Narrowing the countering violent extremism (CVE) agenda, investing in conflict prevention, respecting humanitarian law and limiting the use of force will all be crucial components of governments’ work of fighting terrorism, according to a new report from the International Crisis Group, Exploiting Disorder: al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The term “violent extremism” is often ill-defined and open to misuse. When it is identified as the main threat to stability, governments “risk downplaying other sources of fragility, delegitimising political grievances and stigmatising communities as potential extremists,” the report states. Both governments and donors must think carefully what to label CVE, the report notes, adding, “Re-hatting as CVE activities to address ‘root causes’, particularly those related to states’ basic obligations to citizens – like education, employment or services to marginalised communities – may prove short-sighted.” Preventing crises will be much more powerful in containing violent extremism than CVE, the report asserts. “Nudging leaders toward more inclusive and representative politics, addressing communities’ grievances and measured responses to terrorist attacks usually make sense.”

At the same time, military action against extremists helps them recruit and almost always places vulnerable communities into a wedge between the non-state armed groups and the military operations against them. Because jihadists fight where all parties are violating international law, it is important for governments to respect the principles of humanitarian law, and to limit military intervention generally. “Although force usually must be part of the response,” the report notes, “governments have been too quick to go to war.” For example, the report explains that wars in Somalia and Afghanistan “show the shortfalls of defining enemies as terrorists or violent extremists and of combining efforts to build centralised state institutions with military action against them absent a wider political strategy that includes reconciliation.”

Read the full report here.