Counter terrorism/ Solution
Spanish attempted 6 government counter-terrorist strategies through the years (from General Franco’s regime to todays mature democracy)
1. Action-Repression-Action (Francoís Dictatorship) :
During General Franco’s regime, insurgent terrorism was confronted with indiscriminate repression and the use of military force. “States of Exception” were often declared, and the existing civil liberties suspended. Spanish security forces detained people without formal charges, held them for days without notifying lawyers, families or friends, tapped phones and read private mail.
People accused of terrorism were tried by special military courts where defense lawyers were not allowed to cross- examine adverse witnesses or to question the validity of the government’s material evidence (which included confessions secured by torture).The so called incontrolados, or anti-ET A mobs, largely said to have consisted of off-duty police officers and members of the military service,were also used as a government asset, thus letting them run wildly in downtown areas of Basque cities.
These harsh repressive measures had a counter-productive effect on Basque nationalism, sparking more intense nationalist feelings and heightening popular support for ETA. As Paddy Woodworth puts it, “nothing radicalizes a people faster than the unleashing of undisciplined security forces on its towns and villages. The litany of beatings, torture, and unpunished shootings that follows becomes a recruiting catechism for an armed resistance group”.
2. Sustained Repressive Measures in the Period of Democratic Transition:
The repression-action-repression formula became self-perpetuating cycle. Elected governments in the post-Franco years introduced antiterrorist legislation that defined terrorism quite broadly, including not only participation in the planning and execution of political violence, but also involvement in the composition of sayings and writings that could be considered as apologies for violence.With these broad legal rights in hand, police and military officers stopped people in public places, asked for documentation, and took suspects to police stations for interrogation. In 1985 alone, 940 people were arrested in the region for crimes related to terrorism, and another 1,000 were held incommunicado.At the same time, recruitment among the Basque population continued to flourish, with Etarras enjoying considerable social prestige locally . Counter-terrorism policies at the time nurtured hatred, provided a good justification for violence, and stripped activists of any guilt or moral responsibility. As described by one ET A member who joined the organization in the 80s, … “the only obsession we had was to create the maximum possible fear and damage to Madrid …We were saying: Violence? You are the ones doing violence.In spite of killing a whole bunch of people, the thing was just, and you held the guilt. You generate the violence; therefore, whatever we do is good.”
3. The Dirty War:
The elections of 1982 brought significant ideological change in Spain with the coming into power of the Socialist Party. Interestingly enough, however, there was no different approach to terrorism. On the contrary, thanks to its absolute majority in both houses of the Spanish parliament, the Socialist Party promoted a new law in 1984 that stayed in line with existing practices and legislation. Cracking down on terrorism became a priority to the extent that the government of Felipe Gonzlez attempted to combat ET A by secretly funded setting up illegal, paramilitary organizations, the so-called Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberacion (GAL), which tracked, kidnapped and beat ET A activists, and executed certain organization members. Overall, the innumerable arrests, deaths and torture exacted a heavy toll on the resilience and confidence of established activists, with hundreds of Etarras retiring and formerly fervent top leaders trying to arrange a cease fire. In this sense, the crack down on terrorism did work temporarily , especially considering that most ET A gunmen were either captured or had laid down their arms by the late 1980s. However, repressive crackdowns had a counter- productive effect in the long term by spurring antagonism towards the system and producing fresh recruits among youngsters. While momentarily crushed, ETA continued to benefit from the government’s disproportionate response, with the Basque community continuously willing to support the group or at least turn a blind eye to its activities. Violence was not renounced; instead, the organization changed its militants and the form of its attacks. As a consequence, the 1990s resulted in recurrent use of violence, with new forms of terrorist acts (assassination attempts targeting judges and politicians and an increasing use of vandalism), as well as new militants (younger recruits mainly involved in arson, breaking windows, and trashing offices of political parties).
4. Social Integration:
The crackdown activities of the 1980s were coupled with a strategy of social reintegration presented as an option to militants willing to renounce violence. Based on the Italian model of dealing with the Red Brigades, the Spanish authorities allowed ET A members to reenter society on the condition that they abandon the armed struggle. Indeed, several hundred operatives put down arms.56 However, as discussed earlier, it did not prove as an approach dealing with the problem in its entirety, given that the organization managed to revive and reinvigorate its recruitment system in the following years.
5. Hitting on All Sides (1998-1999):
In 1998-19991, government action for the first time did not stop at the level of ETA’s operational units; rather, it went further, reaching out to its financial structure and the organizations network of influence and political coercion. ETA’s economic structure was investigated, with searches carried out on related companies.Important leaders were detained and later imprisoned by judicial order, and legal proceedings were brought against the National Council of Batasuna before the Spanish Supreme Court for collaboration with an armed group. The strategy yielded short-term results, as it was followed by an ETA- initiated truce modeled on that called by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). However, it did not bring any long-term resolution, as the agreement broke down after 14 months. On the one hand, the failure to sustain peace can be seen as provoked by an erroneous move on behalf of the ruling Partido Popular (PP) which tried to discredit the moderate Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV) and to defeat ET A through police and judicial measures. On the other hand, the truce can be seen merely as ETA buying time to reorganize and face the new realities. In any event, the effect was short-lived and had no determinate effect on recruitment.
6. Affecting Financing and Recruitment:
As mentioned earlier, ETA had been using new approaches since the mid- 1990s, complementing its actions (such as car bombs and assassinations) with other kinds of violent activities, usually vandalism committed by teenagers during weekends.In response to this new trend, the Spanish penal code was modified to include, among other things, violent activities aimed at subverting the constitutional order and altering public peace.As mentioned earlier, legislation was also passed that resulted in the banning of ETA’s unofficial political wing in 2002. Most importantly, the Spanish authorities significantly improved their strategy for combating terrorism due to an emphasis on legitimacy and proportionality. This helped undermine support for ETA in the Basque region, effectively countering the group ís operations while significantly improving international cooperation, especially with the French. As a result, attrition by the succeeding leadership accelerated, forcing ETA to turn to a new generation of very young and inexperienced leaders who were given command of largely autonomous cells. Many of these new leaders were not as competent as previous generations and did not initially have the charisma and influence needed to inspire respect and motivate new recruits.
As a result, the effectiveness of ET A diminished and recruitment was hit, with only about 30 full-time ET A operatives left by the March 2006 ceasefire. ETA’s strategy became virtually untenable following the massive public revulsion to violence after the March 11, 2004 terror attacks in Madrid.Whether related to these developments or not, it should be noted that the group had not killed anyone in its last three years of existence, with the spate of non-fatal bombings seen rather as a reminder of ETA’s existence and an attempt to gain a better bargaining position in the negotiations with the Spanish government.
Thus, not only had ETA’ s goals become obsolete and its methods unappealing, but its violent strategy had increasingly been found lacking in meaning and justification. This strategic disorientation (together with the emergence of civil resistance movements in the Basque region, the judicial initiatives undertaken against ETA’ s network of legal entities, and the banning of its political arm) is believed to have paved the way to the March 22, 2006 permanent cease-fire announcement by ETA.
ETA’S permanent ceasefire and cessation of armed activity in 2011:
In September 2010, amid declining violence and numerous arrests of leaders, ETA declared a “permanent and verifiable”
ceasefire. In January 2011, the group re-affirmed its commitment to non-violence, stating that they decided to declare a
“permanent and general ceasefire which will be verifiable by the international community.” In October 2011, having not
caused any fatalities for over two years, they underscored their intentions yet again by announcing “a definitive cessation of
[their] armed activity” which “demonstrates [their] clear, firm, and definitive purpose.”