ISIL and Homeland Terrorism – Is Europe Going to War?

Source: AP
Source: AP

It took 10 days to shift a quiet and reluctant European Union and its 28 Member States from a closed-minded fortress to a group reflecting on the realities of its environment. Ensuing the terrorist attacks in France and the foiled ones in Belgium, the war narratives are emerging in Europe. In the case of France, the political class – in and out of power – has been hammering the same narrative: ‘France is at war.’ At war against radical islamists in Mali, in the Sahel, in Iraq and Syria, and just comes back from Afghanistan. All these foreign military interventions orchestrated by France since 2012 – aside of Afghanistan a multilateral military effort – had gone unnoticed by a French citizenry uninterested about French foreign and military policies as well as geopolitical realities.

Europe at War?

The week after the Charlie Hebdo attack, ‘France is at war’ has become the mainstream narrative of most French politicians. French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, and Minister of Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, among others have all talked of war. During his allocution before the National Assembly, Manuel Valls declared “Yes France is engaged in a war, against terrorism, against jihadism and radical islamism” (“Oui la France est en guerre, contre le terrorisme, le djihadisme et l’islamisme extrémiste (…)). Additionally, the taboo in France has been broken, the political elite is finally underscoring on daily basis that French and European citizens ought to be ready to see an increase of terrorist attacks inside the Union. The linkage between the two points, increase of terrorist attacks and the war narrative, is France high level activity in fighting radical islamic groups around Africa and the Middle East. France among the other EU Member States ought to understand the dichotomy of the current fight: on the one hand, the fight against radical ideologies within the EU is not going to end anytime soon and will require serious societal-political debate; while on the other, stopping the rise of ISIL will not end the rise of extremism in Europe.

In the case of France and Belgium, the alleged terrorists have received training in Syria at some point. Both countries hold the largest muslim communities in Europe (in proportion to their overall population); both countries have faced recent attacks such as the killing at a jewish museum in Brussels and the killings orchestrated by Mohammed Merah against Jewish individuals in the South-West of France. Both countries have failed in their models of integration as a segment of their Arab youth has become radicalized or at least sensitized to the radical islamist cause.

Source: Pew Research Center
Source: Pew Research Center

Additionally, more and more individuals – most of them are indeed European citizens – are coming back to their homelands after receiving a military training in Syria and/or Iraq (look here at the excellent interactive map by Radio Free Europe). The numbers fluctuate in the case of France from 700+ (as described below) to roughly 1000 in January 2015. Ultimately, EU Member States are confronting a complex challenge connecting foreign war endeavor and homeland terrorism-radicalization of a segment of Muslims communities.

Source: Statista
Source: Statista

With the increasing numbers of European citizens fighting in Syria/Iraq under the ISIL umbrella, should the Euro-Atlantic community wage war in Syria and Iraq against ISIL?

The war narrative in France is interesting for one simple reason: Is France trying to get domestic support to a military intervention in Syria? Or is France trying to mobilize its European allies and the US for a military intervention in Syria? The current bombings over Iraq and Syria led by France (principally over Iraq) and the US seem insufficient in maintaining the rise of ISIL. As argued in a recent ECFR analysis, “months into the armed strikes, it is clear that the existing approach can only go so far. Western political leaders, thrown into a state of panic by the mesmerised media coverage of the beheadings of Western hostages, launched extensive military action against IS that has been heavily dominated by the US, in spite of the participation of regional actors who spend tens of billions of dollars on weapons each year.”

Scenarios to Addressing the Root Causes of ISIL:

Ultimately, in the aftermaths of the January terrorist attacks, how could the EU address the realities of the threat?

First, mobilization of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO may be the way to go for the military phase at first followed by a credible CSDP mission of state-building. The NATO-CSDP couple did work in the Balkans and has stabilized the region since the late 1990s (read here a volume on the Security Sector Reform). Certainly some states in the Balkans are more stable than others; and problems of corruptions, lack of rule of law, and other societal and economic problems remain a reality. Nevertheless, it is a more stable region than ensuing the fall of the Soviet Union. In the case of Syria and Iraq, both NATO-CSDP could be the instrument to first, use credible military forces on the ground and in the air, followed by a long-term reconstruction process overtaken by the CSDP. Inside the EU, the question of a credible CSDP mandate and operation will be a tough one to get. Large EU Member States, like the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, may be reluctant to invest large amount of money, to provide credible military capabilities and soldiers. France and Poland cannot be the only two large Member States providing the bulk of the CSDP mission. The destruction/containment of ISIL is not an end in itself; but it is the re-construction and eventual creation of nation-states in the region. The reality is that 15 years later, starting with the 1998 bombing campaign over Kosovo, the CSDP and NATO are still present in the Balkans. Europeans and Americans must be consciously willing to commit to several decades of reconstruction in the Middle East.

Second, Russia and Turkey are the key to the future of the region. Russia was the state protecting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad when France and the US were ready to sanction Syria following the use of sarin gas against civilians. President Obama did not

Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis, AP
Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis, AP

want to start another war in the Middle East and was certainly satisfy to find the best-worst short-term option in his playbook, an international supervision and destruction of the Syrian chemical arsenal. Since then Russia and the West have not been agreeing on the course of event in the region. Russia ought to understand that the current situation in the Levant is not aligned with its interests. The second key player is Turkey. Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been reluctant to use military force against ISIL. Turkish army is deployed at the borders with Syria monitoring the ongoing war in Syria. Both players are crucial for the future: Russia in order to get a military operation with international legitimacy, a Resolution by the UN Security Council; and Turkey, as a neighboring state and NATO member in leading the war effort in Syria.

Third, Arab States, especially Qatar, Saoudi Arabia, Iran, ought to play a credible role as well. Their contributions is greater than simple financial and military supports, it holds strong religious and symbolic dimensions. The involvement of Arab States would demonstrates that the war against ISIL is not a clash of civilization between the West and the Arab world as it has been framed, but rather as a war between radical islamism and the world. Without the inclusion and the assistance of these three regional powerhouses, the fight against ISIL will not be fully realistic, at least in the aftermaths of the military phase.

A New Regional Order?

The Arab Spring has transformed the balance of power at domestic and regional levels all around the Mediterranean. The EU, Russia, the US, Arab States may all have diverging political systems, religious beliefs, perceptions of the world, but the reality of the threat is undeniable and common. The long term solution is not military, but political. Behind the walls of its imagined fortress, the EU has thought that it would be immune of all troubles if it just ignores the threats and challenges knocking at its doors. The EU’s neighborhoods are on fire causing mass migrations, rise of terrorism, all sorts of illegal activities and political instabilities. European capitals must now address the problem, ISIL, as it is not only destabilizing the Mediterranean region, but now European societies. It is Europe’s fight. Europe should decide to take the lead on this one.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Summer 2014 – The Melting of Western Influence?

Credit: Vieuws.eu
Credit: Vieuws.eu

Summer 2014 has been non-stop, and it is not even over yet. It started on a positive note with the success of European soccer teams in Brazil – and France even displayed a good team and produced creative soccer -. But the summer quickly turned sour for Western powers.

Since June a series of crises broke out. The conflict in Ukraine increased in intensity, while the West remained cautious on sanctioning Russia. At this point, most analysts and reporters thought that Putin had won the war. Putin had already stolen annexed Crimea and the pro-Russian militiamen were solidly backed by Moscow. It was until the pro-Russian militiamen brought down a commercial airplane flying over Ukraine and killing over 290 civilians, most of them being Dutch. Such event was a turning point in the conflict

Credit: European Pressphoto Agency
Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

in Ukraine. EU Member States finally agreed on tougher sanctions against Russia. Weeks later, Moscow responded by banning the imports of EU foods. Since then, Moscow has tried to maintained its support to pro-Russian militiamen with the progression of a ‘civilian convoy’ for humanitarian purposes sent by Moscow. With the progression of the tensions in Ukraine, Germany has progressively shifted its pro-Russian foreign policy and has emerged as a leader against Russia. For instance, as a reaction to the Russian convoy, Berlin has pledged more than $690 million for reconstruction and aid to Ukraine. Moscow may have been able to keep the fight alive in Eastern Ukraine, but seems to have lost an ally in the West.

The second main crisis has been the intensification of the ebola virus disease (EVD) affecting Western African nations. In recent days, reports have emerged underscoring that the outbreak has been underestimated. Even tough, the EVD does not directly threaten the citizens of the Euro-Atlantic community, it has become a serious issue for the West. Starting in Guinea, and then in Liberia and Sierra Leone, it has now spread to Nigeria. The main concern has always been Nigeria, one of the most populous and developed countries in Africa. The recent cases in Nigeria have been a cause of concern for Western powers considering the deep connections between Nigeria and the West. The EVD becomes of global nature due to the complexity of the globalized world we live in. Globalization has made the EVD an eventual threat to most world nations.

The third main crisis has been the solidification of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq. The rise of ISIS, a radical Sunni Muslim terrorist group, has been progressive and it has benefitted from the vicious war taking place in Syria since 2011 (read here a previous analysis on the issue). The civil war in Syria was a piece of the Arab Spring puzzle with popular opposition to the regime of Bashard al-Assad. The members of the Euro-Atlantic community, at the

Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

exception of the French, were reluctant to either arm anti-government groups by fear of arming extremist groups and/or launch airstrikes against Assad’s forces. ISIS has grown and strengthened itself in fighting government forces. Early summer 2014, in June, ISIS started its invasion of Iraq. It has received some assistance by Iraqi sunni, that have felt undermined by the former shiite government of al-Maliki. Since, ISIS has used violent and vicious tactics in order to strengthen its control over its controlled territories. In the past week, the US has re-launch military interventions in Iraq through airstrike bombings, arming Kurdish and Iraqi forces. However, US Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, underscored that “the defeat of ISIL is not only going to come at the hands of airstrikes. It’s bigger than just a military operation.” He added that in order to defeat ISIS, the US will have to go to Syria. Such vision is increasingly been shared in Washington. For instance, Steven Simon, a former White House adviser to Mr. Obama on the Middle East, argued that “common sense suggests you need to hit them in Syria.”

Last but not least, the war in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, launched by Israel on July 8th, has already caused high level of destruction in Gaza and heavy civilian casualties with over 2,100 deaths. The war has underscored the diverging strategic positions of the members of the Euro-Atlantic community. In large EU Member States, populations and governments have expressed their concerns regarding Israel’s actions. The US, historically a close ally of Israel, has not budged its position. In recent days, talks have increased in order to agree on a United Nations Security Council Resolutions including the following conditions: “prevent Hamas and other militant groups from rearming, give the Palestinian Authority control, relax the Israeli embargo, reopen all border crossings and expedite reconstruction.” In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, titled Club Med for Terrorists, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN underscores that the problems in the Middle East are all financed by Qatar. He wrote “Given Qatar’s considerable affluence and influence, this is an uncomfortable prospect for many Western nations, yet they must recognize that Qatar is not a part of the solution but a significant part of the problem.” The war between Hamas and Israel is going much further than Gaza.

The end of Western domination?

Let’s be clear, none of the crises analyzed above have suddenly appeared; they have all been slowing progressing and evolving. It is just that Western powers have become some type of risk aversion and have implemented a certain status-quo in avoiding to directly confront complex crises and issues. The US certainly leads the way in its ‘wait and see’ strategy. So, what can be said about the handling of these crises by Western powers? It surely looks like the early 1990s all over again. Even though it is debatable to justify the real control of Western powers on all foreign events, summer 2014 has underscored the inabilities of western powers to shaping and containing them. The US and its European partners – Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Italy among others – have simply been trying to catch up.

In the case of the US, to paraphrase Hillary Clinton, the Obama’s foreign policy approach

Credit: AP
Credit: AP

of ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ may have been a root cause of the limited US influence in shaping events. She has been much more vocal in advocating for a more interventionist foreign policy. She argued during her recent interview with Goldberg of the Atlantic, that “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

Summer 2014 could be identified along two lines: either, it is an anomaly, meaning it just happens that crises followed one another; or, is it the continuation of the sliding process of Western grip over the international system? I will tend to go with option 2, Western decline.

In order to look at the question of Western decline, one should look at two dimensions: external and internal dynamics. Externally, the succession of crises and western inabilities to shape the outcomes and/or prevent them are obvious and were analyzed above. Internally, both the US and European powers/and EU have been facing deep political, societal and economical challenges. This accumulation of domestic crises and tensions contribute to affecting the global aura of the West. Even among the Euro-Atlantic community, its members are unable to actually find an agreement on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) (see here a comprehensive book on the topic). This agreement seen as a way to relaunch the transatlantic economy has become a tense political fight between the 29 + 1 actors (28 EU Member States, the US + the European Commission). The difficult negotiations are affecting the global credibility of the Euro-Atlantic community as its members cannot agree on the values, norms and identities supposedly shared and exported. As demonstrated below, the transatlantic soft power is clearly loosing its grip and credibility.

Domestically, the US appears very weak. Between a blocked government, a lame duck president, a weak economic recovery, and tense societal relationships among the different segments of the population, the US is facing serious challenges. The debates of inequalities, minority rights, healthcare, religion, immigration, education and economic changes are slowly affecting the identity of the US. The US, as most European countries, is on the brink of chaos at any moment. The violence in Ferguson, after the death of an African-American man shot by a white cop, have taken the nation by surprise. The emotions around the situation in Ferguson are powerful as such event is underlining a dark reality of inequalities and racial tensions to most Americans. Once again, Richard Haass was correct in claiming that foreign policy starts at home.

Across the pond, the European economic situation is worrisome and has now led to serious internal challenges within each Member State. Experts, like Michael Heise, even wonder if Europe is not entering into its ‘lost decade’ the same way Japan went through the 1990s. European economic growth remains anemic. Germany has maintained its status of the strong man of Europe, but its economy is starting to contract, while the French economy is stagnating (ant the government is unable to govern, read here) and the Italian is in recession. “GDP fell in Germany, the biggest,” according to the Economist, “and Italy, the third largest, by 0.2%; France, the second largest economy, stagnated.” The consequences of this continuous weak economic outlook in Europe, causing high unemployment levels, increasing inequalities and affecting the moral of Europeans, have fostered this ramping euro-skeptic sentiments. Additionally, the message of European unity is not even present in Brussels, as illustrated by the difficulties to select the next top EU leaders. In this context, it is difficult to imagine a strong Europe willing to shape and influence events. The EU has always lacked hard power, but domestic tensions within the EU have affected the credibility of its soft power.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).