The cost of terror is counted in lives lost and wealth drained
Published 20/11/2015 | 02:30
The costs of failing to defeat Islamic State are rising to intolerable levels, both in lives lost and dollars destroyed.
A look at the numbers available suggests that the consequences of not acting outweigh the risks of a full-blown military conflict.
Terrorism killed 32,658 people last year, up from just 3,329 at the start of the decade, according to the Global Terrorism Index compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Last year saw an 80pc rise from the previous year - the biggest annual jump in 15 years. Fatalities among private citizens surged by 172pc.
The shocking events in Paris recently, as well as the downed Russian plane flying from Eqypt's Sharm el-Sheik resort on October 31, mark a new chapter in the conflict as IS proves it can wreak havoc just about anywhere in the world.
Around 78pc of 2014's deaths happened in just five countries - Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. But the conflict is spreading, with 11 countries suffering more than 500 deaths last year, up from just five in 2013.
History suggests governments are more motivated to address threats when they're at the doorstep rather than in a faraway place; perhaps that suggests that finally we may get some concerted action.
Terrorism's impact is also financial. The IEP calculates that terrorist actions wiped a record $52.9bn off the global economy last year, using a "cost of violence" methodology measuring the direct and indirect costs from the loss of life, destruction of property and losses from ransom payments.
Dr Christina Schori Liang, a senior fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, notes in a paper for the IEP that IS (also known as ISIL or ISIS) is "the richest terrorist organisation in history, with an estimated wealth of $2bn".
IS earns about $1.5m a day from selling oil, producing as many as 40,000 barrels per day and selling for as little as $20 a barrel. The oil is smuggled through Iraq and Kurdistan, border guards are bribed, while donkeys and trucks traverse deserts and mountain passes to avoid detection.
IS has its own underground pipelines and refineries; while coalition forces had destroyed 16 mobile refineries by the end of last year, they can be rebuilt for as little as $230,000.
Its income is boosted by trafficking people and auctioning slaves, kidnapping for ransom (raising $45m last year), extortion, taxes on income, business revenues and consumer goods in the lands it controls, as well as looting and selling antiquities. The Financial Action Task Force reckons IS stole about $500m late last year just by raiding state-owned banks in the territories it controls.
As Liang argues, "the West has so far failed to impede ISIL's financial gains which are marked by a fluidity and wealth never seen before."
Strangling the flow of cash that allows IS to arm its jihadists and fund the local infrastructure in the regions it occupies could smother the organisation in ways that may prove even more effective than bombing its bases. As the journal 'Studies in Conflict and Terrorism' noted as long ago as 2004 in a report on al-Qa'ida, though, terrorist groups typically rely on informal money transfer networks and under-regulated Islamic finance channels which are harder to close down.
Driving a wedge between IS and the cashs it needs demands greater co-operation including sanctions against any nation found to have turned a blind eye to money flows. (Bloomberg)