As was also clearly stated by Vladimir Putin on September 4, 2017: “whichever country leads the way in Artificial Intelligence research will be the ruler of the world”.
According to Thomas Kuhn’s old, but still useful, epistemological model, every change of the scientific paradigm – rather than the emergence of new material discoveries – radically changes the visions of the world and hence strategic equilibria.
Hence, first of all, what is Artificial Intelligence? It consists of a series of mathematical tools, but also of psychology, electronic technology, information technology and computer science tools, through which a machine is taught to think as if it were a human being, but with the speed and security of a computer.
The automatic machine must representman’s knowledge, namely show it, thus enabling an external operator to change the process and understand its results within the natural language.
In practice, AI machines imitate the perceptual vision, the recognition and the reprocessing of language -and even of decision-making – but only when all the data necessary to perform it are available. They do so creatively, i.e. they self-correct themselves in a non-repetitive way.
As can be easily imagined, this happens rarelyin a complex system with a high rate of variation over time and space, as is exactly the case in war clashes.
Just think about the intelligence reserved for the Chiefs of Staff, which obviously no one ever feeds into any machine to “run” it.
Hence, first and foremost, AI is about making the machine imitate the human reasoning process, which is achieved by applying the Turing test.
As you may remember, Alan Turing was the mathematician who devised for the British intelligencea number of techniques for speeding the breaking of German ciphers and cracking intercepted coded messages that could find settings for the Enigma machine used by the German Nazi Intelligence Services.
Due to the large amount of data to be checked and translated, his mathematics required an electromechanical machine, a sort of computer which was in fact created at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking centre, with the technologies of the time: vacuum valves, copper wires and electric engines.
To be precise, the Nazis had developed a primitive computer, namely Z1, that was hard to program, while the British Colossuspermitted the introduction of cards and tapes that allowed its adaptation to the various needs of the British SIGINT of the time.
Furthermore, in Turing’s mind, the Imitation Game involving three people (a sort of deception game) could be replaced by a machine – and here the mathematical theory permitting AI comes into play.
The machine takes the place of either human beings who try to prevent the correct identification of the third human being (C) – an identification that remains hidden to both A and B.
Hence Alan Turing claims that man A can be replaced by a machine and that this can be correctly defined as “thinking”.
Hence, according to Alan Turing,the human thought can be creatively imitated and recreated through a Finite State Machine (FSM) that can simulate other Discrete State Machines.
In principle a Finite State Machine is a machine allowing to fully describe – in mathematical terms – the simultaneous or non-simultaneous behaviour of many systems.
With a view to better understanding this concept, we can think of an image: the warp of a fabric with respect to its weft, which can have various colours or designs.
Conversely, a Discrete-State Machine is a calculator, i.e.a machine evolving by sudden jumps from one state to another.
The same evolutionary jumps that the epistemologist, Thomas Kuhn, thought as steps of a scientific paradigm.
Finally, in Turing’s mind, the Discrete State Machine was the most suitable for simulating the human thought-behaviour.
Currently, in AI, almost exclusively “hybrid spots” are used, i.e. systems unifying various types of finite or discrete state machineswhich develop and process also probabilistic scenarios.
There is no need for going further into this network of technical reasoning, which only partially regards the topic of this article.
It is worth recalling that the issue has its true conceptual and strategic origin in March 2017, when a computer program developed by Google, namely AlphaGo, beatthe world champion in the ancient Chinese board game Go, an extraordinary strategy game.
According to some US analysts, it was the game that inspired the Head of the North Vietnamese Armed Forces and of the Viet Mihn Communists, Vo Nguyen Giap, in his confrontation with the United States and its allies.
A game in which – unlike what happens in chess-there is no immediate evidence of the victory of either contenders.
Years before, in 1997, a much less advancedalgorithm than AlphaGo had beaten the chess champion Gary Kasparov.
With a view to better understanding what an AI system is, it is worth recalling that AlphaGo is made up of two deep “neural networks” having millions of neural connections very similar to those of the human brain.
A neural network is a mathematical model inspired by the structure of the neural networks typical of the human brain.
It consists of information interconnections and it is a mathematical-information system made up of artificial neurons and processes using computational connections common to all “neurons”.
Furthermore the AlphaGo system self-corrects and learns by itself, because it stores and quickly processes the many matches and games in which it participated.
As can be easily imagined, this also makes it largely unpredictable.
In the future, however, the new military robots with high autonomy of movement and selection of targets – and, sometimes, even of the AI procedure to be used – will incorporate a great deal of Artificial Intelligence.
This will make the difference between a losing robot and a winning one on the ground.
Hence, at some point of technological evolution, they may also take autonomous actions.
Therefore the problem arises of how much autonomy can be given to robots, whether they are mobile on the ground or centralized in a command brigade.
Tactical autonomy, while the neural connections between the various military robots are managed simultaneously by a “classic” human system and by a 2.0 AI mechanism?
But here factors such as each country’s doctrine and the assessment of the probability of a war clash and with whom, must be considered.
Therefore many human lives can be saved even in a conflict and on the war theatre, except in a counter-resource robot action, which hits the civilian population.
It will also be easier to resortto armed confrontation, but a higher cost of automated defense or attack operations will be expected.
Obviously considering that the AI systems are derived from “natural thought”, if – in the activities – very few changes are to be made to an already-defined program, the machines always work better than human beings.
They are faster, much more precise and they never rest. Moreover, they have no parallel reasoning patterns deriving from personal tastes, ideologies, feelings, sensations, affections.
They are not distracted by value, cultural, symbolic, ethical and politicalissues and probably not even by the typical themes of the Grand Strategy.
In principle, however, if what is at stake are substantially equivalent technical choices or similar evaluations of the final future scenarios, on which the machine has no pre-set programming, man will always prevail in the match between man and robot.
Hence Metaphysics – or the “science of aims”, to put it in Aristotle’s words – is the unique attribute of our species.
But the process to achieve extra-technical goals can always be formalized and hence there is always at least one finite state machine in the world that can imitate it – on its own, however, without further support of the homo sapiens sapiens.
It must also be considered that the techniques for the AI “autonomous weapons” cannot be completely classifiedbecause, in these technologies, the commercial sector can often overcome the efficacy of “covered” technology weapons.
If we open up to commercial technologies, that would be the end of confidentiality.
In fact all AI, ranging from finance to machine tools up to biological and environmental programming, is a market-driven technology controlled by open markets- or rather still oligopolistic ones.
However, what are the limits and the merits of a war or global strategy technology entirely rebuilt according to AI standards?
The simple answer is that firstly no finite state or hybrid machine can evaluate the reliability of the data and systems it receives.
Hence we can imagine a new kind of intelligence action, that is the possibility of “poisoning” the command systems of the enemy’s AI machines.
The deep Internet, the area of websites – often having criminal relevance – not resulting in the official search engines, could also host viruses or even entire opposing systems, which directly reach our AI machines, thus making them fulfill the enemy’s will and not ours.
It is worth recalling that Von Clausewitz defined victory as “the prevailing of the opponent’s will or of our will”.
Nevertheless the Artificial Intelligence systems can be extremely useful in the military and intelligence sector, when it comes to using them in the “computer vision”, where millions of data must be analyzed creatively in the shortest possible time.
In fact, the Turing machine and the derived AI machines can imitate abduction, a logical process that is very different from that of deduction and induction.
Deduction, which is typical of traditional machines, such as the calculator, is the logical process that, starting from a non-analyzed premise, rationally derives particular propositions describing the perceivable reality.
Conversely, induction is a logical process that, with a number of finite steps fully adhering to the natural logic, allows to shift from empirical data to the general rule, if any.
Hence abduction is an Aristotelian syllogism in which the major premise is certain while the minor one is only probable.
The Aristotelian syllogisms are made up of a general statement (the major premise), a specific statement (the minor premise) and a conclusion that is inferred.
They are adaptable to both induction and deduction.
Furthermore, in the various types of syllogism the Stagirite developed, the major premise is the general definition of an item belonging or not to a whole.
For example, “All men are bipeds”.
The minor premise is that “George is a man (or is a biped)” and hence the conclusion is that “George is a biped (or a man)”.
Finally, in abduction, there is an opposite reasoning compared to the other two: it is used when we know the rules and the conclusion and we want to reconstruct the premise.
The definition of abduction given by Charles S. Peirce, who long evaluated it in his pragmatist philosophy, is the following: “the surprising fact, C, is observed; but if A were true, C would be a matter of course.
Hence there is reason to suspect that A is true”.
If I have white beans in my hand and there is a bag of white beans in front of me, there is reason to believe that the beans in my hand were taken out of that bag.
In fact, this is exactly the way in which an AI machine corrects or enhances its knowledge starting from the program we put in it.
Another military use of AI is the “deep” face recognition, far more analytical and fast than it can be done today.
There is also voice recognition, the immediate indication of the sources of an enemy communication and its almost simultaneous comparison with the countless similar or anyway opposing communications.
Artificial Intelligence can also be used for military logistics issues or for the multi-variable resolution of war games, and even for combat automation in mixed environments with men and machines in action.
Therefore recourse to a limited war will be ever more likely if there are no human victims and if the confrontation is directed by advanced automatic systems.
There will also be an impact on political responsibility, which could be shifted to AI systems and not to commanders or decision-makers in the flesh.
What political and strategic effects would an automatic clash have and what immediate psychological mechanisms would it trigger in the population?
However, who wins in the recently-started war for dominance in AI military and intelligence technologies?
For the time being, certainly China.
In fact, in November 2017 the Chinese startup company Yitu Tech won the contest for the best face recognition system.
The challenge was to recognize the greatest number of passengers accidentally encountered in a civilian airport.
The Chinese government has already approved a project called “Artificial Intelligence 2.0” having specific applications both in the economy and in military and intelligence structures.
The Chinese Armed Forces are now working on a unified project in AI 2.0, an initiative regarding precisely the relationship between AI civilian and military applications.
As already noted, this is the strategic weak point of the AI military programming, because it verifies strong competition between the market and state organizations, at least in the West.
In fact, for the US Intelligence Services, the line to be currently followed in the smart war automation is to implement the new technologies to enrich the information already present on the President’s table.
In China the “merger” between market and State in the AI sector is directly regulated by the Commission for Integrated Military and CivilianDevelopment, chaired personally by Xi Jinping – and this says it all.
In the framework of the new AI strategic evolution, the Chinese Armed Forces follow the criterion of “shared construction, shared application and shared use” with private individuals and entities – at least for all innovations in the programming and automatic management of information (and actions) on the battlefield and in the intelligence area.
Therefore the Chinese AI 2.0 puts together robotic research, military systems without pilot or other staff and the new military brain science.
A new theoretical-practical branch that affects even the mental and remote control of machines through human applications such as headsets detecting and interpreting the brain activity of the wearer, thus allowing them to control the machines.
This already happened at the Zhengzhou Military Academy in August 2015, with students guiding and controlling robots through sensors placed on their skullcaps.
Hence the new AI activities in the intelligence sector can be easily imagined: infinitely broader and faster data collection – and even structured and semi-processed – creation of automatic intelligence contrast systems; entry into electronic media systems and networks available to “anonymous” data decision-makers that change the perception of the battlefield and of the whole enemy society.
Finally, the synergic coverage of the civilian and military data of the country that has achieved dominance in AI technologies.
Each new technology in the AI military sector is protected and, hence, implies a civilian, military or hybrid battlefield , in which all the operations of those who possess the advanced tool always hit the target with the minimum use of soldiers and with the utmost confidentiality.
It would be good for the EU to think about these new scenarios, but currently imagining that the European Union is able to think is mere theory.
Furthermore China has created a new Research Institute on AI and related technologies linked to the Central Military Commission and the Armed Forces.
Liu Ghuozhi, the Director of this Research Institute, likes to repeat that “whoever does not disrupt the adversary will be disrupted”.
The current rationale of the People’s Liberation Army is that the new and more advanced AI environment 2.0 – i.e. that of war, of the strategic clash and of the apparently peaceful political one – is already a new stage in military thinking.
This is a qualitatively different level, far beyond the old conflict information technologies – a stage requiring a “new thinking” and a completely different approach to military confrontation, which immediately turns into a social, economic, technological and cultural one.
Hence a Chinese way – through technology – to the Russian “hybrid warfare”, but a strategic thinking remaining along the lines of the Unrestricted Warfare theorized by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui in 1999, at the dawn of globalization.
In fact, the origin of globalizationshould not be found in the fall of the Berlin Wall, but in the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s Four Modernizations in 1978.
It is also worth noting that, from the beginning, the implicit planning in the “Unrestricted Warfare” theorized by the two Chinese Colonels had been thought against “a more powerful opponent than us”, namely the United States.
Hence merging of technical and intelligence services in the area of operations;union of intelligence and AI networks; integration of command functions with other activities on the ground, obviously also with intelligence, and finally use of the large mass of information in real time.
This is made possible thanks to the adaptation of the Chinese Intelligence Services to the speed and wide range of data provided by all technological platforms and by any “human” source.
The ultimate goal is unrestricted warfare, in which you do not dominate the “enemy’s will”, but all its resources.
Therefore China currently thinks that “technology determines tactics” and the People’s Liberation Army intends to develop also support systems using Artificial Intelligence to back strategic decision-making.
Still today this should work also on the basis of the old US program known as Deep Green created in 2005 by the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA).
It is an AI system intended to help military leaders in the strategic evaluation of scenarios, of their own options and of the enemy’s options, as well as their own potential – at such a speed enabling to counteract any enemy move before it could be fully deployed.
Finally what is the Russian Federation doing in the field of modernization of its Armed Forces by means of Artificial Intelligence?
It is doing many things.
First and foremost, Russia is carefully studying unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), such as Uran-9, Nerekhta and Vir.
They are all armoured tanks that can host anti-tank missiles and mid-sized guns.
Secondly, since 2010 Russia has favoured the development of its Armed Forces in relation to what its military doctrine defines as “intelligence exchange and supremacy”.
In other words, the Russian military world believes that the intelligence superiority is central both in times of peace and in times of war.
Superiority vis-à-vis its own population to be protected from others’ dezinformatsjia and superiority with respect to the enemies’ propaganda in their own countries – an information action that must be mastered and dominated, so that the enemy’s public can develop an ideological universe favourable to Russian interest.
This psycho-intelligence “exchange” – always based on AI supports – implies diplomatic, economic and obviously military, political, cultural and religious tools.
It is mainly developed through two intervention areas: the technical-intelligence and media area and the other one more traditionally related to psychological warfare.
Russia is also developing a program to adapt its supercomputers to deep learning, with an AI system significantly callediPavlov.
The deep learning of computers having hundreds of petaflops (a petaflop is equivalent to 1,000,000,000,000,000 floating point operations per second)is an AI system allowing to fully imitate not only the “normal” human thought- which is defined as “logical” – but also the possible statistical variations, which are in fact involved in abduction, of which we have already spoken.
It is worth repeating that the EU closely follows America with regard to drones, computer science and information technologies and it is also starting to fund some projects, including military ones, in the 2.0 AI sector.
However, they are technological goals far away in time and, in any case, despite the dream, or the myth, of a European Armed Force, intelligence, advanced battlefield doctrines and intelligence neural networks – if any – are strictly limited to the national level.
With the results we can easily imagine, above all considering the intellectual and technological lack of an EU doctrine on “future wars”.
Assad’s Army and Intelligence Services: Feudalization or Structurization?
Authors: Anton Mardasov* & Kirill Semenov
2017 marked a turning point in the Syrian conflict. With the full support of Russia and Iran, the Bashar al-Assad regime was able to neutralize the “domestic threat” completely. Throughout 2017, Damascus used the situation to carry out “outlying” operations, manipulating the ceasefire agreements and other accords reached as part of the Astana Peace Process. As soon as a relative calm would settle in a given “de-escalation zone” [in the opinion of the present authors, quotation marks are necessary in this case, as they indicate the real nature of these four zones], the regime would start transferring the available forces to other areas. First to eastern Syria in order to break the blockade of Deir ez-Zor and establish control over adjacent areas, which undoubtedly accelerated the downfall of the “Caliphate,” then to Idlib Governorate. And then, taking advantage of the agreements reached between Russia and Turkey on the division of spheres of influence in this “de-escalation zone,” to East Ghouta. Now Damascus has the initiative in terms of launching an offensive and a significant advantage over opposition groups.
The State of Affairs
As early as the beginning of 2017, the Syrian opposition demonstrated its ability to consolidate efforts and respond to the regime’s offensive manoeuvres. One such example is the way it managed to reduce “tension” in East Ghouta by carrying out distracting operations of its own in Daraa and Hama. However, the Syrian opposition became irreversibly fragmented after the process to form the de-escalation zones began, accompanied by the establishment of an external protectorate over these zones. As a result, most of the opposition factions in Greater Idlib now operate exclusively in the interests of Turkey, and the Amman Agreement between Jordan, Russia and the United States regarding the southwest de-escalation zone has succeeded in taking the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front out of the game. External actors have played a decisive role in the outcome of the confrontation between Damascus and the internal opposition, cutting off aid to opposition factions and effectively splitting them into isolated fragments.
That being said, until February 2018 (when the Russia–Turkey agreement made it possible to wrap up the active operation in Idlib and focus forces on East Ghouta), all the efforts of the elite units of the 4th Armoured Division, as well as the Syrian Republican Guard and other regular units of the Syrian Arab Army, to repel opposition forces in East Ghouta’s Jobar and Ayn Tarma ended with the withdrawal of government-sponsored troops after significant losses. The operation in Harasta ended with the encirclement of a Republican Guard battalion and the deaths of five colonels and brigadier generals. The same thing happened during an operation in Daraa in the south of the country.
Despite the active support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the Syrian Special Forces and the Shiite “Expeditionary Corps” led by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and various Iraqi factions, the government forces still suffered significant strikes from the heavily outnumbered Islamic State. One such event took place in Homs and Deir ez-Zor in September–October 2017, when Islamic State units managed to cut off almost all the supply routes to pro-Assad troops operating along the Euphrates. The only thing that prevented the terrorists from building on their successes was the lack of numbers on the part of Islamic State (very few detachments are left) and the haphazard band-aid approach adopted by Russian specialists on the issue.
Thus, Damascus’ victories over its opponents can, for the most part, be put down to favourable circumstances and external support, rather than to the regime’s strengthening of its forces or increasing its combat effectiveness, despite the great efforts Russia has expended to train Syria’s military personnel and provide its regular units with up-to-date military technology.
Counting on the fact that these manipulations have successfully paralyzed the opposition to the point that pro-government forces will now be able to deal with current challenges does not eliminate the need to have a national military structure – without the growing Shiite International.
At present, the armed forces that Bashar al-Assad relies on continue to be an assortment of groupings, all of which depend on Damascus to varying degrees. There is no unity within the army in terms of readiness to unquestioningly carry out the directives of its leadership. There is a complicated system of approvals for the use of “elite” sections of the Syrian Arab Army in specific operations. This even applies to its most elite components: the 4th Armoured Division, the Syrian Republican Guard, Suheil al-Hassan’s “Tiger Forces” and individual units of other sections – for example, the “Deir Al-Qalamoun” unit of the 3rd Armoured Division and the “Saif Al-Mahdi” unit of the 4th Armoured Division, among others. At the same time, the combat effectiveness of the Syrian Arab Army’s combat manoeuvre units leaves much to be desired, and attempts are made to avoid moving them to regions far away from their areas of permanent deployment.
Various paramilitary groupings that do not answer directly to the Syrian Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the state security organs continue to play an important role, including the so-called National Defence Forces, the Local Defence Forces, foreign (primarily Shiite) groups, and other units created by them in Syrian territory, made up of Syrian nationals. There are at least twice as many fighters in the irregular army formations as in the Syrian Arab Army itself.
The Syrian crisis has made it possible for political institutions to acquire their own military formations. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party still has active squadrons, some of which are part of the 5th Corps. Eagles of the Whirlwind is the military wing of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. And the Syrian Resistance is a left-wing paramilitary group led by Mihrac Ural, who is considered a terrorist in Turkey.
The formation of various paramilitary structures – military wings of mafia-like clans, private military companies, regional and tribal militias and militarized political organizations – has undermined the stability of the regime. These forces do not simply support Damascus. From the very beginning, they have attempted take root in government institutions and/or take control of various sources of income. It is no secret that various Shabiha detachments currently operating under the aegis of the National Defence Forces control the checkpoints, which in practice means that they have access to corrupt schemes, including the opportunity to send radical opposition fighters into the Turkish zones of influence. A number of figures associated with the pro-Iranian Syrian group Liwa al-Baqir (the Baqir Brigade, part of the Local Defence Forces) have their own fleet of minibuses and continue to operate transport businesses.
Given that Damascus is in dire need of local groupings in order to maintain stability and security, these militias will probably continue to exist after victory is declared. All the more given that all armed militia groups were legalized in 2013 and given permission to carry out their “activities” by the Ministry of Interior.
The incorporation of the National and Local Defence Forces into state structures was predetermined by the fact that both the Syrian special services and the army were unprepared for an uprising, and the vacuum thus created was filled by paramilitary groups. Iran also took advantage of this by helping set up various paramilitary structures and thus establishing a multi-echeloned presence in Syria.
Worthy of separate note is the Fifth Corps of Volunteers, an autonomous military structure that was created with the direct participation of Russian military advisers. According to some reports, the corps itself is also led by Russian generals. The corps can hardly be regarded as a regular military formation. It consists of various subdivisions made up of volunteers and is financed by a number of non-government sources. It also contains certain pro-government Syrian forces that existed before the corps was set up, including those financed by private individuals (the “Sea Commandos”) or set up with the participation of Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah (Liwa Dir’ al-Watan). At the same time, the inclusion of defectors and objectors from among the Sunni population in the Fifth Corps was apparently supposed to break the stereotype about the sectarian foundation of the pro-government forces and the auxiliary nature of the Sunnis’ participation in the war. However, the experiment has yet to bear fruit. The most combat-ready units of the Fifth Corps – the so-called ISIS Hunters – are again “sectarian militias” (as far as Syria’s Sunni majority is concerned). Such groups are made up primarily of Syrian Christians and Alawites (for example, the aforementioned “Sea Commandos”) or Shiites (Liwa Dir’ al-Watan, with the participation of Lebanese fighters). Work of this kind is likely to continue: according to some reports, work on the establishment of a 6th Corps is already under way.
Sooner or later the Syrian armed forces will surely face the challenge of transition to a peaceful life. In this context, it is important to understand what will happen to the large number of paramilitary formations and militias. The Iraqi leadership is attempting to solve this very same problem at home, having initiated a procedure to integrate soldiers of the militia group “Khashd ash-Shaabi” into the country’s armed forces. The experience gained during the creation of the 5th Corps, as well as its predecessor (the 4th Corps) can be used to help integrate certain paramilitary structures into the Syrian Arab Army and the Ministry of Interior.
It is also possible at the initial stage to revive the three corps of the Syrian Arab Army that formally existed before, turning them into territorial commands. All the regular and paramilitary units could be placed under their control on a territorial basis, thus becoming parts of the regular forces, identified by numbers instead of names. This is a necessary step, because many of these structures simply refuse to dissolve themselves, as in the case in Iraq. However, their existence should be legalized and their activities brought into line with military regulations.
Another problem is how to overcome the increasingly “sectarian” nature of military forces in Syria. All or most of the combat-ready units are made up primarily of national and religious minorities. Sunnis play a secondary role, mainly serving in auxiliary, “second echelon” groupings. Attracting Sunnis who have fought or lived in opposition territories, earning their trust and ensuring that they carry out their duties in a diligent manner will also be a key issue.
A Necessary but Unrealistic Scenario
If we distance ourselves from the propaganda and frankly dilettantish stereotypes about the Syrian opposition, then the best option for establishing an ethnic and confessional balance would be to unite the opposition groups and pro-government forces into a single structure. This is the kind of renewal of the armed forces that the UN documents envision. It is hardly possible, for example, to incorporate the insurgent factions that have, with Turkey’s support, united to form the Syrian National Army (SNA, which operates exclusively in Northern Aleppo) into existing Syrian Arab Army units and divisions. The leadership of the opposition factions will not agree to this, bearing in mind what happened in Tajikistan (where the opposition was liquidated after its divisions were incorporated into government units). One possibility is to form about five to seven separate corps and divisional units from opposition forces and establish a single military council involving the Syrian National Army and the Syrian Arab Army.
However, neither Damascus nor Tehran, nor indeed Moscow, is interested in such a scenario. Although it is far easier for the Russian side to play along with the Syrian regime, which seeks to eliminate the Syrian opposition once and for all by military means, that goal would serve only to strengthen the positions of Iran and Syria. Moscow has had a significantly more difficult time than expected positioning itself as a moderator in the conflict and maintaining effective working relations with the opposition groups that participated in the Astana Peace Process and signed agreements with the Russian military in Cairo and Geneva. Integrating the opposition into military and political structures that are aligned with the current regime could serve as a natural counterweight to the influence of Iran and preserve a certain balance of power that is beneficial to Moscow. The big question now is: to what extent will Moscow be able to maintain control over its “client,” given that Tehran is clearly benefitting from the situation?
Reform of the Military Intelligence Services
Against the backdrop of the Islamic State’s transition to clandestine activities in Iraq and Syria (which is common for the group) and various other challenges, the role of the Syrian intelligence services is acquiring greater significance. Their activities today little resemble the standards adopted in the sphere. Opportunities to carry out covert intelligence work have been greatly reduced, and the grassroots tools of state governance have been destroyed. The Syrian intelligence services were not even able to prevent terrorist attacks on the National Security Council building.
At present, the Syrian intelligence services do not seem to have an analogue anywhere in the Middle East. Four independent security structures operate within the Syrian Arab Army. These structures are divided into “military,” which includes military intelligence and aerial reconnaissance (Air Force reconnaissance) and “political” (civilian units formally subordinate to the Interior Ministry), which includes the main security department and the department for managing political security. All of these structures answer directly to the president. However, the system of intelligence services in Syria reflects the complexity of relations and confrontations among various groups of influence in the country’s ruling elite. The system is constructed in such a way that the individual intelligence services effectively work against each other, which makes it impossible for any single “branch” to become significantly stronger than the others.
Air Force reconnaissance was conceived as the intelligence structure “closest” to the heart of former president Hafez al-Assad, who was a fighter pilot himself. As a result, it effectively turned into an independent state security agency, with its own external intelligence and counterintelligence divisions, and even a department for combatting anti-government activities. During the Civil War, the Air Force reconnaissance formed an entire “pleiad” of special forces units to carry out operations using heavy machinery. The other three “branches” took similar steps in order to prevent any one of the intelligence agencies from becoming significantly stronger than the rest.
It would appear that the simplest solution for transforming the Syrian intelligence services with the goal of optimizing their activities would, first of all, be to merge Air Force reconnaissance and military intelligence into a single organ of the General Staff of the Syrian Arab Army, and strip these structures of the ability to carry out political investigations. As for the political security structures, it would be practical for one of them to focus exclusively on external intelligence activities, while the second could be engaged in counterintelligence and anti-terror activities. In other words, Syrian intelligence services would be brought up to global standards.
It is also imperative to create border security forces to control Syria’s eastern frontiers first and foremost, but also the entire border, as a kind of unified system with its own social and infrastructural characteristics. While Hafez al-Assad paid special attention to the country’s tribes, granting their leaders various privileges and taking their views into consideration in political life, his son Bashar all but forgot about them, which combined with drought in the regions and the misallocation of resources created the conditions for social upheaval. The years spent under the control of radical groups transformed the tribal social fabric even more. At present, the regime relies primarily on the Suqur al-Furat militia, which contains members of the Al-Shaitat tribe, to carry out its activities in the eastern part of the country. The tribe attempted a revolt against the Islamic State rule in 2014 but was defeated in a gruesome fashion. Damascus used this as a pretext to organize a military training programme for the tribe’s members and announced an amnesty for them.
If Damascus is unable to hold a constructive dialogue with the Sunni tribes, then there is a risk that the Islamic State will emerge once again in one form or another as a result of the joint efforts of independent Sunni groups and radicals (operatives, preachers, etc.), who will be able to remain in the country. It is all the more important to deal with the cadres who are familiar with the local terrain in the east of the country could help prevent smuggling, with which both Damascus and Baghdad have well-documented issues.
*Anton Mardasov, Military Observer Head of the Department of Middle Eastern Conflicts at the Institute of Innovative Development
First published in our partner RIAC
Russia Says U.S. Trains Jihadists to Do Chemical Attacks Blamed Against Assad
On March 17th, Russia’s Minister of Defense (equivalent to America’s Secretary of Defense) announced, through Russian General Staff spokesman General Sergey Rudskoy: “We have reliable information at our disposal that US instructors have trained a number of militant groups in the vicinity of the town of At-Tanf, to stage provocations involving chemical warfare agents in southern Syria. Early in March, the saboteur groups were deployed to the southern de-escalation zone to the city of Deraa, where the units of the so-called Free Syrian Army are stationed. They are preparing a series of chemical munitions explosions. This fact will be used to blame the government forces. The components to produce chemical munitions have been already delivered to the southern de-escalation zone under the guise of humanitarian convoys of a number of NGOs.”
He also said:
“The provocations will be used as a pretext by the United States and its allies to launch strikes on military and government infrastructure in Syria. We’re registering the signs of the preparations for the possible strikes. Strike groups of the cruise missile carriers have been formed in the east of the Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf and Red Sea.”
He went on to add that in the most jihadist-friendly province, Idlib, another such “false flag” attack is being prepared by Al Qaeda in Syria, called there, “Al-Nusra Front terrorist group, in coordination with the White Helmets,” which is a group financed by the U.S. and UK Governments to rescue victims of bombings by Syria’s Government and its ally Russia.
This would hardly be the first example of such attacks. For example, on 14 January 2014, MIT’s Theodore Postol and the former U.N. Weapons Inspector Richard Lloyd co-authored a detailed technical study and analysis, regarding “the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013” (which was the most-famous sarin-attack, in East Ghouta), saying that “the US Government’s Interpretation of the Technical Intelligence It Gathered Prior to and After the August 21 Attack CANNOT POSSIBLY BE CORRECT,” and documenting that the rocket had actually — and clearly — been fired from an area that even the U.S. Government’s own maps showed to be under the control of the ‘rebels’, whom the U.S. Government supported, and definitely not of the Syrian Government, whom those ‘rebels’ were trying to overthrow. (That was the incident in which U.S. President Barack Obama announced to the world his “red line” and then said that the Government headed by Bashar al-Assad had crossed it and that this justified a U.S. invasion, but Seymour Hersh said that it had become blocked by the UK/s intelligence lab at Porton Down, by their finding that the sarin which had been used in this attack wasn’t of a type that the Syrian Government had in its arsenals.) There have been several such “false-flag” attacks, in order to get the public to support invading Syria. However, the main way that the U.S. and its allies try to overthrow Assad and his Government is to arm and protect Al Qaeda in Syria, which leads the various jihadist groups there (other than ISIS).
From Radical Ecology to Ecoterrorism
The schools of thought of contemporary eco-terrorism are many, but those that use an antagonist theoretical-practical approach can be identified in deep ecology, feminist ecology, Marxist ecology, primitivism, degrowth ecology, the Slow Food movement, ecology, animalism (which together with vegetarianism is a logical consequence of radical ecology) and, finally, eco-terrorism. In this sense – beyond the often demagogic rhetoric – eco-terrorism does not differ from the above-mentioned schools of thought because of its ethical-philosophical assumptions but rather by the operative procedures through which its antagonism is carried out. Therefore, an ideological community exists, whether implicit or explicit, in the main schools of thoughts of ecology and eco-terrorism. These schools of thought, however, can be associated with the idea of radical ecology.
Definition of radical ecology
While continuing to take the complexity of current ecology into account, the expression “radical” is used to indicate extremely antagonist ecology, from Pinochot’s utilitarian conservationism, which was deeply anthropocentric and aimed to rationalize the use of nature toward a lasting economic exploitation, to Haeckel’s neo-Darwinian approach, Tanskey’s view, Lotka’s trophic-network ecology, and finally, Odum’s thermodynamic approach. Firstly, radical ecology comprises the holistic preservationism of Thoreau, Emerson, and Leopold, ecofeminism, political ecology, deep ecology, primitivism, social ecology, the degrowth movement, the Slow Food movement, eco-regionalism, animalism, and eco-terrorism. Secondly, although the list of the organizations is not complete, it is important to underline that the several “-isms” do not exclude the possibility of profitable contaminations among the different schools of thought. Thirdly, the epistemological, political and philosophical features shared by the above-mentioned schools of thought can be identified as follows:
- they all support a structural modification of the current economic system and are against the supranational institutions that control global capitalism, in particular, the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank;
- they are in favor of the anti-globalization movement, and know its limits and potentials;
- they share an eco-centric, bio-centric, anti-anthropocentric, holistic and sometimes organicistic perception of natural reality;
- they are against a mechanistic vision of reality such as Bacon’s and Descartes’, and are in favor of legal extensionism;
- they support a relevant extension of representative democracy or a radical exceeding of it in favor of an anarchic, neo-tribal society, or a participatory democracy;
- they share and develop apocalyptical and radical scenes of current society’s environmental and economic condition;
- they advocate a change in the ethic of western civilization through an eco-pacifist reorientation carried out by counter-information;
- they are against military institutions and share a typical interpretation of irenic pacifism;
- they are against the use of biotechnologies in agriculture and the civil and military use of nuclear energy;
- several members of radical ecology share a new interpretation of nature according to neo-romantic or oriental philosophies (such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Zen philosophy);
- many scholars and activists belonging to radical ecology embrace animalistic and vegetarian views which they deem deeply coherent with an ecocentric vision of nature.
- Finally, several exponents of radical ecology refer to 1968 culture, and to underground American and tribal cultures.
In short, regarding the operative procedures carried out by the several schools of thought or radical ecology, we should point out the difference between non-violent and terroristic ones. There are three levels of antagonist procedure: a) non-violent practice strictly antagonist toward political and legal institutions; b) non-violent practice with an entryist political logic toward national and supranational political institutions; c) publically terroristic practice. We should, nevertheless, underline the differences between positions a) and b) both of which are well-organized and opposing: the first clearly condemns the use of terroristic procedures, the second supports terrorist procedures – but without putting them into practice – and is therefore ambiguous.
The historical predecessors of radical ecology
According to Livorsi, the genesis of radical ecology can be easily traced from a historical point of view to the philosophical and religious interpretation of Bachofen and the Marxist psychoanalysis of Reich as well. The author of the “Canticle of the Sun” (“Cantico del Frate Sole”) not only asserts the sanctification of the world by God – in other words, the sun, the moon, and the animal world – but also refers to Mother Earth, anticipating the modern concept of “Gaia” . Moreover the heterodox pantheism of Saint Francis implies a brotherhood between human beings and creatures according to an ecocentric and egalitarian view. The French philosopher Rousseau, in his “Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men” (“Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les homes”), emphasized the goodness of the state of nature and the existential authenticity of the human being in this pre-civilized context, while condemning in the meantime private property and therefore civilization determined by technique. Moreover, unlike civilized society, tribal society conducted an ecocentric, egalitarian and communal style of life. Bachofen, in his reinterpretation of the history of civilization, emphasized the existence of a gynocratic, anti-patriarchal view in pre-Achaean society in which there was no private life, there was sexual freedom, nature was accepted as a living organism, and above all, the modus vivendi was built on egalitarian pacifism.
In short, regarding Reich, the rise of patriarchy brought about the triumph of capitalism, the closed family, and sexual repression. The natural and erotic man who struggles for a libertarian socialism has reemerged only rarely in history, such as in the Paris Commune in 1871, for example.
Definition of Terrorism and Eco-Terrorism
According to Pisano, terrorism can be defined as a non-conventional form of conflict because it lies outside both democratic, organized and civil dispute and the traditional battlefield of war regulated by international law. Terrorism is characterized by three elements: a) physical and psychic criminal violence, b) political, religious political or social political movement, and c) the use of illegal structure. Traditional terrorism, as Pisano explains, together with neo-terrorism, coexist both as a threat and as a concrete aggression. Neo-terrorism is performed by dynamic and polymorphous schemes that can intertwine while preserving their methodological and operational autonomy at the same time. Pisano indicates ecologic terrorism, narco-terrorism, the NRBC, and cyber-terrorism as the most important.
Ecologic terrorism (the topic of our research) is based on lay and/or religious ideological ideas and from an organizational point of view is carried out alternatively by cellular organizations with no hierarchies and by binary structures that are cellular and propagandistic at the same time. Ecologic terrorism furthers its antagonism through several operative procedures: 1) obstructive human barriers (lock box), 2) machinery sabotage, 3) arson and explosive detonation, 4) legal instruments focused on reporting abuse by police, 5) assemblage and road blocks, 6) intrusion within military installations or scientific and university institutions, 7) wide use of misinformation through media, internet and magazines, and 8) instigation to tax evasion. The enemies or targets to strike are several in number as well: 1) national and supranational capitalism, 2) the state, which defends its interests and consolidates its power, 3) national and supranational military institutions, and 4) scientific and university laboratories.
In a nutshell, eco-terrorism presents two fundamental trends: animal (such as ALF, ARM or JD) and environmental (e.g. Earth First!). In conclusion, Pisano suggests that the dangers of eco-terrorism are linked to the potential strengthening of its organizational power, creation of operative or ideological ties with traditional terrorism, and the consolidation of its relations with the anti-globalization movement.
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