Is a Non-Lethal Approach Appropriate to Defeat ISIL?

  • Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence W. Henry

The manner in which the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) employs violence and terror on the local populace of the Middle East, coupled with the terrorist group’s ability to leverage social media, places achieving the Obama Administration’s counter-terrorism strategic end state at risk due to the administration’s reliance on a lethal approach-namely an air campaign. This study utilizes case studies and literary reviews to determine appropriate non-lethal approaches to degrade and defeat ISIL. Upon gathering this information, a non-lethal strategy was developed that targeted ISIL’s critical vulnerabilities. Further, this study examined the risk and counterpoints that challenged the employed of a non-lethal strategy to defeat the terrorist group. Upon evaluating the risk, the diplomatic and economic risk associated with employing the strategy outweighed the gain, therefore, the employment of a non-lethal strategy was deemed inappropriate. Acknowledging this reality, this study-while not supporting a lethal approach to defeat ISIL-strongly advocates for the employment of a blended lethal non-lethal approach that leverages a Middle Eastern whole of government approach.