Alan Lis: ISIS’s continuous presence in Iraq

The Islamic State (also known as the IS, ISIL, ISIS, or Daesh), despite triumphant announcements made by the Iraqi government and the US President Donald Trump, has not been truly defeated – neither in Iraq, nor in Syria. Since the victory over the IS was declared, Jihadists of this very organisation perpetrated numerous attacks in both those countries, in which many people lost their lives.

Reasons for ISIS coming into existence were multiple and complicated – it was a process that did not happen overnight. The IS emerged from Al Qaeda (AQ), which claim has been corroborated by many analysts of terrorism and international security. Similarly as in the case of fighting AQ, quite a substantial number of countries united their efforts in combating Daesh, though this struggle, unfortunately, turned to become an element of political clashes for influence in the Middle East between the US, Russia, as well as other powers including Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The fact is that despite depriving the IS of its physical Caliphate, international efforts remained short of actually defeating the organisation.

ISIS in Iraq – how it may use the country’s internal chaos to its advantage

The IS has regularly been proving that the victorious declaration of the Iraqi government in 2017 was nothing but premature. ISIS was never fully defeated and still presents a considerable threat to Iraq. It is said to have been gradually reconstructing its networks in some parts of this country, such as the Anbar province – where the city of Fallujah, which used to be one of the ISIS’s strongholds, is located – adhering to the tactics of low-level insurgency to spread fear, chaos, and violence. Indeed, the IS turned into a guerrilla movement waging over a few months a campaign of suicide attacks, ambushes, assassinations, and kidnappings, aimed at undermining the authorities in Baghdad in the eyes of average citizens and showing that they are unable to protect civilians and effectively govern. 

The latest round of anti-government protests indicates that Iraqis do not approve of their ruling elite. Amongst the main reasons for the protests to erupt were unemployment, poor level of public services, food insecurity and poverty of parts of the population, as well as widespread corruption that indeed weakens the Iraq’s political leadership legitimacy and alienates average citizens from the elite in Baghdad.

Corruption is an issue protested rather often in Iraq, with previous protests taking place, for instance, in 2015 and 2018. The death toll of this year’s protests, which turned violent, exceeds 100 with thousands injured. Reportedly, security forces used live ammunition against protesters and the government, led by Adil Abdul-Mahdi, introduced curfews and limited access to the internet in an attempt to control the situation. Some government officials admitted that the nature of the response to the protests was indeed too aggressive.

ISIS may use the de facto over-aggressive and deadly response on the Iraqi government’s part to its advantage and capitalize on yet again another wave of destabilization in Iraq, and further chaos that came in as a result. Repressive response further angers people and turns them even more against the Iraqi authorities, which creates a space for ISIS to swoop in and present itself as an alternative to the rule of corrupt politicians lacking the ability to effectively govern. Moreover, the government’s inability to protect civilians makes them vulnerable to seek such protection elsewhere. Terrified people, seeing no other choice, may even join the IS’s ranks just for the sake of ensuring safety for themselves and their families. That was the very reason some of ISIS’s members joined the organization when it was building the Caliphate a few years ago.

What is needed to prevent ISIS from re-establishing its position in Iraq?

There is a couple of things that come to mind, which ought to be done in order to prevent ISIS from re-building its position and regaining power in Iraq. First of all, the Iraqi government must take some steps to tackle corruption, unemployment and other things protested recently in order to calm the situation in the country. Corruption is a serious and deeply rooted problem in Iraq and will certainly take time to be solved, if that actually ever happens, but average Iraqis need to see that the government tries to act in this matter.

Dealing with corruption is important as it would show politicians’ willingness to reduce the sense of alienation between them and the masses. Average Iraqis must feel that those in power, aside from caring for their personal wealth or career, give a thought or two for the fate of their fellow citizens, in whose name they govern the country. Dealing with those problems would reduce peoples’ dissatisfaction and vulnerability to be recruited by ISIS. 

Furthermore, the government in Baghdad needs to understand that after years of military conflicts and internal insurgency that have devastated the country, average citizens want to finally live the way people in other countries do – without fearing for their safety and with uninterrupted access to healthcare and education. So far, the level of public services provided by Baghdad (public transportation, healthcare, education) proves to dissatisfy people. Politicians must try to increase the level of public services and comprehend that responding to protests with violence and limitation of peoples’ rights is an easy way for Jihadists to gain momentum again as protectors of the civilians. 

Building on that, average Iraqis must not be left without any other choice but to join ISIS to ensure safety for themselves and their families. The government needs to increase the presence of the military in regions particularly endangered by re-emerging ISIS and do more to protect men, women, and children in war-torn regions. Leaving them vulnerable for the attacks of the IS’s dispersed cells makes them simultaneously vulnerable for joining its ranks, as explained before.

Civilians from areas that were captured by ISIS shall feel that they are of equal importance to fellow citizens living in other parts of the country and that they are welcome to live in Iraq. In order to dismiss the Jihadists’ argument that the government does not care for people that used to live under its rule and that it labels them all as terrorists too, destroyed towns, cities, and villages need to be rebuilt.

Finally, deradicalization programs for captured ISIS fighters and their families, as well as a popular deradicalization program for those that lived under ISIS’s rule may be of great importance. Along with such, there ought to be a national program teaching tolerance and explaining why it is necessary, especially in a country where a number of distinct religious and ethnic groups live together. Though essential, considering the history of Iraq and the dynamics of internal conflict, the last claim seems to be somewhat utopian.

Alan Lis: Jihadists being released- the continuous issue of what to do with captured terrorists

Now that ISIS has been territorially defeated, some say that this is the end of this organisation, often regarded as the gravest terrorist threat of the current century. Although the Islamic State does not control any territory, the are problems caused by it, which still remain in place. To start with, there is the issue of its ideology. Territorial losses do not mean that the ideology that has driven ISIS’s fighters became any less appealing; quite contrary, it still attracts a good deal of new potential recruits who are, of course, less likely to travel to Syria and Iraq now, but nevertheless may pose a substantial danger in their countries of residence.

Another thing, already addressed some time ago, is the dilemma of what to do with captured ISIS’s fighters and their families, some of whom may still support ISIS. Although some countries repatriated a few women and children – what will be mentioned below – there are still thousands more in detention camps in Syria and Iraq. 

This piece, however, shall adhere to the issue of captured ISIS’s fighters, leaving the case of their families aside. The dilemma of what ought to be done with IS’s combatants demonstrates a problem that, by extension, applies to Jihadists of all kinds and affiliations, not only those imprisoned during the struggle against the Islamic State. In the United States, a considerable number of Jihadists caught during earlier stages of the War on Terror is being, or will soon be, released from prisons. The world media have recently put much focus on the example of the ‘American Taliban’, John Walker Lindh.

Lindh grew up in a rather wealthy family and converted to Islam in his teenage years. He had left the US for the Middle East in order to study Arabic, and after spending some time in Yemen he moved to Pakistan and joined Islamist militancy. He then was trained in terrorist camps, and even got to meet Osama bin Laden at some point. After September 11, he was fighting American forces in Afghanistan alongside Al Qaeda terrorists, until he was caught. The media quite rapidly nicknamed him as the ‘American Taliban’. Eventually, an American court sentenced Lindh to 20 years in prison. By the end of May, he was released from prison, still having three years to serve, due to his ‘good behaviour’ while in jail. His good behaviour does not mean, however, that when freed the ‘American Taliban’ would not pose a threat to his fellow citizens. Indeed, there are reports that Lindh still shows signs of commitment to and expressed support for the Islamic State. After his release, he will be obviously subjected to a restricted control, including his communication and travel. Nonetheless, even the toughest supervision regime may turn out not to be sufficient enough. 

The question of what ought to be done with captured Jihadists constitutes a strong dilemma for intelligence services, law enforcement, as well as politicians. There seems to be no ideal solution to this concern, as all of the possible ones are flawed to an extent. Capital punishment – which will be discussed below – does eliminate particular terrorists and thus the threat they pose, but may also serve the purpose of mobilizing and motivating new recruits to join Jihad and raises voices of protest amongst adherents of liberalism. Deradicalization programs, to which imprisoned terrorists are obliged, according to some reports, have not been of much success. Also, detaining Jihadists in places like Guantanamo Bay and then letting them go does not work either, as demonstrated in the report by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence1.

It was observed that quite a few of them re-engaged in terrorist activities upon their release. Notably, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS’s leader, was detained by the US-led coalition forces in 2004 and after several months let go. During his time in detention, radical views of his have embraced even more extreme nature. Indeed, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Gharib prison, and other places the like may be said to have facilitated further radicalization. In fact, some academics and scholars came up with names quite adequately reflecting how faulty the detention system was and to what use it was to Jihadists, naming such facilities as ‘incubators for radicalization’2, ‘recruitment centres and training grounds’3, or ‘jihadi universities’4.

Very recently, seven French nationals who had been captured during the last period of fighting ISIS in Syria were sentenced to death by an Iraqi court. Subjecting them to the capital punishment does ‘take them off the streets’ and thus eliminate the threat that they pose, but, as mentioned above, it may well serve as a factor mobilizing new recruits to join Jihad and take revenge for those killed. French officials responded with mixed messages: while they still refuse to repatriate their citizens who fought in the ISIS’s ranks, they too are making official efforts to prevent the sentence from being carried out. France’s refusal to take its citizens back is understandable – it would be difficult to successfully try them in French courts – as are the official attempts to save those Jihadists from being hanged – after all France is a liberal democracy, which declared capital punishment illegal in 1981. Although Iraqi courts do not necessarily give any ISIS’s fighter a chance for a fully fair trial, they offer a minimum of justice, and what is certainly more important for France, as well as any other country whose nationals had been captured fighting in Syria and Iraq, they solve the problems for them. It is, therefore, unlikely for those states to make more meaningful attempts to alter the Iraqi courts’ decisions. 

The case of captured Jihadists is very problematic. Quite a good solution, but rather an utopian one, might be first to increase sentences for joining a terrorist organization and fighting in its ranks, maybe even sentencing all captured fighters without exception to life in prison without parole, because of the threat they are very likely to pose again upon their release. They ought to be imprisoned in closely guarded facilities with no prisoners of other kinds, so as to prevent them from having contact with non-jihadists whom they could try to gain for their cause. Furthermore, security in such a facility should be provided by multinational military units that ought to be composed of soldiers and guards strictly selected and subjected to background checks, as well as of impeccable moral attitude and psychological fitness – the latter being regularly checked. Security measures of such a prison should be of the highest possible level, and costs of such should be spread among prisoners’ countries of origin. Such a solution should, in theory, resolve the dilemma through removing Jihadists permanently from their societies, and should satisfy those opposing death penalty.

This is, however, only deliberation. In reality, Western states are hesitant to take responsibility for their nationals who were captured fighting in ISIS’s rank. They would rather leave it to the authorities of the country that the fighters are currently kept in, only occasionally raising their voice, just as French officials did- which was, nonetheless, rather calculated on not losing face in the public. It needs to be acknowledged, though, that France, along with the Netherlands and the US, have all repatriated a few of their non-militant nationals from Syria and Iraq (twelve orphans, two orphans, and two women and six children respectively). However, this obviously does not resolve the issue of overcrowded detention camps.

However, releasing Jihadists, of any affiliation really, from prisons will always remain a risk. It seems that the very minimum international community of states should do to contain the threat coming from captured terrorists is sentencing all of them to life in prison where they would be kept under strict control and in separation from other inmates, with no possibility under any circumstances and at any point to contact other prisoners.

1. Link to the summary of the report

2. Fawaz Gerges, ‘ISIS. A History’, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press 2016, p.84

3. Anrew Thompson and Jeremi Suri, ‘How America Helped ISIS. New York Times’, The New York Times, 1 October 2014

4. Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan, ‘ISIS. Inside the Army of Terror, New York: Regan Arts 2015, p. 83

Alan Lis: The case of ‘Fort Trump’

Since the collapse of communism, the United States has been widely recognized as the main ally of Poland, and the core guarantor of Polish sovereignty and security. For many years now, Polish authorities (nevermind of their political and ideological identification) have tried to secure the permanent presence of the US Army on the Polish soil. Over time, this issue has become also an element of a domestic political game. The current government formed by Law and Justice party (PiS) and its smaller allied parties, has been trying to get the US to establish a permanent US Army base in Poland. President Andrzej Duda, while visiting the White House in September 2018, suggested establishing such base, which would be named after the US president – Fort Trump. 

For many average Poles, the main external threat to the country comes from Poland’s powerful neighbour, Russia. Society’s views on that issue are reflected on Polish parliamentarians, vast majority of whom, if asked, would openly claim that Russia poses the greatest danger to Poland’s sovereignty. Such views, which strongly inform Polish mentality, have inevitably been inherited from the few decades of the oppressive communist rule. Since it collapsed, Poland has made a turn to the West, and became a member of both EU and NATO, which, along with the alliance with the US, constitute the ‘security umbrella of Poland’. Through the membership in the EU, Poland is politically and economically bound with almost thirty other European states, whereas NATO offers more of a military protection, especially since the outcomes of the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw were introduced and multinational battalion battle group was deployed in Orzysz, north-eastern Poland.

However, if, as already mentioned, NATO already provides security provisions, then why ‘Fort Trump’ is important for Poland? Mainly because it is widely believed that an additional form of protection from Russia and its expansionist policies would not be harmful. Despite Poland is a member of both, the EU and NATO, none in Poland would see a permanent US Army base as exaggeration, especially considering what has been going on in Eastern Ukraine since 2014. Additionally, the permanent presence of the US Army would undoubtedly strengthen Poland’s position in the region- by many means, Polish authorities have been trying to portray their country as the leader of the Central and Eastern European region over years- and would highlight the close relations between Warsaw and Washington. 

Before that happens, funding for this project must be approved, and the idea itself needs to find the support of the majority of American lawmakers. However, there are strong voices in the US towards enhancing its military presence in Eastern Europe, considering deterioration in bilateral relations with Russia. The Atlantic Council, think tank based in Washington, issued a report in December 2018 arguing for just that, and pointing at Russia’s military build-up in the Kaliningrad Region (the one Poland shares border with) and hybrid warfare that Moscow has engaged in.

Understandably, Russia is not likely to favour the idea of a permanent US Army base in Poland. It is very probable that ‘Fort Trump’ would fuel Moscow’s argumentation that Western states and organizations, by deploying their forces so close to Russia’s borders, ultimately not only undermine its security in theory but actually pose a direct threat to Russia and its security and interests in a closeness of its traditional sphere of influence. Whether establishing ‘Fort Trump’ would be a direct reason for a more serious escalation between Washington and Moscow remains to be seen once the base is officially set up. What is going to be a likely outcome is deterioration of bilateral relations between Warsaw and Moscow, as well as further Russian military build-up in Kaliningrad, and perhaps, Belarus. However,  the bilateral relations between Warsaw and Moscow will, with a high dose of probability, experience deterioration. 

Setting up the permanent base is, however, not only in the interest of Poland but also the US and NATO. It would vitally increase the security of the Eastern European NATO members against the aggressive actions carried out by Russia- be it by using its regular units or ‘little green men’. It would also prove President Trump’s support for NATO and its multinational forces deployed in Poland- notably, majority of whom are American- after showing a rather dismissive attitude towards NATO for a prolonged period of time. As President Andrzej Duda is expected to visit the White House on 12th of June, the eventual decision should be made public exactly then.

Alan Lis: The rise of right-wing terrorism

Although many associate terrorism with Islamic extremists, which – quite understandably – have attracted the lion’s share of media’s attention in recent decades, it needs to be remembered that they are not the only perpetrators of such. While the focus of media that has been put mostly on Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other groups of such type is justified for the fact that the current wave of terrorism, as terrorism expert David Rapoport claimed, is religious in its nature with Islam being the most important religion in it, right-wing terrorists cannot be forgotten and ought to be acknowledged as a serious threat.

Amongst the most common drivers of right-wing terrorism one undoubtedly can find the anti-immigration views of its perpetrators, as well as their belief in the supremacy of their race over the others, and hatred towards people of other religions. Especially the first one is commonly pursued by far-right nationalist political parties, which have risen to prominence in many countries over the last couple of years.

Right-wing populist rhetoric encompasses also creating a dimension of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, which degrades ‘them’ to have fewer rights and generally be of lesser ‘value’ from ‘us’. Inevitably, such extremism of views leads to an eruption of violence and results in deadly attacks. The spread of such radical thinking has become much easier than it used to be in the past due to the advances of social media and communication platforms that have enabled propagation of such on a far broader scale and with far greater speed.

Recent months and years have been exceptionally rich in violent terrorist attacks motivated by right-wing extreme ideology, to the point that some experts now openly recognize right-wing terrorism as more of a threat coming from terrorist attacks committed by Islamic radicals, particularly in the case of the United States. More significant recent examples include the mail bombing attempts of October 2018, where a perpetrator with far-right extreme views, known also for his support for right-wing conspiracy theories, sent pipe bombs to several individuals involved in a critique of President Donald Trump via the US post. Fortunately, none of the parcels’ receivers was harmed. Additionally, in the very same month, the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting took place and left eleven people killed.

However, not only the US has experienced right-wing terrorism in recent years. Example of Andreas Breivik and attacks he perpetrated in Oslo and on the Utøya island, Norway, constitute one of the most-or indeed the most – disastrous examples of right-wing terrorist attacks committed in Europe, and killed over 70 people. What is also tragic is that Breivik has been a source of inspiration for others who share his radical views. The perpetrator of the recent Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand, Australia – born Brenton Tarrant, claimed in his manifesto that Breivik and his actions had a significant influence on him. This attack came as a shock in the open to multiculturalism New Zealand. As it was live-streamed on Facebook, it may have served the purpose of inspiring new recruits to perpetrate similar attacks.

The attack carried out by Tarrant had yet another devastating consequences. The Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, which targeted Christians, are said by many to have been carried out in retaliation for the Christchurch attack. The ties between the perpetrators and ISIS are being investigated, as Amaq – the ISIS’s news agency – claimed after the attacks that their perpetrators were Islamic State fighters. This relation between those two terrorist acts illustrates that Islamic and right-wing dimensions of terrorism are somewhat interlinked and mutually fuel each other – perpetrators of one commit violence and by that motivate the other side to carry out a lethal response, encouraging the circle of violence to continue.

President Trump, when asked back in March whether in his opinion white nationalism was a threat, had dismissed it, saying it was a terrible problem, but applying only to a small group of people. Unless leaders of the most powerful states in this world come to an agreement about the ways to tackle this peril and get on board with countering violence motivated by right-wing and nationalist ideologies, they will remain a strong appeal for many, and as such a deadly threat in many countries.

Furthermore, both the role of social media in spreading such and the easiness that characterize communication between right-wing radicals need to be dealt with. Right-wing terrorism will also require intelligence and security agencies to partly shift their attention from Jihadi perpetrators of terrorism to far-right extremists. As claimed by the New Zealand’s PM, Brenton Tarrant was not on the radar of either Australian or New Zealand intelligence agencies. In order to avoid, or at least reduce right-wing terrorist attacks, this would need to change. 

Alan Lis: Designing each others’ military forces as terrorist organizations and growing tensions between Iran and the US

During recent months, the relations between the US and the Islamic Republic of Iran have worsened severely. Washington and Teheran have entered the path of mutual threats- not that this is something new, of course, but with the nuclear deal signed between Iran and the group of world powers back in 2015 one could expect a slight of brighter future and more stability and security in the Middle East, as well as generally in world. The more recent occurrences, however, have seemed to demonstrate an utterly opposite direction that the Iranian-American relationship goes. 

The series of events that have further deteriorated relations between Iran and the US began with President Trump withdrawing from the nuclear deal in May 2018. He did so despite other states- which sat at the same side of the negotiating table and signed the agreement along with the US- who publicly claimed that they had not noticed Iran violating terms of the agreement. Mr. Trump, however, was not eager to reason with such appeals-he had torpedoed the treaty and his predecessor in the White House who brokered the deal heavily in his presidential campaign in 2016 and criticized attempts to achieve long-term stability and security with Iran through such. This decision, understandably, angered Teheran and further complicated its, already difficult, relations with Washington.

Furthermore, the designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization by the US contributed largely to the significant intensification in tensions between the two countries. This constitutes the first example of this kind in history when a part of another state’s military was labelled as such. IRCG was established after the Islamic Revolution that took place in 1979 and is officially tasked with protecting the Islamic nature of the Iran’s system of government. Its members constitute the elite of the Iranian military, and the Guard Corps holds a tremendously significant position in Iran, which goes beyond the military sphere. The IRGC has for a long time enjoyed strong political and economic influences, reaching nearly all economic sectors. Amongst the numerous companies controlled by the IRGC, particularly those in construction and business sectors, as well as oil and gas industries, are worth being pointed out. 

Out of all units and divisions constituting the IRGC, the Quds Force- responsible for conducting intelligence, foreign covert and military operations and led by charismatic Qasem Soleimani- seems to have caused most troubles and influenced most the Washington’s decision to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, particularly due to its support for Hamas, Hezbollah and other non-state actors that the US, and the Western world in a large part, consider to be terrorist in nature. Through supporting mentioned organizations, as well as Shia militias in Iraq and Houthis in Yemen, the Quds Force serves as a tool of shaping foreign policy and allows Iran to increase its position in the region. The Quds Force is vital to Iran’s foreign policy, as well as national security.

The decision to designate the whole IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization not only angered average Iranians and further alienated them from the US (if Washington tries to ultimately win Iranians’ hearts and minds and through such weaken the theocratic regime and lead to its overthrow then it pursues the wrong path of doing so), but also met with a response from the authorities in Teheran who, in an act of revenge, designated the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in the Middle East, as well as its allies, as terrorist organization themselves. Since these occurrences took place last month, the bilateral US-Iran relations have been a downhill to an extent not seen in a prolonged period of time.

Last Wednesday, President Trump ordered a new set of sanctions to target Iran’s iron, aluminium, steel, and copper sectors, further pressuring the state’s economy. Simultaneously, Washington deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier, which serves as ‘floating American diplomacy’, and later the Air Force bomber task force. The Americans are clearly increasing their military presence in the Middle East, but as the officials claim, this is not done for the purpose of starting a war- Iran shall rather see it, as many US officials came to explain, as a form of protection of American interests and security.

It is highly doubtful that Teheran would indeed recognize growing American military presence as such. Iran has already decided to walk away from some of the restrictions imposed by the nuclear treaty signed in 2015. While the direct military conflict between the US and Iran is somewhat unlikely, the intensification of instability in the Middle East, already deeply troubled, will certainly occur, and further downgrade in relations between the US and Russia, who stands behind the Iranian regime, is a likely outcome.

Alan Lis: Shamima Begun, or rather the case of Westerners in ISIS’s ranks

A couple of weeks ago citizens of the United Kingdom found yet another topic, like if Brexit was not enough, that divided them into two opposing camps: those that wanted to give Shamima Begum a second chance and accepted the idea of her coming back to the UK formed one camp, whereas the other one was created by opponents of her being anywhere near the British borders. The example of Shamima Begum is only a single illustration of a complicated problem that many countries have been facing these days, namely- what is ought to be done with men and women that willingly left their homelands in order to join the ranks of ISIS in Syria and Iraq?

Shamima Begun, at this moment 19 years old, left her family and home in the United Kingdom for Syria at the age of 15. With two other girls, she flew to Turkey and joined the jihad in Syria crossing the border between the two countries. In her latest interview, Begum confirmed that one of her friends that had traveled with her to Syria died and that she had no information of the whereabouts of the other. Not long after joining the ranks of jihadists, Ms. Begum got married to a Dutch ISIS fighter, with whom she had three children. Sadly, all of them died. The youngest, only three weeks old, reportedly died of pneumonia in the first week of March 2019, not long after the world heard Shamima’s story mainly because of the two interviews that she gave.

The main motivation For Shamima to go back to the UK was her newborn, whom she said it would be impossible to raise in the refugee camp. Ms. Begum said she wanted to have her son live a better life than he would in Syria. This is of course understandable. However, what is significant and needs to be acknowledged, during the interview with Sky News she did not seem genuinely sorry for the victims of the Islamic state- dead men, raped women, orphaned children- and she still seems to support the strict Islamic Sharia law. Since the second interview, Ms. Begun has been said to have left the camp she was living in because of death threats she received from others that found shelter there.

Allegedly, Shamima Begum neither took part in combat nor was she trained to do so. She claims to be a wife of an ISIS fighter and thus to have been preoccupied with what housewives do all around the world- at least that is the story she decided to stick to. The truth is that it would be extremely difficult for security services to verify her words against her deeds and therefore no one can be sure what Begun was really up to.  Of similar opinion on this topic is a large part of the British society, amongst whom is the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, who ordered stripping Ms Begum off her British citizenship, making an argument that she is eligible for the citizenship of Bangladesh, and therefore would not become a stateless person (had she been to become one,  according to the British law Mr. Javid would not have been able to give such order). However, the government of Bangladesh denied Mr. Javid’s argument and refused to take any action with regards to Ms. Begum, saying that it has nothing to do with this matter of the British government.

As far as the security of British people is concerned, allowing Ms. Begum to return to the UK would be putting them in danger. No one knows for sure what she has really been up to in Syria- she might have been, as she claims, only an ISIS’s fighter wife, not involved in perpetrating any sort of violence; but there is a chance that she lied during the interview and she had received some military training indeed, and that she might be involved in a plot against the UK now. Although if that is the truth it would be a very much short-sighted plan on the part of ISIS- if Ms. Begum indeed took part in a terrorist plot against the UK, this would certainly minimize chances of other ISIS followers to be allowed to return to their homelands, and thus somewhat reduce ISIS’s ability to strike against the US or European countries using Westerners in its ranks.

Her example illustrates well the situation of hundreds (if not more) foreign fighters who now that ISIS lost its last scraps of territory, face the uncertainty as to their future. There are voices that many of them, just like MS. Begum, want to go back to their home countries, however, one can justifiably question their will for a peaceful life upon their arrival. Indeed, news reports have it that a number of these fighters openly say that they do not regard the territorial collapse of ISIS as the end of their struggle, and they aim at continuing their fight. Neither the US, nor the UK, nor any of the European countries for that matter would welcome their citizens coming back from Syria or Iraq with open arms. Some of those countries openly claimed that they will not take them back. From the domestic security perspective, they seem to be right.

Shamima Begum, as any returning jihadist, is a goldmine when it comes to possessed information and knowledge and is thus invaluable for intelligence and secret services. The question is, however, whether she or other jihadists would be willing to share the information they possess. Their fate is, at this moment, unknown and the perspective of them returning to their home countries is uncertain, to say the least. When it comes to Ms. Begum and others like her, politicians, intelligence and secret services, and the average citizens face a political, security, and moral dilemma. One thing is certain- ISIS may have lost its territory indeed, however, as long as its followers remain hostile towards everybody else, no one can speak of a de facto end of this terrorist organization.

Alan Lis: U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria

The decision to withdraw the US troops fighting ISIS, known also as ISIL and IS, in Syria is one of the most controversial ones made by President Donal Trump. This announcement came as shocking news, as the ISIS fighters, have not been entirely defeated yet. Although it is true that the overwhelming majority of the IS units have been crashed by either side taking part in the military struggle in Syria-be it the Americans, Russians, Iran-backed Hezbollah, or the forces loyal to Syria’s president, Bashar al Assad- there are still some units of ISIL fighters defending what is left of their Caliphate.

The decision of Mr. Trump met with an extraordinary astonishment of many, including some of his advisors, and criticisms of even more. James Mattis, the, now former, Secretary of Defense resigned from his post, largely motivating his resignation with this very decision of Mr.Trump, expressing his opposition towards bringing American troops back home in a letter to the president, and suggesting Mr Trump that he deserves a secretary of state whose views are to a larger extent similar with his. Clearly, losing a Secretary of Defense of such military experience- Mattis is a four-star retired general- has been a profound loss for the Trump administration. More recently, Pentagon admitted that there is a chance of ISIS resurging in the months to come. In addition to that, General Votel, who has been leading the fight against the IS officially disagreed with Mr. Trump’s decision pointing at two things: that ISIL has not yet been defeated, and that US-backed forces in Syria are not able to effectively counter its threat on their own. 

Trump’s decision of withdrawing troops from Syria strikes as similar to Obama’s military withdrawal from Iraq. There is one fact, however, that is often looked over- Mr. Obama withdrew the US troops because he did not have much choice- the Iraqi government did not agree to let them stay longer. Indeed, in 2011, the Obama administration failed to negotiate the stay of, at least some part of, the American forces in Iraq, what resulted in bringing American troops home. In effect of such, President Obama fulfilled his election-campaign promise, the US budget was relieved to an extent, and the Iraqi authorities were pleased to clear their country out of the US military- both countries, one may assume, should have been satisfied. However, in the result of American soldiers going back home, Iraqi society lost its shield protecting from Maliki and his sectarian rule. Iraqis became vulnerable to Maliki’s violent and oppressive government, which only strengthened peoples’ frustration and mobilised many young and desperate men to seek protection for them and their families in extremist jihadi groups. As one of such was ISIS, it could be argued that the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 was a factor that eventually contributed, to an extent, to the rise of this very organization. Now, one may only wonder what will happen in Syria once the US troops will leave. 

To be fair, there has already been a taster of what to expect. Almost a month after Trump announced his decision, on the 16th of January, four Americans and at least 10 other people died in the explosion, responsibility for which was claimed by ISIS. That attack suggested, as argued by General Votel, that Syria is not ready for the US forces to be withdrawn. Violence does continue and certainly will do so.

The US forces shall remain present in Syria until the military capabilities of ISIS are destroyed completely and the internal situation of Syria becomes more stable. Although it is fairly impossible to eliminate every single terrorist affiliated with ISIS, the international effort, led by the US, must be continued until virtually all networks are destroyed and every scrap of a territory is recaptured, so that ISIS does not hold any stronghold. Otherwise, there is a great risk that either the resurgence of ISIS or creation of the ISIS’s successor, would take place sooner rather than later.


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Artur Brzeskot: Balance of power is back to the front

If you went to international relations course and the academic teacher never mentioned the balance of power, you should go to your alma mater to claim a refund. We can find this idea in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, Carl von Clausewitz’s On war  and the ancient Indian writer Kautilya’s Arthashastra (transl. “Science of Politics”). This question is also central to the consideration of modern realists like Edward. C. Carr, Hans. J. Morgenthau, Robert Giplin, Kenneth N. Waltz… etc.

Despite its long and well documented history this elegant idea is forgotten or rejected by Polish elites. When we ask them why do Russia and Belarus have good relations? Most of them is reaching a conclusion it is the result of shared authoritarianism by Putin and Lukashenko, which reflexive anti-Polonism, or some other form of ideological solidarity. This presentation of collective amnesia encourages a lot of experts, journalists and political leaders to see our policy in ways that unwittingly push foes closer together and to miss chances to drive them apart.

The basic logic balance of power is simple. There is no government over governments on the world, which would regulate international relations, states have to guarantee themselves survival and they have to rely on their resources and calculations to avoid the worst being conquered, blackmailed, or coerced. If a threatened state faces an aggressive neighbor it can mobilize all of its own force. If it is differently this state has to seek an alliance with other states that face the same danger, in order to shift the balance more in its favor.

Furthermore, in extreme conditions forming a coalition might require a state to fight alongside another country it previously regarded as an enemy or even to take account of help from a great power that we assume it would be a very dangerous rival in the future. So, we should not be expected this fact that two the most democracies the United States and Great Britain allied with the genocidal beast the Soviet Union during World War II, because defeating Nazi Germany took precedence over their long-term and foggy concerns about tyranny of communism. Winston Churchill described this logic perfectly “If Hitler invaded hell, I would at least make a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke about this problem with the same sentiment “I could hold hands with the devil” if it would help beat the Third Reich. Another words, when you really need allies, you can’t be too choosy.

Of course, balance of power logic also later played an important role in U.S. foreign policy, especially when concerns about national security were apparent. In times of the Cold War America’s alliances (NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organization and alliances in Asia) were formed to balance and contain the Soviet Union. The same motive led America to back an array of authoritarian regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America. After all, Richard Nixon came open to China in 1972, of course he was inspired by a threat of the Soviet Union’s hegemony. In result he considered that closer relation Washington-Beijing would put Moscow at a disadvantage.

Although balance of power has a long history and an unquantifiable intellectual primacy over another paradigms, policymakers and pundits often fail recognize how it drives the behavior of both allies and adversaries. Part of the problem stems from that both America and Poland are strong tendencies to assume that every state’s foreign policy is shape by internal attributes for example: aspirations, concerns, calculations, domestic politics, economy, values, ideology as well eccentric leaders than by external factors for example: structural causes, anarchy, system self-help, polarity, external threats and finally by a balance of power.

From this point of view the United States’ natural allies are states, which shared its values. When some nations speak of America as a leader of free world, or when they describe NATO as “transatlantic community” (we should add: liberal democracies), they are suggesting that considering a steadfast affection to common vision of the world order. Of course, shared values are relevant, some empirical studies even evidenced that democratic alliances are more stable than one between autocracies or between democracies and non-democracies. But, it is worthy to sight, if we assume a priori, that states always are driven by motives from level an individual or a nation, i.e. determine their own hierarchy both friends and foes base on internal attributes, it can lead us astray in several ways.

First, if we consider that shared by us values are a unifying force, we are likely to overstate cohesion and durability any alliance. NATO is a good example, implosion of the Soviet Union to obliterate the most important cause for its further existence. Yet despite herculean efforts to give the alliance a new set of missions regressive scratches and stresses were not removed. These questions might be different if NATO’s wars in Afghanistan and Libya were a success, but they did not.

Of course, Ukrainian crisis slows down a tendency of decomposition and decline NATO temporarily, but this modest reversal merely underscores of validity theoretical hypothesis that external threats, i.e. fear of Russia, play in holding NATO together. In sum shared values are definitely insufficient to survival any coalition consists of nearly 30 states located on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, all the more, when part of its members evidently reject liberal axiology like Poland, Hungary and Turkey. There is no doubt about values in the preamble of Washington treaty 1949.

Second, if whoever ignores balance of power politics he may be surprised, when the others allied forces against him. The George W. Bush junior administration was shocked even blasted when France, Germany and Russia joined efforts to block Uncle Sam in the UN Security Council during an attempt authorization invasion on Iraq 2003. Paris, Berlin and Moscow took this step, because they consider rightly that overthrow Saddam Hussein it is a risky play and may be a threat for themselves (if we look at current deconstruction of the Middle East in sum Schröder, Chirac and Putin were right). American leaders were not able to understand why close their allies Germany and France did not agreed to overthrow Saddam, a brutal dictator, and transform the region along democratic line. As Bush’s national security advisor Condoleezza Rice said later that America did not understand this problem.

It worth to sight that American officials were equally surprised when Iran and Syria joined forces to help Iraqi insurgency. These hard facts should suggest that any efforts of U.S. administration has to fail. We have to realize that Iran and Syria would be next on the United States’ list if war and occupation in Iraq were succeeded. On the other hand Teheran and Damascus behaved just as balance of power predicts, i.e. threatened states join forces, to deter and finally to defense against any aggression. Conclusion: from a political point of view neither Americans nor Poles should tangle into the stupid wars and later to be surprised that events turned tragic.

Third, if we focus on political and ideological affinities and ignore a role of shared threats by our foes, it encourages us, to see our adversaries as more unified than they really are. Instead of recognizing that our opponents are cooperating with each other largely for instrumental or tactical reasons, policymakers and commentator quickly assume that enemies are bound together by deep and common goals. In an earlier era of international relations Americans saw the communist world as unified monolith, they mistakenly considered all communists everywhere were reliable agents of the Kremlin. This mistake not only led them to miss or even to deny rancorous conflict between Moscow and Beijing, but also U.S. leaders mistakenly assumed that non-communists leftists were likely favorable to Moscow as well. The same mistakes were made by Soviet leaders, and strongly disappointed, when their efforts towards non-communist Third World socialists frequently backfired.

This strange instinct functions also current, in phrases like “axis of evil”, it allegedly suggested that Iran, Iraq and North Korea were part of unified front, in false terms like “islamofascism”, whether the most stupid hyperbola makes a comparison Putina and al-Assada to Hitler. Instead of seeing extremist movements as competing organizations with a variety of worldviews and objectives, policymakers and pundits routinely act and persuade as if our foes were operating from an identical playbook. These groups are often far from a common doctrine and suffer deep schisms and ideological fractions, personal injuries and rivalries, and they join their forces more only from necessity than conviction. Of course, extremists still cause trouble for world peace, but assuming all terrorists are loyal soldiers in a single global movement makes them look scarier than they really are.

Let’s go into our backyard in Europe. Poland also should know to divide its rivalries, unfortunately instead of it, our policy drives our enemies closer together. We can take an obvious example, although there may be some modest ideological common ground between Belarus and Russia, each of these states has its national interests and agendas. For this reason their collaboration should be analyze as a tactical alliance rather than as a cohesive or unified front of authoritarian regimes under the name of the Union States of Russia and Belarus (in Polish language acronym of this name means “bully”). If we will leverage on Belarus, it seeks help in Moscow, it merely gives both regimes a motive to help each other.

Last but not least, ignoring balance of power dynamics squanders one of Poland’s chief geopolitical advantage. As the middle power in the Central Europe, our country has enormous latitude when choosing allies and thus enormous potential leverage over them. Given this asset, we can sometimes play harder ball, to take advantage of regional rivalries when they occur. It can let us to be watchful for opportunities to drive wedges between our adversaries. Of course, this approach requires flexibility a sophisticated understanding of regional affairs, an aversion to special relationships, and most of all rejection policy of demonizing countries with which we have differences.

Unfortunately, Poland has done exact opposite for the past few decades especially in the Eastern Europe. In result we have frozen relations with Russia, cold attitudes towards Belarus, Lithuania and currently also towards Ukraine. Instead of exhibiting political insight our elites have rigidly stuck at especially relations, Germany and France were once, now we deepened an exotic alliance with Great Britain, further Hungary, Romania and Croatia – Three Seas Initiative. In sum with certain exceptions, and outside Europe (vide: China), we have treated our adversaries like pariahs (vide: Lukashenko), we threaten them and impose against them sanctions or give them the empty promises, instead of taking serious their aspirations and concerns. The results of this policy, alas, speak for themselves. Thus I postulate may a balance of power is back to the front not only our strategy, but all the West, and especially the United States, because rest of the world has already broken to ignore a realistic dictum.


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Polish version: Równowaga sił powraca na front

Artur Brzeskot: It is time to buy U.S. Patriot air defense missile system

The U.S.-Poland relation remains the cornerstone of Central Europe security. And with the new defense guidelines that Washington and Warsaw singed in 2016, the alliance has never been stronger and more capable of contributing to security around the region. The Pentagon is operationalizing the military part of the strategy on lethal weapons sales to Poland which will help our country’s armed forces get the equipment it needs.

During President Donald Turmp’s first state visit to Warsaw, the White House confirmed status quo Poland. That time the Polish Ministry Defense and the United States signed a memorandum on the delivery of U.S. Patriot missile systems. The designation does not mean a change of balance of power (as some observers see it), but only to facilitate defense trade and technology sharing with the country on a level that the United States reserves for its closest friends and allies. As a result on November 17 of last year the government of American decided to sell an advanced missile defense system Patriot to Poland – at the earliest possible date.

On that occasion we found out the price $ 10,5 billion. Although the first phase of negotiation has not yet ended it is difficult to hide Polish confusion. Some experts say the price is unacceptable. Actual value is much more than financial means at the Polish Ministry Defense’s budget plans in 2018. May be it is more than Polish state’s capabilities. In my opinion Poland’s ambitious aims are in a simply imitation of Great Britain and France’s strategies during the 1950s and 60s. It is very important that we are discerning this need, however, this question is open: will we be able to conform our actions to the patterns?

We have known for ages that research-intensive and modern weaponry have raised the barriers that states must jump over if they are to become members of the great powers club. For this reason unable to spend on anywhere near American, Russian or Chinese level for research, development, or production, small and middle powers who try to compete find themselves constantly falling behind. They are usually in the second ranking powers’ position of imitating the more advanced weaponry of their wealthier allies as well rivals. In sum this problem will not be resolved even If we abandon short of the extreme electronic, the cost and compilation of conventional warfare exclude middle states from developing the full range of weapons for land, air, and sea warfare.

Great Britain wished to bypass this problem by building a nuclear force, but Britain became more dependent on the United States. France did not want to lose independence so it decided to go ahead with its own nuclear program. France may have done so believing that missile-firing submarines were the world’s first permanently invulnerable force, that for them military obsolescence had ended. For the sake of argument that the French had the right given the small numbers of submarines France has planned, however, only one or two will be at sea at any given time. In the face of technological advance it makes their detection and destruction increasingly easy.

What am I getting? There are here two aspects. First, we have to agree that by the purchase of U.S. Patriot missile system Poland constrains its own independent. By virtue of it that the American are likely to refuse us an access to the top-secret technology so we will find in this situation just as the British during the Cold War – without strategic independence. Second, I think about the scale of the technological employment. Eight batteries of U.S. Patriot missile system will certain not sufficient for the complete defense. In a case of limited or unlimited aims war those systems will play a supporting role. In the same way like French submarines and missiles would not play much more the meaning in the face of war between NATO and Warsaw Pact. It is very important to note that both the British and the French despite unbearable difficulties they have taken some efforts in order to imitate the best military system in the world – the United States. Poland is in the same conditions nowadays.

Our country has no a principal influence on the objective facts of structural causes and military effects in Europe, such as Great Britain and France have not had since 1945. No third great power could lie between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia (e.g. European Community, European Union, Germany, Three Seas Initiative … etc.). So, by these external conditions is only one of possible choices it is ever closer relation with the United States, alternatives are a buffer state or Russia’s domination. For this reason Poland should not drag out the purchase of U.S. Patriot missile system. Furthermore, international politics is not only a realm of socialization, but also as a competitive realm. The latter domain depends on construction solid deterrence and defense by copying of the best players. Otherwise, Poland will be doomed to strategic autarky and as a last resort to military deviancy.

We may look at the map of Europe our country is not outside the immediate arena of competition like America and Great Britain in XIX century – reversely Poland is in the middle of the area. Thus, it means simply that we have to conform to accepted and successful practices to rise to the top and to increase our chances for survival. The purchase of U.S. Patriot missile system does not give us guarantee to achieve this destination, but it gives us only warrant to the best pattern –  organization, procedures, technologies and arms.

In sum, these behaviors are returned by all history. Bismarck’s victories over Austria in 1866 and over France in 1870 have considerably exposed it and quickly led the major continental powers and some Asian states (e.g. Japan) to imitate the Prussian military staff system. Adolph Hitler’s victories in the early years World War II with blitzkrieg strategy were pattern for Israel in wars in the Middle East. After all America’s doctrine RMA Revolution Military Affairs (dance like butterfly sting like a bee) has taken much from German strategists.

We should remember about it, that is nothing new that contending states imitate the military innovations contrived by the country of greatest capability and ingenuity. Poland should go the same road, because it may give an opportunity to achieve the most important aim – national security. The purchase of U.S. Patriot missile system is a next step in order to copy the greatest military pattern in the world.

Photo: Raytheon


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Polish version: Czas kupić amerykański system obrony powietrznej Patriot

Artur Brzeskot: Military strategy and conventional deterrence

What do military strategy and conventional deterrence have common? It seems to me that these both things are directly related to the matter of how a nation’s armed forces are employed to achieve specific battlefield goals. Therefore we say exactly about military strategy. From strategic perspective all decision makers want to determine how their armed forces are going to be used on the battlefield. They are concern with getting to know probable outcomes when the attacking forces meet the defending forces. Thus decision makers attempt to project primarily the nature of the war. Does the plan of attack – or defense  – the proposed strategy, promise success at a reasonable cost? In sum, such cogitations are fundamental questions of the decision-making process.

In a sense military strategy help us to understand deterrence failures and successes. Thus, all decision makers stand in the face of choice three distinct and narrowly defined strategies: a) the attrition; b) the blitzkrieg; and c) the limited aims strategies. We have to realize that each has different implications for deterrence. If we consider a definition of military strategy at the most general level, an attacker can pursue either limited or unlimited military goals. In more concrete terms, unlimited military objectives can mean total defeat of the opponent’s military forces. However, we should note that unlimited war may not be define as total war. We might accept the cornerstone of total war is unconditional surrender. In other words, we can say that the attacker is pursuing unlimited political objectives.

This situation took place during World War II when the Great Alliance defeated the Axis Powers – Germany, Italy and Japan in 1945. On the other hand it is possible for a state to disarm an opponent completely on the battlefield and not to seek unconditional surrender. In contrast to the first example in 1967 the Israelis decisively defeated the Egyptian military forces (Six Days War), but were well aware that they would not be able to impose political terms on Egypt. Another kind of military strategy is pursuit of a limited objective. It requires the attacker to seize a portion of the opponent’s territory. Of course, a capture is well done when the attacker defeat some of enemy’s forces. However, the principal aim is to conquer territory, not to defeat the opponent’s army. The difference between limited and unlimited goals is clearly reflected in the writings Carl von Clausewitz, Liddell Hart, Giulio Douhet and other military strategists.

If we are going to achieve a specific goal, as an attacker, we have to know how employ our forces so as to do it the best. If an attacker’s goal is to defeat the opponent decisively, an attacker can choose between the attrition and blitzkrieg strategies. In other words, by the attrition strategy, the attacker seeks to defeat his opponent by engaging a lot of battles of annihilation – or set-piece battles. The ultimate success depends on wearing the defense down until resistance is no longer possible. On the other hand, the blitzkrieg, base on the mobility and speed inherent in an armored force to defeat an opponent decisively and to avoid a series of bloody battles.

The massive victories achieved by Germany in the early years of World War II for example: Poland 1939; France 1940; Balkans 1941 … etc. and nearly three decades later by Israel in the Middle East, present that an opponent can be disarmed without numerous battles of annihilation. In my opinion, on the modern battlefield, the blitzkrieg strategy is still the ideal tool for achieving a quick victory at a low cost. In this sense deterrence is likely to fail when a potential attacker considers that he can start a successful blitzkrieg. On the other hand, the attrition strategy can render at best a delayed success at a high cost, but also may very well fail to bring a decisive victory. In this context we can claim that deterrence is greatly strengthened when a potential attacker foresees war as a series of set-piece battlefields.

We try to consider theoretically an armed conflict in which military aims are limited. In this situation an attacker attempts to analyze the best strategy for seizing a slice of the opponent’s territory. It suggests us that neither the attrition nor the blitzkrieg strategies are an optimal choice. Although it is possible to use those strategies, the attacker is very unlikely to do so. Instead he will rely largely on surprise. Why is it? Because the aim is to strike before the victim can mobilize his defenses. This nearly ideal strategy, which is named the limited aims strategy, it gives importance to minimizing contact with the defender If the attacker is able to achieve surprise. We can assume generally that this strategy is likely to be successful and also not very costly.

The blitzkrieg and the attrition strategies are invariably riskier because they are almost always employed in pursuit of a more ambitious objective and because they both involve directly engaging the defender’s forces. From this perspective an attacker has three options. The first two the blitzkrieg and attrition strategies might be used when the aim is to inflict a decisive defeat on the enemy. With the limited aims strategy, on the other hand, the attacker seeks to capture some portion of opponent’s territory.

If we want to theorize generally base on these above definitions we can claim that Putin’s move to seize the peninsula Crimea in 2014 is to be matched to the pattern of the limited aims strategy. First, Russia did not have to concentrate much resources before military action – the invasion had rather a low cost. Second, Russia obtain the effect of a surprise minimizing the contact with the defender. Third, Russian Army is not going to defeat completely Ukraine’s armed forces and to seek unconditional surrender. Fourth, Russia succeed in capturing some portion of Ukraine’s territory and achieving specific political aims, that is to prevent Ukraine’s access to the European Union and NATO. If we analyze wider political factors Russia’s preponderance in this conflict is much more than Ukraine.

In reality, each military strategy has different implications for deterrence. So, likelihood an operation of the latter is connected not only with the defender’s correct choice, but it also depends on which strategy the potential attacker is considering.


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Polish version: Militarna strategia a konwencjonalne odstraszanie