This recent National Review piece about the ETA "permanent" ceasefire with Spain makes some interesting points, but I think that there is an important issue that is being overlooked, not only here but in all discussions of "appeasement" and "not giving terrorists what they want."
The subtitle of the article states that "There’s no such thing as a trustworthy terrorist." The problem with this statement, of course, is twofold: First, by "untrustworthy," what he really means is not that the terrorists can't be trusted to keep their word, but that they can't be trusted to agree to whatever terms we wish to set down for them; that is, we can't cajole them into abandoning their goals. A conditional cease-fire is a conditional cease-fire. In this context, "permanent" merely means that the terms of the deal will not be changed and that the ETA won't make the first move to breach the treaty; if Spain agrees to the terms and keeps its words, there will be peace. What Rafael L. Bardají wants is for the ETA to agree to peace without any concessions from Spain, or else with concessions, but with the understanding that should Spain violate the treaty, they have no recourse but to sit and take it.
Second, there is the automatic assumption that there is something special about being a non-state actor, or an officially labled "terrorist" group that makes one untrustworthy. That states also can lie, cheat, give false impressions, and refuse to give up using violence to solve a particular situation does not occur to him, or at least not as a bad thing. That states expect to be appeased, and that they often use appeasement as a pretext to demand more concessions (think: the U.S.'s attitude toward Iraq in the 1990s) does not occur to him.
So now a point-by-point response.
This is not the first time ETA has declared a cease-fire. Each previous time, they eventually returned to their bombs and bullets. As it is, this current guarantee, this “permanent cease-fire,” is only a conditional one. ETA is exchanging peace for independence. The length of this cease-fire will depend on how eager the current socialist government in Madrid is to have it be permanent.
Well, yes, but let's be honest. This same rule applies to any conflict involving those who use violence, including states.
ETA has made this declaration because it believes it can best obtain its aims by leaving its weapons silenced for the time being. The terrorists have left violence aside, but not their weapons — nothing has been said about handing those over. There is no process of disarmament in sight because the government in Madrid is the side expected to be making the concessions, not the terrorists. The weapons will serve as a tool during the talks, and, if there is no final agreement, they will be put back to use.
Does anyone deny this? And ultimately, how is this significantly different from the what states do when they sign treaties, with the not-so-veiled threat that if the other country doesn't play along, they get bombed?
ETA is not a nihilist organization that seeks terror for its own sake. It has a political agenda, and its violent activities are always politically motivated.
What distinguishes it in the end from governments which do the same things?
The only way the current cease-fire will become permanent is if major concessions are granted by the Madrid government, and ETA is convinced that Basque independence is irreversible and near. ETA will win, and Spain will [sic] loose. And if the political talks fail, ETA will go back to its traditional policy of using car-bombs and other means of intimidation. For the terrorists, this is a win-win game.
Well, then, the question is whether losing the Basque provinces is worth it to stop the ETA. No different from a territorial dispute between states, really. Unless you believe that the ETA has grander plans than Basque separatism.
Talking with terrorists risks too much and gains little, if anything. Zapatero, the accidental prime minister of Spain, has given up the only important thing for dealing with terror: the position that terrorists will not gain anything from their actions and threats, and that their violent efforts are futile.
Saddam Hussein might say the same thing about talking with the U.S., which dishonestly pretending it was focusing on elimintaing Iraq's WMDs during the 1990s, when in reality the only thing that we were interested in was forcing a change in regime to one more congenial to our interests. And yet, we are supposed to find Saddam wicked and deceitful for supposedly not appeasing us.
Zapatero is willing to sell Spain for a temporary peace, when he should be striving to totally disband ETA. That is the way to bring peace; there is no terror when the terrorist organization no longer exists — not when the terrorists say so.
The issue is whether ETA's demands are reasonable. If not, then the only thing to do is to either (a) destroy them, or (b) find a compromise that you are willing to enforce with the threat of destruction. But I don't see why this makes the ETA any worse than nation-states at war who cannot yet come to a compromise. In any war, ceasefires and peace talks are only successful when each side finds an agreement it can live with; if they can't the war continues until either one side is totally destoryed or until the devastation of war brings one or the other side to reevaluate what is willing to give up on.
That is all.