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National Security Threats

2017 has seen an ebb and flow of terrorist attacks carried out by a variety of groups, from Islamist extremists to lone wolves inspired by an extremist ideology to far right- and left-wing attacks.

A wave of natural disasters pushed emergency responders to their limits and tested the mettle of organizational crisis plans around the world. Global politics are heating up, bringing with them waves of populism and protests.

Unfortunately, these national security threats do not seem to be winding down any time soon. Perhaps the most immediate threat to individuals and organizations continues to be terrorism, which ranges from its roots in Iraq and Syria to the Western countries trying to stop it.

While ISIS continues to lose physical ground—undercutting its ultimate goal to replace borders with a "global caliphate" that wages war against disbelievers—its influence continues to grow, especially through powerful online recruiting tactics and the encouragement of do-it-yourself attacks.

"The core group of the Islamic State is going to continue to conduct terrorism—even after they lose their physical caliphate, they'll continue to conduct attacks in Iraq and Syria and probably contiguous countries in the region," explained Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis at Stratfor. "And then there are the grassroots guys, and that's what we're seeing in the West. More of these inspired, sometimes kind-of-directed attacks."

As long as ISIS continues to gain recruits to work toward its ultimate goal, the terrorist organization will continue to grow stronger.

"We need to try to suppress these groups as much as we can and curtail their availability to dispatch their professional terrorist cadre to places like the United States or Europe, but at the same time we do need to worry about their ideology," Stewart said. "Quite frankly, I believe we can't kill our way out of this problem. Until we can stem the flow of new recruits, it's going to be a losing battle."

To defeat ISIS's online influence, Stewart said it will take a global push using all resources available, from intelligence and military to financial and diplomatic efforts. Countering the extremist rhetoric is key to undercutting their recruiting abilities, but Stewart acknowledged that that is a role for Muslim-majority countries.

"The hard part is that it's very difficult for the Americans or French to do that because we don't have a lot of stock ideologically in the Muslim world, so it really has to be something that our Muslim partners are doing."

While right-wing extremism has garnered attention in the United States—especially following the Charlottesville, Virginia, vehicle attack—Stewart noted that these political extremes are a problem in Europe as well.

"We see nationalism and strong anti-immigrant sentiment, and that often will show itself in shootings, beatings, and violence," he said. At the same time, right-wing attacks get negative reactions from the anarchist, far-left wing extremists, resulting in counterviolence.

"Those two extremes tend to feed off each other," Stewart explained. "We've seen this happen in the past—there's a cycle and it seems we're entering another high point where it's increasing again."

Stewart said it is prudent to keep an eye on Russia as it continues to protect itself from perceived threats by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

"From Russia's perspective, what they're doing is understandable because they've felt very threatened," he explained. "The idea of NATO moving into countries like Georgia and Ukraine, into the Baltics, that threatens them and removes their buffer. That drives a lot of this behavior—they will do whatever they can to push out those areas. They don't want to have enemies right at their doorstep."