On Thursday July 28 the leaderhip of the Irish Republican Army issued a statement saying that it’s armed campaign was over and ordered its units to get rid of their weapons in a transparent and credible way.
For 36 years the so called Provisional Wing of the IRA was one of the deadliest terrorist organisations in the world. It’s killings and bombings brought havoc not only to Northern Ireland but well beyond. It come very close to killing Prime Minister Thatcher and a substantial part of the British Cabinet. It could be brutal in the extreme against its adversaries.
It was also important in spreading terrorist techniques to other terrorist organisations around the world. There were links with ETA in Spain and recently two IRA operatives were caught with the FARC guerillas in Colombia.
Now, the political process seems finally to have taken over. The previous cease-fire has been turned into a cessation of armed action. The road seems to be open for a restoration of the political process under the Good Friday Agreement.
But the proof of the pudding remains in the eating. Previous attempts at the disposal of the arms depots have not been seen as credible, and that in combination with obvious IRA links with organized criminality lead to a collapse of confidence in the peace process.
Now, it remains to be seen if the arms are given up in a way that is seen as credible. And important is also that one gives up the secret bank accounts abroad from which new weapons fairly easily can be purchased.
The example of IRA shows the difficulties of defeating a terrorist organisation, but also that it can be done. At the end of the day, it was the political process more than the sustained counter-terrorist campaign that made the difference, although the one without the other would scarcly have been possible.
It was when recruitment started to slow down, war fatigue become obvious in all communities, sympathies abroad for terrorism disappeared and a political perspective was opened up that the end started to come for the armed campaign of the IRA.
We are not at the end yet. There is always the risk of the desperate dissidents within the terrorist ranks. And the building of confidence in the seriousness of the decision takes time.
But in all probability a decisive corner has been turned. Terrorism can be defeated.