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29 January 2016

A recipe against terrorism

How to build a coalition against terror

The start of Russian military operations in Syria on September 30, the terrorist acts in Paris on November 13, and the shootings in San Bernardino on December 2, brought the issue of Islamic terrorism back to the core of both international and domestic agendas. The events activated the contacts between the United States, its European allies, and even Russia which was sidelined because of Moscow’s hostile actions vis-à-vis Ukraine.

Some leaders, like Francois Hollande of France, called for strengthening cooperation between all major powers to defeat the so called Islamic State (Daesh) in Syria and Iraq; others, like Vladimir Putin of Russia, proposed a worldwide antiterrorist coalition resembling the one created in the 1940s to defeat Nazi Germany, be established. All leaders emphasized the importance of a military operation aimed at the complete destruction of the Islamic extremists now concentrated in Syria by means of either airstrikes or a ground action.

I would argue that the creation of such a military coalitions seems not only impossible, but counterproductive. It looks impossible because the parties lack a mutually recognized definition of terrorists: the U.S. may count Daesh militants, while the Russians, the anti-Assad secular opposition. The alliances with some forces that seem crucial to one party, may look not permissible for the other. Moreover, – and this is much more important – strikes on the ‘terrorists’ will provoke a response of more terrorist attacks in European, Russian, or American cities. To produce real harm to Daesh, the West should engage in a massive operation on the ground. This does not seem too probable. In any case, another attempt to fight terror by military means will soon discredit itself, as happened with the war in Iraq, and it will also serve to make terrorists more active and powerful, and the coalition remarkably short-lived and ill-fated.

Therefore I would propose the complete opposite strategy be undertaken, based on two obvious facts rarely taken into consideration. First, the Middle Eastern states are in fact artificial constructs which seem unviable without dictatorial rule. Under French mandate in 1920, Syria was composed of four states that were later arbitrary combined into one. What we see now is a great reforming of these units coupled with a religious revival – and the West is unable to counter it. Second, the West (Russia included) faced defeat in any involvement into a civil war in the global periphery it took part in recent 50 years: Vietnam, Algeria, Afghanistan I and II, Somalia, Iraq, etc. are the milestones on this inglorious path. What is more silly and risky than building a global coalition for engaging in another civil war with religious underpinnings?

If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that terrorist acts move us only as they happen in our native countries and/or affect our citizens. It is a useful idea to establish a coalition, but one to get rid of terrorists within developed countries. Such a coalition may be aimed at uniting all anti-terrorist forces and special services with a focus of hunting terrorist suspects. The U.S. and Russia should not counter each other, but exchange information on extremists, open passport databases, form joint commando units,  introduce mutually recognized arrest warrants, and establish joint facilities where captured terrorist may be sentenced and treated. These efforts should be shared by the European and other civilized nations from Canada to Brazil, and from China to South Africa. All the coalition members should revoke their citizenships from suspected terrorists, establishing one long list of global outcasts. Would this be realized several years ago, both bombings at the Boston marathon and the Paris shootings might well be prevented from happening. And, I will repeat, the only purpose of such actions should be the defense of our homelands and the elimination of any double standards that exist now in international politics.

Only if the great powers of today succeed in combining their efforts to counter terrorists on their soil can further action be taken – e.g., infiltrating global extremist networks and dismantling them from the inside. All the great powers should also unite their forces in fighting corruption and money-laundering in offshore safe havens which is crucial for funding the terrorist networks worldwide. The coalition should find its supporters among both people and states in affected areas of the world who can lead the fight against organizations like al-Qaeda or Daesh inside the Islamic world. Such allies may be numerous – I would just mention the Kurds who, if promised to get a sovereign Kurdish state as a reward, may arise as a tremendous force in fight against Daesh (one may be reminded of the British tactics of 1916 that unleashed the struggle of the Arabs against the Turks during the first World War). And only at the final stage of the fight – and even at the peace-building phase – the ‘grand coalition’ may appear as the leading force in the Middle East facilitating its return to a normal and decent life.

Terrorism these days is not an enemy that deserves war as a response; it’s just a crime that calls for an answer. All who may counter it – the U.S., Russia, France, the UK, and many other nations all over the world – should be partners in peace, not only in war.

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