Two new Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) reports suggest that Western military efforts to eliminate ISIS from the Middle East may result only in the Balkanisation of the region. Instead, states the Whitehall-based Think Tank, the best hope of countering the extremist group may come from within.
In the two-part report entitled ‘Inherently Unresolved’, which is edited by Dr Jonathan Eyal and Elizabeth Quintana, RUSI’s leading regional and military experts explore the political backdrop to the counter-ISIS campaign and analyse the effectiveness of military interventions against the extremist group.
Part 1 begins with a survey of the regional conditions that have facilitated the rise of ISIS and the potential role of the US in finding a solution to the crisis, and outlines points for consideration if a longer-lasting solution to the threat of ISIS – and the conditions that spawned it – is to be found.
It then provides a brief outline of the emergence of ISIS before exploring the perspectives of the various actors within Iraq, and then of the Gulf States, Iran and Russia.
Part 2 examines in some detail the three key elements of the military aspect – the air campaign, the land component and the battle of the narrative – with each chapter considering the broader coalition effort before focusing on the UK’s own contribution. The final chapter then assesses in detail the domestic terrorist threat posed by ISIS to the UK and its response to this threat so far.
Alteration of Western world strategies
The authors warn that eliminating ISIS from the Middle East entirely may no longer be realistic, and that Western strategies should be altered accordingly.
Michael Stephens argues that ISIS has become too deeply entrenched in the territory it rules to be easily displaced, and that the best hope for its defeat comes not from without, but rather within.
“The basic premise of the ‘caliphate’ is the end of the established order of states and the creation of its own in its place,” stated Stephens. “As such, there appears to be no room for compromise – or even direct negotiations – with the group at the present time. Indeed, the end of ISIS will only come if, like its predecessor [Al-Qaeda in Iraq], its rule crumbles from the inside as its ‘citizens’ turn against it.”
With this intractibility in mind, Elizabeth Quintana suggests the long-term difficulties of maintaining an alliance such as the counter-ISIS coalition mean that Western objectives may have to be scaled down.
Quintana explained: “While the current percentage containment strategy is based on an expectation of eventual success, defined as the destruction of ISIS as a military force, it may therefore be more realistic to assume that the strategy will become one of open-ended containment, degrading ISIS in Iraq and Syria and limiting its spread beyond the region. In this case, “success” may be the reduction of the ISIS phenomenon to something that regional players and Western powers can tolerate while the Syrian civil war plays itself out.”
Finally, Eyal and Quintana warn of the dangers of further Western intervention in an already highly-charged part of the world. “There’s a very real risk of Balkanisation of the region (despite the fact that most Syrians resist the idea). Preserving the unity of today’s states is becoming increasingly difficult. The real concern is that an intervention which began as a counter-insurgency campaign could now become something much deeper with, ironically, ISIS being the only real winner.”
*Copies of the new reports may be downloaded from the RUSI website