· Now China starts to make the rules * Australia drawn into China-US fight over South China Sea * CSIS-Statesmen’s Forum: Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General May 27, 2015
· Oxford Research Group: Is Islamic State Now Evolving into a Transnational Movement? *The North Caucasus in the System of National Security of Russia * Saudi Arabia, Egypt downplay reports of discord over Syria
· Moscow Likely to Choose Control of Territories Over Their Economic Development
· Serbia’s goal is to diversify its gas supplies
· Why each community in Iraq should protect its own territories
· California’s snowpack has run out * McKinsey: Building the cities of the future with green districts
Massenbach* OP-ED (LATimes): Choosing between Big Brother and the Bill of Rights*
Our government cannot both support NSA surveillance and protect our right to privacy — we must choose*
By Alex Abdo, Jenny Beth Martin
Around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, there was a seismic shift in the U.S. Congress. As the Senate deadlocked over what to do about several expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, it became clear that political momentum had moved away from surveillance and secrecy toward freedom and privacy.
In a rare and theatrical overnight session, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried and failed to reauthorize or even briefly extend the Patriot Act’s surveillance powers before senators left Washington for their weeklong holiday break. At every turn, he was blocked by a bipartisan group of civil libertarians and surveillance skeptics led by presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, and Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon. Their main target was Section 215, which the government argues allows the National Security Agency to collect, store and analyze Americans‘ phone records and other intimate information in bulk.
"This is a debate about whether a warrant with a single name of a single company can be used to collect all of the phone records of all of the people in our country," Paul said from the floor. "Our forefathers would be aghast."
He was right, and we agree, which is why the American Civil Liberties Union and the Tea Party Patriots are pushing senators who are uneasy with NSA dragnet spying to hold the line and, in the absence of far-reaching reform, allow the provisions to expire on June 1.
McConnell has already promised that he will try again on Sunday to keep the surveillance status quo, and his allies will probably use scare-tactics to help him get his way. But would-be reformers should take comfort in the fact that the public and the courts are on their side.
By a nearly 2-to-1 margin across all ages, ideologies and political parties, Americans believe that the Patriot Act should be scaled back to limit government surveillance and protect Americans‘ privacy, according to recent ACLU polling. The public’s disapproval of the call records program helps explain why the NSA, two White Houses and a small group of congressional enablers tried to keep the program secret for so long. They understood that if the American people and their representatives truly understood the extent of the NSA’s domestic spying, the calls for reform would be immediate and sustained.
They were right.
If that isn’t convincing enough, senators still on the fence should listen to the courts. Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit found that Section 215 didn’t authorize the NSA’s call records program. Instead, the judges unanimously found that the NSA’s mass surveillance was "unprecedented," "unwarranted" and, ultimately, unlawful. With the expiration of Section 215 near, however, the 2nd Circuit decided to let Congress decide whether to reauthorize it, revise it or let it die.
Congress never meant to give such extreme powers to the NSA, and two government review groups have confirmed that the call records program has never made a concrete difference in a terrorism investigation. Even the Department of Justice’s inspector general found that Section 215 had never led to a major case development. Yet the ineffective and invasive program could be revived if McConnell and his kettle of surveillance hawks win out over reason and political courage.
When the 2nd Circuit recently took a hard look at the government’s case for why the call records program was lawful, one argument that the judges knocked down was that Congress explicitly authorized bulk collection and storage. Rather, they concluded that "knowledge of the program was intentionally kept to a minimum, both within Congress and among the public."
Today, however, no senator can claim ignorance of how NSA surveillance treads on our privacy. They can’t say, "It’s only metadata," when even the NSA’s former top lawyer has said: "Metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content."
Senators have a historic opportunity to uphold, or resuscitate, the basic American belief that liberty cannot survive when government flouts its limits. On Sunday, those who represent us must either vote for Big Brother or vote for the Bill of Rights. They can’t have it both ways.
Alex Abdo is the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who argued the ACLU’s legal challenge to the NSA’s call records program before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Jenny Beth Martin is a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots.
The North Caucasus in the System
of National Security of Russia
School of International Relations,
Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University,
The end of the Cold War has considerably changed the whole system of international relations. The bipolar world order which determined the political process of the development of the mankind in the second half of the XX century has gone into the history. The result of such fundamental changes in the international system is a very rapid process of strategic reconfiguration of the modern world which means that the old opponents are becoming if not friends than at least allies. The countries have to combine their efforts in order to react to the new threats which arise along with the new framework of the world. Such problems as terrorism cannot be settled by a single, even very powerful, country. Ideological rivalry has gone into the past. What would be the basis of international development? Either it will be economic interests or that would be the civilizational identity. If so, would geopolitical interests still prevail? There are no vivid answers to these questions for the time being. On the other hand such constant parameters of any country as its geopolitical position in the world, international environment, historic heritage, and traditional areas of national interests would also play a very important role in the foreign policy. The solving of this dualism in the system of relationship between countries is a corner stone of international politics.
At present, the former approaches to the security system formation have been changed considerably. Terrorism has become the major threat to the national security of Russia and many other countries in the world. This situation gives all the ground to state that the present relationship between the countries is based not only on mutual interests in different spheres but on the mutual threats to their national security.
Historically the Caucasus is regarded as one of the most important geostrategic regions of Eurasia which separates and at the same time unites Europe and Asia, Orthodox Christianity and Islam. Traditionally it is the area of clashes and a zone of vital interests of great powers. Nowhere in the world, such a relatively small territory accommodated such a great variety of ethnic groups, different in their religions, economic systems, number of population, social values and cultural orientations, areas of inhabitance, levels of state organization etc. The Caucasus is located in the zone of civilizational clash between the Christian and Muslim worlds. That is why it is reasonably regarded as one of the main parts of the “Southern Rim of Instability”. At the same time being situated at the border between Europe and Asia, the Caucasus is a convenient springboard for extending influence to the Middle East, Central Asia, to the basins of the Black, Caspian and Mediterranean Seas. The Caucasus is as well the main transport corridor for supply of the Caspian energy resources to the world market – this even by itself increases its strategic significance. Strategically the whole Caucasus is the area of vital interests of Russia, more of that part of it is the Russian territory. It is the particular region where the country faces the most important threats to its security.
The Caucasus is consisted of two major geopolitical subregions: the North and South Caucasus. The North Caucasus with its unique geopolitical position, ethnic diversity and as the result of it – high conflict tension has always played a remarkable role in the system of Russian national security. The region is distinguished by the broad level of ethno-cultural variety.
The North Caucasus is currently inhabited by the representatives of more than 100 nationalities. The total population number in the area is about 17.7 million people of which 74 % are Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians; 7.6 % represent Dagestan ethnic groups; 6.2 % – vainachs (Chechens and Ingush); 4.5 % are from the Turkic ethnic group; 3.5 % are Abkhazo-Adigs (Circassians).
Being situated at the crossroad of strategic, military, economic, civilizational, religious and other routes, the North Caucasus has traditionally formed the area of interests of vital importance for the most powerful countries: primarily Russia, Turkey, and Iran. This fact, as well as the enormous energy potential of the Caspian basin, further raises political, economic, strategic and civilizational significance of the North Caucasus. In many aspects, stability in the North Caucasus influences the dynamics of the whole South of Russia and ensures the state of national security of the Russian Federation in general.
A long standing economic, social, political and ecological crisis taking place in the North Caucasus has a great negative impact on the Russian security system. A wide range crisis in the North Caucasus is the result and a complication of the All-Russian turbulence and disintegration that took place during 90-s, ineffective reforms and a very slow process of the civil society formation in the country.
A very important factor which influences both economic and political life of the North Caucasus is availability of great oil resources of the Caspian Sea and the eastern part of the North Caucasus. Strategic importance of oil is impossible to overestimate. In the history of the region oil transportation routes have played a significant role shaping the international relations of the area.
Conflicts of different types occurred lately in Central Asia, the South Caucasus and in the North Caucasus triggering intensive streams of migration which shook historically formed balance of ethnic, cultural and confessional relations, traditional ways of life in the region. High density of population, lack of agricultural land in the mountain regions, exacerbation of social problems, migration especially uncontrolled one fuel the flames of tension.
Due to the wide range of reasons both historically formed and connected with the breakdown of the Soviet Union the North Caucasus began to possess new geopolitical and strategic significance. One of the results of it is the creation of the unusual ethnopolitical situation which can hardly be compared with other Russian regions and is characterized by the highly explosive nature. More than 30 territorial claims led many peace keeping efforts to a dead end.
In general ethno-political situation in the North Caucasus is characterized in many aspects by the complications of the armed conflicts: Chechen, Ossetiya-Ingush, Georgia-Abkhaz, Georgia-South Ossetia, and Nagorno Karabakh. This made the Caucasus a very unstable region with huge conflict potential. Such situation has very negative impact not only on the neighboring Russian regions but on the whole territory of the country, where myths about the aggressiveness of Caucasians are widely spread. People’s victims, destructions, hostages, terrorism, violence give birth to the moral psychological syndrome of mutual alienation which is not typical to the local ethnic groups’ cultural traditions.
After the breakdown of the USSR the North Caucasus became the bordering area of Russia with the vast region of Islamic world. It has become the territory of concentration of national interests of many countries. Some of them are interested in shrinking of geopolitical influence of Russia in the southern strategic direction in order to foster political Islam further to the north. Due to this factor the North Caucasus may become the “weak chain” in the Russian security system through which different plans of formation of either unified Islamic state or a kind of Islamic confederation might be realized. These plans have become corner stones of the political programs of different Pan-islamic and Pan-turkic organizations which unite different radicals and extremists of the North Caucasus and which receive huge financial, political and moral support from abroad.
In this connection one can observe the formidable activation of the so called “missionary activities” of Muslim clergy from Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and some other Middle Eastern countries to the region of the North Caucasus. They popularize the life according sharia laws, select young people and finance their theological education in the Middle Eastern countries. Besides, they distribute subversive religious literature, claiming the war against non-muslim believers, as charity gestures provide big sums of money for the construction of new and reconstruction of old mosques. Along with this in their sermons they claim to drive out from the region representatives of non-muslim confessions.
Such activities vividly prove the fact that some foreign forces try to play out in the North Caucasus and around it a complicated multi-coursed combination with the aim to strengthen their influence in the region by means of Islamic, separatist, nationalist and terrorist actions using financial, economic, religious, ethnic, military and other factors. All above mentioned have a negative influence on the state of the Russian regional security.
To a great extent such state of things has become possible due to the absence by present time of the Russian well planned and thoroughly thought-out strategic policy towards the whole southern geopolitical direction. Current geopolitical dynamics of the region has become the main threat to the Russian national security as the major impulse for the further disintegration of the country and its final breakdown goes primarily from the North Caucasus.
The current unstable geopolitical situation in the North Caucasus is partially the result of the communist legacy as well as a number of serious mistakes made by the Yeltsin political leadership. The main priorities of the Russian policy in the North Caucasus seem to be the following: In economic sphere it is necessary to stop the crisis and to bring down unemployment. In some regions of the North Caucasus it reaches 60-70%. The majority of all disintegrative trends come from the unsatisfactory economic situation.
In criminal sphere the level of corruption in the North Caucasus is one of the highest in the Russian Federation. It has spread through all levels of political and state structures. Not everybody respects the laws because it is not obligatory for all members of society to obey them. In many cases the law is substituted by family or traditional clan rules. In addition there are a great number of weapons unofficially possessed by the population.
In social sphere, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many conflicts spread out on the whole territory of the Caucasus. Consequently, many people migrated to the North Caucasus, mainly to Stavropol, Krasnodar and Rostov regions. Such uncontrolled migration disrupted the traditional interethnic balance of the local population in favor of non-Slavic ethnic groups which worsened the criminal situation and created an additional basis for ethnic and confessional conflicts.
In confessional sphere government authorities should support in every way the representatives of traditional Islam and consolidate them in their struggle against radical extremist groups such as Wahhabism. The state should assist in creating a number of higher Muslim institutions in order to train future Muslim clergy in Russia instead of abroad.
The Russian population has always been and will always be the main social pillar of support of Russia in the North Caucasus. The dangerous phenomenon which is taking place in the North Caucasus is ethnic Russians being driven out from the North Caucasus. This tendency can be observed in every national republic of the region.
Needless to say that not everything in the Russian history ran smoothly. Unfortunately there was confrontation, wars, human victims. But all contemporary states have been created on people’s blood. It is quite important to keep in mind that at the same time there were voluntary alliances, good neighborly relations, friendship, mutual support in hard situations. Many generations of Caucasian people and Russians lived in one state and under Russian protection. To guarantee their mutual independence and freedom, all of them lost millions of lives in different military conflicts, including both World Wars. It would be absolutely incorrect to state that the only historical heritage in Russian-Caucasian relations was about permanent resistance and wars. Even in the periods of military clashes the confrontation happened mainly among the elites but not among common people, who during the centuries of living together have created the traditional norms of good neighborhood relations which might be easily observed even in the contemporary conflicts. The majority of the North Caucasus population clearly understands that the breakdown of Russia would mean the catastrophe for their identity. The last argument seems to be the main foundation for strengthening of the Russian national security in the North Caucasus.
Oxford Research Group: Is Islamic State Now Evolving into a Transnational Movement?
The February ORG briefing (Is Islamic State in Retreat?) analysed the view that the organisation was in retreat after six months of air strikes and considerable losses. It concluded that the movement remained reasonably coherent in Syria and Iraq, was gaining some allegiance in other countries and had the possibility of increasing its support among disaffected communities in western states. Last month’s briefing (Is Islamic State here to Stay?) extended this discussion to examine two driving forces that increased its support, the issue of marginalisation across significant parts of the Middle East and the ability of the movement to present itself as the vanguard in the protection of Islam under attack, this last element aided by the long-term support for the Wahhabi tradition by Saudi Arabia, especially in South West Asia and the Middle East.
This briefing is the final contribution to a three-part series and extends the analysis in two ways. One is to review recent developments in the war between the US-led coalition and Islamic State, including some setbacks for the movement but also some significant developments in Afghanistan, and the second is the increasing support for the movement in western states. The conclusion is that Islamic State shows signs of considerable resilience while also beginning to make a transition to a transnational phenomenon rather than a movement concentrated almost exclusively on seeking to establish a territorially defined Caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
The Continuing War
The war against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is primarily an air war mounted by the United States at the head of a substantial coalition of western and regional states. It has now been under way for nine months and has involved many thousands of air strikes and armed drone attacks, primarily against Islamic State units in Iraq but with US, Canadian and occasional Jordanian operations in Syria. Israel is also involved in the latter, especially against targets linked to Hezbollah, but there is no officially acknowledged coordination with the coalition. As of early February, US military sources were claiming at least 8,500 IS personnel killed but it is not possible to corroborate this, nor to get reliable figures of civilian casualties. By early May, 6,000 targets had been hit, including 791 in the six weeks to 7 May. In spite of the intensity of the war, it has received very little attention in the western media.
The leader of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was reported to have been seriously injured in a US air strike in April and may be incapacitated, but reports of a recent leadership struggle have not been confirmed. Given the capacity of the organisation to handle leadership losses it is unwise to put too much confidence in these reports, especially as that there are indications that a temporary leader, Abdul Rahman al-Sheijlar, has already taken charge.
More generally, there have been claims that Iraqi Army units, backed by US airpower have made gains that IS in Syria and Iraq has lost a quarter of its territory since the air war started. Other reports cast doubt on this in that they do not allow for IS gains elsewhere in Syria, nor for successful recent attacks in Anbar Province of Iraq. Perhaps most significant of all is that IS paramilitaries have successfully gained control of a substantial part of the key Baiji refinery to the north of Baghdad and the Iraqi Army is finding it extremely difficult to take back control. Because Baiji has not been operating since last year it is not hugely significant to either side, but the ability of barely two hundred IS paramilitaries to maintain control is symbolically important, even if the unusual urban combat environment of a large oil refinery is advantageous to them.
Furthermore, the occupation of the centre of Ramadi, the administrative centre of Anbar province is a major setback for the Iraqi government and a marked counter to the claims of overall success. Even the considerable publicity around the Delta Force strike into Syria that killed Abu Sayyaf is misleading since his main value would be as a subject for interrogation given his status as a significant organiser within Islamic State – a bureaucrat – rather than a paramilitary leader. His death in the raid was not the intended outcome.
Perhaps of greatest note is the overall state of the conflict after nine months of air strikes. In summary, the movement simply cannot be said to be in retreat and appears to have adapted readily to a changed environment in which it is possible to limit the effectiveness of air strikes. This should not cause great surprise since the middle-ranking paramilitary leadership of IS gained considerable experience of combat operations against strong coalition forces in Iraq in the period 2004-08, including surviving extensive operations by US and UK Special Forces. Given the lack of success of the US-led operations, there have been calls to expand ground force engagements with IS, even if primarily involving Special Forces. This, though, remains unlikely given the considerable reluctance of the Obama administration to become embroiled in yet another ground war in the region although the Delta Force raid does suggest that the US Department of Defense may see little alternative to some escalation.
Developments in Afghanistan
The April briefing pointed to groups in in other countries pledging allegiance to Islamic State, including elements of Boko Haram in Nigeria, militias in Sinai and coastal Libya, and also to the growth of IS-linked paramilitaries in Yemen. In the past month attention has moved to Afghanistan and the end of April saw a sudden surge in Islamic State involvement in operations against Afghan National Army units around the northern town of Kunduz. In protracted fighting over two weeks the ANA sought to regain control against Taliban units that had been strengthened by paramilitaries linked to Islamic State.
Being clear as to the extent of IS involvement is not easy since it may be that the Afghan government is exaggerating this to ensure that the United States maintains its forces in the country and also its considerable financial and personnel commitment to training and equipping the ANA. Even so, there is substantial evidence that there is a growing IS involvement, and among those killed around Kunduz were a number of foreign nationals, including Uzbeks and Chechens. Reports suggest that while IS paramilitaries may be directly involved in combat, their more important role has been in training Afghan Taliban, suggesting that the relationship developing with the Taliban leadership, at least in some parts of Afghanistan, is substantial.
As the Islamic State presence in Afghanistan has grown, western analysts have on a number of occasions suggested that the Taliban and other armed opposition groups, being primarily motivated by ethnicity and nationalism, would tend to come into a degree of conflict with the more religiously-motivated Islamic State. This may well be the case but the indications from the actions around Kunduz do suggest that there is an increasing commonality of action.
A Transnational Trend?
At root, the distinguishing feature between the al-Qaida movement and Islamic State is that while the former has sought the creation of a Caliphate through the overthrow of existing regimes, however long that might take and so far with little success, Islamic State is far more territorially orientated. In this context, Baghdadi’s declaration of the Caliphate in Mosul last July was the key event. What we are now seeing in Afghanistan suggests a further development beyond the territory of the Syria/Iraq Caliphate, in that IS paramilitaries are linking up directly with Taliban elements, a transnational trend that is at a different level to local groups pledging support for the movement. On its own, this may have some significance, but it is another emerging trend that may be more important to watch.
Over the past twelve months there has been an increase in interceptions of potential attacks in western states, notably Australia, the UK and the United States. On 7 May, the FBI Director James Corney reported the FBI view that there were “hundreds, maybe thousands” of people across the United States receiving new social media messages from Islamic State encouraging them to join the movement. A common route is that recruiters in Syria initiate contract with possible supporters and then feed them through to secure encrypted sites to continue the process. Corney reported hundreds of individual investigations under way right across the United States.
A particular feature of people recruited to the cause of Islamic State in a number of western countries is the prevalence of recent converts to Islam, the indications being that IS recruiters put considerable effort into this cohort. Moreover, the process of moving from conversion through to espousal of an extreme agenda can be very rapid, making it particularly difficult for even close family members, let alone counterterror forces, to counteract the change.
The question that arises from this briefing is whether Islamic State is in transition from being a primarily geographical entity focused on a distinct Caliphate that serves as a beacon to would-be recruits and a bulwark in the defence of its version of Islam, to a more transnationally-orientated movement. The current evidence does not provide a conclusive answer but does indicate the beginning of a trend.
If so, this raises the question of whether this was always seen by the IS leadership as a natural development of the movement or whether it is in response to the nine-month old air war. There is a connection here in that the singularly vigorous use of new social media by Islamic State to spread the message of the extent of the “crusader attack on Islam” is actually aided by the very intensity of that air war. Moreover, even if the movement is experiencing setbacks, the ability to point to its expansion overseas, both by groups pledging allegiance and especially in its recent direct involvement in Afghanistan, can be useful in continuing to spread the message of a movement capable of withstanding the worst that the “crusaders” can throw at it.
Paul’s previous briefings on Islamic State are available here:
Part I: Is Islamic State in Retreat? (February 2015)
Part II: Is Islamic State Here to Stay? (April 2015)