In partnership with Dragonfly


Leader: Dragonfly

The coronavirus crisis both suppressed and aggravated terrorism and political violence risks in 2020. We saw marked variances in the incidence of violent risks related to different issues and conflicts in nearly every region. In Q1 2021, we lowered the risk ratings of three times as many countries as we raised compared with Q1 2020. This points to a net improvement globally, but it is unlikely to last. A rising tide of risk seems likely by 2022 as mass vaccinations and an easing of restrictions converge with the accumulated economic and political fallout of the pandemic.

The unprecedented scale of state control over societies and economies, and public anger over governments’ handlings of the pandemic in 2020, was bound to have an impact on violent risks. Lockdowns and travel restrictions in Europe, for example, had a containing effect on most forms of terrorism and protest, with surges in incidents mainly accompanying an easing of restrictions. Terrorist attacks by both far right and left fell overall worldwide. But extremists and activists from all ends of the spectrum are evolving their narratives and see the pandemic as an opportunity to build support and challenge established orders and forms of governance through protests and violent direct action. Strikingly, jihadist violence rose overall by 20% in 2020. By far the majority of this activity was in conflict zones, such as Iraq, Syria, and Mali. All of which are reliant on external military and political commitments to ensure stabilisation. The impact of COVID-19 on these fragile states is a factor, alongside coalition force reductions. This raises questions as to the extent to which outside powers will help contain and resolve conflicts that feed wider insecurity, amid their own economic, political and public health crises. In many ways, the pandemic is a long-tail risk that has created a degree of artifice in the near-term global risk picture. Grievances over the handling of the pandemic and its impact on people's lives and livelihoods is widespread and often profound. Tensions and power competition between states are also rising and becoming more adversarial. And pre-existing and new frustrations, protest campaigns, struggles and conflicts are undoubtedly simmering where they are not already erupting. The lifting of restrictions, or indeed failure to lift them as other countries pull ahead thanks to mass vaccinations, could prove a combustible mix. The United States stands out as one country where civil unrest and insurrection risks rose sharply in 2020 despite restrictions, and in some cases because of them. And it shows that democratic governance in a time of profound crisis is vulnerable to challenges. With so much latent and actual instability building, a trend of growing authoritarianism, nationalism and suppression by some governments to keep tight control seems already in evidence, and is likely to be met with opposition.

Henry Wilkinson Chief Intelligence Officer Dragonfly

High level themes