A Comparative Analysis of the Effectiveness of counter-terrorism policies; The Global War On Terror(GWOT) v/s Counter Violent Extremism (CVE)

A comparative analysis of the effectiveness of counter-terrorism policies; The Global War On Terror(GWOT) v/s Counter Violent Extremism (CVE). The following research attempts to review the different developmental and implementational facets of the two aforementioned policies.

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June 23, 2023

Inquiry-driven, this project may reflect personal views, aiming to enrich problem-related discourse.

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This paper is an attempt to examine the different socio-political and economic implications of the GWOT and the CVE policies to counter ‘terrorism’ primarily in the Middle East and the birth countries of these policies, while drawing a comparison in the effectiveness of both.

Though there is a general consensus on the fact that both policies failed to eradicate terrorism completely, their ways of operation yielded far-ranging results, making them both well-looked-up cases of humanitarian policymaking in peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

It examines the contemporary history of international politics in the Middle East, traces regional factors, and goes over the idealization and implementation of these policies in the last few decades, alongside the analysis of its repercussions and consequences, all using secondary sources and personal experience.

1916, the Sykes-Picot agreement was signed by the United Kingdom and France as a way of dissolving the Ottoman Empire and establishing the Middle East as the world knows it today. However, it was an attempt at institutionalizing control over the territories in the ME.

Twelve years later, the Red Line agreement was signed by British, American, and French oil companies, making it the first international collaboration for controlling oil resources in the Middle East, drawing complex geo-political borders in an already ethnographically complicated region. Towards the end of WWII, as many nations of the world started decolonizing and attaining sovereignty, tensions in the Middle East grew. Many nations sprung up post-1940s.

However, an overlap of multiple colonial borders and ruthless power dynamics in the Western nations controlling the region and religious and ethnographical conflicts led to socio-political unrest in the post-colonial Middle East. Many territories remained disputed, and land divisions were not proper and fair.

Additionally, the presence of  old and ill-functioning colonial institutions in a new and independent social order in most countries did not work. At the same time, many nations were still backed by the US, USSR, France, and the UK, who had their own economic interests in the region.

This continued till the 1970s when the unrest manifested in the form of large-scale protests all over. In many places, people wanted a new and orderly system of governance, and they were ready to fight for it. Alongside this, militarisation backed by the World Powers was substantially increasing in the Middle East, in the same fashion as the world witnessed in Afghanistan, the creation of the Taliban because of American Funded incentivization.

All of these overlapping reasons caused social distress, a distrust of the government, and a strong dislike towards the Western stakeholders exploiting the natural and social resources in the Middle East. Many groups thus sprung up, resisting the former, and some of them ended up taking violent ways to justify and showcase their grievances.

Further, in the 1990s, some of these groups, which earlier were disintegrated, started joining forces, and extremist organizations like Al-Qaeda started gaining a foothold in many regions of the Middle East and South Asia’s western fronts. It was only towards the end of the decade that the violence manifested, first in the 1998 US embassy bombings in the East African cities of Nairobi and Dar e Salam and then the tragic incidence of 9/11.

A couple of years after which, as the influence of Al Qaeda decreased, ISIS was formed in Iraq in 2004, renowned in the region by its Arabic acronym ‘Daesh.’ The early attempts at countering violent extremism were made in a coordinated fashion by many countries and IGOs, like the UN, post 9/11, which evidently was a turning point in how we perceive and understand conflicts.

At this point, it is equally important to clarify why people join organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS, as this shall help us understand the context of CVE better. Sociologists and political scientists have done so by examining this motivation using psychological factors within groups and individuals.

One of the major ones being Push and Pull factors, which essentially are causes that nudge individuals out of the social structures that they are parts of, and attract them to join a new structure or cause. Some of the push factors include political grievances and oppression, economic hardship, and social or cultural alienation, whereas pull factors include a strong sense of need to belong to a particular identity or ideology, monetary incentives, and the idea of ‘fighting’ for a cause.

Although specific push and pull factors motivate individuals to join extremist groups, in the case of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, it was primarily socio-political oppression and sidelining, economic hardship, and the dire need to belong to and justify their commitment to the wronged sense of Islam implicated by these organizations.

The Global War on Terror or famously known by its short form GWOT, was a policy introduced by the US government, under the Bush administration, following the September 11 attacks carried out by  Al Qaeda in New York and D.C., which resulted in around 3000 casualties. It was introduced after the US government recognized the damage and threats caused by the growth of terrorism had reached a level that required a global response.

It primarily took the form of military intervention but also involved certain diplomatic, economic, and intelligence-focused strategies targeting countries of origin and the operation of Al-Qaeda. The military action that took place in Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), Pakistan (2004), Yemen (2002), and several other territories in the region was a result of GWOT.

To date, the United States Government has spent billions of dollars to fund GWOT’s operations, the primary aim of which was to physically target and eliminate individuals and sub-groups of Al-Qaeda, and also against the state and non-state actors that were alleged to have been supporting and rearing extremist groups, disrupting their network and support bases.

Though the focus was primarily laid on military action, the GWOT also included diplomacy, law enforcement, and countering ideological extremism. Since 2001, between 1.9 and 3 million service members have served in the post-9/11 wars in the Middle East, more than half of whom have been deployed more than once.

An estimated 20 billion dollars was first pledged towards this systematic eradication of Al Qaeda, as per the Department of State, and as of 2022, according to a study conducted by the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, around 8 trillion USD has been expended and obligated for wars in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere.

Out of this, approximately 2.9 trillion have been spent in Iraq and Syria alone. The former figure includes direct expenditures like war appropriations, armaments, increases in homeland security and Pentagon’s operative budgets, and indirect expenses like veteran care, foreign assistance, and war-loan repayment budgets, as well as an estimated foreseeable future expense for veterans’ care.

This, excluding all other macroeconomic costs, primarily the budget deficit and massive loans increasing the national debt exponentially, the opportunity cost for investing in sectors like healthcare, etcetera that require it the most, and funds discretion by public and municipal setups and other individuals, on war.

The non-economic costs of the wars in the Middle are even more appalling, with an estimated half a million civilian lives lost, multiple and repeating incidents of sexual and other kinds of physical assault, destruction of infrastructure, and an increase in the socio-political and economic divides in the region.

Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) or more commonly known as Counter Violent Extremism, is a comprehensive policy adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly in 2006 as an effort to promote the prevention of terrorism at its very base, although the United States Government adopted it only did so majorly after 2010.

The program laid focus on the use of non-coercive methods to mitigate the recruitment of people in groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. CVE is a multi-faceted approach that takes into consideration various factors that motivate individuals to join extremist organizations, like acceptance and belonging, socio-political and economic grievance, and discrimination and marginalization.

It makes use of non-coercive and community-based methods like redirection, capacity building, community development, etcetera, and tries to involve various stakeholders like religious and social leaders, local administration, women and children, students, and so on and so forth. One of the most famous CVE approaches was the redirection policies implemented both online and offline.

This included algorithmic redirections to extremist content; this was carried out emphatically during the years ISIS was doing much of its overseas recruiting through Information Technology related methods like manipulative content on social media websites like Facebook as well as youtube, video games, and online hubs.

Essentially what the redirection algorithm did was detect extremist content and introduce moderative content on the same platforms, nudging the information consumers towards the opposite, creating a neutralization effect. The content was developed in such a way that it would effectively work for the sensitivities and sensibilities of the target audience.

Since it was an IT-related policy, many of the big social media companies like Facebook, Twitter etcetera had to comply with the same. CVE also focused on improving the sense of belonging for minority communities, in partnership with police forces, especially in the UK, where assessments were conducted within communities as to what they needed.

Alongside this, CVE forced the governments to reconsider their criminal justice and rehabilitation policies for those involved in violent extremism. In totality, this policy worked with the push and pull factors to improve the sense of community and belonging for people and lessen the nudges to join extremist organizations.

Since CVE utilized already existing resources and had very few huge budget demands, like armaments, for instance, for GWOT, there wasn’t a single budget line, and it couldn’t be quantified because it was different for different places.

The fact that different governments laid stress on a different set of CVE approaches made it very difficult to assess the economic impact of the policy; however, generally and according to experts, monetary expenditure on CVE programs around the world costs an estimated 10 times less than that of GWOT.

The Global War on Terror and  Counter Violent Extremism policies were starkly different to each other, focusing on different approaches and implications to countering terrorism or violent extremism as it was later labeled. The former utilized coercive, militarist actions to target extremist groups in the Middle East and penalize fighters who were joining in from abroad, whilst the latter used a more non-coercive, strategic method to assess the needs of individual and minority communities, prevent recruitment and develop a more humane justice system, taking into account how collateral damage often motivates people to carry out violence.

The economic implications of GWOT are far more exhaustive than that of CVE, exploiting a massive budget and creating deficits in the expenditure budget of even large economies like the US, whilst the CVE policies required much little in comparison to be implemented. As for the humanitarian implications, GWOT used a negative peace-focused approach whilst CVE used a positive one, with the former costing hundred-thousands of lives on both sides of what was evidently a ‘war’, as also suggested in the name, however, even though it might have a slow-paced impact, didn’t have any humanitarian implications, and in fact only strengthened the sense of belonging for communities.

The Global War on Terror had infinite other implications like socio-political instability, oppression, and indirect and gendered violence in the Middle East. Although CVE couldn’t fully materialize in many places because of the irregularities and the subjectivity of the implications, it stood as the guiding light for preventative and counter-extremism policies around the globe.

To sum it all up, GWOT using a realist approach didn’t yield any substantial results and, in fact, only incited more extremism due to collateral damage; CVE, using a more liberalist-progressive approach, although it may have had slow yielding results, was far more effective in not just countering but preventing violent extremism at its source, directing to how the world should shift towards more holistic approaches to policy issues that involve subjective factors in individuals and communities.


The Institute for Youth in Policy wishes to acknowledge Gwen Singer, Sarah Zhang, Paul Kramer, Carlos Bindert and other contributors for developing and maintaining the Effective Discourse Department and associated Fellowship programming.

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Gauri Vaidya

Gauri Vaidya

Gauri is passionate about developmental policy, photography, and political engagement and discourse. Her areas of interest include the Middle East, Post-Colonial South Asia and conflict studies.

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