Dilemmas of counter-terror, stabilisation and statebuilding

A discussion paper

Security threats defined as stemming from ‘terrorism’ or ‘rogue regimes’ have significant public profile, and have led to responses from different branches of government. In tackling these threats - through counter-terror, stabilisation and statebuilding - a 'mainstream' approach has evolved, which involves defining conflicts in a way that designates some actors as ‘spoiler(s)’ (i.e. ‘terrorists’, ‘radicalised groups’, etc.) and proceeds to address such conflicts by opposing ‘spoilers’ in partnership with whatever allies can be found.

The paper begins from the assumption that counter-terrorism, stabilisation and statebuilding approaches – while distinct from each other, and different in different contexts – are linked in important ways, and have followed a discernible pattern in recent decades as part of what we describe here as the ‘mainstream’ approach. This typically involves use of military force, generally combined with – or followed by – some kind of ‘stabilisation’ or ‘statebuilding’ effort. This can involve negotiating a pragmatic ‘deal’ with influential actors (with a willingness to overlook the limitations of allies), which reinforces those actors included in the deal while continuing to use force against 'spoilers'. However, as the recent past illustrates, this approach has not proven to have had sustainable success; here we examine the drawbacks of this position and propose alternatives to the mainstream.

In this paper, David Keen and Larry Attree discuss how the international community has tried to counter terror, achieve stability, build states and foster peace around the world. It examines whether these objectives and approaches are being pursued effectively and coherently and whether there are contradictions between them. It is based on a review of relevant literature, is not exhaustive in scope, and is intended to stimulate debate among the policy actors and practitioners engaged in these approaches.

Read the discussion paper Dilemmas of counter-terror, stabilisation and statebuilding.

Read the briefing Envisaging more constructive alternatives to the counter-terror paradigm.

Click here to find out more about our work on constructive alternatives to counter-terror and stabilisation.

“It is time to apply the lessons of past experience much more rigorously to the dilemmas of the next generation of conflicts.”

David Keen, Larry Attree