2016 Forum Overview

For the last two decades, United States security policy has been dominated by a series of crises within and emanating from the Middle East.  Almost every conflict within this region affects one or more of our national security interests including: preventing terrorist attacks on the homeland and against American citizens abroad, security for U.S. allies and partners, and the promotion of universal values. 

The rise of ISIL has impacted every one of these security interests. ISIL has attempted attacks on the homeland of the United States and its citizens abroad, and successfully attacked U.S. allies and partners.  ISIL promotes and practices values that the United States and most of the world find morally repugnant.

Regionally, ISIL’s activities have catalyzed nearly every source of conflict in the Middle East, including inter- and intra-sectarian strife; tension between ruler and ruled; violent conflict between multiple state and non-state adversaries; and clashes between tribes, ethnicities, and nations. Layered on top of these intra-regional conflicts, large and small actors outside this sub-region have made the task of constructing a consistent and comprehensive strategy that much harder.

In the United States and Europe, the threat of international terrorism has challenged the delicate balance between democracy and security.  In response to ISIL’s gruesome attacks, populist sentiments have called for policies that threaten to undermine the values of Western democracies to which these countries once held firm.

To mitigate these national and international threats, the United States has led a coalition whose goal is to “degrade and destroy” ISIL. Yet, efforts toward this end are often hampered by fundamental questions:  Who should bear the risk and costs of the military operations?  What are the requirements and conditions for success of future political arrangements? What will happen the day after ISIL is defeated?

Meanwhile, debates in the United States have largely focused on the efficacy of greater military action against ISIL. The 2016 election season has amplified the level of threat and the urgency to find “a” solution. But the physical defeat of ISIL will not eliminate the challenges to regional stability and the threat of international terrorism. As a result, the vigorous debate about counter-ISIL strategies has largely overlooked some of the past, present, and future drivers of this conflict – the underlying causes of the extremism in the region. It is an imperative to address this issue because when ISIL is defeated on the battlefield, the root causes that led to ISIL and its living parent, al-Qaeda, will remain. Thus, we must think much more critically about how we can shape the environment to prevent violent radical ideologies from emerging and spreading. 

Drawing on the insight of distinguished speakers and panelists, this year’s Forum will feature constructive dialogue to address the intersection between underlying causes, national security interests, and tangible steps that governments – particularly, the United States – can pursue to mitigate these challenges.

The Forum will address key questions, such as:

  • What are some of the underlying causes of ideological extremism?
  • How and why are youth radicalized?
  • Are longer term innovative approaches that addresses the fundamental causes of extremism possible?
  • What role, if any, should government(s) play in such innovative approaches?

The purpose of the Sam Nunn Bank of America Policy Forum is to bring Georgia Tech, the Atlanta community and the nation, into a conversation about these very important issues.

Members of the academic, government, and private sector communities must gain a broader as well as granular understanding of how these complex issues affect the world and how our leaders seek to deal with them.