THE BLOG

Targeting ISIS: A Security and Humanitarian Imperative

04/12/2015 14:43 GMT | Updated 03/12/2016 10:12 GMT

The Parliamentary vote to strike ISIS in the aftermath of the Paris attacks demonstrates that the globalised world of the 21st century does not afford us the luxury to relive an isolationist past. The US was shielded by two oceans and the UK was a distant island with foreign intervention being an arbitrary matter of moral conscience. Today's increasingly networked reality and the erosion of borders in the Middle East causes global politics to be local and the security threats have increased at an exponential rate. Yet the question has been frequently asked about intervening in Syria was, 'what has it got to do with us?' Syria has led to one of the greatest refugee crisis of our time with terrorists able to conduct attacks within our shores. We have reached a stage in history where our security and strategic interests are aligned with humanitarian concerns. It is impossible and immoral to enjoy liberal democracy while abroad people are slaughtered by repressive regimes like the Assad regime or by sub-state terrorist groups like ISIS as it will come to haunt us as it did in Paris.

Fears of potential reprisals against Western targets if the US or Britain intervened in the Syrian crisis ignored the risk of terrorism due to the failure to intervene. Any environment hosting a vacuum of governance coupled with a totalitarian ideology that reinforces extreme poverty, serves to be a springboard for international terrorism, enabling the proliferation of conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Radicals are attracted to that environment not only from impoverished and lawless areas, but from developed states. In areas like Libya, Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria they are indoctrinated with radical philosophies and receive the know-how to conduct terrorist activities when they return home to their Western states. Even if Islamists don't travel abroad they are radicalized by the internet and social media posing a security risk. In Britain the number of attempted terror plots and suspects on the watch list has soared to the thousands since the advent of ISIS. Despite the security risks of Syrian refugees being low, it is impossible to effectively screen them.

Already in October 2013, four Islamists were arrested in London for having allegedly met during the Syrian crisis and subsequently planned an attack. The US also fears attacks emanating from Islamists and failed states that are across oceans. RAND Corporation fellow, Seth Jones testified in 2014 before both the House of Representatives' Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Homeland Security on the direct threats the conflicts in Somalia and Syria pose to the US homeland. Jones described how Al Shabaab possesses the skills to directly target the US and its citizens as it recruits Americans who have gone to fight in Somalia. ISIS now is not only a threat within the Middle East or Europe, but to Washington DC.

In 2013, Marcos Alonso Zea, Justin Kaliebe, and Shelton Thomas Bell from the US were arrested for attempting to travel to Yemen to join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula AQ in Yemen. Similarly in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusrah has recruited from Morocco, Spain, Kosovo, Belgium, France, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Norway and the US. It is not clear how many returned with their knowledge of in combat, bomb-making, propaganda, and counterintelligence.

Developed countries do not simply export militarism to the swamplands of lawless areas, but also import terrorism too from foreign conflicts. In 2011, Iran sponsored an assassination attempt on the Saudi Ambassador on US soil. The Tsarnaev brothers that committed the terrorist attack on the Boston marathon earlier this year were a pair of Chechens inspired by Islamism and Chechen separatism.

Despite this time around Parliament voting in favor of bombing ISIS, both Cameron and President Obama did not have to approach parliament and Congress respectively for their approval to intervene over there in Syria. By doing so they established a convention making any prospect of future interventions to counter-terrorism, and prevent humanitarian violations uncertain and sluggish. Terrorist networks and the chaos erupting from a vacuum of governance are not hindered by polite conventions. Uncertain responses to globalised security threats undermines the developed world's rule of law that is based on a social contract securing our safety as autocrats and terrorists will not fear reprisals for their humanitarian abuses abroad and terrorism on our soil. For all the clichés of 'global village' there is no 'us' and 'them', 'them' is 'us' and we have to revisit our notions of security interests and humanitarian concerns accordingly.