12 November 2016

The Uncertain Trends and Metrics of Terrorism in 2016

November 7, 2016 

There are no simple or reliable ways to estimate the trends in terrorism, and the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) no longer provides any declassified estimate of global trends. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) does, however, provide a useful database for tracking media reporting. In addition to the START database, graphical analyses by key media sources provide additional information that is current, and helps illustrate the sharp contrasts in given sources and estimates. Several NGOs have also made useful estimates that provide additional perspective. 

The Burke Chair at CSIS has prepared a report that compares the wide range of such data and trends. It does focus on ISIS and similar extremist groups, but also shows global trends for all forms of terrorism and key trends by region. A case study for the Middle East and North Africa highlights the kind of more detailed trends data available on given regions, countries, perpetrators, and types of terrorism. 

This report is entitled The Uncertain Trends and Metrics of Terrorism in 2016, and is available on the CSIS website at https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/161107_Terrorism_Metrics_Survey.pdf

It is intended to highlight the range of key trends, differences, and uncertainties in reporting, rather than draw a clear set of policy conclusions. At the same time, it does raise the following key issues: 

· The level and types of terrorism vary sharply by region and by country within given regions. The data raise serious questions about the value of efforts to generalize on a regional, cultural or religious basis, or even on the behavior of major terrorist groups that have broad geographic range. 

· The lack of any form of official data that can provide a declassified picture of trends and developments—and cancelled NCTC effort in this area—has left a critical void in the quality and reliability of the data that cannot be filled by even the best NGO efforts. 

· At the same time, the mass of data make it all too clear that terrorism is sometimes being contained, but is not being defeated. 

· Important as ISIS (ISIL, Daesh) is as a threat, it is only one of many, and the underlying threat of terrorism and violent extremism may not be diminished on a broad regional or global basis, even if ISIS is defeated to the point where it no longer has secure enclaves in Iraq, Syria, or Libya. 

· Focusing only on terrorism and extremism by non-state actors ignores state terrorism, repression, and torture – as well as all of the failures in governance, development, and corruption that breed terrorism and extremism. They also ignore key sectarian, ethnic, tribal, and other sources of internal violence. There is no one set of cause of terrorism, but it is scarcely coincidental that terrorism is often most severe in deeply divided, corrupt and poorly governed states.

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