Sovereignty collapsed: Daesh and the return of bandit kings

SovereigntycollapsedMontage.jpg

Image Credit: New York Times

Policy Update

by Eric Morse and Stéfanie von Hlatky

DOWNLOAD PDF


Could 1914 happen again? That question was frequently speculated about at the beginning of 2014. Then, most analysts were firm in their conviction that big shifts in national borders were unlikely. The integrity of sovereign states, the majority of them members of the United Nations, was sanctified by international convention. By the beginning of 2016 that convention had been ruthlessly challenged by two actors, one sovereign – Russia; the other, state-seeking – Daesh.

Russia forcibly annexed Crimea and sponsored an invasion of East Ukraine (where the fighting rages on) thereby redefining borders to suit its national interest. Daesh, capitalizing on growing regional instability, eradicated the Iraqi-Syrian border, a victory that may prove lasting. Daesh has gone on to seize other territories in the Middle East and North Africa. Russia and Daesh have transformed our common understanding of borders, sovereignty and the international system in just a couple of years.

Where Daesh is unique to our era though, is not in its religious fanaticism, or its brutality, but in its ability to take strategic advantage of the ‘ungoverned spaces’, the chinks in the mortar of the international system.

The concept of ‘ungoverned lands’ was around long before 2014. Pre-16th century civilizations, existing in nodes around the world, took it as a matter of course. Nineteenth-century colonialism left an overlay – a thin one as it turned out – of multicoloured wallpaper that from about 1920 onward took on the appearance of Westphalian states. Fast forward to 2008 and global governance still had its cracks, as when Canadians Robert Fowler and Louis Guay were kidnapped in Niger. They happened to be travelling in the eight percent of the country that was designated safe for travellers, but realistically, if only eight percent of a country is safe then none of it is.

In 2015, it has become far too clear that many states (including but not limited to Mali, Niger, Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic and Nigeria) are in that position, and that non-state actors exercise free rein in large parts of the territory, often paying lip-service to Daesh and its extremist brand of religion.

Reduced to its barest conceptual bones, Daesh is a bandit kingdom with a delusion of grandeur. It is dependent on oil smuggling, forced taxation, and looted antiquities to sustain an offensive military effort that, in its Middle Eastern heartland, is quickly running out of steam. If the regional powers could coordinate their efforts – and they have so far been unwilling to do so – Daesh might now be far more degraded than it is, without prejudice to whatever might succeed it in the area.

They are certainly under sufficient pressure in Syria/Iraq to want to migrate to greener fields. At the moment, Libya looks like the field of choice; it is certainly ungoverned enough to meet their needs and some Daesh leadership may be transplanting themselves there.

If it is true that Daesh is trying to shift its centre of gravity to Libya, this is in fact a greater threat to Western security than its original location in Iraq and Syria. There it has no coastline, which automatically circumscribes its potential for growth. Occupying a fertile Mediterranean coastline has the real potential to threaten Europe, with piracy, terror or both, in a way that has not been seen since the Barbary Pirates fended off the US Marines from the shores of Tripoli in 1805.

Syria and Iraq are intractable in terms of long-term military intervention, as the Russians may be about to find out. Libya may be no less tractable in the event, but the threat may be great enough to turn the day toward full-fledged military intervention. The question, as always, is by whom?

Eric Morse, a former Canadian diplomat, is co-chair, Security Studies at the Royal Canadian Institute in Toronto and Senior Fellow at the Nato Association of Canada

Stéfanie von Hlatky is a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Director of the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University.


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTERS
 
SEARCH
PODCAST

An Update on the NAFTA Renegotiations

May 21, 2018


On today's Global Exchange Podcast, we touch base with CGAI's North American trade experts in light of a busy week on the NAFTA file in Washington. After months of hard-pressed negotiations, and 6 weeks of 'perpetual' discussions in Washington, the deal has reached its next turning point, with Congressional leadership signalling that they'd need a new deal by May 17th in order to have it passed before U.S. mid-term elections in the Fall. With no deal in sight, and the Congressional deadline now in the rear-view mirror, we sit down with Sarah Goldfeder, Laura Dawson, and Eric Miller to ask where we go from here.


IN THE MEDIA

Trump works to cut high-skilled visas in NAFTA deal

by Franco Ordonez & Anita Kumar (feat. Eric Miller), Miami Herald, May 21, 2018

Why killing Alberta’s carbon tax could kill Kinder Morgan pipeline

by Eric Collins (feat. Dennis McConaghy), CBC News, May 19, 2018

Why the NAFTA talks won’t end any time soon

by Kevin Carmichael (feat. Eric Miller), Financial Post , May 18, 2018


LATEST TWEETS

HEAD OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 421-7th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 4K9

 

OTTAWA OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6

 

Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: contact@cgai.ca
Web: cgai.ca

 

Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.

 

© 2002-2018 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001

 


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email