The contours of America’s counterterrorism strategy against al Qaeda and the Islamic State have remained remarkably consistent over the past two decades, broadly focused on degrading al Qaeda’s and the Islamic State’s external attack capabilities and global networks, disrupting their operations through military operations or enhanced law enforcement and border security, and denying them sanctuaries.
Increasingly, drone strikes address threats from terrorism by supplementing local partnerships and other counterterrorism activities because their long-range strike precision complements and enables a low-footprint, partner-based approach. The perceived success of this model in reducing the transnational terrorism threat has since resulted in further cutbacks to resources and the adoption of an “over-the-horizon” posture.
Katherine Zimmerman argues that while this strategy appears to be checking the right boxes in terms of effectiveness and sustainability, there is an inherent risk in managing, and not solving, the Salafi-Jihadi terrorism threat.
Multiple challenges to the partner-based approach are discussed in Zimmerman’s article, ending with suggestions to adopt new strategies such as investments in foreign aid programs, while also reducing drones to a supporting, rather than lead, role in this fight.
Whether counterterrorism drone strikes are effective is one of the major questions currently facing US policymakers. The objectives offered as justifications for these strikes are arguably vague and over-broad and therefore run the risk of taking on an endless character.
David Sterman argues that “endlessness” is a hazard that has not been appropriately addressed by past analyses of effectiveness and the potential for eventual US achievement of its goals. The failure to integrate this frame of reference could, Sterman contends, suppress the strategic thought needed to bring these endless war conflicts to a close while also securing American interests abroad.
More and more often, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) has protected cyberattack-conducting state actors and their cybersecurity contractors from legal liability and suits brought by victims seeking redress in US courts.
Adam Silow argues that it is time for foreign sovereign immunity to receive an update for the digital era. State-sponsored cyberattacks and their use of cybersecurity contractors are increasing, particularly affecting human rights activists and large companies with key data and trade secrets. The US government’s responses, namely, diplomacy, sanctions, or issuing “speaking indictments” by prosecutors have been inadequate, and statutory language of the FSIA does not clearly allow liability for cyberattacks, even under the new terrorism amendments.
Some experts propose merely amending the language to include liability for all cyberattacks, which Silow argues may inadvertently allow liability for legitimate state action. Instead, Silow concludes that more targeted legislation should protect specific victims of cyberattacks, namely human rights activists and targets of trade secrets, and allow those victims to legally overcome foreign sovereign immunity in US courts.