After every terrorist attack on a major Western city I hear the same thing: “why don’t we just nuke them?” Donald Trump was asked this question two days ago by a reporter for the Washington Post. My very smart brother-in-law asked me this question after he survived the 9/11 attacks.
Wanting to use our superior fire-power on an enemy like ISIS, especially after attacks like the ones on Brussels, Paris, or New York, is tempting. Our large military makes us believe that we can easily defeat our enemy if only we had the political will.
But the reality is that nuclear weapons – or any massive retaliation – won’t work. In fact, it would just play into the hands of ISIS.
ISIS’s strategy of bombing countries like Belgium works based on how the world responds to these attacks. Right now, ISIS needs powerful countries in the West to do one of two things. It needs them to stop bombing ISIS targets in Syria, Iraq, and Libya so that it can re-gain territory lost since the airstrikes began last summer. Or it needs them to go in the other direction and launch heavier, more indiscriminate attacks against innocent Muslims that radicalizes them.
Western countries aren’t going to stop bombing ISIS. No politician of a democratic state that’s been attacked by ISIS will survive in power if they fold in the face of an attack. That means that the only way ISIS wins is if countries like Belgium, France, Russia, and the US start killing lots of innocent Muslims. Nothing radicalizes people faster than having someone try to kill them, especially with nuclear weapons.
So how should countries like Belgium respond? First and foremost, they should continue to carefully target ISIS with airstrikes – something that has been very effective in hurting the organization to date. Second, and more importantly, they should resist the urge to escalate or widen the attacks in any way that could harm civilians. The more civilians that are killed, the more popular ISIS is likely to become.
Eliminating ISIS with one nuclear bomb may seem appealing, but it’s a pipe-dream, and one that would only turn the rest of the Muslim world against us.