and civil servants within the European Union context facilitated a joint London-Dublin approach to Northern Ireland in ways that offered a framework for negotiations. Again, for those republicans whose struggle had involved a hard-leftist commitment to destroying capitalism, the death of communism closed-off expected revolutionary progress and made compromise seem more sensible. Later on, the impulse to abandon terrorism was strengthened by the atrocity of 9/11 [by which you might infer the author means, success in persuading the British voters to blame their own government for the situation seemed less imaginable.] And, of course, through the course of the long war the British public simply became accustomed to the violence [just as Americans do mass shootings in their own country.

If the British could endure the IRA’s lethal activities of 1971-6 (during which they killed an average of 144 people a year), would increasingly lower level of fatal activity ( never more than 100 people a year between 1977-2001) really be likely to produce a better outcome? Part of this shift lay in the increasing effectiveness of state counter-terrorism, although this should not be over-stated. The IRA remained in a position to achieve huge and damaging bombings in Britain as well as fatal attacks in Ireland. But the latter years of the war were ones during which the Provisional’s ranks were riddled with agents and informers. Accurate intelligence,  was of far greater benefit in the fight against terrorism than the more formal military muscle.

Furthermore, there is considerable evidence to suggest that sharp-eyed republicans came by the early 1990S to acknowledge that their reading of the Ulster unionists had been simplistic and naïve. ‘In a way we made them into non-people. We just said: you can’t move the unionists until you move the Brits. So we didn’t even see them as part of the problem, never mind as being part of the solution.’ Once  the unionists were placed more centrally in view, as an enduring obstacle rather  than just a tool of the British, then more subtle ways of dealing with the problem became possible.

Similarly, it was recognized that prompt British withdrawal from the North would in fact have catastrophic economic consequences for a region that was propped up by British state subvention.  Most decisively of all, perhaps, it became clear  that the main obstacle to achieving Irish unity lay not in London, but rather in the complex range of views in Ireland itself, North and South. With unionist recalcitrance, with obdurate loyalist resistance, and with the southern electorates and governments which were markedly ambivalent about the prospect of unity anyway, the feasibility of the IRA’s traditional goal now seemed questionable.

So in Northern Ireland it was not that a prior peace process addressed the root causes of the conflict and the the terrorism ended, but rather that the key terrorist movement recognized that its violence was not producing what it had expected it to produce, that there might e greater rewards from peaceful politics, and political realities demanded a rethinking of strategy. This sea change decisively allowed for the construction of a peace process that could address some of the root causes of the conflict in ways that allowed for the prospect of sustainable peace in the North of Ireland.

The deal which emerged was one which took lengthy and difficult work both too construct and then to implement.

[Did terrorism work in Northern Ireland? The author thinks not. It did not convince the British to leave. Yet the long campaign of terror eventually led those who conducted it, and those against whom it was conducted, it to pursue a different course. There is no telling what how the situation in Northern Ireland would have developed had there been no terror campaign. The certainty is the that roots of The Troubles could not be simply ‘wished-away’.]

1 comment:

  1. Took me a month or so to get through it, kept falling asleep. Authors should not assume that readers need to have every point repeated six times. This is 'streamlined' It's useful, I think.But 'legitimate grievances' and 'rational minds' for terrorists does not book well for Americans, too much like looking in a mirror.