We don’t need a new war, we need time to think and reflect. By Evan Tyner
Fear is gripping the West and both sides of the Atlantic are reacting with panic. Brussels - Europe’s (slightly dysfunctional) de-facto political capital, and unofficial jihadist breeding ground - is on lockdown. Meanwhile Europe’s two military powers, incensed by the Paris attacks, are readying for a twin-front war they are unprepared for. “France is at war”, declared President Hollande, as French airstrikes battered Raqqa and the nuclear carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, set sail for the Eastern Mediterranean. Earlier this week, UK Premier, David Cameron was on hand to offer support: "I firmly support the decisive action taken by President Hollande to strike Isil [IS] in Syria, it is my firm belief that we should do so too." Shortly after issuing this statement, the British government confirmed a significant increase in funding to support offensive strike capabilities in its Strategic Defence and Security Review.
The US on the other hand, has remained uncharacteristically subdued. President Obama has not expressed any desire to alter his strategy in Syria. Focus has been on the domestic front, especially with regards to the risk posed by Syrian refugees (since 2012, the US has accepted only 2,174 Syrian refugees. Germany expects up to 1.5 million refugees in 2015 alone). The “migration crisis” that has gripped Europe, has not been felt in the US, yet fear of the “migrant-terrorist” has been endemic, fuelled by the fearmongering of the likes of Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
An ill-prepared global police force?
In both domestic and foreign theatres, the US and Britain/France have taken very different paths. This is perhaps the first time since France’s rebuke of the ill-fated Anglo-American Iraq escapade that the three Western powers have differed so starkly in their approaches to security. The new Entente Cordiale is turning into an ill-prepared global police force, and the US is retreating to fortress America. As I mentioned in my previous post, both of these approaches (reactive and bellicose vs insular and blame-shifting) will be seen as a positive outcome by the Daesh leadership. In one fell swoop the Paris attackers have engendered a paradigm shift in foreign and domestic policy that may prove fundamental to the outcome of the war in Syria and indeed the war against extremism in Europe. It also rather awkwardly encourages a marriage of convenience between Britain, France and Russia in the Middle East.
However, with significant American support unlikely, have the two junior partners overstretched themselves? In France the turmoil at home has led the government to deploy a significant proportion of the army’s total strength: around 10,000 soldiers at all times (requiring a net mobilisation of 21,000 to account for shift changes and training). In Britain the Strategic Defence and Security Review will boost the country’s international power projection, but continued cuts to the police forces (despite an increase in funding for SIS) and an alleged 20% cut in civilian positions at the MoD may hamper CVE and PVE programmes. Escalating the campaign in Syria will also likely increase the threat of attacks on British and French soil.
We don’t need a new war, we need time to think and reflect
The current climate requires a period of calm reflection, not heated reaction or isolationism. We should take the time to reflect on what Daesh represents and what they are actually trying to achieve. Before embarking on military ventures, we should gain a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses - and their links to Europe. Once we are clear on those basics we can ask ourselves whether military campaigns are indeed the right tool? Is a gradual containment strategy more promising? And most importantly, how does our anti-Daesh strategy affect our ability to end the conflict in Syria?
It is a sad day for mankind when a group fanatic extremists are capable of outmanoeuvring world powers, and influencing their policy.