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  • Author: Seth G. Jones
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The Issue Some U.S. policymakers have argued that the United States should withdraw its military forces from Syria. But the United States has several interests in Syria: Balancing against Iran, including deterring Iranian forces and militias from pushing close to the Israeli border, disrupting Iranian lines of communication through Syria, preventing substantial military escalation between Israel and Iran, and weakening Shia proxy forces. Balancing against Russia, including deterring further Russian expansion in the Middle East from Syrian territory and raising the costs—including political costs—of Russian operations in Syria. Preventing a terrorist resurgence, including targeting Salafi-jihadist groups like the Islamic State and al Qaeda that threaten the United States and its allies. Our Recommendations: Based on U.S. interests in Syria, Washington should establish a containment strategy that includes the following components: Retain a small military and intelligence footprint that includes working with—and providing limited training, funding, and equipment to—groups in eastern, northern, and southern Syria, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Coordinate with regional allies such as Jordan and Israel to balance against Iran and Russia and to prevent the resurgence of Salafi-jihadists. Pressure outside states to end support to Salafi-jihadists, including Turkey and several Gulf states. As the war in Syria moves into its seventh year, U.S. policymakers have struggled to agree on a clear Syria strategy. Some U.S. policymakers have argued that the United States needs to withdraw its military forces from Syria. “I want to get out,” President Trump said of the United States’ military engagement in Syria. “I want to bring our troops back home.”1 Others have urged caution, warning that a precipitous withdrawal could contribute to a resurgence of terrorism or allow U.S. competitors like Iran and Russia—along with their proxies—to fill the vacuum.2 In addition, some administration officials have argued that the Islamic State has been decimated in Syria and Iraq. The National Security Strategy notes that “we crushed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.”3 But between 5,000 and 12,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Syria and continue to conduct guerrilla attacks, along with between 40,000 and 70,000 Salafi-jihadist fighters in Syria overall.4
  • Topic: Civil War, Terrorism, Military Strategy, Military Intervention
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Syria
  • Author: Seth G. Jones
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The Issue: Hezbollah and Iran have accumulated a substantial amount of weapons and fighters in Syria that pose a threat to the United States and its allies in the region. In response, Israel has conducted a growing number of strikes against Iranian, Hezbollah and other targets in Syria. An escalating war has the potential to cause significant economic damage, lead to high numbers of civilian casualties and internally displaced persons, and involve more countries in the region than did the 2006 Lebanon War. The stakes are high, making it critical for Washington to help prevent such an escalation.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Violent Extremism, Syrian War, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Syria
  • Author: Anthony H. Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 08-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The United States has now been at war in Afghanistan for some seventeen years and been fighting another major war in Iraq for fifteen years. It has been active in Somalia far longer and has spread its operations to deal with terrorist or extremist threats in a wide range of conflicts in North and Sub-Saharan in Africa, South Asia, and South East Asia. In case after case, the U.S. has moved far beyond counterterrorism to counterinsurgency, and from the temporary deployment of small anti-terrorism forces to a near "permanent" military presence. The line between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency has become so blurred that there is no significant difference. The national academic consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) has just issued new trend data on terrorism that are updated through the end of 2017. When they are combined with other major sources of data on terrorism, they provide the ability to trace the history of U.S. "wars" against terrorism in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. They show the results of America's "long wars" of attrition where it is increasingly unclear that the United States has a strategy to terminate them, or has the capability to end them in ways that create a stable and peaceful state that can survive if the United State should leave. The resulting graphics and maps are provided in the full text of the report on which this summary is based, and which is available on the CSIS website here. This summary both summarizes how the trends in such data reveal the patterns in terrorism and impact on U.S. strategy. The key conclusions, and an index to these graphics, are provided in this summary.
  • Topic: Imperialism, National Security, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, War on Terror
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Africa, United States, South Asia, Asia, North Africa, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Author: Seth G. Jones
  • Publication Date: 08-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The August 14 attack in London is the latest reminder that terrorism persists in the West more than a decade and a half after September 11, 2001. The United States continues to face a threat from right-wing, left-wing, and Islamic extremists, despite comments from some U.S. policymakers that terrorist groups have been defeated. Perhaps the most significant lesson from the London attack, however, is the resilience of the British public. They kept calm and carried on. The attacker was Salih Khater, a UK citizen from Birmingham who was in his late twenties. He drove a silver Ford Fiesta into a crowd of pedestrians and cyclists in London and then crashed it into a security barrier outside the Houses of Parliament. Eyewitness accounts were chilling. “I heard lots of screams and turned round,” remarked Barry Williams. “The car went on to the wrong side of the road to where cyclists were waiting at lights and ploughed into them.”1 The tactic—a vehicle used as a weapon—is all too familiar. Terrorists in the West have increasingly resorted to simple tactics, such as vehicles and knives, to kill civilians. Compared to previous incidents in the United Kingdom, Salih Khater’s August 14 attack was second-rate. He had been meandering around London for several hours, which suggests that the incident was not carefully planned. His tiny Ford Fiesta was no match for the barriers around the Houses of Parliament that are designed to stop attacks from 18-wheelers. And Khater failed to kill anyone, though he did injure several people. UK security agencies have conditioned their public to be prepared for plots and attacks. The United Kingdom’s recently-published counterterrorism strategy, CONTEST, argues that the country faces a significant, multidimensional threat from terrorists. According to data from the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, there were more failed, foiled, and completed attacks in the United Kingdom than anywhere else in the European Union in 2017.2 There were also more terrorist-related arrests in the UK in 2017 than in any previous year since 2001.3 Between December 2013 and May 2018, British intelligence and law enforcement agencies thwarted 25 plots from extreme Islamic groups.4 Most of these plots were inspired by the Islamic State and its ideology, rather than directed by Islamic State operatives.5 On March 22, 2017, for example, British-born Khalid Masood drove a sports utility vehicle into pedestrians crossing Westminster Bridge in London, killing three people. Masood then took two carving knives out of his vehicle and stabbed police officer Keith Palmer, killing him outside of Parliament. On May 22, 2017, Salman Abedi detonated an improvised explosive device in the foyer of Manchester Arena, killing 22 people; 10 of them were under 20 years old. On June 3, 2017, three men—Khuram Butt, Rachid Redouane, and Youssef Zaghba—drove a van into London Bridge, killing two people. They then jumped out of the van and killed six more people using large knives. On September 15, 2017, an 18-year old Iraqi asylum seeker named Ahmed Hassan detonated a bomb using triacetone triperoxide (TATP) on a District line train at Parsons Green Underground station in London. Thirty people were treated for burn and other injuries.6 Right-wing terrorism has also been on the rise in the United Kingdom. On June 19, 2017, Darren Osborne, a 47-year old British man, drove a van into Muslim worshippers near Finsbury Park Mosque, London, killing one person.7 On June 23, 2017, Marek Zakrocki, a known supporter of the far-right party Britain First, drove a vehicle into an Indian restaurant in London, injuring several people. He was armed with a kitchen knife and a baton-torch, and he told police: “I’m going to kill a Muslim. I’m doing this for Britain. This is the way I am going to help the country. You people can’t do anything. I am going to do it my way because that is what I think is right.”8 While there have been relatively few terrorist attacks in the United States recently, the United Kingdom—and Europe more broadly—have faced a more severe threat. The number of jihadist-related terrorist attacks in the European Union peaked in 2017 with 33 failed, foiled, and completed attacks. This number was up from 13 in 2016, 17 in 2015, and 2 in 2014. The geographic distribution of attacks also expanded. European Union countries experiencing jihadist-related terrorism now includes such countries as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland.
  • Topic: National Security, Terrorism, Violent Extremism, Counter-terrorism, Europe Union
  • Political Geography: United States, United Kingdom, Europe, England
  • Author: James M Dorsey
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS)
  • Abstract: Pakistani militants of various stripes collectively won just under ten per cent of the vote in the July 2018 parliamentary elections. Some represented long-standing legal Islamist parties, others newly established groups or fronts for organisations that have been banned as terrorists by Pakistan and/or the United Nations and the United States. The militants failed to secure a single seat in the national assembly but have maintained, if not increased, their ability to shape national debate and mainstream politics and societal attitudes. Their ability to field candidates in almost all constituencies, and, in many cases, their performance as debutants enhanced their legitimacy. The militants’ performance has fueled debate about the Pakistani military’s effort to expand its long- standing support for militants that serve its regional and domestic goals to nudge them into mainstream politics. It also raises the question of who benefits most, mainstream politics or the militants. Political parties help mainstream militants, but militants with deep societal roots and significant following are frequently key to a mainstream candidate’s electoral success. Perceptions that the militants may stand to gain the most are enhanced by the fact that decades of successive military and civilian governments, abetted and aided by Saudi Arabia, have deeply embedded ultra-conservative, intolerant, anti-pluralist, and supremacist strands of Sunni Islam in significant segments of Pakistani society. Former international cricket player Imran Khan’s electoral victory may constitute a break with the country’s corrupt dynastic policies that ensured that civilian power alternated between two clans, the Bhuttos and the Sharifs. However, his alignment with ultra-conservatism’s social and religious views, as well as with militant groups, offers little hope for Pakistan becoming a more tolerant, pluralistic society, and moving away from a social environment that breeds extremism and militancy. On the contrary, policies enacted by Khan and his ministers since taking office suggest that ultra- conservatism and intolerance are the name of the game. If anything, Khan’s political history, his 2018 election campaign, and his actions since coming to office reflect the degree to which aspects of militancy, intolerance, anti-pluralism, and supremacist ultra- conservative Sunni Muslim Islam have, over decades, been woven into the fabric of segments of society and elements of the state. The roots of Pakistan’s extremism problem date to the immediate wake of the 1947 partition of British India when using militants as proxies was a way to compensate for Pakistan’s economic and military weakness. They were entrenched by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s and General Zia ul-Haq’s Islamization of Pakistani society in the 1980s. The rise of Islamist militants in the US-Saudi supported war against Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan and opportunistic policies by politicians and rulers since then have shaped contemporary Pakistan.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Terrorism, United Nations, Violent Extremism, Secularism, Domestic Policy
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, United States, Middle East
  • Author: Larry Brandt, Jason Reinhardt, Siegfried S. Hecker
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International Security and Cooperation
  • Abstract: The Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation engaged several Chinese nuclear organizations in cooperative research that focused on responses to radiological and nuclear terrorism. The objective was to identify joint research initiatives to reduce the global dangers of such threats and to pursue initial technical collaborations in several high priority areas. Initiatives were identified in three primary research areas: 1) detection and interdiction of smuggled nuclear materials; 2) nuclear forensics; and 3) radiological (“dirty bomb”) threats and countermeasures. Initial work emphasized the application of systems and risk analysis tools, which proved effective in structuring the collaborations. The extensive engagements between national security nuclear experts in China and the U.S. during the research strengthened professional relationships between these important communities.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Nuclear Weapons, Terrorism, Military Strategy, War on Terror
  • Political Geography: United States, China, Asia
  • Author: Nancy Gallagher, Clay Ramsay, Ebrahim Mohseni
  • Publication Date: 02-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM)
  • Abstract: Summary of Findings 1. Views of the Rouhani Administration President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif enjoy high levels of popular support in Iran. Nearly 8 in 10 Iranians say they have a favorable opinion of Rouhani and Zarif. Yet the intensity of their popularity has substantially eroded since August 2015. With Iran’s parliamentary elections only about a month away, 6 in 10 Iranians continue to want Rouhani supporters to win, while a growing minority favors his critics. Though Rouhani receives high marks for improving Iran’s security and deepening Iran’s relations with European countries, views of the economy are mixed. An increasing majority of Iranians think that Rouhani has not been successful in reducing unemployment. Iranians are also substantially less optimistic about Iran’s economy, with less than half now thinking that the economy is getting better. 2. Iran’s February 2016 Parliamentary Elections Four in ten Iranians voice confidence that the upcoming Majlis (Iran’s Parliament) elections will be very fair, and another four in ten assume it will be somewhat free and fair. Two thirds are highly confident they will vote in the upcoming elections for the Majlis and the Assembly of Experts. The most important issues Iranians want the new Majlis to tackle are unemployment and Iran’s low performing economy. 3. Civil Liberties in Iran Two in three Iranians believe that it is important for President Rouhani to seek to increase civil liberties in Iran. However, only a small minority complains that Iranians have too little freedom. While only about a third thinks that civil liberties in Iran have increased during Rouhani’s presidency, a plurality expects that civil liberties will increase at least somewhat over the next two years. 4. Approval for Nuclear Deal Seven in ten Iranians approve of the nuclear deal, though enthusiasm has waned somewhat. The deal garners support from majorities of those who favor Rouhani’s critics in the Majlis election, as well as those who favor his supporters. Two thirds still think the Iranian leadership negotiated a good deal for Iran, though the number of those disagreeing has risen to one in five. The number who believes it was a win for Iran has also declined, while the number who believes it was a victory for both sides has risen and is now a majority. 5. Perceptions of the Nuclear Deal Substantial numbers of Iranians now have a more accurate picture of the deal than they did in August 2015. About half (up from a third) now realizes that Iran has accepted limits on its nuclear research. Almost half (up from a quarter) now knows that many US sanctions are not covered by the agreement and will continue. However, growing majorities continue to believe incorrectly that Iranian military sites cannot be inspected under any conditions. A majority also believes that the US has agreed to not impose new sanctions to replace the ones that were removed as part of the nuclear deal. 6. Expectations of Economic Benefits Three in five Iranians expect that the nuclear deal will eventually result in improvements in their own economic well-being. This sentiment is shared by a majority of those who support Rouhani’s critics in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Majorities expect to see, within a year, better access to medical products from abroad, more foreign investment, and significant improvements in unemployment and the overall economy, though these majorities have declined from August 2015. 7. The Nuclear Deal’s Effect on Iran’s Foreign Relations A large majority of Iranians thinks that Iran’s relations with European countries have already improved as a result of the nuclear deal, but only one in three thinks Iran’s relations with the United States have improved. 8. Views of US Cooperation in the Nuclear Deal Six in ten Iranians are not confident that the US will live up to its obligations under the nuclear agreement and do not think the US will accept other countries cooperating with Iran’s civilian nuclear sector, as provided for under the deal. Half assume the US will use pressure and sanctions to extract more concessions from Iran—up from only a quarter in August 2015. 9. Views of the Nuclear Program Just as in past years, four in five Iranians see the development of an Iranian nuclear program as very important, and three in four see this program as being for purely peaceful purposes. Four in five continue to favor the idea of a Middle East nuclear-free zone that would require all countries in the Middle East, including Israel, not to have nuclear weapons. 10. Iran’s Involvement in Syria and Fighting ISIS Large majorities of Iranians approve of Iran being involved in Syria and strongly support countering ISIS, preserving Iran’s influence in the region, and countering Saudi, American, and Israeli influence. Overwhelming majorities approve of Iran fighting ISIS directly. Large majorities also approve of Iran supporting Shiite and Kurdish groups fighting ISIS and providing support to Iranian allies in the region. Strengthening the Assad government gets more modest support and is seen as a secondary goal for Iran. Two in three Iranians approve of sending Iranian military personnel to help Assad fight against armed Syrian rebels, including ISIS. 11. Views of US Involvement in Syria A large majority of Iranians disapproves of US involvement in Syria. US involvement in Syria is widely perceived as being primarily motivated by a desire to topple the Assad government, to increase US influence and power in the region, to protect Israeli and Saudi interests, and to decrease Iran’s influence and power in the region. Views are divided about whether the United States is seeking to protect Syrian civilians, to end the conflict, to prevent the conflict from spreading, or to fight ISIS. A modest majority says US efforts against ISIS are not at all sincere. A bare majority supports direct cooperation with the United States to counter ISIS in Iraq. 12. Views of Other Nations Involved in Syria Large majorities of Iranians approve of the involvement in Syria of Russia and Hezbollah, and seven in ten express confidence that Russia’s efforts against ISIS are sincerely motivated. However, large majorities disapprove of the involvement in Syria of Turkey, France, and, especially, Saudi Arabia. Large majorities say that the Saudis’ efforts against ISIS are insincere; views of the sincerity of the efforts by Turkey and France are less negative. A large majority has a negative view of Saudi efforts to create a coalition against terrorism, primarily because Saudi Arabia is seen as a supporter of ISIS. 13. International Collaboration on Syria and ISIS Despite their suspicions of other countries operating in the region, eight in ten Iranians approve of Iran participating in the international talks on the conflict in Syria. Of those who know about the Vienna agreement, seven in ten approve of it. 14. Views of Other Countries Iranians view their country’s allies, notably Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Hezbollah, favorably, and view Saudi Arabia and Turkey increasingly unfavorably. Views of Russia and China are generally favorable and have improved considerably over time. Western countries, with the exception of Germany, are viewed unfavorably, with Britain and the US viewed negatively by large majorities in Iran. In contrast, a majority has a favorable opinion of the American people.
  • Topic: International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, Terrorism, Geopolitics, ISIS, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: Britain, Russia, United States, China, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Human Rights First
  • Abstract: The United States is not taking Saudi Arabia’s outsized responsibility for human rights abuses within or beyond the kingdom’s borders seriously enough. President Barack Obama did not raise the issue in his meeting last year with the late King Abdullah. On his way to meet the new Saudi monarch, King Salman, in January 2015 the President remarked, “Sometimes we have to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns that we have in terms of countering terrorism or dealing with regional stability." He did not mention that Saudi Arabia’s policies (denying rights and freedoms at home while leading a vigorous, region-wide effort to push back against popular calls for better governance) have themselves contributed to regional instability and undermined counterterrorism efforts. Such policies harm U.S. interests and those of the people of Saudi Arabia and the region as a whole.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Regional Cooperation, Terrorism, Repression
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Saudi Arabia
  • Publication Date: 09-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Human Rights First
  • Abstract: On the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting, the United States is sponsoring briefings and meetings with allies to develop strategies to counter the spread of violent extremism. These activities will build on the February 2015 White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism (CVE). The CVE initiative is designed to advance a more preventive and proactive approach to countering violent extremism. It takes into account the lesson of the past decade that addressing the threat of violent extremism requires a truly comprehensive strategy that goes beyond military intelligence and law-enforcement tools. The United States government has played a leading role in moving forward a global conversation on countering violent extremism since convening the White House Summit. If this process is to yield results, the United States will have to continue to provide leadership in close coordination with the efforts of the United Nations and other multilateral organizations, notably the U.N. Secretary General’s Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism to be presented to the U.N. General Assembly later this year. While sustained U.S. engagement with this multilateral process will be essential, just as important will be a clear demonstration from the United States that it is putting the principles of its CVE approach into practice. The United States must show its commitment to the principles it has been championing through its more comprehensive, preventive CVE strategy in each of its bilateral relationships, particularly those with states facing challenges from the threat of terrorism, which also engage in systematic violations of human rights. It is no accident that these two conditions often coincide. This blueprint brings together examples of existing bilateral relationships with some U.S. allies that fit this category. The material collected here illustrates the vital importance for the United States to encourage its allies to implement security policies rooted in the reality that good governance, the rule of law, and respect for human rights are essential tools in countering violent extremism. This blueprint compiles and summarizes previous Human Rights First blueprints. For more information on a specific topic or country, please refer to the following documents: How to Conduct Effective Counterterrorism that Reinforces Human Rights (December 2014); How to Bring Stability to Bahrain (December 2014); How to Prevent Egypt Slipping into a Deepening Crisis (December 2014); How to Build a More Sustainable and Mutually Beneficial Relationship with Saudi Arabia (March 2015); How to Counter Terrorism by Supporting Civil Society in the United Arab Emirates (May 2015); How the United States Can Help Counter Violent Extremism and Support Civil Society in Kenya (July 2015).
  • Topic: Human Rights, Terrorism, United Nations, Violent Extremism, Counter-terrorism
  • Political Geography: United States, Global Focus
  • Author: Marianna M. Yamamoto
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM)
  • Abstract: This information paper presents a simplified explanation of terrorism. The paper uses three methods to convey a basic understanding of terrorism. The paper first explains “victim-target differentiation,” the primary method of operation used in terrorist attacks. Victim-target differentiation (the strategy of attacking people or property in order to get other people to take some kind of action) is a concept that is not always clearly understood, and is essential to the comprehension of terrorism. The use of victim-target differentiation makes terrorism more complex than most forms of political violence, and more difficult to counter. Second, the paper explains terrorism by following and analyzing the steps of the terrorist attack. Analyzing each step shows how terrorism operates, and establishes the basis for counterterrorism efforts. The paper uses the Turner-Yamamoto Terrorism Model to illustrate the steps of the terrorist attack and show how terrorism is intended to operate. The model can also serve as a guide to comprehending terrorism and how to combat it. The model can be used to identify ways to prevent terrorist attacks, respond effectively if they occur, and reduce the use of terrorism. The paper then uses the analysis of the terrorist attack as a way to evaluate specific incidents to determine whether or not they are acts of terrorism. Using specific examples can help put the characteristics of terrorism into perspective, and can help individuals be better prepared to combat terrorism more effectively. This info paper was developed from the CISSM monograph, Terrorism Against Democracy, 2015. The monograph is based in part on Admiral Stansfield Turner’s course, “Terrorism & Democracy,” which he taught from 2002–2006 in response to the 9/11 attacks on September 11, 2001.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Terrorism, Violent Extremism, War on Terror
  • Political Geography: United States