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Using Systems Thinking to Analyze ISIS

Written by Jamie Monat & Tom Gannon

Published in American Journal of Systems Science, Vol. 4 No. 2, December 2015

Systems Thinking can be used to address complex socio-economic problems, predict behaviors, and understand the seemingly illogical actions of individuals, countries, and organizations such as ISIS. It focuses on relationships among system components as well as on the components themselves.

In this paper, we apply Systems Thinking tools (including the Iceberg Model, causal loop diagrams, stock-and-flow diagrams, and dynamic modeling) to analyze ISIS’s beliefs, goals, needs, and appeal, and to suggest new strategies for dealing with ISIS. We conclude that a Systems Thinking analysis leads to approaches that are very different from typical linear thinking solutions, such as “bomb them back to the Stone Age,” and suggest alternative approaches for dealing with ISIS. These include waging a non-military but a socio-economic war against ISIS using social media, moving away from a policy of forcibly imposing democracies, rethinking the U. S.’s role as the world’s policeman, destroying ISIS’s sources of revenue, encouraging ISIS’s Middle Eastern neighbors to fight the land war (with the U. S. serving only in an advisory capacity), addressing the root causes of ISIS’s appeal, and preventing both Iran and ISIS from developing nuclear capabilities at all costs.

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