HCSS 10 years: Terrorism, Radicalisation and Counter Measures in the Age of Digitalisation

March 5th 2018 - 15:30

In the ten years since HCSS was founded, we have witnessed multiple conflicts related to the ‘war on terror’, including those necessitating international intervention in Iraq and Syria. The war on terror has been invoked as an excuse by Russia to reclaim sovereignty over Chechnya, while the United States has used it for the sake of bringing democracy to Afghanistan. Hence, terrorism has become part of every state’s agenda regardless of regime type, liberal or autocratic. Regimes have made a common cause in the war on terror, fighting ISIS in Syria. Here, the international community has witnessed one of the most damaging conflicts in terms of civilian casualties, with the war against ISIS and the wider civil war causing extensive destruction and economic loss alongside this massive human cost. The international intervention against ISIS has been successful in toppling the Caliphate, but has also had unintended consequences such as the Turkish assault on Kurdish forces, so shortly after the vital Kurdish contribution to defeating ISIS. Notable even amongst the wider violence, has been the killing of captured ISIS fighters, a violation of international law, and the use of large-scale violence by the Assad regime in an attempt to remain in power, despite the widespread opposition within the population. Although ISIS may have been defeated in Syria, the risk remains that an ISIS 2.0 will arise, which may be even more dangerous due to the experience ISIS gained during the war in Syria. Their worldwide network and ideological appeal may have suffered but it could also be strengthened and revived not only in establishing territories but also continuing to influence their global network to conduct domestic attacks in their own countries. The use of terrorist tactics or strategies for various objectives and homegrown terrorism shows how lethal the next decade’s conflict could become. In addition, with globalisation that resulted in an interdependence of the world and with technology amplifying interconnectedness and information warfare, security risks may only increase.

Counter-measures to terrorism and radicalisation vary and are found mainly in strategies devised by states and international organisations, named as Counter Terrorism (CT), Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), Countering Violent Extremism Leading to Terrorism (CVELT) and/or Engaging with Violent Extremism (EVE) as well as in national Action Plans. Despite the differing labeling of the strategies, the toolkits remain alike, ranging between military, political, economic, security, legal and societal measures. The intervention programs vary as well targeting individuals and/or groups to enable disengagement, de-radicalisation, reintegration and rehabilitation. The effectiveness of various countermeasures has been questioned since there is a lack of measurable results, as they are often incremental and invisible. For instance, counter narratives to oppose narratives produced by terrorists have been widely supported by governments but there is a lack of empirical evidence to support the effectiveness. Therefore, further research is being conducted by the HCSS on countering radicalisation through lifestories in the Western Balkans, to understand in depth this new research area of counter and/or alternative narratives and evaluate the effectiveness of lifestories in countering radicalisation. Furthermore, this research aims to uncover the motivations of foreign fighters and affected family members along with informing potential indicators for disengagement. The in depth qualitative interview tool of lifestories will be complemented with a quantitative tool, namely polls to understand citizens attitudes towards radicalization and de-radicalization. Furthermore, Reinier Bergema, a strategic analyst at HCSS, has offered an understanding of the Dutch foreign fighters backgrounds in a monitor uncovering different waves of fighters by looking at the characteristics and composition of foreign fighters. The data driven research, as HCSS is conducting, serves to better understand radicalization and counter radicalization interventions.

Therefore, for the purposes of the intervention, it is important to emphasize the reinvigoration of the societal fabric with inclusionary practices, rule of law and dealing with external threats deriving from failed foreign policy (ie the Iraq’s occupation based on false information of possessing weapons of mass destruction), in order to create a resilient and legitimate national security strategy. A turn to soft approaches, such as human security and peacebuilding, may offer complementary concepts to deal with countering terrorism and radicalization. Additionally, the sequencing and prioritization of intervention programs is also crucial. Last but not least, it is important tailor solutions to the local context. Local ownership and involvement of local stakeholders, is crucial for sustainably countering terrorism and radicalization. Therefore, HCSS continues to provide a variety of analytical tools and evidence based research for policymakers worldwide, including on terrorism and radicalization.

Arlinda Rrustemi, Strategic Analyst

This post is part of a series on the HCSS 10 year anniversary. Analysts and experts have published a post reflecting on the past 10 years. 

Read the post by Paul Sinning, Executive Director

Read the post by Rob de Wijk, founder and non-Executive Director 

Read the post by Sijbren de Jong, Strategic Analyst

Read the post by Stephan De Spiegeleire, Principal Scientist 

Read the post by Michel Rademaker, Deputy Director Market and Operations

Read the post by Karlijn Jans, Strategic Analyst

Read the post by Willem Oosterveld, Strategic Analyst

Read the post by Erik Frinking, Director of the Strategic Futures Program

Read the post by Hannes Rõõs, Data Scientist

Read the post by Reinier Bergema, Strategic Analyst

Read the post by Frank Bekkers, Director of the Security Program 

Read the post by Louk Faesen, Strategic Analyst, Cyber Policy and Resilience Program

Arlinda Rrustemi is a researcher and lecturer on peace and conflict studies. She holds a PhD in Political Science from Leiden University in the Netherlands. In 2016, Arlinda defended her doctoral thesis, entitled "State-Building through Life Stories: Incorporating Local Perspectives”, which was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). She holds a B.A. (cum laude) from the University College Roosevelt and an LL.M. degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University.