By Steve Killelea, April 4, 2017, published in Diplomatic Courier

The rise of modern terrorism can be traced back to the beginning of the Iraq war. In 2003, there were approximately 3,000 deaths resulting from terrorism. This number has climbed rapidly over the past decade, increasingly nearly ten times, to more than 29,000 deaths in 2015.

Although terrorism affects nations from all corners of the world (in 2015, 65 countries recorded one or more terrorism-related deaths), it is also highly concentrated, with four groups accounting for 74 percent of deaths: Al-Qaida, Boko Harem, Taliban and Islamic State. All of these groups follow an extreme form of Wahhabism that see other Muslim groups as heretics.

One of the more startling facts is that 99.5 percent of all terrorist deaths occur in countries with an ongoing conflict or that have high levels of state sponsored terror – extra-judicial killings, torture and imprisonment without trial. However, 2015 and 2016 did see a disturbing 650% growth in terrorism in the OECD countries, with France, Belgium and Turkey experiencing some of the most devastating attacks in their history.

These worrisome findings present an immediate need to understand the drivers of violent extremism and how best to combat them. The sheer volume of attacks suggests that terrorism is now a much greater threat to political stability in OECD countries. Socio-economic analysis of terrorism in OECD countries finds that it is associated with higher levels of crime, poverty, unemployment, less belief in the political system and a distrust of the media. Many of these factors are also associated with the rise of extreme politics in Europe. Addressing the root causes of both of these problems is paramount to a successful and stable Europe.

Terrorism is a particularly emotional form of violence. It is an attack on society as a whole and as a large number of deaths can result from a single attack, this often triggers entire nations to respond with fear and panic. However, it is important to remember that other forms of violence, despite being less ‘flashy… less reported on…’ result in many more deaths. In 2014, 437,000 people died from homicides, while over one million people committed suicide.

According to research conducted by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), the past year has seen some improvements in the overall death rate, but this was offset by the spread of terrorism into new countries. Twenty-three countries recording their highest levels of terrorism ever.

The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) analyses the direct and indirect impact of terrorism on 163 countries covering over 99 percent of the world’s population, providing a comprehensive overview of the statistics, trends and socio-economic factors associated with terrorism.

The 2016 GTI, notably, recorded a 10 percent fall in the number of deaths when compared to the previous year—the first decline since 2010. This decrease is credited to military interventions against ISIL and Boko Haram in their central areas of Nigeria and Iraq, resulting in a 32 percent reduction in deaths in these areas. However, this decrease was juxtaposed with an expansion of these groups into neighboring countries. Boko Haram has expanded into Niger, Cameroon and Chad, increasing the number of people it has killed through terrorism in these three countries by 157 percent. Similarly, ISIL and its affiliates are now active in 28 countries in 2015, up from 13 in the prior year. This growth is largely why a record number of countries recorded their highest levels of terrorism in any year in the past 16 years, making 2015 the second deadliest year on record. As well as expanding to other areas, ISIL in particular, has encouraged attacks in OECD countries. From 2014 to July 2016, ISIL has been involved in 125 attacks in OECD countries, which resulted in 586 deaths.

Policies countering terrorism will need to take into account that globally, we are investing vast sums of money in our attempts to contain violence, while the economic effects of violence are also depressing many economies. In the long run, advances in peacefulness rely on holistic and systemic improvements in the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies, in other words, Positive Peace. What is important is to build societies that are resilient and do not create the conditions that lead to violence. Positive Peace creates the underlying conditions for societies to thrive economically and socially.

Improvements in Positive Peace create a greater capacity for resilience and adaptability. G7 leaders must therefore aim to implement progressive peace policies, which focus on strengthening their weakest societal and institutional flaws, creating systemic positive change across society. Countries with higher levels of Positive Peace are better equipped to respond to and prevent violent outbreaks, civil unrest and international conflicts. Global responses and cooperation are the key to successful policies and interventions in combatting terrorism.

About the author: Steve Killelea is an accomplished entrepreneur in high technology business development and at the forefront of philanthropic activities focused on sustainable development and peace. In 2007, Steve founded the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), an international think tank dedicated to building a greater understanding of the interconnection between business, peace, and economics with particular emphasis on the economic benefits of peace.

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