Tag Archives: ISIS

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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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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A Pyrrhic Victory on Syria’s Diplomatic Front

by Lincoln Pigman, a student of War Studies at King’s College London and an organising member of KCL MENA Forum.

 

Nine months after Russia took the West aback with its entry into the Syrian conflict, the United States finally changed its tune, proposing an unprecedented level of military cooperation with Russia: coordinated attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra in exchange for the grounding of Syria’s air force. The offer, it seems, has been received warmly. Some in the West will welcome U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria, including prominent scholars and former U.S. diplomats. However, Washington’s reversal may prove counterproductive and even disastrous.

 

 

Committed to ousting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Obama administration long maintained a position of disapproval, condemning Russia’s contribution to the refugee crisis and accusing it of ‘directly enabling’ Islamic State. Given the notable decline in refugee arrivals to the E.U. since December, the former may no longer hold true, while the latter is challenged by Professor Max Abrahms of Northeastern University. In Abrahms’ view, which he shared in private correspondence, that ‘unoriginal and never documented’ accusation reflects an ‘ideological’ refusal to acknowledge ‘Russian contributions against Islamic State.’ Even so, other objections to Russia’s conduct in Syria remain valid, and give cause for reconsideration of closer ties.

 

One of the most obvious is Russia’s unfaltering deception. The Kremlin’s main lie concerns the aim of its intervention. Although coalition voices quickly realised that Russia’s principal target in Syria was the opposition, not Islamic State, Russia continued to state otherwise. In October 2015, Sergei Ivanov, chief of Russia’s presidential administration, promised that Russia was simply ensuring that ‘no ISIL members were left to travel to Russia, and that all fighters would end up lying in the ground in Syria.’ Crucially, Ivanov neglected to mention which fighters.

 

Five months later, Putin unexpectedly declared Russia’s withdrawal from Syria. Since then, Russian involvement in Syria has expanded from air strikes to special operations and demining efforts, while reported Russian casualties near Palmyra and Raqqa point to increased ground presence. Russia’s tireless disinformation efforts, always accompanied by calls for U.S.-Russian cooperation, offer no grounds for trusting Putin to enforce the stillborn cessation of hostilities or pressure the Assad regime to ground its air force. (That the proposed agreement mentions no compliance mechanisms makes Russian non-compliance even more likely.)

 

Two grave problems doom such a demand. The first is the condition of Russian ‘pressure’ on Assad. Rather than insist that Moscow force Damascus to stop targeting rebels, making clear that only an end to attacks on the opposition can satisfy the agreement, the proposal’s language is moderated to such an extent that Russia could feasibly do nothing and claim that it had. Mere pressure does not equal success in bringing Assad to heel, and can amount to nothing more than a diplomatic slap on the wrist should Assad persist in his suppression of the opposition. Unless the U.S. operationalises pressure, specifying what forms it is to take, it may as well abandon the condition altogether.

 

Worse still, it is possible that ‘pressure the Assad regime’ is all that Moscow can do, making the U.S.’ demand impossible to satisfy. Some Syria commentators question whether Russia truly dictates developments on the ground, dubbing it Assad’s ‘hostage.’ A growing consensus admits that Russia seeks a diplomatic resolution to the conflict: one preserving Syria’s current government institutions but not necessarily Assad himself, as reasoned by the Carnegie Endowment’s Aron Lund. Now emboldened by Russia’s decisive intervention, Assad clearly refuses to accommodate Russia’s diplomacy and its post-conflict plans for Syria, violating the cessation of hostilities in April 2016 and defiantly insisting on retaking ‘every inch’ of Syria in June 2016. Both positions reflect maximalist goals and a rejection of Russia’s relatively limited objectives, an intransigence that would surely apply to demands that Assad cease targeting rebels.

 

The demand’s second flaw lies in its identification of roles in Syria. By exclusively attributing complicity in the targeting of rebels to Assad, the U.S. tacitly denies Russia’s role in bombarding the opposition. According to Airwars, a project that consults open source intelligence to map the impact of air strikes in Iraq and Syria, Russian air strikes have inflicted up to 5,686 civilian casualties as of July 4th. Russia maximises the lethality of its air strikes by targeting densely populated areas and hospitals, and using incendiary munitions: weapons whose use against and around civilians is prohibited by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, to which Russia is a signatory. The portrait of the war painted by Washington erases these casualties, and enables Russia to continue attacking rebel groups and non-combatants alike with impunity. U.S. silence legitimises Russia’s many transgressions, and is irreconcilable with a purported concern for Syrians’ welfare and advocacy of a rules-based international order.

 

In light of Russia’s disregard for collateral damage, Syrians will inevitably see U.S. support for Russia’s intervention as a betrayal. The first such betrayal, Obama’s failure to enforce his ‘red line’ after the sarin gas attacks of August 2013, ‘boosted Islamists … devastated the credibility of [opposition] officials who had tried to work with the West,’ and conveyed a clear message to Syrians: ‘No one’s coming to save you, not in any circumstances,’ writes Robin Yassin-Kassab in Burning Country. Similarly, today, supporting a belligerent viewed as ‘a colonial invader,’ Yassin-Kassab remarked over email, would consolidate the U.S.’ image as ‘another imperialist supporter of the regime which is tormenting [Syrians].’ Any peacemaking legitimacy possessed by Washington would forever vanish, in no small part thanks to its main concession to Russia: coordinated air strikes against al-Qaeda affiliate and anti-government militia Jabhat al-Nusra.

 

Although Russia and the U.S. both list the Islamist Nusra as a terrorist organisation, the intensity with which the two intervening powers attack it has differed greatly, creating a conflict of interests best highlighted by vocal complaints from Moscow. The U.S.’ new proposal to bilaterally coordinate air strikes against the organisation could be aimed at narrowing the diplomatic chasm between Russia and itself. Alternatively, its rationale could be restoring coherence to the U.S.’ position as an enemy of terrorism, removing all doubt by visibly targeting Nusra.

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However, a policy of partnership is unlikely to improve diplomatic relations with Russia. Despite Russia’s stated interest in continuing bilateral cooperation on issues such as counterterrorism, no peripheral concession can resolve the fundamental disagreement over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, which will continue to define U.S.-Russian relations until a consensus on the future of Ukraine’s security is reached. Coordinated air operations in Syria alone cannot cancel out the diplomatic hurt caused by years of sanctions, and are near useless as a diplomatic bargaining tool.

 

Nor will the proposed U.S.-Russian partnership advance Washington’s fight against terrorism. In fact, attacking Nusra with Moscow could prove completely counterproductive. Those suspecting the U.S. and Russia – widely viewed as having appeased Iran’s nuclear programme and given it free rein in Iraq and Syria – in backing the Shia side of a perceived geopolitical-sectarian confrontation are likely to see joint attacks on the Sunni Nusra as yet another sign of a seemingly pro-Shia Western agenda. Consequently, ‘many … who previously tolerated Nusra for pragmatic reasons … will become more sympathetic to the group and its ideology,’ warns Yassin-Kassab, adding that ‘the U.S.-Russian coalition will undoubtedly provide a boost to Nusra’s recruitment and help it to embed more deeply in Syrian society.’ At the tactical level, striking Nusra only to bolster it is a waste of military resources. However, at the strategic level, transforming an actor in Syria so powerful that it currently controls entire swaths of territory is reckless. In the succinct words of Yassin-Kassab, it threatens to ‘greatly influence the future trajectory of violent jihadism on a global level.’

 

The proposed U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria brings to mind a number of outcomes. These include Russia duping the U.S.; Assad continuing his attack on the opposition; legitimisation of Russia’s transgressions; discrediting of the U.S. among anti-regime Syrians; and empowerment of Jabhat al-Nusra. Pursuing a military victory against the al-Qaeda affiliate without considering the partnership’s political ramifications reflects nothing less than the absence of a U.S. strategy in Syria.

 

If the U.S. is to work with Russia at all, it should focus on securing the Kremlin’s assistance in combating Islamic State, a peripheral matter to Russia, rather than make concessions on the vital interest that is the Syrian opposition—especially if there is no visible benefit in doing so. As Islamic State greets ‘the beginning of the end,’ weakened by over seven hundred days of coalition bombardment, the U.S. should not court disaster by entering into counterproductive unions. The future of Syria demands it.

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Military might: France’s ultimate grandeur?

By Pierre Dugué a first-year BA War Studies coming from France. He is interested in Western (Europe and U.S.) grand strategy, intelligence and counter-insurgency operations.

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French national ‘Bastille’ day’s military parade going down the Champs-Elysées

France and war is a rather long story

As we this year celebrate the centenary of the bravely-fought battles of Verdun and the Somme, France’s memoirs are nevertheless still overshadowed by the military humiliation of 1940 that led to the unconditional surrender of the power that had once ruled the world and made Britain tremble. Yet, France has been rebuilding its military might ever since the beginning of the Cold War – with De Gaulle securitizing a siege at the Security Council, the first nuclear weapons tested in the Pacific and Prime Minister De Villepin saying ‘non’ to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s intervention in Iraq. Although the days of Louis XIV and Napoleon have now passed, unlike what the media worldwide seem to infer [1], France is not done. Then what role should it be playing within the international system? Should it be a military one only?

 

A declining country?

‘Decline’ is a rather simple idea, it is however hardly effectively measurable on the long term. From 2007 onwards France’s economy has been shrinking leading to mass unemployment, restructuration and financial imbalance. Furthermore 2015, its anus oribilis, saw a huge decrease in France’s still fluctuating GDP (0.7%) [2]. Indeed, the two terrorist attacks and the state of emergency that ensued have had a considerable impact on tourism– one of the country’s main sources of income – and French commerce in general. Politically, the population is divided and utterly mistrusts Mr. Hollande – 75% unsatisfied [3]. Hence the fact that – with the 2017 presidential elections coming – the world fears the rise of the Front National, the far-right party. Actually, recent socio-political divisions – due to the rebirth of nationalism triggered by both terrorism and migration – have drawn the world’s attention to France and emphasized its blurred and diminishing influence within the EU [4]. In fact, the recent unsustainable situation in Calais coupled with migrant-related crimes such as the aggressions in Cologne have torn the French apart: half of the people’s position is now aligned on the FN’s, the other half has a strong anti-FN position. Consequently, Marine Le Pen demanded a referendum to be held à propos a potential ‘Franxit’ to ‘protect’ France against what it strived to create [5].

Considered unstable, weakened and dangerous due to economic, social and political factors at the national level (even more since the proclamation of the state of emergency that some relate to a new ‘martial law’ – establishing ‘no-go’ zones for instance [6]), au contraire France shines internationally in terms of foreign policy.

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French soldier at the Louvres museum after the proclamation of the state of emergency

 

France and international interventionism: the case of Africa

Although reluctant at engaging the army in any sort of conflict for many years, Paris has followed the U.S.-led coalitions in 1991 and 2001. The country constitutes a key asset to the UN and NATO when it comes to peace-keeping and humanitarian missions around the globe [7]. Besides, France has had its own missions that have reinforced the country’s international presence and decision-making, particularly in Africa. Indeed, four major military operations have been launched since Mr. Sarkozy’s mandate (2007-2012) onwards [8].

‘Operation Harmattan’ in 2010-2011 whose aim was to bring down Colonel Gaddafi’s regime – following the Arab Spring and the civil war – by involving air and sea powers in a campaign of surgical strikes against Gaddafi and Islamist-held areas. This nonetheless led to Islamist groups fleeing the country to thrive in Africa, benefiting from the weakening of some States. Hence the UN-approved ‘Operation Serval’ launched in January 2013 by Mr. Hollande which ousted AQIM from Northern Mali and helped maintain the integrity of the regime that had asked for assistance (Resolution 2085). France has also deployed troops in the Central African Republic (Operation Sangaris) in 2013-2014 where a coup d’état had drastically destabilized the country; an ethnic-religious genocide between Muslims and Christians was feared by the UN which approved this intervention (Resolution 2127).

These successful operations were backed up by the international community for they were mainly counter-insurgency missions aimed at restoring/maintaining one’s sovereignty in accordance with international law and principles. France has also been joining coalitions and has exercised coercive diplomacy to influence political decisions in order to put an end to humanitarian crisis, especially in the Ivory Coast before 2011. The protection of sovereignty and populations – although contradictory in some cases – are priorities to Paris.

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French soldiers deployed in the Central African Republic in 2013 (Operation Sangaris)

 

Grand strategy and military capabilities: the case of Syria

France’s grand strategy in the Middle East has been made clear: a governmental transition in Syria without Bashar al-Assad, the destruction of Daesh in Syria and Iraq and the support to the UAE and Saudi Arabia in their interventions in Yemen and the Middle-East in general [ç]. To fulfil this political purpose, France has mobilized and deployed its military might over the region.

Following the U.S. on its ‘war on terror’ for the sake of democracy, freedom from want and fear and international stability, France has now been fully engaged in Syria since September 2015 under the name ‘Operation Chammal’ [10]. At first hesitant at engaging its armed forces – going through an ‘identity crisis’ concerned with France’s international place in the future – Paris has launched a series of airstrikes against IS-held positions in Syria in September 2015 following its prevailing doctrine of protecting populations and sovereignty against insurgencies [11]. Ever since November 2015, France has intensified this military effort especially targeting Raqqa, and has actively participated to the withdrawal of Daesh troops from territories now in control of the rebels or the Kurds [12].

In order to effectively conduct these operations, France is endowed with military bases covering both the Mediterranean and the Middle East: the airbase of Calvi in Corsica and the military base in the UAE territory [13]. Furthermore, the deployment of nuclear submarines and the French ‘Charles de Gaulle’ nuclear aircraft-carrier enhances that capacity of deployment as well as it allows joint operations to be carried out especially with the RAF and the U.S. Air Force [14].

Cooperation is key and Paris is insisting on the need for a joint commandership to be established. François Hollande has demanded that intelligence be shared between agencies to maximise the effectiveness of the coalition. The DGSE (French intelligence agency) is most likely to be training rebel troops and gathering intelligence on the ground along with the CIA and the MI6 – although unofficial, special units are constantly being sent to the ground. Nevertheless, cooperation may be compromised. In fact, France has been trying to limit the involvement of Turkey in the conflict due to suspicions concerning the Erdogan regime financing Daesh and feeding their effort against the Kurds. Likewise, France appears to not be supporting Israel – it is on the verge of recognising Palestine a State [15]. Both policies heavily differ vis-à-vis the U.S. grand strategy in the region. It therefore weakens the coalition and slows down the resolution of the Syrian conflict, but affirms France’s independent authority within the international community as a powerful nation.

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The ‘Charles de Gaulle’ sailing out of Toulon harbour to be deployed off the Turkish coast

 

The army to save the day?

What conclusions are we to draw from this obvious dichotomy of a country nationally divided and rather disregarded, but internationally brilliantly effective and therefore key to the community of States? Are the armed forces France’s raison d’être? It is clear the army and the nuclear arsenal have participated in its acknowledgement as a great nation in the international system. But that goes even further. Actually the influence of the military – usually abroad – blurs the traditional distinction made between the national and international spheres (state of emergency excluded). French scientific-military genius and warlike engineering skills have tremendously contributed to strengthening the economy in the long term [16]. Indeed, companies such as Airbus (combat helicopters), Thalès (military innovations), Safran (aeronautics), Dassault (military aviation) and Nexter (FAMAS rifle) are very influential in the stock market. As a matter of fact, the purchase of Dassault-crafted ‘Rafales’ by both the Qatar and Egypt has rectified France’s commercial balance in 2015 [17]. Besides, commemorations and military celebrations such as the Russian-style military parade held every year on national day gather the usually divided population to celebrate the country’s History and glorious days to come.

Paris should, in the future, play a more straightforward military role within supranational instances (UN, NATO), but also as a nation that is aware of its capacity of imposing its – and therefore the West’s – will. France’s military might is probably its ‘ultimate’ grandeur to the sense it is the greatest and most influential/decisive both nationally and internationally, nonetheless it is far from being its last.

Reducing the country to its army is missing out a lot. Paris is now expecting a 1.5% growth in its GDP for 2016 and the breath-taking waves of patriotism that ensued from both terrorist attacks are explicitly indicating that France is not a declining country. The troubled period it is facing is everything but new. For instance, remembering the presidential elections of 2002 when the FN ended up facing Jacques Chirac in the final round; France mobilized and voted Chirac at 81%. As divided and unstable as you want to see it, France still has this exceptional ability to rebound and to make the right decisions at the right time. Because obviously, France is not done and remains key to the international community of States.

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The Eiffel Tower had been lightened in red-white-blue following November’s attacks

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11171314/France-is-a-nation-in-decline-and-Britain-could-be-next.html

[2] http://www.insee.fr/fr/mobile/conjoncture/tableau-bord-conjoncture.asp (First graph)

[3] http://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2016/01/24/la-cote-de-popularite-de-hollande-en-baisse-celle-de-valls-en-legere-hausse_4852555_823448.html

 

[4] http://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/societe/2016/03/18/31003-20160318ARTFIG00359-crise-migratoire-la-rupture-historique-qui-pourrait-emporter-l-europe.php

[5] http://www.lefigaro.fr/politique/2016/02/20/01002-20160220ARTFIG00014-le-fn-promet-un-franxit-sur-le-modele-du-brexit.php

 

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/12/paris-lawsuit-fox-news-reporting-no-go-zones-non-muslims

 

[7] http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/french-foreign-policy/defence-security/french-defence/france-and-nato/

 

[8] http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2011/04/07/01003-20110407ARTFIG00735-les-forces-francaises-engagees-sur-plusieurs-fronts.php

 

[9] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34372892

 

[10] http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2015/09/15/01003-20150915ARTFIG00403-frappes-contre-daech-en-syrie-comment-la-strategie-de-la-france-a-evolue.php

 

[11] http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/27/middleeast/syria-france-isis-bombing/

 

[12] http://edition.cnn.com/2015/11/15/middleeast/france-announces-raqqa-airstrikes-on-isis/

 

[13] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-23849386

 

[14] http://www.euronews.com/2016/01/22/charles-de-gaulle-aircraft-carrier-docks-in-uae/

 

[15] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/30/france-recognise-palestinian-state-if-peace-effort-fails-ultimatum

 

[16] http://www.lefigaro.fr/conjoncture/2014/08/07/20002-20140807ARTFIG00253-commerce-exterieur-aeronautique-spatial-etautomobile-en- pointe.php

[17] http://m.lesechos.fr/redirect_article.php?id=021575436493&fw=1

 

 

Photos credits:

 

1-Military parade: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18842638

 

2- French Soldier and the Louvres: http://www.smh.com.au/world/paris-attacks-day-four-world-leaders-step-up-fight-against-islamic-state-20151116-gl0h67.html

 

3- Operation Sangaris: http://www.huffingtonpost.fr/2013/12/07/operation-sangaris-recit-images-retablissement-paix-centrafrique_n_4404164.html

 

4- Charles de Gaulle : http://www.globalresearch.ca/frances-aircraft-carrier-group-charles-de-gaulle-to-leave-for-middle-east-to-fight-the-islamic-state/5489260

 

5- Eiffel Tower: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/paris-terror-attacks/eiffel-tower-glows-french-colors-honor-victims-n464286

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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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Post-Paris Domestic Dialogue: Posturing and Prejudice in France and the United States

By Lincoln Pigman, BA War Studies at King’s College London.

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In the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks of November 13th, observers and analysts took to projecting the post-Paris world. Journalists and academics alike overwhelmingly focused on international cooperation against Daesh, ignoring the future of national security discourses in France and abroad. However, since the attacks, international dialogue has produced little save a United Nations Security Council resolution ‘calling upon’ and ‘urging’ member-states to counter Daesh, a document that serves only to license intensified French bombing of Syria and Iraq.[i] In contrast, domestic developments have seen an empowered right in France and the U.S., key coalition states, exploit pervasive insecurity and prejudice, winning popular support and forcing the left to grow more aggressive in its discussion of national security and counterterrorism policy. A hawkish shift bears significant implications for the future, risking full-scale intervention against Daesh and threatening the revitalisation of the post-9/11 surveillance state. The former promises a recruitment boom for Daesh; both undermine the West as a beacon of liberal and humanitarian values. As such, it is imperative that observers track and analyse the domestic impact of the Paris attacks.

In both the United States and France, the Paris attacks have played into the hands of rightist elements: the Republican Party and the Front National. Both occupy significant positions in their respective political systems. The Republican Party represents 41% of the American population,[ii] while recent political victories of the Front National, such as 2014’s European Parliament elections[iii] and December’s regional elections,[iv] reveal its increasing popularity. Much of the support enjoyed by the Republican Party, leaderless until primaries end in June, and the Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, comes from a conflation of narratives: of vulnerability to terrorism and the proliferation of Islam.

In France, where xenophobia runs high, Le Pen’s attacks on religious and ethnic diversity resonate with conservatives. In 2010, Le Pen appealed to historical memory and pervasive anti-Muslim sentiment when she equated the public practice of Salaat to the Nazi occupation of France:[v] an incursion both cultural and violent. In the wake of the Paris attacks, Le Pen returned to this theme, asserting that the diversification of France and the border policies of the European Union, whom she likens to the Soviet Union,[vi] had made France ‘no longer safe.’[vii] Le Pen successfully conflates issues of cultural diversity and national security, eliciting accusations of bigotry from the left. However, it is the response of the right that translates into political capital: praise for her honesty in a toxic climate of political correctness.[viii] Her tactics are mirrored across the Atlantic, where Republican presidential candidates exploit the Paris attacks to similar ends, appealing to misperception of Islam and fear of terrorist violence.

BESTPIX France Deploys 10,000 Troops To Boost Security After Attacks

With fourteen Republicans running for President, the GOP and its platform of hawkish foreign policy and anti-Muslim social policy enjoy no shortage of media coverage. In fact, candidates are rewarded by screen-time and a rise in the polls for bigoted statements and political posturing, a mechanism that has led to infighting as candidates attempt to out-offend one another. Unsurprisingly, few hesitated to take advantage of the climate of fear and insecurity produced by the Paris attacks. Donald Trump promised to implement a database of Muslims in the United States,[ix] predicating the policy on recollections of Muslims publicly celebrating (‘dancing on the streets,’ even[x]) during the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 9/11. Although Trump has yet to prove that anything of the sort occurred, his continued lead in the polls[xi] affirms the prevalence of anti-Muslim sentiment within the conservative base, and, more importantly, suggests that conservative constituents are open to the expansion of the post-9/11 surveillance state.

Other candidates have picked up on the latter, with Bush and Rubio calling for the restoration of the National Security Agency’s powers under the PATRIOT Act.[xii] In addition to embracing classics of the War on Terror such as ‘enhanced interrogation’[xiii] and state surveillance of Muslims,[xiv] the GOP has also tailored its discourse on national security to new developments: namely, the influx of refugees generated by the Syrian crisis, which neatly encapsulates concerns over terrorism and distrust towards Muslims. All fourteen GOP candidates backed the thirty-one governors who refused entry to Syrian refugees, a stance predicated on the discovery of a Syrian passport at the scene of one of the Paris attacks.[xv] That French and Belgian nationals perpetrated the Paris attacks bore no impact on the stance of the Republican Party and its support base. Nor did the fact that none of the perpetrators of jihadist attacks on U.S. soil during, or since, 9/11 entered the country as refugees,[xvi] leaving no precedent for refugees-cum-terrorists attacking the United States.

Whether empirically substantiated or not, it seems, Republican justifications for expansion of the American surveillance state and the curbing of civil liberties resonate with the conservative public. However, liberal observers would be remiss in dismissing the narratives of the right as mere rhetoric, particularly in light of the passage of the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act, which stipulates additional background investigation of refugees entering the United States from Syria and Iraq.[xvii] The success of the SAFE Act affirms the potential for alarmist and inflammatory rhetoric to translate into policy, even in the face of vocal opposition from the President himself. This underlines an important point; having established the dominant narratives of the right in France and the U.S., it is crucial for observers to understand the impact of rightist narratives on the left-wing. For in both countries leftist politicians occupy the highest seat of political power, that of President. Their reactions to rightist discourses affect not only the future form, but also the present shape, of national security and counterterrorism policy.

The success of the Obama and Hollande administrations in offsetting fear and rightist narratives differs significantly. While impassioned, Obama’s response to post-Paris criticism of his Daesh strategy, delivered from the G2O Leaders Summit in Turkey, failed to resonate at home. An ‘unusually angry’ Obama (rightly) accused his critics of political posturing, and of favouring ‘shooting first and aiming later’ over a policy of containing Daesh.[xviii] However, his appeal to prudence, informed by the consequences of American operations in Iraq and Libya, did little to prevent the aforementioned passage of the SAFE Act, or to quell dissent against Obama’s plan for accepting ten thousand Syrian refugees.[xix] With post-Paris approval of his ‘handling’ of Daesh at forty percent[xx] and the revelation that Daesh sympathisers perpetrated the San Bernardino shooting of December 2nd, Obama’s flexibility and freedom of manoeuvre appear ever-tenuous.[xxi] Hollande, on the other hand, won a moral victory when he reaffirmed France’s commitment to accepting Syrian refugees—thirty thousand, no less.[xxii] However, two considerations leave the present author apprehensive concerning France.

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First, in terms of social policy, Hollande’s commitment to the ‘defence of freedom’[xxiii] and the very values assailed by Daesh in Paris has been inconsistent at best and negligent at worst. Much of the goodwill generated by Hollande’s pledge to accept refugees disappeared following the French government’s prohibition of the right to assembly, an act met by fierce resistance during the Paris Climate Conference.[xxiv] Likewise, the state’s decision to close down three mosques and four Muslim prayer rooms, ostensibly because of a risk of radicalisation, speaks to intolerance.[xxv] France’s application of broad new powers granted under an expanded state of emergency law, which has seen two-hundred and sixty-three people taken in for questioning and three-hundred and thirty put under house arrest,[xxvi] has also raised concerns among NGOs like Human Rights Watch, who warn that ‘Now more than ever, France should be irreproachable in its respect for human rights’ and that ‘Excessive restrictions would be a gift to those who seek to instil fear, undermine democratic values, and hollow out the rule of law in France and in Europe.’[xxvii] It seems callous to further erode Europe’s moral standing at a time when disillusionment over democracy and tolerance in Europe attracts so many to fighting with Daesh.

Second, Hollande has increasingly regressed into military language when discussing national security, a marked shift from his compassionate tone following January’s attacks. Yesterday, Hollande encouraged France to ‘not paint people with a broad brush, […] reject facile thinking, […] and eschew exaggeration,’[xxviii] but today, he promises to ‘destroy [the] army of fanatics,’[xxix] that ‘the Republic [will] destroy terrorism.’[xxx] ‘France is at war,’[xxxi] Hollande asserts, and one wonders whether his embrace of aggressive language owes more to the success of Le Pen’s hostility than to the urgency of France’s situation. Although Hollande has yet to militarise discussion of the refugee crisis, he would not be the first to. Not since October, when British Prime Minister David Cameron cited Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which addresses acts of aggression and threats to peace, in defence of Operation Sophia: a military operation ‘tackling’ the influx of refugees, who, it follows, pose a threat to European peace.[xxxii] The potential is there, and with Hollande’s coalition partner in London and his opponents in Paris behaving increasingly bellicose, his rightward shift is far from inexplicable.

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In the United States, Hollande’s rightward shift finds its counterpart not on Pennsylvania Avenue, but on the stages of Democratic Party televised debates. Since the Paris attacks, contenders Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley have struggled to present a convincing plan for defeating Daesh, prompting harsh criticism from even leftist commentators. The Atlantic queried whether ‘Democrats have a strategy against ISIS,’[xxxiii] TIME characterised the three candidates as outright ‘incoherent on ISIS’[xxxiv], and The New Yorker concluded that ‘None of the Democrats has a strategy for ISIS’[xxxv]  While incoherent, all three candidates attempted to respond forceful. The otherwise pacifist Sanders promised to ‘rid our planet of this barbarous organisation,’ and Clinton similarly pledged to defeat ‘the scourge of terrorism’. O’Malley, however, went far beyond the platitudes of his rivals, insisting that the war against Daesh ‘actually is America’s fight.’[xxxvi] Compelled by pervasive fear of attacks on U.S. soil, the Democratic Party appears increasingly disinterested in maintaining its post-Iraq anti-war platform this election cycle, a problematic development given how militarising discourse on Syria makes non-military measures, like deterring states from purchasing oil and antiquities from Daesh, less appealing to policy- and decision-makers.

It remains unclear as to whether the newfound hawkishness of the Democrats extends to the expansion of the post-9/11 surveillance state, which C.I.A. director John Brennan called for shortly after the Paris attacks. Brennan denounced the ‘hand-wringing’ of political figures over intrusive government spying and implied that the Snowden revelations had primarily benefited the ‘murderous sociopaths’ of Daesh.[xxxvii] Brennan’s claims overlook both the presence of a significant surveillance system in France, which nonetheless failed to prevent the Paris attacks,[xxxviii] and Daesh’s use of encrypted communications, which complicates and often precludes government surveillance, as explained by King’s College London’s own Thomas Rid.[xxxix] However, practical considerations such as these have neither discouraged David Cameron from suggesting putting the Snoopers’ Charter on fast track[xl] nor kept politicians, American or otherwise, from taking measures that encroach on civil liberties while doing little to improve national security. It is therefore all the more imperative that post-Paris national security discourses remain grounded in reality, not misperceptions and misrepresentations of the security threat posed by Daesh, or thinly-veiled prejudice.

Pressured by terrified (terrorized, even) constituents and a bellicose right-wing in the wake of the Paris attacks, the liberal administrations and establishments of the United States and France stand on the verge of a rightward shift. Renewed interest in an American surveillance state and in cultural homogeneity in France bear implications for the shaping of social and national security policy alike, and in France’s case, European integration and the Schengen project, to which France has vocally committed itself. If the left is to preserve its platform of tolerance and democratic principles, it must assert said platform, welcoming refugees, cultural diversity, and resisting the temptation to regress into jingoism. It must pursue a course of action against Daesh predicated on diplomacy as equally as, if not more than, force, and avoid militarising discourses on Syria. As the language we utilise grows increasingly aggressive, so do the mindsets of our electorates. It cannot be forgotten that Daesh’s aim in committing acts of terrorism is to spur the escalation of foreign intervention: ‘boots on the ground,’ which would only serve to legitimise it within the region. Even if the truly liberal democracies of the West seek to avoid full-scale intervention against Daesh, they must take care to employ language that does not inadvertently eliminate all other options, an outcome facilitated by a climate of belligerence and fanaticism. In the words of Chatham House’s Ben Saul, ‘We need to hold our nerve and answer terror with liberty, and not the twilight of freedom’—or of rationality and prudence, for that matter.

[i] Reuters, ‘Security Council unanimously calls on UN members to fight ISIS,’ The Guardian, November 21, 2015.

[ii] Mladen Antonov, ‘More Americans identify with Democratic Party than GOP, poll shows,’ CBS News, July 6, 2015.

[iii] ‘France in shock: the National Front’s victory,’ The Economist, May 26, 2014.

[iv] Angelique Chrisafis, ‘Front National wins opening round in France’s regional elections,’ The Guardian, December 6, 2015.

[v] ‘Marine Le Pen: Muslims in France “like Nazi occupation,”’ The Telegraph, December 12, 2010.

[vi] ‘Marine Le Pen: “I don’t want this Soviet Union,”’ Spiegel, June 3, 2014.

[vii] Aurelien Breeden, ‘Le Pen: “The French are no longer safe,”’ The New York Times, November 14, 2015.

[viii] Ben Judah, ‘Marine Le Pen’s Power Will Grow After Paris, No Matter What Voters Do,’ The Independent, November 22, 2015.

[ix] Mehdi Hasan, ‘Why I Miss George W. Bush,’ The New York Times, November 30, 2015.

[x] Reuters, ‘Donald Trump: I was “100% right” about Muslims cheering 9/11 attacks,’ The Guardian, November 29, 2015.

[xi] Philip Bump, ‘Donald Trump is polling better than ever. Here’s why,’ The Washington Post, December 4, 2015.

[xii] Rebecca Kaplan, ‘The 2016 presidential candidates: how they’d fight ISIS,’ CBS News, November 23, 2015.

[xiii] Ed Pilkington, ‘Trump and Carson back use of waterboarding in fight against ISIS,’ The Guardian, November 22, 2015.

[xiv] Ibid. XII.

[xv] Patrick Healy and Julie Bosman, ‘G.O.P. governors vow to close doors to Syrian refugees,’ The New York Times, November 16, 2015.

[xvi] Sergio Pecanha and K. K. Rebecca Lai, ‘The origins of jihadist-inspired attackers in the U.S.,’ The New York Times, November 25, 2015.

[xvii] Elizabeth Williamson, ‘Refugee vote a failure for Obama,’ The New York Times, November 19, 2015.

[xviii] Dan Roberts and Patrick Wintour, ‘Obama rules out Syria ground invasion in passionate defence of ISIS strategy,’ The Guardian, November 16, 2015.

[xix] Eric Lichtblau, ‘White House affirms Syrian refugee plan despite Paris attacks,’ The New York Times, November 18, 2015.

[xx] Scott Clement, ‘President Obama’s approval drops in the wake of Paris attacks,’ The Washington Post, November 24, 2015.

[xxi] Dan Roberts, ‘San Bernardino shooter’s alleged Isis link: Obama’s worst political nightmare,’ The Guardian, December 4, 2015.

[xxii] Ishaan Tharoor, ‘France says it will take 30,000 Syrian refugees, while U.S. Republicans would turn them away,’ The Washington Post, November 18, 2015.

[xxiii] Francois Hollande speaking in Washington, November 24, 2015.

[xxiv] Anatoli Scholz and Christiaan Ate Paauwe, ‘Paris: Protests clash with police at cancelled COP21 march,’ Café Babel, December 1, 2015.

[xxv] Alissa J. Rubin, ‘France shuts down three mosques and four Muslim prayer rooms,’ The New York Times, December 2, 2015.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] ‘France: New emergency powers threaten rights,’ Human Rights Watch, November 24, 2015.

[xxviii] Francois Hollande speaking in Paris, January 9, 2015.

[xxix] ‘Hollande: “We’ll destroy army of fanatics,”’ EU Observer, November 27, 2015.

[xxx] John Lichfield, ‘Paris attacks: Francois Hollande warns Europe must control borders to prevent “dismantling of the EU,”’ The Independent, November 16, 2015.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Jethro Mullen, ‘EU military operation against human smugglers shifts to “active” phase,’ CNN, October 7, 2015.

[xxxiii] Peter Beinart, ‘Do the Democrats have a strategy against ISIS,’ The Atlantic, November 17, 2015.

[xxxiv] Joe Klein, ‘The Democratic debate: incoherent on ISIS,’ TIME, November 15, 2015.

[xxxv] Ryan Lizza, ‘None of the Democrats has a strategy for ISIS,’ The New Yorker, November 16, 2015.

[xxxvi] Ibid. XXXIV.

[xxxvii] Scott Shane, ‘After Paris attacks, C.I.A. director rekindles debate over surveillance,’ The New York Times, November 16, 2015.

[xxxviii] Ibid.

[xxxix] Thomas Rid, ‘Mass surveillance can’t catch terrorists. That’s the uncomfortable truth,’ The Telegraph, November 16, 2015.

[xl] Ibid.

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Fighting the Islamic State: The case for boots on the ground

 

Patrick Visser is a second year, American-Dutch War Studies Student, voted class most likely to stage a coup two years running”. He loves wars: big wars, small wars, can’t get enough of ’em. After writing this article he will undoubtedly be called a neoconservative.

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It is indicative of how scarred the western psyche has been by the “forever wars” of Iraq and Afghanistan that the simplest, most effective way of ending the Islamic State has been dismissed out of hand by the public, decision makers and virtually all serious commentators. The idea of putting “boots on the ground” is not something that is looked at in terms of its costs and benefits, but with a shudder, as something that is unthinkable. This is not good enough. When dealing with a terror as malignant as the Islamic State all options must be considered, especially as boots on the ground may be the only way of ending the conflict quickly and defeating their ideology.

When I propose boots on the ground, I am not talking about small scale special forces units to carry out raids and call in airstrikes as we are seeing now, these are a necessary part of the existing strategy, but too few in number to make a real difference. Nor am I talking about Lindsey Graham’s insane plan to create safe zones with up to 20,000 US troops,[1] which would expose our soldiers to heavy casualties, while doing little to actually solve the problem. I am arguing for a massive, multi-divisional deployment of overwhelming force on the lines of the 2003 march to Baghdad, to conduct a shock and awe blitzkrieg with the express purpose of defeating and conquering the Islamic State. Actual numbers should be determined by military necessity, not political convenience and while this force would necessarily be led the Americans, all parties, including the Russians, Iranians and all the Arab states, should be invited to participate. Around 100,000 men is a reasonable estimate, it could be done with less but this would expose our troops to unnecessary risks.

What makes this different to the disaster that was the 2003 Iraq War? Simply put, time. This force would not be expected to engage in nation building or stay in the country once it has destroyed the Islamic State, the goal is not to transform Iraq and Syria into nice places to live but to remove the threat to ourselves and the affront to humanity that is the Islamic State.

What makes IS a far more serious threat than its predecessor al-Qaeda in Iraq is its control of territory. It might not be Islamic, but we are kidding ourselves if we don’t acknowledge that it is functioning as a state, with a government, a well-equipped army, a taxable and conscriptable population, and a booming economy.[2] It is terrorism on an industrial scale, an order of magnitude removed from the pinprick attacks of older terrorist groups. Fortunately, Western militaries are very very good at breaking states. Nobody does conventional war as well as we do- just ask Saddam. The military feasibility of the conquest of the Islamic State is not in question, and if the 2003 War is anything to go by it could be completed in under 6 weeks with fewer than 300 KIA.[3]

How does this solve the underlying problems in Iraq and Syria? It doesn’t, but it is not meant to. The immediate, domineering problem of fighting IS has meant that none of the underlying problems could be faced anyway- you can’t bring together Iraq’s Sunni’s and Shia in an inclusive government while al-Anbar province is under IS rule. What the defeat of the Islamic state would do is buy time and breathing space to resolve these problems, preferably in conjunction with a settlement in Syria (in which it must now be accepted that Assad must play a role). Once IS loses Raqqa, Mosul and its other population centres, it won’t suddenly cease to exist and it is sure to retreat into the desert and revert to its previous role as a “normal” terrorist group and insurgency, but merely forcing this is already a major and important victory, as without the resources of a state it is a far less menacing threat, both regionally and abroad.

The conquest of IS’s territory would shatter the legitimacy the group has achieved by declaring itself the new caliphate, as for a caliphate to be recognised under Islamic law it must be able to enforce Sharia over the temporal sphere.[4] Indeed, al-Baghdadi’s genius is that he realised people are far more willing to sacrifice for the here and now, rather than Bin Laden’s hazy dream of a world caliphate in the distant future, generations away.[5] Taking this away from the Islamic State removes its most important recruiting tool and sets the jihadist cause back years. It is all well and good to go to Iraq or Syria when you feel you have personal agency in bringing about God’s kingdom on Earth, with the added bonus of getting 30-or-so Yazidi slave wives, it is quite another thing to go to fight and die for a losing cause with the entire might of the world’s most powerful army raining down on you.

The Islamic State’s ideology also creates huge vulnerabilities to Western firepower. According to their doctrine, they see the West as the “new Rome” with which they eagerly await a showdown alluded to in the Hadith on “the plains of Daqib” a town in northern Syria that IS was especially delighted to bring under it rule.[6] In a larger sense, they cannot simply melt into the countryside like most insurgencies, as this would throw away the legitimacy they are so painstakingly trying to build up. They are ideologically mandated to test their mettle against our metal. Let’s see how that works out for them. As they are forced to stand and fight, IS militants will be exposed to our overwhelming firepower and slaughtered en masse, not only is this extremely satisfying from a moral standpoint, it will inhibit the group’s ability to bounce back after it is defeated. In Afghanistan in 2001, after the Taliban was forced to concentrate to resist the advance of the Northern Alliance and then smashed by Western firepower, it took so heavy casualties that it could not constitute a major threat to the government again until 2006. In the same war, al-Qaeda never fully recovered from losing its training camps and the majority of its fighters.[7] It is true that attrition, the infamous “body count” cannot alone solve the problems of terrorism, but it does buy time, time in which other actors can work to resolve those problems.

It is often argued that the Islamic State is able to function because it has at least the tacit support of Iraq and Syria’s Sunni population and that once the US leaves, IS will be able to just walk back into the areas it previously controlled. I counter that in the aftermath of a US campaign IS will not have enough fighters left to “bounce back” and would point out that they managed to take al-Anbar Province and Mosul last year, not because the wider Sunni population rose up and drove out the Iraqi government, but because IS fighter beat the embarrassingly bad Iraqi army on the field of battle and then imposed control on the Sunni population. The Islamic State is deeply unpopular in most of the areas it rules and is only able to impose control through fear, not because its citizens have bought into the message of hate that it spouts.[8] For a long term solution we must look to one of the most successful initiatives of the Iraq War- the al-Anbar Awakening, where local Sunni militias, supported by the US and (reluctant) by the central government were able to decisively defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq between 2007 and 2011.[9] Indeed the single greatest enabler for the rise of the Islamic State was the sectarian Maliki governments reckless disbanding of these militias, that left the Iraqi Sunnis unable to defend themselves when AQI (now IS) recuperated.[10] This must be reversed in the aftermath of a successful US led campaign for the victory to last.

Why does the conquest of the Islamic State require American troops? Cannot the same be done with local actors, supported by US airpower, which is the thrust of the existing strategy? Will not US intervention just stir up further anti-western sentiment and help the Islamic State? These are all valid questions, but I would argue that there is no local actor that can do the job. The Iraqi Army is a bad joke, and too dependent on Iranian assistance, which delegitimises it in the eyes of Iraq’s Sunnis; The Kurds are good fighters, but there are not enough of them and they are mostly and understandably focused on protecting Kurdish interests, not the stability of the wider region; The Syrian resistance is a non-factor; and Assad is overstretched and undermanned, and entirely concerned with his own survival. While the US is not popular, it is at least trusted by all factions not to started committing genocide.[11] Indeed, IS has aroused an extraordinarily large coalition against itself, all of whom would be served by US intervention. The idea that Iraqi’s will suddenly start fighting the US, against their own interests, requires a very low opinion of their intelligence- an opinion that I do not share. All the more so as it will be made clear from the outset that the intervention has a strict time limit and once IS is conquered the territory is to be returned forthwith to Iraqi and Syrian control. Charges such as “imperialism” will be thrown around, as they always are, but they are unlikely to gain much traction.

It is possible, likely even, that IS will eventually be ground into dust under the current strategy, the diverse forces arrayed against them are too large to be resisted over the long run. The problem with this is, firstly, that it will take too long, time in which IS can continue its atrocities and carry out attacks in the West, and also that the moral impact of a grinding defeat, with IS able to portray itself as holding off the whole world and fighters able to escape back home to carry out Paris style rampages, is far less devastating to their cause that a short, sharp disaster, where their kingdom is brought crashing down around them in a matter of weeks, their bravest fighters killed in droves and their ideology revealed to be no match for the forces of civilisation. Such a defeat would undermine the morale of Jihadi groups across the world and be a major coup in the global war on terror.

What about the idea that such a campaign would set a precedent? That having done it once we would have to do the same thing for the next Islamic State, and the one after? I would argue that the precedent that we will smash unmitigated evil wherever it rears its ugly head is a good one, both in terms of common morality and in furthering international stability. Especially as the potential for working multilaterally with traditional adversaries such as Russia exists against the Islamic State and such action could be legitimised by the UN Security Council. In any case, precedent is a pretty weak argument to rest opposition on as there is no rule that you have to act in the future as you did in the past, and as people have very short memories when it comes to foreign policy.

In all honesty, the plan I have proposed is not going to happen. We are war weary after the decade long struggle since 9/11 and for most people IS is just something unpleasant we hear about on the nightly news whenever they launch an attack (on the west- their daily massacres in Iraq and Syria barely register) or behead an aid worker. This is something to be mourned, we have become gun-shy, a legacy of our reckless intervention in Iraq. This caution is commendable when it stops us from blundering into disastrous foreign policy adventures, but is a tragedy when it blinds us to an evil that we have the power to put an end to. I will leave you with a quote from Spiderman “with great power comes great responsibility”. We have great power, but we have shirked our responsibility. IS wants to be considered a state and play at conventional war. Fine. Bring it.

 

[1] Jenifer Rubin Sen. Lindsey Graham offers a new ‘construct’ to defeat the Islamic State, The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2015/11/17/sen-lindsey-graham-offers-a-new-construct-to-defeat-the-islamic-state/

[2] Helen Lock, How Isis became the wealthiest terror group in history, The Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/how-isis-became-the-wealthiest-terror-group-in-history-9732750.html

[3] There is reason to believe that a campaign against the Islamic state would be even easier, as they lack many of Saddam’s heavy weapons and armour, have few men under arms and are geographically smaller.

[4] Graeme Wood, What ISIS Really Wants, The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/

[5] Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, p.193-195

[6] http://searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=041&translator=2&start=0&number=6924; Graeme Wood, What ISIS Really Wants, The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/

[7] Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, p.424-428

[8] Munqith al-Dagher, How Iraqi Sunnis really feel about the Islamic State, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/03/24/how-iraqi-sunnis-really-feel-about-the-islamic-state/

[9] Lt Col Michael Silverman, Awakening Victory, the entirety of

[10] Toby Dodge, Iraq: From War to a new authoritarianism, p99-101

[11] Dr Steven Biddle, Iraq After the Surge, http://keats.kcl.ac.uk/pluginfile.php/1483392/mod_resource/content/1/Biddle%20Testimony%20-%20Iraq%20after%20the%20Surge.pdf

 

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‘Pointing Fingers’ ; Lack of mutual understanding in response to Paris attacks

by Uygar Baspehlivan, a second-year BA International Relations student at King’s College London.

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13th of November, 2015 saw the realisation of one of the deadliest terrorist attacks to a Western state after 9/11 by the increasingly threatening terrorist group Islamic State, whose polarising and violent means of action created a novel sort of division among the people of the world; those who support Islamic State and those who are threatened by it. However, failing to unite under the flag of ‘people who are threatened by IS’, Paris attacks generated a polarised response from the social media instead of becoming a beacon of solidarity and mutual understanding. A significant portion of social media users, instead of sympathising and understanding the importance of these attacks in the general global political context, accused those who filled their profiles with French flags, articles, videos and caricatures; of being hypocrites for being interested in Paris attacks more than other recent humanitarian atrocities, naming Beirut, Ankara etc.

 

It is beyond dispute that in terms of humanitarian concerns, the attacks are all of equal importance and matter, no life is more important than the other; not Ankara, not Paris, not Beirut. But what people are failing to see when criticising the response to Paris is that the social media response to the attacks was not driven by a ‘humanitarian’ concern, it was about meanings. It was about what Paris means in popular culture and within the global political context and how it inadvertently and naturally generates a specific kind of reaction than other humanitarian atrocities. The moral quality of this ‘selective interest’ is always open to debate, but nonetheless, it is at least understandable for people to give a different meaning to these attacks than others. Accusing people of hypocrisy is unwarranted; when considering the cultural and political context of the attacks. We can propose two factors that would help us understand why the social media and political reaction to Paris had had more coverage than others; 1) the proximity of the attack 2) the cultural and discursive meaning of Paris as a city.

 

As I said, people’s increased response to the attacks don’t have to be driven primarily by humanitarian concerns; framing of the attacks were not based on the deaths of innocent civilians but rather, on the growing sense of ‘this can happen to us as well’ mentality. The response to the drowned Syrian kid in the shores of Bodrum was a humanitarian response, the reaction to Paris attacks, on the other hand, can be argued as of an individual security concern, (nonetheless it of course had a huge humanitarian element, but security brought a new dimension to the reactions); and social media merely reflected that concern. This proximity is not only of spatio-temporal context, it’s not only about the geopolitics of Paris, but what Paris represents. Paris represents the idea of a civilised world (whether or not it is civilised is always open to discussion), and the attacks surged the idea that the war of ISIS is no longer confined to war-weary third world countries who face attacks like these in a regular basis, but can be a threat to a country that is supposed to be secure and civilised and ‘epitome of liberal triumph’. It is, as I remarked, is the realisation that ‘this can happen to us’; ‘us’ being the middle to high class educated people raised by Western hegemonic discourse that dominate the social media… and the general political decision-making.

 

Besides them being a security concern, Paris attacks also represented the destruction of a cultural icon that influenced popular movies, songs and paintings. What Paris connotes is different than other cities. When you grow up seeing painting of Paris, watching movies like ‘From Paris with Love’, ‘Hugo’, ‘Ratatouille’, or listening to iconic songs like ‘Champs-Elysees’ or ‘April in Paris’, seeing it this vulnerable, this insecure, this sad… it instinctively affects people. A massacre in an iconic city is the way to spread fear, and IS was successful. What should be done; in response, is to show solidarity; not in the name of Paris, but using the momentum that Paris brought. It is not the time to point fingers and accuse. The interest given to the attacks in the social/popular media, is understandable considering its proximity to the social base of forums like Facebook, Twitter and the cultural importance of Paris. Rather than disuniting on an issue of media coverage, the resurgent interest should be used to accelerate global action against IS…for Paris, Beirut, Ankara, Syria, Iraq and all others who were devastated by these atrocities.

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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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