U.S. Intelligence Report Says Islamist Terrorism ‘Could End by 2030’

Patrick Goodenough | December 11, 2012 | 4:25am EST
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Hamas gunmen and a Palestinian boy armed with a toy gun photographed at a funeral of Hamas militants killed in an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip in November 2012. A new report by the U.S. intelligence community projects that Islamist terrorism “could end by 2030.” (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The wave of Islamist terrorism is receding and “could end by 2030,” according to a new long-term assessment by the U.S. intelligence community.

In support of that projection, the study released on Monday said the view of America as the “great enemy” was becoming less appealing, resulting in part from the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. (The full report can be downloaded here.)

It also cited political upheavals in the Arab world, and said that a new generation of young Muslims may be less interested in the narrative of a “conflict between fundamental values.”

“Several circumstances are ending the current Islamist phase of terrorism, which suggest that as with other terrorist waves – the Anarchists in the 1880s and 90s, the postwar anti-colonial terrorist movements, the New Left in 1970s – the recent religious wave is receding and could end by 2030,” said the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 report.

“The Arab uprisings have demonstrated the moral and strategic legitimacy of nonviolent struggle,” it argued. “Protesters acted in the name of democratic values, not in the name of religion.”

“The impending withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and decreases in U.S. forces in Afghanistan help to reduce the extent to which terrorists can draw on the United States as a lightning rod for anger,” it said. “Soon, U.S. support for Israel could be the last remaining major focus of Muslim anger.”

Since 1996 the NIC, which reports to the director of national intelligence, has prepared a trends analysis roughly every four years for the incoming president. This time it discussed the draft with experts in almost 20 countries, and the views of those “interlocutors” are reflected in the final 166-page document.

Despite the upbeat assessment on the likelihood of an end to Islamist terrorism, the report conceded that terror would probably not die out altogether.

Some al-Qaeda affiliates and groups like Hezbollah may continue to pose threats, and states like Iran and Pakistan could continue to use terror groups as proxies, it said.

“Taking a global perspective, future terrorists could come from many different religions, including Christianity and Hinduism. Right-wing and left-wing ideological groups – some of the oldest users of terrorist tactics – also will pose threats.”

In the years to come, the study said, terrorists may focus less on trying to inflict mass casualties and more on causing widespread economic chaos by targeting critical cyber systems.

A headline projection in Global Trends 2030 is an end to the post-Cold War “unipolar” order, with power shifting away from a single “hegemonic power” towards “networks and coalitions in a multipolar world.”

“By 2030, no country – whether the U.S., China, or any other large country – will be a hegemonic power,” it said, but predicted the U.S. would probably remain “first among equals.”

Optimism, pessimism in the Middle East, South Asia

Concerning the enduringly unstable parts of the world where most Muslims live – South Asia and the Middle East – the report offered a mix of upbeat and gloomy assessments for the period up to 2030.

In South Asia, the report put forward three possible scenarios – the most promising of which it also deemed the least likely:

The “turn-the-corner” scenario envisaged gradual normalization of Pakistan-India trade, a building of regional trust, with growing economic opportunities lessening the attractiveness of militancy. Pakistan would over several decades become a relatively stable economy, and the nuclear-armed rivals would find ways to coexist in protect deepening economic ties.

However, “[m]any of our interlocutors saw this scenario as unlikely. Critical to the scenario would be the establishment of a more capable civilian government in Pakistan and improved governance,” the report stated.

“A collapse in neighboring Afghanistan would probably set back any such civilian-led agenda, reinforcing security fears and retrenchment.”

Two other scenarios for South Asia were far more pessimistic. One envisaged escalating Islamization in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with extreme interpretations of shari’a, a proliferation of jihadist bases, and deepening ties between jihadists and the military.

Its third scenario for the region in the coming decades was one of “unraveling” – social and political fracturing in Pakistan and Afghanistan, dragging India down with them.

The report also identified Pakistan and Afghanistan among a group of 15 countries “at high risk of state failure” by 2030. Others included Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the Middle East, the report identified a number of key determinants for the future, with the possibilities ranging widely “from fragile growth and development to chronic instability and potential regional conflicts.”

--If the Islamic regime retained power in Iran and acquired nuclear weapons, “the Middle East will face a highly unstable future.” A more liberal regime by contrast could abandon nuclear weapons aspirations, negotiate an end to isolation and focus on economic modernization.

--Instability in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni monarchies could spark widespread political and economic uncertainty. Any future political transition in Saudi Arabia could, like Egypt, be “messy and complicated.”

--The future of political Islam, and whether Islamists will moderate once in power, was another key determinant.

“Over time political pragmatism could trump ideology helped by a growing civil society that will begin to produce a new cadre of pragmatic, entrepreneurial and social leaders – something that authoritarian regimes consistently stifled,” the report said.

But if corruption and severe unemployment persisted that could benefit “hardline” Islamists offering a clear alternative to Western capitalism and democracy.

--Civil and sectarian strife was another factor, particularly in countries like Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, where ongoing violence could increase the risk of “strongmen dictators” emerging.

--An Israeli-Palestinian settlement “would have dramatic consequences for the region over the next two decades,” the report said. It envisaged incremental steps towards Palestinian statehood, but said the thorniest outstanding issues, such as the status of Jerusalem and the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees, would not likely be resolved by 2030.

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