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Islamic State or Russia? Ten Key Questions Towards Pragmatism

Politics / GeoPolitics Sep 01, 2014 - 01:03 PM GMT

By: DK_Matai


There are insufficient resources and bandwidth to counter the rising threat of global destabilisation from the barbaric ambitions of the Islamic State operatives and Russia’s increasing belligerence and military interventions in Eastern Europe simultaneously.  At some stage, a clear and present danger based priority needs to be established.  At that point, some strategic questions need to be asked.  It is in the context of prioritisation that the ATCA 5000 Research and Analysis Wing and the mi2g Intelligence Unit have been framing the foundation for this Socratic dialogue for executive decision makers across more than 150 countries around the world. 

We are grateful to the following ATCA 5000 distinguished members for their seminal contribution to this briefing:  The Lord Howell of Guildford at the Palace of Westminster; Sir Desmond de Silva, Queen's Counsel (QC) arriving back from the United Nations in New York; Herve' de Carmoy, a distinguished banker and member of The Trilateral Commission in Brussels arriving back from Israel; Former British ambassador and member of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Oliver Miles, CMG, in Oxford, England; Rudi Bogni, a distinguished banker and trustee of the Prince of Liechtenstein Foundation and of LGT, in Basel, Switzerland; Lee Robinson, founder of Altana Wealth based in Monte Carlo, Monaco; Robert McNally, legal advisor and general counsel, in London; Hamid Hakimzadeh with deep knowledge of global energy and financial markets and the Middle East, based in Hampstead, England; John Read, founder of Read-Dillon strategic international corporate communications in South Africa and Europe; Robert Mathias, founder and chief executive of Safeserve, based in London; and Lawrence Bloom, co-chair of Pathway Alliance operating from Zurich, Switzerland, with close proximity to China's leadership in Beijing.

Image: Propaganda: A satirical cartoon tweeted by Islamic State Media showing the US, Russia, the EU and China as dogs tearing what appears to be the Middle East apart

Russia's Psychology

In order to understand Russia's psychology today, let us not forget that the battles on the "Eastern Front" constituted the largest military confrontation in history during the Second World War.  Russia has not always been an adversary.  Let us remind ourselves that after the axis powers, spearheaded by Nazi Germany, attacked Russia on June 22nd, 1941, the allied nations including the United Kingdom, Free France, the British Commonwealth, and later the United States -- after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 -- worked hand in glove with Russia by providing vital intelligence and material aid to topple Nazi Germany and associated Axis powers until their surrender on May 8th, 1945, Victory in Europe (V-E) day.  The Eastern Front battles were characterised by unprecedented ferocity, wholesale destruction, mass deportations, and immense loss of life variously due to combat, starvation, exposure, disease and massacres. In particular, the Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of the Second World War in which Nazi Germany and the axis powers fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad, modern day Volgograd. Marked by constant close quarters combat and disregard for military and civilian casualties, it is amongst the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare.  All this has left an indelible mark on the Russian psyche. 

Regaining Superpower Status

The Eastern Front, as the site of nearly all extermination camps, death marches, ghettos, and the majority of pogroms, was central to the Holocaust. Of the estimated 70 million deaths attributed to the Second World War, nearly half, many of them civilian, occurred on the Eastern Front. The Eastern Front was decisive in determining the outcome of the Second World War, eventually serving as the main reason for Berlin's surrender and Germany's defeat, first at the hands of the advancing Red Army of the Soviet Union.  This resulted in the destruction of the Third Reich, the partition of Germany for nearly half a century and the rise of the Soviet Union as a military and industrial superpower.  However, the re-unification of Germany in 1989-1990 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, created an adverse situation for Russia as it nursed the wounds of a fall from grace, no longer an imperial behemoth.  It is that superpower status which the Russians crave once more because the loss of international standing and influence in the decades following 1990 has been too difficult to bear and seen as a national humiliation. President Putin seeks to restore that sense of national pride and to provide safety and security by maintaining buffer states loyal to Russia, so that a Stalingrad-type situation does not re-manifest.  In this regard, Russia was given tacit assurances by the allies prior to the re-unification of Germany, which the European Union establishment appears to have conveniently forgotten when making overtures to Russian neighbouring countries to become part of the European juggernaut and to participate eventually under the joint security umbrella.  This may be perceived by Russia to be a clear violation of trust and perhaps yet another reason for the genesis of the crisis now being witnessed in Ukraine.  Another prime reason being the need to distract from internal problems.

Islamic State

The Islamic State (IS), formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is a Sunni jihadist group in the Middle East with trans-national recruitment of operatives. In its self-proclaimed status as a "Caliphate" on July 4th, 2014, it claims religious authority over all Muslims across the world and aspires to bring much of the Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control, beginning with Iraq, Syria and other territory in the Levant region, which includes Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and an area in southern Turkey that includes Hatay.  It has been designated as a foreign terrorist organisation by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, and has been described by the United Nations and Western and Middle Eastern media as a terrorist group. The United Nations has accused the Islamic State of committing "mass atrocities" and war crimes.  Islamic State operatives returning back to their homes from the theatres of conflict are regarded as the biggest threat to the safety and stability of their home nations.

The Long View

Unlike the Russia problem, which will be sorted out one way or another, perhaps catastrophically, the Islamist threat could last centuries, because it is not a state to state challenge, it is a challenge of ideas.  Remember the Nizari Ismailis sect of the Assassins?  They terrorised the Middle East from the 11th century to the 13th century AD until such a time as the Mongols killed them to the last man including their leader in Alamut. They operated through the entire area, but they needed a physical stronghold to train their operatives. That territorial stronghold was impregnable, in the mountains, but the Mongols captured it in the end and brought the curtain down. More difficult to deprive the Islamists of a territorial stronghold in our modern world of the Internet, cryptography, digital identity theft, hacking and social media.

Ten Key Questions

What are the key questions that need to be framed and considered carefully before jumping to the conclusion that some powerful members of the global community of nations, including the NATO countries, can take on Russia and deal with the fallout of the Islamic State simultaneously.  Perhaps a choice may need to be made and a priority set in the very near future:

1. Are the key world powers able to counter the rising Russian aggression into Ukraine and the barbaric threat of the Islamic State in the Middle-East simultaneously?

2. Is it the Islamic State or Russia the newer and bigger threat to global peace and security and the fragile global economic recovery?

3. If the global economy is primarily energy driven, how easy is that calculus to maintain:

a)    If a vexed Russia halts its oil and gas supplies to major world powers within Europe and without? What are the consequences and how disruptive are they?

b)    What about the asymmetry between Russian willingness to play hardball and the disproportionate havoc of an energy crisis on European economies which are already on the brink of a deflationary spiral?

c)    If vital energy supplies out of the Middle-East are disrupted by the Islamic State to many parts of the world, what are the consequences for the industrialised world and the rising elephant and tiger economies?

d)    With the advent of fracking in America, given that they now have near self-sufficiency in oil and gas, do they no longer have any need to support -- financially or militarily -- the unstable Middle Eastern regimes?

4. Does the Islamic State, given their vast territorial ambitions, not pose a threat to all the key global powers including America, Europe, Russia, China, Japan, India and Brazil and their interests in the Middle-East, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas?

5. Can those in Europe and America, brought together by the NATO alliance, afford to 'go it alone' against jihadist and violent Islamic threats to their domestic societies and mustn't they, in the end, work with China, Russia and other rising powers to curb growing anarchy?

6. Is it desirable that the attempt to crush the Islamic State is seen as a purely American-European initiative and what have the confrontations in Iraq and Afghanistan taught in the last decade or so?

7. What if the Putin-dominated spasm of the old Russian exceptionalism, which in the globalised network world makes no more sense than American exceptionalism or any other country's conviction that they are somehow superior and can cope alone, gives way to an eventual realisation that we are all in it together?  In due course, even Putin, for all his current popularity in Russia, may discover this?  At that point, can a pragmatic accommodation/compromise be eventually reached with Russia?

8. What can be done to forge a greater global alliance to counter the Islamic State threat not just within the Middle-East but across the world amongst the key powers including America, Europe, Russia, China, Japan, India and Brazil?

9. Is it unwise to play a game of chicken with Russia, as her people are far more inured to suffering -- mostly at the hands of their own rulers -- than the relatively pampered Europeans?

10. Instead of looking at sovereign confrontations like the world wars of eras gone, with MAD -- Mutual Assured Destruction -- consequences in the nuclear age, does it make sense to look at energy, water and natural resource security and safety as key drivers?  How can we steer towards a co-operative rather than confrontational international order, which only profits arms dealers and manufacturers, and that too in the short term?


I. Unlike America, The problem for Europe is its dependence upon Russian energy. What Europe needs to do as a matter of urgency is to become self-sufficient in energy so as to separate itself from its reliance upon Russia and that cannot happen without structural changes and may yet take a decade or more.

II. Whilst it is plausible that some compromises/accommodations can be reached with Russia eventually, none can be reached with the Islamic State.  In this respect perhaps, the Islamic State represents a greater danger.

III. The most valuable contribution countries, not directly involved in either of these two great crises, can make is to encourage those directly involved to deal with them, either by negotiation (Russia/Ukraine) or if necessary by force (Syria/Iraq/Saudi Arabia/Egypt/Jordan/Lebanon/Turkey/Iran). By appearing to take the role of world policeman (which America and Europe may not be able to play at this time, even if they were entitled) they encourage those directly involved to play with fire (Russia/Ukraine) or to sit back and wait for somebody else to protect their interests (Middle-East vis-a-vis Islamic State).

IV.  Given the practice of Islam throughout the world including large numbers in Russia and China, the Islamic State confronts all of us with a global problem and threat. Russia, on the other hand, with its activities in Eastern Ukraine presents us, perhaps, with a regional problem. Thus the need to deal with the Islamic State may be paramount and perhaps ought to take priority in the immediate future. We may find it more productive to make common cause with both Russia and China over the Islamic State threat. However, it is plausible that both Russia and China may leave it to America and Europe to do the heavy lifting so as to avoid inevitable extremist backlashes in their own countries.

V.  Putin is not a madman, only a ruthless poker player with a chip on his shoulder. Tactically, he may continue to play cat and mouse to extract maximum advantage until such time as NATO shows willingness to fight or the Russian army runs out of those spare parts that were produced in Ukraine or China and gets annoyed for its own reasons. A spark could blow up a huge explosion just as in 1914 because of miscalculations.  This is when the threat of the Russia-Ukraine crisis may well surpass that of the Islamic State as a black swan event.

We trust the right decisions – and alliances - are going to be made for the best outcomes for humankind on this pale blue dot barely visible in the grand narrative of the cosmos.  A little bit of humility instead of hubris may help.

What are your thoughts, observations and views? We are hosting an Expert roundtable on this issue at ATCA 24/7 on Yammer.

By DK Matai

Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance (ATCA) & The Philanthropia

We welcome your participation in this Socratic dialogue. Please access by clicking here.

ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex global challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive action to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine of non-violence, ATCA addresses asymmetric threats and social opportunities arising from climate chaos and the environment; radical poverty and microfinance; geo-politics and energy; organised crime & extremism; advanced technologies -- bio, info, nano, robo & AI; demographic skews and resource shortages; pandemics; financial systems and systemic risk; as well as transhumanism and ethics. Present membership of ATCA is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished members from over 120 countries: including 1,000 Parliamentarians; 1,500 Chairmen and CEOs of corporations; 1,000 Heads of NGOs; 750 Directors at Academic Centres of Excellence; 500 Inventors and Original thinkers; as well as 250 Editors-in-Chief of major media.

The Philanthropia, founded in 2005, brings together over 1,000 leading individual and private philanthropists, family offices, foundations, private banks, non-governmental organisations and specialist advisors to address complex global challenges such as countering climate chaos, reducing radical poverty and developing global leadership for the younger generation through the appliance of science and technology, leveraging acumen and finance, as well as encouraging collaboration with a strong commitment to ethics. Philanthropia emphasises multi-faith spiritual values: introspection, healthy living and ecology. Philanthropia Targets: Countering climate chaos and carbon neutrality; Eliminating radical poverty -- through micro-credit schemes, empowerment of women and more responsible capitalism; Leadership for the Younger Generation; and Corporate and social responsibility.

© 2014 Copyright DK Matai - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

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