The International Security Outlook 2030–The Challenge of Daesh

In the past week or so, I have done several posts on the first part of the Global Risk Report 2016, which came out earlier this year from the World Economic Forum.

The report is, to a large extent, similar in format to those created in previous years, which makes for an excellent way of checking up on recent trends of global risks.

One feature that was specifically commissioned for the Global Risk Report 2016, however, was a survey of the international security outlook for 2030.   International security is defined as “measures taken by state or non-state actors, individually or collectively, to ensure their survival and integrity against trans-boundary threats.”

The consensus in international relations that was achieved in the first 25 years after the Cold War created social, p0litical and economic progress for people in many countries around the world.  However, shifts in political and economic power are threatening the international security order, and these are being accelerated by:

  • technological innovation (see previous post on Global Technological Risks)
  • social fragmentation
  • demographic shifts

The two shifts that have the potential of destabilizing current international relations are:

  1. Frail or weakening states–these open up space for the rise of armed non-state actors (like ISIS) in the global security space, and present themselves as alternatives to state-based governance structures
  2. Return of strategic competition between strong states with conflicting interests–this can be seen in the competition between the BRIC  countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) on the one hand and US and NATO countries on the other.

This second section of the Global Risk Report shows how these two shifts are interconnected by using the example of the challenge that Daesh (aka the Islamic State In Syria or ISIS) poses to the Middle East region and eventually to the entire world.

The reason why Daesh poses a challenge to the entire world is because Daesh does not just recruit locally; it exploits the resentment and disillusionment of young people and recruits them from over 100 countries.    What are the causes of the formation of ISIS?

First of all, the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein in the naïve attempt to create a democracy in the Middle East.   Naïve not because the people of the Middle East are incapable of creating a democracy, but that such a democracy is not just a form of government; it requires institutions to support and nurture the growth and sustaining of this culture.   To put this into the terms of Spiral Dynamics, which classifies societies in terms of developmental stages, Iraqi was under the authoritarian rule of Saddam Hussein, which should be considered as the third or RED stage of development according to the model (the colors are arbitrarily assigned to make the model more accessible).    The fourth or BLUE stage of development which is based not on one-man authoritarian rule but what might be considered a feudal series of relationships.    It’s the stage where monarchy balanced by an aristocracy is a very common form of government.   The fifth of ORANGE stage of development is where representative democracy becomes possible with different branches of government.   The US, for example, is somewhere on the continuum between the fifth ORANGE stage and the sixth or GREEN stage of development, which is when more the individual is even more empowered, such as through social media, having a direct voice rather than just a representative one.   What the Bush administration wanted to do was leapfrog Iraqi society from the third or RED stage all the way to the fifth or ORANGE stage without creating the institutions that are required for this development.   A makeshift stock exchange was created with the magical thinking that this would somehow jumpstart a capitalist economy in this war-torn area.    Institutions like the Iraqi army that would have provided stability from one stage to the next were dismantled.    The result:   rather than going up stages of development, Iraqi societal development devolved from the RED or strong-man authoritarian rule back down to the second or PURPLE stage of development, where there is competition between tribes or in this case sects.   This is the state Iraq found itself in under the sway of sectarian strife between the Sunni and Shia.

When the Shiites took control over the country through the democratic process, they used their power not to create a government that would serve all constituencies in the country, as an ORANGE level democracy would do, but they started to use government powers to go after the Sunnis in the same way that the Shiites had been persecuted under Saddam Hussein, essentially using a democratic form to advance one tribal affiliation over another.   This caused a Sunni insurgency in the West of Iraq which spilled over into its neighbor Syria to the East, and contributed to the formation of ISIS in that country.

What is clear from the summary in the Global Risk Report is that whatever went INTO creating Daesh or ISIS, it will not be defeated simply by “bombing them out of existence” as some US presidential nominees have suggested.   In fact, you could say that ISIS to a certain extent has been bombed into existence, in a way that the Khmer Rouge were created as an unexpected byproduct of the bombing campaign in Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War.   Bombing campaigns may erase individuals among the Daesh leadership, but their create enough chaos because of collateral damage that they merely extend the vacuum in which a terrorist group like Daesh thrives.   Rather, Daesh can only be defeated if the civil war in which it is embroiled is ended.    However, major regional and global powers have been unable so far to be able to put aside differences and pragmatically find a political settlement.    It can only be suffocated socially and economically, not militarily or at least not SOLELY through military means.   For more concrete proposals for meeting the challenge of ISIS, I recommend the book ISIS:  The State of Terror, by J. M. Berger and Jessica Stern.

This requires a reversal of the second trend above, increasing cooperation between strong states, if the first trend, that of the rise of non-state actors like Daesh or ISIS, is also to be reversed.


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