It is commonly believed that military force is an effective way of countering terrorism and violent extremism.
But the use of military force often fails to achieve its objectives and can be counterproductive. According to former General Rupert Smith, one of the UK’s most distinguished military leaders, the United States and other powers have engaged in wars of intervention in recent decades that “have in one way or another spectacularly failed to achieve the results intended.”[i]
Consider some of the most recent examples:
- Iraq, an unnecessary war of choice that shattered the state and produced a society riven by sectarianism, now under siege by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, with the U.S. re-engaged militarily and the death toll among civilians rising
- Afghanistan, America’s longest war, in support of one of the world’s most corrupt regimes, against a revived “industrial strength” Taliban insurgency, with violence and civilian and military casualties increasing
- Pakistan, site of more than 400 U.S. drone strikes, where the Tehreek-e-Taliban and other insurgent groups in the northwest region have remained strong, with violence and instability continuing
- Libya, where U.S. and NATO forces intervened to protect civilians but ended up supporting armed regime change, the government now in ruins and the country in chaos as rival militias fight for power and oil wealth
- Yemen, site of dozens of U.S drone strikes, which President Obama cited as an example of “successfully pursued” objectives, where the government has collapsed, and insurgent forces have taken over the capital
It is probably safe to say that in the countries listed above, the number of armed militants and violent extremists is greater now than before the U.S. intervened.
The lesson for counterterrorism strategy should be obvious. Stop relying on ineffective military means that make matters worse.
[i] Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (London: Penguin Books, 2006), 4.