Shorting ISIL: The Role of Finance in Understanding and Defeating Islamic State

Open Access
Button, Ian Richard
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Brian Spangler Davis, Thesis Supervisor
  • Brian Spangler Davis, Honors Advisor
  • James Alan Miles, Faculty Reader
  • ISIL
  • Islamic State
  • finance
  • war
  • landpower
  • al-Qaeda
  • territory
  • marginal analysis
  • cost-benefit analysis
This paper argues that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is not analogous to conventional terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda. Rather, the United States and its allies must acknowledge ISIL’s uniqueness and assess the means required to defeat a corporatized, modularized enemy. Such an assessment will make apparent the need to view the Islamic State through a business lens and adopt a ‘finances-first’ approach that deploys U.S. ground forces to the region in order to deprive the group of its financial lifeblood: the territory under its control. This study utilizes a cost-benefit approach pioneered by the Rand Corporation to assess difficult and politically challenging public policy options in an objective manner. The goal of this approach is to use the principles of finance and economics in creative ways to make quantitatively optimal decisions that help inform otherwise subjective policy debates.