This House believes Islamic State/Daesh is the most significant threat to the west

Wars fought in some far away land are typically unpopular. One such far away war currently being fought by a variety of powers, particularly the United States, France and Russia, is the ongoing campaign against Islamic State (IS) or Daesh. Daesh, as with other Islamist terror groups is clearly a threat to the west but how much of a threat is it? Given the airtime given to news about terrorism and conflict in the Middle East it would seem that it might be considered the most significant threat to the west. Certainly terrorism is the only threat that regularly causes alerts, lockdowns, and troop deployments in western cities. Brussels in the wake of bombings and shootings in Paris was in lockdown for four days to catch those involved in the attacks on Paris.[1]

Islamic State is in large part a result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq was rebranded Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and the remnants of this organisation were given a new opportunity with the start of the uprising against President Assad in Syria. Unlike other terrorist organisations Daesh has become a territorial entity with the creation of the Islamic State around Raqqa in Northern Syria. This territory was significantly expanded in 2014 with an invasion of Iraq which conquered much of the north of the country and briefly reached the outskirts of Baghdad.[2] The west, and more recently Russia, have fought back with airstrikes and support for the regime in Iraq as well as other groups such as the Free Syrian Army and the Kurds.

Defining what is the most significant threat to national security is important. It is something that helps determine the defence and security spending a country needs to make; should it invest more in policing and surveillance or in ballistic missile defence or nuclear weapons of our own?

[1] Escritt, Thomas, and MacDonald, Alastair, ‘Brussels lockdown ends but manhunt goes on’, Reuters, 25 November 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/26/us-france-shooting-belgium-idUSKBN0TE26I20151126#qS8m4pKvIjs9gmhd.97

[2] Laub, Zachary, and Masters, Jonathan, ‘The Islamic State’, CFR Backgrounders, 16 November 2015, http://www.cfr.org/iraq/islamic-state/p14811

 

Title 
Deash has a compelling ideology
Point 

Daesh has an ideology that is a threat to western states, particularly those with Muslim minorities. Although Daesh’s ideology might seem incompatible with west the west an ICM poll found in 2014 that 16% of French citizens have a positive opinion of Daesh.[1] This means that western countries face an ideological clash within their own populations. A majority dislikes and fears Daesh and its ideology while a minority supports them despite their violence. Such a split reduces community cohesion and will likely breed distrust of Muslim populations (even of those who don’t have positive views of Daesh).[2]

[1] Grant, Madeline, ‘16% of French Citizens Support ISIS, Poll finds’, newsweek, 26 August 2014, http://www.newsweek.com/16-french-citizens-support-isis-poll-finds-266795

[2] Hundal, Sunny, ‘The real threat from the Islamic State is to Muslims, not the west’, AlJazeera, 26 August 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/real-threat-from-islamic-state--201482316357532975.html

Counterpoint 

Daesh may have an ideology that is compelling to some people, but that number is comparatively tiny, nothing like the millions that were attracted to western ideology during the cold war. Daesh needs a population to consider itself a success and yet the population of Syria have voted with their feet[1] – they have fled to neighbouring countries not IS controlled areas. The United Nations has almost 4.3million registered refugees,[2] when the 7.6million internally displaced are included the numbers are far higher yet these people are not flooding into IS controlled areas.[3]

[1] Sky, Emma, ‘Standing idly by while the Middle East unravels is not an option’, The Guardian, 26 November 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/26/middle-east-iraq-syria-isis

[2] ‘Registered Syrian Refugees’ Syria Regional Refugee Response, updated 17th November 2015, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

[3] ‘Syria IDP Figures Analysis’, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, July 2015, http://www.internal-displacement.org/middle-east-and-north-africa/syria/figures-analysis

Title 
The territory claimed by Daesh extends to Europe
Point 

Daesh territory currently spreads across parts of Syria and Iraq. It is this transnationalism that makes it a dangerous opponent. It is not just a threat to one state but to every state in the Middle East and North Africa. Daesh claims to be a Caliphate which means it claims leadership over the entire Muslim community. Such a claim would inevitably include European countries such as Bosnia and Albania where there are Muslim majorities. The Caliphate’s legitimacy is tied to its territorial expansion.[1]

A threat to the territorial states system within the Middle East, let alone Europe, is a significant threat to the west who created that system. The deconstruction of the states of the Middle East would destroy western allies, give an extreme organisation immense oil wealth from the Gulf, and likely make Israel an untenable outpost.

[1] Vick, Karl, ‘As ISIS Grows Its Territory, It Becomes Increasingly Dangerous’, Time, 15 June 2015, http://time.com/3917097/as-isis-grows-its-territory-it-becomes-increasingly-dangerous/

Counterpoint 

No doubt Daesh does have long term territorial plans, but in practice Daesh is currently stuck in Iraq and Syria unable to conquer either. Yes Daesh being territorial makes it very unusual for a terrorist organisation. However this also provides a fixed target to defeat, and that defeat can be on foreign soil.

Daesh has a long shot chance of tearing up the borders of the Middle East. However as these borders have long been criticised as illogical and contrived this would not necessarily undermine the state system in the Middle East, it may even benefit from more cohesive populations with national boundaries.[1]

[1] Trofimov, Yaroslav, ‘Would new borders mean less conflict in the Middle East?’, WSJ, 10 April 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/would-new-borders-mean-less-conflict-in-the-middle-east-1428680793

Title 
Daesh and the Syrian civil war is nurture terrorism for export
Point 

Daesh is a terrorist organisation.[1] There are large numbers of people within Europe who support Islamic State and Europeans travelling to fight for Daesh is an ongoing problem; more than 700 from the UK alone.[2] There is therefore concern about these people coming back and mounting terrorist attacks, as appears to have been the case with three of those involved in the 2015 Paris attacks; Omar Ismail Mostefai, Bilal Hadfi, and Samy Amimour.[3]

[1] Bureau of Counterterrorism, ‘Foreign Terrorist Organizations’, U.S. Department of State, accessed 1 September 2015, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm

[2] BBC News, ‘Who are Britain’s jihadists?’, 25 June 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32026985

[3] Farmer, Ben, ‘Who were the terrorists? Everything we know about the Isil attackers so far’, The Telegraph, 20th November 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11996120/Paris-attack-what-we-know-about-the-suspects.html

Counterpoint 

Daesh ideology and the possibility of terrorist attacks resulting from it is undeniably a problem. However the flow of fighters is mostly the other way; from Europe to Syria and Iraq, five to six thousand have made this journey.[1] It might therefore be said that Daesh is importing terrorism from the west rather than exporting it. We have no way of knowing how many terrorist attacks these fighters may have committed had they stayed in their home countries.

[1] Reuters, ‘Islamic State smuggling terrorists among the migrants? Unlikely, say experts’, EurActive.com, 28 August 2015, http://www.euractiv.com/sections/global-europe/islamic-state-smuggling-terrorists-among-migrants-unlikely-say-experts-317160

Title 
There are other larger threats.
Point 

Terrorism by Daesh is undoubtedly a threat to the West. It is however a minor one. The largest security concern should still be the small chance of complete destruction by nuclear weapons. Tensions with Russia make this more likely than at any time since the gold war. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ doomsday clock is set at 3 minutes to midnight in 1015 – it was last 3 minutes to midnight in 1984 at the height of the cold war before Gorbachev gained power in the USSR.[1]

Disasters are increasingly seen as an issue of national security and Climate Change is quite possibly an even greater threat as a result of the certainly of considerable warming and the resulting disasters it is likely to bring; by 2045 the Union of Concerned Scientists say that cities such as Atlantic City could face tidal flooding more than 180 times a year resulting in costly damage.[2]

[1] Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, ‘Timeline’, http://thebulletin.org/timeline

[2] Union of Concerned Scientists, ‘Encroaching Tides (2014)’, http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/impacts/effects-of-tidal-flooding-and-sea-level-rise-east-coast-gulf-of-mexico#.VliFJL9BH7Y

Counterpoint 

There may be threats that can cause much greater damage than Daesh but these are neither immediate nor very likely. Nuclear war is undoubtedly a massive threat, but we succeeded in getting through 45 years of cold war without these weapons being used so the probability of the threat happening is low. Climate Change on the other hand is less a security issue than an environmental, economic, and societal one. Daesh on the other hand has already struck at western states with the Paris attacks, and has sucked large numbers of western citizens into a war against their own countries in Syria and Iraq. The threat from Daesh is therefore immediate, almost certain, and large.  

Title 
Daesh has little impact outside the Middle East
Point 

The main threat from Daesh is to Muslims, and to those who live in and around the areas it controls. The main goal of Islamic state is to set up an Islamic caliphate and that means the primary enemy is the existing states of the Middle East. Those who support those states, and other ‘apostates’ such as Shia Muslims are also threatened by IS but this very focus means that western states have less to worry about when considering their own national security.[1] Daesh’s priority quite simply lies within Syria and Iraq not in launching attacks against western states. It is undeniable that the threat of IS attacks exists, and Daesh has struck back against states, France and Russia, that have been fighting it but unlike with 9/11 western intervention caused the terrorist response rather than the other way around.

[1] Hundal, Sunny, ‘The real threat from the Islamic State is to Muslims, not the west’, AlJazeera, 26 August 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/real-threat-from-islamic-state--201482316357532975.html

Counterpoint 

While Daesh may be focused on its war at home it is trying to attack those it is fighting where they are vulnerable. This is illustrated by the bombing of a Russian Metrojet Airliner leaving Sharm el-Sheikh which killed 224 by a Daesh affiliate[1] not long after Russia began bombing the Syrian rebels, and Daesh, in Syria. Such an incident may take place in the Middle East but undoubtedly affects those outside of the region. Daesh’s reach has however extended to the west with the 13th November attacks in Paris which resulted in 130 deaths across the city.

[1] AlJazeera, ‘Russia says plane in Egypt's Sinai brought down by bomb’, 17th November 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/11/russia-plane-sinai-brought-bomb-151117081851335.html

Title 
The west is insulated by distance from Daesh
Point 

All western countries are insulated by distance from Islamic State. The closest western countries are Greece and Cyprus which is as close as the EU comes to Syria. But both are separated from Syria by the Mediterranean Sea. If Daesh were truly considered a threat of the kind that requires harsh national security responses then Europe could close its borders to the South and East – its borders with Turkey in particular. This has however not happened because the risk of terrorists (re-)entering Europe is not considered great enough to warrant such a response.   

Counterpoint 

Distance does not matter in today’s world. Refugees from Syria are pouring in to Greece but also enter the EU much further afield through Hungary or Italy. Ideology has its influence regardless of distance meaning resulting terrorist attacks are as likely to happen in Paris as Nicosia and are as likely to be by those who have grown up in western Europe as those arriving from Syria itself. Thinking that distance insulates us from the threat posed by Daesh is as wrong as the belief that what a state does matters only inside its borders. 

Bibliography 

AlJazeera, ‘Russia says plane in Egypt's Sinai brought down by bomb’, 17th November 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/11/russia-plane-sinai-brought-bomb-151117081851335.html

BBC News, ‘Who are Britain’s jihadists?’, 25 June 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32026985

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, ‘Timeline’, http://thebulletin.org/timeline

Bureau of Counterterrorism, ‘Foreign Terrorist Organizations’, U.S. Department of State, accessed 1 September 2015, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm

Escritt, Thomas, and MacDonald, Alastair, ‘Brussels lockdown ends but manhunt goes on’, Reuters, 25 November 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/26/us-france-shooting-belgium-idUSKBN0TE26I20151126#qS8m4pKvIjs9gmhd.97

Farmer, Ben, ‘Who were the terrorists? Everything we know about the Isil attackers so far’, The Telegraph, 20th November 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11996120/Paris-attack-what-we-know-about-the-suspects.html

Grant, Madeline, ‘16% of French Citizens Support ISIS, Poll finds’, newsweek, 26 August 2014, http://www.newsweek.com/16-french-citizens-support-isis-poll-finds-266795

Hundal, Sunny, ‘The real threat from the Islamic State is to Muslims, not the west’, AlJazeera, 26 August 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/real-threat-from-islamic-state--201482316357532975.html

‘Syria IDP Figures Analysis’, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, July 2015, http://www.internal-displacement.org/middle-east-and-north-africa/syria/figures-analysis

Laub, Zachary, and Masters, Jonathan, ‘The Islamic State’, CFR Backgrounders, 16 November 2015, http://www.cfr.org/iraq/islamic-state/p14811

Reuters, ‘Islamic State smuggling terrorists among the migrants? Unlikely, say experts’, EurActive.com, 28 August 2015, http://www.euractiv.com/sections/global-europe/islamic-state-smuggling-terrorists-among-migrants-unlikely-say-experts-317160

Sky, Emma, ‘Standing idly by while the Middle East unravels is not an option’, The Guardian, 26 November 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/26/middle-east-iraq-syria-isis

‘Registered Syrian Refugees’ Syria Regional Refugee Response, updated 17th November 2015, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

Trofimov, Yaroslav, ‘Would new borders mean less conflict in the Middle East?’, WSJ, 10 April 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/would-new-borders-mean-less-conflict-in-the-middle-east-1428680793

Union of Concerned Scientists, ‘Encroaching Tides (2014)’, http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/impacts/effects-of-tidal-flooding-and-sea-level-rise-east-coast-gulf-of-mexico#.VliFJL9BH7Y

Vick, Karl, ‘As ISIS Grows Its Territory, It Becomes Increasingly Dangerous’, Time, 15 June 2015, http://time.com/3917097/as-isis-grows-its-territory-it-becomes-increasingly-dangerous/

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