Category Archives: MENA

The Iranian Irritation:​ President Trump’s menace to the Iran Deal

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Clément Briens is a second-year undergraduate student in War Studies & History with an interest in Cybersecurity and Nuclear Proliferation.

On October 15th, Donald Trump must decide in front of US Congress whether to certify that Iran is complying with the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) signed in 2015. After more than 20 months of negotiations, P5+1 countries (the Security Council Permanent 5 members+ Germany) signed a deal with Iran limiting their nuclear weapons development program in exchange for tightened economic sanctions. The JCPOA became integrated into US Law with the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act passed in May 2015.

This act asks for re-certification from the US President every 90 days that Iran is, in fact, complying with the deal; if the POTUS refuses to certify, then a period of 60 days opens up in which US Congress may decide to reintroduce sanctions against Iran, hence formally marking an exit of the United States from the JCPOA. President Trump has recently made headlines by threatening to decertify the deal during the next hearing this October, which might lead to a collapse of the deal with Iran.

Donald Trump has always strongly opposed this deal and has been extremely vocal about his opinions regarding the regime, especially during his presidential campaign. However, President Trump’s first UN speech in September was particularly brutal and was of unprecedented violence: he described the Iran deal as being “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” He even qualified Iran of being a “corrupt dictatorship” hiding as a democracy. “Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it”, he warns.

A potential exit of the United States from the deal would be disastrous for all parties. This includes US firms seeking to conduct business in Iran, America’s allies, as well as provoking irreversible damage to an already strained relationship between Iran and the United States.

It is also foolish to believe that it is the JCPOA’s aim to completely stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; our best hope is to slow down Iran’s program while we repair relations with what used to be a crucial regional ally. As declared by, Robert Einhorn, a US academic who was partly behind the American negotiation of the deal, “opponents have had to scale back their criticism, in large part because the JCPOA, at least so far, has delivered on its principal goal—blocking Iran’s path to nuclear weapons for an extended period of time.” Therefore it is important for us to review what this deal’s objectives as they were designed by policy-makers are before threatening to cut it off and measure the benefits and shortcomings before assessing whether President Trump should jump the trigger of decertification.

Can we really stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons?

Signed in Vienna on July 14th 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action marked an agreement between P5 countries and Iran that it would limit its nuclear enrichment activities (that would eventually lead them to gaining access to nuclear weaponry) in exchange for the lifting of various embargos and economic sanctions put in place by the Security Council since 2006. Here are the simplified terms of the agreement[1]:

  • Arms embargo until at least until 2020. Ballistic missile technology embargo until at least 2023.
  • Limitation of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium to 300kg until 2030.
  • Redesigning of the heavy-water Arak Reactor so it does not produce weapons-grade plutonium as waste. No building of further heavy-water reactors until 2030.
  • Inspections and security measures until 2040.
  • End of economic sanctions on Iranian assets and end of embargo (UN Resolution 1737)
  • Redesigning of the heavy-water Arak Reactor so it does not produce weapons-grade plutonium as waste. No building of further heavy-water reactors until 2030

So what sense can we make of these terms? Do they stand to actually stop Iran from developing nuclear devices in the near future?

Firstly, the most obvious and the most alarming to some is how these agreements are limited in time, with quantitative limits over-enrichment and ballistic weapons research that last until approximately 2030, effectively delaying Iran’s “breakout time” instead of avoiding it. Adversaries of the deal, such as President Netanyahu, have called these limits a “sunset clause”. Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michel Oren declared in July that Israel and the US would cooperate “to ensure that the sun never sets on the sunset clause until there is a different Iranian regime.”[2]

Secondly, one may wonder how it would be possible to enforce these measures. While redesigning a reactor might be possible to be publicly proven by Iran, what stops them from building secret, undetectable reactors or nuclear enrichment facilities under mountains in the Iranian countryside?

This is where the IAEA[3] comes in. This international agency is a key factor in the enforcement of this deal, as they are the ones that provide the reports concerning Iran’s compliance with the deal. Their main framework for these reports is the Additional Protocol (AP) a treaty signed by Iran in 2003 in supplement to the NPT[4] which allows IAEA inspectors to visit any nuclear facilities in a very short notice (as to avoid hiding evidence of nuclear enrichment) and most importantly is legally binding for the signatory. [5]

Therefore, trust is an inherent factor in Iran’s compliance with security measures. This may explain the West’s approach at the Vienna summit: if the West successfully negotiates a delay in Iran’s nuclear programme, then it buys time for the West to rebuild economic and diplomatic ties with Iran, in order to ultimately persuade Iran that it does not need nuclear weapons, to begin with. Real change comes within. Being coercive with a key regional power is not the solution to achieve nonproliferation.

Upholding the agreement is a divisive question even in the POTUS’ camp. Both Rex Tillerson, Trump’s Secretary of State, and General James Mattis, his Secretary of Defence, are both rumoured to defend the deal. Mattis, in particular, has been very vocal about his support of his deal, despite his beliefs that it can be reinforced. “Iran is not in material breach of the agreement, and I do believe the agreement to date has delayed the development of a nuclear capability by Iran,” Mattis claimed in front of a Senate hearing.[6]

So is the Iran deal really one-sided?

To many observers, this deal stood out as being mutually beneficial, as Iranian compliance allowed for peace of mind for Western leaders regarding Iran’s nuclear activities as well as dropping economic sanctions which effectively opened Iranian markets to foreign investment. Boeing is poised to make an estimated $16.6bn from a first deal made in December 2016 for more than 80 planes, with a project for a second deal worth $3bn in the works.[7] European rivals Airbus have also exploited this golden opportunity and have passed a similar deal worth $20bn. Of course, what President Trump will omit from his speech on October 15th is the 18,000 jobs that are said to be created from this deal for American workers in Boeing plants all over the country.[8] His 2016 campaign was, of course, heavy with slogans of “bringing jobs back to America”.

Many private actors in other domains have also benefitted from this opening, such as rail and road infrastructure, potentially $25bn and $30bn markets respectively. Iran has also benefitted from this economic opening: they have claimed to have made “more than $100bn” from the end of economic sanctions.[9]

One look at the Iranian economy tells us why: oil represents more than 80% of the country’s public revenues.[10] The Iranian economy is volatile, as any country whose economy depends on market prices for natural resources- this is why they would also benefit from a situation of trust and stability, as it is easier to find clients in a time of crisis.

Conclusion

Iran is not only valuable as a potential geopolitical ally, but also a potential customer and economic partner. Trust is not only the key to diplomatically persuade them from developing nuclear weapons. It is also the key to the stability of their economy. An economy that, if it finds the right diversification under the right leadership, can transform Iran into a global power, and a powerful ally to the United States.

President Trump is right in that the international community should be uncompromising concerning Iran’s violations of human rights and sponsoring of terrorist groups such as Hamas, which are issues that should not be ignored and need to be solved. America’s commitment to its alliance with Israel is also crucial in the President’s decision. However, threatening to decertify the only sensible solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions should not be on the United States’ agenda, and is of an unprecedented magnitude of violence concerning his speech.

Unfortunately, the West will not be able to stop Iran from getting the bomb short of invading them. The economic and political benefits to the JCPOA far outweigh any sanctions, as well as having the potential to make Iran reconsider their bright future as one without nuclear weapons. Trust is once again a key factor in both economic relations but also in the ability for the IAEA to enforce its security measures, hence allowing the international community to verify Iran’s compliance. Trump’s comments about Iran being a “rogue state” was detrimental to this effort and clearly shows his intent in decertifying- one may only hope that the remainder of the P5 powers will remain sensible and attempt to uphold the agreement despite America’s divided leadership.

 

Bibliography:

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/03/31/world/middleeast/simple-guide-nuclear-talks-iran-us.html

[2] http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/Israeli-MK-calls-on-US-to-scrap-sunset-clauses-of-Iran-deal-500097

[3] International Atomic Energy Agency

[4] Non Proliferation Treaty

[5] https://www.iaea.org/topics/additional-protocol

[6] http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/03/politics/mattis-iran-nuclear-deal-national-security/index.html

[7] http://nypost.com/2017/06/10/iranian-airline-finalizes-deal-to-purchase-60-boeing-planes/

[8] https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-co-says-it-signed-new-3b-deal-with-iranian-airline/

[9] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/feb/3/iran-claims-100-billion-windfall-from-sanctions-re/

[10] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/8996819/Iran-threatens-new-war-games-in-the-oil-lanes-of-the-Gulf.html

 

 

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3rd Anniversary of the Yazidi Genocide

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Article by Barbora Mrazova, 2nd year BA International Relations at KCL, currently volunteer with the STEP-IN project in Iraq

3rd of August is a sad day for all Yazidis, especially those that live in northern Iraq. Also, for all of us, who watch them remembering it. Three years ago, a Yazidi genocide by the Islamic State happened with the international community standing by. Before Yazidi people suffered 72 genocides – but this was the first one in the 21st century.

 Yazidis are a minority group, mostly living in Northern Iraq. Before the genocide on August 3rd, 2014, many Yazidis were living around the Sinjar mountain east of Mosul. Some in the surrounding villages and some in the Sinjar city. They were forced to flee their homes after ISIS started to take over their territories and there was no one left to protect these defenseless people.

 As a result, they ran onto the Sinjar mountain. People were running (the majority of Yazidis don’t have a car) and behind them ISIS was chasing them on Toyotas. They had no other option, since ISIS surrounded the mountain from all sides. For a few long days, they were without water, food, shelter, or another set of clothes. US, UK, and Australia made some emergency airdrops of canned food and water to people trapped on the Sinjar mountain, but it was too little and too late. Some never accessed these airdrops.

 Everyone was desperate. First of all, from dehydration and hunger but also because there was no access to news and they did not know what is actually going on around the mountain. Then, people started to receive messages, that ISIS is taking women and children to captivity and executing men right on the spot.

 On August 5, 2014 Vian Dakhil, Iraqi Kurdish MP, delivered a speech in the Iraqi parliament on behalf of the Yazidis that were trapped on the Sinjar mountain. She said: “I beg you, Mr. Speaker, my people are being slaughtered… For the past 48 hours, 30,000 families have been besieged on mountain Sinjar without food or water. They are dying… Our women are being taken captive and sold on the slave-market… Stop this massacre.” After this very emotional speech, full of tears, Dakhil almost collapsed. Nevertheless, she brought the international attention to the terrible atrocities that were carried out by the hands of Islamic State on Yazidis.

 This genocide resulted in a huge number of deaths and even greater number of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). Up to this day, some Yazidis have already returned to their destroyed homes, but the majority is staying in camps like Dawoodyia or Cabartoo located in Kurdistan region of Iraq.

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Children of Dawoodyia camp, waiting until the exhibition will start. 

Today, on August 3, 2017, STEP-IN contributed with a small exhibition to a commemorate day of the genocide in Dawoodyia camp. For us in STEP-IN, it was one of the saddest experiences from our time in Iraq. This feeling of powerlessness to help people that came was crushing. Especially when we have seen those, whose personal stories we know. It was very hard to see little children with posters in their hands, on which there were pictures of mass graves with bodies of their families, neighbors and friends from their villages posted by ISIS on social media. Also, they had printed pictures with faces of those men that were killed right on the spot by ISIS, or even a picture of parents holding their beheaded daughter.

There are no words to describe what Yazidi people went through. We cannot understand their pain when they remember the day of the genocide. We can only try.

 During the exhibition, I wanted to do a short interview with Mukhtar (the leader of the people) of Dawoodyia camp. He tried very hard to at least explain in a few sentences what happened on this day. But then tears started to run down his face. He apologized but could not continue. One of our employees tried to finish but the same repeated. The memories are still too painful. Yazidi people suffered too much.

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Young girl holding a flag of Kurdistan and wearing a head bandana with the date of the genocide during the exhibition

We ask ourselves: What can we do for them? Not much. But what we can do, we will. STEP-IN’s mission right now, among others, is to provide primary healthcare for people living in Dawoodyia camp. We are aware, that this is only a drop in the sea, but if we can help to at least a few people, we will continue to do so.

It does not matter whether we are Christians, Muslims or Yazidis, Iraqis or Europeans. We are all humans. Therefore, we must act human and help each other as much as we can, regardless of our differences.

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A photo from the exhibition in Dawoodyia camp, Kurdish part of Iraq

 

 

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MOAB’s and Afghanistan – Another Day, Another Munition Dropped

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By William Reynolds, a 2nd year undergraduate studying War Studies. From a British Armed Forces background, William follows the military capabilities of the West and the security issues in the Middle East with great interest, placing special emphasis on COIN and the experiences of individuals on the ground. William has worked as a Research Fellow for Dr Whetham in the Centre of Military Ethics and is a spammer of many articles on the King’s Middle East and North Africa Forum (MENA).

The recent deployment of a GBU-34 Massive Ordinance Air Blast (MOAB) munition over ISIS territory in Afghanistan has grabbed headlines and sparked debate on President Trump’s strategy. Many attribute this deployment to a more muscular approach and possible signalling to both Syria and North Korea that the current administration is not messing around. This, of course, is reliant on one massive assumption: That Trump gave the order for the strike.

The MOAB is indeed one of the largest non-nuclear weapons that the US possesses in their inventory. However, the GBU-43 (MOAB) that was deployed has been incorrectly labelled as the most powerful in the US armoury. That honour falls to the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP) at 30,000 lb (or 14,000 kg). Nevertheless, the MOAB cannot be considered to be in a ‘special category’ such as that which nuclear weapons inhabit. To the planners on the ground, the MOAB is simply another tool for the job. Indeed, during the Vietnam campaign is was not uncommon for the MOAB’s predecessor, the BLU-82 ‘Daisy Cutter’ to be deployed regularly against the National Liberation Front (NLF) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA). The MOAB simply falls into the same category as a Hellfire missile or 2,000 lb JDAM.

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It is with this in mind that we must question whether Trump explicitly ordered the deployment of such a munition. In general terms, an air strike is called in through a Forward Air Controller (FAC) who is deployed forward with the combat troops. FAC’s don’t necessarily control what ordinance is dropped. Close Air Support (CAS) strikes are not tailored fit for the platoon’s on the ground, rather they make do with whatever assets are assigned to that area of operations. Now a MOAB is most certainly not a munition deployed in the CAS role. Thus, there was pre-planning involved, possibly placed as a useable asset for the push into the ISIS-held region. Such munitions have proved valuable in the past when clearing out insurgents from rough terrain. The Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan and Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam springing to mind.

Ultimately, the buck could have theoretically stopped anywhere along the chain of command. It could have gone as far as CENTCOM Commander Votel, the regional commander in Afghanistan or simply the acting commander of the occurring operation. Whoever did indeed give the go ahead, it does not signal a clear change in strategy. The US has always been focused on killing the insurgent. Whilst not particularly favourable in population-centric warfare, they are certainly good at it.

What commentators on the Afghan war should be looking at was the recent deployment of US Marines back into Helmand province. Whilst numbering only 300, the deployment of Marines usually signals an urge to regain the initiative and go on the offensive. Marines are shock troops first and foremost. Their deployment may signal a change in strategy in the region. Indeed, the deployment to Helmand in itself is a signal of sorts. Helmand has always been the stronghold of the Taliban post-2004, with multiple British, American and Dutch offensives turning up little in terms of major gains for ISAF. The deployment of Marines in the region can only mean the focus shifting away from the maintenance of Kabul’s security.

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This possible change in strategy has further intrigued commentators who note that as of today (09/05/17) NATO has requested additional troops from the UK to be deployed in Afghanistan. This will not mean another British Battle Group will place their feet on the tarmac of Camp Bastion again. But it does signal a possible resurgence of military power into the graveyard of empires.

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Bibliography:

https://www.mca-marines.org/site/styles/gallery_photo_image/public/importedFiles/files/1_461.jpg?tok=ONvy9loy-USMC

https://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/624/media/images/78130000/jpg/_amoc-cct-2014-151-062.jpg-CampBastionMemorial

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Cybersecurity and Economic Espionage: The Case of Chinese Investments in the Middle East

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By Sharon Magen, a master’s student at SciencesPo in the field of International Security.

Introduction

The recent usage of emerging technologies for purposes of cyber-attacks or acts of cyber-espionage and the subsequent threat posed to the national security interests of governments in the economic sphere specifically is the cornerstone of this paper. Although many have referred to cyber security risks that are directly connected to the security sphere, national security threats posed by cyber-attacks or acts of cyber-espionage in the economic sphere have not been dealt with to the same extent, a rather puzzling state of affairs.

As cyberspace is increasingly utilized for espionage purposes in various areas, it is imperative to further study the possibility of exploiting cyberspace for intentions of espionage in the international economic arena specifically; far-reaching economic globalization has made the international economic scene vastly interconnected, thus intensifying the world economy’s vulnerability to possible cyber security breaches and intensifying the repercussions of a possible breach on national security interests on a wide scale. It is this lack of contemporary research regarding the utilization of cyber means in order to conduct economic espionage and the subsequent consequences regarding national security that has driven me to further examine this subject in this paper.

The growing importance of further observing this phenomenon, where cyber means may be utilized by foreign entities in order to conduct economic espionage so as to achieve strategic goals, has provided for the incentive of this research. The growing risk to national security posed by economic espionage by cyber means, coupled specifically with China’s economic and political rise, rather intensifies the importance of dealing with this issue. As a country seeking to become a game-changer in the global arena, it is plausible that China, significantly more than other countries, makes use of economic espionage through cyber means to the fullest extent, so as to achieve its goals in other spheres, such as the security and political spheres. It is therefore my belief that this issue should be further studied, in order to assert whether cyber espionage in the economic sphere is a threat posed by China especially, and should therefore be taken into consideration while assessing economic integration which Chinese entities.

During the past few decades, cyber interconnectedness and vast economic integration have transformed the global marketplace into an arena in which state actors and others may utilize cyber means to conduct economic espionage and advance other strategic goals. The current global reality of international cyber and economic interconnectedness presents a new type of threat to national security, as these cyber means may be utilized by foreign actors as vessels for conducting harmful economic espionage. In this case, foreign governments, through private or state-owned companies, may choose to target certain economies or foreign companies in order to make an investment which will inter alia allow that government to conduct cyber espionage in the economic sphere, such as obtaining new technologies, an act that may tip the scale in favor of the investing country, that otherwise would not have been able to receive these technologies.

This phenomenon cements cyber espionage in the economic arena as an undeniable threat to national security nowadays. This accusation is mostly directed today towards China by the United States, as Chinese companies, whom are mostly state-owned, are suspected of utilizing global cyber and economic integration as a vessel for conducting economic espionage. However, it is contended by some that China in fact is not the sole committer of cyber espionage in the economic sector, and therefore should not be targeted as such.

All countries today engage in economic espionage through cyber means to a certain degree, and therefore the question in this paper will deal with the reason for the behavior of the United States, spearheading the notion that China conducts gross economic espionage through means of cyber, whilst it is maintained that other countries do so as well. This research underlines the imperativeness of further study of world cyber integration and the economic espionage risk it entails. Although international cyber integration may present an opportunity for growth, countries must take into consideration the risk of exposing their economy to economic espionage via cyber means.

Past Research Pertaining to Cyber Economic Espionage

According to Mary Ellen Stanley, technological advancements and economic integration have vastly altered the perception of national security in the intelligence sphere, due to wide-ranging cyber economic espionage.[i] Similarly, Matthew Crosston argues that typical types of international economic activity may constitute an intelligence collecting structure through means of cyber, meant to aid as an added aspect of military might enhancement.[ii] Alongside these assertions, Souvik Saha specifically stresses the United States’ standpoint which emphasizes the Chinese encompassing involvement in economic espionage, and the undeniable national security threat it poses.[iii] Furthermore, Magnus Hjortdal stresses that cyberspace is a pivotal element in China’s strategy to ascend in the international system, and that one of the key reasons for this is conducting economic espionage to gain strategic advantage.[iv]

However, Ibrahim Erdogan argues that cyber economic espionage is an immensely lucrative industry in which all countries participate,[v] and therefore cannot be attributed to one specific country. Furthermore, when it comes to the United States specifically, Duncan Clarke contends that even allies of Washington, such as Israel, have been committing acts of economic espionage against the United States for years. According to Clarke, Israeli intelligence units continue to utilize existing networks for collecting economic intelligence, including computer intrusion,[vi] thus rendering the argument maintaining that cyber economic espionage against the United States is an act of war spearheaded by its foes, redundant. The assertion that many other countries, apart from China, commit cyber economic espionage acts against Washington, including allies, and are not reprimanded, weakens the severity of China’s acts and the argument made against it by the United States intelligence community, that it is indeed the forefront of the cyber economic espionage.

Regarding the integrity of the American intelligence agencies’ assessments, John Yoo contends that intelligence and national security agencies in the United States do not always depict an accurate portrayal of national security threats.[vii] In other words, it is plausible that the United States uses untruthful means to protect the nation’s security, thus arguably sacrificing the integrity of the government’s efforts. Robert Bejesky similarly throws into question the reliability of these organizations’ assertions; according to Bejesky, allegations maintaining that executive encouragements may induce intelligence assessments to support the position preferred by the executive branch are not without basis. The CIA for instance has a long history of politicizing intelligence, and at a 2001 panel held at a Harvard conference deliberating the account of the CIA, it had been maintained that the agency does not conduct its role faithfully when it comes to sharing unpleasant truths with the executive branch.[viii]

If so, it is feasible to comprehend that although cyber economic espionage may pose a national security threat, the United States’ formal accusation of China being the main committer of cyber economic espionage may be biased. Although China may be committing acts of economic espionage through means of cyber, it cannot be confirmed at this point that it spearheads this area more than any other country.

Growing Interconnectedness

During the past few decades, technological developments have immensely changed today’s governments’ perception of national security. Conventional acts of espionage which can be traced to a certain perceptible entity have merged significantly with cybersecurity, thus rendering the identity of the intelligence threat ambiguous, and exposing new domains in which harmful data collection may occur, such as the global marketplace.[ix] Today, the world is moving towards a single global economy, due to financial integration.[x] This current reality of cutting-edge technology and worldwide economic integration, has changed the face of espionage, and has created a world in which national security can be harmed, inter alia, via cyber means in the global marketplace.

Today there currently is a necessity to balance a nation’s economic affluence and its national security, as economic globalization may become a vessel for espionage through means of cyber, the bedrock of connectivity in today’s international market. The key methods through which international economic integration may enable cyber economic espionage, are when a foreign state-owned or government associated body conducts business in the host country, or when a foreign entity acquisitions a local business within the country.[xi] It can be contended that this type of activity is not merely a manifest of economic policy, but also functions as a well-planned intelligence collecting scheme intended to serve as an additional facet to military rivalry.[xii] Although it cannot be affirmed that cyber espionage intentions are the main incentive for economic integration, it can be asserted that economic integration enables the possibility of conducting cyber espionage activities. Countries may abuse economic integration in order to conduct cyber economic espionage so as to enhance military might.

In this regard, many claim that China is currently spearheading the sphere of cyber economic espionage.[xiii] According to this approach, China intends to harness today’s worldwide market espionage possibilities in order to enhance its regional and global supremacy. Washington especially perceives Beijing’s intention to commit economic espionage through cyberspace as a dire national security hazard, as China’s success in conducting effective economic espionage may translate into a sharp increase in China’s power potential relative to the United States. China’s current investment policy in economies such as the United States consists of mergers and acquisitions which enable opportunities for undesirable proliferation through means of cyber of intellectual property and trade secrets to Chinese firms.[xiv],[xv]

This type of activity is particularly problematic when Chinese multinational corporations, which are mostly government owned, attempt to purchase American companies with strategic significance or deal with critical infrastructure and assets. According to most recent assessments from the United States intelligence community, there is a heightened assertiveness within China’s international policies, and as part of this it has resorted to massive cyber economic espionage.[xvi] Moreover, according to Pentagon reports, China will continue to aggressively collect sensitive American technological information through cyberspace espionage.[xvii]

However, it can be contended that this assertion, that China is the main global conductor of cyber economic espionage, is meant to serve certain political policies in the United States, rather than represent an accurate status of global cyber economic espionage. Although FBI Director James Comey had stated in May 2014 that the Chinese government blatantly seeks to use cyber espionage to obtain economic advantage for its state-owned industries, Robert Gates, then former United States Secretary of Defense, openly stated that as much as 15 countries at that time were conducting economic espionage in order to take possession of American trade secrets and technology,[xviii] thus shifting the focus from China being the sole leading committer of this act. Furthermore, it has been contended that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) itself had committed cyber economic espionage activities against France.[xix]

Given the circumstances, the main question that arises in this regard is why the vast majority of official American security and intelligence bodies spearhead the notion that China is currently the worldwide main conductor of economic espionage through cyberspace, whilst it is maintained by other sources that other countries are committing cyber economic espionage acts as well, including the United States itself. It can be asserted, that though China does not actually head the world cyber economic espionage sphere, leading security and intelligence institutions in the United States promote this assertion in order to support political needs and policies towards China, who’s growing regional and world dominance is perceived as a threat to the continuation of Washington’s own world dominance and strategic might. In other words, it can be asserted that China’s rise poses a political threat to the United States, a fact which leads to American prosecution of Chinese interests in the economic sphere.

Therefore, another question that arises in this regard is whether other countries similarly argue that China is the global forefront of cyber economic espionage. If it is asserted that other countries equally claim that China is indeed the global leader of cyber economic espionage, another question that would arise in this regard would refer to the reasons supporting this argument. If other countries contend that China is the world leader of cyber economic espionage, despite it being asserted that many other countries in fact participate in cyber economic spying, the question is why they do so. It is my assumption that this is due to security motives, having to do with China’s rise and the security threat it poses via economic growth. This would assist in asserting the assumption that China’s rise de facto poses a threat to American strategic interests.

That being the case, it can be argued that the vast majority of official American security and intelligence bodies currently head the notion that China is the forefront of global cyber economic espionage in order to serve political and foreign policy purposes, and do not therefore portray an accurate assessment of the global cyber economic espionage scene. According to other sources there are a number of global actors that currently take part in cyber economic espionage, therefore not leaving the field for any singular country to spearhead. However, I contend that it is possible that the formal approach of the vast majority of the American intelligence institutions towards China in the cyber economic espionage sphere is intended to serve the United States’ grand strategy towards China’s rise, as they hold the belief that China’s rise may pose a threat to American strategic interests.

The hypothesis claiming that the United States leads the global notion that China is the current forefront for international cyber economic espionage due to political, foreign policy and security reasons can assist in understanding the gap between the popular claim within the American intelligence community and other entities regarding China’s role in the current cyber economic espionage arena. Many contend that China’s vast economic growth coupled with its enhancing military capabilities places it on a collision course with the United States.[xx] It can be asserted that in order to battle against China’s rise, the United States advocates an argument which depicts China as a country with minimal respect for intellectual property, sovereignty, and other critical factors that comprise the bedrock of global trade. International trade serves as China’s bread and butter, fueling its growth and ability to expand its military capabilities. If the United States can damage China’s ability to conduct global trade by asserting that it promotes cyber economic espionage, it would thus damage Beijing’s capabilities in the security sphere.

 My methodology for examining this theoretical assumption entails the assessment of other countries’ approach to China’s supposed cyber economic espionage intentions. If other countries similarly claim that China is the main conductor of global cyber economic espionage, despite the fact that it has been asserted that other countries take part in such espionage acts as well, it would be vital to assert what are the reasons for this type of behavior. In order to assess the approach of other countries towards Chinese cyber economic espionage, I contend that it would be most affective to focus on countries that are not western, such as the Middle East countries. This in my opinion may contribute in portraying a more balanced assessment of other countries’ approach towards China’s cyber economic espionage intentions.

Consequently, in this paper I examine the approach of select Middle East countries to China’s massive involvement in world trade and the possibility of its gross cyber economic espionage activities, in order to assess Washington’s claim. To this end, I examine the cases of Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The rationalization for choosing these two countries is such; the main nexus that binds Beijing to the Middle East region concerns economic security, as more than half of China’s oil and natural gas imports are sourced from the countries of the region.

However, in contrast to the majority of other actors in the region, hydrocarbons do not play a big role in Turkey’s relations with the China, thus making Ankara a meaningful choice for a study of relations with China within the Middle Eastern context. If so, an outtake on the Turkish possible responses to Chinese alleged cyber economic espionage may provide an original contribution on investigating this matter. Regarding the UAE, it is important to note that the federation is only the third largest economy in the Middle East behind Saudi Arabia and Iran. Being a source of oil and natural gas imports for China, but not one of China’s principal suppliers, the UAE represents a significant case study in this sense, as it cannot be characterized as being overly essential to Chinese interests. Therefore, the UAE’s approach to Chinese cyber espionage intentions will not be tilted in favor of Beijing.

If proven that these two Middle Eastern countries have taken action against Chinese economic transactions, it can be affirmed that this is due to the national security threat posed by cyber economic espionage. The apprehension that through cyber economic espionage China could access key economic interests in a host country’s economy and realize its interests regardless of the host country’s interests could in my opinion propel them into taking action against Chinese economic transactions, thus initiating the suspension or cancellation of Chinese backed investments and so on.

 In order to measure these Middle Eastern countries governments’ approach to possible Chinese cyber economic espionage through, I will examine possible objections and restrictions made at a government level towards Chinese economic transactions and Chinese funded projects within the country. I contend that upon presenting a consistent trend of government level objections to projects funded by the Chinese, it can be affirmed that this is due to the fact that there is a tangible threat to national security posed by cyber economic espionage, enabled by economic integration.

Turkey

Although more than half of China’s oil and natural gas imports are sourced from the countries of the Middle East region, thus deepening Beijing’s dependence on the region, hydrocarbons do not play a pivotal role in Turkey’s relations with China. Nonetheless, Turkey is a rising power in the region, and has not directly experienced the upheavals felt in the Arab world in the past few years, a fact which still places Ankara as a pivotal partner of Beijing in the region, in the economic and political spheres alike.[xxi] Regarding the Turkish government’s stance on possible Chinese cyber economic espionage activities, it is important to note that in November 2015, Ankara had cancelled a 3.4 billion dollars long-range missile defense system tender provisionally awarded to a Chinese state owned firm in 2013.[xxii]

Turkey had originally entered negotiations in 2013 with the China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC) to finalize the billion dollar contact. Even though French-Italian consortium Eurosam and US-listed Raytheon had also submitted offers, the Turkish government had preferred talks with the Chinese company, a fact which raised serious concerns over the compatibility of CPMIEC’s systems with NATO missile defenses, as Turkey is a member. In its official statement given by a representative from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s office, the Turkish government had declared that it had cancelled the deal with China mainly because Turkey had decided to launch its own missile project.[xxiii]

Though the Turkish government officially maintained that the core reason for its cancellation of the multi-billion dollar deal with the Chinse frim had been its decision to self-develop the long-range missile defense system, it can be contended that this was actually done because of concrete concern within the Turkish government regarding Chinese cyber economic espionage. As previously asserted, Turkey had led a comprehensive process in order to decide on a foreign company to lead this project. If Turkey had indeed wished to self-develop this defense system, it would have done so from the beginning, and would not have conducted a complete procedure so as to choose a foreign firm to conduct this project.

In other words, it can be argued that after Turkey had decided to continue with CPMIEC in order to further this project, serious concerns had risen within the Turkish government and out of it regarding subsequent possible exposure of sensitive NATO systems to Chinese eyes. Although the deal did not explicitly determine the direct exposure of critical and classified systems to the Chinese, this transaction could have enabled Chinese access to systems through which harmful data collection could be conducted. Transactions such as this may inadvertently permit foreign penetration through means of cyber, as foreign firms gain access and exposure to computerized systems through which such infiltration may be conducted. Such harmful data collecting activities through means of cyber that are enabled by seemingly innocent business transactions are especially perilous when these transactions involve critical infrastructure of the host country.

If so, it is significantly plausible that Turkey had canceled this multi-billion-dollar deal with China due to cyber economic espionage concerns. Although it can be contended that other motives had brought the Turkish government to the decision to call-off the collaboration with the Chinese state-owned firm, such as the formal Turkish response that contended that Turkey had decided to self-develop the long-range missile defense system, this, as stated, is problematic to comprehend as Turkey had initiated a long process of selecting a foreign contractor. If so, it can be contended that the Chinese cyber economic espionage threat was a pivotal motive in Turkey’s decision to call-off the deal, as it is perceived as a real danger by the Turkish government to its national security.

UAE

The UAE is a federation comprised of seven separate emirates, which together represent the third largest economy in the Middle East behind Saudi Arabia and Iran. The UAE has the seventh largest proven reserves in the world of both oil and gas, and in 2010 China imported 64,500 tons of liquefied natural gas from the UAE valued at more than 23 million dollars. Furthermore, the China Petroleum Engineering and Construction Corporation (CPECC) assisted with the construction of the Abu Dhabi Crude Oil Pipeline Project, which now enables the transport of 1.5 million barrels of crude oil per day from Abu Dhabi’s collection point at Habshan to the export terminals at Fujairah. Oil transported through the pipeline bypasses the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has repeatedly threatened to block if it is attacked militarily. However, it is imperative to point out that the 3.3-billion-dollar project had experienced repeated delays, initiated by the UAE.[xxiv]

Although it had been officially stated that The UAE has been forced to delay the construction of a pipeline allowing oil to bypass the Strait of Hormuz due to construction problems,[xxv] according to industry sources close to the project, the reason for the delay was that although CPECC was already preparing to commission the pipeline, the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Petroleum Operations (ADCO) was not involved in this initial preparation process, a rather perplexing situation, as ADCO would first have to make sure that the commissioned pipeline design suited its standard prior to commencing the production procedure.[xxvi]

The Chinese commencement of designing the pipeline without the participation and involvement of ADCO, the UAE state firm in charge of the project, plausibly points to the fact that there was a Chinese intention to commit an act of sinister nature, regarding the construction of the pipes; such pipelines include highly sophisticated control software that can be hacked and even manipulated prior to its assembling. In 2004 for instance, Thomas C. Reed, an Air Force secretary in the Reagan administration, wrote that the United States had effectively implanted a software Trojan horse into computing equipment that the Soviet Union had bought from Canadian suppliers, used to control a Trans-Siberian gas pipeline.[xxvii]

If so, it is quit plausible that the Chinese had begun the UAE commissioned pipeline design without involving ADCO because they had something to hide, such as the insertion of cyber espionage measures. This would not be an isolated incident for the Chinese, as in 2013 The former head of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Michael Hayden, contended that it is clear that Chinese telecoms giant Huawei spies for Beijing,[xxviii] a fact which rather solidifies the argument that China indeed utilizes business transactions in order to conduct cyber espionage. In the case of the Abu Dhabi Crude Oil Pipeline Project, the numerous delays due to Chinese repetitive exclusion of ADCO from the pipeline design process can be explained by the fact that CPECC had engaged in illicit activities concerning the manufacturing of the pipeline, namely the insertion of cyber espionage measures. However, it is important to note that in this case, although it can be contended that China had engaged in cyber economic espionage, the UAE had only delayed the project, and had not opted to cancel it entirely.

If so, it is apparent that although these two Middle East countries do not share Washington’s vehement stance towards the Chinese cyber economic espionage threat, there is an understanding of the possible threat, reflected by their cancellation or delay of business transactions with Chinese firms. Although none of these Middle East countries have gone out and exclaimed, as the Americans have, that China makes use of cyber means in order to conduct economic espionage, their behavior towards major Chinese investment points to a government level comprehension that Chinese economic conduct differs from that of other countries, due to a heightened threat of cyber economic espionage.

These two Middle East countries, as others, are not cemented in great power politics such as the United States, and therefore lack the incentive, as well as the protective means, to denounce Chinese economic conduct due to Beijing’s use of such demeanor in order to conduct cyber espionage and enhance its strategic might. Therefore, although it is possible to witness a government level resistance to major business transactions with Chinese firms, it is mainly done so through inconspicuous ‘soft’ methods such as project suspension. However, project suspension coupled with cancellation of business transactions with Chinese firms in my opinion forms a stable foundation for the argument that Chinese business transactions specifically are not treated the same as transactions done with firms from other countries, therefore pointing to the fact that they pose a threat.

However, due to the fact that the anti-China steps taken in the economic sphere are mostly discreet, it is speculative to assume that these steps were taken in light of Chinese cyber economic espionage intentions. Even when publically announcing the suspension or cancellation of Chinese funded projects, those governments do not state that this is due to misconduct rooted in cyber economic espionage. That being said, it can be conferred from their actions that Chinese economic conduct is in fact treated differently than economic transactions originating from other countries, a fact which perhaps further solidifies the American notion that China’s economic behavior is not innocent, for if it were so, there would be no publically announced suspension or cancellation of major Chinese funded projects in both countries.

In the literature review section of this paper, I have noted Crosston’s approach, which states that typical types of international economic activity may constitute an intelligence collecting structure, meant to aid as an added aspect of military might enhancement. Additionally, according to Saha, recent assessments from the United States intelligence community contend that there is an intensified decisiveness within China’s international policies, and as part of this it has resorted to substantial cyber economic espionage. China’s focus on the infrastructure, energy and telecommunication sectors in terms of business transactions, which are all considered critical to national security, may suggest that the Chinese indeed intend to utilize information gained by means of cyber through economic integration in these sectors for strategic purposes. The suspension and cancellation of key Chinese funded projects, prima facie due to technical reasons, suggests that these governments see Chinese further economic involvement in their countries as a threat.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is feasible to comprehend the vast impact of global cyber interconnectedness and economic integration on the perception of a country’s national security. Whilst pertaining to be of economic nature only, typical types of international economic activity may constitute an intelligence collecting structure through cyber means, meant to aid as an added aspect of a nations’ power enhancement. International economic conduct may permit opportunities for proliferation of economic intelligence through means of cyber into the investing country’s hands, thus compromising the receiving country’s national security. The American claim that China currently spearheads cyber economic espionage worldwide by means of economic integration seems to be sustained by other governments as well, further to the reaction of the governments of Turkey and the UAE to business transactions with Chinese firms. Although these countries’ reaction is not as intense and straightforward as that of the American government, it is nevertheless apparent that they are striving to restrict or monitor it, at the very least.

In regards to the main question of this research, dealing with the reason for the official American intelligence bodies approach, claiming that China is currently the worldwide main conductor of cyber economic espionage, whilst it is maintained by other sources that other countries are committing economic espionage acts as well, in light of the findings regarding the two previously examined Middle East nations, it can be contended that the United States does so because Chinese investments in particular are conceived as a national security threat, a notion shared by other countries. As seen in the cases Turkey and the UAE, the suspension or suspension of Chinese projects, point to the fact that business transactions with Chinese firms are indeed looked upon, not only by the United States, as a source of peril. Although some sources may maintain that China is no different than any other country when it comes to cyber economic espionage, it is in fact proven that other countries, and not only the United States, perceive China specifically as an ominous threat when it comes to economic integration and possible cyber economic espionage.

Even though the global market place is becoming increasingly interconnected via cyber means, countries must take into consideration the risk of exposing their country to national security risks, due to the fact that international economic integration may prove to be a vessel for cyber economic espionage. Indeed, in this research it has been asserted that the United States is not exaggerating in its description of the cyber economic espionage intentions of the Chinese; rather, as a superpower, it is one of few countries that have the prerogative to openly state their opinion on the matter. It is critical therefore, to assess Chinese business transactions differently than those originating from other countries, in light of the fact that the Chinese specifically use economic integration means in order to conduct cyber espionage and enhance Beijing’s military and strategic might on the path of its rise.

Bibliography:

[i] Mary Ellen Stanley, “From China with Love: Espionage in the Age of Foreign Investment,” Brooklyn Journal of International Law 40, no. 3 (2015): 1033-1079.

[ii] Matthew Crosston, “Soft Spying: Leveraging Globalization as Proxy Military Rivalry,” International Journal of Intelligence & Counterintelligence 28, no. 1 (2015): 105-122.

[iii] Souvik Saha, “CFIUS Now made in China: Dueling National Security Review Frameworks as a Countermeasure to Economic Espionage in the Age of Globalization,” Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business 33, no. 1 (2012): 199-235.

[iv] Magnus Hjortdal, “China’s use of Cyber Warfare: Espionage Meets Strategic Deterrence,” Journal of Strategic Security 4, no. 2 (2011): 1-24.

[v] İbrahim Erdoğan, “Economic Espionage as a New Form of War in the Post- Cold War Period,” USAK Yearbook of International Politics and Law no. 2 (2009): 265-282.

[vi] Duncan Clarke, “Israel’s Economic Espionage in the United States,” Journal of Palestine Studies 27, no. 4 (1998): 20-35.

[vii] John Yoo, “The Legality of the National Security Agency’s Bulk Data Surveillance Programs,” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 37, no. 3 (2014): 901-930.

[viii] Robert Bejesky, “Politicization of Intelligence,” Southern University Law Review no. 40 (2013): 243-551.

[ix] Mary Ellen Stanley.

[x] Lucyna Kornecki and Dawna Rhoades, “How FDI Facilitates the Globalization Process and Stimulates Economic Growth in CEE,” Journal of International Business Research 6, no. 1 (2007): 113-126.

[xi] Mary Ellen Stanley.

[xii] Matthew Crosston.

[xiii] Stuart Malawer, “Confronting Chinese Economic Cyber Espionage with WTO Litigation,” New York Law Journal, December 23, 2014.

[xiv] “Foreign Spies Stealing U.S. Economic Secrets in Cyberspace,” The Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, April 14, 2016, https://www.ncsc.gov/publications/reports/fecie_all/Foreign_Economic_Collection_2011.pdf

[xv] Souvik Saha.

[xvi]  Ibid.

[xvii] Geoff Dyer, “China in ‘Economic Espionage’,” Financial Times, May 19, 2012.

[xviii] Zachary Keck, “Robert Gates: Most Countries Conduct Economic Espionage,” The Diplomat, December 17, 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/robert-gates-most-countries-conduct-economic-espionage/

[xix] “WikiLeaks Reveals NSA’s Economic Espionage against France,” Progressive Digital Media Technology News, Jun 30, 2015, http://search.proquest.com/docview/1692699265?accountid=14765

[xx] Souvik Saha.

[xxi]Altay Atli, “A View from Ankara: Turkey’s Relations with China in a Changing Middle East,” Mediterranean Quarterly 26, no. 1 (2015): 117-136.

[xxii] “Turkey Says ‘yes’ to China’s Trade Initiative, ‘no’ to its Missiles,” South China Morning Post, November 15, 2015, http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/1879097/turkey-says-yes-chinas-trade-initiative-no-its-missiles

[xxiii] “Turkey Cancels $3.4 Bln Missile Deal with China,” The French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China, November, 15 2015, http://www.ccifc.org/fr/single-news/n/turkey-cancels-34-bln-missile-deal-with-china/

[xxiv] Manochehr Dorraj and James English, “The Dragon Nests: China’s Energy Engagement of the Middle East,” China Report 49, no. 1 (2013): 43-67.

[xxv] “UAE Delays Project to Bypass the Strait of Hormuz,”. Al Bawaba, January 9, 2012,

http://www.albawaba.com/business/uae-delays-project-bypass-strait-hormuz-408210

[xxvi] “UAE Delays Oil Pipeline to Bypass Hormuz to June,” Oil & Gas News, January 16, 2012,http://search.proquest.com/docview/916274658?accountid=14765

[xxvii] John Markoff, “Old Trick Threatens the Newest Weapons,” The New York Times, October 26, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/science/27trojan.html?_r=2&ref=science&pagewanted=all

[xxviii] “Huawei Spies for China, Says Former NSA and CIA Chief Michael Hayden,” Business Insider, July 19, 2013,http://www.businessinsider.com/huawei-spies-for-china-says-michael-hayden-2013-7

 

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Why ISIS will not succeed in Afghanistan

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By Lily Hess, a 2nd year undergraduate Student studying International Relations. She is currently studying abroad, and is the Foreign Editor of International Relations Today.

In 2014, a worrying development occurred in Afghanistan: The spread of ISIS’ Khorasan branch into several provinces, with its stronghold in Nangarhar. Following its stunning successes in Syria and Iraq, ISIS decided to expand its franchise outside the Arab world. The Khorasan branch encompasses South Asia in general — including India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. Afghanistan had appeared as a particularly promising country for expansion, given the limited control of its weak government and extensive history of jihadist wars against Western invaders and the “indel” regimes they support. ISIS’ strategy was to use its reputation, superior resources, and the internal discord of local competitors, like the Afghan Taliban, to recruit and integrate existing militants in Afghanistan to build up its own force there. [1]

Currently the Afghan Taliban and ISIS are at war with each other, while both also fight the NATO-backed Afghan government forces. Why didn’t ISIS decide to simply cooperate with groups like the Taliban, a jihadist group that is well-organized and holds long-established networks? This answer may stem back to the foundations of ISIS in Syria. The predecessor of ISIS is the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), al-Qaeda’s previous branch in Iraq. At the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, al-Qaeda saw a ripe opportunity to expand its operations. It tasked the ISI with helping to establish its new Syrian branch, and the Jabhat al-Nusra was declared in 2012. [2] However, al-Qaeda kept ambiguous its connection to al-Nusra in order to give it more leeway to gain the support of other local fighter groups in Syria. At the same time, the leadership of ISI itself wanted to spread its operations into Syria and establish itself as a separate group from al-Qaeda. These tensions culminated to the point where ISI announced that al-Nusra was it’s Syrian subsidiary, but from then on its existence would be unnecessary because ISI would reform itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Most of al-Nusra rejected this association, and in the process had to let loose that it was a branch of al-Qaeda. [2] ISI’s (newly ISIS’) announcement was followed with a series of large victories in Syria and Iraq, which propelled it to international attention. But it’s brutal tactics and hunger for sole control caused other militant groups, including al-Nusra, to increasingly oppose the new group. Al-Qaeda also denounced and dropped its Iraq branch, now ISIS.

 The hostility between ISIS and al-Qaeda has been transcribed into the South Asian theater, owing to the ties between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But ISIS’ vitriol toward the Afghan Taliban also stems from what it believes are ideological deficiencies. It denounces the Taliban’s adherence to local tribal laws instead of a blanket application of a strict form of Sharia Law claiming  the Taliban a puppet of Iran and Pakistan’s intelligence service, in order to present its illegitimacy. Before the world knew that Mullah Omar had been dead for years, ISIS publicly assailed his “nationalist” worldview as opposed to trying to unite all Muslims. After he was found to have been dead, ISIS accused the Taliban of deceiving their followers and being untrustworthy for hiding his death. [3] Indeed, the revelations of Mullah Omar’s death stirred unrest within the Taliban as a power struggle ensued. When Mullah Mansour emerged as the leader, it disaffected a number of its members, some of whom then joined ISIS in Afghanistan.

On top of the discord within the Taliban, ISIS also has used other inter-group tension to recruit top fighters. The two original leaders of ISIS’ Khorasan branch are solid examples of these: The leader, Hafiz Saeed Khan, was a former chief of the Orakzai branch of the Tehreeke-Taliban Pakistan who was passed over for the highest position in the organization. The second-in-command (but since deceased), Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, a former commander in the Afghan Taliban, had perceived an unfair tribal representation in its shura council, and was frustrated over whether Mullah Omar was alive or not. By itself, ISIS also had the advantage of resources over the other groups. Owing from its victories in Syria and Iraq, the group became rich from oil, antiquities, kidnapping, extortion, and other activities. Furthermore, it was willing to spend large sums of money to expand its networks in South Asia. Finally, its sophisticated media campaign was far more advanced than the Taliban’s. [1] Overall, ISIS had the perfect opportunity to use it many advantages to unseat the Taliban and become the dominant insurgent force against the state and expand its “caliphate”.

However, since its early successes in recruiting militants to its cause, ISIS has been facing severe failures in Afghanistan. The main cause of this ultimately originates from its core brutality and intolerance for local practices of Islam and society. Afghanistan’s tribal variations and provinciality, which have long bedeviled the Afghan government’s attempts at constructing a national identity, now bedevil ISIS’ attempts at garnering local support. The group is a foreign import, and does not understand the local people as much as the indigenous Taliban. The largest ethnic group in Afghanistan — and the majority of Taliban fighters — are Pashtuns. ISIS has criticized the tribal code of Pashtuns called Pashtunwali, which does not help their recruitment of Taliban fighters. [3] While the Taliban can be harsh, ISIS is brutal to another level, to the point where it alienates the local population. In fact, ISIS has minuscule local support and no cooperation with other militant groups in Afghanistan. The majority of its fighters in Afghanistan are actually former members of the Pakistani Taliban that were driven out by Pakistani military operations in its tribal areas. [4] In the competition between ISIS and the Taliban, this gives the Taliban two legitimacy advantages: They can claim to be the indigenous and (comparatively) moderate group. Meanwhile, ISIS is being targeted from all sides as American drone strikes, Afghan operations, and clashes with the Taliban batter down the group. The Khorasan Branch is geographically far from its central leadership in Iraq and Syria. Owing to the recent challenges it faces there, it seems unlikely that the central command would place the Khorasan Branch as a high priority and send aid. The group has been virtually eradicated from South and West Afghanistan. [5] While the Taliban now holds more territory than ever since the US-led invasion in 2001, ISIS has lost more than half the districts it once held in Afghanistan. [6]

In the future, ISIS’ influence in Afghanistan is likely to steadily decline, especially if it loses most of its territory in Syria and Iraq. However, the risk of spread to other regions is always present. Many of the fighters are likely to return to their home countries eventually, and this may be troubling news for Central and South Asia. ISIS has recently been attempting to control territory in Northern Afghanistan in order to create a corridor for militants from Central Asian states it borders and Afghanistan. [5] While it is highly unlikely that ISIS will ever succeed in conquering Afghanistan and adding it to the “caliphate”, remnants of the group will disseminate to neighboring regions, where they can remain as a small but perpetual threat.

Bibliography:

Picture credit: Link: https://southfront.org/vilayat-khorasan-isis-takes-over-afghanistan/

1 = Jones, Seth G. “Expanding the Caliphate: ISIS’ South Asia Strategy.” Foreign Affairs. 11 June 2015. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2015-06-11/expanding-caliphate

2 = Mendelsohn, Barak. The Al-Qaeda Franchise. New York City: Oxford University Press, 2016. Print.

3 = Barr, Nathaniel and Bridget Moreng. “The Graveyard of Caliphates.” Foreign Affairs. 13 January 2016. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2016-01-13/graveyardcaliphates

4 = “ISIS increasing recruitment from Pakistan, Afghanistan: US.” Financial Express. 24 March 2017. http://www.financialexpress.com/world-news/isis-increasing-recruitment-from-pakistanafghanistan-us/600632/

5 = “IS in Afghanistan: How successful has the group been?” BBC. 25 February 2017. http:// http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39031000

6 = Gidda, Mirren. “Why ISIS is Failing to Build a Caliphate in Afghanistan.” Newsweek. 25 March 2017. http://www.newsweek.com/afghanistan-isis-taliban-caliphate-kabulbombing

 

 

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ISIS Inc.

Andrei Mateescu is a Bucharest based young professional in the area of International Affairs. He recently finished his BA in Economics at the University of Economic Studies of Bucharest with great interest in Political Economy. Currently he is working for a Political Marketing firm.

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This week, on the anniversary of 9/11, sorrow, grief, and tears for the passed roam the world as we remember a tragedy that still represents one of the most important turning points in international affairs of the last two decades. What started as the clash between two super-powers in the Afghanistan of the 1980s, spiraled into a world-wide spread of radicalization. 2001 was the year when a specific type of terrorism, focused on religious extremism and having the origin in the Middle East, captured our minds across the world. Therefore, nowadays we can say that it has a fixed place in how we see the world, or how we fear the world.

Living in the years of ISIS dominating the medial portrayal of terrorism and its ease at marketing its power, and propagating fear, we ask ourselves: where could the next attack happen? Will such a brutal disaster as 9/11 repeat itself in the most threatened nation on paper by Islamic Terrorism, the United States?

ISIS now has established momentum, due to concrete actions and also through its fruitful use of the digital realm to propagate its purpose. So should the US be afraid? Concrete actions, except the brutal activity in the controlled parts of Syria and Northern Iraq, occurred in the last years in Western Europe as well as “lone-wolf” attacks in the US. Is the US at risk for another large scale attack?

In contrast to the “boogy-man” image of those terrorists that we relate to the appearance of Osama Bin Laden in the ’90s, there is a huge change of who they are. The recent attacks were not the masterpiece of infiltrated ISIS members in western societies as it happened with the team of 9/11. They were citizens born and raised in the “West”, shockingly as it is for those countries.

 France has a large muslim population and in it has also a large subgroup of marginalised citizens with often little economic means to secure a comfortable standard of living. Easily manipulated people seem to ease the dynamic that ISIS is building up around the world. Due to many factors, ISIS has now become a form of an outsourcing giant in global terrorism. The situation of the US is different than that of France, at this moment it does not have the premises of a terrorism hot spot. Hence, ISIS is powerful only if it can have something to outsource and it is unclear whether it has achieved this as much in the US as it has in some parts of Western Europe.

There is also the view of the US secret and security services as being better prepared than those of France and Belgium, for instance. Remember when Molenbeek was trending in the press? The problem of the overly bureaucratized Belgian police was trending also in the press as a long forgotten problem and which just get vocal after its size grew exponentially. For example, Brussels has 6 distinctive police institutions serving its area and lacks a centralised managing system. Its 19 distinctive mayors also make it hard to implement social policies that would enable it to tackle such sensitive issues like that of radicalisation.

The French counter-part is less problematic but also bureaucratised and its intelligence units failed in the field of prevention. The “boogy-mans” delivered by ISIS in Europe are seen now as less complex and more foreseeable. This induced the thought that ISIS is not as powerful as its ego may be making the organization seen.

But this dynamic will most likely be continued until ISIS levels up their game – and that’s a question of resources and strategy, not outsourcing on psychically unstable persons.

 

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From black gold to the 21st century

Andrej Bacholdin is in his penultimate year of studying BSc Economics at UCL. He comes from Prague, Czech Republic. Andrej is also an avid follower of current events and has started his own economics and politics blog (www.milleconomist.wordpress.com).

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The oil price began its momentous, and largely unforeseen, collapse in June 2014. After nearly five years of stability, by November the price had fallen 40%. With the exception of a few short-lasting rallies and periods of false stability, the decline continued until January 2016, when Brent Crude reached $26.55, the lowest level in 10 years.

Few were prepared. The Russian ruble lost more than 50% of its value; Nigeria’s central bank abandoned the naira’s peg to the USD. But, while still unbeknownst to the outside world, Saudi Arabia was also nearing disaster.

Last spring, the IMF predicted Saudi Arabia’s reserves could last the country for at least five years of low oil prices. To the handful of insiders in Riyadh, the situation could starkly be any different. Saudi’s burn rate of $30 billion a month meant that, at that rate, the country would be bankrupt within just two years.

Yet the story of Saudi Arabia’s survival, and indeed future, began long before the events that grabbed the world’s attention. And much of the story revolves around one man.

Prince Mohammad bin Salman, nicknamed MbS, is Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Defence, chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, deputy prime ministers and 2nd in line of succession. Western diplomats call him Mr. Everything. He is also 31 years old.

The late King Abdullah and MbS had a delicate history, with the King banning his nephew from setting foot into the Ministry of Defence, apparently for his disruptive and power-hungry tendencies. But they also a shared a crucial interest: to rid Saudi Arabia of its dependence on oil.

For 80 years, oil was for Saudi Arabia what democracy is for the UK. Plentiful oil revenues provided the basis for Saudi’s social structure: absolute rule by the Al Saud family, in exchange for generous public spending, all legitimised by the Wahhabi religious establishment.

Two years before his death in 2015, King Abdullah tasked MbS to prepare a plan on reducing the economy’s dependency on oil as well as change the country’s entire social construction. When MbS’s father, King Salman, assumed power in 2015, he gave his son unprecedented control over the state oil monopoly, Ministry of Defence, national investment fund, and economic and foreign policy. In practice, MbS is currently the power behind the throne.

So when Saudi Arabia began heading for bankruptcy, MbS swiftly reinstated strict spending limits, tapped debt markets and cut the budget by 25%. Disaster, for now, was averted. However, Saudi Arabia’s transformation goes far beyond surviving until the next oil price spike.

Saudi oil policy, under the prince’s guidance, has broken with decades of historical doctrine as the leader of OPEC. In April, an OPEC-Russia production freeze was cancelled after the deal was already agreed; MbS intervened because Iran did not want to freeze its production. In fact, according to him, he does not care if oil prices rise or fall. “$30 or $70, they are all the same to us,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. If they rise, that means more cash for nonoil investments. If they fall, Saudi Arabia, as the world’s lowest-cost producer, can regain market share.

In June, Saudi Arabia unveiled the National Transformation Program, a plan to reshape the country’s economy. Its goals, such as tripling non-oil revenue and creating 450,000 private-sector jobs by 2020, are ambitious. But so are the measures, which include the introduction of a value-added tax, cuts in public utility subsidies, and levies on luxury goods and sugary drinks. That is not to say the days of generous Saudi spending are over; there are, as yet, no plans for income taxes and, to cushion the impact of a slowing economy, poorer households are directly given cash handouts. The government is also exploring a possible IPO of Saudi Aramco, the national oil company. Valued at up to $3 trillion, Saudi Aramco would be larger than Apple, Google, Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway combined.

However, transforming the Saudi economy is impossible without transforming its society. The country can’t thrive if half the population is severely constrained in daily activities. The prince has hinted that he would support increased rights for women, who can’t drive or leave their home without a male relative’s permission. “We believe women have rights in Islam that they’ve yet to obtain,” said the prince. According to a former senior US military officer, MbS commented, “If women were allowed to ride camels [in the time of the Prophet Muhammad], perhaps we should let them drive cars, the modern-day camels.”

Another social problem hindering the prince’s ambitious economic plan is getting young people to work in the private sector. Youth unemployment stands at about 30%, and few are willing to sacrifice their cushy public-sector jobs for more demanding private firms; many, however, may not have a choice given the large public-sector budget cuts. A greater challenge is increasing the attractiveness of Saudi workers. Until now, the Wahhabi religious establishment has supplied the Al Saud family with political legitimacy, in exchange for clerical control over education and the judiciary. Most Saudi youths are underqualified due to an education largely based on religion.

And here lies the greatest challenge: MbS’s relatively liberal views (he recently broke the Ramadan fast while on a visit to the US) risk sparking a collision with the Wahhabi clerical establishment. The prince may be seeking other sources of legitimacy from his own generation, but in a country surrounded by extremism both outside and within, any religious tensions are perilous.

There is no doubt Saudi Arabia still faces an uphill battle. This quarter, the non-oil economy has, for the first time since 1980, slipped into a technical recession. But, with $581.3 billion remaining foreign exchange reserves and a highly ambitious and forward-looking leadership, Saudi Arabia is better positioned than most oil-producing nations. If successful, Saudi Arabia would serve as a model for its Gulf neighbours and other oil superpowers, notably Russia and Malaysia. Perhaps, the black gold’s importance to countries’ economies has already plateaued.

 

Image source:

Glover, Peter C., and Michael J. Economides. “OPEC Fracked – The Commentator.” OPEC Fracked – The Commentator. S.M.A.R. S.r.o., Web. 17 July 2016.

 

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With Yemen, “one step away from famine” according to the UN, what prospects are there for the Saudi & Iran led coalitions in the conflict?

By Nahil Nassar, a 1st Year IR Student in King’s College London from Egypt.

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Since before my lifetime, the Middle East – once home to some of the greatest minds and civilizations in history – has generally been no stranger to the poison of political corruption, veiled agendas, and a general disregard for human rights. The Arab Spring of 2011, however, began leading the region into an optimistic era that would put an end to political oppression. It would be a time remembered for inspiring dormant voices to awaken, finally free to sing their songs of liberty. That was, until shit hit the fan. The lethal civil conflicts in states such as Syria and more recently Yemen, being key examples of revolutionary hope gone horribly wrong.

Both conflicts not only share a past in tyranny, but an equally shaky future which seems to rest in the hands of everyone except the liberty singers. In the special and recent case of Yemen, Saudi Arabia (supporting the Sunni pre-revolutionary government) and Iran (continuously affiliated with the Shia Houthi “rebels”) seem to hold the most tangible interests in keeping their (alleged) allies in power, some even going so far as to claim that the people’s war is not for the people at all, but a proxy war for both historically adverse countries.

Nonetheless, with the growing humanitarian concern regarding the lives of those stuck in the crossfires, international actors grow increasingly uneasy at the impending possibility of this war being dragged on any longer, people like Johannes Van Der Klaauw, UN Humanitarian Coordinator, labelling the situation a “humanitarian catastrophe.”[1]

Will the exponentially growing number of children orphaned or dead be enough to end the internationally led bloodshed? Will Tehran and Riyadh finally be able to put aside its long-lasting competition to save the lives of millions of Yemeni families?

Probably not.

How Yemen turned into a political battlefield

In March 2015, a sea of citizens swarmed the streets of Yemen, having built the strength in 2011 to revolt against any government unable to meet their expectations. Following the capture of beleaguered President Abdrubbah Mansour Hadi by Shia rebel forces – known as Houthis – the majority of north Yemen fell under Houthi siege. However, shortly after, Hadi fled to his hometown of Aden, located in the south of Yemen, where he nationally broadcasted his legitimacy as president and public opposition to the Houthis, escalating an already unstable national situation into a chaotic clash between supporters and armies of both political parties[2].

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Naturally, as a Sunni leader, Hadi was immediately backed by Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), among which are most other Arab countries, such as Egypt and Jordan. Seeing this, the international community has grown suspicious of Iran’s role in the civil war, due to their religious ties to the Shia Houthis and long standing “regional Cold War” with the Saudi Kingdom[3]. However, no known evidence has been released and denial of any military support to Houthi armies has been repeatedly insisted by Iranian officials, despite prevalent verbal condemnations of Hadi and his supporters publicized by the Iranian government.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is a different story.

After little, if any, diplomatic attempts to return Yemen to Hadi’s government, Saudi Arabia began air strikes in areas controlled by the Houthis, taking little consideration for “collateral damage” along the way. Though the air strikes were officially terminated in April 2015, they continue to this day under different “operations”, in an attempt to discourage Houthi efforts of sieging southern Yemen and withdrawing their forces from Yemeni soil all together[4].

While a total of 9 countries around the GCC and Middle East have created a coalition with the kingdom, countries like Oman[5] have attempted to bridge the gap between the two adversaries through peace plans. With their efforts unsuccessful, one must ask…

Why is Yemen such an investment to either country?

As with most international interventions in areas of conflict, the intentions overtly displayed by outsiders often fail to show the full story. Though Iran and Saudi Arabia may claim to have dug their feet into their political positions in this conflict on the notion of doing what they believe “right” by the Yemeni public, it is clear to most political analysts that there may be more behind this than meets the eye.

In the case of Iran, their interest is simple; location, location, location. With a Shia government in power, Yemen would become a key asset in Iran’s power struggle within the region. With an ally so near to Saudi Arabian borders, Iran would have instant influence in the kingdom’s political decisions in conflict zones such as Syria and Iraq, unlocking doors to friends in high places[6].

To Saudi political leaders, the very thing that could drive Iran to power could be the beginning of their end. Such close proximity to the monarchy’s territory could lead to a contagion of AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) support within Saudi Arabia, thanks to their abundant presence within Yemen. Furthermore, as recent statistical evidence attests, weapon smuggling between members of Houthis and Iran seems to be a growing industry, an unquestionable security threat for Saudi Arabia, who shares a “porous 1,770km southern border with Yemen”, and who considers Yemen to be “easy prey for Tehran to penetrate and manipulate”[7].

With such high stakes and opportunities for each respective country, it would appear that the prospect of an end to Saudi and (theoretically) Iranian coalitions is virtually non-existent. However, could growing international concern for the humanitarian consequences change Yemen’s apparently terminal destiny?

“4/5 Yemeni’s Now Need Humanitarian Aid.”

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One does not need more than a beating heart and a glimmer of conscience to realize that human suffering should never be warranted, that a mother watching her bundle of joy dying of starvation is never okay. But being so far removed from the Yemeni conflict, it can be easy to trick ourselves into thinking “16 million”, “7,655”, “8,875”, “14.4 million”, “2 million”, “70” and “90” are just numbers on a piece of paper. But think again.

Almost 16 million were in need of humanitarian aid before conflict had even begun[8]. According to the UN, 7,655 are the number of civilian causalities recorded between the 26th of March and 16th of October 2015, at least 505 below the age of 18[9]. 8,875 are the number of human rights violations reported as of November 18th[10]. 14.4 million are how many Yemeni citizens are now considered food insecure, 2 million acutely malnourished[11]. 70 are the number of humanitarian organizations attempting to gain any access into Yemeni borders and waterways to provide the aid that is so desperately needed[12].

90% is the percentage of food import Yemen once relied on to feed its people. After the air strikes began and fighting around the port of Aden became prominent, all but a few ships were allowed into Yemeni waters, halting imports of food and destroying any chances of mass nourishment, thus placing the Yemeni population near famine[13].

And the numbers continue to rise.

Will Enough Finally Be Enough?

With numbers rising as fast as they are, it becomes harder to block out the eerie similarity between conditions in Yemen and Syria today. The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross seemed to find it difficult as well, for after returning from a visit in August, it was observed that “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years”[14].

And guess who have their fingers in that war too?

Saudi Arabia and Iran’s refusal to place their petty power games on hold, despite international pressure for a resolution to be found for all parties, leaves no point of reference to indicate that either country has any intention of backing down from their respective support in Yemen either – at least not for the sake of humanitarian concern.

While eager talks between Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers have been at play with the possibility of a more fruitful relationship blossoming, events like the Saudi ordered execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr in January of 2016[15] suggests the opposite.

Attempting to stay optimistic in the wake of the Kingdom’s recent economic downturn, all hope may not be lost. Though the air strikes may not end for the sake of humanity, the thinning number of royal paychecks might. In 2015, Saudi Arabia managed to gather the highest budget deficit in decades at nearly $100 billion, constituting 15% of its GDP, and this is only getting worse[16]. With the increasing instability of oil markets, and lacking investment into other industries, the former richest country in the region may need to resort to taxing its people, who would then get to have an actual say in national matters. Gasp! Needless to say, Saudi Arabian leaders may not be loving that idea. Thus, dropping the costs inflicted by the civil war may be the only solution for now.

As for Iran, with no real evidence of any coalition happening with Houthi forces, not much can be questioned as of yet.

We’ve Lost Sight of What Matters

Yemen has been cursed with turmoil for decades, with a weakly calculated attempt to unify a marginalized south and heavily populated north in the First Gulf War era, a weak economy, and a relationship with Saudi Arabia on thin ice.

Today, Iran and the Kingdom’s interests in Yemen are political, economic, and strategic. It doesn’t seem to be the one thing it should: Humane.

As governments that claim to be international leaders in the Islamic faith – known to most as a moral faith – it is disheartening to see such immoral priorities in action; money and power are placed above peace and compassion. It appears that we’ve lost sight of the people who need support in the first place: Yemeni families fighting for the future of their children.

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 Saudi Arabian and Iranian differences need to be pushed aside if we want to actively put an end to disorder in the Middle East. As Anwar Sadat, a loved Egyptian leader of a better time, quoted:

“There can be hope only for a society which acts as one big family, not as many separate ones.”[17]

Sources:

[1] “Yemen Crisis: How Bad Is the Humanitarian Crisis?” BBC News. BBC Newsnight, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[2] “Yemen Crisis: Who Is Fighting Whom?” BBC News. BBC, 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

[3] Reardon, Martin. “Saudi Arabia, Iran and the ‘Great Game’ in Yemen.” AlJazeera. N.p., 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

[4] Gatehouse, Gabriel. “Inside Yemen’s Forgotten War.” BBC News. BBC Newsnight, 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[5] “Oman Offers Seven-point Peace Plan for Yemen.” Alarby. N.p., 24 Apr. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[6] Reardon, Martin. “Saudi Arabia, Iran and the ‘Great Game’ in Yemen.” AlJazeera. N.p., 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Yemen Crisis: How Bad Is the Humanitarian Crisis?” BBC News. BBC Newsnight, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Yemen Crisis: How Bad Is the Humanitarian Crisis?” BBC News. BBC Newsnight, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[15] Sinclair, Harriet. “Nimr Al-Nimr Execution: Former Iraq PM Al-Maliki Says Death Will ‘topple Saudi Regime'” Independent. N.p., 2 Jan. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.

[16] Nasser, Amal. “How Long Can Saudi Arabia Afford Yemen War?” Al Monitor – Gulf Pulse. N.p., 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

[17] Cochran, Judith. “VII. The Educational Open Door Policy 1970-1983.” Educational Roots of Political Crisis in Egypt. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2008. 76. Print.

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Counter-terrorism, Syria and Military Intervention: A Chinese Perspective

Dean Chen is a first-year BA International Relations student at King’s

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As the British Parliament has authorised air strikes in Syria, we are coming to a very interesting situation: four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are currently carrying out military action against a common enemy. The last time when this happened was during WWII. The only missing one, China, which was widely regarded as a rising world power, seems to be mute about the situation in Syria. This piece will try to offer readers a Chinese perspective on counter-terrorism and the situation in Syria. It believes that China is not ‘mute’, but rather playing a constructive role in these issues, although her ways and underlying logic might not be well understood by many. By the end of this piece, it is hoped that readers will have a more comprehensive understanding of China’s stance and policy concerning the above issues.

China is not immune to terrorist threat. In November 2015, a Chinese citizen was beheaded by ISIL. In 2014, a terrorist attack in Kunming (a city located in Southwest China) resulted in 33 deaths. In 2013, a suicide attack at Tiananmen Square in Beijing (widely regarded as the political heart of China) killed 5 people. Domestic terrorist organisations have long been present in China. The most famous ones are the ‘East Turkestan Islamic Movement’ and ‘East Turkestan Liberation Organisation’ whose main sphere of activity is Xinjiang Province in Northwest China. Xinjiang has a large Muslim population and these organisations aim to establish a fundamentalist Islamist state in Xinjiang. Since their establishment, they have claimed responsibility for hundreds of terrorist attacks. In addition, it is believed these organisations have connections with Al Qaeda, and several hundred jihadist fighters from China have joined ISIL. The counter-terrorist situation China faces, is one that combines the threats of violent terrorism, religious fundamentalism and separatism, linked to international terrorism network.

The Chinese government is taking strong measures to combat terrorism. According to Chinese media, Chinese military and police have successfully destroyed 181 ‘violent terrorist groups’ in Xinjiang. [1] Actions are taken to cut connections between domestic terrorist organisations and international terrorist networks, especially stopping radicalised individuals from joining ISIL. By tackling domestic terrorist groups and stemming the flow of fighters joining ISIL, China is making her own contributions to international counter-terrorism. The underlying logic of China’s approach is consistent in her foreign policy: by solving her own problems and advancing China’s development, China is effectively contributing to solving international problems and fostering global development.

Needless to say, terrorism is benefiting from the chaos in Syria. If terrorism is to be eradicated, the coordination of counter-terrorism policy with conflict-resolving policy in Syria is essential. The following part of the essay will look at China’s policy regarding Syria.

Peaceful means of conflict-resolving, dialogue, political solution, non-intervention are key words of China’s policy towards the Syrian conflict. China vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions proposing sanctions and military intervention targeting Syria. China has consistently supported UN-led peace initiatives, including the Geneva Communique, the second round Geneva dialogue and the Arab League-UN joint special envoys. These actions are reflections of the stance that China has consistently upheld, which can be illustrated by the following statement:

‘Our fundamental point of departure is to safeguard the purposes and principles of the UN Charter as well as the basic norms governing international relations, including the principles of sovereign equality and non-interference in others’ internal affairs, to safeguard the interests of the Syrian people and the Arab states, and to safeguard the interests of all countries, small and medium-sized in particular. This is China’s consistent stance in all international affairs. It is not targeted at a particular issue or time.’ [2]

These actions and statements strongly suggest China’s highly principled views of resolving the Syrian conflict: (1) the conflict should be resolved through peaceful dialogue involving both sides, and military means should not be adopted; (2) the principle of non-intervention and sovereign equality should be the number one principle of international relations, and no other principle should be above it. [3]

In light of new developments of the Syrian conflict, especially the unexpectedly swift rise of ISIL, China’s attitude is undergoing changes. The beheading of a Chinese citizen by ISIL earlier this year has invoked louder calls for the Chinese government to adopt more proactive policy regarding Syria. On November 20th 2015, China voted in favour of UN Security Council resolution S/RES/2249 (2015) in support of UN member states’ action to ‘redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL’. [4] However, this change in attitude should not be exaggerated. The deep concerns of China have not yet changed: she is concerned that military intervention in Syria could establish a dangerous precedent for military intervention against sovereign states; she is also concerned about the abuse of power by certain states to promote regime change for geopolitical purposes. [5]

In conclusion, regarding counter-terrorism and the Syrian conflict, China adopts a relatively restrictionist policy: she is largely focused on tackling domestic terrorist threats, and consistently advocated the principle of state sovereignty and political solutions to the Syrian conflict. The underlying logic of China’s policy is that by solving her own problems and exercising restraint in international relations, China is effectively contributing to solving international problems and maintaining international peace. China is often criticised for dodging international responsibility, but perhaps her approach might provide different perspectives for considerations.

[1] See “新疆反恐:一年已打掉181个暴恐团伙” [Counter-terrorism in Xinjiang: destroying 181 violent terrorist groups in one year] November 20, 2015 http://mil.news.sina.com.cn/2015-11-20/1124844389.html

[2] Explanatory Remarks by Ambassador Wang Min after General Assembly Vote on Draft Resolution on Syria, Permanent Mission of the People‘s Republic of China to the UN, August 3, 2012, http://www.china-un.org/eng/hyyfy/t958262.htm

[3] Swaine, M.D., 2012. Chinese Views of the Syrian Conflict. [online] Available at: http://carnegieendowment.org/files/swaine_clm_39_091312_2.pdf

[4] Security Council resolution, Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts, S/RES/2249 (November 20, 2015)

Available at: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2249(2015)

[5] Swaine, M.D., 2012. Chinese Views of the Syrian Conflict. [online] Available at: http://carnegieendowment.org/files/swaine_clm_39_091312_2.pdf

 

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ISIS: Foundations and Response after the Paris Attacks – Interview with John Bew and Shiraz Maher

By Sam Wyatt and Tabby Urban. Sam is a Welsh second-year student at KCL reading BA International Relations. He is also the East Asia and Pacific Editor at International Relations Today. Tabby is a German second-year student at KCL reading BA International Relations. She has interned with the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation in Bucharest, and lived in the Middle East for several years. She is also the Middle East and North Africa Editor at International Relations Today.

 

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Dr. John Bew is a Reader in History and Foreign Policy at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. His research interests include Grand Strategy, Anglo-American Foreign Policy since 1789, terrorism and political violence. He’s a contributing writer for the New Statesman, and Senior Fellow at the KCL based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR). His most recent book is Realpolitik: A History and was published by Oxford University Press.

 

Dr. Shiraz Maher is a Lecturer at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, as well as an adjunct Professor at John’s Hopkins University, USA. His research interests and expertise include the study of radicalisation, political movements and in the Middle East, as well as jihadist movements in the broader Middle East. He’s a contributing writer for the New Statesman, and Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR). His most recent book is Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea.

 

 

IRT: Many European politicians have said that “Paris changes everything.” Do you agree, or are we merely seeing history repeat itself as there are observable parallels between President Bush’s rhetoric on the “War on Terror” and President Hollande’s declaration of “War on Isis” after the November 13th attacks?

 

JB: Both. First of all, Paris does change a lot, because of the scale and obviously because of the movement of the UN, and the building up of a new coalition. Britain will most likely join further air strikes, and there’s been a massive escalation of the French campaign against Isis. Secondly, yes, also because the French have used remarkably similar language to George Bush’s “War on Terror” and that’s for legal reasons for one, but it’s also because of the serious gravity of the threat. Paris changes everything mainly because of the new international coalition that’s emerging, which will certainly make a significant change on the ground in Syria. Especially for the French, this is a massive turning point, even more than the Charlie Hebdo attacks. This also makes you wonder what effect an attack such as the one in Paris would have on Britain, because even the attack on Tunisia, where 30 Britons were killed, had surprisingly little impact on Britain’s policy towards Isis. So yes, Paris changes everything and yes, there are strong echoes of President Bush’s “War on Terror.”

 

IRT: Moving on to the issue of radicalized Western nationals, which we have seen execute the majority of the terror attacks on the West. How do you think we could combat this home-grown terrorism and do you see any differences in the radicalization process in countries like Britain and other European countries, like France?

 

SM: In terms of a pattern of radicalization for the individuals going (to Iraq and Syria to join Isis), it’s fairly consistent across Europe. There’s a sense that these individuals have not bought into the societies in which they’ve been raised, and they don’t feel a sense of connectedness with the national story of whichever country they have migrated from. So in that context, we haven’t seen a great change from the same classical issues that arose in the post 9/11 context. People weren’t set to feel British or French or German or any other Western nationality at that time, and we see a continuation of that today. For instance, when Mohammad Sidique Khan, the ringleader of the 7/7 attacks in London, produced his suicide video, he said to Britain: “you are bombing, killing, imprisoning and torturing my people.” That was very telling, because who are “his people”? His people were the people he was killing that day in the 7/7 attacks, and not the citizens of a country he’d never been to and who spoke a language he didn’t speak. So in that sense there hasn’t been a real change in the drivers of this radicalization, and it’s been fairly consistent. The only main change that we see is that at that time it was civilizational discourse: here’s the West waging a war against Islam, which was the radical narrative. Now, the narrative has been, up until relatively recently, much more internalized within the Muslim community. Here, there is a battle between a Sunni and Shia future in Islam, and that was an intra-civilizational discourse. That is changing a bit with what we’ve seen happen in Paris, and this increased sabre-rattling between the West and fighters on the ground, particularly in the “Islamic State.”

 

IRT: So how would we combat this radicalization as a country? Should we aim at more inclusive policies?

 

SM: There’s no “quick fix”. Everyone needs to appreciate this, particularly the politicians, who look for these “quick fixes” and “one size fits all” approaches to this kind of trend. If you look over the last 14 years, we’ve had this “War on Terror,” and we’ve had prevent strategies in place for the best part of a decade, and yet we have more people getting up and leaving this country to go abroad and to engage in violent jihad. This is not just true for Britain, however, it’s true for Europe as whole – everything we’ve done has in this sense been a failure over that time. To tie this in with the Tory government, the prevent strategies have been aimed a lot more “up-stream,” whereas under Labour, prevent was very much concentrated with the violent extremists. The Conservatives were much more interested in combating anti-extremism per say and recognised the symbiotic relationship between extremist individuals and those who are violent extremists and how they feed off of one another. That’s going to be an important part of the challenge that comes in at this stage, and I believe that that’s going to be one of the most interesting and effective long-term soft power initiatives that governments can use. But the key is to recognise that it is long-term and unfortunately, the way I see it, the threats and dynamics we face are generational. Therefore, we can’t expect this First World War mentality of “it’ll all be over by Christmas.”

 

IRT: Looking at the cyber space, which Isis uses extensively for propaganda and recruitment services, do you think that “Anonymous,” who have also declared “war” on Isis, are credible threat to the organisation?

 

SM: In the most simple terms, no. “Anonymous” are a hacktivist collective, and using another narrative to explain this better, Isis propaganda is like a poster put up at the university for an event. Imagine I don’t like this event and the people that are behind it, so I rip the poster off the wall. That’s effectively what “Anonymous” are doing: they’re ripping the posters off the wall that Isis has put up, but the event’s still going ahead, the room is still booked, and the speakers are still confirmed. So in essence, you’ve done nothing that will actually damage them.

 

IRT: In your opinion, is Isis more of a state-building group, or is it transforming into a global terrorist organisation?

 

JB: There’s still a strong element of both. We’ve had a series of evolutions in terms of terrorist threat after Al-Qaeda, which is a modern Islamist and post 9/11 terrorist threat and which had franchised and had several affiliated organisations. Isis is still simultaneously a state and brand, so it can make a claim to be an “Islamic State,” albeit one with weak borders, and a largely unhappy population under its control. The Isis appeal, however, is a brand, which is more popular than the Al-Qaeda brand ever was in Western society. The two things, state building and global terrorist recruitment, are therefore not mutually exclusive. The problem and the difficulty is that there is no simple home vs. away aspect of this threat – there are clearly connections. The mixture of the two, both the home-grown and the foreign fighter element, are present in the Paris attacks. However, it is also possible that the attacks could have happened with people returning from the “Islamic State.” Hence, the two things co-existent and are all the more potent because of their co-existence. They also have to be tackled separately, as you can’t have the same policy for Isis abroad and within. This is also because the problems that they feed upon are different. Isis the “state” has benefited from the collapse of state order in the Middle East, while Isis the “franchise” feeds off long-term problems of discontent, alienation, lack of integration and ideologies that pre-date Isis and are associated with certain brands of Islamism. So essentially, the two aspects of Isis are connected, but the solutions are fundamentally different, and they have to be treated in this way. Any military response to Isis has to be performed under the premise that Isis is a de facto or pseudo “state.” Any response to the problem of domestic radicalisation has to start from the premise that a lot of those at threat are indigenous to those populations.

 

SM: All I’d really add to that is that Isis is a very sophisticated, quasi-state-building movement that uses terrorism. You therefore can’t classify them as simply a terrorist movement and I think it’s unhelpful for any policy maker to see them in that way. To really understand them, you have to go inside and really understand their theological view of the world. They have two very contradictory aims, but which make sense to the internal dynamics of the group: they believe in the Caliphate, so in the state-building element of that, which is to expand the “state” and develop it in any meaningful way. But at the same time, the “state” is just the means to an end. The philosophical end is to hasten the end of time and to essential meet your maker. So in that sense, the project is simultaneously constructive in the physical and real sense, but all of that constructiveness is there to achieve the philosophical destructiveness, which is to bring about the end of time in and of itself.

 

IRT: Tying in to this apocalypse idea, with “Dabiq” in northern Syria being the place where Isis will eventually meet and conquer the enemy, are boots on the ground inevitable? Or would this simply be playing into Isis’s propaganda purposes and being what they essentially want?

 

JB: To answer this question, you have to go back to the early debates at the start of Syrian civil war about intervention or non-intervention. These actually are debates that we’ve been having constantly since the end of the Cold War. In the initial phase of the Syrian civil war, which was escalated massively by the Regime and who have done their fair share of killing civilians in Syria. At the start of the civil war, there was a debate about what to do, and boots on the ground were inconceivable from a Western perspective. Since 2011, we’ve seen a lot of disputes, with the UK parliament’s Syria vote in 2013, with last year’s strange compromise whereby the British contribute to airstrikes against Isis in Iraq, but not in Syria, right through to the debate on Syria, which is going to happen next week in parliament. The irony is that as that process has pro-longed further and where there has been no intervention, the likelihood of boots on the ground is now greater than ever. The longer you leave it, and don’t do anything, the more likely it is that your nightmare scenario is approaching. I think that there will be Western boots on the ground. Obviously, there are external boots on the ground already with the Iranian and Russian forces. There are also creeping American boots on the ground in an advisory capacity. Whoever the next American President will be, will probably put more people on the ground, and Obama is more likely to as well in the remainder of his term in office. In the short-term, the way to lose an argument on Syria is to say that we need boots on the ground. But the fact is that we need to re-enter that mental space where boots on the ground are conceivable, because the mental frame from before has led to a consistent “no” policy, and we’re in a lot more of a mess than we were with any sort of the minor and lesser varieties that were mooted since 2001. Simple answer therefore is: nobody wanted to go there, even the advocates of some limited form of intervention, such as I was in 2013. I would recommend reading Robert Kagan’s long essay on World Order in the Wall Street Journal, which is very controversial, but basically argues that boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq are highly likely.

Do we put boots on the ground also goes back to an era where we had shared Western approaches to these problems. Now, however, we entering an era where there is no coherent Anglo-American or Western approach. So Britain has to face a different question: as France and the US are intensifying their approach against Isis, does it do the same? Does Britain want to be part of this Western alliance? Ultimately, when the chips are down, it has chosen to be part of this in the last 100 years. That choice is coming up again. We’ve just had the SDSR (Strategic Defence and Security Review), which shows that Britain’s two new “strike brigades” of 5,000 probably won’t be ready until 2025. Britain is therefore in no fit state to put boots on the ground at the moment anyway, but that’s a different question and more UK-centric.

 

IRT: Do you think that Assad and Isis can be tackled simultaneously, or should one be taken out before the other? What can be considered the “end-game” for Syria especially?

 

JB: Personally, I think another problem with policy has been this obsession with first of all “end games” and second of all “exit strategies.” There’s a good reason why we talk about end games and exit strategies, especially after we have seen how wrong things in this respect went during the Iraq War. Therefore, of course we’re concerned about these things. You don’t, however, have a strategy that always envisages a neat end game, where everything is wrapped up nicely. I think one of our problems has actually been to talk about angels without any strategy at all. We’re talking about a desired end state of affaires. An ideal one, particularly in 2001, was all about Assad and a transition to a feasible democracy. That is something that I, morally and emotionally, would prefer the outcome to be. However, the problem that I have with this approach is the role of the Western diplomats, who ran so far ahead of themselves and adopted a policy of “Assad must go” without the ability or the willingness to bring this about. It’s therefore very important to be careful about what you say in these circumstances, and if you do say something, you should mean it. If we keep going about proclaiming things we can’t follow through with, this will start to diminish our authority. I salute the instinct of “Assad must go,” but we need to get back in the business of being able to do things and not just talking about them.

 

SM: The whole point about Assad going is an important one in the context that every crime that Isis has committed, Assad has committed the same crime. We talk about the sexual slavery brought about by Isis, but sexual violence was brought into this conflict by the Assad regime. We’ve seen the “Islamic State” behead people, torture people – but these are things that the Assad regime has been doing since the very beginnings of the Syrian conflict. However, people were too afraid to raise their voices against the regime. So in that context, there’s no moral equivalence to be drawn here – the Assad regime has not only committed the same acts as Isis, but has perpetrated them on an industrial scale. It is sometimes said that at least Assad is somewhat of a status quo power, whereas Isis fundamentally wants to re-order the world, and they’ve got the blood of our citizens on their hands. The first part of that is true, because yes, Isis wants to destabilize the status quo, whereas Assad was generally happy with what he had in 2010. But the idea that Assad’s hands are clean of Western blood is nonsense. For every foreign fighter that got through to kill British and American troops in 2003, if you want to take a very narrow and self-interested line, you have to ask yourself how they were getting there. They were going through Syria – they were travelling with the complicity of the Syrian state and the acquiescence of its intelligence agencies. These, in conjunction with Iran, wanted to de-stabilize Iraq so as to give the West a tough and torrid time there. So precisely this brutalized experience that we’ve had in Iraq in 2003 and thereafter was not solely, but in a large part, due to a policy pursued by the Syrian regime. The idea that we should now give this man a “free pass” is a very dangerous. Of course, nobody is explicitly saying that we should give Assad a “free pass” directly, but just that we have to work with him for now. I think that this fundamentally miscalculates the situation that’s on the ground. Isis is deeply unpopular, and the Syrian people don’t want Isis there. But they don’t want Assad either, and so any attempt by us to simply go in and remove Isis, is mistaken. How are we going to achieve this? At the moment, our strategy is to bomb them from the air, which is largely ineffective. We are not going to disrupt the group and destroy it through this campaign, and whilst we do that, we share the airspace with Syrian regime jets and helicopters that mercilessly bomb civilians. Hence, the Syrian people, who were once very pro-Western, are standing there saying: “What is the West doing?” It is not exactly aiding our abuser, but at the same time aren’t doing anything to stop it either. We’ve therefore lost a lot of good will and prestige on the ground. Even if Isis were removed from the equation tomorrow, the conflict itself would persist, because what Syrian people want is a removal of the regime. This is the regime that is principally responsible for the hundreds of thousands of deaths, the refugee crisis and indeed for the growth of a movement like Isis, which was given space to develop due to the ineffectiveness of the regime.

 

JB: I think where we would strongly agree is on the dangers of being sold a false dichotomy: either Isis or Assad. This has been a strong component of the debate right from the start. There are people that say Assad shouldn’t have been allowed to cross red lines with the chemical weapons attacks on his own people and within the vicinity of his own capital. Others would then ask if you therefore want Isis to win. This has been an argument for inaction, but it shows the false dichotomy that has been set up to dumb down the debate, and this should never have been the dichotomy. Unfortunately, as this conflict has unfolded, the choices have gotten worse. This, in turn, shows the detrimental effects of doing nothing across the board, which I think is the biggest issue here. Early on in the conflict, Shiraz and I would talk separately to people on the ground, who were involved in the “Moderate Opposition.” One of the things that they said in conversation with the Russians, for example, is that Russia didn’t want to see a complete implosion of Syria and Iraq along the lines that this happened for very selfish and strategic reasons. But the Russians, earlier on in the conflict said that they can bring Assad to the table on a chain, but the opposition can’t bring anyone. The rebels have created this external opposition, which is not very grounded and has little sway on the ground. So while having this diplomatic posture of “Assad must go” we’ve actually lost any sort of leverage as to how that might be achieved. To re-iterate what Shiraz said, there’s no stability choice here. We’ve had a massive collapse of order in the Middle East, with Isis playing off on this, and there’s also no stability in a Syria under Assad. Working with Assad is therefore not the right answer. But taking a serious approach would mean being able to juggle the full complexity of the conflict, being able to play two games at once, being able to think of short-term and long-term goals, while at the same time being able to take the tactical choices in order to achieve these. I think this is a lost art in Western foreign policy, because we deal in absolutes and “Home by Christmas” approaches. But what we see in the world, with Russia, Turkey, the Kurds, and the Iranians, is a different way to conduct foreign policy, politics and security. This is ugly, morally complex and sometimes contradictory. We have to learn how to play that game again, because we can’t continue down the path we’re going down at the moment.

 

IRT: Talking about the role of Turkey, which has had first hand experience with Isis terrorism, but is also not always aiding the efforts to combat Isis, mainly because of their targeting of the Kurdish militants, how do you see the role of Turkey evolving in the conflict?

 

JB: Turkey has immediate interests that involve the security of its own state, its borders, as well as its whole perception of what it needs to do in order to survive. First of all, we have to appreciate that the stakes are very high for the Turks. Secondly, Kurdish terrorism is a serious problem in Turkey and continues to be. Thirdly, Isis is and could be a very serious problem for the Kurdish state, and we’ve seen Isis directed attacks in Turkey. So let’s not forget that Turkey has a real problem here. Relating to the complexity of the game we’re playing in the Middle East, it has to be kept in mind that we need Turkish air space to have an effective campaign against Isis. We see that the Turks have used the alliance with the West as a cover to wage their own war against various Kurdish organisations. This shows just how messy this conflict is getting, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. What you’re left with when you fail to play big power politics, don’t try to manage borders, don’t do anything when states are collapsing, and don’t do anything when industrial scale killing is going on, is that you end up having less and uglier choices and many other actors fill the void. There was a brief moment with Turkey when official senior figures in the Obama administration responsible for the conduct of foreign affaires went out and did get Turkish acquiescence for a blunting of the Assad regime’s capabilities right at the start of the conflict. But that door has closed. Instead, we’ve had further unravelling of events. More than anything, the shooting down of a Russian plane, allegedly over Turkish airspace, tells you everything you need to know about this conflict and how complicated it’s become. So overall, there’s no easy answer and there might have been a moment where Turkey could have been a key strategic asset, but that is gone now. Even the Kurdish-Turkish relations were improving up to this moment and there were some very intelligent articles in 2001 and 2002 about how this stabilization of the relationship may be the key. But that has been blown up now. Turkey, therefore, will be a massive player in whatever happens, perhaps an even bigger player than Iran.

 

SM: The important thing to remember as well is that Kurdish forces have killed a staggering amount of Turkish soldiers in the last few months. If you look at this from the national security perspective of the Turks, you’re responsible for Turkish security. That is therefore a massively pressing issue on Turkey’s doorstep, which is directly affecting your armed forces and your national interests, and therefore requires your attention. The second aspect is that we told the Turks at the start of this conflict, and when the Free Syrian Army essentially came into being, to keep their borders open. The West was only giving non-lethal aid, but it was central for the Turks to allow the free passage of weapons through their borders when the Saudis and Qataris started supporting the Free Syrian Army. If you look at interviews towards the end of 2011 and throughout 2012, the West was saying to Assad that he needed to bring the conflict to an end. Assad replied saying that he could end the whole conflict in a couple of weeks, if one could get Turkey to close the border. What he really meant by saying this was to choke off the supply lines of these rebels, and this would end the opposition movement in military terms. This is true, but the supply lines were never closed, because we had an interest in keeping them open in order to allow the flow of supplies. In that time and in that context of having those supply lines open, of course the jihadists began to use them as well. They used them to establish a very sophisticated network. Think about the debate we’re having in the UK about securing our borders as an island, and then consider the length of the Turkish border with Syria, and with Turkey being a landmass. The idea of sealing off the border is a fantasy – it’s a huge amount of territory that is also very difficult to control. The final point on this is that I’m very sympathetic with the Turks. Look at the situation in Pakistan in the 1980s, but in the post 9/11 climate as well: you have a conflict going on in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. You have a number of highly motivated and committed jihadists landing in your country who wish to do nothing to it – they just want to use it as a thoroughfare to join the armed conflict next door. The moment you begin to close that border to domestically crack down on these individuals in your own territory, what happens? The crisis comes home. So in Pakistan, when they closed the border and made life harder for those cross-border operations, certainly Islamabad, but also Lahore became the target of attacks. It fundamentally changed the entire nature of Pakistani society, because the domestic terrorism threat became so severe, and it had become so severe because of the clamping down on the tribal areas in the FATA provinces. The same thing would happen Turkey. When we’ve done field-work going down to Turkey, there are members of Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra in Istanbul and other cities. There have been the odd occasional bombs that have gone off, but nothing sustained or comparatively significant. But I guarantee that if you started to close down the border to Syria and really made life difficult for these jihadists, they will start saying that the Turkish state has become the enemy and that they are the ones prohibiting jihad. Therefore, they will feel the urge to wage jihad in Turkey, which would result in massive instability. So for Turkey to just let people jump the border is a policy that makes complete sense from their own pragmatic national security perspective.

 

IRT: How do you see the role of other regional powers emerging in the conflict? We’ve seen that Iran has recently become more involved, since it participated in the Vienna Conference on Syria, but do you see them getting together and finding a common solution any time soon?

 

SM: Each of the countries in the region has their own interests in the conflict. They are broadly aligned sometimes, but not always. Even if you look at the Sunni side of the balance, for example, you see that the Saudis are often not aligned with the Turks and the Qataris, who actually align more often. Take those official state actors out of the equation, and you find that there are well-organised and rich networks of individuals who also fund some of these organizations. Blocking off those supplies of money is incredibly difficult. This is a conflict where we in the West don’t have a direct influence to block the flow of funds and therefore weaponry was going to Al-Qaeda in 2003 when they were killing our own troops. Trying to do it now is even harder. The point is that on one side you have all these different powerful states with deeply vested interests that are not just important in the grand geo-political equation of the region, but which is also complicated further by the religious split between the Shia and Sunni communities. That makes it clear to me that at least on that side, you’re not going to get a resolution any time soon. On the flip side again, the Iranians and the Russians are pursuing different agendas, although they’re on the same side in the region. For Iran in particular, its objectives in Syria are very different to the ones in Iraq. In Iraq, Iran wants to build the militia al-Hashd al-Sha’bi, and is therefore completely different from what they’re pursuing in Syria. The different agendas behind the backing of all these troops in the region therefore suggests to me that we won’t see a resolution any time soon. More importantly, even if you were to get some level of official agreement between these countries, the two most important actors on the ground, Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, would not be bound by any agreement that these partners reach. In this case, you would see a continuation of the conflict, so I fear that any agreement may essentially be limited to the paper that it’s written on.

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