WiSi-Online 1/2021: Terrorist Learning Viewed Through A Strategic Lens: Explaining Daesh's Rise To Power

In the first WiSi-Online edition of the year, John Helferich analyzes the strategic learning abilities of terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State.

Terrorist groups, like any kind of organisation, learn from their own experiences as well as from those of others. However, these processes of organisational learning and adaptation have not yet been sufficiently understood, especially in view of the profound military-strategic transformations that some groups have undergone in the 21st century. The question to be examined is how terrorist organisations have learnt to exert pressure on state actors more effectively thereby increasing their chances of survival and expansion. Particularly, the terrorist methods of Daesh are analysed through the concept of the ‘exterior manoeuvre’ as advanced by French strategist André Beaufre. Combining strategic concepts with performative approaches, it is shown how learning processes at the strategic level have enabled Daesh to exploit vulnerabilities of Western nation-states in unprecedented ways. As a consequence, it is suggested that counterinsurgency measures should take greater account of the insurgents' strategic aspirations beyond the battlefield, which can strongly influence the course of the war.