RAND analyst says new attacks in Europe likely

Evelyn Kaldoja
, Washington
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Photo: Evelyn Kaldoja

We are in times of adaptation where European nations, having underspent on security for the past 25 years must begin to take the new risks seriously,  RAND analyst Christopher Chivvis tells Postimees in interview. During that time, new terrorist attacks are extremely probable. 

- Were you surprised to hear of the Brussels attacks?

Many of us who monitor terrorism and European security were expecting 2016 to feature some more terrorist acts, especially after the November case in Paris, and ISIS attacks globally. Naturally, an act of terror is always a surprise, but many of us expected something like that and are currently feeling that fresh attacks in Europe are likely.

- Are there certain features of such states most likely to come under terrorist attack?

The world has a notable problem with Salafi jihadists, ISIS being the latest symptom of the problem.  

Obviously, capability of European security services to cope with this problem is insufficient: they do not have enough resources not cooperation, at some cases they lack the needed legal framework. The changes Europe must go thru will take some time. During that, we will see such attacks continue, as the danger will not go anywhere by itself.  

The danger will not go away, firstly because the tactics of how to cope with Middle-East and Northern Africa are not quite clear. And even if they were, it feels like there just isn’t the political will in capitals of Europe and the USA to spend substantial resources on it.

We have seen some fight against ISIS in Iraq and less so in Syria. Meanwhile, the organisation has spread into Libya, across Africa, South Asia and elsewhere. Thus, it’s a long road to its going away. During that time, European governments need to work to create measures to protect their citizens from these attacks.

- Terrorists aside, who would you blame for the attacks in Paris and Brussels?

I do not think it would be much use to blame anybody. At the moment, it is adaptation time. During these past 25 years, European nations have been underspending on security. Lots of spending decisions were taken in 1990ies when the external danger was much smaller, as well as the internal hazards.  

Regrettably, we are in a situation of remarkable danger from Russian in the east and ISIS in the south. On top of that, there are notable domestic dangers. The reality is that European nations have no other option than to spend more on security.

- The dangers were present quite a while ago: the 9/11 attacks in USA, Al-Qaeda operating before ISIS came around. Don’t you think that the Europeans are a bit late?

That’s true.

There were some changes made after the bomb attacks in London and Madrid, ten years ago. The Al-Qaeda threat was large the first four-five years after 9/11. But after several years it waned, following operations by the US and its allies against Al-Qaeda which culminated, in a way, with Osama bin Laden eliminated in 2011. To a degree, of course, the Al-Qaeda threat still exists, ISIS having grown out of their branch in Iraq.

It seems to me that the larger part of the world was honestly surprised by the rapid return of the islamists with ISIS. It was something of a surprise to many US analysts, and indisputably a vats surprise in Europe.

- Are the roots of this phenomenon in Europe or Syria? The disgruntled Moroccans in Belgium and the current Syrian situation feels like a strange mix.

Without some sort of Middle-Eastern Jihadist ideology, there would be no such attacks in Europe. Meanwhile there are the conditions in certain European nations which obviously make people receptive to such ideology.  

All told, what is to blame is the ideology which justifies and glorifies violence against helpless people. But socio-economic conditions do play a role – the sidelining of minorities in some nations, networks which develop in prisons for instance.

- Some say the moderate Muslims should do more than they are currently doing.

I wouldn’t necessarily judge whether they do or don’t do enough. But I would say it is absolutely decisive that they speak out agonist such violent interpretation of Islam. The reason is obvious: for the Muslims, they are voices for moderation much more reliable than non-Muslims.

- What’s it like in the US right now, as compared to Europe?

Basically, it our common threat. Europe is obviously under greater threat though just by being closer to the hot spots. Also, in Europe, the border issues are way worse.

- To what degree would you agree with the claim that the refugee crisis as such has increased the threat of Islam?

There are signs of ISIS having been able to make use of the refugee crisis. Clearly, the initial attackers have been to Syria and possibly returned to Europe along with refugees via Greece.  

But the understanding that refugees include a large number of Jihadists is clearly exaggerated. The greater problem is that as these refugees come and are relocated in Europe, what life will they be living, what will be their options, what will be their experience of Europe as such.

They are easy prey for ISIS militants – both over Internet as well as via personal contacts. If in Europe they are not offered hopes of a better life, for which they risked their lives, a remarkable chance exists for them to turn against host states.

-With terrorist organisations featuring their own life cycles, could ISIS being to wane at some point?  

The grouping is an apocalyptic one with a universalist vision to spread, to justify itself. Perhaps, they have an innate inclination to be overblown. To a degree, yes, waning is in their DNA. But I would not be overly optimistic regarding that as a solution.

- But what then do we do?

Always, there’s the debate over investing in defence domestically or into operations abroad. The latter slits into two aspects: one is military and the other is getting to the roots. None of the three will do it alone.  


Christopher Chivvis

  • International security and defence policy vice director at Washington-based think tank RAND Corporation
  • Professor of international relations at John Hopkins University
  • Commentaries published in Current History, International Affairs, Journal of Contemporary History, Foreign Policy, National Interest, Survival, Washington Times, Christian Science Monitor, CNN.com.