Chris Mackmurdo and I previously argued that there needs to be a ‘full-spectrum’ approach to combatting ISIL and similar groups. Since then, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon have both used this language, particularly since the Sousse attack. However, it is unclear exactly what they meant by a ‘full-spectrum’ response, and there has been little elaboration from Whitehall on how this might mark a departure from business as usual.
Here, for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Chris and I suggest that a meaningful full-spectrum counter-terrorism strategy would be composed of four pillars.
‘On 9 July the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) took the extraordinary step of urging all British nationals, including roughly 3,000 tourists, to leave Tunisia. This tightened travel advice followed the Sousse attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) that left 38 people dead, including 30 British holidaymakers, and reflects concerns over the adequacy of current security measures in the popular holiday destination.
The Tunisian ambassador to the UK, Nabil Ammar, criticised the FCO’s decision, and called instead for a response to terrorism that promotes economic development – which, in Tunisia’s case, is heavily linked to the tourism sector – rather than merely hardening security measures. He argued that a security response may contain the problem but it cannot solve it.
The FCO had very compelling reasons for warning against all but essential travel to Tunisia, including the reality that the Sousse attacker’s accomplices might still be at large, and the threat assessment that a further terrorist attack is highly likely. But there was also value in the Tunisian ambassador’s suggestion that, on their own, simple security measures are not sufficient to tackle a complex problem such as the one presented by ISIS.
Instead, there needs to be a ‘full-spectrum’ approach to combatting ISIS and similar groups. British Prime Minister David Cameron and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon have both used this language since the Sousse attack. However, it is unclear exactly what they meant by a ‘full-spectrum’ response, and there has been little elaboration from Whitehall on how this might mark a departure from business as usual.
A meaningful full-spectrum counter-terrorism strategy might be composed of four pillars.
The first pillar is the traditional ‘detect and disrupt’ activity that seeks to mitigate and neutralise threats to the UK, led by the police and the security and intelligence services.
The second pillar of the strategy is capacity building through international engagement. The UK needs to work with other countries such as Tunisia to identify and tackle terrorist networks ‘upstream’. However, beyond the question of British values, it is critical to the UK’s security strategy that the development of intelligence and counter-terrorist capabilities overseas does not infringe human rights. While jihadists have been able to swiftly capitalise on the chaos of ‘weak’ states, ‘strong’ states which adopt a heavy-handed and indiscriminate counter-terrorism approach offer an important longer-term entry point for ISIS and similar groups…’