Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia reads a brief announcement on behalf of his half-brother, King Fahd, on state television, June 23, 2004. Saudi Arabia announced a limited amnesty for Muslim militants who surrender in the next month.
"There is Nothing Soft about Saudi Counterterrorism"
Op-Ed, Foreign Policy
March 11, 2010
Author: Thomas Hegghammer, Former Associate, Initiative on Religion in International Affairs/International Security Program, 2009–2010; Former Research Fellow, Initiative on Religion in International Affairs/International Security Program, 2008–2009
In May 2003, al Qaeda launched its first major terrorism offensive in the Kingdom, only to see the campaign wane and end within a few years, despite the many predictions to the contrary. Why did it fail? One of the main reasons why its campaign ended so quickly and relatively bloodlessly was that Saudi authorities did not overreact. Many analysts have called the Saudi approach "soft" counterterrorism. The truth is that the Saudi approach was simply good counterterrorism.
The "hard" approach from Algeria and Egypt in the 1990s was bad counterterrorism, bad because it produced unnecessary loss of life, political instability and economic damage. By relying almost exclusively on force and by applying it indiscriminately, the Arab republics fuelled their respective insurgencies in the early stages, making conflict longer, bloodier, and costlier than necessary. The nuanced Saudi approach offered a combination of force, exit options, and an aggressive information campaign which proved far more effective than the "hard" alternatives. We should learn from this success.
Calling the Saudi approach "soft counterterrorism" sends the wrong message. Putting the label "soft" on any strategy evokes naivety and weakness, and reduces the chances that policymakers will adopt it....
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