The containment of the Islamic State: A realist case to engage a hybrid actor

Next to military means, causing disruption and interdiction, Western and local powers also relied on policies of containment to halt the expansion of the Islamic State’s territorial strongholds. Yet, a Cold War state-based strategy of containment seems not apt to counter a transformed Islamic State. This article, first, examines why containing the Islamic State was successful in the past. Second, the article argues that the Islamic State can still be contained if containment addresses the Islamic State’s hybrid nature rather than convulsively looking for the transferability of past containment aspects. In particular, this requires a focus on the struggle for power of the opponent and a foreign policy of restraint. Finally, the article proposes three angles to contain the Islamic State. Each angle exploits the persisting characteristics of the Islamic State as a revolutionary actor with internal contradictions and promulgating specific narratives which containment can engage.