Since the 9/11 attacks, numerous books have been written about the Taliban, documenting its history and resurgence.
Many writers fault the United States for failing to turn Afghanistan into the Shangri La that it could be, claiming that beginning with the Bonn conference in December 2001, the Afghanistan war has been a disaster punctuated by one missed opportunity after another, guided by a hubristic new imperialism.
Some recurrent themes pervade this literature. To begin with, it is believed that the Taliban is not as bad as is commonly thought and that its actions should be equated with those of others, thereby implying that bad behavior is the norm. It has likewise been argued that the Taliban can be coaxed into behaving better if only Washington will provide the right combination of carrots and sticks, and that isolating the movement, and holding it accountable for its atrocities, will only embolden it. Finally, there is the view that the West in general and Washington in particular must excuse the Taliban’s “excesses” as just another way of life: This requires treating Pashtunwali (the tribal code of behavior traditionally governing Pashtun society), Shari’a, and democracy as merely different approaches to living, none better, none worse than another.
Through often learned prose, plenty of repetition, and the kind of authorization conferred by academic presses, these placating chroniclers have greatly burnished the Taliban’s image in the West. As U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan shifts from surge to surgical strikes to peace talks, Americans had better get to know the real Taliban.
Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism
As a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, Ahmed Rashid reported on the rise of the Taliban as it happened. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, first published in 2001 prior to 9/11 and now in its second edition (2010), was among the first book-length examinations of the Taliban. Rashid’s work is best known for the section, “The New Great Game,” which outlines a new colonialism in which Iran, Russia, China, the United States, and even Japan control the fate of the region. He faults Washington for the rise of the Taliban because it failed to provide the proper circumstances and funding that could have prevented its resurgence. As Rashid puts it: “The pipeline of U.S. military aid to the Mujahedin was never replaced by a pipeline of international humanitarian aid that could have been an inducement for the warlords to make peace and rebuild the country.”
In a chapter for the new edition—”The Taliban Resurgent 2000-2009″—Rashid argues that excluding the Taliban from the Bonn conference was a disastrous oversight but fails to acknowledge that the Taliban would certainly have opposed its goal—to create, in Rashid’s words, “a broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic and fully representative government.” He goes on to blame the Taliban resurgence on U.S. failure to commit adequate forces to the country in its “rush” to move on to Iraq: “even a few more U.S. troops could have made a huge difference.” What he neglects to mention, though, is that even if the Bush administration had decided to commit every person, dollar, and piece of equipment that went to the Iraq war to Afghanistan, much of it would have spent years sitting at Bagram Air Base, awaiting transportation over Afghanistan’s nonexistent infrastructure.
While Rashid acknowledges that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence has provided safe haven and intelligence to the Taliban since its founding, he downplays those efforts, putting them on equal footing with “problems within NATO and lack of U.S. focus.” These problems, however, are not on equal footing. Nothing short of a full invasion of Pakistan could have prevented the Taliban from resurging.
Rashid’s solution has always been to negotiate with the Taliban, bringing it into the civilized world, in part, by honoring it. He argues that the Taliban of the 1990s was “essentially a peasant army rather than an international terrorist organization. This is what they still are … not a monolithic organization, but one in which there [are] several interest groups, some of which could be won over.” Here Rashid makes the same error of omission made by many of the Taliban’s enablers: He pretends that Washington has never treated the movement with the same kind of diplomatic engagement it treats genuine governments. In fact, from 1995 until January 2001, the Clinton administration negotiated with the Taliban. Michael Rubin has documented the steady stream of U.S. diplomats (Thomas W. Simons, Robin Raphel, Warren Christopher, John Holzman, Madeline Albright, Donald Camp, William B. Milan, and Bill Richardson) who negotiated with the Taliban. Clinton administration insiders Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon claim that Karl Underfurth, then assistant secretary of state for South Asia, met with “Taliban representatives at least twenty times between the August 1998 [African Embassy] bombings and the end of the Clinton administration.” The Japanese government negotiated with the Taliban in an attempt to remove and purchase the fourth-century twin statues of Buddha overlooking Hazara before their destruction in March 2001. Those negotiations too came to naught. And what is a diplomat to make of the fact that Mullah Omar will not meet face-to-face with non-Muslims?
In 2011, the Karzai government set up the High Peace Council (HPC) to pursue diplomacy, naming as its leader Berhanuddin Rabbani, the closest thing Afghanistan had to an elder statesman. U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker marveled at the monumental accomplishment of getting the Taliban to the negotiating table. But soon the Taliban began behaving like the Taliban: On September 20, 2011, one of its “negotiators” detonated a bomb hidden in his turban, killing Rabbani and four other HPC members. When former “moderate Taliban” Arsala Rahmani succeeded Rabbani, he too was murdered, gunned down on the way to work. As might be expected, no one is currently clamoring to fill the job of chief HPC negotiator.
The Taliban Shuffle
In The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Kim Barker, former foreign correspondent for The Chicago Tribune covering India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, describes her love affair with Afghanistan and Pakistan as “more all consuming than any relationship I had ever had.” If this kind of glib, colloquial prose, adored by Rolling Stone and New York Magazine, was her book’s only fault, it would not be so bad. Unfortunately, readers learn more about Kim Barker—what she eats, drinks, wears, or with whom she flirts, travels, and has sex—than about the Taliban.
Barker only shallowly explores the damage done to the image of the West caused by the collection of journalists who invaded first Kabul and then the rest of the country after the Taliban was toppled in November 2001. She describes toga parties, trampoline orgies, rooftop raves, and general drunken revelry at journalist hangouts but never speculates that such behavior may have presented the West in the most negative light possible to the Afghan people. Instead, she is quick to blame George W. Bush, the U.S., British, Canadian, German, and Dutch militaries, the CIA, and frequently India, for the woes of Afghanistan and Pakistan. To her mind, Western aid is never quite enough. (Even the non-Western Chinese government is faulted for its insensitivity in including pigs as a gift to the Kabul Zoo.) After complaining about the deplorable state of clinics built by U.S. Agency for International Development contractors all over Afghanistan, some of which had no medicine and no doctors, Barker blames Washington for the deficiencies rather than the Taliban who prevented the female half of the Afghan population from becoming physicians, regularly destroyed clinics before 9/11, and made life in Afghanistan generally miserable and unsafe for foreign physicians.
Alongside an explanation of the concept of jihad that is embarrassingly shallow, Barker has an astonishing penchant for tolerating shortcomings, including outright predatory sexual behavior, among the native peoples. She notes the irony of the situation of “Islamic clerics [who] forced me to wear a black abaya showing only my eyes, but then privately asked to see my face and hair,” but is unwilling to label it hypocrisy. After a lengthy description of the tendency of Pakistani men to engage in frequent “ass-grabbing free-for-all” sessions, she explains: “An ass-grab was about humiliation and, of course, the feeling of some men in the country that Western women needed sex like oxygen, and that if a Pakistani man just happened to put himself in her path or pinched her when the sex urge came on, he’d get lucky. I blamed Hollywood.” But why not blame Pakistani men? This condescending and infantilizing tendency to write about Afghans and Pakistanis as dependent on others, unable to think or act critically or curb their impulses, makes Barker’s book a useless exercise in West-bashing.
Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban
A more insightful look into the Taliban comes in Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban by Jere Van Dyk, student, chronicler, and former prisoner of the Taliban. Having first ventured into Afghanistan in the 1970s on the so-called “hippie trail,” Van Dyk returned after the Soviet invasion, living and traveling with warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani and his followers. Those years were documented in his book In Afghanistan: An American Odyssey. In 2008, believing he could get inside the new Haqqani network (now run by Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin) with the right fixers, he returned. In search of a group of Pashtuns identifying themselves as members of the Taliban who were to take him to meet up with the Haqqanis, he and his fixers were captured shortly after crossing into Pakistan and eventually released only when CBS paid a ransom.
In preparation for the mission, Van Dyk grew his beard, dressed like an Afghan, and wandered the streets of Kabul studying and imitating the mannerisms he observed. His one handicap? An inability to speak Dari, Pashto, or Nouristani. The whole enterprise smacks of Gonzo journalism and extraordinary naiveté:
I wanted to find out what the Taliban were really like, to see how different they were from the mujahideen. I wanted to learn what they thought and what their goals were. I wanted to go to their training camps. I wanted to explain the Taliban to the outside world. I wanted to go deep into the heart of Taliban country, to get to their leaders, men I knew from the 1980s, and through them perhaps even Osama bin Laden himself. I felt that with my contacts, my history with the mujahideen, and my knowledge of Pashtun culture, I could do what no one else could do. I knew these people. We had once been friends.
Van Dyk’s love of Afghan culture blinds him to its horrors as when a description of Pashtun tribal code ends with the blithe observation: “Under Pashtunwali, a rumor can end a woman’s life.” His jailer Gulob promises freedom and safety if he will convert to Islam. Van Dyk complies in order to save his skin, leading to effusive passages of admiration for his captors and their culture and a refusal to condemn the Taliban for what it did to his beloved Afghanistan. Stockholm syndrome overtakes him, and he soon begins to pray, speak, wash, eat, and even think (or so he says) like a Pashtun.
Nonetheless, there is a good deal of information to be gleaned from Van Dyk’s considerable experience in the region, and he comments on his own situation with humor and insight. In retrospect, the most interesting bit of information has to be Gulob’s comment that “Osama and al-Zawahiri are not in the tribal zones. They are being protected by institutions. Pakistan will never give them up.” It would appear that Van Dyk did get the inside scoop after all.
Taliban: The Unknown Enemy
Scottish journalist James Fergusson’s Taliban: The Unknown Enemy incorporates every element of the pro-Taliban-anti-U.S. agitprop template. The title bespeaks the book’s thesis—we in the West do not really know the Taliban.
Fergusson even questions the validity of the term “Taliban,” or as one unnamed British special forces officer put it: “In 2006, when the fighting started, we called everyone who resisted us ‘Taliban.’ But they really weren’t necessarily. They were just the community’s warrior class who had always defended their community against outsiders and were bound to do so again. The ‘Taliban’ in that sense were an enemy of our own creation.” The anonymous officer may be correct in the sense that the Taliban has grown beyond the original Pashtun warlords who pledged loyalty to Mullah Omar between 1994 and 1996. But the term has not lost its significance or its usefulness. “Taliban” has become something of an umbrella term capable of signifying a movement of diverse characters sharing the same goals. Arguing whether those loyal to Hekmatyar, Haqqani, or Lashkar-e-Taiba are “genuine” Taliban is a bit like arguing whether al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Ansar al-Islam in Iraq, the Somalian al-Shabab, and Nigerian Boko Haram are “genuine” al-Qaeda. Their goals, enemies, tactics, and beliefs are the same. Taliban fighters may be Kashmiri or Punjabi; they have even been known to admit Americans like John Walker Lindh.
Fergusson’s revisionist history of the Taliban portrays the regime as not quite as bad as the West has painted it. Women were not really treated as badly as was believed—denied education, barred from working, or forced to hide themselves. Fergusson reassures us that “women were not always automatically beaten for showing their faces,” which must come as quite a relief to all.
This intentional whitewashing of one of the most destructive regimes of modern times covers all bases. Fergusson underreports well-known Taliban atrocities like the (literal) poisoning of the wells on the Shomali plains in 1997. On the destruction of the Bamiyan buddhas, Fergusson quotes (but does not document) a decree from Mullah Omar to protect the statues as a source of tourist revenue but is unable to explain how the decree was ignored. As the “first Western journalist in more than two years to interview the fugitive warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,” Fergusson essentially becomes a cheerleader for the terrorist leader and his group by promoting what might be called the “wing theory” of terrorist organizations, whereby a group poses as a bicameral enterprise in which its “political wing” promotes an agenda peacefully while a “militant wing” promotes that same agenda violently.
Ameliorating the guilt of the Taliban requires playing up someone else’s to explain Afghanistan, and there is a long list of guilty parties in the book. Hamid Karzai bears the brunt of the scorn reserved for Afghans. Karzai’s greed and his government’s corruption are now well-known, but Fergusson goes too far in describing it as no better and perhaps worse than the Taliban’s. Offering no evidence, he refers to the current National Directorate of Security as “the successor to the KHAD,” the much-feared Afghan iteration of the KGB secret police run by the Soviet puppet Muhammad Najibullah.
But Washington is the true villain in Fergusson’s telling. Beginning with the cliché that after 9/11 the “international community” was sympathetic to the United States, he proceeds to lament that “Americans failed miserably to exploit this tide of goodwill.” And then it gets absurd when he writes that “with just a little more patience from the U.S., bin Laden might have ended up in a courtroom, al-Qaida might have lost its figurehead, and 9/11 and the entire War on Terror might never have happened.” The “U.S.’s reliance on proxy local forces” is faulted on one page and the U.S.’s excessive militaristic footprint on another.
So what should Washington do according to Fergusson? Invest in Afghanistan and coerce further investment from the “international community.” As his friend Mullah Abdul-Basit told him in 2007, had U.S. forces arrived in Afghanistan unarmed, solely to rebuild the country, “you would have been our guests … If your engineers and agriculture experts had come to us and explained what they were trying to do, we would have protected them with our lives.” Perhaps such an idea would not seem quite so absurd had the Taliban no history of (and penchant for) kidnapping and killing aid workers.
As a result of Fergusson’s partisan revisionism, in which the group is more sinned against than sinning, the real Taliban remains “unknown.”
Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban
Unlike Van Dyke, who was ransomed from his captivity, Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad paid the ultimate price for his inside connections. Nearly everyone, the U.S. government included, believes that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence killed Shahzad for his reporting on the close and growing ties between it, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda.
But Shahzad’s posthumously published book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11—the go-to source for all the minutiae on the post-9/11 Taliban—is no antidote to the reflexive anti-Western tracts reviewed above. For Shahzad, the word “terrorist” only refers to the U.S. government as he prefers the term “militants” or “Commanders” (always capitalized) for the Taliban he befriended. Likewise al-Qaeda is “a resistance movement against Western Imperialism,” fighting the “occupation forces” of the “U.S.-NATO-led war machine.”
Inside Al-Qaeda does have some value, outlining in stunning detail the post-9/11 Taliban, comprised of extremist Taliban, malleable Taliban, Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, tribal Taliban, Taliban affiliates, and al-Qaeda-Taliban affiliates. He painstakingly explains the various rivalries that divide the tribal Taliban and seems to have known (and liked) everyone involved. Ignoring the pre-9/11 connections between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Shahzad insists that the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan drove them to collaborate, rather than the other way around.
While still alive, and in this postmortem book, Shahzad gave credibility to the assortment of Taliban fighters, mullahs, and “Commanders” who spoke freely to him. Though they certainly said things they wanted the world to believe, stretching the truth in the process, if even half of what they told him is accurate, the West is still greatly underestimating the dangers posed by al-Qaeda and the Taliban in all their iterations.
Taliban Life, Poetry, and Myth
Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn have become the Taliban’s most generous supporters and most prolific apologists. The two moved to Afghanistan in 2006, settling in Kandahar, where they set up the now-inactive blog, AfghanWire.com. By running cover for the Taliban, minimizing atrocities, and deflecting blame elsewhere, they ingratiated themselves with Mullah Mohammed Salem Zaeef and became the editors of his self-pitying and evasive biography My Life with the Taliban. This work promised the ultimate insider’s history of the Taliban but delivered little more than an anti-U.S. polemic, peppered with passages of execrable (and unintended) irony: “The Taliban had also started to implement shari’a law: Women were no longer working in government departments, and the men throughout the city had started to grow beards. Life in the city was returning to normal.”
Another piece of Van Linschoten and Kuehn’s charm offensive on behalf of the Taliban is an anthology titled The Poetry of the Taliban, the goal of which is to humanize the Taliban fighters. The poems themselves are inconsequential, neither great nor terrible by today’s admittedly low standards. As one might expect, there are poems about killing, waging jihad, confronting the enemy, glorious Shari’a, and so on. What is perhaps most interesting (and ignored by Van Linschoten and Kuehn) is that among the list of predictable Taliban obsessions (Bush, Obama, Karzai, Guantanamo Bay) emerges the true enemy: the Western invention of human rights and, collaterally, the nongovernmental organizations that oversee their implementation and report on their absence.
But far more important than the quality of the poems themselves is their utility in selling the idea that the Taliban is morally and culturally equal to the West. Take, for example, the back cover blurb where Harvard’s Michael Semple writes that the Taliban is not “culturally backward” but is in fact “inspiring a people to resist a dull global plan to modernize them.” The bulk of this rhetorical salesmanship is found in Van Linschoten and Kuehn’s introduction. One of their tropes equates poetry written by British combat veterans who fought the Taliban with examples of Taliban verse: “Both sets of poets take leave of their mothers before they leave for the front, both are in turns thrilled and fearful when the moment of battle arrives, and both grieve at the death of friends and family.” The sales pitch may convince some, but it fails on the follow-through: When their war is over, returning British soldiers will not try to close girls’ schools, compel non-Anglicans to join the Church of England, and force everyone to eat, work, and play as they do in a coordinated effort to efface and annul the very idea of human rights.
Van Linschoten and Kuehn’s latest effort is an academic revisionist history, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, which tries to dispel the “popular discourse” that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have merged into a singular entity they call “Talqaeda.” The first problem is the failure to convince that such a discourse is popular; even Shahzad did not suggest a merger so much as a symbiotic convergence of interests leading to cooperation. Aside from its thesis, the book has serious methodological flaws. Nearly every important assertion hangs on a footnote that reads merely: “Interview,” followed by a location and date. While anonymity may be acceptable for a journalist’s fixers, drivers, and perhaps even translators, it has no place in “for-the-record” sources. It is simply impossible to gauge the veracity of the work without being able to assess the credibility of the sources. Ironically, the authors reject sources like the 9/11 Commission Report as being unreliable, along with information “extracted under duress from Khalid Sheik Mohammed.” The cumulative effect of this work of pseudo-scholarly journalism renders the project little more than a book of rumors cloaked in a veneer of academic paraphernalia.
Van Linschoten and Kuehn’s primary goal is to disassociate al-Qaeda from Mullah Omar’s movement, but history is not on their side. By their account, the Taliban leadership was completely unaware of bin Laden prior to 1996, and they even fatuously claim that the Rabbani-Massoud government invited bin Laden to Afghanistan. In seeking to absolve the Taliban of all guilt relating to the 9/11 attacks, they unconvincingly argue that its leaders neither knew the attacks were coming nor approved of them after. Even the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud on September 9, 2001, when he was leader of the Northern Alliance (and therefore the Taliban’s number one enemy in the region), caught the Taliban by surprise according to the authors. Their insinuation that al-Qaeda’s desire to restore the caliphate and the Taliban’s desire to restore Afghanistan to some kind of Qur’anic Khurasan are incompatible is based on scant evidence.
Finally, the book closes with what reads like an opaque threat: Unless “serious negotiations” conducted “on multiple levels” about the future of Afghanistan include the Taliban, the “escalated levels of conflict … will increasingly resemble the violent civil war of the 1990s.” Work with the Taliban, or else.
In Taliban lore, the indigenous Afghan mujahideen defeated the Soviet Union with very little help from the outside just as earlier generations of Afghans defeated a steady stream of foreign invaders from Alexander the Great to the British, each bent on enslaving them. The myth of Afghan invincibility endures today with the United States portrayed as the latest invader, no different than the Soviet Union. The myth-makers’ adherents are confident that history will repeat itself. In the April/May issue of Azan, Taliban propagandists push the U.S.-U.S.S.R. comparison by blending the names Obama and Gorbachev into Obamachev, “meant to draw parallels between … the USSR under the leadership of Mikail Gorbachev on the eve of Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 with that of the United States under Barack Obama amid the upcoming U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014.”
This facile equalization of all foreign invaders, especially the Soviet Union and the United States, is understandable from Taliban sources, but far too many Taliban experts are complicit in these gross misrepresentations. Washington’s involvement in Afghanistan has always been motivated by the desire to oppose enemies (Soviet, Iranian, al-Qaeda) and to ameliorate the lives of the Afghan people. The Soviet Union, by contrast, sought to own Afghanistan. In the post-Kennedy era of U.S. largesse, so much aid went to Helmand province that it became known as “Little America.” In the 1980s, Moscow’s top scientific minds devised bombs resembling toys so as to attract and maim children. In contrast, in the days between 9/11 and the October invasion, U.S. planes dropped untold tons of food along with leaflets explaining to the Afghan people that better days were coming. Perhaps the Taliban leaders really cannot see the difference between Soviet perfidy and U.S. attempts to wipe out al-Qaeda and make life better for all Afghans, but Western scholars and journalists know better. Rather than lending credence to Taliban propaganda, they ought to admit that were Washington to adopt Soviet-style tactics, Afghanistan would never stand a chance.
As we enter a new era in which the Taliban is seen as a legitimate political force, there can be little doubt that it will eventually take over Afghanistan. From Vice President Biden’s claim that “the Taliban, per se, is not our enemy” to the ongoing rewriting of history, its enablers, apologists, and admirers assist the takeover in big and small ways by denying that the era of Taliban rule was a travesty of governance during which abominable crimes were committed. And though the constant drumbeat of “negotiate, negotiate, negotiate” finds a willing audience in the Obama administration, the Taliban is interested in negotiation only to gain, not to compromise.
So when the announcement of three-way negotiations in Qatar between Washington, the Karzai government, and the Taliban were applauded this spring in the usual circles as positive progress, the Taliban immediately showed its true nature: On June 16, Mutasim Agha Jan of the Taliban praised the upcoming talks as “a major step in formulating a channel for talks between Kabul and the Taliban,” but on June 18, the Taliban office in Doha opened bearing a plaque and the banner of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” (the name used under Mullah Omar from 1996-2001) and publicly denounced Karzai as a U.S. puppet (implicitly likening him to Najibullah and predictably prompting the Karzai government to pull out of the negotiations). As Davood Moradian of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies recently put it: “A peace that is ‘Made in Pakistan,’ promoted by London, sold by Washington, and financed by Qatar is doomed to fail.”
As of this writing, the diplomatic enterprise appears to be on hold, but it will surely be restarted. And if Mullah Omar is allowed to emerge from hiding in Quetta and revive his atavistic, seventh-century utopian fantasy, the world will see just how unregenerate the Taliban is. Only this time around, no one will be able to claim ignorance.
first published in Middle East Forum
A.J. Caschetta is senior lecturer in English at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He can be reached at email@example.com.
 Yale University Press.
 For information on Afghanistan’s infrastructure, see “South Asia: Afghanistan,” World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C., July 10, 2013.
 Jayshree Bajoria, “Backgrounder: The Taliban in Afghanistan,” Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C., Oct. 6, 2011.
 For background on Richardson’s discussion with the Taliban, see Bruce O. Riedel, “Islamism Is Not Unstoppable,” Middle East Quarterly, Dec. 1999, pp. 51-60.
 Michael Rubin, “Taking Tea with the Taliban,” Commentary, Feb. 2010.
 The Age of Sacred Terror (New York: Random House, 2002), pp. 272-3.
 Reuters, Mar. 5, 2001.
 New York: Doubleday, 2011.
 New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2010.
 New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1983.
 Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2011.
 Peter A. Olsson, “Homegrown Terrorists, Rebels in Search of a Cause,” Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2013, pp. 3-10.
 London: Pluto Press, 2011.
 New York: Columbia University Press, 2010; see, also, “Brief Reviews,” Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2011.
 New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.
 New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.
 The Jihad and Threat Monitor, no. 5329, Middle East Media Research Institute, June 6, 2013.
 All Things Considered, National Public Radio, July 5, 2010.
 CBC News (Can.), Oct. 28, 2000; M. Siddieq Noorzoy, “Afghanistan’s Children: The Tragic Victims of 30 Years of War,” Middle East Institute, Apr. 20, 2012.
 ABC News, Dec. 19, 2011; Fox News, Dec. 19, 2011.
 Tolo News (Kabul), June 17, 2013.
 The New York Times, June 19, 2013.
 “Taliban Guns Send a Message about Obama’s Peace Process,” The Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2013.
Islamic Caliphate is dead, but its dangerous and infectious ideology is alive
The year 2019 witnessed the rout of the Islamic Caliphate – the pseudo-state entity created on the territories of Iraq and Syria by the terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a.k.a. the Islamic State or IG, ISIL, Daesh (Arabic), a terrorist group outlawed in the Russian Federation.
On March 1, 2019, just three or four years after the Islamic Caliphate terrorized the entire world, Kurdish units of the Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria launched an offensive to flush out 500 jihadist fighters holed up in the city of Baguz, ISIL’s last stronghold in the country.
Does this mean that Islamist terrorism is now done for?
During the first decade of the 21st century, ISIL emerged as the biggest threat to international security and world order. On June 29, 2014 ISIL terrorists announced the creation of an Islamic Caliphate with claims to global domination.
As seen on the map , the Islamic Caliphate, comprising numerous provinces, was to extend from China to the Atlantic Ocean, and from Central Europe and Siberia all the way down to equatorial Africa. The Caliphate encompasses all Muslim states without exception, including Iran and non-Muslim Israel, the territories “occupied by infidels,” as well as the whole of the Middle East and North Africa. Moreover, the Caliphate lays claims to Western Asia and Europe, including Spain, the Balkans, Romania and Austria.
The Islamic Caliphate went on to make the Syrian city of Raqqa its de-facto capital in 2014.
Although still far from achieving global dominion, the jihadists started building the basis of their future Islamic Caliphate by enslaving between 8 million and 10 million people in the occupied territories of Iraq and Syria, and virtually annihilating Syrian and Iraqi Christians, Yezidis, Shiites and Kurds.
In addition to Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State and its affiliates controlled parts of Afghanistan, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
ISIL also used its substantial financial resources to increase the number of “sleeper” terrorist cells in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Indonesia, the Philippines, the North Caucasus and various European countries.
During its criminal heyday in 2014-2017, ISIL was one of the most numerous and well-armed terrorist groups in the Middle East, boasting over 100,000 fighters active mainly in Syria and Iraq.
Add to these 27,000 to 31,000 mercenaries from 86 countries who, according to the Soufan Group analytical center, fought in the ranks of this terrorist organization.
Equally noteworthy is the distribution of foreign ISIL militants by region and country (2016 – 2017):
|Former Soviet republics||8,717|
|Near and Middle East||7,054|
|Maghreb countries (North Africa)||5,356|
|South and Southeast Asia||1,568|
Countries –main suppliers of fighters for ISIL:
Equally noteworthy is data pertaining to the number of ISIL mercenaries from former Soviet republics (2015)
ISIL owes its temporary success in Iraq and Syria to these countries’ weak militaries, the seizure of their arsenals of advanced US-supplied weapons, and to the considerable financial resources looted from Iraqi banks.
And also to its militants’ religious fanaticism, the professional skills of former Iraqi and Syrian military officers who joined ISIL, to foreign mercenaries, the cruel and fear-instilling daily activities of this quasi-state, the ideological brainwashing of jihadist fighters and to professionally organized advocacy work.
ISIL’s bloody and ruthless way of dealing with opponents and the medieval laws it imposed on its subjects shocked the world. Even the ill-famed al-Qaeda that ISIL spun off from has come out against its “daughter,” with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri officially announcing in February 2014 that he did not recognize ISIL as a member of his group.
In their effort to secure the locals’ support, ISIL members tried, within the framework of their quasi-state, to restore the cities’ economic life by rebuilding their war-ravaged infrastructure. Imitating state authority, they paid salaries and benefits to the unemployed, collected taxes and paid monthly salaries of $700 to their militants. At the same time, in their brutal imposition of Islamist medieval order, they surpassed even the Afghan Taliban.
Propaganda and PR feature prominently in the ISIL leaders’ activity.
ISIL has “revolutionized” the field of online promotion of jihadist ideology by creating a powerful social movement and recruiting thousands of fighters from around the world, Russia included, through a web of social networks alone.
According to Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, director of the Center for Analysis and Conflict Prevention, a leading expert on the North Caucasus, ISIL created a highly professional and ramified propaganda machine for recruiting online, consisting of “central” media organizations, such as Al-Furqan and al-Hayat, and “regional” ones. In addition, the AMAQ News agency provides coverage for the Caliphate’s military operations and its everyday life even without having the status of its “official” media outlet.
Propagandists enjoy a privileged status in ISIL. According to the propaganda researcher IG Charles Winter, during the organization’s halcyon days (2014–2015), spin doctors were paid seven times as much as regular fighters.
Since its outset, ISIL has put out over 41,000 media releases, with an additional 2.3 billion releases made by its supporters (The New York Times).
“The loss of territory, resources, the retreat and evacuation of fighters, compounded by problems with the Internet has significantly reduced the flow of jihadist propaganda,” Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya writes.
“Daesh will not be able to maintain the previous level and quality of its propaganda materials any time soon. Realizing that with the loss of its ideological machine the whole project of the Islamic Caliphate will eventually be doomed, the ISIL leadership is adapting to new realities with affected references to a high mission now making way for more down-to-earth calls for one-off attacks with knives and axes on unarmed people. This change of tactic began in late-2015, after security agencies of various countries had seriously complicated the process of bringing in new fighters to Syria. ISIL initially advised its supporters to look for workarounds, and later – to move to other “provinces” of the Caliphate. Finally, last year, ISIL said that those who could not reach the Caliphate proper should stage attacks back at home,” she continues.
This is an extremely important trend. Just as the Caliphate ceases to exist as a quasi-state, its subjects, who have survived the antiterrorist battles, remain. Islamist terrorism is taking a new shape.
The Islamic Caliphate created by ISIL is perhaps the highest organizational quasi-state form of modern-day Islamist terrorism. Terror (“Fear,” “horror” in Latin) was used by ISIL as a primary method of warfare. Therefore, it could be compared (in function, if not in scale) with Nazi Germany or militaristic Japan, where international terrorism was part of official state policy.
Even though chances of a complete reincarnation of either ISIL or the Islamic Caliphate are pretty slim, dangerous options thereof can’t be ruled out.
That terrorism is often used by non-state actors – whether left-wing, right-wing or nationalist – and religious groups, is well known. In the 19th and 20th centuries, hundreds of political parties and groups were known to have used terror in their work.Their activities covered virtually the whole world: from small settlements and countries to continents, and were often supervised and financed by individual states to achieve geostrategic ends.
It is highly probable that the routed ISIL will still be trying to preserve its remaining terrorist groups, rebrand old ones, and recruit new fighters. Moreover, what has remained of the Daesh forces will spread throughout the world.
As BBC columnist Frank Gardner writes, “At the recent Munich Security Conference, Alex Younger, the chief of Britain’s secret intelligence service (MI6) said this: “The military defeat of the ‘caliphate’ does not represent the end of the terrorist threat. We see it therefore morphing, spreading out… within Syria but also externally… This is the traditional shape of a terrorist organization.”
Speaking at the same event, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that ISIL was going deeper underground and building networks with other terrorist groups.
General Joseph Votel, who runs US Central Command, also said that even though the ISIL network is dispersed, pressure must be maintained or its components will have “the capability of coming back together if we don’t.”
Indeed, much of the ISIL militant force has not been destroyed and is now breaking up into small terrorist groups, which is only natural since ISIL is a plethora of jihadist groups fully capable of acting autonomously. .
With the rout of the Caliphate now a hard fact, ISIL is desperately looking for a way out of the situation. There are several such “exists” to speak of.
The first is the dispersal of jihadist fighters among the local population in Syria and Iraq, and the creation of “sleeper cells” waiting for an order to resume the fight.
A second option would be to redeploy militants to remote areas of Syria and Iraq, and the formation of guerilla units there.
Thirdly, this could be gradual infiltration into other countries where ISIL already has a base, or at least has supporters necessary for the organization to function further, perhaps under a different name, but with similar ideology and military-political doctrine. Primarily into Libya, where ISIL controls the cities of Derna, Nofalia, Sirt, and the Al-Mabrouk oil field. Moreover, in Libya, ISIL could become a third party in the ongoing confrontation between Tripoli and Tobruk.
In Afghanistan, ISIL has already become a third party in the long-running standoff between Kabul and the Taliban. However, the ongoing negotiations between the international community, primarily Russia and the US, with the Afghan Taliban (though in a separate format) could eventually ease tensions in that country which, in turn, would seriously undercut ISIL’s ability to influence the situation there.
In Egypt, local jihadists, taking orders from ISIL, control parts of the Sinai Peninsula.
Also, the Boko Haram group, which controls the north-east of Nigeria and is making inroads into neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger, has recently subordinated itself to ISIL.
There are certain opportunities now opening for ISIL also in Yemen, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Another “exit” option could be the return of the remaining jihadist fighters to their home countries, either individually or as part of small but closely-knit groups.
In the wake of the Islamic Caliphate’s downfall, many militants have recently returned home. About 30 percent of the 5,000 ISIL fighters (1,500) happen to be EU citizens. Of these, 300 have returned to France, about 900 people – to the former Soviet republics (including 400 to Russia), 800 – to Tunisia, 760 – to Saudi Arabia, and 250 – to Jordan.
This process is characteristic of all 86 countries Islamist volunteers once set out from to defend the ideas of radical Islam.
Clearly, the presence of experienced and battle-hardened ISIL terrorists, sometimes even armed, in the countries of their current residence is dangerous, even disastrous for these and other countries’ security. Small wonder, therefore, that the world is getting increasingly aware of the real threat posed by this jihadist-terrorist contagion.
Religious leaders are united in their denunciation of Islamist terror.
Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Mufti Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Sheikh has branded the al-Qaeda and Islamic State jihadists the main enemies of Islam. He also quoted a verse from the Koran, which calls to kill the perpetrators of acts that “have a disastrous effect on Islam.” Any compromises with bloodthirsty fanatics are simply out of the question. They must be eliminated once and for all.
Pope Francis has approved the use of force against Islamist radicals. The Pontiff believes that coercive methods should be used to protect religious minorities from militants.
The World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) has urged the entire world community to stand together against the “disgusting wave of violence” against Christians in the Middle East.
In Iraq, the Shiite leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has reiterated his call for the Iraqi people to resist ISIL militants.
Important as religious leaders’ rejection of terrorism and its perpetrators is, however, the same can hardly be said about the world community. Indeed, even in the midst of the fight against ISIL in Syria, the antiterrorist forces failed to present a shared understanding of the danger posed by their common enemy.
It is really unforgivable that a universally accepted definition of international terrorism has not yet been worked out. The term is often used as an instrument of political struggle, because each country actually decides for itself whether a certain group is “terrorists” or “freedom fighters.” In Russia, 21 Islamist organizations are recognized as terrorist, and 33 in the United States . Moreover, actual definitions of “terrorism” often vary.
Coordinated fight is the only possible and effective way of ridding the planet of the scourge of terrorism. Unfortunately, there is no international legal basis for a collective solution of the problem. The experience of the past few years shows that a slow-moving and bureaucratic UN is not capable of providing quick and effective response to the threat posed by international terrorism. The world needs a fundamentally new and mobile international mechanism, structured to counter the terrorists’ extensive and diverse criminal activities.
The proposed idea of creating a supranational system uniting antiterrorist forces that would include administrative, information, analytical, intelligence, financial, counter-propaganda and power structures – well-equipped counter-terrorist units ready for quick deployment to troubled regions looks pretty viable. However, this international antiterrorist system must be established under the auspices of the United Nations, with its blessing, and rest on a solid legal foundation.
First published in our partner International Affairs
Cyber Warfare: Competing National Perspectives
The threat of cyberwarfare is a growing fear among all intelligence communities. “In June 2009 the U.S. Cyber Command was created and in July of 2011 Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III announced that as a matter of doctrine, cyberspace will be treated as an operational domain similar to land, air, sea, and space” (Colarik & Janczewski, 2012, 35). Cyber warfare is conducted by infiltrating the country’s computer networks to cause damage and/or disruption to various infrastructures. This could be as minimal as spying on another nation or as in-depth as implementing acts of sabotage directed towards specific targets such as military operations or the power grid. The threat of cyber warfare is not specific to one country. This is a potential threat that effects each country across the globe.
China is a dominant power within the global arena and is consistently evolving with potential threats especially cyber technology. Chinese colonels Liang and Xiangsui claimed advanced technology gave the country’s adversaries a significant advantage, and proposed that China ‘build the weapons to fit the fight. Recently, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) confirmed the existence of its Online Blue Army (Colarik, &Janczewski, 2012, 35). China’s fear of the impact and devastation that can be caused by the internet has forced them to implement strict policies governing the freedom and use of the internet within the country and creating strong security measures against infiltration by outside sources.
In 2014, China implemented the Central Internet Security and Informatization Leading Group to oversee all internet security. “This leading group is to deepen reform, protect national security, safeguard national interests, and promote the development of information technology. The group will have complete authority over online activities, including economic, political, cultural, social, and military” (Iasiello, 2017, 5). This group disseminates and monitors all information found on the web to ensure that there are no security breaches and the people are not in violation of the law.
In 2015, China drafted a national cybersecurity law.“The chief goals of its 2015 draft national cybersecurity law are (1) ensure cybersecurity, (2) safeguard cyberspace sovereignty, national security, and the public interest, (3) protect the legitimate rights and interests of citizens, legal persons and other organizations, and (4) promote the healthy development of economic and social information” (Kolton, 2017, 126). Whereas the United States promotes a free internet, China’s main focus is on establishing an internet that is secure from all potential threats both external and internal.
In 2016, China passed the “Cyber Security Law” that focused on the security of the internet and information systems and extended the ability of the government to oversee the information that was being shared to determine if it was done within accordance of their strict cyber security laws. This law helps the government to monitor any potential breaches of security by outside or internal sources. By implementing a stronger grasp of control over the internet, the government is able to reduce the potential of an attack or intrusion. Within this law, government agencies would be able to implement more guidelines for network security within industries to include energy, transport, military, defense, and many more (Iasiello, 2017, 6).These restrictions increase the control of the government over cybersecurity but also limits the freedoms of its citizens to explore the internet.
China has created new training for its military to be prepared against potential cyber warfare attacks. It has “developed detailed procedures for internet warfare, including software for network scanning, obtaining passwords and breaking codes, and stealing data; information-paralyzing software, information-blocking software, information-deception software, and other malware; and software for effecting counter-measures” (Ball, 2011, 84). It has also increased its number of training facilities to focus only on network attacks on cyber infrastructure and defense operations. The amount of money China is investing in facilities and training of military personal increases its ability to remain secure within this global threat of cyber warfare. One fear for China is its dependence on Western technology. “China’s capabilities in cyber operations and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence are becoming more sophisticated, the country still depends largely on Western technology. Beijing is hoping to break that dependency through the Made in China 2025 plan” (Bey, 2018, 33). This is a mutual fear for both the US and China as they both rely on each other’s manufacturers with the fear that they will implement a trojan horse to intervene.
Like China, Russia has increased its abilities in combating the potential threat of cyber warfare. However, Russia has taken a different approach to this threat by going on the offensive. Russia has focused on non-linear warfare within the cyber world, which is defined as “the collection of plans and policies that comprise the state’s deliberate effort to harness political, military, diplomatic, and economic tools together to advance that state’s national interest. Grand strategy is the art of reconciling ends and means” (Schnauffer, 2017, 22). To assert its dominance in the global arena, Russia has been utilizing its own forms of cyber attacks to collect information and become a dominant cyber power.
Russia began its experiments with cyber warfare in 2007 in the clash with Estonia. This was done to determine its cyber capabilities as well as create a stronger resilience against future attacks. “Russia’s cyber experiment effectively shut down day-to-day online operations in Estonia’s cyber infrastructure for weeks, from news outlets to government institutions” (Shuya, 2018, 4). After this successful movement, Russia began to expand its focus to Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 and then in 2015, to offset local initiatives there which it considered to be against Russian national security interests. Russia has “developed multiple capabilities for information warfare, such as computer network operations, electronic warfare, psychological operations, deception activities, and the weaponization of social media, to enhance its influence campaigns” (Ajir& Valliant, 2018, 75). Russia has had a strong focus on using the tool of propaganda to disseminate key information to its citizens with the hope that they will abide by it as the real truth.
Russia’s investment into technology and the freedom of speech allotted by the West has made the West not only extremely vulnerable to Russia, but also has expanded the reach of the Russia globally. Ajir and Valliant (2018) highlight several key points of the Russian strategy:
Direct lies for the purpose of disinformation both of the domestic population and foreign societies; Concealing critically important information; Burying valuable information in a mass of information dross; Simplification, confirmation, and repetition (inculcation); Terminological substitution: use of concepts and terms whose meaning is unclear or has undergone qualitative change, which makes it harder to form a true picture of events, Introducing taboos on specific forms of information or categories of news; Image recognition: known politicians or celebrities can take part in political actions to order, thus exerting influence on the worldview of their followers; Providing negative information, which is more readily accepted by the audience than positive.
This approach allows the Russian government to remain in control of information that is filtered to its citizens. The restriction of freedom reduces the capability of deciphering fact from fiction.
Russia has also taken a defensive approach to cyber warfare by implementing strict laws that govern the use of the internet. The agency Roskomnadzor scans the internet for activity that is deemed illegal and detrimental to the Russian government. It has also implemented new laws to regulate internet activity. “The laws which came into force in November 2012 provided provisions for criminalizing slander, requiring nonprofits receiving funding from abroad to declare themselves “foreign agents,” and provide additional financial information and a final law sanctioning the blocking of websites featuring content that “could threaten children’s lives, health, and development” (Cross, 2013, 14). Many have deemed these laws as means to censor the internet, but the Russian government argues it is for the protection of its citizens.
An opposite example of failing to employ measures to protect the country from a potential cyber warfare attack is Mexico. The main focus for Mexico has been on drug cartels and eliminating internal threats within their own government. Mexico has begun to implement its own version of cybersecurity due to its substantial growth in cyber-attacks over the years. However, its overall success has been limited due to a lack of understanding and outdated systems. “Incidents in cyberspace pose a challenge to Mexico due to a lack of institutional structures and there is a need to strengthen capabilities since it does not have any specialized government or public sector agencies certified under internationally recognized standard” (Kobek, 2017, 8). Without the establishment of a specific agency dedicated to cybersecurity, Mexico will continue to struggle against cyber warfare threats. Mexico must implement new security measures that are applicable to all main threats beyond the drug cartels.
Currently, the government presence in Mexico is focused solely on actionable and tangible threats. There must be a reform to its current laws for “the armed forces require a law that reframes and modernizes the concepts of public safety, internal security, and national defense; clarifies the role, conditions, terms, and limits of the armed forces’ engagement; and establishes mechanisms to hold them accountable” (Payan& Correa-Cabrera, 2016, 3). The lack of accountability and oversight by the government to control key aspects, such as the military, and impose a stronger presence in the more demanding field of cybersecurity opens up the potential for a catastrophic event to occur within Mexico.
China and Russia are prime examples of how strict policy governance of the internet will help to reduce the potential threat of an attack. They are micromanaging every aspect of the internet from restricting specific websites (social media) or establishing specific agencies to monitor and analyze all information that is being viewed from all sources. “With the United States and European democracies at one end and China and Russia at another, states disagree sharply over such issues as whether international laws of war and self-defense should apply to cyber-attacks, the right to block information from citizens, and the roles that private or quasi-private actors should play in Internet governance” (Forsyth, 2013, 94). The failure of this policy is the restriction of freedoms to citizens. As stated above, one of Russia’s main focuses is promoting propaganda that is anti-west and pro-Russia. The control over the internet does not allow their citizens to research the truth or have global interaction. This increases the risk of upheavals among the people, especially as technology continues to improve and loopholes are found to circumvent existing policies and hidden content is exposed.
Another approach to cybersecurity is seen with the actions of NATO. It is focusing on improving its relationships with private security companies and “developing a Cyber Rapid Reaction Team (RRT)19 to protect its critical infrastructure, much like U.S. Cyber Command’s Cyber Protection Teams (CPTs)” (Ilves et al, 2016, 130). One downside to this approach is NATO is only able to apply defensive measures. It does not have the ability to implement an offensive attack. Creating a partnership with private companies provides it greater access and resources to potential cyber threats. Private companies have more funds available to pursue a stronger cyber security defense. A recommendation would be to create a joint European Union, United States, and NATO partnership against cyber warfare. Each has its own strengths that can be applied to a joint force against one common threat. A stronger partnership among key global powers will help to create a multifaceted approach to the threat of cyber warfare. The end goal of cyber warfare is the same for each country targeted. There is no specific adversary, but rather the substantial disruption or sabotage of key infrastructure.
Although facing intense criticism and skepticism, it would be beneficial for the US, China, and Russia to form a partnership against cyber warfare. As each country is already connected via their technology companies, they are each a global power that encompasses a vast majority of the world. A collaboration of information and resources would provide a stronger protection amongst common non-state threats. However, the chief obstacle is the ability to trust each country to act within the realm of security, instead of using it as an opportunity to gain substantial access to an inside look of the country. Since the US often accuses China and Russia of being the biggest state perpetrators of cyber actions, this criticism may be near impossible to overcome, despite the possible advantages. According to the World Economic Forum, the table below lists the top countries best prepared against cyber-attacks.
The United States is ranked number one with a significant margin above Canada. China and Russia who have implemented a very strict cyber security policy are not listed within the top 20. This is determined by the Global Cybersecurity Index, a partnership between private industries and international organizations that analyze all aspects of cybersecurity. This argues that the approach by countries such as China and Russia is geared more to the control over its citizens rather than executing a strong cybersecurity policy focused on legitimate external threats. Although, the table above does show that the United States is ranked number one in being able to protect the nation from potential cyber threats, it is only ranked at 82.4% effective. Russia and China have employed a different approach to cyber security that could be utilized to increase the overall effectiveness globally if each side was able to work together towards common threats. Ideally, such partnership would not only create new channels of connection and collaboration between adversaries, but would also set the stage for the more heavy-handed and restrictive policies of China and Russia to be loosened to the benefit of its citizens’ virtual freedom.
Cybersecurity between Enemies and Allies
Operational success, whether state or non-state, begins with a solid strategic plan that encompasses key objectives or targets. In today’s globally connected world, cybersecurity is holding the forefront space of challenges, vulnerabilities, and growth (Barrinha 2018). Success, in a globally connected environment, requires an understanding of the environmental systems and connections to appropriately identify the gaps in security and potential points of entry from adversarial actors (Barrinha 2018). Understanding the connected nature and networked capability of potential adversaries’ drives a need to analyze social networks as they relate to the interrelated environmental systems (Tsvetovat and Kouznetsov2011). Therefore, the ability to effectively engage within an interconnected and globalized operational environment is to understand the cybersecurity policies, trends, and vulnerabilities across western and non-western states like Russia, United Kingdom, China, and Israel.
Internationally, states are viewing cyber as the fifth domain of operations, added to air, space, land, and sea. In 2013, fifteen countries agreed with a need for international law for the elaboration of measures, norms, rules, or principles over the cyber domain. Today, military cyber capabilities exist in more than 40 states and of those 12 have explicitly offensive cyber capabilities. Despite the growing application of cybersecurity strategies and advancements in the development of international laws, a standard definition of cybersecurity does not exist (Greiman 2015).
Regardless of the state’s abilities or interest in cybersecurity, the intent is to create an ability to protect domestic networks against domestic or foreign intrusion and attack (Fischer 2016). Cyber-attacks come in many forms. Though attacks vary widely, they generally have a geopolitical, diplomatic, or economic interest, causing business and economic organizations to get involved with political structures to consider policy-setting and strategic capabilities (Jaquire et al. 2018). The difference is that instead of defending against states physically, the defense efforts are against actions exclusively housed within the cyber arena (Duvenage et al. 2018).
National cybersecurity strategies in general tend to possess three main components: strategies with intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities, personal security on information held in databases, and corporate security (Vancouver 2018). As Adamsky (2017) described Israel’s cybersecurity plan, the three interrelated vectors work together to provide robustness, resilience, and defense. The overall intent of national cybersecurity strategies is to provide a means by which the state can protect local networks from adversary threats.
The criticality and concern coming from the international community when dealing with increasing threat potential and vulnerabilities within the cyber domain is reflected by the more than 40 countries working to establish cyber policies. The United States and the United Kingdom both view “terrorism and cyber-attacks as the two greatest threats to national security” (Greiman 2015). As states look at the threat posed by the cyber domain, they must consider non-traditional ways in which foreign non-state actors are leveraging networks to spread their messages — to incite fear, spread support for their anti-state ideologies, or the ability to use virtual space as a meeting location to create extremist support (Cross 2013).
In efforts to standardize, Russia, China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan joined forces to submit an international code for information assurance (Grieman 2015). Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States banded together to create a stronger shared level of intelligence, known as the “Five Eyes” Community (Walsh 2015). However, Israel is still leading the way in the cyber policy, strategy, and successful operations (Adamsky 2017). Though all countries possess a mix of security interests and priorities, there is not a single consensus on how to internationally address threat conditions (Crosston 2016). In an attempt to address those conditions, countries must seek innovative and creative means to establish operations and policies to protect against globalized threats (Cross 2013).
Israel has the lead in leveraging innovation and creativity to develop tangible results and an example for other countries to emulate. In 2002, Israel established the goals and means by which it intended to secure its portion of the cyber domain. Seeking to find a balance between commercial and private needs with a need for national security, Israel established policies to “protect vital computerized systems of selected public and private civilian organizations.” Not wanting to fall short on future threats, Israel included concepts of “education, R&D, security, economic development, and international cooperation” into their policy design (Adamsky 2017). In 2015, the government established a concept of operations (CONOP) to regulate cyber mechanisms and operations focusing on cyber defense, capacity building,and structure. Using an interrelated framework of robustness, resilience, and defense, Israel can operate, sustain, and defend their local cyber domain from intrusion and attack better than most (Adamsky 2017).
Russia and China have similar approaches and practices. In their efforts to collect intelligence, neither country relies solely on confidential sources or methods, nor does collection tie singularly to state-sanctioned collection requests. More importantly, collection in Russia and China does not focus on collection against foreign agencies alone (Crosston 2016). As part of the policy process in Russia and China, the government opts to control exposure and risk by limiting the availability of sites that threaten the influence their control over the population (Cross 2013). While similar in their approaches, Russia and China developed individual strategies to protect their networks (Fei 2010).
China opted for a strategy with a longer-term outlook and sought to respect other nation’s objectives while fostering mutually beneficial cooperation. China’s strategy emphasizes multilateral ties and dealing with both traditional and non-traditional threats. China’s strategic approach consists of four prongs: the inclusion of complex, non-traditional aspects; issue-orientation over country interests; economic development to be independent of foreign technologies; and, a supposed practice of good governance and transparency.
United Kingdom announced, in 2010, a plan to spend $1 billion US dollars over a four-year period to launch a “transformative national cybersecurity program” focused on closing the expanding gaps between current capabilities and emerging technological advancements. The UK outlined its plan with the intention of leveraging private-public partnerships to create a single point-of-contact for cyber-crimes and security issues. The strategy also outlined a plan to develop international cooperation with like-minded nations (Hammond 2010). Not unlike Israel, the United Kingdom is focusing on policy development to protect privacy and reduce crime, while establishing a resilience capability. Through private-public partnerships, the UK aims for capacity building and to implement a risk-based approach to defending against cyberattacks (Greiman 2015).
Private-public partnerships, coupled with dynamic state policies, contribute to the state’s ability for capacity building. This is particularly important with the understanding that the private sector mainly owns and operates activities within the cyber domain for most states (Grieman 2015). While Russia and China understand this phenomenon, they opt to block sites and access as a means of controlling the internet. The efforts of Russia are generally politically inclined, focused on the interest of making the president appear stronger. In China, the state leverages cyber abilities for economic maneuvering. Israel selects a more comprehensive and holistic approach to managing the cyber environment.
Tsvetovat and Kouznetsov (2011) explained the connected nature and networked capability of potential adversaries as driving social connections and purposes. Within the cyber domain, states are able to leverage the connections and networks to shape policy, offensive operations, and international relationship development. As Russia and China continue to work through their controlled approaches to cybersecurity, there is a need for international consensus towards cybersecurity. In an effort to standardize an approach to cybersecurity, the international community should seek to follow in the steps of Israel (Adamsky 2017).As a soft power instrument, Israel is leveraging opportunities and threats to harness the potential of cybersecurity. Over the last decade Russia, China, and many others have reached out to Israel. Additionally, the more success Israel has in leveraging cybersecurity to promote international ties, the greater likelihood it will lead an effort to normalize cyber across the globe (Adamsky 2017).
As academics and practitioners continue to work toward a standard definition and understanding of cybersecurity, there is a distinct need for various states to come together in an effort to establish international norms and standards for the execution of cybersecurity. This effort should be much the same as joint operations govern telling time or tracking targets. It is crucial that the United States continues to find ways to lead the effort to establish agreements that focus on commonalities that can benefit the reduction of cyber dangers between China, Russia, and Israel.
The effort to understand the cyber environment and its various network of connections is vital in working through concerns faced by countries emerging as a new power (i.e.,Brazil, India, Argentina, and Australia among others). The importance of this understanding links back to Brafman and Beckstrom’s (2012) starfish and spider concepts, demonstrating the capability of groups to operate from geographically dispersed locations without a centralized leader. Improved security within the cyber domain will assist in mitigating political, economic, and criminal activities that are counter to a state’s security strategies. Perhaps most importantly, he ability to increase cybersecurity and cooperation in the cyber domain internationally creates a possible platform to work against other threat issues such as transnational organized crime, terrorism, human trafficking, and migration from failing states. Understanding critical elements and the approach other countries use to navigate through their domestics and external threat will continue to prove to be as crucial for the United States and the interaction with other countries in the future.
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