Archive for August, 2014

This is Agreement (of Jizya) that implemented by the Islamic State for the Christians!
Al Mustaqbal Channel | July 25, 2014

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture (Jews & Christians) – [fight] UNTIL they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.” (At-Taubah, 9:29)

This Aayah states to not stopping fight against the disbelievers until they giving Jizya! in the Saheeh of Al-Bukhaari that Al-Mugheerah Bin Shu’bah said to a Persian during the battle of Nahaawand (Refer to Fat’h-ul-Baari 264/6) in the land of the Persians: “Our Nabi, the Messenger of Allah has ordered us to fight you until you worship Allah alone or that you give the Jizyah.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhaari 3159, Fat’h-ul-Baari 258/6).

The following came in the Hadeeth: “Then if they refuse (i.e. entering into Islaam) then ask them for the Jizyah. If they respond positively to you, then accept this from them and refrain from (fighting) them.” (Saheeh Muslim 1731).

So this Hadeeth & Aayah is a text in regards to fighting the Kuffaar (disbelievers) until one of two matters comes to pass: Either they worship Allah alone i.e. entering into the folds of Islam, or for the Jizyah to be given. The meaning of this is the obligation of refraining from Al-Qitaal (fighting) and ceasing the state of war with the disbelievers who have responded positively to the payment of the Jizyah in the case where they have refused to convert into Islam. This is our religion! and we will implement it! Allahu Akbar!

Islamic State of Caliph Ibrahim is the only state in this world right now that implement jizya after 150 years ago implemented in Islamic Caliphate. This is real proof for us, this state is under right path, ahlus sunnah wal jama’ah, inshallah! and the text below, is the text of agreement between Islamic State with christians in Islamic State region which choose to stay, pay jizya and don’t want to convert into Islam.


Security Contract (agreement) given to The Christians in Daulah Islamiyyah

Praise to be Allah, who has glorified Islam with his help, humiliating mushrikeen with his strength,

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture (Jews & Christians) – [fight] UNTIL they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.” (At-Taubah, 9:29)

We testify that there is no god but Allah, he always keep his promises, help for his servant and glorify His army. There is no god but Allah, and we not worship except Him, worship Him with purifies, though the disbelievers hate.

We testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad Sholallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, a kind man, and brave on the battlefield, God has sent him with the sword so that human only worshiped Allah, and imposed on those who against him, will get torture and war.

We testify that Isa ibn Maryam, he is a servant of God and His Prophet, and sequences of sentences are read for Mary and become a spirit for her, Allah says: “Never would the Messiah (Christ) disdain to be a servant of Allah , nor would the angels near [to Him]. And whoever disdains His worship and is arrogant – He will gather them to Himself all together.”(An-Nisa: 172)

Praise Belongs to God for the give us glory of Islam..

Wa ba’du: Sentences of this letter as given by the Servant of God, Abu Bakr al-baghdady, the ruler of Christians in Islamic State Region to give peace and security for them:

Their lives, their property, places of worship and their descendants throughout the region Raqqah will be safe, they church will not be destroyed, their property will not be diminish , they will not be required to hate their trust (i.e convert into Islam), and no one of them will be harmed. For it all, with conditions/terms:

§ They are not allowed to build a new churches, monasteries, and ascetic pries in the city, they should not repair the damaged from the existing building.

  • They are not allowed to openly show up the cross and their holy book (bible) in the croweded place of Muslims, they should not use the loudspeaker in they worship ceremony.
  • So that the Muslims will not hear their holy book (bible) and their speech, all their worship activity must be in the church.
  • Must not conduct activities that will lead to hostility against Dawla Islamiyyah (Islamic State), such as deploying a spy,  find any information about Dawla Islamiyyah, or helps the enemies of Dawla, such as hiding enemy of Dawla, kidnapped the Muslims, and etc, if anyone know about it, should submit the information to Dawla.
  • They must be committed, eliminating all forms of worship that appears outside the church.
  • Should not prohibit anyone from the Christians who want to convert to Islam, if he want to convert into Islam.
  • They should not be insulted, disregard Islam and the Muslims, they should not denounce the teachings of Islam.
  • For those who have grown up among them, must be committed to pay jizya, for those who are rich should pay 4 gold dinar (dinars in question is a gold dinar used in buying and selling, weighing 4.25 grams), for the middle-income economy people should pay 2 gold dinars, and for the poor people among them, should pay 1 gold dinar. They should not hide the wealth that they have, they have to pay 2 times a year.
  • Not allowed to have weapons
  • Should not sell pigs and alcohol to Muslims in the market, and drink it in public places
  • If they break this agreement, the cemetery has been provided for them, as it could be.
  • They should perform decently in a dress, and buying or selling with rules of Daulah Islamiyyah.

If they fulfill all the requirements above.

Their  soul, their property and their homes, will get the protection (as it had been given) Messenger of Allah.  Their belief/religion will not be disturbed and reduced, Islamic law is very fair to them, and they will not be punished entirely if one of them made ​​a mistake.

Those who agree to the terms contained in this agreement. For they are God’s protection and the protection of Muhammad shalallallahu alaihi wa sallam, until God bring with Him affairs.  If they violate this agreement, their protection will gone, and the Islamic State will fight them like the others.


How Dissimulation about Islam is Fuelling Genocide in the Middle East
Mark Durie
Lapido Media | August 12, 2014

In northern Iraq religious genocide is reaching end-game stage. Islamic State (IS) soldiers, reinforced with military equipment originally supplied by the US, are driving back Kurdish defenders who had been protecting Christians and other religious minorities. While hundreds of thousands of refugees have been fleeing into Kurdistan, around 40,000 Yazidis and some Christians are trapped on Mount Sinjar, surrounded by IS jihadis. (Yazidis are Kurdish people whose pre-Christian faith derives from ancient Iranian religious traditions, with overlays and influences from other religions.)

The Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq has reported that children and the elderly are dying of thirst on Sinjar. Parents are throwing their children to their deaths off the mountain rather than see them die of thirst or be taken into slavery by IS.

The IS jihadis are killing the men they capture. In one recent incident 1500 men were executed in front of their wives and families. In another incident 13 Yazidi men who refused to convert to Islam had their eyes plucked out, were doused with gasoline and burned alive. When the men are killed, captured women and children are enslaved to be used for sex, deployed as human shields in battle zones, or sold to be used and abused as their new owners see fit.

The United States has ironically called for greater cooperation. UN Ambassador, Samantha Power, urged ‘all parties to the conflict’ to allow access to UN relief agencies. She called on Iraqis to ‘come together’ so that Iraq will ‘get back on the path to a peaceful future’ and ‘prevent ISIL from obliterating Iraq’s vibrant diversity’.

Of course it is not ‘vibrant diversity’ which is being wiped out in Iraq, but men, women and children by their tens of thousands. This is not about the failure of coexistence, and the problem is not ‘conflict’. This is not about people who have trouble getting on and who need to somehow make up and ‘come together’. It is about a well-articulated and well-documented theological worldview hell-bent on dominating ‘infidels’, if necessary wiping them off the face of the earth, in order to establish the power and grandeur of a radical vision of Islam.

The American administration, according to Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute, ‘withholds arms from the Kurds while awaiting a new, unified Iraqi government with a new prime minister. Meanwhile … no Iraqi troops are in Nineveh province.’ Only at a few minutes to midnight on the genocide clock has the US begun to launch military strikes against IS forces.

These events ought to be sobering to the West, not least because thousands of the IS jihadis were raised and bred in the mosques of Europe, North America and Australia, not to mention the madrassas of nations such as Malaysia, Bangladesh and Indonesia. Having been formed by the theology of radical Islam in their home societies, would-be jihadis are flocking to Syria and Iraq where they seek victory or martyrdom, killing and raping as they go.

Why is this so? How did the Arab Spring, hailed by so many armchair western commentators as the next best thing for the Middle East, blossom bright red into a torrent of blood?

Theological illiteracy

Part of the answer is that the West is in the grip of theological illiteracy. It has stubbornly refused to grasp the implications of a global Islamic revival which has been gaining steam for the best part of a century. The Islamic Movement looks back to the glory days of conquest as Islam’s finest hour, and seeks to revive Islamic supremacy through jihad and sacrifice. It longs for a truly Islamic state – the caliphate reborn – and considers jihad to be the God-given means to usher it in.

This worldview was promoted in compelling, visionary terms by Indian scholar Abul A’la Maududi, whose writings continue to be widely disseminated by Islamic bookshops and mosques across the West. Maududi argued in his radicalisation primer Let us be Muslims that the only valid form of government is Islamic theocracy – i.e. sharia rule – and Muslims are duty-bound to use whatever power they can muster to impose this goal on the world: ‘whoever you are, in whichever country you live, you must strive to change the wrong basis of government, and seize all powers to rule and make laws from those who do not fear God. … The name of this striving is jihad.’ And ‘If you believe Islam to be true, you have no alternative but to exert your utmost strength to make it prevail on earth: you either establish it or give your lives in this struggle.’

My own copy of Let us Be Muslims, which lies open before me as I write, was bought from a well-respected mainstream Islamic centre here in Melbourne, Australia.

Violent protests

When Pope Benedict gave a lecture in Regensburg in 2006, in which he suggested that Islam had been spread by force, the Muslim world erupted in violent protests.

Sheikh ‘Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, responded with a revealing defence of Islam’s record. Without a glimmer of irony he argued that the Pope was wrong to say Islam had been spread by force, because the infidels had a third choice, apart from death or conversion, namely to ‘surrender and pay tax, and they will be allowed to remain in their land, observing their religion under the protection of Muslims.’ He claimed that those who read the Qur’an and the Sunna (the example and teaching of Muhammad) will understand the facts.

The reality unfolding in north Iraq today reveals to the cold light of day exactly what the doctrine of the three choices means for conquered non-Muslims populations, and why the dogma of the ‘three choices’ is no defence against the assertion that Islam was spread by the sword.


It is crystal clear that IS is not playing by the world’s rules. It has nothing but contempt for the Geneva Convention. Its battle tactics are regulated by sheikhs who implement the sharia’s rules of war. Many of the abuses committed by IS being reported by the international media are taken straight from the pages of Islamic legal textbooks.

Consider IS’s announcement to Christians in northern Iraq: ‘We offer them three choices: Islam, the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this, they will have nothing but the sword.’

These words are cobbled together from the pages of Islamic sacred texts. It was Sa’d b. Mu’adh, a companion of Muhammad, who said of the pagan Meccans ‘We will give them nothing but the sword’ ( A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad, OUP 1955 p. 454). Muhammad himself was reported to have said ‘When you meet your enemies who are polytheists [i.e. they are not Muslims] invite them to three courses of action. … Invite them to Islam… If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the jizya. … If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them’ (Sahih Muslim. The Book of Jihad and Expedition [Kitab al-Jihad wa’l-Siyar] 3:27:4294). When the Caliph ‘Umar attacked Persia, he announced to them ‘Our Prophet [Muhammad] … has ordered us to fight you till you worship Allah Alone or pay jizya’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, The Book of al-Jizya and the Stoppage of War 4:58:3159).


I have analysed the doctrine of the three choices in my book The Third Choice: Islam, dhimmitude and freedom, drawing extensively on Islamic sources to explain the worldview of jihad and the dhimma. That book now reads as a grim prophecy of the tragedy unfolding in Syria and Iraq.

The Arabic word jizya is derived from a root j-z-y which refers to something given as compensation, in substitution for something else. According to Arab lexicographers, jizya is tribute taken from non-Muslims living under Islamic rule ‘as though it were a compensation for their not being slain’. It is paid by defeated communities to compensate or reward their attackers for forgoing the right to kill, enslave or loot them.

The nineteenth-century Algerian Qur’anic commentator Muhammad ibn Yusuf at-Fayyish explained that jizya is ‘a satisfaction for their blood. It is … to compensate for their not being slain. Its purpose is to substitute for the duties of killing and slavery … It is for the benefit of Muslims.’ Over a thousand years earlier, Abu Yusuf Ya’qub, a Hanafi jurist wrote ‘their lives and possessions are spared only on account of the payment of the jizya.’


In 1799 William Eton, in a survey of the Ottoman empire, reported that Christians under Ottoman rule, on paying the jizya, were addressed with a standard form of words to the effect that ‘the sum of money received is taken as compensation for being permitted to wear their heads that year‘ (Eton’s emphasis).

To be sure, there are other ways to interpret the Qur’an, but the point is that this understanding of jizya has become the operative one in Northern Iraq and Syria. It also has the backing of centuries of Islamic jurisprudence and practice. It was with this understanding of Islam that the Middle East, South Asia and large parts of Eastern Europe were conquered and occupied under Muslim rule until modern times.

This grim fact – that the IS jihadis can ably defend their theology on the basis of Islam’s history and religious traditions – means that it will be no easy task to persuade Muslim clerics and intellectuals to ‘debunk’ them. Such a strategy, which has been proposed by Peter Leahy, former head of the Australian Army, will be fraught with difficulties. Debunking would be a whole lot easier if radical ideologies were in fact bunkum. The problem is, the jihadis hold far too many theological trump cards from the Qur’an and the precedent of Muhammad’s example to be so easily routed on the field of ideas. Indeed it is the radicals who have become expert at debunking, as their successful global recruiting drive shows.

Let us consider some of the weight behind the radicals’ theology.


According to Islamic law, Christians and other non-Muslims who agree to keep their religion and their lives by paying jizya are subject to a dhimma treaty of surrender.

The word dhimma is derived from an Arabic word meaning ‘to blame’. It implies a liability or debt arising from fault or blame. The idea is that the non-Muslims, known as dhimmis, owe a debt to their conquerors for their lives, and non-observance of the treaty of surrender would attract blame and thus incur punishment. The dhimma conditions include payment of jizya by adult men, but also many demeaning legal disabilities which are enforced upon non-Muslims and apply in one form or another across most of the Muslim world right up to the present day: one example is widespread restrictions on building new churches in areas formerly conquered by Islam; another is restrictions on freedom of religious expression.

The imposition of these disabilities upon non-Muslims is in accordance with a command of Muhammad:

‘… I have been sent with a sword in my hand to command people to worship Allah and associate no partners with him. I command you to belittle and subjugate those who disobey me, for whoever imitates a people is one of them’ (cited from Musnad (chain of) Ahmad Ibn Hanbali, founder of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence).


One of the means of belittling non-Muslims has been to ensure that they would not ‘look alike’, by requiring that they wear discriminatory clothing, patches or even, in ancient times, seals around their necks.

A modern-day manifestation of the principle of not ‘looking alike’ is the application of the Arabic letter nun (for Nazrani, the Arabic word for Christians) to the exterior of Christian homes in Mosul. Using similar reasoning, the Taliban required that Afghan Hindus should wear discriminatory patches on their clothing, so their non-Muslim status could be instantly recognizable.

IS is even looking to the model of first century Islam to set the level of the jizya tax. Early Islamic sources state that the jizya was a minimum of one gold dinar, and up to four dinars, depending upon the wealth of the individual dhimmi. Following these provisions to the letter, IS has made the following declaration:

‘Christians are obligated to pay Jizya tax on every adult male to the value of four golden dinars for the wealthy, half of that for middle-income citizens and half of that for the poor . . . they must not hide their status, and can pay in two installments per year.’

A gold dinar weighs about 4.5 grams, which at $45 a gram means that a tax regime of one to four dinars equates to $200 to $800 US dollars per non-Muslim adult male. This is a heavy burden for a conquered people in a war zone, and the reality on the ground in both Syria and Iraq has been that the jihadis demand much more, and not once a year as its textbooks state, but again and again.

Convert or die

Reports show that IS has been setting jizya so high in both Syria and northern Iraq, and levying it so often, that it cannot be paid. This gives Christians who wish to stay in their homes but two choices: convert or die. Most have fled, but some, including those who are too frail or disabled to flee, have had to convert to save themselves. The fleeing refugees are in a particularly desperate situation, because they are progressively stripped of their belongings by IS checkpoints as they escape.

There is nothing new here. Throughout history the jizya has been a heavy imposition for non-Muslims. Large numbers of Christians converted to Islam in the early centuries of Islamic rule in order to avoid this tax. Dionysius, a Syrian patriarch writing in the eighth century, reported that the jizya often had to be extracted from Christians by beatings, extortion, torture, rape and killings. Many fled destitute from town to town after they had sold everything they owned to pay the tax.

Arthur Tritton reported in The Caliphs and their Non-Muslim Subjects about eighth-century Egypt that for ordinary day labourers the jizya tax was around a quarter of annual earnings, or ten times the zakat tax paid by Muslims. Shlomo Dov Goitein, writing on the situation of Jews in medieval Egypt, reported that men would enslave themselves or their family to pay the tax. Centuries after Dionysius of Antioch, he also reported that many, having sold all they had to pay it, took to wandering homeless as beggars.

Rules of war

The treatment of captives by IS is also in accordance with orthodox rules of war in Islam, which permit men to be killed, while women and children are enslaved. Sex slavery – concubinage – is permitted by the sharia principles which guide IS. The Reliance of the Traveller – a respected Sunni manual of sharia law – states: ‘When a child or a woman is taken captive, they become slaves by the fact of capture, and the woman’s previous marriage is immediately annulled’ (chapter o9.13). The option of converting to Islam to avoid death or capture – which is being urged upon non-Muslims by IS – is also clearly supported: ‘Whoever enters Islam before being captured may not be killed or his property confiscated, or his young children taken captive’ (chapter o9.12).

The widespread looting of property is also validated by Islam’s rules of war: ‘A free male Muslim who has reached puberty and is sane is entitled to the spoils of battle when he has participated in a battle to the end of it’ (chapter o10.1). And ‘Anyone who … kills one of the enemy or effectively incapacitates him, risking his own life thereby, is entitled to whatever he can take from the enemy, meaning as much as he can take away with him in the battle, such as a mount, clothes, weaponry, money or other’ (chapter o10.2).

The grim reality is that the fate of Christians and Yazidis in northern Iraq today all too often matches the stipulations of Islamic textbooks: non-Muslim men are killed, their women and children enslaved, and their property and possessions looted.

It is regrettable that the hard cold reality of Islamic imperialism and the dhimma system have been denied and obscured by scholars. For example Bernard Lewis claimed that ‘The dhimma on the whole worked quite well.’

As part of this obscurantist veil, the true meaning of the words jizya and dhimma have been hidden by scholars.

Anglican priest Colin Chapman, who was the then Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy to Al-Azhar University in Cairo, claimed in his widely-ready book Cross and Crescent that Jews and Christians were ‘protected’ and implied that the jizya was paid in compensation for them not doing military service or paying the Muslims’ alms tax (zakat). In reality the main protection afforded to dhimmis is that they can keep their heads away from the sword of jihad, and it was in return for this privilege that the jizya is exacted. John Esposito similarly claimed that jizya is an ‘exchange’ in return for keeping one’s religion, protection from ‘outside aggression’, and exemption from military service.

Islamic rule

Such dissimulations, also advanced by Muslim apologists, have served to prop up the myth of convivencia and a golden age in which Christians and Muslims lived contentedly side-by-side under Islamic rule.

Architects of multiculturalism and advocates of interfaith dialogue have repeatedly promoted this mythical Islamic construct as a model for different religions to flourish side by side in Europe today. This has gone hand in hand with the claims that European culture owes an unacknowledged debt to Islam, and Islam’s historical record has been misrepresented by hateful, bigoted people.

In reality Islamic coexistence with conquered Christian populations was always regulated by the conditions of the dhimma, as defined above, under which non-Muslims have no inherent right to life, but had to purchase this right year after year.


Willful historical ignorance has been deeply debilitating for the intellectual elites of the West, who feel righteous in dismissing evidence that contradicts their corrupted worldview, on the grounds that they are taking a stand against the bigotry of Islamophobia. They have been schooled in this self-hatred by their Muslim dialogue partners.

Also debilitating has been the trend among scholars to deny or downplay the military meaning of jihad. An extreme example is Yale theologian Miroslav Volf’s preposterous claim that the use of military force to expand Islam is ‘rejected by all leading Muslim scholars today’.

The promotion of the idea of the ‘greater jihad’ as a personal spiritual struggle has also served to distract western leaders, such as CIA director John Brennan, who stated that ‘jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community’.

True meaning

In reality the meaning of jihad in all sharia textbooks is warfare against unbelievers. If the true meaning of jihad was a spiritual struggle with the self, IS would not be attracting so many willing volunteers from around the globe to the killing fields of Syria and Iraq.

There is a chronic and urgent need for a dialogue of civilizations between Islam and the post-Christian West. However this dialogue cannot be based upon myths. At the top of the agenda must be the twin institutions of jihad and the dhimma. It is essential for Western people to emphatically reject and stigmatize these two pillars of Islamic law, and to deplore to Muslims their application both throughout history and in the contemporary world.

Cultural blindness

One of the effects of enforced cultural blindness and intellectual amnesia is rampant theological illiteracy among Western policy makers. This is now having the direst of consequences for Christians and others in the Middle East. Those who managed the Western occupation of Iraq were deeply ignorant of the dangers to non-Muslim minorities posed by the Islamic revivalism combined with Western inference, and in particular by the re-establishment of the jihad-dhimma system. They overlooked the fact that re-establishing the dhimma has always been part of the agenda of Islamic revivalist movements. They did not grasp that jihad war zones always prove especially deadly to non-Muslims, even when the main conflict is between Muslims.

It had also been forgotten that advances in the rights of non-Muslim populations across the Middle East – such as the official dismantling of dhimma laws by the Ottomans in the mid-nineteenth century – were only achieved due to sustained political and military pressure from the Great Powers, and at the cost of suppressing mainstream Islamic dogmas. Indeed this ‘humiliation’ of Islam is one of the very things the global Islamic revival is supposed to be winding back: this is why the deterioration of the human rights of non-Muslim minorities – from Malaysia to Egypt – has been so marked in recent decades.

Today Islamic revivalist dogmas, which have become deeply entrenched in Muslim communities both throughout the West and in Muslim majority states, eulogize Islam’s glory days, when Christians and other non-Muslims paid jizya to keep their heads. Revivalists look forward to a time when sharia principles, implemented through unfettered jihad, will enforce the view that non-Muslims do not have an inherent right to life, but only a conceded right for which they must compensate Muslims in gold. We need not be surprised or shocked when young men from around the globe, reared on this poisonous theological cocktail, volunteer for jihad in Syria and Iraq to usher in a longed-for Islamic utopia. It should not shock us that they have no qualms about shedding non-Muslim blood.

The effect of the cultural jihad, waged not only by Muslim apologists, but also by Western elites, is that Western policy makers have become blind to the enormity of present-day non-Muslim suffering under the yoke of Islam, for they have no reference points to comprehend it. To engage with this suffering and develop policies to counter it would require acknowledgement of its root causes, namely the theological framework of jihad and the dhimma, but that is simply too frightening for societies who have multicultural dogmas rusted onto their psyches, having embraced a false view of history and stubbornly obscurantist views about theology.

As long as policy makers continue to seek intellectual solace in calls for ‘conflict resolution’ and ‘reconciliation’, the vulnerable will continue to be killed, raped and looted in the name of Islamic revivalism. The lives of tens of thousands of vulnerable and peaceful Christians, Yazidis and others, whose crime is that their religion is unacceptable, now hang in the balance in northern Iraq, while the West sits paralyzed on the side lines, stunned and stupefied by the lies it has told itself for so many years.

Infidel West

This is not to say that reconciliation is unnecessary. Usama Bin Ladin got it right when he asserted that the doctrine of the three choices is the crux of the West’s problem with Islam: ‘The West avenges itself against Islam for giving infidels but three options’:

‘Our talks with the infidel West and our conflict with them ultimately revolve around one issue – one that demands our total support, with power and determination, with one voice – and it is: "Does Islam, or does it not, force people by the power of the sword to submit to its authority corporeally if not spiritually?" [The answer is:] Yes. There are only three choices in Islam: either willing submission; or payment of the jizya, through physical though not spiritual, submission to the authority of Islam; or the sword – for it is not right to let him [an infidel] live. The matter is summed up for every person alive: Either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die.’

Bin Ladin was right about this, that Islam’s doctrine of three choices, encompassing the theological institutions of jihad and the dhimma, is and must be the central issue for the West in its dialogue with the Islamic world. An understanding of this doctrine and its implications for the human rights of non-Muslims should be a cornerstone of public policy in relation to Islam, both now and in the foreseeable future.

This will not be an easy or comfortable dialogue, judging from the howls of protest that greeted Pope Benedict’s comparatively mild Regensburg lecture in 2006. Yet appeasement of howling objectors through conflict-avoidance manoeuvers will bring nothing but grief, as we are seeing in northern Iraq.

According to the ‘Vicar of Bagdad‘, Canon Andrew White, what is needed right now to help non-Muslim victims of Islamic jihadism is three things: Protection, Provision and Perseverance. The lie foisted upon the world was that there was nothing non-Muslims needed to be protected from.

Right now IS’s victims deserve military intervention, food, water and medical supplies. Many will need permanent sanctuary outside of their homelands.

Longer term, much more is needed. Certainly the will to persevere, because the world is in but the early stages of a (now resumed) centuries-long war with militant Islam, but above all, in order to make sustained progress in the long struggle ahead, we will require a greater appetite for the truth.

Mark Durie is a theologian, human rights activist, pastor of an Anglican church, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness. He has published many articles and books on the language and culture of the Acehnese, Christian-Muslim relations and religious freedom. A graduate of the Australian National University and the Australian College of Theology, he has held visiting appointments at the University of Leiden, MIT, UCLA and Stanford, and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1992.


Convert, pay tax, or die, Islamic State warns Christians
Jul 18, 2014

(Reuters) – Islamist insurgents have issued an ultimatum to northern Iraq’s dwindling Christian population to either convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face death, according to a statement distributed in the militant-controlled city of Mosul.

The statement issued by the Islamic State, the al Qaeda offshoot which led last month’s lightning assault to capture swathes of north Iraq, and seen by Reuters, said the ruling would come into effect on Saturday.

It said Christians who wanted to remain in the "caliphate" that the Islamic State declared this month in parts of Iraq and Syria must agree to abide by terms of a "dhimma" contract – a historic practice under which non-Muslims were protected in Muslim lands in return for a special levy known as "jizya".

"We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword," the announcement said.

A resident of Mosul said the statement, issued in the name of the Islamic State in Iraq’s northern province of Nineveh, had been distributed on Thursday and read out in mosques.

It said Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which the group has now named Caliph Ibrahim, had set a Saturday deadline for Christians who did not want to stay and live under those terms to "leave the borders of the Islamic Caliphate".

"After this date, there is nothing between us and them but the sword," it said.

The Nineveh decree echoes one that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the former name for the Islamic State, issued in the Syrian city of Raqqa in February, demanding that Christians pay the jizya levy in gold and curb displays of their faith in return for protection.

The concept of dhimma, governing non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, dates back to the early Islamic era in the seventh century, but was largely abolished during the Ottoman reforms of the mid-19th century.

Mosul, once home to diverse faiths, had a Christian population of around 100,000 a decade ago, but waves of attacks on Christians since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein have seen those numbers collapse.

The resident of Mosul who saw the Islamic State announcement estimated the city’s Christian population before last month’s militant takeover at around 5,000. The vast bulk of those have since fled, leaving perhaps only 200 in the city, he said.

(Reporting by Dominic Evans and Isra’ al-Rube’i; Editing by Hugh Lawson)


Dirty little wars of 2014 go back 100 years
Europeans must wake up to the fact that they live in a dangerous neighbourhood, says Timothy Garton Ash
The Globe and Mail (Canada) | August 1, 2014

There is war in Europe. No, I’m not using the historic present tense to evoke August, 1914. I’m talking about August, 2014. What is happening in eastern Ukraine is war – "ambiguous war" as a British parliamentary committee calls it, rather than outright, declared war between two sovereign states, but still war. And war rages around the edges of Europe, in Syria, Iraq and Gaza.

I do not say "Europe is at war." Most European countries are not directly engaged in armed conflict. Still, we should be under no illusions. For decades, we have lived with the comforting notion that "Europe has been at peace since 1945." This was always an overstatement. In parts of Eastern Europe, low-level armed conflict continued into the early 1950s, followed by the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In the 1990s, the former Yugoslavia was torn apart in a series of wars.

For all the differences, the dirty little wars of 2014 have an important connection to the horrendous "great" one that began in 1914. Many of them involve struggles of definition and control over patchwork territories left behind by the multiethnic empires that clashed 100 years ago, and their successor states. Thus, for example, the battle for eastern Ukraine is about the boundaries of the Russian empire. Some of the Russians, from Russia itself, who are now leading the armed proRussian movement in eastern Ukraine, have characterized themselves as "imperial nationalists."

During the Balkan wars of the 1990s, jigsaw pieces from the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires were fought over, and then reassembled into new, smaller puzzles, such as Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.

Many of the frontiers on today’s map of the Middle East go back to the post-First World War settlement, when Western colonial powers spliced together disparate parts of the former Ottoman Empire into new protectorates – Iraq, Syria, Palestine. The big exception is of course the state of Israel; but that, too, can trace a lineage back to the deadly after-life of European empires. For Nazi Germany, which attempted to exterminate the Jews, was the last hideous fling of German racial and territorial imperialism.

So what is Europe going to do now about its own long-term consequences? The first thing Europeans must do is simply to wake up to the fact that we live in a dangerous neighbourhood. Being Greater Switzerland is neither a moral nor a practical option: not moral, because Europeans, of all people, should never be silent while war crimes are being committed; not practical, because we cannot insulate ourselves from the effects.

Today’s fighters in Syria will be tomorrow’s terrorists in Europe. Today’s dispossessed are tomorrow’s illegal immigrants. Let these little wars burn, and you will be shot down out of the sky on your way from the Netherlands to Malaysia on Flight MH17. No one is safe.

Whereas in the past the irresistible wake-up call was the annexation of a territory, most West Europeans slept through Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea. As Stephen Holmes and Ivan Krastev point out in Foreign Affairs, the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner on July 17 was a turning point, not least because commercial air corridors are the place where business people live.

Without that transformative event, it is unlikely Chancellor Angela Merkel could have persuaded German public opinion, and German business, of the need for tougher sanctions on Mr. Putin’s Russia.

But what use is the EU’s slow, soft economic power against the Kremlin’s rapid, hard power? Or, indeed, against all the rapid hard powers of the Middle East? What use is butter against guns? The answer is: more than you might think. Europe alone cannot stop war in the Middle East. Only working with the U.S., and with some more co-operation can it bring peace to Syria or Gaza. It does, however, have the power to punish Russia for having its artillery shell the regular Ukrainian army, from Russian soil, while that army tries to reconquer its own territory.

Even the minor sanctions that Europe has thus far implemented have been gnawing away at the edges of the Putin regime. The larger sanctions Europe agreed to this week will, with time, have a larger impact. Liberal democracies are usually slower to act than dictatorships, and a voluntary community of 28 such democracies is bound to be slower still. Economic measures take more time to bite than military ones, but they can be more effective in the end.

One hundred years ago we had "the guns of August," in Barbara Tuchman’s resonant phrase. Now we have the butter of August. Note the different role played by Germany, then and now. Slowly, step-by-step, the Berlin government is doing the right thing. Germany is bringing the unique weight of its economic relationship with Russia to bear, while quite reasonably insisting that the pain is shared with France, Britain and Italy. Some things do change. Some even get better.

Timothy Garton Ash is professor of European Studies at Oxford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution

Path Of Least Resistance Or A Shortcut To Chaos?
Investor’s Business Daily | August 4, 2014

The Obama administration often denies responsibility for the current global chaos or claims it erupted spontaneously. Yet most of the mess was caused by, or made worse by, growing U.S. indifference and paralysis.

Over the last 5-1/2 years, America has had lots of clear choices, but the administration usually took the path of least short-term trouble, which has ensured long-term hardship.

There was no need to "reset" the relatively mild punishments that the George W. Bush administration had accorded Vladimir Putin’s Russia for invading Georgia in 2008.

By unilaterally normalizing relations with Russia and trashing Bush, Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton only green-lighted further Russian aggression that has now spread to Crimea and Ukraine.

There was no need for Obama, almost immediately upon assuming office, to distance the U.S. from Israel by criticizing Israel’s policies and warming to its enemies, such as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hamas.

Any time Israel’s enemies have glimpsed growing distance in the U.S.-Israeli friendship, they seek only to pry it still wider.

We see just that with terrorists in Gaza who launch hundreds of missiles into Israel on the expectation that the U.S. will broker a favorable deal that finds both sides equally at fault.

Sanctions had crippled Iran to the point that it soon would have grown desperate to meet U.S. demands to stop its nuclear enrichment. Instead, Obama eased trade restrictions just as they were coming to fruition. Iran is now on its way to acquiring a bomb, while supplying missiles to Hamas and Hezbollah.

We had an option in Libya to let the tottering but reforming Moammar Gadhafi government fend for itself. Or we could have taken out Gadhafi and then sent in peacekeepers to ensure a transition to ordered government.

But the Obama administration did neither. Instead, the U.S. participated in a multination bombing campaign and all but guaranteed that a failed state would be left on Europe’s doorstep. Now we have just closed our embassy in Tripoli and fled the country entirely.

There were once viable choices in Egypt. Instead, the administration managed to alienate the old Hosni Mubarak regime, alienate the elected Muslim Brotherhood that immediately tried to subvert the democracy, and alienate the military junta that stepped in to stop the Islamization of Egypt. All of these rival groups share one thing in common: a distrust of the U.S.

We could have made a choice in Iraq to negotiate a bit more with the Nouri al-Maliki government, leave behind a few thousand token peacekeepers and thereby preserve the calm achieved by the surge.

Instead, the administration pulled out U.S. soldiers to ensure that a withdrawal would be an effective re-election talking point. The result of that void is the present bloodletting and veritable destruction of Iraq.

The U.S. once had choices in Syria. We could have loudly condemned the Assad government and immediately armed the most pro-Western of the anti-Assad rebels. Or we could have just stayed quiet and stayed out of the mess.

Instead, we chose the third — and worst — option: loudly threaten Assad while doing nothing. Both a bloody dictatorship and its bloody jihadist enemies share a general contempt for a perceived weak America.

There were choices on our border too. Obama could have advised Central American governments that our southern border was closed to any who would cross illegally, while attempting to remedy the violence in those countries.

Instead, the administration opened the border, welcomed in thousands without scrutiny, and has all but destroyed federal immigration law. The result is chaos.

The Obama administration apparently has assumed that calm, not conflict, is the natural order of things. The world supposedly can run on autopilot without much guidance from its only superpower.

If conflict does arise, the U.S. counts on sermonizing without the need to back up tough and often provocative rhetoric with any action. When occasional decisions must be made, the U.S. usually chooses the easiest way out: withdrawals, concessions and appeasement.

Behind these assumptions also lie the administration’s grave doubts that the U.S. has in the past played a positive role in postwar affairs, or that in the present and future America can claim the moral authority — or has the resources — to confront aggressors.

In 2017, Obama may well leave office claiming to have reduced our military while avoiding conflict during his tenure. But will he also be able to assure us that China, Iran and Russia are less threatening; that the Middle East, the Pacific and the former Soviet republics are less explosive; that our own border is more secure — and that America is safer?

To paraphrase the poet Robert Frost: Two roads diverged in the world, and we always took the one of least resistance — and that has now made all the difference.

How to rein in the dogs of war
Peter Hartcher
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) | August 5, 2014

How are we supposed to make sense of a world that seems to be going to hell in a handbasket?

The Israelis and Palestinians are killing each other, dreadful enough as more than 1700 people have been killed to date. But right next door the civil war in Syria rages unchecked after more than three years, and where more than 170,000 people have been killed so far.

And spilling out of Syria is the new terrorist force, the savage Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. Apparently unstoppable, it continues to win territory in Iraq.

As Australians have recently become keenly aware, another war is escalating in Ukraine. Russia invaded Crimea and is now fighting to take more of its neighbour.

Then there’s Asia, where China is using its muscle to expand its territory at the expense of its neighbours. All of these clashes are continuing without any sign of let up.

These are just some of the troubling conflicts under way. Is this an unbalanced selection that makes the world seem bleaker than it really is?

Crisis Watch, a conflict-monitoring non-government organisation, publishes a monthly overview of the world’s wars.

It lists those where tensions are easing and those where war is intensifying. There are seven wars on the worsening list published on August 1. And on the improving side of the ledger? It’s blank.

Is there a way of seeing any sort of organising construct in this grim survey?

Two prominent US thinkers on foreign policy have offered prisms for viewing this worsening state of the world order. One is Thomas Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times and author of books including the 2005 work The World is Flat: A Brief History of The Twenty-first Century. He urges us to see the world through the prism of the Middle East. Specifically, the Arab-Israel conflict. Why? "Because it is to the wider war of civilisations what Off Broadway is to Broadway. A lot of stuff starts there and then goes to Broadway. So what’s playing Off Broadway these days?

"The Israeli-Arab conflict has become a miniature of the most relevant divide in the world today: the divide between the ‘world of order’ and the ‘world of disorder’."

As for dealing with disorder, Friedman expresses the hope the great powers may collaborate to impose order, but dismisses it as unlikely. "No power these days wants to lay hands on the world of disorder because all you win is a bill. And even if they did, it would not be sufficient." Friedman’s prescription? "In my view, the only way Israel can truly curtail the Hamas rocket threat is if the Palestinians of Gaza demand that the rockets stop … The only sustainable way to do it is by Israel partnering with moderate Palestinians in the West Bank to build a thriving state there, so Gaza Palestinians wake up every day and say to the nihilistic Hamas: ‘We want what our West Bank cousins have.’ The only sustainable controls are those that come from within."

Friedman’s analysis is striking for its narrowness. It makes the Israel-Arab struggle central. It proposes a possible solution, no matter how unlikely. But the Israeli fight with the Arabs takes up so much of Friedman’s view that he finds no room to see anything else. He ventures no responses whatsoever to the other great forces challenging order: ISIL, for instance, or Russia or China.

The other prominent thinker is Francis Fukuyama, a fellow at Stanford University and author of one of the most remarked-upon works of the late 20th century, The End of History, published in 1992.

Fukuyama also sees a world where order is being challenged, but his prism for dealing with it is a very different one: "The focus of today’s debate ought to be: how should we prioritise the threats facing us and how bad are the most serious?" he wrote in the Financial Times.

Fukuyama takes issue with his president. Barack Obama said in a key speech at the West Point military academy in May that the only direct threat facing the US was terrorism. "He said virtually nothing about long-term responses to the two other big challenges to world order: Russia and China," Fukuyama rebukes. "Despite the recent successes of ISIL, I would argue that terrorism is actually the least consequential of these challenges in terms of core US interests. What we are witnessing in Iraq and Syria is the slow spread of a Sunni-Shiite war," he says. "However, we could barely contain sectarian hatreds when we occupied Iraq with 150,000 troops; it is hard to see how we can act decisively now."

But Russia’s annexation of Crimea, says Fukuyama, threatens to impose tectonic instability with far-reaching consequences along Russia’s frontiers with Europe and central Asia.

China poses a similar danger, but on a bigger scale: "Russia’s power is based on a flawed economic model that in time will weaken its power," argues Fukuyama. "Not so with China." He summarises: "The extremism of ISIL will in the end prove self-defeating. By contrast, the allies the US is sworn to defend are now threatened by industrialised nations with sophisticated militaries."

Fukuyama’s solution? He urges Obama to apply US power to strengthening international institutions. NATO should be reinvigorated as a military alliance to deal with Russia. And Asia needs a multilateral order to deal with China.

Friedman is all about the Middle East; he’s resigned to inertia for the great powers. For Fukuyama, it’s about making use of the power of nations working together to impose order. But on one thing they readily agree: the forces of disorder are winning.


A World Desperate for a Little Good News
The New York Times | August 10, 2014

”The world is too much with us,” wrote the poet, a sentiment President Obama most likely shared this past week as he reluctantly ordered warplanes back over Iraq. As he did so, another Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire ended in resumed bombardment, Vladimir V. Putin defiantly ordered his own sanctions against the West and a terrible virus spread farther through West Africa.

A president who has taken great pains to pull the United States out of the world’s squabbles, Mr. Obama made no effort to conceal his distress at being pulled back in, for even a limited mission to protect minorities. ”I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” Mr. Obama said on Thursday night. But the old ”slippery slope” cliché figured in more than one analysis of his decision.

Still, the markets somehow managed to find a hopeful note in a world that seemed totally out of tune. Though Russia was reported to be massing troops on the Ukrainian border, and the government imposed a ban on most food imports from the United States and its allies, American stocks rallied on Friday when the secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai P. Patrushev, said in an interview that ”Russia will continue to make all efforts for a very fast de-escalation of tensions.”

That ”continue” carried the dubious suggestion that Russia had been making such efforts all along, but the fact that the markets latched on to the secretary’s statement testified 1) to the predominance of the Ukraine crisis over the Middle East in the minds of market strategists, and 2) that ”the market is really tired of receiving one negative news item after another, and so is on the lookout for something positive,” as the Citigroup economist Ivan Tchakarov told Bloomberg.

Dragged Back Into Iraq

Following Mr. Obama’s authorization of the first significant military operation in Iraq since he pulled American ground troops out in 2011, the Air Force reported on Friday that two United States F-18 fighter jets had dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs onto an artillery target near Erbil, the Kurdish capital.

Mr. Obama’s hand in Iraq was forced by ISIS, the fanatical Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and its advance in northern Iraq against the Kurds, reliable American allies who have maintained a modicum of order in their semiautonomous region. Thousands of Yazidis — an oft-persecuted religious minority — fled to remote Mount Sinjar, where they were stranded without food or water.

ISIS was left in control of a two-mile-wide hydroelectric dam on the Tigris River notorious for its structural instability. Even if ISIS did nothing, officials said, leaving the dam unattended could lead to its collapse, sending a 65-foot-high wall of water through Mosul.

Though Mr. Obama said he had ordered the strikes to protect American personnel, the fact that he did so only when the Kurds became threatened — and not earlier in the year when ISIS seized FallujaH? and marched through Mosul and on toward Baghdad — was bound to raise questions. One explanation was in Baghdad’s Green Zone, where Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki continued to resist all demands that he go away. The failure of Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, to include Sunnis, Kurds and others in a government of national unity is widely blamed for the disarray that made it possible for ISIS to rout the Iraqi Army. Even his lieutenants have urged Mr. Maliki to step down. But having made innumerable enemies, he is said to be demanding immunity and a security detail paid for by the state.

Mr. Obama has insisted that there is ”no American military solution” to the mess, and he no doubt hoped that limited strikes would enable Iraqis to turn the tables on ISIS. But what if they fail? Will he be forced to further action?

Israeli Fire, Russian Threat

Faith in military solutions, however, seemed to prevail in the fight between Israel and Hamas. No sooner had a 72-hour truce expired than rockets began to rain on southern Israel, and Israeli warplanes and naval vessels opened up on targets in Gaza. The pause in hostilities had been the longest since they broke out on July 8.

The Palestinians insist that the blockade of Gaza be lifted, and about 100 prisoners held by Israel be freed, if there is to be a truce. The Israelis insist that Hamas disarm. The Egyptians have been trying to get both sides to lower their demands, and to leave more complex issues for subsequent talks.

In the meantime, the Palestinian death toll stands at almost 1,900, mostly civilians, while Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians.

On the Ukrainian front, forces loyal to Kiev continued tightening their ring around Donetsk, the seat of secessionists armed by Russia.

There was no evidence that Mr. Putin was prepared to back down. On the contrary, his prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev, announced on Thursday, in retaliation against Western sanctions, a one-year ban on many food imports from the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia and Norway — a move that is likely to reduce food supplies and raise inflation in Russia. So far, his efforts to ”de-escalate tensions,” to use Mr. Patrushev’s words, have consisted of insisting that Kiev stop attacking the rebels and that the West stop helping Kiev. And there remains the chilling possibility that Mr. Putin could send troops into eastern Ukraine on a ”humanitarian mission” to the besieged denizens of Donetsk.

Ebola Spreads in Africa

Wars were not the only scourge making the news last week. With the death toll from an outbreak of the Ebola virus approaching 1,000 in West Africa, the World Health Organization on Friday declared an international public health emergency. And Doctors Without Borders called for a ”massive deployment” of medical workers to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the countries hit worst by the outbreak.

The Ebola virus causes a severe and often fatal illness, and while some drugs are being tested, there is no vaccine or treatment yet available to prevent or cure the disease. The virus is caught through close contact with the bodily fluids of infected people or animals.

Because it is not ”spread through the air,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the W.H.O.’s head of health security, it can be contained.

Strict military censorship covered up much of what was really happening in the trenches, says Michael Nicholson
The Daily Telegraph (London) | August 4, 2014

War correspondents fight on many fronts. Censorship is the most persistent and pernicious. From William Russell reporting the war in the Crimea to the wars of today, the correspondent struggles to tell it how it is. The censor comes in many guises but usually in uniform, and his veto is final. A state of war exists between the reporter and the establishment – and the reporter invariably loses. It was never more thoroughly and tragically so than in the First World War. The conspiracy to hide the scale of casualties condemns the principal conspirators, prime minister David Lloyd George and Lord Kitchener, minister for war and munitions. Kitchener had been vehemently hostile to journalists ever since the Sudan. He had seen no reason for them to be there and was outraged by the slightest criticism in reports of his war against the Dervishes, the Mahdi’s army. "Get out of my way, you drunken swabs!" he shouted at them on his arrival in Khartoum.

Within months of the declaration of war, he introduced blanket press censorship, the most severe by any British commander yet. In the first year of the war, all press accreditation was refused. The public, anxious to understand the reason for British involvement in a Continental conflict, had to be satisfied with clumsy propaganda from the government’s newly formed Press Bureau that censored even military communiqués before passing them on for publication. Its mantra was simple: "Do nothing. Say nothing. Keep off the front pages."

David Lloyd George, who was soon to become prime minister, told C P Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, that if people knew what was going on in the trenches, the war would be stopped immediately. At the time, the government even denied trenches existed.

Kitchener was adamant. There would be no press anywhere near the action. Instead, he appointed the loyal and subservient Colonel Ernest Swinton as the official war correspondent, later joined by a conscripted journalist, Henry Tomlinson. Only untrained, army cameramen were allowed anywhere near the Front. Their filming was amateur, underexposed, grainy – and more often than not faked. British journalists, as well as those from other countries based in London, were obliged to write stories of a war that was just across the English Channel, relying entirely on the barely believable and infantile releases from the Press Bureau. It prompted Winston Churchill, then at the Admiralty, to complain about "the fog of war", a phrase that has echoed down the corridors of every news organisation ever since.

It could not continue. The truth of what was happening on the Western Front was filtering back by other means, much of it from returning wounded troops. The British public, saturated by the daily barrage of government propaganda, became more suspicious, more inquisitive and newspaper editorials more vociferous. In 1915, Theodore Roosevelt, the US president, wrote to the foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, warning him that barring journalists from the Front "was harming Britain’s cause in the United States". Prime minister Asquith and Kitchener bent to the president’s will. In March, four journalists were invited, under strict supervision, to visit the British Field Headquarters during the battle of Neuve Chapelle, among them the war artist and correspondent Frederic Villiers of The Graphic and Illustrated London News. Others, including Henry Nevinson of The Daily Chronicle, joined the fleet on its way to the Dardanelles. It was Nevinson who, reporting later from the Western Front, coined the phrase "lions led by donkeys" in his criticism of the High Command.

Two months later, permanent accreditation was given to five more reporters but on a severely censored "pooled" basis, the five sharing their information for general distribution to all news outlets in the United Kingdom and abroad.

In another more sinister development kept secret at the time, a register was kept by the War Office of reporters "whose patriotism was in no doubt, were on the military’s side, could be trusted to comply with regulations and not betray military information to the enemy either by accident or design".

The military were less than subtle in their wooing of the few correspondents permitted to witness the fighting. They were given officer rank, special quarters, often a grand requisitioned house, ate officer’s rations and provided with transport and army driver. But journalists paid for the privilege as censorship was ratcheted up. They were accompanied at all times by a "minder", mostly junior officers who despised the press and made it their business to obstruct them. Dispatches were examined by a senior staff officer who had the authority of immediate veto before they were relayed to the War Office. There a press officer, usually a minor bureaucrat and suffering no crisis of conscience, moulded the stories to suit the official version. They were then sent by couriers to the newspapers but with no indication that what they were about to print bore any resemblance to the stories their reporters had written.

Phillip Gibbs was sent by The Daily Telegraph to France soon after the outbreak of the war and he quickly became hyper-critical of the British command and its determination to suppress the truth. He managed to smuggle some reports back to his newspaper describing conditions in the trenches that appalled readers. But when Gibbs revealed the bitterness and hostility between officers and other ranks, sometimes bordering on mutiny, Kitchener decided enough was enough. Gibbs was arrested on charges of "aiding and abetting the enemy" and warned he would be put up against a wall and shot.

Instead, he was given a military escort back to Britain and told he would not be allowed to return. He was not out of favour for long, such was the influence of the newspaper. A month later he was given full military accreditation and returned to the Front, where he stayed for the rest of the war. His output was prodigious but even he paid the price, submitting, as most did, to ever sterner censorship.

This note to his editor was never published: "Journalism has been throttled. We are so desperate for information that we will report any scrap of any description, any glimmer of truth, any wild statement, rumour, fairy tale or deliberate lie, if it fills the vacuum." He had his revenge when the war was over, publishing his memoirs, The Realities of War, in which he gave a very caustic and unflattering portrait of Field Marshal Douglas Haig.

There were other honourable exceptions, those who preferred to write nothing rather than government untruths. Some found ingenious ways to avoid military control. Henry Hamilton Fyfe of the Daily Mail, having angered the generals with a smuggled dispatch, was threatened with arrest and deportation. He joined the French Red Cross as a stretcher-bearer and continued reporting.

Another was Charles à Court Repington. He was a former Lt. Colonel in the Rifle Brigade and had served in Afghanistan, Burma, in the Sudan under Kitchener and as a staff officer in the Boer War. After an affair with a fellow officer’s wife became public, he was forced to resign his commission but was promptly offered the post of military correspondent for Lord Northcliffe’s Times. Repington had privileged access to senior officers and diplomats that enabled him to bypass the restrictions that so frustrated his colleagues. His high-ranking contacts fed him valuable titbits of information, assuming that as an officer and a gentleman they could depend on his discretion and confidentiality. This cosy relationship abruptly ended with his scoop, remembered as the "Shells Crisis" story.

In May 1915, in conversation with the BEF Commander-in-Chief General Sir John French, Repington was told that a shortage of shells had contributed to the failure of the attack on Neuve Chapelle and Auber’s Ridge two months earlier, resulting in appalling casualties. Repington wrote: "The want of an unlimited supply of high-explosive shells was a fatal bar to our success."

The story caused a furore that forced Asquith to dissolve his Liberal government and form a coalition. French was replaced by Haig, and newspapers demanded Kitchener’s resignation. He kept his seat in cabinet but was replaced as minister responsible for munitions by Lloyd George. Kitchener exacted his revenge on Repington by ensuring he was promptly barred from the Western Front, an order not reversed for another year and then only under pressure from the new government. Repington became a campaigner for a national army, later known as the Territorials. Towards the end of the war, he resigned from The Times after a disagreement with Northcliffe over his style of reporting and promptly joined the Morning Post. He was later arrested and charged, under the Defence of the Realm Act, with disclosing classified military information in an article. After he was found guilty and fined, he wryly commented that the military had a long memory and a revengeful, unforgiving nature.

Despite all the frustration and humiliation they had to endure, there was little resistance from national newspapers. In turn, reporters seemed resigned to a form of journalism that demanded they exchanged their professional integrity for the limited access the military provided. Many defended themselves, arguing that being near the battle front, whatever the restrictions, was better than sitting in London rewriting War Office handouts.

Men in the trenches were nauseated by reports that portrayed the war like a football match. Even the Battle of the Somme was initially reported as a victory, with some newspapers omitting to mention that, on the first day, 20,000 British troops were killed. After the war, some correspondents wrote of how deeply ashamed they were at what they had written, a shame compounded when the government offered them knighthoods, which many accepted. There were honourable exceptions, those who saw it as a bribe to keep their silence. Had they the courage to break that silence when it mattered most, how different it might have been.

Michael Nicholson is the former chief foreign correspondent with ITN. His latest book, ‘A State of War Exists: Reporters in the Line of Fire’ (Biteback, £20)

Srinjoy Bose & Nishank Motwani
Strategic Analysis | Volume 38, Issue 4, 2014


The following commentary argues that the strategic and structural solutions proffered by advocates of ‘hybrid’ governance—encompassing elements from distinctly different ideological backgrounds or schools of thought—ignore or fail to address certain inherent shortcomings in their approach that are counter-productive to the ongoing and long-term statebuilding and peacebuilding projects in Afghanistan. The following study elucidates some of these shortcomings.

Some of the strategies adopted by the Afghan government arise from hybrid approaches to governance, where the state has sought to draw its legitimacy from informal social structures by allowing them to perpetuate as competing institutions in matters concerning provision of individual security and important bodies to vet and validate state action.1

Such strategies can be counter-productive, particularly in view of the ongoing transition process in Afghanistan. While hybridism has had apparent ‘successes’ in Tanzania, Mozambique, Bostwana and Somaliland2 —where the inclusion of customary, non-liberal rule systems in the formal statebuilding/peacebuilding processes and the reliance on indigenous sources of state capability provide informal and/or domestic legitimacy—in the case of Afghanistan, reliance on/preservation of pre-existing political, economic and social conditions that fuel conflict are seen to be interfering with locally engrained approaches to/mechanisms for peacemaking. Moreover, empirical investigation also reveals that in countries with corrupt and abusive systems, such as Mexico and Uganda, those responsible for delivering security and justice are often the very perpetrators of insecurity.3

Too often, proponents of hybridism are over-eager to champion the advantages of a hybrid approach, even without paying sufficient attention to its possible ramifications, including that hybridism may, under certain circumstances, (1) negatively impact the working of formal (democratic) institutions, leading to elites once again taking refuge in patron–client networks, (2) dominate or undermine state institutions by violent methods and means, and (3) result in ‘spoiler’ behaviour and activity. The following study serves to identify challenges posed to the statebuilding/peacebuilding project in Afghanistan by a hybrid governance model and cautions against its overzealous and uncritical acceptance. As one scholar has argued, hybridism is not a phenomenon to be either universally condemned or venerated; rather the implications of hybridism need to be appraised in specific contexts.4

1. A hybrid political order is one that combines elements from different—seemingly incompatible and unharmonious—ideological worldviews and attempts to evolve a mixed structure often comprising informal and formal institutions of power, often clashing with each other. In the process, the ‘state’ becomes ‘only one actor among others, and “state order” is only one of a number of orders claiming to provide security, frameworks for conflict regulation and social services’ (V. Boege et al., ‘States Emerging from Hybrid Political Orders: Pacific Experiences’, Occasional Papers Series No. 11, Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Brisbane, September 2008, p. 6). Martina Fischer and Beatrix Schmelzle (eds.), Building Peace in the Absence of States: Challenging the Discourse on State Failure, Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation Dialogue Series No. 8, Berlin, 2009; K.P. Clements et al., ‘State Building Reconsidered: The Role of Hybridity in the Formation of Political Order’, Political Science, 59(1), 2007, pp. 45–56; Oliver P. Richmond, A Post-liberal Peace: The Infrapolitics of Peacebuilding, Routledge, London, 2011; David Chandler, International Statebuilding: The Rise of Post-liberal Governance, Routledge, London, 2011; Timothy Donais, Peacebuilding and Local Ownership: Post-conflict Consensus-building, Routledge, London, 2012.

2. K. Menkhaus, ‘Governance in the Hinterland of Africa’s Weak States: Toward a Theory of the Mediated State’, Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia, 2006; A. de Waal, ‘Fixing the Political Marketplace: How Can We Make Peace without Functioning State Institutions?’, Fifteenth Christen Michelsen Lecture, Bergen, October 2009.

3. Monica Serrano et al., Mexico’s Security Failure, Routledge, London, 2011; B. Baker, ‘Linking State and Non-State Security and Justice’, Development Policy, 28(5), 2010, pp. 597–616.

4. W. Maley, ‘Statebuilding in Afghanistan: Challenges and Pathologies’, Central Asian Survey, 32(3), 2013, pp. 255–270.

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Digging Our Own Grave? The Results of CT, COIN and Regime Change
Greg Simons
Small Wars Journal | July 30, 2014

This is intended as an opinion, and a reflection on the current state of affairs and possible future trends regarding the West’s involvement in numerous irregular wars and revolutions. War should be a final resort, and for good reasons, rather than the apparent policy tool it is now. This has been the experience of philosophers and theoreticians of war through the ages, war needs to be carefully considered and executed, otherwise the wielder of the sword may face dire consequences. War is not only an opportunity cost, in other words the country needs to give something else up. But it also bears a diminishing return, if wars are too long and costly (in terms of blood and finance) it will begin to erode not only the tangible assets of war (soldiers, military hardware and so forth), but also the intangible assets are affected negatively (belief in the political and military leadership, will to fight). Ultimately, if there is a lack of strategic vision in fighting wars, rather they have a tactical or operational character, the lack of consideration of side effects shall ultimately haunt the actor. The recent events in Iraq and Syria with ISIS and their battlefield success are just one hint and lesson in this regard. Such lessons may take some years to emerge, but given the opportunity they shall. As Sun Tzu once said “strategy without tactics is the slowest road to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

In the Western world (United States centric and led) there needs to be a fundamental reassessment of how and why we fight wars. Events and actions in the Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) and the Arab Spring have been causing contradictory results and have actually ensured an increase in insecurity through threats of radicalisation and terrorism in the Middle East and in Western countries with significant Muslim communities. There has been a tangible display of this form of insecurity through events such as the 7 July 2005 bombings in London, the murder of the soldier Rigby by radicals, Belgium citizens being tried for war crimes committed in Syria fighting for Jihadi forces and the recent suicide bombing carried out by an American citizen in Syria.

There is also the issue of what protracted conflict does to soldiers that have been fighting in Counter-Terrorism (CT) and Counter-Insurgency (COIN) operations for years and with only a vague end possibly in sight. The concerns caused by effects of psychological trauma was sufficient for the European Union within the framework of their FP7 research programme to have a specific call to study this problem. Crimes, violence and an inability to readjust to civilian life, together with a lack of support for these people have caused a dangerous situation. This situation is sufficient to raise the question, are we fighting the current wars and engaging in the various regime change exercises in tactics only, and lacking strategy?

It seems that there is somewhat of an obsession to try and not only learn basic lessons from the past from action in small wars, such as insurgency and terrorism, and then to create a ‘blueprint’ that can be used universally in a kind of cookie-cutter approach. However this ignores the basic dilemma, which is that best practice does not necessarily equate to best strategy. David Ucko evaluated the performance of COIN in Afghanistan very critically. “The lack of clear strategy behind the campaign resulted in the elevation of COIN from the operational to the strategic level. In parallel, the doctrinal best practices of COIN – population security, good governance, and legitimacy – were confused with strategic ends and pursued simultaneously. In practice, these were not adapted to specific problems and objectives and remained little more than slogans.”[i] Ucko likened COIN as being “armed politics” (this is in-line with Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz who both classified war as politics by another means) and warned that doctrine should never replace strategy.

Haroro Ingram stated that there are three lessons from the experience of recent small conflicts. “1) Counter-insurgency thinking and practice typically lags behind that of its insurgent foe; 2) insurgencies succeed or fail based on their ability to synchronise competitive systems of meaning with competitive systems of control and 3) the core assumptions of the dominant hearts and minds approach to COIN should be re-examined in light of recent insurgent successes.” He noted that between the years of 1775-1945 only about 20 per cent of insurgencies were successful, after 1945 this rate has doubled.[ii] The situation described above points to problematic issues in the way that wars are fought.

Analysts in the United States in the late 1980s and 1990s noted changes in the way that wars were organised and fought. One of these was the concept that was brought to light by William Lind and others in the Marine Corps Gazette in 1989, when they talked about the changing nature of war into what was termed as being fourth generation warfare (4GW). This was the decentralisation of warfare and the loss of the state monopoly on prosecuting armed conflict. A number of elements were associated with this kind of conflict: complex and long-term; terrorism, insurgency and guerrilla tactics; non-national/transnational base and highly decentralised; attack the enemy culture; use of psychological warfare and propaganda; political, social, economic and military pressures all used; low intensity conflict involving networks of actors; lack of hierarchy. Non-state actors are small in size and very agile in terms of their organisational structure and ability to make decisions (with long-term planning). The basic goals of this kind of warfare are for survival or to prevent the success of enemy decision-makers by demoralising them. There was another development in military strategy that is in some ways related, which followed 4GW.

In the 1990s, the US Department of Defence pioneered the theory of warfare that came to be called network-centric warfare. This involves taking advantage of the innovations taking place in information communication technology within the sphere of military operations. Publications, such as, Understanding Information Age Warfare by David Alberts and others (2001) outline the basic tenets of the theory, of which there are four. 1) Thoroughly networked force improves information sharing; 2) by sharing information, shared situational awareness and the quality of information is enhanced; the effects of shared situational awareness includes enabling collaboration and self-synchronisation, bettering sustainability and speed of command; which greatly improve mission effectiveness. This form of warfare creates a competitive advantage by linking and keeping well-informed, geographically dispersed forces and it allows for permitting new forms of organisational behaviour. This is especially useful when the nature of the armed conflict is in-line with the notions outlined by 4GW.

Although these forms of warfare theory have been developed in the West, they seem to have been co-opted by the radical Islamist insurgent and terrorist movements. The current style of prosecuting war seems to be more in line with third generation warfare principles, where information plays a supporting role to military operations. However, the opponent is certainly fighting the current conflict by 4GW means, and where military operations play a supporting role to information. It is asymmetric warfare that is being fought very different by the sides engaged in the conflict. The West plays a more tactical and short-term approach, which sometimes is at odds with goals and objectives. For instance, by engaging in regime change within the Arab Spring context (Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and currently Syria), it provides opportunities for their opponent to seize upon. The ‘victory’ in Libya with the toppling of Gaddafi has rapidly turned into a nightmare, which has spilled into Algeria, Mali and Syria. It has also provided an enemy that is very agile and networked the opportunity to regain a lot of strength and create new places to gain support and base their power. Social media certainly enables the Islamic insurgency to simultaneously wage a real and a virtual struggle against a currently stronger enemy. It enables networking, recruiting, planning, logistics, propaganda and many more such operations that are needed to sustain an insurgency. Narratives of radical Islamic groups are carried by social media to geographically dispersed socially displaced individuals in the West and elsewhere. It uses norms and values, especially around aspects of social justice and the defence of Islam to compete with the Western narrative of democracy and security. This is shown in the tangible results of the 13-year long GWOT.

Since 2010 there has been an increase of 60 per cent in the number of radical Islamic groups and a 300 per cent increase in the number of attacks committed by al Qaeda and affiliated groups according to a study conducted by RAND.[iii] One of the threats comes from the radicalisation of youth in Muslim communities in Western countries. American intelligence and CT officials estimate that some 70 Americans have travelled to Syria to join the fight against the Syrian government. There may be as many as 3000 Westerners having travelled to Syria. The British Home Office has stripped 20 Jihadis of their citizenship and in January-March 2014 British police have made some 40 “Syria-related arrests” (up from 25 for the whole of 2013).[iv] Of the estimated 11000 foreign fighters in Syria, at least 400-500 are from France (President Hollande estimated publicly 700 French residents). In Bosnia, someone convicted of trying to fight in a foreign war (i.e. Syria) can be given a 10-year prison sentence, in France the sentence is three-five years (on a charge of plotting terrorism).[v] Norway has also joined in arresting those wishing to travel to Syria to fight or in supporting radical Islamic groups.[vi] The concern is that the activities of these fighters may not be solely restricted to foreign acts of terrorism or supporting terrorist organisation. There is some substance to this reasoning, in 2012 Mohammed Merah returned to his home city of Toulouse where he killed three French soldiers, three Jewish children and a Rabbi. The murder of Lee Rigby (an off-duty soldier) in Woolwich, England in May 2013, when two Islamic converts ran him down in a car and then hacked him to death (the reason giving was for the killing of Muslims by British Armed Forces) serves as another reminder of the dangers.

Soldiers in Afghanistan were, at one stage, being killed more as a result of suicide than enemy action at one stage. On the home front in the US, some 22 veterans per day are committing suicide. There are long waiting times for access to mental health, some waiting at least two months for an appointment.[vii] The inability of returned personnel to cope with daily life has seen a surge in various forms of violence and crime as well as those that withdraw from mainstream society. The matter points to the situation where the intangible assets of the West are in decline and being degraded. At the same time, the insurgent foe’s intangible assets are gaining further strength, often as a result of what the West is doing and perceived to be doing within the contexts of GWOT and the Arab Spring.

There has been a refinement, amalgamation and harmonisation of 4GW and network-centric warfare, not by Western political and military circles, but by the diverse groups of the Islamic insurgency. They are a much more flexible and responsive organisation to their operating environment than their Western counterparts that seek to rely on procedure (doctrine) and short-term planning cycles. It is likely to be a matter of time, assuming the current trends continue their present path, the tangible elements of Western strength and power shall decline and become noticeable. The current military-centric approach to CT and COIN seems to ignore or at least underplay the important and decisive embedded political aspects to armed conflict.

End Notes

[i] Ucko, D., Best Practice or Best Strategy: Can New COIN Doctrine Win Future Wars?, ISN,, 27 May 2014 (accessed 31 May 2014)

[ii] Ingram, H., Three Lessons from the Modern Era of Small Wars, ISN,, 26 May 2014 (accessed 31 May 2014)

[iii] Ernst, D., Al Qaeda Surge: Islamic Radical Groups Skyrocketed Since 2010, Study Says, The Washington Times,, 4 June 2014 (accessed 5 June 2014)

[iv] De Freytas-Tamura, K., Foreign Jihadis Fighting in Syria Pose Risk in West, The New York Times,, 29 May 2014 (accessed 31 May 2014)

[v] Rubin, A. J., Fearing Converts to Terrorism, France Intercepts Citizens Bound for Syria, The New York Times,, 2 June 2014 (accessed 3 June 2014)

[vi] Staff Writers, Norway Arrests Three Suspected of Supporting Syria Jihad, AFP in Space War,, 27 May 2014 (accessed 31 May 2014)

[vii] McElhatton, J. & Klimas, J., Mental Health Delays at VA System Five Times Longer Than Reported, The Washington Times,, 4 June 2014 (accessed 5 June 2014)


Best Practice or Best Strategy: Can New Counterinsurgency Doctrine Win Future Wars?
David Ucko
ISN | 27 May 2014

If counterinsurgency theory supposedly succeeded in Iraq, why did it fail in Afghanistan? For David Ucko, the answer is clear – theory is no substitute for practical strategies that appreciate the ‘nature and grammar’ of real conflicts.

Two weeks ago, the United States Army and the Marine Corps updated their counterinsurgency doctrine, last published in November 2006 before the ‘surge’ in Iraq. The publication of the new doctrine has raised fresh questions about the role of counterinsurgency in campaign planning and strategy. Was the 2006 field manual in some way responsible for the subsequent stabilization of Iraq? If counterinsurgency succeeded there, why did it not meet expectations (some might say ‘fail’) in Afghanistan? And will the doctrine published last week allow for better results in campaigns to come?

Counterinsurgency and strategy

These questions suggest two fundamental points. First, as the most recent counterinsurgency manual states, ‘counterinsurgency is not a substitute for strategy’. Counterinsurgency theory offers a collection of insights collected from past operations, which, if adapted to local context, can help in the design and execution of a campaign plan. To the degree that counterinsurgency theory worked in Iraq, it was because it was tied to a campaign plan informed by the specific contextual enablers relevant to that operation: the Sons of Iraq, the Anbar Awakening, and splits within the main Shia political structures. Counterinsurgency was then implemented in Afghanistan, but without an appreciation of these contextual enablers, which explains why the same approach produced such different results. Best practice is not best strategy.

An important reason for the success of counterinsurgency in Iraq was the cooperation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who during the surge recast himself as a national rather than sectarian leader. Of course, the Iraqi leadership was far from perfect. For example, US support for Sunni tribes and former insurgents was not accompanied by the support of the central government, and this has complicated the reintegration process for the Sunni forces that fought against al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Nevertheless, in broad terms, the Iraqi leadership compared favorably to that in Afghanistan, which has proved either unable or unwilling to move against the warlords who have established themselves (often with coalition assistance) in recent years.

Furthermore, in Iraq the coalition was far more invested in reforming the ministries that had been penetrated by Shia radical elements, transformed into sectarian fiefdoms, and used to target Sunni communities. Ministerial reform is an under-appreciated aspect of the surge, but speaks to America’s leverage and familiarity with Iraqi politics at the time. Equivalent efforts in Afghanistan came too late and were insufficient, partly due to the absence of a host-nation partner and the desire of NATO to withdraw just as the shift to counterinsurgency was announced. Thus, the government is still largely corrupt and illegitimate, which has fueled the insurgency.

Another factor was the ability of the U.S. military in Iraq to exploit the emerging rift between AQI and the Sunni tribes of Anbar province. The coalition has found no similar partner in Afghanistan, meaning that its local counterinsurgency operations have had to be conducted in isolation. Attempts to create Afghan equivalents to the Sunni Awakening and Sons of Iraq have stuttered because, whereas the latter were based on preexisting structures with their own interests, the Afghan ‘replicas’ were manufactured from scratch. This means that these local defense forces lack the necessary unity of command, training, and purpose, which has in turn resulted in poor discipline, accountability, and effectiveness.

There were important differences between the two cases in the level of Western commitment and in the underlying financial realities, but the difference in unity of command was particularly significant. In Afghanistan, three separate operations with different requirements were being conducted simultaneously: the American-led counterterrorist effort against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, the NATO-led ISAF operation to provide security and to enable a third mission led by the UN and devoted to political and economic development. The issue of counternarcotics overlapped with these missions, especially after 2009. This multitude of objectives made the ability to prioritize among them and tie long-term aims to a resourced campaign plan indispensable for effective warfare. These were areas where NATO fell woefully short.

The lack of a clear strategy behind the campaign resulted in the elevation of counterinsurgency from the operational to the strategic level. In parallel, the doctrinal best practices of counterinsurgency – ‘population security’, ‘good governance’, and ‘legitimacy’ – were confused with strategic ends and pursued simultaneously. In practice, these were not adapted to specific problems and objectives and remained little more than slogans.

Counterinsurgency is armed politics. This means that it must be informed by a strategy that is sustainable, resourced, feasible and responsive to the situation at hand. Although doctrine can be valuable in tying carefully defined strategic aims to the design of operations, it cannot be allowed to replace strategy. For strategic purposes, the estimate of the particular situation is a critical starting point because it reveals the threats, opportunities and challenges that can be exploited within a specific response.

The contribution of counterinsurgency

This leads us to the second point: if counterinsurgency doctrine fails to defeat insurgencies, what good is it? Historically, the modest yet crucial value of counterinsurgency doctrine lies in the challenge it poses to many of the preconceptions about war that have dominated Western strategic thinking. Specifically, counterinsurgency provides a corrective to the view of war as militarily decisive and apolitical. In essence, the principles of counterinsurgency touch upon the importance of achieving a nuanced political understanding of the campaign, of operating under unified command, of using intelligence to guide operations, of isolating insurgents from the population, of using the minimum amount of force necessary to achieve objectives, and of maintaining the legitimacy of the counterinsurgency effort in the eyes of the populace.

To the casual observer, these principles will appear self-evident. Nonetheless, they illustrate the unique logic of counterinsurgency and its distinctiveness from the ‘conventional’ types of war for which most Western militaries train and prepare. For military institutions that regard the utility of force as a ‘stand-alone’ solution, the principles of counterinsurgency are an important corrective.

Similarly, counterinsurgency also challenges the traditional peacekeeping mindset and its expectations of ‘impartiality’ and ‘consent’ in largely non-violent operations. Whereas these terms are appropriate in certain ‘permissive’ environments, they are inadequate for contested settings, which is where the military is typically deployed. In these settings, adherence to peacekeeping principles has resulted in interventions so unobtrusive as to be negligible; elsewhere, their limiting effect on the intervening force has been deftly exploited by wily and versatile adversaries. In contrast, counterinsurgency doctrine emphasises that a permissive operational environment cannot be expected to obtain but must be actively worked towards and sustained. Similarly, the consent of the local population is not a function of how much force is used, but of how that force is used and why. Political influence is not achieved through acts of kindness, but by maintaining security and a firm monopoly on the legitimate use of force. The contribution of counterinsurgency theory, then, is to elucidate the common requirements of working towards and sustaining a secure environment, of engaging with some local actors against others, and of using force – in parallel with other means – to achieve a particular, rather than a general, peace.

Can we win next time?

Will the further study of counterinsurgency help Western nations in their future interventions in war-torn countries? The question is timely, given the likely rejection of the term following the troubled campaign in Afghanistan.

The modest contribution of counterinsurgency is to provide a corrective to our understanding of war and warfare. It reinforces the need for political primacy to address what are fundamentally political problems and the need to couch military activity within a broader strategy. This contribution is modest because the principles and guidance counterinsurgency provides are often banal, even if they represent an improvement over traditional military thinking on war. Careful study and research is needed to determine how best to apply these principles to future operations, and it is fair to say that the theory is better at raising the right questions than in providing the answers.

In learning to answer these questions, there must be fewer assumptions about the nature of insurgency. Rather than accepting slogans like ‘winning hearts and minds’ or ‘population control’, future counterinsurgencies must craft strategies based on the local context, grievances and politics – and their exploitation by specific groups. The indispensable starting point is a strategic assessment of the situation: where does the insurgent organization gains its strength, how does it operate, and why will it win? Only through such an assessment and through a clearer understanding of our own interests and objectives will the fortunes of future campaigns improve.

David H. Ucko, PhD, is an associate professor at the College of International Security Affairs and an adjunct fellow at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. He is the author of Counterinsurgency in Crisis: Britain and the Challenges of Modern Warfare (Columbia University Press, 2013) and of The New Counterinsurgency Era: Transforming the U.S. Military for Modern Wars (Georgetown University Press, 2009).


After Afghanistan
Lessons for NATO’s Future Wars
Antulio J Echevarria II
The RUSI Journal | Volume 159, Issue 3, 2014


One of the key issues to be discussed at the forthcoming NATO summit will be preparation for future military engagements after more than a decade of counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan. Antulio J Echevarria II revisits some of the key lessons to be drawn from this experience, and highlights the questions that will need to be addressed if the Alliance is to be equipped to meet future challenges in a changing world.

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Three Lessons from the Modern Era of Small Wars
Haroro Ingram
ISN | 26 May 2014

In the case of ‘small wars’, what are the basic lessons we should have learned since 1945? Try these, says Haroro Ingram – successful insurgencies must create and provide meaning; counterinsurgency thinking is reactive, and therefore always one step behind the insurgent; and the ‘hearts and minds’ approach to counterinsurgency has to be revised.

The ongoing withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan punctuates an era of ‘small wars’ that stretches beyond the “9/11 decade” to the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War. Although asymmetric military contests between established authorities and irregular guerrillas are among the oldest of military phenomena, the modern period of small wars represents a departure from this history. Before this period, irregular guerrillas tended to be overwhelmed by their stronger and better resourced adversaries. Modern small wars, by contrast, have seen significantly higher rates of insurgent victory. Between 1775 and 1945, about 20% of insurgencies were successful. After 1945, the success rate of insurgencies has doubled. What explains this trend?

Overall, three lessons can be learned from the experience of modern small wars: 1) counterinsurgency thinking and practice typically lags behind that of its insurgent foe; 2) insurgencies succeed or fail based on their ability to synchronize competitive systems of meaning with competitive systems of control and 3) the core assumptions of the dominant ‘hearts and minds’ approach to counterinsurgency should be re-examined in light of recent insurgent successes.

Modern small wars: a dual contest

Despite the rise in the success rate of insurgencies since the Second World War, most insurgencies still fail to achieve their objectives. Insurgencies are at their most fragile in their early stages – soon after discontent has given way to violence. Surviving this formative period is crucial to the success of an insurgency. However, the ability to survive this formative period often depends on the same complex mix of strategic and psychosocial factors that helps to determine an insurgency’s ultimate success or failure.

This mix of strategic and psychosocial factors depends on effectively competing in the two simultaneous contests that characterise a small war. The first is a contest to implement a system of control (i.e. a ‘political’ apparatus) by ‘winning’ the support of a population. This clash between incumbent and aspiring ‘competitive systems of control’ (to borrow Bernard Fall’s terminology) typically involves ‘top-down’ military-political forces attempting to establish control over a population. This contest is the raison d’être of any small war: the ascendancy of one system of control over all others.

The second is the contest to implement a system of meaning. In almost all modern small wars, ‘competitive systems of meaning’ seek to leverage the contested population’s identity and its perception of crisis (which is the defining psychosocial condition of civilian populations in wartime) in order to shape assessments of the conflict and of the actors involved – and to influence decisions about whom the population supports, and how.

Competitive systems of meaning: The insurgent’s advantage

In the modern period, insurgents have demonstrated an acute appreciation for the strategic and psychosocial power of a competitive system of meaning. Analysis of a global cross-section of insurgency thinkers – from Mao Tse-Tung and Ho Chi Minh to ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz Al-Muqrin, the Irish Republican Army and Che Guevara – reveals extraordinary doctrinal uniformity: all of these thinkers prioritize the strategic role of ‘information operations’ (IO) and regard military and political activities as largely supporting functions. In contrast, ‘Hearts and Minds’ counterinsurgency strategy, especially as practised in Afghanistan and Iraq, has reversed this strategic logic.

Modern insurgents have also understood that there are gradations of a population’s support. While behavioral support (or collaboration) is the most palpable form, it is also usually the weakest. This is why modern insurgents tend to pursue deeper perceptual and attitudinal support from contested populations – support that may belie occasional behavioral support for their opponents during the hardships of war. As Mao Tse-Tung has reminded generations of guerrillas: “In a war of long duration, those whose conviction that the people must be emancipated is not deep rooted are likely to become shaken in their faith or actually revolt.”

No matter their ideological persuasion, modern insurgents have tended to use IO as a mechanism to target the ‘identity landscape’ of a population, attaching perceptions of crisis to ‘out-group’ identities (i.e. the counterinsurgency and incumbent authorities) and solutions to themselves (i.e. the insurgency) as members of the shared ‘in-group’ identity. This can have a powerful psychosocial effect because it is designed to shape and reinforce the same identity paradigms through which perceptions of crisis are framed and understood. The result is a cyclical process of cognitive reinforcement.

It would be mistaken to interpret the insurgent’s competitive system of meaning as simply ‘good’ IO. Competitive systems of meaning consist of a combination of IO and military-political activities. As Guevara contends: “Every act of the guerrilla army ought always to be accompanied by the propaganda necessary to explain the reasons for it.” Equally, the actions of the counterinsurgency are often accompanied by insurgent IO messaging (reinforced by insurgent action) to shape how those actions are perceived. Modern insurgents understand that, if they can shape how contested populations perceive the conflict, its actors and their actions, IO becomes a dual mechanism of compounding returns: a ‘force multiplier’ for the insurgency and a ‘force nullifier’ for their opponents.

From the modern insurgent’s perspective, small wars are not about winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of contested populations but about shaping their perceptions in order to polarize their support. In short, modern insurgencies succeed or fail based on their ability to synchronize competitive systems of meaning and control – in that order of priority – to ‘survive, outlast and outcompete’ their more powerful adversaries.

The Taliban

The recent successes of the Taliban insurgency exemplify these dynamics. Within weeks of the commencement of Coalition military operations in 2001, the Taliban had been almost completely routed. In what former CIA Officer and Obama Administration advisor Bruce Riedel described as “one of the most remarkable military comebacks in modern history”, the Taliban then began trickling back into southern Afghanistan in 2003 and, within two years, the insurgency was gaining momentum through Afghanistan’s Pashtun belt.

A major feature of the Taliban’s revival has been the evolution of its IO strategy and the synchronisation of its IO operations with its military and political activities. While its local IO strategy remains a tactical and operational strength, it has shown a willingness to communicate with regional and global audiences via multilingual spokesmen and maintains an active online presence. There is also a consistency to the Taliban narrative that reflects an understanding of the strategic and psychosocial dynamics described above. The Taliban has effectively leveraged the identity landscape of the target population, i.e. Afghans, especially Pashtuns, and the broader ummah; it has attached perceptions of crisis to the ‘out-group’, i.e., the foreign counterinsurgency and the Afghan government; and it has attached solutions to itself as the noble representative of the ‘in-group,’ i.e., Afghans and Muslims.

Enhancing the effect of the Taliban’s evident appreciation for the strategic and psychosocial dimensions of insurgency warfare is the speed with which Taliban IO responds to events in the field. The Taliban often enjoys the advantages inherent in being the first to shape perceptions of events, especially for local audiences. As former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stated: “When there is an incident in Afghanistan, the Taliban are quick to say there have been high numbers of civilian casualties… This goes around the world in minutes. …our response comes days later – if we are lucky. By that time, we have totally lost the media battle.”

IO is broadly recognized as a Taliban strength and a weakness for Coalition forces. Three explanations for this are significant. First, Taliban IO holds a central position in the broader insurgency strategy. Counterinsurgency IO, on the other hand, has tended to be used as a supporting mechanism for what is the central focus of ‘hearts and minds’ strategy: using military force to create time and space for the counterinsurgency’s system of control to function effectively.

Second, while insurgents use IO to shape perceptions and polarize support, counterinsurgency IO tends to focus on a population-focused ‘hearts and minds’ narrative to encourage behavioral support. As Tim Foxley asserts: “Much of ISAF IO work is based around the promotion of ISAF and Afghan government narratives…. The work highlights ‘good news’ stories: a bridge built here, a school built there, a small child taken to hospital….”

Finally, Taliban IO is the centrepiece of an attempt to establish an entire system of meaning that is designed to both enhance the appeal and assist in the design of a competitive system of control. Coalition forces may be losing the IO battle in Afghanistan, but they have barely attempted to establish a competitive system of meaning.

The counterinsurgency lag

This is a critical juncture for the small wars field. It was only in the aftermath of the failures of military-centric counterinsurgency strategies in Indochina and Algeria – driven by the recognition that modern insurgencies are first and foremost ‘political’ phenomena – that the population-centric ‘hearts and minds’ approach to counterinsurgency was born. While this approach is now the status quo in counterinsurgency thinking and practice, the military-centrists of the time doggedly defended their positions – dismissing failures in the field as the result of faulty application. Decades later, the mixed results of ‘hearts and minds’ counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, Iraq and other conflicts are defended in a similar manner. To overcome the counterinsurgency lag, the fundamental assumptions underpinning this dominant counterinsurgency approach must be examined and the lessons of insurgent successes must be learned.

Dr Haroro J. Ingram is a Research Fellow with the School of International, Political and Strategic Studies (Australian National University, Canberra). His Australian Research Council funded project, ‘Through Their Eyes’, analyses insurgent ‘information operations’ and explores its role as a determining factor in the success of insurgent movements.

Michael Silverberg
Quartz | 11 Aug 14

Herlinde Koelbl/Agentur Focus

You can often tell a country’s enemies by the targets its soldiers use for shooting practice. That’s what Herlinde Koelbl found while visiting the military shooting ranges of nearly 30 nations over the course of the past six years. Her photographs are collected in a recent book, Targets, and an exhibition at Berlin’s Deutsches Historiches Museum, up through October 5.

At every stop in her travels, Koelbl wondered, she writes in the book’s introduction, “Who is the bad man? What does he look like—the enemy that they are later expected to kill? Is he an abstract figure? Does it have a gender and if so, which? Are there cultural differences? Has the image of the enemy changed?” For the US, the target of choice was once a Soviet figure—”Ivan”—with a red star on his green helmet. Now, reflecting a change that’s taken place in much of the world, Ivan has largely been supplanted by Middle Eastern-looking men in jeans and keffiyehs or balaclavas.

USA Herlinde Koelbl/Agentur Focus

In Afghanistan and Ethiopia, “where every bullet counted,” the targets were makeshift and minimal: a mattress, a silhouette in wood. Non-state forces like the Kurdish PKK in northern Iraq and the Polisario Front in northwestern Africa used basic targets like stones, tin cans, or a painted circle. Britain’s colonial legacy was visible in South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda, all of which had the same targets as the UK. Elsewhere, duplicate designs told of the modern empire of globalization, with targets that were simply ordered from the same catalogue.

Lebanon Herlinde Koelbl/Agentur Focus

Koelbl saw more than just paper targets. She visited entire mock towns, created so soldiers can familiarize themselves with the enemy’s urban environment. One, in the California desert, was conceived by Hollywood designers, complete with minarets and shops laid out with rugs and plastic cuts of lamb. Israel gave a training village street signs in English and Arabic.

No matter which army she observed, Koelbl discovered common goals in its targets. One was to turn shooting into an exercise of muscle, not conscience. “It sounds horrifying, but you have to learn to kill automatically in order to function,” one soldier told her. Another was to establish a firm line between the soldiers and the enemy. “Who is the enemy here?” Koelbl writes. “The enemy is always the other one.”

Germany Herlinde Koelbl/Agentur Focus

Austria Herlinde Koelbl/Agentur Focus,1/

Chinese Christians: We Are Ready to Be Imprisoned and Die for Our Faith
Charisma News | 7/25/2014

Around 400 police officers attempted to forcibly remove the church cross of ShuiTou Salvation Church in Pingyang County, Wenzhou City, Monday morning. (

At 3 a.m. (Beijing time) on Monday, during the 32nd night of a vigil of Christians guarding their church cross, about 400 police officers attempted to forcibly remove the cross of ShuiTou Salvation Church in Pingyang, Wenzhou City.

Police beat Christians with iron batons, severely injuring at least four. Bloody pictures and videos of riots from the incident are circulating on China’s social network. Local Christians reported that 1,000 Christians formed a human blockade and guarded the church and that even though the police retreated after a one-hour attack, the Christians remain ready for continuous attacks from the government.

Continuous Cross Demolition and Harassment

The ongoing anti-church campaign in Zhejiang Province has seen more than 360 churches completely or partially demolished under the guise of "removing or modifying illegal constructions." In a news release International Christian Concern (ICC) reported, and later The New York Times corroborated, that religious buildings have been targeted at the exclusion of all others.

Since 9 p.m. on Sunday, police started to harass churches close to ShuiTou Salvation Church in Pingyang County, Wenzhou City. At 3 a.m. the next day, the police suddenly concentrated its force to attack ShuiTou Salvation Church itself. A local contact told ICC that while it was unclear how many Christians were injured, at least four were severely injured, two of whom were transferred to the First Provincial Wenzhou Hospital of Zhejiang.

"We will continue to guard our church cross to the end," said a local co-worker of Pingyang County. "We divide people into two groups and take turns to guard the church through the night."

ICC heard from local Christians that local government officials are even "competing" to be the champion of removing church crosses for the purpose of bolstering their own political careers.

"Guarding the church cross that is not against any law, Christians are publicly harassed by government officials," said a local Christian.

Ready to Sacrifice for Faith, Like the Three Friends of Daniel

Faced with repeated injustice from the Chinese government’s massive anti-church campaign for months, three Christians, Zhan Yingsheng, Zhang Zhi, and Ye Wanjing, issued three public letters on July 16 with farewell notes, claiming that they are ready to die for their faith if necessary. Ye Wanjing wrote: "I am not going to die for the physical cross on my church and, to be honest, I rarely paid attention to the physical cross on the top of the building. However, faced with injustice, my conscience of being a Christian pressured me to do my responsibility. I hope to learn more about Jesus Christ’s calling of ‘die to myself.’"

"My heart is bleeding when I see hundreds of church crosses fall one by one in Zhejiang Province," Ye Wanjing wrote. "Facing the fierce attack, my co-workers and I do not have confidence that we are able to guard the church cross from being demolished; as an individual, I pray that the Lord gives me the will to be a martyr."

"I have packed clothes and toiletries, ready to go to prison anytime," Zhang Zhi wrote in the public letter. "I have told my wife and parents. Even though they are worried, they understand."

ICC’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, Sooyoung Kim, said, "Zhejiang provincial authorities have carefully planned and carried out their systematic attack against Christianity and churches. We call on the government of China in the strongest possible terms to immediately stop the anti-church campaign that hurts its own people’s heart. The world needs a peaceful China that respects human dignity and freedom of religions."


Zhejiang Province Unleashes Massive Attack on Over 64 Churches in China
An Outright Violation of Central Government’s Stated Goal of Religious Freedom for Its Citizens
International Christian Concern

05/22/2014 Zhejiang Province, China (International Christian Concern) – On April 28th, Zhejiang province officials bulldozed the 4,000-seat Sanjiang Christian Church in Wenzhou City despite a weeks-long protest involving hundreds of Christian attendees who formed a human chain around the church. What appeared to be an isolated event, has on further investigation by International Christian Concern (ICC) been revealed to be a widespread and massive anti-church crackdown with 64 churches in Zhejiang Province alone having been destroyed and/or their crosses (or steeples) torn down. ChinaAid is reporting that authorities once tore down 50 crosses in one day in Wenzhou City. Another 85 house churches recently received government orders to stop gathering and may face closure by the government by the end of May.

The wave of church and cross demolitions occurred after Xia Baolong, the Communist Party secretary of Zhejiang Province, conducted an inspection tour of the province earlier this year and was disturbed by a forest of crosses in the skyline and the number of large church buildings that host thousands of worshippers. “He found the cross on top of BaiXi Christian Church too ‘conspicuous’,” according to an ICC contact.

The “anti-church” campaign has been carried out under the vague provisions of urban development and beautification laws. The stated intent of the campaign was to "aggressively demolish illegal buildings in accordance with the law." However, ICC’s investigation has revealed that even government-approved churches are facing demolition or cross removal such as the forcible removal of the cross on the steeple of BaiXi Christian Church in Wenzhou City on May 6, 2014.

The campaign is also almost exclusively targeting Christian sites. An ICC contact said, “The Zhejiang government has selectively enforced the law on only church buildings. Other ‘illegal’ structures did not receive demolition orders.

During an interview with ICC, a Zhejiang believer said, “President Xi Jinping won’t be pleased by what the provincial party secretary, Xia Baolong, is doing because Xia is breaking people’s hearts and making local citizens scared of the government’s unpredictable policy. It is harming a harmonious society which the central government says it is working hard to build.

Sooyoung Kim, ICC’s Regional Manager for East Asia, said, “Xia Baolong, the local provincial party secretary, is blatantly undermining China’s carefully crafted human rights image presented to the international community as he continues to implement his anti-church campaign to limit religious freedom and the gathering of Christians. He has ignored the desperate pleas of thousands of his own citizens, and the glare and condemnation of the international media spotlight.

“Concerned Christians must call the Chinese embassy and ask them to reign in Xia Baolong’s attacks on churches in Zhejiang Province. Ask them to enforce Article 36 of China’s constitution, and to immediately cease the demolition of churches and the removal of church steeples and crosses.”

You are free to disseminate this news story. We request that you reference ICC (International Christian Concern) and include our web address, ICC is a Washington, D.C.-based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC provides Awareness, Advocacy, and Assistance to the worldwide persecuted Church.


Church-State Clash in China Coalesces Around a Toppled Spire
NYT | MAY 29, 2014

WENZHOU, China — For nearly a year, the Sanjiang Church was the pride of this city’s growing Christian population. A landmark in the fast-developing northern suburbs, its 180-foot spire rose dramatically against a rocky promontory. Wenzhou, called “China’s Jerusalem” for the churches dotting the cityscape, was known for its relaxed ties between church and state, and local officials lauded the church as a model project.

Late last month, however, the government ordered it torn down, saying it violated zoning regulations. After fruitless negotiations and a failed effort by the congregation to occupy the church, on April 28 backhoes and bulldozers knocked down the walls and sent the spire toppling to the ground.

“People are stunned,” said one member of the congregation, who asked that she be identified only by her English name, Mabel, out of fear of government reprisals. “They have completely lost faith in the local religious authorities.”

This urban area of nine million in eastern China, nestled between rugged mountains and a jagged coastline, has moved to the center of a national battle with a Communist Party increasingly suspicious of Christianity and the Western values it represents. Since March, at least a dozen other churches across Zhejiang Province have been told to remove their crosses or have received demolition orders, a significant escalation in a party campaign to counter the influence of China’s fastest-growing religion.

A state-sanctioned church in Wenzhou, run by the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Churches across Zhejiang Province have been told to take down crosses. Credit Sim Chi Yin for The New York Times

The government has defended its actions, saying the churches violated zoning restrictions. However, an internal government document reviewed by The New York Times makes it clear the demolitions are part of a strategy to reduce Christianity’s public profile.

The nine-page provincial policy statement says the government aims to regulate “excessive religious sites” and “overly popular” religious activities, but it specifies only one religion, Christianity, and one symbol, crosses.

“The priority is to remove crosses at religious activity sites on both sides of expressways, national highways and provincial highways,” the document says. “Over time and in batches, bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the facade of the buildings.”

The Sanjiang demolition in particular drew national attention because the church was officially sanctioned, not one of the independent, underground churches that often run afoul of the government. Moreover, a central ally of President Xi Jinping played a decisive role in its destruction.

The case created a backlash even in government-controlled religious circles, with prominent theologians at government seminaries publicly criticizing the handling of it.

“Nothing hurts the people more than bulldozing their church,” Chen Yilu, head of the government-sponsored Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, the country’s most influential, said in an interview. “It was handled too aggressively.”

Gao Ying, dean of the official Yanjing Theological Seminary in Beijing, said: “The Sanjiang Church was a legal and registered congregation. I think they deserved a better outcome.”

The leveling of the Sanjiang Church came amid growing tensions not only between Christianity and the Communist government, but also between Christianity and other religions. It was preceded by a local petition accusing the church of destroying the area’s feng shui, geomantic principles that underlie traditional Chinese folk religion. Others complained that churches were crowding out traditional temples, which compete for space in the hilly region.

“As Christianity becomes stronger, it jostles up against other religions,” said Mayfair Yang, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has done field work on religious land conflicts in Wenzhou.

Increasingly, those other religions are receiving greater support from the Communist Party. In March, Mr. Xi praised Buddhism for its contributions to China. And late last year, on a visit to Confucius’ hometown, he picked up two volumes on Confucianism and, in a reversal of the party’s longtime antagonism, issued a rare endorsement: “I need to read these books very carefully.”

While churches in China are mainly privately financed — Sanjiang was built with $5.5 million in donations — traditional religious sites have expanded with strong government support. The government has also made a U-turn on how it treats indigenous religious practices. Just a decade ago, the Communist Party condemned fortunetelling, feng shui and many traditional funerary rites as “feudal superstition.” Now, these are protected under government programs to support “intangible cultural heritage.”

Christianity, however, is seen by some in the government as a colonial vestige at odds with the party’s control of political and social life.

“There’s also uneasiness that some of these Christian religions are getting infusions of logistical and financial and doctrinal support from abroad,” Professor Yang said.

Protestantism is also linked to a national debate about “universal values.” Some Chinese Protestants argue that rights such as freedom of expression are God-given, and thus cannot be taken away by the state. These beliefs have led many Protestants to take up human rights work. A disproportionate number of lawyers handling prominent political cases, for example, are Protestant.

Fenggang Yang, a professor of religion at Purdue University, said that Protestantism did not directly challenge the state, but that leaders had come to see it that way.

“The political threat of Christianity to the regime has been exaggerated by some officials,” he said. “So much so that it’s become a shared perception by top officials.”

Officials refused to comment for this article, but in reports in the government-run news media, they have said they are simply trying to come to grips with the sometimes anarchic construction in this freewheeling city.

Wenzhou has demolished 32 million square feet of buildings, mostly commercial properties, since last year, according to news reports. Officials were quoted as saying that Sanjiang Church was built without proper zoning, taking up five times the 20,000 square feet allowed by its permits and sitting on land zoned for agricultural use. Non-Christian religious sites are being torn down, too, they said, including a smaller folk religion temple near the church.

“Right now, certain believers online suspect that the government ‘selectively operates law’ in the case of forced demolition of Sanjiang religious facility,” a Wenzhou official was quoted as saying in the government-run Morning Express newspaper. “Here, we’d like to restate that we will continue to abide by the party’s religious policy, respect religious freedom of the people and provide protection for legal religious venues.”

The church’s problems seem to have begun with a visit to the region in October by the provincial party secretary, Xia Baolong, a close ally of President Xi. Visiting a new economic zone north of Wenzhou, Mr. Xia was reportedly disturbed that a religious building, especially one seen as representing a foreign belief, dominated the skyline. The next month, members of the congregation said, they were told to remove the cross atop their church’s steeple.

“Xia Baolong came to inspect last autumn, and he saw the cross,” said an official in the Wenzhou government’s religious hierarchy. “He said: ‘Take down the cross. It’s so high, and it’s not appropriate.’ But the people said: ‘Well, we’ve already put it up there, and from a faith point of view, it’s our faith, the cross. How can we take it down?’ ”

Officials argued that the church violated zoning rules, but the provincial policy paper suggests that argument was a tactical cover. The paper, called “Working Document Concerning the Realization of Handling of Illegal Religious Buildings,” said the policy would face international scrutiny so officials should be careful to cloak their effort under the guise of cracking down on building codes. “Be particular about tactics, be careful about methods,” it said, urging officials to focus on the idea of “illegal construction.” “This is crucial to investigate and prosecute from the perspective of laws and regulations to avoid inviting heavy criticism.”

The document is undated, but government religious officials say it was issued last summer by the Wenzhou administration of religious affairs in conjunction with a government bureau charged with demolishing illegal buildings.

In March, the government increased the pressure, saying if the cross was not removed and most of an auxiliary building torn down, the entire church would be demolished.

Senior members of the congregation and Wenzhou officials tried to broker a deal. But in interviews, they said they were opposed by a majority of the congregation, who would not agree to remove the cross, and by provincial officials working for Mr. Xia, who insisted that the church was illegal and must be torn down.

The 2011 agreement to build the church had been signed by the congregation and by the local bureau of religious affairs, representing the government. That the religious affairs bureau now says it did not get the land rezoned strikes many as an internal government problem. So, too, does the argument that the church was bigger than planned, a violation that officials and members of the congregation agree the government encouraged.

“They said, ‘This will be your last church for 20 years, so make it big,’ ” said a member of the Sanjiang congregation involved in the negotiations. “They also told us that the development zone was a big project and needed a big church as a sign of how this was an outward-looking community.”

An official in the city’s religious affairs bureau acknowledged that “officials said it could be bigger, but perhaps this was a mistake.”

The provincial government announced this month that it had arrested two Wenzhou officials and was investigating another three in connection with the church. The accusations against them appear to be that they approved the church’s prominent location and size.

Sim Chi Yin contributed reporting from Wenzhou. Lucy Chen and Mia Li contributed research from Beijing.


ND Expert: Chinese government threatened by Christianity
Kellogg Institute for International Studies | July 28, 2014

Government authorities in southeast China are continuing what local church leaders call a campaign against Christianity — knocking down crosses and razing sanctuaries at dozens of churches in the Zhejiang province.

Christianity has grown so rapidly, it’s viewed as a threat by the Communist government, according to Kellogg Faculty Fellow Lionel Jensen, associate professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Notre Dame.

“Zhejiang has a very substantial population of Christians, of which as many as 2 million are Catholic,” says Jensen, who specializes in the history of Chinese religion and thought and Chinese nationalism. “The government has demonstrated its concern about rising religiosity among Chinese by suppression and persecution. Such coercive and extra-legal behavior by official authorities has become very common and extends to indigenous, traditional practices as well, such as worship at village shrines and temples to local gods, not to mention monasteries.”

According to Jensen, China is breaking its own laws.

“Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution states explicitly that freedom of religion is a fundamental right,” he says, “and further specifies that ‘no state or public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.’ Removing crosses, and even more egregiously, destroying churches, demonstrates the incapacity of the state to abide by its own laws.”

Officials have questioned church members about their employment and their children’s schooling, implying that jobs and education might be at risk, and they are citing building code violations.

“These attempts to employ bizarre quasi-legal technicalities reflect very real concern by lower-level government operatives who see the expansive physical presence of Protestant and Catholic practitioners in cities like Wenzhou (called ‘China’s Jerusalem’) as a threat to order and stability,” Jensen says. “They act in violation of the constitution because they are well aware that the central government will not punish them.

“What is really interesting in this last year of stepped-up religious repression,” Jensen says, “is the persistent energetic reaction by the faithful and by civil rights lawyers to resist the persecution and call the government to task for its responsibility in denying the public a guaranteed right. The opposition is not anonymous; it is vociferous and energetically assertive — a development that does not bode well for social stability while ensuring the escalation of lawful protest and civil disobedience."

Venezuela’s Criminal Gangs: Warriors of Cultural Revolution
Maria C. Werlau
World Affairs | July/August 2014

When mass protests against the government erupted in Venezuela early in February, murder rates in the country were already shocking—close to twenty-five thousand people dead in the previous year, with ninety-seven percent of cases going unsolved. They would soon get worse, as motorcycle gangs in civilian clothes began attacking and shooting unarmed citizens, particularly youngsters, with the security forces standing by.

Known as colectivos, these paramilitary groups emerged during the presidency of the late Hugo Chávez to guard his revolutionary program. Officially, they are community organizations, but according to Roberto Briceño, the director of the Venezuelan Observatory on Violence, they act as “guerrillas protected by the government.” Widespread reports and extensive film evidence show them killing and beating protesters, destroying vehicles, sacking homes and businesses, and apparently also attacking pro-government forces, presumably in an effort to tarnish the image of peaceful demonstrators, escalate the conflict, and justify strong-arm tactics.

Although rampant crime is not typically allowed by an authoritarian government, colectivos and criminal gangs have enjoyed widespread impunity in Venezuela. Bárbara González, a six-year veteran of the country’s intelligence service (SEBIN) who deserted last February, affirmed over Colombian radio that the “urban guerrillas” are mostly criminals armed by the government and coached by the Colombian terrorist group FARC, and that all security forces, including police and SEBIN, have orders to give them free rein. A former Cuban intelligence agent who served in Venezuela, Uberto Mario, reported that Cuba recruits criminals from poor neighborhoods for the tupamaro, a radical Marxist group that predates Chávez and is now considered part of the colectivos. They are trained to destabilize Venezuelan society and contain opposition and unrest. Mario affirms that Cuban agents recruit them and that, after receiving instruction in Marxism-Leninism in Caracas, they are sent to Cuba to learn how to “kill and repress.”

Perhaps attempting to provide political cover for sending organized criminals to train in Cuba, in August 2013, Venezuela’s vice minister of the interior spoke on television of discussing with members of two hundred and eighty criminal bands (of around ten thousand members) a government program to provide financial assistance “to those giving up their arms.” About six weeks later, in October, the vice minister for citizen safety acknowledged that delinquents voluntarily giving up their weapons were being sent to Cuba for rehabilitation, after which they would join the labor force. Coincidentally, she announced the deployment of twelve thousand more “soldiers” to the streets to support police. A truer picture emerged in March from former Venezuelan intelligence agents and sources with direct access to active officers of the Venezuelan armed forces. They told the Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald that Cubans, including around twenty high-ranking officers at the presidential palace in Caracas, were directing the repression of protesters and coordinating the paramilitary groups.

Venezuela and Cuba have had an exceptionally close relationship since Chávez became president of Venezuela, in 1999. Hundreds of joint economic and political projects tightly link the two countries and deploy thousands of Cuban “advisers” to Venezuela while providing an estimated $10 billion to $12 billion a year in subsidies to the Cuban economy. Both countries have spearheaded an economic and political regional integration project known as ALBA—the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America­—that has brought the revolutionary program to a growing number of nations of Latin America and the Caribbean. Officially known as “twenty-first century socialism,” it is essentially Marxism-Leninism adapted to the region and present circumstances.

The key to understanding why the Venezuelan government would promote a crime pandemic lies in examining Marxist theories that hold that the bourgeoisie and the proletariat must be unnaturally forced into economic equality. The Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci held that cultural hegemony was the way to bring to power a new proletariat—one that will have many criminals at the top. His “long march through the culture” targets the traditional family and gradually engulfs schools, churches, the media, civic organizations, and all of society. Because Christianized Western culture stands in the way of the envisioned communist order, it must be conquered by a radical social and cultural transformation. A Robin Hood–style wealth redistribution empowers the lower classes, weakens middle and upper classes, and promotes class war. Empowering criminal gangs to kill, kidnap, rob, and extort weakens civil society and wears down fundamental Western values, such as the sanctity of life and the right to private property. Other tools of social fragmentation help this along, such as drug trafficking and support of terror groups like FARC; strong evidence links both to the highest Venezuelan officials and members of the country’s armed forces.

The vacuum created when crime vanquishes rule of law allows a militarized state to step in with greater powers, as society, fearful and anxious, consents to the withdrawal of civil rights in return for the renewed stability. Violent crime also provides a powerful distraction from the radical changes simultaneously taking place. And the corrosion of morale caused by uncontrolled criminality pushes into exile those who oppose the changing socioeconomic conditions most strenuously—members of the stakeholding upper and middle classes. Since Hugo Chávez became the country’s president, an estimated one million Venezuelans, 3.5 percent of the population, have fled; this includes half of the nation’s Jewish community, particularly targeted by the regime.

Poverty as state policy has been a key element of the Castro-Chavist revolutionary blueprint. Extreme poverty is at first mitigated with government handouts—to create political loyalty, economic dependence, and a sense of hope anchored in the state welfare. (The irony is that these qualities discourage work and entrepreneurship, the actual roads to overcoming poverty.) Along with these dependencies comes indoctrination in class warfare. On February 25, 2013, Venezuela’s minister of education, Héctor Rodríguez, used standard class war bombast when he declared on television that elevating citizens from poverty did not mean “making them middle class, so they can then pretend to join the filthy.” (“Filthy” is the Spanish “escuálido,” a derisive term used frequently by government officials.)

General Guaicaipuro Lameda, former head of Venezuela’s powerful state-owned petroleum monopoly PDVSA, opened a window onto the government’s objectives when he related in a 2012 interview that ten years earlier Jorge Giordani, then and current finance minister of Venezuela, explained to him the rationale behind economic policies that did not appear to make sense. The revolution, Giordani confessed, was actually preparing a cultural transformation that would take around thirty years to achieve and would require keeping the most needy Venezuelans poor, yet hopeful. Lameda also said that Fidel Castro had expressed the same philosophy when he told him that Cuba needed just $4 billion a year from Venezuela because “more would be a hindrance, as people would start to live well and the poverty rhetoric would then die out.” Upon realizing that this plan required keeping the poor dependent while the other classes were brought down, General Lameda quit his prominent job.

According to this road map, when society is successfully “equalized” downward, most if not all capital and means of production will be in the hands of the state, i.e., the ruling elite. By the time this process is completed, the intelligence service (fashioned after Cuba’s) will have had years of experience to contain any remaining opposition. The armed volunteer militia, made up of eight hundred thousand fervent chavistas trained “to defend the revolution,” will be folded into the regular armed forces, which by then will be sufficiently purged and intimidated into submission. At this point, if need be, the paramilitary and criminal gangs that have been allowed to create the fear and disorder that justify authoritarianism would be absorbed or neutralized and disarmed. In a move intended to cut crime, but which, in effect, curbs future resistance, gun sales to civilians in Venezuela were forbidden in June 2009 and all gun stores closed down.

In Cuba, totalitarianism was consolidated in the early 1960s much more quickly than in Venezuela, with the Cold War serving as a booster. A popular regime replaced a hated dictatorship and was able to implant terror quickly with mass executions and political imprisonment. “Twenty-first-century socialism,” the brainchild of Fidel Castro and the late Hugo Chávez, is predicated on gradually co-opting constitutional mechanisms, usurping the democratic process, and dismantling individual liberties. Rhetorical mantras are devised to disguise what is actually taking place: Chávez’s successor as president, Nicolás Maduro, saturates his speeches with “God,” “peace,” “love,” and “dialogue,” even as he derides and insults the opposition. Maduro must know the script well—a high-ranking former Cuban intelligence analyst living in hiding in the US, who goes by the pseudonym “Huberto,” asserts that he trained in Cuba as a Communist agent.

Class war has been at the forefront of the regime’s steady radicalization. Although Chávez became president in 1999 by insisting he was not a socialist, after a decade in power, he was defiantly roaring that the revolution was “taking absolutely all power to totally eliminate the bourgeoisie from all political and economic space.” It took years of class warfare by deed and word for him to decide to walk around Caracas tailed by TV cameras, in February 2010, finger-pointing small businesses for immediate confiscation.

The strategic manual for this modern brand of socialism was a creation of the Castro brothers, supported by the huge oil wealth at Chávez’s disposal. Its ideological nest is the Foro de São Paulo, the forum co-founded in 1990 by Fidel Castro and the future Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to reframe and revive the radical left after the fall of Soviet Communism. The goal is to advance toward a radical Marxist-Leninist transformation of society not by armed struggle, but gradually by undermining capitalism, democracy, and bourgeois institutions and values from within. Its collective expressions are the overtly anti-US regional integration project known as the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) and the recently created Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which excludes the US and Canada and seeks to bypass and eventually replace the Organization of American States.

Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua—all three ALBA members—are well on the revolutionary way, having, among other things, welcomed Cuban health “collaborators,” proposed or passed constitutional amendments to strengthen or perpetuate the president in power, weakened the judicial branch, expanded the role of the state in the economy, and eroded press freedoms and the rule of law. Four small island-nations of the Caribbean are also part of the alliance. Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic are not part of ALBA (at least not officially, for now) and are contained by stronger democratic frameworks at home, but their presidents are members of the Foro de São Paulo. According to “Huberto,” an eighteen-year officer of Cuban intelligence, Cuba has recruited, or has relations with, “all” Latin American leftist leaders, even the less radical, and helps them attain positions of power and influence. It is, thus, not surprising that almost all Latin American leaders have remained silent in the face of egregious human rights violations in Venezuela and Cuba and support having the Cuban dictatorship accepted as a credible regional actor.

Many Venezuelans, including high-ranking civil servants, members of the military, and prominent politicians, have denounced Cuba’s infiltration of the highest levels of Venezuela’s government, especially with its methods of social control, learned from former KGB and Stasi mentors and perfected over fifty-five years. In a 1971 speech at the University of Concepción, in Chile, Fidel Castro showed the role deceit played in acquiring power when he acknowledged that the struggle he led against the Batista dictatorship could not have been overtly socialist given the level of political “awareness” in Cuban society when he first took over. But, he insisted, “the path to revolution means precisely that each opportunity to advance must be exploited” and this will depend on “the degree of development of the social conscience and the existing correlation of forces.”

The chavista plan to destroy free markets and private enterprise involves stringent exchange restrictions, irrational price controls, and widespread confiscations of businesses and agricultural land; the result is declining production—private and public—and lower export capacity, growing dependence on imports, and extreme scarcity of even basic products. Therefore, despite enormous oil revenues and the largest known reserves in the world (oil was nationalized decades ago), Venezuela is today a basket case. It has the highest inflation rate in the world (officially fifty-six percent, but this figure is too low, according to experts), an accumulated $38.5 billion in debts with China, depleted monetary reserves, successive devaluations, rampant waste and corruption in the state sector and at all levels of government, and years of extensive capital flight and collapsed foreign investment.

The updated revolutionary model has had to adjust to instant mass communications and stronger international recognition of human rights than the Castro regime initially faced. Yet terror remains an indispensable component. The paramilitary gangs seem fashioned after the Rapid Response Brigades of club-wielding thugs sent to repress the internal opposition or attempted public protests in Cuba. However, at this pre-totalitarian stage in Venezuela, when a full police state is not yet in place, these state-bred criminal gangs could also turn out to be the Achilles’ heel of the regime.

Rampant criminal violence and erosion of civil freedoms combined with a severe economic crisis is looking more and more untenable to Venezuelans. Students, followed by citizens of all ages, have taken to the streets massively and stayed there for weeks, bravely defying bullets, beatings, and tear gas. To date, at least forty-two have been killed as a direct result of the demonstrations, and dozens have been tortured, hundreds injured, countless arrested, and scores teargassed even inside their homes. The extensive graphic evidence of brutality is compelling and amply exposed in social and traditional media. Rather than contain unrest, it has fueled protest and resistance; moreover, it has generated widespread international outrage.

To extinguish the revolt, the Maduro regime has intensified repressive tactics by unparalleled means of state-sponsored violence. But conditions in Venezuela present a challenge for which even Cuba’s masters of repression have no experience. That is to the opposition’s advantage; any chance of saving Venezuela from totalitarian control requires a clear understanding of the nature of the struggle and a search for effective strategic responses.

Maria C. Werlau is the executive director of the nonprofit project Cuba Archive, based in New Jersey.


What really drove the children north
The Wall Street Journal | July 21, 2014

In a nation where it is not uncommon to hear the other side of the Rio Grande referred to as “South America,” it is amusing to observe the recent wave of self-anointed experts in the U.S. opining authoritatively on the causes of child migration from Central America.

Some of these are talking heads of conservative punditry who seem to know zip about the region and show no interest in learning. They wing it, presumably because they believe their viewers and listeners will never know the truth and don’t care. What matters is proving that the large number of unaccompanied minors piling up at the border is President Barack Obama’s fault for somehow signaling that they would not be turned back. The origins of the problem are deemed unimportant, and the fate of the children gets even less attention.

Thank heaven for four-star Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, who knows something about war and failed states and now heads the U.S. military’s Southern Command, which keeps an eye on the region. He has spent time studying the issue and is speaking up. Conservatives might not like his conclusions, in which the U.S. bears significant responsibility, but it is hard to accuse a four-star of a “blame America first” attitude.

To make the “Obama did it” hypothesis work, it is necessary to defeat the claim that the migrants are fleeing intolerable violence. This has given rise to the oft-repeated line that “those countries” have always been very violent.

That is patently untrue. Central America is significantly more dangerous than it was before it became a magnet for rich, powerful drug capos. Back in the early 1990s, drugs from South America flowed through the Caribbean to the U.S. But when a U.S. interdiction strategy in the Caribbean raised costs, trafficking shifted to land routes up the Central American isthmus and through Mexico. With Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s war on the cartels, launched in 2007, the underworld gradually slithered toward the poorer, weaker neighboring countries. Venezuela, under Hugo Chávez, began facilitating the movement of cocaine from producing countries in the Andes to the U.S., also via Central America.

In a July 8 essay in the Military Times headlined “Central America Drug War a Dire Threat to U.S. National Security,” Gen. Kelly explained that he has spent 19 months “observing the transnational organized crime networks” in the region. His conclusion: “Drug cartels and associated street gang activity in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which respectively have the world’s number one, four and five highest homicide rates, have left near-broken societies in their wake.” He noted that while he works on this problem throughout the region, these three countries, also known as the Northern Triangle, are “far and away the worst off.”

With a homicide rate of 90 per 100,000 in Honduras and 40 per 100,000 in Guatemala, life in the region is decidedly rougher than “declared combat zones” like Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the general says the rate is 28 per 100,000.

How did the region become a killing field? His diagnosis is that big profits from the illicit drug trade have been used to corrupt public institutions in these fragile democracies, thereby destroying the rule of law. In a “culture of impunity,” the state loses its legitimacy and sovereignty is undermined. Criminals have the financial power to overwhelm the law “due to the insatiable U.S. demand for drugs, particularly cocaine, heroin and now methamphetamines, all produced in Latin America and smuggled into the U.S.”

Gen. Kelly agreed that not all violence in the region is linked to the drug trade with the U.S., but “perhaps 80% of it is.” That’s because of the insidiousness of the vast resources of kingpins. It’s “the malignant effects of immense drug trafficking through these non-consumer nations that is responsible for accelerating the breakdown in their national institutions . . . and eventually their entire society as evidenced today by the flow of children north and out of the conflictive transit zone.”

That migrant children are drawn to the U.S. when they decide to flee might very well have to do with the fact that they believe they will be able to stay because of an asylum law for children passed in 2008 during the presidency of George W. Bush. But refugees from the Northern Triangle are seeking other havens as well. Marc Rosenblum of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington reports that, from 2008 to 2013, Honduran, Guatemalan and Salvadoran applications for asylum in neighboring countries — mostly Mexico and Costa Rica — are up 712 percent.

Gen. Kelly wrote that the children are “a leading indicator of the negative second- and third-order impacts on our national interests.” Whether the problem can be solved by working harder to bottle up supply, as the general suggested, or requires rethinking prohibition, this crisis was born of American self-indulgence. Solving it starts with taking responsibility for the demand for drugs that fuels criminality.


Should Migrants Fleeing Gang Violence in Central America Be Accorded Refugee Status?
Sylvia Longmire
Small Wars Journal | June 26, 2014

In early June 2014, the newest major surge of migrants seeking safety, opportunity, and family hit the southwest border of the United States. These overwhelming numbers of immigrants entering or attempting to enter the country illegally aren’t unprecedented; the Mariel boatlift brought over 120,000 Cuban nationals to south Florida in the course of just a few months in 1980. But what is setting the current influx apart is the sheer number of unaccompanied children who make up the majority of the tidal wave.

According to US government estimates, over 52,000 unaccompanied alien children (UACs) were apprehended by the US Border Patrol between October 2013 and mid-June 2014. This is more than twice the amount that were apprehended in all of fiscal year 2013, and that number is expected to top 60,000 by the end of this fiscal year.[1] The vast majority of them were from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—countries that have seen a different kind of surge; specifically, a dramatic escalation in violence perpetrated by maras, or local gangs, and Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) that have infiltrated this region. During Congressional testimony in June 2014, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security Michael McCaul said US Customs and Border Protection estimated that more than 150,000 UACs could attempt to cross our southwest border illegally in fiscal year 2015.[2]

An enormous debate is raging over the true cause(s) of the immigration surge—misinformation being spread in Central America about the quick release by US authorities of families with children (and more so UACs), or the deteriorating security and economic conditions in these immigrants’ home countries. But one debate that hasn’t been nearly as loud—and could dramatically alter the way we view and legally treat many of these UACs—is whether or not individuals fleeing drug-related violence are simply illegal immigrants, or if they should actually qualify for internationally-recognized refugee status.

The United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”[3] Under US law, a refugee is “located outside of the United States, is of special humanitarian concern to the United States, demonstrates that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, is not firmly resettled in another country, and is admissible to the United States.”[4]

The words “special humanitarian concern” imply at first glance that the US government has some leeway in applying the definition of refugee. Title 8 of US Code, section 1157 (Annual admission of refugees and admission of emergency situation refugees) states, “Admissions…shall be allocated among refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States in accordance with a determination made by the President after appropriate consultation.”[5] The President can also raise any caps on the number of refugees admitted into the United States in the case of an emergency or if he has any “grave humanitarian concerns.”

The main question then becomes whether or not some—or all—UACs and their family members from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador could qualify for refugee status based on their individual circumstances. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) makes it clear that there is a distinct difference between migrants and refugees. According to the organization, “Migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families.” It continued, “Refugees have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom.” But where the area grows gray for Central American migrants is in the statement, “They have no protection from their own state—indeed it is often their own government that is threatening to persecute them. If other countries do not let them in, and do not help them once they are in, then they may be condemning them to death.”[6]

There is no question that hundreds of thousands of migrants from Mexico and all points south embark on the deadly journey north to the US border to seek better employment and educational opportunities. The areas they come from are often very poor, and they cannot earn the kind of income that would comfortably support a family. This is why so many illegal immigrants living and working here in the United States send the lion’s share of their earnings back to their home countries in the form of remittances. According to the Pew Research Center, Mexican migrants’ remittances from the United States to their family members back home amounted to $22 billion in 2013. Money sent to all other Spanish-speaking Latin American countries totaled $31.8 billion for the same year.[7]

Clearly these individuals don’t qualify as refugees, but what about those who are truly eligible for and claim asylum? As the violence in Mexico has increased, so has the number of asylum applications filed each year. In 2005, there were 2,670 filed, and that number rose to 2,818 in 2006. By 2010, applications had increased to 3,231, and nearly doubled to 6,133 in fiscal year 2012. However, only 2 percent of requests for Mexico between 2007 and 2011 were granted, compared to 38 percent of requests from Chinese nationals and 89 percent from Armenian applicants.[8] By the end of June 2013, credible fear claims made along the US-Mexico border by all nationalities had reached 14,610 in number (compared to 36,026 nationwide by fiscal year’s end).[9] From October 2010 to the present, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data show that El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and—in smaller numbers—Mexico have tended to be among the top five countries of origin of individuals presenting credible fear claims.[10]

Because of these growing numbers, concern among some US elected officials is that immigrants are abusing the asylum system; specifically, they are being told by coyotes (their human smugglers) or others to claim “credible fear,” which will allow them to stay in the country longer while they go through the often drawn-out determination process and get scheduled for a hearing before an immigration judge. One of the main factors Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and immigration judges will examine in determining whether or not these individuals are true refugees and merit the granting of asylum is the role their home country’s government played in their alleged persecution. And depending on the interpretation, a lack of state protection and government persecution can mean different things.

The governments of Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador desperately want to rid their countries of TCOs and maras, as well as the violence and illegal drugs that go along with them. They have initiated several different strategies to fight these criminal groups, often with US financial support but with varying levels of success. In fact, their efforts have been met mostly with failure, as even the arrests or killings of major TCO figures almost never results in the interruption of operations at the street level, and almost always results in at least a temporary increase in violence.

However, this fight is usually conducted at the highest levels of government. Endemic corruption at the state and especially the municipal level has allowed TCOs to operate in these countries with impunity in many regions. In the case of Mexico, thirteen mayors in the country were targeted and killed in 2010 alone, and in August 2011, the mayor of Zacualpan in Mexico state was beaten to death, ostensibly because he did not adequately follow TCO orders to facilitate their activities. According to, “Because mayors are in charge of determining security policy on a local level—including appointing police chiefs—they are seen as key assets to criminal organizations looking to control police activity in their territory.”[11] This level of government control and intimidation by TCOs has resulted in a situation where many Mexican government officials are completely unable to prevent TCOs from engaging in violent activity, or are fully aware of TCO activities in their cities or towns and choose not to take action because of the financial benefits they receive from TCO members.

Although the previous Mexican administration under President Felipe Calderón denied human rights abuses and kidnapping were being committed by police or the military, the current administration under President Enrique Peña Nieto acknowledges that more than 27,000 people are missing or have disappeared as a result of human rights abuses by Mexican police and/or military.[12] According to Human Rights Watch, at least 30 percent of the missing persons’ cases were committed with the help of the legal authorities.[13] In February 2013, Human Rights Watch released a report finding that Mexico’s security forces have participated in widespread enforced disappearances. The 176-page report, “Mexico’s Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored,” documents nearly 250 “disappearances” during the Calderón’s administration, from December 2006 to December 2012. In 149 of those cases, Human Rights Watch found compelling evidence of enforced disappearances, involving the participation of state agents.[14]

Very similar incidents have been observed repeatedly in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Based on this data, it should be apparent that these countries’ governments are unable in many instances to provide their citizens with any meaningful level of protection or security. At the very least, government and police officials at the state and municipal level are facilitating violence and crimes like kidnapping and extortion being committed against innocent bystanders. But perhaps an easier way to determine if Central American migrants fleeing TCO and gang-related violence should qualify as refugees is to look at more clear-cut persecutions and refugee movements elsewhere in the world.

The ongoing civil war in South Sudan is probably the strongest example of government-instigated oppression and violence. Thousands of people have been killed, including many innocents, and the United Nations estimates that there are approximately half a million South Sudanese refugees currently living in neighboring countries as a result of the conflict. While few communist governments remain in the world, the oppression imposed on citizens of countries like China, North Korea, and Cuba with regards to their freedoms and human rights clearly warrants the refugee designation. Tens of thousands of Syrians are currently fleeing to Europe as a result of political violence in their country.

In order to provide the appropriate protections for refugees who hail from these countries, USCIS, by authority of the Secretary of Homeland Security, can assign Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to applicants who have previously arrived in the United States. According to USCIS, the DHS Secretary “may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.” That status may be granted for temporary country conditions that include ongoing armed conflict (to include civil war), a natural disaster or epidemic, or “other extraordinary or temporary conditions.” Being granted TPS doesn’t create a pathway to citizenship, but someone with that status cannot be deported and does have the right to work.[15]

As expected, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Syria are on the list of TPS-eligible countries. Three Central American countries are on the list as well: El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. However, only immigrants who arrived in the United States before a certain date—aligning with a period of civil strife in these countries—are eligible, and those dates go back over a decade for each. In other words, anyone who has arrived after 2001 from these countries is ineligible for TPS status. What is interesting is that the nature of the TPS program is to protect refugees from temporary country conditions. The political violence that initiated eligibility for El Salvador and Honduras doesn’t exist in that same form anymore; however, the gang and general criminal violence still exists—and has gotten considerably worse. Yet, the dates before which immigrants from those countries must have arrived to be eligible for TPS have not been updated.

Unfortunately, the meaning of “ongoing armed conflict” for DHS and the UN has not kept up with today’s geopolitical realities, particularly in Central America. The definition for most governing bodies hinges on the archaic notion of conflicts between legitimate state actors, which automatically excludes violence perpetrated by TCOs and gangs. But the criminal insurgency that is occurring in Central America has replaced conventional conflict. Small Wars Journal’s John Sullivan wrote in December 2012, “Criminal insurgency is the mechanism of the confrontation with the state that results when relationships between organized crime and the state fall into disequilibrium… Criminal insurgency is different from conventional terrorism and insurgency because the criminal insurgents’ sole political motive is to gain autonomy and economic control over territory.  They do so by hollowing out the state and creating criminal enclaves to secure freedom to maneuver.”[16]

Furthermore, Sullivan states that criminal insurgencies can exist at several levels. Most relevant for this argument are two levels: battles for control of the “parallel state,” which occur within the parallel state’s governance space, but also spill over to affect the public at large and the police and military forces that seek to contain the violence and curb the erosion of governmental legitimacy and solvency, and combat against the state, in which criminal enterprise directly engages the state itself to secure or sustain its independent range of action. TCOs are active belligerents against the state in this scenario.[17] Based on these definitions and concepts, several countries in Central America are experiencing active criminal insurgencies, and thus “ongoing armed conflicts” that are resulting in what has been called a “humanitarian crisis” by President Barack Obama (and several other US politicians) along our southwest border.

In fact, several elected officials have used the term “refugee” in their press releases and other official statements to refer to recently arrived illegal immigrants. In a hearing before Congress on June 24, 2014, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security Michael McCaul stated, “Today on the Southwest border we are facing an escalating refugee crisis.”[18] Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at a June 19 press conference, “Let’s be clear; this is a humanitarian and refugee crisis.”[19]

Even the UNHCR is taking a closer look at the significantly higher numbers of UACs traveling from Central America to the United States. In March 2014, the agency launched a report titled “Children on the Run,” which was based on UNHCR’s work, together with US authorities, to improve the protection screening of unaccompanied and separated children at the southern border, and on individual interviews with over 400 UACs. During his opening statement at the report’s launch, Commissioner Antonio Gutierrez said, “We found that the large majority of these children may very well have international protection concerns – fleeing armed actors, persecution, violence in their communities and abuse in their homes. Most of them had one thing in common – their conviction that their States were unable to protect them.” He continued, “Our central conclusion from the study is therefore that unaccompanied and separated children from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico should generally be screened for international protection needs. We must uphold the human rights of the child as laid out in the relevant international and regional instruments – as well as the right to seek asylum and protection under the 1951 [Refugee] Convention and its 1967 Protocol.”[20]

While there is an argument to be made that at least a good portion of Central American migrants, and especially unaccompanied children, qualify for refugee status—approximately 58 percent, according to that same UNHCR report—determining who those people are is time-consuming and labor-intensive, as evidenced by the extremely overcrowded US Border Patrol processing facilities in south Texas and southern Arizona. But the UNHCR also explains that refugees and migrants travel in a similar manner along the same travel routes. The agency claims that while there are true refugees and asylum seekers mixed in with economic migrants in the Americas, “the percentage is small, [and] they are less easy to identify.”[21]

Then, of course, there are the political ramifications to deal with as a result of casting the refugee blanket over most immigrants crossing the border illegally from these countries. Paul Rexton Kan wrote in October 2011, “Allowing Mexicans to claim asylum could poten­tially open a floodgate of migrants to the United States during a time when there is a very contentious na­tional debate over US immigration laws pertaining to illegal immigrants.” He continued, “On the other hand, to deny the claims of asylum seekers and return them to Mexico, where they might very well be killed, strikes at the heart of American values of justice and humanitarian­ism.”[22]

Unfortunately, the debate over what form that humanitarianism should take has the country split in two. Far-right conservatives have eschewed any form of compromise on passing immigration reform legislation, and are calling for the immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants, regardless of age or dangers in their home countries. Worse yet, any moderate conservatives who attempt to show compassion towards unaccompanied immigrant children or support some type of guest worker program are labeled as traitors to the party. Those on the political left are calling for immediate immigration reform in Congress and using the current crisis on the border as an example of what the failure to pass reform can cause. Some on the far left have called for completely open borders, and claim that border security measures are discriminatory. A 2012 report by Amnesty International stated that “communities living along the border—particularly Latinos and individuals perceived to be of Latino origin, and indigenous communities—are disproportionately affected by a range of immigration control measures, resulting in a pattern of human rights violations.”[23]

The truth is that while a significant number of immigrants—especially unaccompanied children—arriving illegally in the United States from Central America meet the definition of refugees and would likely qualify for relief from removal under international conventions and US law, the US government will be very spare in its use of the term “refugee” for fear of sparking an even bigger crisis. DHS is already dealing with damage control on the heels of reports that many immigrants in detention are saying they heard on the radio or from friends in their home countries that the US government was giving permisos, or permits to stay, to children arriving from Central America. DHS took these rumors seriously enough to have Secretary Jeh Johnson issue an “open letter” to Central American parents advising them that there are no permisos, and that they should not consider allowing their children to make such a dangerous trip.[24]

As long as the violence being committed against Central American citizens and their children is perpetrated by non-state actors like TCOs and gangs, the US government will remain hesitant in granting asylum—and thus refugee status—to individuals attempting to enter the United States illegally. Those who have legal assistance from immigration attorneys who know how to navigate the complex asylum application process will meet with the most success, but many will not have this luxury. And if they make the effort to show up for their immigration hearings or if ICE makes the effort to find them if they abscond, they will most likely be removed to their countries of origin, regardless of the true nature of “ongoing armed conflict” in those countries.

End Notes

[1] “McCaul Opening Statement at Hearing on Unaccompanied Children at Border,” Press Release, US House Committee on Homeland Security, June 24, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,

[4] “Refugees,” US Citizenship and Immigration Services, US Department of Homeland Security,

[5] Title 8 US Code § 1157, Annual admission of refugees and admission of emergency situation refugees.

[6] “Flowing Across Borders,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,

[7] D’vera Cohn, Ana Gonzalez Barrera, and Danielle Cuddington, “Remittances to Latin America Recover—but Not to Mexico,” Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project, November 15, 2013.

[8] Ioan Grillo, “Mexico’s drug-war refugees seek asylum,” Tucson Sentinel, September 15, 2011, accessed June 19, 2013,….

[9] Joel Millman, “GOP Lawmakers Fault Rise in Asylum Seekers Along Southwest Border,” Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2013.

[10] “Mexican and Central American Asylum and Credible Fear Claims: Background and Context,” Immigration Policy Center, American Immigration Council, May 21, 2014.

[11] Elyssa Pachico, “Mayor Killed as Violence Escalates in CHAVEZ, Mexico,”, August 22, 2011.

[12], “A Nun Takes on the Drug War: Consuelo CHAVEZ on Crusading Against Mexican Cartels, Corrupt Police,” November 14, 2013.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Human Rights Watch, “Mexico’s Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored, February 20, 2013.

[15] “Temporary Protected Status,” US Citizenship and Immigration Services, US Department of Homeland Security,

[16] John Sullivan, “Criminal Insurgency: Narcocultura, Social Banditry, and Information Operations,” Small Wars Journal, December 3, 2012.

[17] Ibid.

[18] McCaul Opening Statement, June 24, 2014.

[19] “Sens. Menendez, Durbin, Hirono, and Reps. Gutierrez and Roybal-Allard Discuss Humanitarian and Refugee Children Crisis at the Border,” Press Release, official website of Senator Robert Menendez, June 19, 2014.

[20] “Opening remarks by António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; Launch of UNHCR’s report ‘Children on the Run,’” Statements by High Commissioner, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, March 12, 2014.

[21] “Mixed Migration in the Americas,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,

[22] Paul Rexton Kan, Mexico’s Narco-Refugees: The Looming Challenge for US National Security, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, October 2011.

[23] Michael Martinez and Gustavo Valdes, “Human rights group cites violations on U.S.-Mexico border,”, March 28, 2012.

[24] “An Open Letter to the Parents of Children Crossing Our Southwest Border,” Press Release, US Department of Homeland Security, June 23, 2014.

Sylvia Longmire is a former Air Force officer and Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, where she specialized in counterintelligence, counterespionage, and force protection analysis. After being medically retired in 2005, Ms. Longmire worked for four years as a Senior Intelligence Analyst for the California State Threat Assessment Center, providing daily situational awareness to senior state government officials on southwest border violence and Mexico’s drug war. She received her Master’s degree from the University of South Florida in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and she is an award-winning columnist for Homeland Security Today magazine and contributing editor for Breitbart Texas. Ms. Longmire was a guest expert on The History Channel’s “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded,” and has consulted for the producers of National Geographic Channel’s “Border Wars” and “Drugs, Inc.” series. She is regularly interviewed by national, international, and local media outlets for her knowledge and expertise on border security issues. Her first book, Cartel, was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and she has written for numerous peer-reviewed journals and online publications. Her newest book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer was published in April 2014.

ISIS-4 Aug 14

Posted: August 4, 2014 in ISIS

From Theory to Action: The Rationale behind the Re-establishment of the Caliphate
Michael W. S. Ryan
Terrorism Monitor | Volume: 12 Issue: 15 – July 25, 2014

According to most public analysis, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or its latest iteration as the Islamic State (IS), is a serious regional threat but not yet a direct threat to the United States on the order of 9/11. [1] Reforms instituted after 9/11 have protected the American public for the most part, but the system struggles with a threat that is serious but not imminent. In the case of ISIS, it might well be that the United States is within the Islamic State’s lengthy planning cycle for attack – and the blow could fall first on the world petroleum market through subversion of regional partners such as Saudi Arabia.

Relationship to al-Qaeda

Before determining what kind of threat the IS poses to the United States, one must first define what it is and what strategy it is likely following. Despite the well-known rift with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, ISIS under any of its previous names has never been more than a nominal member of al-Qaeda, occupying a space somewhere between a fellow traveler and an affiliate. On October 17, 2004, after months of negotiation, Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi pledged allegiance (bay‘ah) to Bin Laden. However, al-Qaeda leaders could try to persuade but could never give direct orders to al-Zarqawi or his successors. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, or “Caliph Ibrahim” as he now styles himself, claims never to have sworn allegiance to al-Zawahiri after Bin Laden’s death. Thus, IS does not consider itself a splinter of al-Qaeda. Instead, the Islamic State is a rival to al-Qaeda’s leadership within the larger “jihadist movement.” In its area of operations, ISIS has been more successful than al-Qaeda, while the Islamic State is the fulfillment of al-Zawahiri’s constantly foiled dream as expressed in his 2001 book, Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner:

The jihadist movement must build its plan on the basis of controlling a portion of land in the heart of the Islamic world in which to establish a defensible Islamic state from which it will launch its battle to restore the Rightly Guided Caliphate according to the program of prophethood (manhaj al-nubuwah). Just as armies cannot achieve victory except through the occupation of a portion of land, likewise the jihadist Islamic movement will not achieve victory against the global infidel alliance without possessing a base in the heart of the Islamic world. Without the establishment of a caliphate in the heart of the Islamic world, everything we have reviewed, the means and the plans of assembling and mobilizing the ummah, will be left hanging in the air without a concrete result or demonstrable benefit… [2]

Controlling a portion of land proved elusive in the face of an American campaign using weapons for which al-Qaeda has no defense. The closest al-Qaeda has come to its goal has been through its most dangerous affiliate, the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Al-Suri’s Analysis of the Failure of the 1982 Insurrection in Syria

To appreciate ISIS’s approach to its operations in Syria and Iraq, it is useful to review the record of the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood insurrection in Syria that ended in utter failure. Syrian jihad ideologue Abu Mus‘ab al-Suri established his reputation in jihadist circles by writing a strategic history of this insurrection against Hafiz al-Assad. Al-Suri participated as part of the self-styled “Fighting Vanguard” and was in a position to provide his observations on the reasons for the failure (for which he accepted a share of responsibility). He published these observations separately in short articles that formed the basis for jihadist training in Afghanistan and elsewhere. [3] These lessons are certainly known to the leaders of the major jihadist groups in Syria and have been influential in Iraq since al-Zarqawi launched his “jihad.” [4] Al-Suri identified 17 general “bitter lessons” of the failed insurgency and one hopeful lesson – the possibility of mobilizing a Sunni Muslim population for “Islamic jihadist revolution.”

The overarching reason for the Brothers’ failure, according to al-Suri, was the lack of a comprehensive strategy before the insurrection was launched. ISIS has been following a clear plan based on the same strategic outline that inspires AQAP. This plan, given in broad strokes by Abu Bakr Naji and in keeping with Maoist dictates, urges local commanders to compose detailed plans based on the salient economic, geographic and social aspects of the area targeted for insurrection. [5] ISIS has both an overarching plan and different detailed approaches in Syria and Iraq – harsh in its relations with other groups in Syria and more accommodating in Iraq. It is worth noting that Naji advised his readers/students (who often came from urban settings) to study books on the sociology of tribal groups that could end up becoming allies. Tribal groups have become a major factor in both Syria and Iraq.

Al-Suri urges jihadists to avoid weaknesses such as failing to explain the ideology and objectives of the revolution; low political and revolutionary awareness and weak religious indoctrination within the population and recruits. Clearly, ISIS has made its ideology, objectives and required indoctrination trademarks of its operations in response to al-Suri’s guidance.

A key weakness noted by al-Suri, the practice of having jihadists spread in numerous competing organizations, is one of ISIS’s intractable problems. Its attacks on fellow jihadist groups in Syria form major propaganda material for competing jihadists and other rivals. ISIS’s call for other groups to offer allegiance to the newly proclaimed caliph is aimed at this problem but is far from being able to solve it. In Iraq, an important number of its allies do not share the movement’s ideology. Over time, this weakness, if not ameliorated, could become an existential liability for the Islamic State.

Another ISIS liability often cited in the Western press, its relatively small fighting force, could be considered a strength. Al-Suri points out that when the first bullets began to fly in Syria in 1982, the Muslim Brothers accepted a large number of recruits whose lack of preparation or dedication to a central ideology weakened the group’s effectiveness. Al-Suri characterized this as a dependence on “quantity rather than quality” in recruiting. ISIS has chosen to keep its ranks small and highly flexible while depending on allied groups from local areas to provide additional manpower to ease the consolidation of captured territory and increase its capability to conduct further terrorist attacks.

Other causes of the failure of the 1982 Syrian insurrection addressed by ISIS include the inability to communicate ideas internally and externally; dependence on outside support rather than self-sufficiency; dealing with neighboring regimes as though they were reliable supporters; maintaining a leadership in exile away from the theater of operations; allowing the leadership to operate openly rather than clandestinely and failing to learn lessons from earlier jihadist insurrections. The point is not that ISIS has excelled in these areas; but their actions demonstrate that they thought through these issues and applied corrective actions in many cases. For example, they make use of outside sources, but they are mostly self-sufficient for resources.

In his eighth “bitter lesson,” al-Suri criticizes the Muslim Brotherhood for allowing its fighters to become mired in a war of attrition with the powerful central regime on its terms rather than using proven terrorist and guerrilla tactics. ISIS’s leaders appear to have decided that they would take the criticism of other jihadists when they minimized operations against Bashar al-Assad’s forces inside Syria and devoted themselves to setting up a rudimentary state straddling the border with Iraq instead. Their pragmatic willingness to sell Assad oil from captured fields and to attack other jihadist groups has prompted conspiracy theories that ISIS is a product of the Assad regime and is working closely with it. The reality is simpler: ISIS wanted a state of its own over any other objective.

ISIS has demonstrated various levels of success in addressing the remaining “bitter lessons.” Unlike the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS has successfully regionalized its operations. One may well criticize ISIS’s handling of populations under its control, but it has a deliberate system of governance, which has enjoyed mixed success. It has applied its harsh interpretation of Islamic law in conquered areas, but it has also promoted vaccination campaigns and even a consumer protection service. It has also shown the ability to step back from its harshest practices on occasion. [6]

Al-Suri noted that the Brotherhood had not been able to use religious scholars to mobilize the people. Although the most influential Salafi-Jihadist scholars such as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qutada al-Filastini continue to support al-Qaeda, ISIS has been able to engage the allegiance of lesser figures such as Abu Humam al-Athari. As early as July 21, 2013, al-Athari wrote an essay not only arguing for al-Baghdadi’s role as the Amir al-Mu’minin (Commander of the Faithful), but also asserting that he is the most qualified to sit “in the caliph’s seat.” [7] The cleric provided a genealogy tracing al-Baghdadi’s lineage to the Prophet Muhammad and asserting that the leader is a member of the noble Quraysh tribe, as well other attributes associated with the ideal Muslim leader that neither al-Zawahiri nor Bin Laden could claim. One may judge how powerful al-Athari’s arguments were by the fierce refutations issued by ISIS opponents. In this way, al-Baghdadi engaged at least part of the religious community to lay the groundwork for his self-declaration as caliph almost a year later. Successfully inspiring al-Athari and other religious figures in Syria, Iraq and beyond addresses another shortcoming cited by al-Suri, the failure to transform preachers into active jihadists.

One of the most important of the “bitter lessons” cited by al-Suri was the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood to mobilize Sunni Muslim Arab tribes and Kurds. There is little doubt that a great measure of ISIS’s success in both Syria and in Iraq is due to its alliances with tribes. [8] Without tribal allies, the relatively small ISIS force would struggle to gain territory and find it impossible to hold it. At the same time, the tribes will always have their own agenda, which will diverge from ISIS’s goals, especially if ISIS stops winning. The Kurds have resisted efforts by ISIS to co-opt them and will fight the jihadists when necessary. The best the Islamic State can hope to gain from the Kurds in current conditions is a stalemate. Taking on the patriotic Kurds in their own homeland would be a dangerous gamble.

The Strategy: Next Steps

We should expect IS to continue to foil predictions. However, if they are following Abu Bakr Naji’s strategy for establishing an emirate, we should be able to see the broad strokes of the Islamic State’s strategic thinking. [9] Naji’s strategy has been adopted by AQAP’s leader, Nasir Abd al-Karim al-Wuhayshi, and extolled by another influential ISIS supporter, Abu Sa‘ad al-Amili. To paraphrase the AQAP leader’s advice to other Muslims about judging al-Qaeda, we should look at Naji’s book, Idarah al-Tawahhush (Administration of Savagery), and look at what ISIS is doing before deciding whether this jihadist group is following a rational plan or simply running boldly on a tightrope over a deep canyon.

Naji’s plan would have ISIS conquering areas after the mujahideen have driven out central government forces by using terrorist tactics and mobilizing the population to their side by polarizing society using money and sectarian politics. They would place these areas under the control of a primitive government one step above a state of nature, which would be accepted by people desperate for security. The mujahideen would introduce more government services over time and expand these areas while defending them from government counterattacks by arming the local population where possible and continuing mujahideen guerrilla operations to compel government forces to defend fixed locations, such as the capital, major religious shrines and economic targets. They would expand each area they control and merge them with others under their control or controlled by ex-military or tribal groups. They would offer the tribes booty taken during their insurgency to gain their allegiance.

As a real state begins to appear viable, the mujahideen leaders would send out a worldwide call for administrative experts, managers, judges and others who might help govern a complex state. We know from abundant reporting and IS’s first magazine Dabiq that ISIS and now IS have already engaged in all these practices and more in Naji’s playbook. This does not mean ISIS is following Naji as a recipe, but it does mean that more attention needs to be paid to Naji’s work as experts devise a strategy to defeat ISIS without the use of U.S. military ground forces. More importantly, if the Islamic State is following Naji we should expect them to focus on undermining Saudi Arabia’s ruling family and developing a plan to disrupt the flow of energy to the world’s economies from the Arabian Peninsula. We should also expect the Islamic State to eventually inspire attacks inside Europe and the United States, with AQAP apparently ready to help in both endeavors if the opportunity arises.

Dr. Michael W. S. Ryan is an independent consultant and researcher on Middle Eastern security issues and a Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation. He is the author of Decoding Al-Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America (Columbia University Press, 2013).


1. This article is based on a presentation the author delivered at a recent symposium at the U.S. Naval War College’s Center for Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups.

2. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Knights under the Prophet’s Banner (Fursan Tahta Rayah al-Nabi), 2nd ed., As Sahab Publishers, p. 215, See also Michael W. S. Ryan, Decoding Al-Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle against America, New York, Columbia University Press, 2013, p.72.

3. Al-Suri, Mulahazat Hawla al-Tajribah al-Jihadiyah fi Suriya (Observations concerning the jihadist experience in Syria),

4. Compare Murad Batal al-Shishani, “Jabhat al-Nusra’s New Syria Strategy” (in Arabic), al-Hayat, January 14, 2013, (English trans. by Al-Monitor,

5. See Abu Bakr Naji, Idarah al-Tawahhush: Akhtar Marhalah Satamurru biha al-Ummah (The Administration of savagery: the most dangerous phase through which the ummah will pass),

6. For an analysis of the soft and hard aspects of ISIS’s governance, see Aaron Zelin, “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Has a Consumer Protection Office,” The Atlantic, June 13, 2014,

7. See Abu Humam al-Athari, Madd al-Ayadi li-Bay’ah al-Baghdadi (Extend hands in allegiance to al-Baghdadi), July 21, 2013. This essay may be found on the Free Syrian Army’s website, but is also available in a number of formats on various online storage sites, e.g.,

8. For an analysis of the relationship between ISIS and tribes in Iraq, see Nicholas A. Heras, “The Tribal Component of Iraq’s Sunni Rebellion: The General Military Council for Iraqi Revolutionaries,” Terrorism Monitor, June 27, 2014. For tribes in Syria, see Aaron Zelin, “Al-Qaeda in Syria: A Closer Look at ISIS,” parts I & II, Policy Watch 2137 & 2138, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 10-11, 2013.

9. See also Alistair Crooke, “The ISIS’ ‘Management of Savagery’ in Iraq,” Huffington Post, June 30, 2014,


While West Dithers, ISIS Creates Facts on the Ground
Max Boot
Commentary Magazine | 08.04.2014

“ISIS now controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations. It possesses the means to threaten its neighbors on multiple fronts, demonstrating a military effectiveness much greater than many observers expected.”

So wrote my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Janine Davidson on July 24. And that was before this weekend’s reports that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria had routed Kurdish fighters from the town of Sinjar near the Iraq-Syria border–one of the few border posts it did not already control–and that it may have taken control of the Mosul dam, which if blown up could flood much of northern Iraq with a 65-foot wave.

Other reports indicate that ISIS has taken control of a Syrian oil field near Homs. As the Washington Post notes in a very comprehensive round-up of depressing news: “Experts estimate the group is pocketing as much as $3 million per day in oil revenue by selling off resources on black markets in the greater Levant.” Oh and ISIS also just staged an attack in yet another country–Lebanon.

In short, the news is about as bad as it could be. The question that remains is: What is the U.S. doing about it? So far President Obama has dispatched 825 military personnel to Iraq to make a survey of the situation and to conduct some liaison work with the Iraqis in two headquarters. That’s about it, aside from some fiery rhetoric from Washington denouncing ISIS excesses. One wonders if the president is once again assuming that denouncing something is the same thing as doing something about it.

There are no air strikes, no Special Operations raids, no attempts to rally Sunni tribesmen to resist their new overlords. Granted, one should not rush willy-nilly into action before gaining an accurate assessment of the situation and deploying the resources necessary to be successful. That is why, for example, the Bush administration did not start bombing Afghanistan until weeks after the 9/11 attacks. But one fears that this time around the U.S. is not preparing a devastating response–or any meaningful response at all–to the alarming expansion of Islamist terrorist control in Iraq and Syria.

One fears that Washington is busy analyzing while ISIS is altering facts on the ground. And that eventually we will hear about Iraq the same thing we have been hearing about Syria: that the situation is so grim that there is nothing we can do about it. That, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy–the less we do, the worse the situation gets, and the less likely we are to intervene in any form.


ISIS Hasn’t Gone Anywhere—and It’s Getting Stronger
Janine Davidson and Emerson Brooking
Defense in Depth | July 24, 2014

Amid dangerous escalation in eastern Ukraine following the MH17 tragedy and a widening war in Gaza, it’s easy to dismiss last month’s lightning offensive into Iraq by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq’s (ISIS) as “old news.” Unfortunately, as global attention has shifted elsewhere, ISIS has only grown more virulent. The self-proclaimed caliphate has redoubled its efforts in Syria, launching a series of unprecedented offensives last week that now leave it in control of 35 percent of Syrian territory and nearly all of Syria’s oil and gas fields. The tumor is growing.

ISIS has shown remarkable military capability. A full-fledged July 21 counterattack by Syrian government troops failed—on two fronts—to reverse ISIS’ gains. Indeed, as Brett McGurk, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Iraq and Iran, stated in Congressional testimony on July 23, “[ISIS]…is now a full-blown army.”

Meanwhile, these gains from Syria are being used to bolster the war effort in Iraq. As McClatchy reports:

The capture of nearly all Syria’s oil and gas has proved a financial bonanza for the Islamic State, which appears to be trying to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis and Syrians by guaranteeing low oil prices.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based anti-government group, said fuel tankers with Iraqi license plates and driven by Iraqi nationals have entered Syria and reached Al Omar oilfield near Deir el Zour in the last few days, waiting to be filled with oil before they return to Iraq through the territory controlled by the Islamic State.

The observatory said the group is selling oil to Syrian dealers for $12 a barrel, on the condition that those dealers sell them for no more than $18 a barrel to civilians, in an attempt to win support from people living in territories under its control.

That’s not all. As cities fall more firmly under ISIS’ grasp, the jihadists attempt to govern.  They are building and running schools in Syria and delivering “justice” across the Levant.  As the New York Times reports, the result is a mix of public executions and imposition of harsh religious law, supported by a surprising level of order. While ISIS has “removed” old leaders from their positions of power, it has made a practice of compelling mid-level bureaucrats and technocrats to stay through the change in management. As a result, ISIS rule has not been as disruptive as some analysts thought—so long as citizens do what the “caliphate” says.

In Iraq, things are a mess. Government forces have seen little progress in winning back territory. On July 10, ISIS ambushed and captured an Iraqi armor convoy, including several U.S.-made and donated M1A1 main battle tanks. On July 21, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States called for U.S. air strikes against ISIS positions. Meanwhile, according to updated monitoring by the Institute for the Study of War, ISIS continues to close off vectors into Baghdad.

ISIS now controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations. It possesses the means to threaten its neighbors on multiple fronts, demonstrating a military effectiveness much greater than many observers expected. Should ISIS continue this pattern of consolidation and expansion, this terrorist “army” will eventually be able to exert a destabilizing influence far beyond the immediate area.

For now, serious options for the United States remain limited. A decapitation strike targeted against ISIS leader al-Baghdadi could fragment the organization—but he still remains a very elusive target. There are signs that Iraq’s moderate Sunnis are cooling to ISIS rule, but it’s unclear what effect this might have in stemming ISIS’ gains, or how capable they could be in routing ISIS by force.

Overall, news from the region is grim. ISIS is in the process of evolving from jihadi network to outlaw state. Meanwhile, the unprecedented number of foreign fighters who have streamed to Iraq and Syria—some 3,000 of whom have Western passports—will bring their newly tempered ideology and combat experience with them when they return home.

As ISIS turns increasingly to the task of governing, internal pressures on the organization will grow considerably. The uneasy coalition will be strained; damage done to local civic infrastructure and institutions will take its toll. Yet the atrocities committed in ISIS-occupied territory, terrible now, will likely get worse.

In this case, simply “waiting it out” might be a viable strategy, perhaps leaving the work of direct intervention to Iran. After all, Iran has plenty of reasons of its own to stymie ISIS’ spread. But is this a strategy the United States can—or should—accept?

Emerson Brooking is a research associate for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Return of Geopolitics
Mead, Walter Russell
Foreign Affairs. May2014, Vol. 93 Issue 3, p69-79. 11p.

The Revenge of the Revisionist Powers

So far, the year 2014 has been a tumultuous one, as geopolitical rivalries have stormed back to center stage. Whether it is Russian forces seizing Crimea, China making aggressive claims in its coastal waters, Japan responding with an increasingly assertive strategy of its own, or Iran trying to use its alliances with Syria and Hezbollah to dominate the Middle East, old-fashioned power plays are back in international relations.

The United States and the EU, at least, find such trends disturbing. Both would rather move past geopolitical questions of territory and military power and focus instead on ones of world order and global governance: trade liberalization, nuclear nonproliferation, human rights, the rule of law, climate change, and so on. Indeed, since the end of the Cold War, the most important objective of U.S. and EU foreign policy has been to shift international relations away from zero-sum issues toward win-win ones. To be dragged back into old-school contests such as that in Ukraine doesn’t just divert time and energy away from those important questions; it also changes the character of international politics. As the atmosphere turns dark, the task of promoting and maintaining world order grows more daunting.

But Westerners should never have expected old-fashioned geopolitics to go away. They did so only because they fundamentally misread what the collapse of the Soviet Union meant: the ideological triumph of liberal capitalist democracy over communism, not the obsolescence of hard power. China, Iran, and Russia never bought into the geopolitical settlement that followed the Cold War, and they are making increasingly forceful attempts to overturn it. That process will not be peaceful, and whether or not the revisionists succeed, their efforts have already shaken the balance of power and changed the dynamics of international politics.


When the Cold War ended, many Americans and Europeans seemed to think that the most vexing geopolitical questions had largely been settled. With the exception of a handful of relatively minor problems, such as the woes of the former Yugoslavia and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the biggest issues in world politics, they assumed, would no longer concern boundaries, military bases, national self-determination, or spheres of influence.

One can’t blame people for hoping. The West’s approach to the realities of the post-Cold War world has made a great deal of sense, and it is hard to see how world peace can ever be achieved without replacing geopolitical competition with the construction of a liberal world order. Still, Westerners often forget that this project rests on the particular geopolitical foundations laid in the early 1990s.

In Europe, the post-Cold War settlement involved the unification of Germany, the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, and the integration of the former Warsaw Pact states and the Baltic republics into NATO and the EU. In the Middle East, it entailed the dominance of Sunni powers that were allied with the United States (Saudi Arabia, its Gulf allies, Egypt, and Turkey) and the double containment of Iran and Iraq. In Asia, it meant the uncontested dominance of the United States, embedded in a series of security relationships with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, and other allies.

This settlement reflected the power realities of the day, and it was only as stable as the relationships that held it up. Unfortunately, many observers conflated the temporary geopolitical conditions of the post-Cold War world with the presumably more final outcome of the ideological struggle between liberal democracy and Soviet communism. The political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s famous formulation that the end of the Cold War meant "the end of history" was a statement about ideology. But for many people, the collapse of the Soviet Union didn’t just mean that humanity’s ideological struggle was over for good; they thought geopolitics itself had also come to a permanent end.

At first glance, this conclusion looks like an extrapolation of Fukuyama’s argument rather than a distortion of it. After all, the idea of the end of history has rested on the geopolitical consequences of ideological struggles ever since the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel first expressed it at the beginning of the nineteenth century. For Hegel, it was the Battle of Jena, in 1806, that rang the curtain down on the war of ideas. In Hegel’s eyes, Napoleon Bonaparte’s utter destruction of the Prussian army in that brief campaign represented the triumph of the French Revolution over the best army that prerevolutionary Europe could produce. This spelled an end to history, Hegel argued, because in the future, only states that adopted the principles and techniques of revolutionary France would be able to compete and survive.

Adapted to the post-Cold War world, this argument was taken to mean that in the future, states would have to adopt the principles of liberal capitalism to keep up. Closed, communist societies, such as the Soviet Union, had shown themselves to be too uncreative and unproductive to compete economically and militarily with liberal states. Their political regimes were also shaky, since no social form other than liberal democracy provided enough freedom and dignity for a contemporary society to remain stable.

To fight the West successfully, you would have to become like the West, and if that happened, you would become the kind of wishy-washy, pacifistic milquetoast society that didn’t want to fight about anything at all. The only remaining dangers to world peace would come from rogue states such as North Korea, and although such countries might have the will to challenge the West, they would be too crippled by their obsolete political and social structures to rise above the nuisance level (unless they developed nuclear weapons, of course). And thus former communist states, such as Russia, faced a choice. They could jump on the modernization bandwagon and become liberal, open, and pacifistic, or they could cling bitterly to their guns and their culture as the world passed them by.

At first, it all seemed to work. With history over, the focus shifted from geopolitics to development economics and nonproliferation, and the bulk of foreign policy came to center on questions such as climate change and trade. The conflation of the end of geopolitics and the end of history offered an especially enticing prospect to the United States: the idea that the country could start putting less into the international system and taking out more. It could shrink its defense spending, cut the State Department’s appropriations, lower its profile in foreign hotspots — and the world would just go on becoming more prosperous and more free.

This vision appealed to both liberals and conservatives in the United States. The administration of President Bill Clinton, for example, cut both the Defense Department’s and the State Department’s budgets and was barely able to persuade Congress to keep paying U.S. dues to the UN. At the same time, policymakers assumed that the international system would become stronger and wider-reaching while continuing to be conducive to U.S. interests. Republican neo-isolationists, such as former Representative Ron Paul of Texas, argued that given the absence of serious geopolitical challenges, the United States could dramatically cut both military spending and foreign aid while continuing to benefit from the global economic system.

After 9/11, President George W. Bush based his foreign policy on the belief that Middle Eastern terrorists constituted a uniquely dangerous opponent, and he launched what he said would be a long war against them. In some respects, it appeared that the world was back in the realm of history. But the Bush administration’s belief that democracy could be implanted quickly in the Arab Middle East, starting with Iraq, testified to a deep conviction that the overall tide of events was running in America’s favor.

President Barack Obama built his foreign policy on the conviction that the "war on terror" was overblown, that history really was over, and that, as in the Clinton years, the United States’ most important priorities involved promoting the liberal world order, not playing classical geopolitics. The administration articulated an extremely ambitious agenda in support of that order: blocking Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, negotiating a global climate change treaty, striking Pacific and Atlantic trade deals, signing arms control treaties with Russia, repairing U.S. relations with the Muslim world, promoting gay rights, restoring trust with European allies, and ending the war in Afghanistan. At the same time, however, Obama planned to cut defense spending dramatically and reduced U.S. engagement in key world theaters, such as Europe and the Middle East.


All these happy convictions are about to be tested. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, whether one focuses on the rivalry between the EU and Russia over Ukraine, which led Moscow to seize Crimea; the intensifying competition between China and Japan in East Asia; or the subsuming of sectarian conflict into international rivalries and civil wars in the Middle East, the world is looking less post-historical by the day. In very different ways, with very different objectives, China, Iran, and Russia are all pushing back against the political settlement of the Cold War.

The relationships among those three revisionist powers are complex. In the long run, Russia fears the rise of China. Tehran’s worldview has little in common with that of either Beijing or Moscow. Iran and Russia are oil-exporting countries and like the price of oil to be high; China is a net consumer and wants prices low. Political instability in the Middle East can work to Iran’s and Russia’s advantage but poses large risks for China. One should not speak of a strategic alliance among them, and over time, particularly if they succeed in undermining U.S. influence in Eurasia, the tensions among them are more likely to grow than shrink.

What binds these powers together, however, is their agreement that the status quo must be revised. Russia wants to reassemble as much of the Soviet Union as it can. China has no intention of contenting itself with a secondary role in global affairs, nor will it accept the current degree of U.S. influence in Asia and the territorial status quo there. Iran wishes to replace the current order in the Middle East — led by Saudi Arabia and dominated by Sunni Arab states — with one centered on Tehran.

Leaders in all three countries also agree that U.S. power is the chief obstacle to achieving their revisionist goals. Their hostility toward Washington and its order is both offensive and defensive: not only do they hope that the decline of U.S. power will make it easier to reorder their regions, but they also worry that Washington might try to overthrow them should discord within their countries grow. Yet the revisionists want to avoid direct confrontations with the United States, except in rare circumstances when the odds are strongly in their favor (as in Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia and its occupation and annexation of Crimea this year). Rather than challenge the status quo head on, they seek to chip away at the norms and relationships that sustain it.

Since Obama has been president, each of these powers has pursued a distinct strategy in light of its own strengths and weaknesses. China, which has the greatest capabilities of the three, has paradoxically been the most frustrated. Its efforts to assert itself in its region have only tightened the links between the United States and its Asian allies and intensified nationalism in Japan. As Beijing’s capabilities grow, so will its sense of frustration. China’s surge in power will be matched by a surge in Japan’s resolve, and tensions in Asia will be more likely to spill over into global economics and politics.

Iran, by many measures the weakest of the three states, has had the most successful record. The combination of the United States’ invasion of Iraq and then its premature withdrawal has enabled Tehran to cement deep and enduring ties with significant power centers across the Iraqi border, a development that has changed both the sectarian and the political balance of power in the region. In Syria, Iran, with the help of its longtime ally Hezbollah, has been able to reverse the military tide and prop up the government of Bashar al-Assad in the face of strong opposition from the U.S. government. This triumph of realpolitik has added considerably to Iran’s power and prestige. Across the region, the Arab Spring has weakened Sunni regimes, further tilting the balance in Iran’s favor. So has the growing split among Sunni governments over what to do about the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots and adherents.

Russia, meanwhile, has emerged as the middling revisionist: more powerful than Iran but weaker than China, more successful than China at geopolitics but less successful than Iran. Russia has been moderately effective at driving wedges between Germany and the United States, but Russian President Vladimir Putin’s preoccupation with rebuilding the Soviet Union has been hobbled by the sharp limits of his country’s economic power. To build a real Eurasian bloc, as Putin dreams of doing, Russia would have to underwrite the bills of the former Soviet republics — something it cannot afford to do.

Nevertheless, Putin, despite his weak hand, has been remarkably successful at frustrating Western projects on former Soviet territory. He has stopped NATO expansion dead in its tracks. He has dismembered Georgia, brought Armenia into his orbit, tightened his hold on Crimea, and, with his Ukrainian adventure, dealt the West an unpleasant and humiliating surprise. From the Western point of view, Putin appears to be condemning his country to an ever-darker future of poverty and marginalization. But Putin doesn’t believe that history has ended, and from his perspective, he has solidified his power at home and reminded hostile foreign powers that the Russian bear still has sharp claws.


The revisionist powers have such varied agendas and capabilities that none can provide the kind of systematic and global opposition that the Soviet Union did. As a result, Americans have been slow to realize that these states have undermined the Eurasian geopolitical order in ways that complicate U.S. and European efforts to construct a post-historical, win-win world.

Still, one can see the effects of this revisionist activity in many places. In East Asia, China’s increasingly assertive stance has yet to yield much concrete geopolitical progress, but it has fundamentally altered the political dynamic in the region with the fastest-growing economies on earth. Asian politics today revolve around national rivalries, conflicting territorial claims, naval buildups, and similar historical issues. The nationalist revival in Japan, a direct response to China’s agenda, has set up a process in which rising nationalism in one country feeds off the same in the other. China and Japan are escalating their rhetoric, increasing their military budgets, starting bilateral crises with greater frequency, and fixating more and more on zero-sum competition.

Although the EU remains in a post-historical moment, the non-EU republics of the former Soviet Union are living in a very different age. In the last few years, hopes of transforming the former Soviet Union into a post-historical region have faded. The Russian occupation of Ukraine is only the latest in a series of steps that have turned eastern Europe into a zone of sharp geopolitical conflict and made stable and effective democratic governance impossible outside the Baltic states and Poland.

In the Middle East, the situation is even more acute. Dreams that the Arab world was approaching a democratic tipping point — dreams that informed U.S. policy under both the Bush and the Obama administrations — have faded. Rather than building a liberal order in the region, U.S. policymakers are grappling with the unraveling of the state system that dates back to the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided up the Middle Eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, as governance erodes in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. Obama has done his best to separate the geopolitical issue of Iran’s surging power across the region from the question of its compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but Israeli and Saudi fears about Iran’s regional ambitions are making that harder to do. Another obstacle to striking agreements with Iran is Russia, which has used its seat on the UN Security Council and support for Assad to set back U.S. goals in Syria.

Russia sees its influence in the Middle East as an important asset in its competition with the United States. This does not mean that Moscow will reflexively oppose U.S. goals on every occasion, but it does mean that the win-win outcomes that Americans so eagerly seek will sometimes be held hostage to Russian geopolitical interests. In deciding how hard to press Russia over Ukraine, for example, the White House cannot avoid calculating the impact on Russia’s stance on the Syrian war or Iran’s nuclear program. Russia cannot make itself a richer country or a much larger one, but it has made itself a more important factor in U.S. strategic thinking, and it can use that leverage to extract concessions that matter to it.

If these revisionist powers have gained ground, the status quo powers have been undermined. The deterioration is sharpest in Europe, where the unmitigated disaster of the common currency has divided public opinion and turned the EU’S attention in on itself. The EU may have avoided the worst possible consequences of the euro crisis, but both its will and its capacity for effective action beyond its frontiers have been significantly impaired.

The United States has not suffered anything like the economic pain much of Europe has gone through, but with the country facing the foreign policy hangover induced by the Bush-era wars, an increasingly intrusive surveillance state, a slow economic recovery, and an unpopular health-care law, the public mood has soured. On both the left and the right, Americans are questioning the benefits of the current world order and the competence of its architects. Additionally, the public shares the elite consensus that in a post-Cold War world, the United States ought to be able to pay less into the system and get more out. When that doesn’t happen, people blame their leaders. In any case, there is little public appetite for large new initiatives at home or abroad, and a cynical public is turning away from a polarized Washington with a mix of boredom and disdain.

Obama came into office planning to cut military spending and reduce the importance of foreign policy in American politics while strengthening the liberal world order. A little more than halfway through his presidency, he finds himself increasingly bogged down in exactly the kinds of geopolitical rivalries he had hoped to transcend. Chinese, Iranian, and Russian revanchism haven’t overturned the post-Cold War settlement in Eurasia yet, and may never do so, but they have converted an uncontested status quo into a contested one. U.S. presidents no longer have a free hand as they seek to deepen the liberal system; they are increasingly concerned with shoring up its geopolitical foundations.


It was 22 years ago that Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man, and it is tempting to see the return of geopolitics as a definitive refutation of his thesis. The reality is more complicated. The end of history, as Fukuyama reminded readers, was Hegel’s idea, and even though the revolutionary state had triumphed over the old type of regimes for good, Hegel argued, competition and conflict would continue. He predicted that there would be disturbances in the provinces, even as the heartlands of European civilization moved into a post-historical time. Given that Hegel’s provinces included China, India, Japan, and Russia, it should hardly be surprising that more than two centuries later, the disturbances haven’t ceased. We are living in the twilight of history rather than at its actual end.

A Hegelian view of the historical process today would hold that substantively little has changed since the beginning of the nineteenth century. To be powerful, states must develop the ideas and institutions that allow them to harness the titanic forces of industrial and informational capitalism. There is no alternative; societies unable or unwilling to embrace this route will end up the subjects of history rather than the makers of it.

But the road to postmodernity remains rocky. In order to increase its power, China, for example, will clearly have to go through a process of economic and political development that will require the country to master the problems that modern Western societies have confronted. There is no assurance, however, that China’s path to stable liberal modernity will be any less tumultuous than, say, the one that Germany trod. The twilight of history is not a quiet time.

The second part of Fukuyama’s book has received less attention, perhaps because it is less flattering to the West. As Fukuyama investigated what a post-historical society would look like, he made a disturbing discovery. In a world where the great questions have been solved and geopolitics has been subordinated to economics, humanity will look a lot like the nihilistic "last man" described by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: a narcissistic consumer with no greater aspirations beyond the next trip to the mall.

In other words, these people would closely resemble today’s European bureaucrats and Washington lobbyists. They are competent enough at managing their affairs among post-historical people, but understanding the motives and countering the strategies of old-fashioned power politicians is hard for them. Unlike their less productive and less stable rivals, post-historical people are unwilling to make sacrifices, focused on the short term, easily distracted, and lacking in courage.

The realities of personal and political life in post-historical societies are very different from those in such countries as China, Iran, and Russia, where the sun of history still shines. It is not just that those different societies bring different personalities and values to the fore; it is also that their institutions work differently and their publics are shaped by different ideas.

Societies filled with Nietzsche’s last men (and women) characteristically misunderstand and underestimate their supposedly primitive opponents in supposedly backward societies — a blind spot that could, at least temporarily, offset their countries’ other advantages. The tide of history may be flowing inexorably in the direction of liberal capitalist democracy, and the sun of history may indeed be sinking behind the hills. But even as the shadows lengthen and the first of the stars appears, such figures as Putin still stride the world stage. They will not go gentle into that good night, and they will rage, rage against the dying of the light.

PHOTO (COLOR): Boots on the ground: armed Russians in Perevalnoe, Crimea, Ukraine, March 2014


WALTER RUSSELL MEAD is James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College and Editor-at-Large of The American Interest.

The Illusion of Geopolitics
Ikenberry, G. John
Foreign Affairs. May2014, Vol. 93 Issue 3, p80-90. 11p

The Enduring Power of the Liberal Order

Walter Russell Mead paints a disturbing portrait of the United States’ geopolitical predicament. As he sees it, an increasingly formidable coalition of illiberal powers — China, Iran, and Russia — is determined to undo the post-Cold War settlement and the U.S.-led global order that stands behind it. Across Eurasia, he argues, these aggrieved states are bent on building spheres of influence to threaten the foundations of U.S. leadership and the global order. So the United States must rethink its optimism, including its post-Cold War belief that rising non-Western states can be persuaded to join the West and play by its rules. For Mead, the time has come to confront the threats from these increasingly dangerous geopolitical foes.

But Mead’s alarmism is based on a colossal misreading of modern power realities. It is a misreading of the logic and character of the existing world order, which is more stable and expansive than Mead depicts, leading him to overestimate the ability of the "axis of weevils" to undermine it. And it is a misreading of China and Russia, which are not full-scale revisionist powers but part-time spoilers at best, as suspicious of each other as they are of the outside world. True, they look for opportunities to resist the United States’ global leadership, and recently, as in the past, they have pushed back against it, particularly when confronted in their own neighborhoods. But even these conflicts are fueled more by weakness — their leaders’ and regimes’ — than by strength. They have no appealing brand. And when it comes to their overriding interests, Russia and, especially, China are deeply integrated into the world economy and its governing institutions.

Mead also mischaracterizes the thrust of U.S. foreign policy. Since the end of the Cold War, he argues, the United States has ignored geopolitical issues involving territory and spheres of influence and instead adopted a Pollyannaish emphasis on building the global order. But this is a false dichotomy. The United States does not focus on issues of global order, such as arms control and trade, because it assumes that geopolitical conflict is gone forever; it undertakes such efforts precisely because it wants to manage great-power competition. Order building is not premised on the end of geopolitics; it is about how to answer the big questions of geopolitics.

Indeed, the construction of a U.S.-led global order did not begin with the end of the Cold War; it won the Cold War. In the nearly 70 years since World War II, Washington has undertaken sustained efforts to build a far-flung system of multilateral institutions, alliances, trade agreements, and political partnerships. This project has helped draw countries into the United States’ orbit. It has helped strengthen global norms and rules that undercut the legitimacy of nineteenth-century-style spheres of influence, bids for regional domination, and territorial grabs. And it has given the United States the capacities, partnerships, and principles to confront today’s great-power spoilers and revisionists, such as they are. Alliances, partnerships, multilateralism, democracy — these are the tools of U.S. leadership, and they are winning, not losing, the twenty-first-century struggles over geopolitics and the world order.


In 1904, the English geographer Haiford Mackinder wrote that the great power that controlled the heartland of Eurasia would command "the World-Island" and thus the world itself. For Mead, Eurasia has returned as the great prize of geopolitics. Across the far reaches of this supercontinent, he argues, China, Iran, and Russia are seeking to establish their spheres of influence and challenge U.S. interests, slowly but relentlessly attempting to dominate Eurasia and thereby threaten the United States and the rest of the world.

This vision misses a deeper reality. In matters of geopolitics (not to mention demographics, politics, and ideas), the United States has a decisive advantage over China, Iran, and Russia. Although the United States will no doubt come down from the peak of hegemony that it occupied during the unipolar era, its power is still unrivaled. Its wealth and technological advantages remain far out of the reach of China and Russia, to say nothing of Iran. Its recovering economy, now bolstered by massive new natural gas resources, allows it to maintain a global military presence and credible security commitments.

Indeed, Washington enjoys a unique ability to win friends and influence states. According to a study led by the political scientist Brett Ashley Leeds, the United States boasts military partnerships with more than 60 countries, whereas Russia counts eight formal allies and China has just one (North Korea). As one British diplomat told me several years ago, "China doesn’t seem to do alliances." But the United States does, and they pay a double dividend: not only do alliances provide a global platform for the projection of U.S. power, but they also distribute the burden of providing security. The military capabilities aggregated in this U.S.-led alliance system outweigh anything China or Russia might generate for decades to come.

Then there are the nuclear weapons. These arms, which the United States, China, and Russia all possess (and Iran is seeking), help the United States in two ways. First, thanks to the logic of mutual assured destruction, they radically reduce the likelihood of great-power war. Such upheavals have provided opportunities for past great powers, including the United States in World War II, to entrench their own international orders. The atomic age has robbed China and Russia of this opportunity. Second, nuclear weapons also make China and Russia more secure, giving them assurance that the United States will never invade. That’s a good thing, because it reduces the likelihood that they will resort to desperate moves, born of insecurity, that risk war and undermine the liberal order.

Geography reinforces the United States’ other advantages. As the only great power not surrounded by other great powers, the country has appeared less threatening to other states and was able to rise dramatically over the course of the last century without triggering a war. After the Cold War, when the United States was the world’s sole superpower, other global powers, oceans away, did not even attempt to balance against it. In fact, the United States’ geographic position has led other countries to worry more about abandonment than domination. Allies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East have sought to draw the United States into playing a greater role in their regions. The result is what the historian Geir Lundestad has called an "empire by invitation."

The United States’ geographic advantage is on full display in Asia. Most countries there see China as a greater potential danger — due to its proximity, if nothing else — than the United States. Except for the United States, every major power in the world lives in a crowded geopolitical neighborhood where shifts in power routinely provoke counterbalancing — including by one another. China is discovering this dynamic today as surrounding states react to its rise by modernizing their militaries and reinforcing their alliances. Russia has known it for decades, and has faced it most recently in Ukraine, which in recent years has increased its military spending and sought closer ties to the EU.

Geographic isolation has also given the United States reason to champion universal principles that allow it to access various regions of the world. The country has long promoted the open-door policy and the principle of self-determination and opposed colonialism — less out of a sense of idealism than due to the practical realities of keeping Europe, Asia, and the Middle East open for trade and diplomacy. In the late 1930s, the main question facing the United States was how large a geopolitical space, or "grand area," it would need to exist as a great power in a world of empires, regional blocs, and spheres of influence. World War II made the answer clear: the country’s prosperity and security depended on access to every region. And in the ensuing decades, with some important and damaging exceptions, such as Vietnam, the United States has embraced postimperial principles.

It was during these postwar years that geopolitics and order building converged. A liberal international framework was the answer that statesmen such as Dean Acheson, George Kennan, and George Marshall offered to the challenge of Soviet expansionism. The system they built strengthened and enriched the United States and its allies, to the detriment of its illiberal opponents. It also stabilized the world economy and established mechanisms for tackling global problems. The end of the Cold War has not changed the logic behind this project.

Fortunately, the liberal principles that Washington has pushed enjoy near-universal appeal, because they have tended to be a good fit with the modernizing forces of economic growth and social advancement. As the historian Charles Maier has put it, the United States surfed the wave of twentieth-century modernization. But some have argued that this congruence between the American project and the forces of modernity has weakened in recent years. The 2008 financial crisis, the thinking goes, marked a world-historical turning point, at which the United States lost its vanguard role in facilitating economic advancement.

Yet even if that were true, it hardly follows that China and Russia have replaced the United States as the standard-bearers of the global economy. Even Mead does not argue that China, Iran, or Russia offers the world a new model of modernity. If these illiberal powers really do threaten Washington and the rest of the liberal capitalist world, then they will need to find and ride the next great wave of modernization. They are unlikely to do that.


Mead’s vision of a contest over Eurasia between the United States and China, Iran, and Russia misses the more profound power transition under way: the increasing ascendancy of liberal capitalist democracy. To be sure, many liberal democracies are struggling at the moment with slow economic growth, social inequality, and political instability. But the spread of liberal democracy throughout the world, beginning in the late 1970s and accelerating after the Cold War, has dramatically strengthened the United States’ position and tightened the geopolitical circle around China and Russia.

It’s easy to forget how rare liberal democracy once was. Until the twentieth century, it was confined to the West and parts of Latin America. After World War II, however, it began to reach beyond those realms, as newly independent states established self-rule. During the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, military coups and new dictators put the brakes on democratic transitions. But in the late 1970s, what the political scientist Samuel Huntington termed "the third wave" of democratization washed over southern Europe, Latin America, and East Asia. Then the Cold War ended, and a cohort of former communist states in eastern Europe were brought into the democratic fold. By the late 1990s, 60 percent of all countries had become democracies.

Although some backsliding has occurred, the more significant trend has been the emergence of a group of democratic middle powers, including Australia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, and Turkey. These rising democracies are acting as stakeholders in the international system: pushing for multilateral cooperation, seeking greater rights and responsibilities, and exercising influence through peaceful means.

Such countries lend the liberal world order new geopolitical heft. As the political scientist Larry Diamond has noted, if Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey regain their economic footing and strengthen their democratic rule, the G-20, which also includes the United States and European countries, "will have become a strong ‘club of democracies,’ with only Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia holding out." The rise of a global middle class of democratic states has turned China and Russia into outliers — not, as Mead fears, legitimate contestants for global leadership.

In fact, the democratic upsurge has been deeply problematic for both countries. In eastern Europe, former Soviet states and satellites have gone democratic and joined the West. As worrisome as Russian President Vladimir Putins moves in Crimea have been, they reflect Russia’s geopolitical vulnerability, not its strength. Over the last two decades, the West has crept closer to Russia’s borders. In 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland entered NATO. They were joined in 2004 by seven more former members of the Soviet bloc, and in 2009, by Albania and Croatia. In the meantime, six former Soviet republics have headed down the path to membership by joining NATO’S Partnership for Peace program. Mead makes much of Putin’s achievements in Georgia, Armenia, and Crimea. Yet even though Putin is winning some small battles, he is losing the war. Russia is not on the rise; to the contrary, it is experiencing one of the greatest geopolitical contractions of any major power in the modern era.

Democracy is encircling China, too. In the mid-1980s, India and Japan were the only Asian democracies, but since then, Indonesia, Mongolia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand have joined the club. Myanmar (also called Burma) has made cautious steps toward multiparty rule — steps that have come, as China has not failed to notice, in conjunction with warming relations with the United States. China now lives in a decidedly democratic neighborhood.

These political transformations have put China and Russia on the defensive. Consider the recent developments in Ukraine. The economic and political currents in most of the country are inexorably flowing westward, a trend that terrifies Putin. His only recourse has been to strong-arm Ukraine into resisting the EU and remaining in Russia’s orbit. Although he may be able to keep Crimea under Russian control, his grip on the rest of the country is slipping. As the EU diplomat Robert Cooper has noted, Putin can try to delay the moment when Ukraine "affiliates with the EU, but he can’t stop it." Indeed, Putin might not even be able to accomplish that, since his provocative moves may serve only to speed Ukraine’s move toward Europe.

China faces a similar predicament in Taiwan. Chinese leaders sincerely believe that Taiwan is part of China, but the Taiwanese do not. The democratic transition on the island has made its inhabitants’ claims to nationhood more deeply felt and legitimate. A 2011 survey found that if the Taiwanese could be assured that China would not attack Taiwan, 80 percent of them would support declaring independence. Like Russia, China wants geopolitical control over its neighborhood. But the spread of democracy to all corners of Asia has made old-fashioned domination the only way to achieve that, and that option is costly and self-defeating.

While the rise of democratic states makes life more difficult for China and Russia, it makes the world safer for the United States. Those two powers may count as U.S. rivals, but the rivalry takes place on a very uneven playing field: the United States has the most friends, and the most capable ones, too. Washington and its allies account for 75 percent of global military spending. Democratization has put China and Russia in a geopolitical box.

Iran is not surrounded by democracies, but it is threatened by a restive pro-democracy movement at home. More important, Iran is the weakest member of Mead’s axis, with a much smaller economy and military than the United States and the other great powers. It is also the target of the strongest international sanctions regime ever assembled, with help from China and Russia. The Obama administration’s diplomacy with Iran may or may not succeed, but it is not clear what Mead would do differently to prevent the country from acquiring nuclear weapons. U.S. President Barack Obama’s approach has the virtue of offering Tehran a path by which it can move from being a hostile regional power to becoming a more constructive, nonnuclear member of the international community — a potential geopolitical game changer that Mead fails to appreciate.


Not only does Mead underestimate the strength of the United States and the order it built; he also overstates the degree to which China and Russia are seeking to resist both. (Apart from its nuclear ambitions, Iran looks like a state engaged more in futile protest than actual resistance, so it shouldn’t be considered anything close to a revisionist power.) Without a doubt, China and Russia desire greater regional influence. China has made aggressive claims over maritime rights and nearby contested islands, and it has embarked on an arms buildup. Putin has visions of reclaiming Russia’s dominance in its "near abroad." Both great powers bristle at U.S. leadership and resist it when they can.

But China and Russia are not true revisionists. As former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami has said, Putin’s foreign policy is "more a reflection of his resentment of Russia’s geopolitical marginalization than a battle cry from a rising empire." China, of course, is an actual rising power, and this does invite dangerous competition with U.S. allies in Asia. But China is not currently trying to break those alliances or overthrow the wider system of regional security governance embodied in the Association or southeast Asian Nations and the East Asia Summit. And even if China harbors ambitions of eventually doing so, U.S. security partnerships in the region are, if anything, getting stronger, not weaker. At most, China and Russia are spoilers. They do not have the interests — let alone the ideas, capacities, or allies — to lead them to upend existing global rules and institutions.

In fact, although they resent that the United States stands at the top of the current geopolitical system, they embrace the underlying logic of that framework, and with good reason. Openness gives them access to trade, investment, and technology from other societies. Rules give them tools to protect their sovereignty and interests. Despite controversies over the new idea of "the responsibility to protect" (which has been applied only selectively), the current world order enshrines the age-old norms of state sovereignty and nonintervention. Those Westphalian principles remain the bedrock of world politics — and China and Russia have tied their national interests to them (despite Putin’s disturbing irredentism).

It should come as no surprise, then, that China and Russia have become deeply integrated into the existing international order. They are both permanent members of the UN Security Council, with veto rights, and they both participate actively in the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the G-20. They are geopolitical insiders, sitting at all the high tables of global governance.

China, despite its rapid ascent, has no ambitious global agenda; it remains fixated inward, on preserving party rule. Some Chinese intellectuals and political figures, such as Yan Xuetong and Zhu Chenghu, do have a wish list of revisionist goals. They see the Western system as a threat and are waiting for the day when China can reorganize the international order. But these voices do not reach very far into the political elite. Indeed, Chinese leaders have moved away from their earlier calls for sweeping change. In 2007, at its Central Committee meeting, the Chinese Communist Party replaced previous proposals for a "new international economic order" with calls for more modest reforms centering on fairness and justice. The Chinese scholar Wang Jisi has argued that this move is "subtle but important," shifting China’s orientation toward that of a global reformer. China now wants a larger role in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, greater voice in such forums as the G-20, and wider global use of its currency. That is not the agenda of a country trying to revise the economic order.

China and Russia are also members in good standing of the nuclear club. The centerpiece of the Cold War settlement between the United States and the Soviet Union (and then Russia) was a shared effort to limit atomic weapons. Although U.S.-Russian relations have since soured, the nuclear component of their arrangement has held. In 2010, Moscow and Washington signed the New START treaty, which requires mutual reductions in long-range nuclear weapons.

Before the 1990s, China was a nuclear outsider. Although it had a modest arsenal, it saw itself as a voice of the nonnuclear developing world and criticized arms control agreements and test bans. But in a remarkable shift, China has since come to support the array of nuclear accords, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It has affirmed a "no first use" doctrine, kept its arsenal small, and taken its entire nuclear force off alert. China has also played an active role in the Nuclear Security Summit, an initiative proposed by Obama in 2009, and it has joined the "P5 process," a collaborate effort to safeguard nuclear weapons.

Across a wide range of issues, China and Russia are acting more like established great powers than revisionist ones. They often choose to shun multilateralism, but so, too, on occasion do the United States and other powerful democracies. (Beijing has ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; Washington has not.) And China and Russia are using global rules and institutions to advance their own interests. Their struggles with the United States revolve around gaining voice within the existing order and manipulating it to suit their needs. They wish to enhance their positions within the system, but they are not trying to replace it.


Ultimately, even if China and Russia do attempt to contest the basic terms of the current global order, the adventure will be daunting and self-defeating. These powers aren’t just up against the United States; they would also have to contend with the most globally organized and deeply entrenched order the world has ever seen, one that is dominated by states that are liberal, capitalist, and democratic. This order is backed by a U.S.-led network of alliances, institutions, geopolitical bargains, client states, and democratic partnerships. It has proved dynamic and expansive, easily integrating rising states, beginning with Japan and Germany after World War II. It has shown a capacity for shared leadership, as exemplified by such forums as the G-8 and the G-20. It has allowed rising non-Western countries to trade and grow, sharing the dividends of modernization. It has accommodated a surprisingly wide variety of political and economic models — social democratic (western Europe), neoliberal (the United Kingdom and the United States), and state capitalist (East Asia). The prosperity of nearly every country — and the stability of its government — fundamentally depends on this order.

In the age of liberal order, revisionist struggles are a fool’s errand. Indeed, China and Russia know this. They do not have grand visions of an alternative order. For them, international relations are mainly about the search for commerce and resources, the protection of their sovereignty, and, where possible, regional domination. They have shown no interest in building their own orders or even taking full responsibility for the current one and have offered no alternative visions of global economic or political progress. That’s a critical shortcoming, since international orders rise and fall not simply with the power of the leading state; their success also hinges on whether they are seen as legitimate and whether their actual operation solves problems that both weak and powerful states care about. In the struggle for world order, China and Russia (and certainly Iran) are simply not in the game.

Under these circumstances, the United States should not give up its efforts to strengthen the liberal order. The world that Washington inhabits today is one it should welcome. And the grand strategy it should pursue is the one it has followed for decades: deep global engagement. It is a strategy in which the United States ties itself to the regions of the world through trade, alliances, multilateral institutions, and diplomacy It is a strategy in which the United States establishes leadership not simply through the exercise of power but also through sustained efforts at global problem solving and rule making. It created a world that is friendly to American interests, and it is made friendly because, as President John F. Kennedy once said, it is a world "where the weak are safe and the strong are just."

PHOTO (COLOR): Standing together: pro-EU demonstrators in Kiev, November 2013


G. JOHN IKENBERRY is Albert G. Milbank Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and George Eastman Visiting Professor at Balliol College, University of Oxford.

Old World Order
Kaplan, Robert D
Time. 3/31/2014, Vol. 183 Issue 12, p30. 5p. 2 Color Photographs

How geopolitics fuels endless chaos and old-school conflicts in the 21st century.

This isn’t what the 21st century was supposed to look like. The visceral reaction of many pundits, academics and Obama Administration officials to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s virtual annexation of Crimea has been disbelief bordering on disorientation. As Secretary of State John Kerry said, "It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century." Well, the "19th century," as Kerry calls it, lives on and always will. Forget about the world being flat. Forget technology as the great democratizer. Forget the niceties of international law. Territory and the bonds of blood that go with it are central to what makes us human.

Geography hasn’t gone away. The global elite–leading academics, intellectuals, foreign policy analysts, foundation heads and corporate power brokers, as well as many Western leaders–may largely have forgotten about it. But what we’re witnessing now is geography’s revenge: in the East-West struggle for control of the buffer state of Ukraine, in the post–Arab Spring fracturing of artificial Middle Eastern states into ethnic and sectarian fiefs and in the unprecedented arms race being undertaken by East Asian states as they dispute potentially resource-rich waters. Technology hasn’t negated geography; it has only made it more precious and claustrophobic.

Whereas the West has come to think about international relations in terms of laws and multinational agreements, most of the rest of the world still thinks in terms of deserts, mountain ranges, all-weather ports and tracts of land and water. The world is back to the maps of elementary school as a starting point for an understanding of history, culture, religion and ethnicity–not to mention power struggles over trade routes and natural resources.

The post–Cold War era was supposed to be about economics, interdependence and universal values trumping the instincts of nationalism and nationalism’s related obsession with the domination of geographic space. But Putin’s actions betray a singular truth, one that the U.S. should remember as it looks outward and around the globe: international relations are still about who can do what to whom.

Putin’s Power Play

So what has Putin done? The Russian leader has used geography to his advantage. He has acted, in other words, according to geopolitics, the battle for space and power played out in a geographical setting–a concept that has not changed since antiquity (and yet one to which many Western diplomats and academics have lately seemed deaf).

Europe’s modern era is supposed to be about the European Union triumphing over the bonds of blood and ethnicity, building a system of laws from Iberia to the Black Sea–and eventually from Lisbon to Moscow. But the E.U.’s long financial crisis has weakened its political influence in Central and Eastern Europe. And while its democratic ideals have been appealing to many in Ukraine, the dictates of geography make it nearly impossible for that nation to reorient itself entirely toward the West.

Russia is still big, and Russia is still autocratic–after all, it remains a sprawling and insecure land power that has enjoyed no cartographic impediments to invasion from French, Germans, Swedes, Lithuanians and Poles over the course of its history. The southern Crimean Peninsula is still heavily ethnic Russian, and it is the home of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, providing Russia’s only outlet to the Mediterranean.

Seeing that he could no longer control Ukraine by manipulating its democracy through President Viktor Yanukovych’s neo-czardom, Putin opted for a more direct and mechanical approach. He took de facto control of pro-Russian Crimea, which for all intents and purposes was already within his sphere of influence. Besides, the home of Russia’s warm-water fleet could never be allowed to fall under the sway of a pro-Western government in Kiev.

Next, Putin ordered military maneuvers in the part of Russia adjoining eastern Ukraine, involving more than 10,000 troops, in order to demonstrate Russia’s geographical supremacy over the half of Ukraine that is pro-Russian as well as the part of Ukraine blessed with large shale-gas reserves. Putin knows–as does the West–that a flat topography along the long border between Russia and Ukraine grants Moscow an overwhelming advantage not only militarily but also in terms of disrupting trade and energy flows to Kiev. While Ukraine has natural gas of its own, it relies on Russia’s far vaster reserves to fuel its domestic economy.

Putin is not likely to invade eastern Ukraine in a conventional way. In order to exercise dominance, he doesn’t need to. Instead he will send in secessionists, instigate disturbances, probe the frontier with Russian troops and in other ways use the porous border with Ukraine to undermine both eastern Ukraine’s sovereignty and its links to western Ukraine.

In short, he will use every geographical and linguistic advantage to weaken Ukraine as a state. Ukraine is simply located too far east, and is too spatially exposed to Russia, for it ever to be in the interests of any government in Moscow–democratic or not–to allow Ukraine’s complete alignment with the West.

Back to a Zero-Sum Middle East

Another way to describe what is going on around the world now is old-fashioned zero-sum power politics. It is easy to forget that many Western policymakers and thinkers have grown up in conditions of unprecedented security and prosperity, and they have been intellectually formed by the post–Cold War world, in which it was widely believed that a new set of coolly rational rules would drive foreign policy. But leaders beyond America and Europe tend to be highly territorial in their thinking. For them, international relations are a struggle for survival. As a result, Western leaders often think in universal terms, while rulers in places like Russia, the Middle East and East Asia think in narrower terms: those that provide advantage to their nations or their ethnic groups only.

We can see this disconnect in the Middle East, which is unraveling in ways that would be familiar to a 19th century geographer but less intuitive to a Washington policy wonk. The Arab Spring was hailed for months as the birth pangs of a new kind of regional democracy. It quickly became a crisis in central authority, producing not democracy but religious war in Syria, chaos in Yemen and Libya and renewed dictatorship in Egypt as a popular reaction to incipient chaos and Islamic extremism. Tunisia, seen by some as the lone success story of the Arab Spring, is a mere fledgling democracy with land borders it can no longer adequately control, especially in the southern desert areas where its frontiers meet those of Algeria and Libya–a situation aggravated by Libya’s collapse.

Meanwhile, Tripoli is no longer the capital of Libya but instead the central dispatch point for negotiations among tribes, militias and gangs for control of territory. Damascus is not the capital of Syria but only that of Syria’s most powerful warlord, Bashar Assad. Baghdad totters on as the capital of a tribalized Shi’ite Mesopotamia dominated by adjacent Iran–with a virtually independent Kurdish entity to its mountainous north and a jihadist Sunnistan to its west, the latter of which has joined a chaotic void populated by literally hundreds of war bands extending deep across a flat desert terrain into Syria as far as the Mediterranean.

Hovering above this devolution of Middle Eastern states into anarchic warlorddoms is the epic geographic struggle between a great Shi’ite state occupying the Iranian Plateau and a medieval-style Sunni monarchy occupying much of the Arabian Peninsula. The interminable violence and repression in eastern Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Sunnistan (covering both western Iraq and Syria) are fueled by this Saudi-Iranian proxy war. Because Iran is developing the technological and scientific base with which to assemble nuclear weapons, Israel finds itself in a de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be defined by his zero-sum geographic fears, including that of the tyranny of distance: the difficulty of his relatively small air force to travel a thousand miles eastward, which bedevils his search for an acceptable military option against Iran. This helps make him what he is: an obstinate negotiating partner for both the Palestinians and the Americans.

Pacific Projection

Then there is the most important part of the world for the U.S., the part with two of the three largest economies (China and Japan) and the home of critical American treaty allies: the Asia-Pacific region. This region too is undeniably far less stable now than at the start of the 21st century, and for reasons that can best be explained by geography.

In the early Cold War decades, Asian countries were preoccupied with their internal affairs. China, under Mao Zedong’s depredations and Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, was inwardly focused. Vietnam, the current territory of Malaysia and to a lesser extent the Philippines were overwhelmed by internal wars and rebellions. Singapore was building a viable city-state from scratch. And South Korea and Japan were recovering from major wars.

Now these states have consolidated their domestic affairs and built strong institutions. They have all, with the exception of the poverty-racked Philippines, benefited from many years of capitalist-style growth. But strong institutions and capitalist prosperity lead to military ambitions, and so all of these states since the 1990s have been enlarging or modernizing their navies and air forces–a staggering military buildup to which the American media have paid relatively scant attention.

Since the 1990s, Asia’s share of military imports has risen from 15% to 41% of the world total, and its overall military spending has risen from 11% to 20% of all global military expenditures. And what are these countries doing with all of these new submarines, warships, fighter jets, ballistic missiles and cyberwarfare capabilities? They are contesting with one another lines on the map in the blue water of the South China and East China seas: Who controls what island, atoll or other geographical feature above or below water–for reserves of oil and natural gas might lie nearby? Nationalism, especially that based on race and ethnicity, fired up by territorial claims, may be frowned upon in the modern West, but it is alive and well throughout prosperous East Asia.

Notice that all these disputes are, once again, not about ideas or economics or politics even but rather about territory. The various claims between China and Japan in the East China Sea, and between China and all the other pleaders in the South China Sea (principally Vietnam and the Philippines), are so complex that while theoretically solvable through negotiation, they are more likely to be held in check by a stable balance-of-power system agreed to by the U.S. and Chinese navies and air forces. The 21st century map of the Pacific Basin, clogged as it is with warships, is like a map of conflict-prone Europe from previous centuries. Though war may ultimately be avoided in East Asia, the Pacific will show us a more anxious, complicated world order, explained best by such familiar factors as physical terrain, clashing peoples, natural resources and contested trade routes.

India and China, because of the high wall of the Himalayas, have developed for most of history as two great world civilizations having relatively little to do with each other. But the collapse of distance in the past 50 years has turned them into strategic competitors in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. (This is how technology abets rather than alleviates conflict.) And if Narendra Modi of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is elected by a significant majority in elections in April and May, as is expected by many, India will likely pursue a fiercely geopolitical foreign policy, aligning even more strongly with Japan against China.

China, meanwhile, faces profound economic troubles in the coming years. The upshot will be more regime-stoked nationalism directed at the territorial disputes in the South China and East China seas and more rebellions at home from regionally based ethnic groups such as the Turkic Muslim Uighurs, in the west abutting Central Asia, and the Tibetans, in the southwest close to India. Can the Han Chinese, who inhabit the arable cradle of China and make up 90% of the country’s population, keep the minorities on the upland peripheries under control during a sustained period of economic and social unrest? The great existential question about China’s future is about control of its borderlands, not its currency.

Practically anywhere you look around the globe, geography confounds. Burma is slowly being liberated from benighted military dictatorship only to see its Muslim minority Rohingyas suffer murder and rape at the hands of Burmese nationalist groups. The decline of authoritarianism in Burma reveals a country undermined by geographically based ethnic groups with their own armies and militias. Similarly, sub-Saharan African economies have been growing dramatically as middle classes emerge across that continent. Yet at the same time, absolute population growth and resource scarcity have aggravated ethnic and religious conflicts over territory, as in the adjoining Central African Republic and South Sudan in the heart of the continent, which have dissolved into religious and tribal war.

What’s New Is Old Again

Of course, civil society of the kind Western elites pine for is the only answer for most of these problems. The rule of law, combined with decentralization in the cases of sprawling countries such as Russia and Burma, alone can provide for stability–as it has over the centuries in Europe and the Americas. But working toward that goal requires undiluted realism about the unpleasant facts on the ground.

To live in a world where geography is respected and not ignored is to understand the constraints under which political leaders labor. Many obstacles simply cannot be overcome. That is why the greatest statesmen work near the edges of what is possible. Geography establishes the broad parameters–only within its bounds does human agency have a chance to succeed.

Thus, Ukraine can become a prosperous civil society, but because of its location it will always require a strong and stable relationship with Russia. The Arab world can eventually stabilize, but Western militaries cannot set complex and highly populous Islamic societies to rights except at great cost to themselves. East Asia can avoid war but only by working with the forces of ethnic nationalism at play there.

If there is good news here, it is that most of the borders that are being redrawn–or just reunderlined–exist within states rather than between them. A profound level of upheaval is occurring that, in many cases, precludes military intervention. The vast human cataclysms of the 20th century will not likely repeat themselves. But the worldwide civil society that the elites thought they could engineer is a chimera. The geographical forces at work will not be easily tamed.

While our foreign policy must be morally based, the analysis behind it must be cold-blooded, with geography as its starting point. In geopolitics, the past never dies and there is no modern world.

Kaplan is chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, a private global-intelligence firm. He is the author of 15 books on foreign affairs, most recently Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific.