How to address the ISIS threat in 2016

  • By defencematters

Are there any lessons learned in 2015 we should follow in 2016 to better address the ISIS threat?

Andrej Matisak

With multiple attacks abroad, and a continuing flow of foreign fighters ISIS remains a very clear threat in 2016. But are there any lessons learned in 2015 we should follow in 2016 to better address the ISIS threat? We spoke to some experts and this is what they told us:


Francesco Strazzari, Associate Professor of International Relations, Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Senior Research Fellow, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs

ISIS is a political project based on ideological victimism (the evil sits with Western violent domination and impurity) that is built through local roots, transnationally mobilized fighters, and a space in the global jihado-sphere: hence, not a military invader coming from another planet. Degrading its conventional military capacity through airstrikes won’t destroy its political root, nor its terrorist potential to act as an insurgent group. ISIS can live with bombs, by exploiting – like a parasite – ‘negative sum’ strategic cynicism of various regional and global powers that struggle for hegemony through local proxy actors: what it can’t resist is 1) unity of purpose among its many local, regional and international enemies 2) states that are able to produce common goods and are not corrupted 3) societies that prove to be resilient vis-à-vis terror attacks, and don’t crack under pressure by relinquishing fundamental freedoms and guarantees when they are hit. For terrible that it can be, ISIS is more a symptom of mistakes than a cause in itself. The first lesson is that the ISIS threat should be fought by more loyalty to principles in foreign policy, and less realpolitik-inspired double standards.


Rodger ShanahanNonresident Fellow, Lowy Institute for International Policy

In retrospect I think we will look back on 2015 as the zenith of IS influence. The key to destroying the ISIS ideological attraction is to inflict a battlefield defeat on it in Syria/Iraq. As we enter 2016 ISIS is under significant military pressure in both theatres. It has lost ground in both, and the pressure is growing. Ramadi is the latest major population centre that is is likely to lose control over and it has lost several senior commanders in the last few months. Its income sources are being squeezed and it is finding it more difficult to shift resources across the battlefield in the face of the air campaign.

Thee key security threats in 2016 will those former fighters who seek to attack soft Western targets – they are very hard to stop and require a committed and well-structured information sharing arrangement on the part of security agencies across the world to stop them. I am optimistic that 2016 will see the ISIS threat severely reduced, although the political Islamist threat will continue.


James M. DorseySenior Fellow, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University

The lesson is that purely military or law enforcement solutions provide a short-term solution at best and ultimately aggravate the problem. Military and law enforcement solutions will only work effectively if they are part of a far broader social, economic and political approach that tackles root causes taking into account that IS appeals successfully to multiple target audiences. Those policies have to tackle the appeal of each of those audiences individually rather than define vague, imprecise, if not inaccurate categories as Islam, radicalization or social media as the root cause instead of a symptom or expression of the problem.