Tag Archives: terrorism

COUNTER-TERRORISM: WHY BRITAIN NEEDS A RADICAL NEW STRATEGY TO TACKLE THE ROOTS OF EXTREMISM

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By William Marshall, a first year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London with a special interest in Terrorism, Middle Eastern politics, the politics of ‘failed states’ and British Foreign Policy. 

2017 has in many ways been a year of unprecedented success in the incessant struggle against violent extremism. It has seen the dramatic collapse of the so-called Islamic State with Iraqi President Haider Al-Abadi recently declaring the defeat of IS in the country where the organisation surged to prominence following its incredible 2014 offensive which threatened Baghdad itself, after the capture of the groups last two strongholds along the Syrian border.[1] Meanwhile in Syria, US-backed Kurdish forces drove IS out of Raqqa, the groups de facto capital with surprisingly little resistance allowing for a rapid offensive which has, as of late December left IS control restricted to isolated pockets of the country’s eastern desert. As of yet, the feared resurgence of the organisation in its outlying ‘provinces’ has failed to materialise with the group and its affiliates gradually pushed back in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria. Nor has any other group emerged to fill the vacuum left by the organisation’s decline, with Al-Qaeda struggling to assert itself beyond its traditional heartlands and crackdowns on local insurgencies across the globe by governments keen to ensure their lands do not become the latest hotbed of Islamist Insurgency. The figures reflect this decline in global extremism with fatalities having almost halved to 7618 in 2017, compared to 14,356 the previous year.[2]

At home, by contrast the story couldn’t be more different. With three major attacks in as many months, 2017 was the deadliest year for Islamist terrorism in Britain since the deadly 7/7 attacks of 2005. That these attacks were deliberately concentrated against defenceless targets such as tourists and teenagers serves to illustrate Britain’s inherent vulnerability to attacks of this nature, a vulnerability exacerbated by the constantly evolving nature of terrorist tactics. Without a doubt, the shift towards attacks carried out using everyday items including vans, kitchen knives and homemade nail bombs, constructed with seemingly innocuous materials easily purchased in any hardware store up and down the country make the detection and prevention of such atrocities immeasurably harder. That suspects already under ‘active investigation’ such as Manchester Bomber Salman Abedi and London Bridge attacker Khuram Butt, not to mention the host of near misses interrupted moments before catastrophe – including a young man apprehended carrying a bag of knives in almost exactly the same location as March’s Westminster attack just days after the original attack were able to premeditate attacks undetected until the moment of catastrophe serves to illustrate the ease with which extremists adopting this new, low-tech style of terrorism can slip through the net of Britain’s Intelligence agencies.[3] Moreover, the collapse of IS in Syria and Iraq raises fears that a suspected 850 British IS fighters may return to use their skills picked up in the Middle East to commit mass casualty atrocities on home soil, with estimates suggesting that more than 400 of these hardened militants had already returned as of October 2017.[4] It would be wrong to suggest this indicates a systemic failure on the part of Britain’s Counter-terrorism services. Rather it is reflective of a threat that is not only becoming harder to detect and counteract but one which is growing at an alarming rate at the exact time that the Security Service is under an unprecedented degree of financial pressure.

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Photo Source: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/sep/11/london-new-armed-police-base-met-tackle-terrorism#img-1

The last year has seen a dramatic surge in the number of terrorism-related arrests, reaching a record high of 400 in the twelve-month period to September, an increase of 54% on the previous year.[5] This is not the only statistic of note. 2017 also saw the highest number of female arrests for extremism related offences since records began at 58, suggesting a broader demographic of extremist sympathisers among Britain’s Muslim population than the stereotypical disaffected, young male. More significant was the upsurge in white people arrested for terror related offenses from 81 to 143, a 77% rise on 2017, the vast majority on suspicion of far-right related offences with dramatic spikes in the aftermath of Islamist attacks on London and Manchester.[6] This highlights the increasingly multifaceted nature of the extremist threat in modern Britain. In some regions such as Wales and the East Midlands, Counter-terrorism Police dedicate as much time to dealing with the far-right as to Islamist threats.[7] June’s attack against Finsbury Park Mosque by far-right lone wolf Darren Osborne serves to underline that the threat posed by such ideologies is not one to be taken lightly, especially as the simultaneous growth in Islamist extremism feeds into the divisive ‘us vs them’ narrative pedalled by organisations such as Britain First and National Action. Meanwhile, the political controversy over the post-Brexit relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic raises fears of the re-emergence of sectarian tensions in the province, with terrorist activity by both Republican and Unionist groups seeing a worrying upswing since the June 2016 vote to leave the EU and MI5 recently reporting that activities by dissident groups were being disrupted ‘on a weekly basis’ in what has been described as ‘the most concentrated area of terrorist activity probably anywhere in Europe’.[8]

In the face of such a diverse and growing threat it is clear Britain’s Counter-terrorism strategy, due for revision in early 2018, is in urgent need of reform to address the rapidly evolving nature of the extremist threat to the UK. The sad truth we must confront however is that once a potential terrorist becomes radicalised it becomes immeasurably more difficult to apprehend a suspect before he commits a devastating attack, especially given the current trend towards low-tech, casualty maximising techniques. Such a strategy must therefore have an emphasis on tackling the root causes of extremism, promoting a multiagency, multipronged approach which reflects the complex and diverse origins of radicalisation in the UK.

The British Government’s current Counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST was formulated by the Labour Government in 2006 following the 7/7 London Bombings which left 52 dead in what is the most devastating Islamist attack on British soil to date. The strategy, reflecting the multifaceted nature of dealing with the contemporary terrorist threat consists of four key strands, colloquially referred to as ‘the Four P’s’; Pursue, Protect, Prepare and Prevent. Of the four Prevent has always been by far the most controversial, dealing as it does with the contentious themes of multiculturalism, identity and community which lie at the heart of the counter-radicalisation initiative. However, it is also the most fundamental. It is far preferable to prevent disenfranchised individuals from turning to extremism in the first place than constantly playing a deadly game of catch up with already hardened, motivated radicals.

Prevent has nevertheless attracted considerable criticism, both from experts and community leaders who argue the strategy produces the very outcomes it seeks to prevent. The strategy depends on building a network of contacts with education and healthcare professionals as well as within vulnerable communities who are trained to identify and report signs of violent and non-violent extremism, with individuals deemed ‘at risk’ referred on to Prevent’s sister programme Channel, which seeks to provide a support network to turn such individuals away from extremist ideology. This approach has led to accusations that the strategy demonises entire communities, particularly among Britain’s Muslim population by fostering what has been termed a ‘climate of fear’.[9] A series of high profile cases in recent years have illustrated the difficulties of relying on such a strategy, for example the furore surrounding the attempted installation of CCTV with Counter-terrorism funding in Muslim-majority areas of Birmingham in 2010 or more recent reports of details of Muslim schoolchildren being gathered by authorities without parental consent.[10] Such incidents merely act to propagate a culture of suspicion and mistrust among the very communities it seeks to benefit.

Moreover, the strategy has come under fire from human rights activists who argue the approach violates privacy and freedom of expression; for instance, the case of a seventeen year-old referred to police after he showed signs of increased religious observance or the cancellation of debates on topics such as Islamophobia on university campuses which has attracted criticism from the likes of Rights Watch UK and The Open Society Justice Initiative. As one recent report by the Justice Initiative succinctly concluded, ‘Being wrongly targeted under Prevent has led some Muslims to question their place in British society’, underlining the counter-productive nature of an initiative that has community cooperation at its core.[11] Indeed, even King’s has not escaped the controversy with the announcement that the university would reserve the right to ‘monitor and record’ student’s emails in line with the 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act provoking a scandal which hit national headlines just last academic year, highlighting the sheer extent to which the issue has pervaded contemporary British society.[12] That only 20% of those referred to Channel are eventually deemed at risk of involvement in violent extremism exhibits the heavy-handed nature of such an approach to radicalisation, one that tackles the symptoms rather than the underlying causes and serves to build barriers between communities and authorities rather than break them down.[13]

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Photo Source: https://www.google.co.uk/search?biw=1366&bih=662&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=CztRWu3HIYzagAblyYm4Ag&q=british+muslims+communities&oq=british+muslims+communities&gs_l=psy-ab.3…127766.131321.0.131769.12.12.0.0.0.0.77.702.12.12.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.1.76…0j0i30k1j0i5i30k1j0i8i30k1.0.tiDEcIGONHw#imgrc=xarTYilJJqkYKM:

Furthermore, the broad definition of extremism adopted by Prevent, specifically targeting so-called precursors to radicalism such as ‘pre-criminality’, ’non-violent extremism’ and opposition to ‘British values’ not only conflates many normal behaviours of teenagers trying to figure out complex issues of identity and belonging with signals of future terrorist activity but also risks undermining the very values, such as freedom of belief and expression that it seeks to promote.[14] Shutting down discussions on issues key to the radicalisation debate such as Islamophobia serves to stifle constructive, open discussion of these topics and drive debate underground, where it can be monopolised by extremists to promote their warped, vindictive worldview unchallenged rather than exposing and discrediting their repulsive, irrational ideologies for what they are.

Thus, Prevent appears to suffer from systemic flaws which serve to foster the very sense of alienation and injustice that it seeks to eliminate, playing into the hands of extremists and undermining the cooperation of communities when it comes to identifying and tackling potential terrorists.

It is, of course easy to point the finger and shovel the blame on Prevent for failing to protect us from terrorism. What we don’t see, however are the countless cases where Prevent referrals have successfully turned vulnerable individuals away from violent extremism. Whether it be Muslim schoolgirls in Tower Hamlets groomed by extremists online dissuaded from travelling to a life of abuse and fear in Syria or white working-class lads in South Wales turned away from far-right ideology by a timely referral to authorities. We will never really know just how many would-be extremists have been deterred from radicalism by Prevent, though if figures are to be believed it is safe to say they number within the thousands, if not more. Therefore Prevent, in spite of its inherent structural flaws is not a failed strategy. Rather it is one in need of comprehensive overhaul to address the evolving threat posed by extremism in all its forms by tackling the diverse array of underlying social, economic, political and psychological motivators which predispose vulnerable individuals to such ideologies.

As always, the key to such a strategy is winning the hearts and minds of communities most affected by extremism. If an individual feels that by embracing radicalism they face rejection by their community, they are far less likely to turn to such ideologies in the first place. Moreover, when a community feels supported and seen as part of the solution rather than the problem it is far likelier to cooperate with authorities in rooting out dangerous individuals. Realising such a vision, of course, requires grassroots, community-led initiatives by the vast majority within these demographics who reject violence. This involves community leaders working closely with authorities to develop strategies to tackle radicalisation on a localised basis, targeting specific factors driving radicalisation as well as identifying at risk individuals and building wider community resilience and cohesion.

Of particular importance is tackling the fraught issues of identity and belonging, notably among young people that, if left unresolved can morph into feelings of disenfranchisement, disempowerment and grievance which prove fertile ground for extremism to take root. Many, especially young British Muslims – those statistically most likely to be drawn into extremism remain trapped between conflicting values, juggling the traditional, family-orientated society of their parents with the temptations of contemporary Western culture.[15] It is no surprise therefore, that these young people are often left feeling a lack of belonging and are more susceptible than most to crises of identity. Tackling this naturally involves breaking down perceptions of marginalisation and encouraging a shift in attitudes towards demographics regularly stigmatised by the media. As many prominent scholars and clerics have pointed out, there is no inherent tension between Islam and British values, just as there is no conspiracy to eradicate Britain’s indigenous population as pedalled by many far-right organisations. It is these myths which grassroots initiatives must seek to challenge and invalidate.

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Photo Source:https://www.google.co.uk/search?biw=1366&bih=662&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=tD9RWtGKGYqMgAbz2obADA&q=young+british+muslims&oq=young+british+muslims&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0.347371.350299.0.350942.6.6.0.0.0.0.90.437.6.6.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.5.368…0i13k1j0i13i5i30k1j0i8i13i30k1.0.qNsivIidhgA#imgrc=2hrtqBwLCvogQM:

Whilst a revamped Prevent should have a keen focus on community empowerment there is also a need for a more centralised and coordinated policy-making at a national scale to tackle common themes and issues in the radicalisation debate. National initiatives to encourage integration, such as the prohibition of exclusionary religious schools, changing the national curriculum to disprove popularly believed and damaging myths as well as promoting dialogue and mutual exchange between de facto segregated communities are fundamental to building the interpersonal relationships between members of differing communities necessary to cultivate a society that is resilient and united in the face of extremism. Likewise, multiagency coordination is fundamental in tackling radicalisation in context-specific environments, such as online and in prisons, utilising the expertise of both law enforcement agencies and experts and professionals in their respective fields to formulate coherent national strategies to combat extremism in such settings.

This kind of revamped Counter-Radicalisation strategy cannot be effective however, without attempts to tackle the underlying factors common to extremism of all forms such as poverty, deprivation, family breakdown and mental illness. Indeed, research suggests that as much as 82% of Islamism-related offences between 1998 and 2015 were committed in the UK’s most deprived areas whilst around 44% of those referred to Channel during this period had histories of psychological and mental health conditions, a figure significantly higher than the national average.[16] Both far-right and Northern Ireland-related extremists also seem to share a markedly similar profile of social and political marginalisation with these Islamists. What is striking about these findings is how close the profile of an average extremist is to those involved in gang-related violence or other criminal activities. Recent attacks appear to underline this link, with both Westminster attacker Khalid Masood and Manchester Bomber Salman Abedi having held criminal records pertaining to drug and alcohol-related offences. This supports several studies which cite growing evidence of a ‘crime-terror nexus’[17], with individuals involved in extremism increasingly having been involved in prior criminal activity and motivated by the same root causes as conventional criminality such as poverty, unemployment and mental illness rather than the assumed religious or ideological factors.

Thus, it is clear that any attempt to tackle the long-term underlying causes of extremism must involve making headway on such issues. The scope of such a task of course, lies well beyond the remit of security and law enforcement agencies, though it serves to highlight that radicalisation, rather than being merely a security problem is a far broader social issue that requires a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to address in the long-run. It is only when we start addressing it as such that we will begin to see progress on this controversial issue.

 

Bibliography:

[1] BBC World Service: Weekend (10th December 2017): ‘Iraq Says War with IS now over’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w172vsq69s9dqmk [Accessed 5th January 2018]

[2] Esri Story Maps: Terror attacks 2017 (compared with same figures from 2016): 2017: http://storymaps.esri.com/stories/terrorist-attacks/?year=2017, 2016: http://storymaps.esri.com/stories/terrorist-attacks/?year=2016 [Accessed 2nd January 2018]

[3] Casciani, Dominic: BBC News: ‘Could MI5 have stopped 2017’s attacks?’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42244239 [Accessed 2nd January 2017]

[4] Dearden, Lizzie: The Independent: ‘More than 400 British jihadis have already returned to UK, report warns’: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/isis-british-jihadis-return-uk-iraq-syria-report-islamic-state-fighters-europe-threat-debate-terror-a8017811.html [Accessed 3rd January 2018]

[5] Evans, Martin: The Telegraph: ‘Surge in white and female terror suspects pushes up number of arrests to record high’: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/07/terror-arrests-hit-record-high-400-made-uk-year/ [Accessed 30th December 2017]

[6] Ibid

[7] Davies, Jordan: BBC News: ‘Far-right extremist planned ‘race war’ by making explosives’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-42450131 [Accessed 2nd January 2018]

[8] Corera, Gordon: BBC News: ‘MI5 warnings on Brexit, terror and Russia’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42434767 [Accessed 3rd January 2018]

[9] Singh, Amrit: The Guardian: ‘Instead of preventing terror, Prevent is creating a climate of fear’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/19/terror-prevent-muslims-police-terrorist-attacks [Accessed on 4th January 2018]

[10] Hasan, Usama: The Guardian: ‘The Prevent strategy can help stop terrorism – if we use some common sense’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/09/prevent-anti-radicalisation-strategy-baby-bathwater-teething-troubles-working-well [Accessed 29th December 2017]

[11] Cobain, Ian: The Guardian: ‘UK’s Prevent counter-radicalisation policy ‘badly flawed’’: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/19/uks-prevent-counter-radicalisation-policy-badly-flawed [Accessed 4th January 2018]

[12] Weale, Sally: The Guardian: ‘London university tells students their emails may be monitored’:  https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/20/university-warns-students-emails-may-be-monitored-kings-college-london-prevent [Accessed 5th January 2018]

[13] Muslim Engagement and Development (28th July 2015), ‘Channel: Safeguarding or stigmatising young children’: https://mend.org.uk/news/channel-safeguarding-or-stigmatising-young-children/ [Accessed 6th January 2018]

[14] Cobain, Ian: The Guardian: ‘UK’s Prevent counter-radicalisation policy ‘badly flawed’’: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/19/uks-prevent-counter-radicalisation-policy-badly-flawed [Accessed 4th January 2018]

[15] Versi, Miqdaad: The Guardian: ‘The latest Prevent figures show why the strategy needs an independent review’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/10/prevent-strategy-statistics-independent-review-home-office-muslims [Accessed 5th January 2018]

[16] Dearden, Lizzie: The Independent: ‘Children exposed to terror radicalisation by Government’s failure to tackle root causes of extremism, report finds’: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/prevent-terrorism-strategy-failing-tackle-extremism-root-causes-oasis-report-children-radicalisation-a8085656.html [Accessed 26th December 2017]

[17] Dearden, Lizzie: The Independent: ‘Isis recruiting violent criminals and gang members across Europe in dangerous new ‘crime-terror nexus’’: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/isis-recruiting-violent-criminals-gang-members-drugs-europe-new-crime-terror-nexus-report-drugs-a7352271.html [Accessed 5th January 2018]

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The anatomy of TERROR

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By Diana Ecaterina Borcea, a first year War Studies Undergraduate at King’s College London and European Editor for International Relations Today.

 10:35pm Monday, May 22nd 2017. Massive explosion taking place at the Manchester Arena, shortly after the end of 20.000 people packed concert.

Two months earlier, on March 22nd, a 52-year-old British citizen drove a car into the pedestrians on the south side of the Westminster Bridge.

The timeline of the UK terrorist attacks started to count more and more incidents and deaths of the innocent since the beginning of the year, leading the detectives into the hunt for a terrorist network, especially after the Iraqi Islamic State’s responsibility claim over the bombing which happened earlier this week. However, the public proved itself to be increasingly confused in the attempt to contour a broader understanding of what the terrorists are looking for in their operations – or even better – what the real terror is meant to achieve.

Considering that UK has just been through the worst attack since 2007, the polarization of a pure anti-humanity agenda, successfully restored under the international spotlight since the beginning of the year proved once again, its underlying permanent influence over the global society, regardless of the geo-political targeting of the attacks. Therefore, what is actually primarily important to understand is the concept that describes best the perpetrators’ intentions in their offensive procedure, which essentially relies on the very definition of terror. They aim for publicity (which by its own means both attracting other individuals or groups on the side of the perpetrators and breaking the rational will of the targeted mass), they generally intend to deteriorate the image of a recognized government in the eyes of both the world and their own citizens, they inspire a super-wave of collective guilt amongst the individuals and ultimately, strive for a socio-political (and sometimes economic) paralysis of the targeted state-system, once the faith and the support of the masses are completely lost. From this point of view, UK’s constant response to the attacks can be theoretically interpreted as being antiterrorist, because it mainly relies on collective national security measures meant to keep sheltering the rights of the citizens and the rule of law. However, the increasing density of the attacks does raise some vital questions about the state’s protective capability, given the large numbers of casualties caused only since the beginning of this year. The more successful attacks, the lower the people’s faith in their own security and safety and implicitly, the lower the trust in the state’s protective ability. So what will happen next?

It is clear that unlike the Unites States, the British government does not see terrorism as warfare, nor does it look at it through the crime analogy. What UK has actually done so far is considering terrorism as being a matter of disease, which implies a cause-symptom treatment based on arrests and increased prevention through additional security measures. It is certainly important to note the achievements of this approach, as so far the danger of a social paralysis has been avoided and regardless of the extent of the destruction caused by the perpetrators of extreme violence, life went on. But how long will this last for?

A more relevant idea to bear in mind when dissociating terrorism is that due to the ever-changing nature of the phenomenon (including the targeting vision, the conduct of the operations, the tactics and devices used etc.), there is not and will never be a clear, comprising and universally valid definition for the case. This fact itself plays an important role in the broad understanding process of how and why the perpetrators act the way they do against the society. The psychological view of the attacker prototype does explain the individual’s perspective before and during the ‘pull of the trigger’, as it acknowledges the psychological map and processes taking place in human mind, which are, to a certain extent, quite similar to the ones of a soldier on the battlefield. It fails, however, to identify the vague transition between the ideological, religious, political, economic or personal motivation of an individual to carry out an act of extreme violence and the actual process of making it happen. In other words, there is no clear link between the theory and the practice of inducing terror. What is more, the group cohesion theory can barely justify the determination and outstanding operational focus of the terrorist groups and yet, it does not even reach the lone wolves’ case studies. Perhaps, this is one element that makes the latest London attacks stand out in the series of the recent attacks, because if the individuals acted on their own, one can hardly identify – not to mention understand – the mental realm of the terrorist. Thus, there is a general state of confusion between the target and the shooter. Unlike traditional warfare, the war on terror is not just asymmetrical from the grand strategic point of view, but it is also extremely irregular when it comes to the individual level of analysis.

Therefore, the thinner the correlation between the victim and the killer, the more endangered the conditions of life, regardless of the geographical zone discussed. What is certain, though, is that the continuation of the attacks against the human society has become in the past decades, an inherent matter of reality. Whether the hits similar to the one Britain took earlier this week will intensify or not, it is important to remember that terrorism is now a big part of the world we live in. The attackers are not prone to fundamental changes on any level of analysis, but what needs consideration is how (from the citizens to the states and to the international community) the society will ‘digest’ and cope with this traumatizing reality and the first step on this path is actually deciding whether the surviving mechanism of the world as we know it is actually that bulletproof against terror as we thought it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bibliography:

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

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

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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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How Refugee Admission could save, and not destroy the UK

refugee crisis

By Paula Koller-Alonso, a first year History & International Relations King’s College London undergraduate

Trump’s travel ban has urged us to take a second look at the refugee crisis and the new cataclysm of migration diaspora. Politics and opinions on the topic are generally split between conservatives believing that the immigration influx will create a security breach and liberals encouraging the intake of refugees as a chance to be humanitarian heroes. Yet between the polar opposites, one consequence of the crisis has not been substantially analysed: the idea that mass refugee intake might just be what saves the UK demographic and economy.

The British parliament voiced a plan in 2015 to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next years, which seemed reasonable and morally noble. However, this plan was mainly limited to unaccompanied children, at times, as Amnesty International’s newest campaign reveals, tearing families apart and prohibiting the entry of these kids’ parents. Furthermore, 20,000 refugees is a marginal number compared to what the UK’s neighbours are accepting: In one weekend in 2015, 20,000 refugees were welcomed in the city of Munich. 13,000 refugees alone arrived on a Sunday, more than the total number of refugees seeking asylum in the UK in the whole of 2015. To put that into perspective, 20,000 people are only equivalent to 0.03% of the total population, whilst Germany expected 800,000 asylum seekers in 2016, which was a total 1% of their population. So then it has to be asked – why is the UK so afraid to be more generous in their humanitarian aid to give asylum to refugees fleeing civil war?

Having watched the media in recent months gives a partial answer to the question. An increased number of terrorist attacks, many linked to radical terrorist groups, in Western Europe creates an atmosphere of fear and an increase in security protocols. Trump’s travel ban itself forbid the entry of citizens from targeted Middle Eastern countries, stating that it was “about terror and keeping [the] country safe”. However, apart from discriminating against a religion and ethnicity, the travel ban and the refusal of a higher number of refugee intakes, also obscures the advantage a country can gain from receiving asylum seekers.

Considering OECD statistics, the birth rate in the UK has gradually decreased in the last 45 years. As a result, concerning the demographic development, there has been an increase of 4.23% in the elderly population, and a decrease of 6.3% in the young population. Admitting refugees in the UK would therefore strengthen the demographic gap in the population, which would benefit the country in a long-term perspective. Consequently, it would reinforce economic productivity, as its increased labour supply would fuel the GDP and taxation backflows. The UK could then be placed on a higher power basis in the international system, through its increased economic strength – a necessary and welcomed step in the wake of the post-Brexit Sterling devaluation.

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Reference: OECD.org

Although it seems morally incorrect to refer to refugee asylum as an economic policy to strengthen the country, it may be necessary to highlight these advantages in order to urge politicians to turn a humanitarian crisis into a political requirement. There are still more than 4 million Syrian refugees displaced in the Middle East, and now is the time to welcome them, rather than reject them – not only because it is inhumane not to do so, but also because it could highly benefit the UK.

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The Colombian Peace Process: Understanding the “NO” Vote

by Sofia Liemann Escobar, a second year War Studies student from Colombia. She is currently the treasurer of the KCL Latin American Society. Her main interests include security, Latin America and organised crime.

 

 

“True peace is not merely the absence of war; it is the presence of justice”

– Jane Addams, 1931 Nobel prize winner

 

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“Without justice, there is no peace”

 

On the 2nd of October, Colombians will be deciding if they support the agreement that has been reached between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government. To many outsiders it is hard to understand why anyone could reject the agreements that as President Santos has proclaimed, will bring “a sustainable and durable peace” to Colombia. However, if they were to look closer to what is being agreed upon they might begin to understand why many Colombians are skeptical and against the proposed 297-page long agreement.

 

The FARC are a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla that have been involved in a conflict with the Colombian government since 1964. Whist their aim has been to topple the government to impose a communist regime, their means to accomplish this, including its financing, has made them criminals. They are responsible for 70% of Colombia’s cocaine production, which amounts to 40% of the world’s production [1]. In addition, they have been using other criminal methods such as kidnappings, extortions and illegal mining to finance their operations. The methods that they have used against soldiers, government officials and civilians have labelled them as terrorists. They have used bombs and mines to kill and terrorize innocent civilians. They are also responsible for the forced recruitment and use of child soldiers in the conflict, and have committed sexual crimes against women and young girls who were forcibly taken away from their homes. Despite the amount of harm, which they have brought to Colombia, they only represent around 0.03% [2] of the population.

 

This agreement that has been under negotiation for over 4 years in Havana has generated hope for peace amongst many Colombians, whilst creating serious concerns to others. For many people abroad the news of an agreement being reached on the 25th of August created great anticipation, thus making it hard to understand why anyone would have issues with it. When taking a closer look, the huge concessions that were made in favour of FARC become evident, and the much-awaited peace becomes questionable. Each Colombian has their own concern regarding the agreement depending on their values and fears. People with low incomes are generally upset that the government will pay FARC to demobilise, when they haven’t received any support from the government despite them being honest citizens. Others are concerned that those who have committed serious crimes will be eligible for appointment in public service. Whilst others are frustrated that the Colombian government will be imposing taxes to implement the agreements, whereas FARC are not required to give up their criminally earned fortune. There are many more issues with the agreement, but there is one in particular that has been very controversial: justice, or the lack thereof, especially in the cases of crimes against humanity.

 

Even though it is expected that in peace processes there is a more lenient approach to justice, it does not mean that the perpetrators of serious crimes should not go to jail, even for a reduced sentence. The government has claimed that there will be no amnesty and pardon for those who committed crimes against humanity. According to the agreements, if the perpetrators confess the crime, they get an “alternative sentence”. The agreement is ambiguous with what the sentence is, but clarifies that under no circumstance would it be jail or prison. However, if they don’t tell the truth, they go to jail for 20 years, and if they speak up at the last minute they get 8 years (article 60)[3]. The problem with this approach is that the “alternative sentence” is not a proportional punishment for the crimes they have committed. The danger in this agreement is that those who are actually innocent can end up going to jail if they don’t “tell the truth”, and those who are guilty of massacres, bombings, kidnappings, child-soldier recruitment, rape and extortion will get to confess their crimes and get awarded essentially a jail-free card. Human Rights Watch has highlighted that this agreement will “guarantee impunity for those responsible of crimes against humanity”[4]. Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch has denounced that allowing “confessed and convicted war criminals to be ‘punished’ by no more than orders for community service is grotesquely insufficient” [5]. It is interesting that in a recent opinion poll analysis by Fundacion Ideas Para la Paz, it paradoxically showed that whilst on average 40% of Colombians would be willing to sacrifice justice for peace, only around 11% would accept FARC members not going to jail[6].

 

Another dimension into the problem of justice is that it provides amnesty to drug trafficking. It will be the biggest money laundering operation that the world will have seen, as the government has accepted that drug trafficking is a related offence to political crimes (article 39)[7]. There is no mention in the 297 pages of FARC having to use their fortune to restore their victims.  The FARC are the third richest terrorist organization in the world[8]. Most of that money has been gained through the cocaine business. If the government is unable to bring the biggest drug cartel to justice, how will they have the authority to prosecute other cartels and drug traffickers in the country?

 

Just as worrying as the many other dubious and deceiving clauses in the agreement, is the inappropriate use of democratic mechanisms to disguise the imposition of the agreement. The congress, which is controlled by the President, approved the Legislative Act for Peace. A modification to the constitution to give “security and legal stability” to the process [9] by shielding the agreements so future governments will be unable to change them. It will also be elevated to special status under the Geneva conventions, therefore treating it as an international agreement despite FARC being a non-state actor. Furthermore, it grants special powers to the president so he can expedite decrees that will fast-track the implementation of new laws and the changes in the constitution. A process that normally requires 8 debates in congress, will be reduced to 4. In addition, the proposals brought by the president can not be modified without his consent, and as a result the congress will lose its raison d’être. In order to put this in effect, Colombians must support the plebiscite,  which is polemic in itself as the threshold has been lowered from 50% to 13%. It is astonishing to see how the government slowly changes the constitution to suit a terrorist group.

 

It is a misconception that the peace process under the agreed terms will stop the conflict in Colombia. The reality is that even if FARC are gone, violence is very likely to continue as long as the drug trafficking business continues. The agreement will not bring an end to this trade [10]. There are already signs that other organised crime groups are moving into old FARC territory and taking over their criminal economies. In the past few weeks ELN, Colombia’s 2nd largest guerrilla force, has increased their kidnapping and extortion activities. They also announced that they would be having an armed strike in six departments of Colombia [11]. Many have argued that in saying “yes” to this agreement, an opportunity is given to those who have suffered the most to live in peace. The sad reality is that many of these people will not see that peace because soon they will be overrun by other criminal groups that will be extorting, kidnapping and killing. Unfortunately, the agreement fails to properly deal with the issue of drug trafficking. President Santos claims that the FARC will help to eradicate coca crops, but it is hard to see this happening when taking into account the fact that during the negotiating of the peace process, Colombia once again gained the status as the major cocaine producer in the world [12]. In fact, last week President Barack Obama highlighted Colombia’s 42% increase in coca crop cultivations between 2014 and 2015 [13].

 

Colombians that are voting NO, are not warmongers. They are concerned citizens who see the risks of the agreement, and want a renegotiation on some of the critical aspects of the agreement. Santos has said this is impossible, and threatened that war would prevail if the outcome is a no. If that is the case, then it is proof that FARC were not in it to end the conflict in the first place. As the counterinsurgency academic, David Spencer, puts it: these “peace negotiations are part of a plan [for the FARC] to take power: they are not a means to end the conflict but rather to transform it” [14]. Spencer also points out that FARC’s petitions do not resemble those of an organization that wants to reintegrate back into society, “but rather those of one attempting to dictate at the negotiating table the terms of a peace that it was unable to win on the battlefield” [15]. This agreement opens the door for the populist left that have put fellow Latin American countries like Cuba and Venezuela in complete chaos.

 

All Colombians want peace- but is it worth sacrificing justice and democracy for this distorted version? Would other countries be happy agreeing to the same terms with the terrorists that harmed and terrorized them?

 

[1] McDermott, Jeremy (2016, August 24) What Does Colombia Peace Mean for Cocaine Trade? <http://www.insightcrime.org/news-analysis/what-does-colombia-peace-deal-mean-for-cocaine-trade> [accessed 17 September 2016].

 

[2] Latest FARC numbers (15,700) / Colombian Population (48,814,452) x 100= 0.03%. Information obtained from http://www.noticiasrcn.com/nacional-pais/guerrilla-las-farc-contaria-15700-hombres & http://countrymeters.info/es/Colombia

 

[3] Acuerdo Final Para la Terminacion del Conflicto y la Construccion de una Paz Estable y Duradera: http://www.altocomisionadoparalapaz.gov.co/Documents/informes-especiales/abc-del-proceso-de-paz/acuerdo-general-proceso-paz.html

 

[4] Human Rights Watch (2016, August 25) Colombia: Peace Pact a Key Opportunity to Curb Abuses< https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/25/colombia-peace-pact-key-opportunity-curb-abuses> [accessed 17 September 2016].

 

[5] Human Rights Watch (2016, August 25) Colombia: Peace Pact a Key Opportunity to CurbAbuses<https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/25/colombia-peace-pact-key-opportunity-curb-abuses> [accessed 17 September 2016].

 

[6] Fundacion Ideas Para La Paz (2016) El Termometro de la Paz <http://www.ideaspaz.org/especiales/termometro/#p3> [accessed 17 September 2016].

 

[7] Acuerdo Final Para la Terminacion del Conflicto y la Construccion de una Paz Estable y Duradera: http://www.altocomisionadoparalapaz.gov.co/Documents/informes-especiales/abc-del-proceso-de-paz/acuerdo-general-proceso-paz.html

 

[8] Forbes International (2014, December 12) The World’s 10 Richest Terrorist Organizations <http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesinternational/2014/12/12/the-worlds-10-richest-terrorist-organizations/#9dee35e2ffae> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[9] CNN Español (2016, Junio 2) Congreso de Colombia aprueba reforma constitucional para blindar acuerdo de paz en La Habana < http://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2016/06/02/congreso-aprueba-reforma-constitucional-para-blindar-acuerdo-de-paz-en-la-habana/> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[10] McDermott, Jeremy (2016, August 24) What Does Colombia Peace Mean for Cocaine Trade? <http://www.insightcrime.org/news-analysis/what-does-colombia-peace-deal-mean-for-cocaine-trade> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[11] Noticias RCN (2016, September 11) ELN anunció paro armado de 72 horas en seis departamentos < http://www.noticiasrcn.com/nacional-pais/eln-anuncio-paro-armado-72-horas-seis-departamentos>[accessed 17 September 2016].

[12]Miroff, Nick (2015, November 10) Colombia is again the World’s Top Coca Producer.Here’s why that’s a blow to the US. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/in-a-blow-to-us-policy-colombia-is-again-the-worlds-top-producer-of-coca/2015/11/10/316d2f66-7bf0-11e5-bfb6-65300a5ff562_story.html> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[13] News Room America Feeds (2016, September 12) Presidential Determination—Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2017 <http://www.newsroomamerica.com/story/595587.html> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[14] Davies, Dickie; Kilcullen, David; Mills, Greg; Spencer, David (2016) A Great Perhaps? Colombia: Conflict and Convergence (London: Hurst Publishers) p.g 137.

[15] Davies, Dickie; Kilcullen, David; Mills, Greg; Spencer, David (2016) A Great Perhaps? Colombia: Conflict and Convergence (London: Hurst Publishers) p.g 147

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fear and Referendums – The impact of the terrorist threat on the EU referendum in the UK

By Chiara Cappellini, an Italian second year Bsc Social Policy and Government student at the London School of Economics.

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Fear is one of the most powerful political tools, which can be used to direct masses.

At the turn of 2016 we see the rhetoric of European right wing parties have been tainted with fear. In the past year, European citizens have witnessed three major terrorist attacks hitting Paris, the heart of the European continent. These events have surely affected public opinion on the ability of the EU to uphold security, and have reminded the European citizens what ‘fear’ is.

The question is: will fear determine the outcomes of the EU referendum in the UK?

The Paris attacks might appear as a bloody cherry on top of several years of incrementing Euro- sceptism. As highlighted by Junker, in these last three years Europe has confronted some of the most difficult tests. At the turn of 2016 we see no end to the Greece crisis, rising support for right wing parties especially in France and Austria, incrementing numbers of refugees on the Italian and Hungarian border.  The UK’s rigid conservative agenda persists, and we will soon be approaching a EU referendum. The conservatives have been rewarded for their tough approach on EU requests, and have now approved air strikes on Syria. At the moment, fear seems to be dominating the political scene across the entire continent.

In the short term, the attacks in November have proven the failure of the ideals behind the European Union for many Europeans. In reference to conducted studies, we see a very strong correlation between terrorist attacks and a swing in political opinion.

This was witnessed also in the UK, and in the brief aftermath of the November attacks we have seen opinions invert, and the ‘remain’ side gain majority. A poll conducted a week after the attacks shows ‘remain’  reaching the majority at 52%, whilst ‘leave’ dropping to 48%. (The independent)

Now that the initial hysteria has elapsed, we see how the terrorist attacks might have actually enhanced a sense of solidarity towards the rest of Europe. The most recent polls demonstrate a rebalancing of opinions, and Britons are now split 50/50 over leaving the Union. Professor Simon Hix from the London School of Economics encourages us to take a positive perspective on the EU’s future. In an interview, he has claimed that the short-term effect of the terrorist attacks would inevitably swing voters against the EU. However, in the long-term, we should look at how these attacks have given birth to a sense of Anglo-French solidarity. We know the French and the British are historical rivals, but the Paris attacks were mourned to such an extent that this rivalry seems to have been forgotten. Trafalgar Square was flooded with people showing support for Paris twice this year. We can also see the support for France in more mundane scenes, for example in the fact that Premier League games were commenced with the Marselleise for weeks, and by a wave of red white and blue colours in social media.

Moreover, Professor Hix highlights the crucial difference between what the public wants and perceives against what is the rational choice in terms of security. To enhance security, it makes no sense to leave the EU. This can be seen by the fact that even Theresa May, one of the most Eurosceptic member of Parliament, pushed for joining the Pan European database following the attacks.

The public is very divided on the effect of the EU membership on the national security, and a poll taken during the week of the Paris attacks shows that 39% feel that EU membership makes Britain stronger, 26% think that it weakens Britain’s security, and 23% thinks it makes no difference.

This implies that many voters see the security benefits a EU membership includes. However, the poll also demonstrates there is a large portion of pivotal voters, which could be heavily influenced by exogenous shocks.

This bring us to the conclusion that if during 2016 the European Union will demonstrate its ability to take coordinated action against terrorism, Britons will be reassured that a tight interconnection between European nations is beneficial for security.

The situation is very delicate though, because another terrorist attacks so close to the British border might be the last straw to swing public opinion, and will be used as precious political capital by the UK to leave campaigning groups.

 

Picture: http://www.voxeurop.eu/de/content/article/3977671-euroskeptiker-zwischen-allen-stuehlen

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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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War Aims – The Fundamentals of our Fight Against ISIL?

By David Vallance, a second year student from Sydney, reading War Studies and History at King’s College London.

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For almost two years now, we in the West have been witnesses to the absolute barbarism of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. We have all read the stories in the newspapers and online about the beheadings, rapes, mass murders, and burnings, and some with stronger stomachs than me have watched the videos ISIL put out. It is a truly disturbing time we live in; we are used, in our history, to people trying to cover up atrocities – now we have been confronted by a group that revels in sharing their cruelty with the world. What ISIL do is against any ethical code, be it a religious or cultural one, but it is my opinion that because of their awful actions and the visceral emotional effect they have on us, we have lost sight of any appreciably concrete aim to be fighting towards. To say we will “degrade and destroy” ISIL makes for a good sound bite, but not a good policy, as I shall try to explain. ISIL should be destroyed, but in order to achieve that end, we must first decide exactly why they must be destroyed. Not only will that decision colour how we are able to fight them, but it will also determine what comes after their defeat.

In the wake of the most recent United Nations resolution (2249), which has called for vastly increased international cooperation to defeat ISIL, we must critically analyse exactly why we are fighting – and before anyone reading this accuses me of not wanting to help those unfortunates suffering because of ISIL, I am strongly for increasing our military commitment to help stop their atrocities. However, if we do not at least discuss the core reasons for fighting ISIL, we will not be able to develop any concrete aims or end points of our intervention; and with them, we will not be able to have a coherent strategy about how to rebuild the region when (or for the pessimists among you, if) ISIL is defeated.

So, when we step back from all the political posturing, the loud moral indignation of social media, and the slow response of the UN, we see three main arguments as to why we are fighting.

Firstly we have the threat (and in some cases, the reality) of ISIL destabilising and threatening nations around the world – is this why we are fighting, for the interests of nations who have been attacked by the group or have had their interests threatened by them? Some realists would say that this is enough, but does not seem like a good enough explanation.

Next we have the ethical arguments you cannot help but see all over social media, condemning ISIL as not only acting as animals rather than as people, but also perverting a region the majority of whose adherents live in peace to their own violent ends. Are we then fighting a moral war for the survival of a universal ethical code? Again, the idealists of the world will see this as more than enough justification to step up military activity against the group, but again the explanation is not complete.

Finally, we have the justification focusing on the threat ISIL pose to international order in general. Resolution 2249 called the group an “unprecedented threat to international peace and security”, which therefore must be stopped. While I’m sure we would all agree that indeed they must be stopped, but does ISIL really constitute that “unprecedented threat”? I would suggest that the threat it poses is anything but unprecedented. The events of the 11th of September 2001 should be able to tell us that much. Many people cite terrorist activity in countries outside Iraq and Syria, particularly in Nigeria, to counter this, however we must remember that casualties here are so high because of the groups already operating there – of course I am talking about Boko Haram. Where ISIL have no affiliated organisations, there are no more dangerous than their parent group, Al- Qaeda, was in the first decade of the century. If anything, if we judge by casualties, Al-Qaeda have been more destabilising than ISIL outside the Iraq/Syria region. ISIL certainly do pose a credible threat to international peace, but it is not unprecedented, and as such we cannot justify our military action by that point alone.

You only need to look at the Coalition’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan to see how destructive not having coherent war aims can be. On the flip side of that, we can look back in history to the Second World War to see the opposite – the Allied aim to defeat Nazis as opposed to Germany meant that post-war reconstruction not only took place with great efficiency, but was seen as a matter of course. When aims are clouded, it is totally impossible to see past them. Post- war reconstruction in Germany, I believe, have invaluable lessons to teach us, and it is from this example that I base my interpretation of what our aims should be in this current conflict.

All the justifications for war I listed above do not talk about the concrete situation of people on the ground in Iraq and Syria living under ISIL’s rule. Contrary to what many exponents of the moral arguments against the group will tell you, many are able to live decent lives under their rule. In a recent event hosted by the King’s Think Tank – The Future of The Islamic State – panelists from Chatham House and RUSI Qatar explained that in many cases life in occupied Iraqi territory can be better than in areas controlled by the government. Joining the group provides a higher income than generally available elsewhere, and also guarantees that, should you be killed, your family will be provided for. To the many Iraqi’s and Syrians impoverished by war, this has to seem a very attractive prospect. Thus it is not true to say that ISIL hold their territory purely by terror – they are providers as well.

With this in mind, it should be obvious to what end or aims should drive us: the provision of a credible alternative to ISIL by a comprehensive program of not only state, but also nation building.

I make the distinction between the two since our post-conflict experience in Iraq and Syria show that simply creating a vaguely competent administration is not enough; we must also make efforts to foster a sense of national identity. It is my belief that a great draw of ISIL for its members is that it provides, through its ridiculously extreme interpretation of Islam, a incredibly strong sense of identity. If we then consider that the majority of its fighters are young men, this conclusion becomes all the more inescapable – young men, as well as women, all over the world are generally confused and seeking some kind of belonging or direction. We are fortunate in our countries we are able to find other means of being part of something, like student politics, music, or sport, to name just a few examples. Those who end up joining ISIL have had no such opportunities, and so their only option to garner a sense of identity lies in subscribing to and ideology of violence.

This conclusion goes a long to explain the deficiencies in the justifications for fighting ISIL listed above. The national interest argument fails to take conditions for those living on the ground into account, focusing too much on those intervening. Conversely, the moral argument focuses too much on the ethical implication of ISIL’s violence, failing to take into account conditions on the ground in a very different way. The former is too practical with its realist logic and does not address the fundamentals in the region, and the latter has too little practicality about it, simply saying that these things should not happen. Strangely, both of these different approaches to the conflict had the same result – neglecting the material needs of those civilians caught up in the conflict on the ground. This being the fundamental issue that should be addressed in ultimately bringing this conflict to an end, neither of these justification are sufficient, and indeed we should avoid them as much as humanly possible. The threat to international peace and stability argument is essentially the same as the national interest argument, and so suffers from identical deficiencies.

From all this, what we should take away is that it is simply not enough to label ISIL as “evil”. That accomplishes nothing. In fact, it actively stymies our attempts to agree on how to fight the group and how to bring the conflict to an end. We cannot let our passions – though anger at ISIL’s atrocities is certainly justified – rule the day. In a matter as complex as this, our only hope for anything resembling a decent resolution is to approach it critically and keep our heads. For the sake of those suffering in the region, we cannot afford to be ruled by self-interest or emotional politics.

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