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Victory in Strategic Studies: The Problematic Neglect of a Central Concept

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Within the academic sphere of strategic studies there seems to be no doubt that the concept of victory remains to be understudied.[i] Many scholars argue that the notion of victory is trapped in underdevelopment and thus lacks analytical merit due to the inherent fuzziness and contentiousness of the term.[ii] Nevertheless, considering that the very telos of war is winning and that the notion of victory occupies a central position in strategic thinking, it is all the more surprising that the concept of victory is most often not sufficiently considered.[iii] When taking into account that strategy as such has been described as a “theory of victory”, it seems indispensable to investigate why victory has not received as much attention as its importance in strategic thought suggests.[iv]

One might counter this statement arguing that the concept of victory has been a subject of strategic considerations throughout millennia. This notwithstanding, Martel concludes that “ideas about victory historically emerged haphazardly and erratically rather than as a coherent theory” – despite the plethora of literature on war.[v] Many theorists also tend to focus on the question of how to win war, while neglecting why one wins (the causal links between means and ends) and what it means to be victorious.[vi]

Victory is a highly contested term. This is because victory as a desired end state is often used ambiguously to accommodate strategic flexibility and adjust political objectives to the dynamics of war.[vii] The notion of an end state shall, however, not obscure that victory and defeat are not binary terms. As Bartholomees highlights, victory is predominantly a subjective assessment, not a fact or objective condition.[viii] This assessment, in addition, does not necessarily have to be permanent but can be reevaluated and challenged as e.g. the aftermath of World War I demonstrated.[ix] Victory further unfolds along different levels. Hence, military (tactical, operational) victory must not be equated with political (strategic or grand-strategic) victory, which is particularly hard to measure with quantifiable criteria.

However, that victory is a difficult concept which seems to elude final fixation must not be considered as sufficient explanation for the neglect of the study of victory in strategic studies. For that reason, in the following it shall be investigated whether victory has simply lost its relevance in the face of wars that – allegedly – cannot be won. In addition, the question shall be raised as to what extent liberal democratic values and the predominance of the just war paradigm can be considered as an explanation for the disregard of the concept of victory. For, as Hao puts it, “[a] military is not divorced from the society” – and neither is strategic thought.[x]

Further, this essay builds on the conviction that a more thorough study of victory is not only necessary but the continuing (relative) lack of attention to victory is also deeply problematic. Thus, this essay follows Martel’s assessment that “if policy-makers are unclear about what victory means, they are less likely to achieve it”.[xi] Among other aspects, this essay particularly aims to emphasize the necessity to establish a clear understanding of the meaning of victory for military interventions. This essay concludes that the notion of victory has endured the passing of time and will certainly continue to do so. Therefore, paying attention to the advancement of the concept of victory, especially regarding its adaptation to contemporary characteristics of warfare, and the establishment of a sound theoretical framework of victory will be inevitable.

Out of Sight, out of Mind – Is Victory Still Relevant?

The invention of nuclear weaponry led to a shift from winning wars to avoiding them (at least between nuclear powers).[xii] Consequently, during the Cold War, the perception arose that the concept of victory had become meaningless either due to the notion that nuclear wars could not be won or that hereby “no victory […] would be worth the price”.[xiii]

However, others claim that limited nuclear war could occur (with its corresponding victory and defeat). According to this strand of thinking, the concept of victory should not be rejected as practically unachievable and meaningless. In that sense, Gray outlines that the lack of a theory of victory within the overarching frame of nuclear strategy on NATO’s part was dangerous.[xiv] Firstly, because the focus on nuclear threat in contrast to nuclear execution (that is, the actual resort to nuclear weaponry) reduced the credibility of the fundamental goal of effective deterrence.[xv] Gray further argues that the concept of MAD functioned in terms of self-deterrence, which denied “freedom of strategic nuclear action” and hence hindered the development of a theory of victory here.[xvi] Thus, even if the advent of nuclear weaponry impeded strategic thinking about victory, the study of victory in the nuclear age might continue to be relevant – particularly in times of possible proliferation.

It seems to be commonly accepted that while the nature of war remains unchanged throughout history, the character of war (in terms of methodological, technological and ideological factors) is subject to fundamental change.[xvii] These new ways of waging war have been described as “unwinnable”, which would render it pointless to reflect about victory.[xviii]Firstly, the (not so new) concept of hybrid warfare must be considered, which is, for instance, applied by Russia in the Ukraine conflict using information warfare to obscure its goals.[xix] Thus, winning a hybrid war is difficult: If it is unclear what victory constitutes for the adversary, it is hard to prevent the opposing side from winning and in turn make oneself the winner.

Further, William Lind declared the emergence of “fourth generation warfare” and Mary Kaldor introduced the term “new wars” to capture the inclusion of non-state actors in warfare, the emphasis on identity politics and the return to the Hobbesian use of violence.[xx] Obviously, it is almost impossible to terminate such wars with “decisive victory”. The notion of wars that cannot be won particularly manifests itself in terms such as “perpetual” or “endless war”. These have been predominantly used to describe US involvement, most prominently regarding the so-called “War on Terror”.[xxi] While many argue that the “War on Terror” can simply not be won or reject the term altogether, Gordon emphasizes that “[a]l most entirely missing from this debate is a concept of what ‘victory’ in the war on terror would actually look like”.[xxii] This obscurity is best captured in former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s reply to the question of what victory constitutes within the “War on Terror”.[xxiii] To Rumsfeld, “victory is persuading the American people and the rest of the world that this is not a quick matter that is going to be over in a month or a year or even five years”.[xxiv]

Again, it is self-evident that such a conflict configuration cannot be resolved by decisive, military victory. However, as Howard highlights, wars ending with decisive victories do not constitute the norm but a historical anomaly.[xxv]Therefore, Gordon pleads for an understanding of victory that adapts to this “new and different kind of war” in order to “avert considerable pain, expense and trouble” – thus to put an end to this war’s endlessness.[xxvi]Consequently, the argument that the concept of victory has become irrelevant as wars are now “unwinnable” or “endless” does not hold. The question of victory is closely connected to the debate about the future of wars. Instead of declaring the notion of victory inapplicable in such contexts, the incentive should rather be to make victory finally keep pace with the times – especially regarding realistic outcomes and how to achieve them.

According to Blum, three developments have altered contemporary wars and notions of victory: “in the goals of war, the rules of war, and the targets of war”.[xxvii] In that sense, especially the rules of war have become increasingly restrictive after World War II. Human Rights Law is assumed to apply in war and the notion of human security has ever more permeated the conduct of war.[xxviii] Thus, Blum concludes that especially for those being committed to international law and morality (e.g. liberal democracies) it has become more difficult to aspire to go to war but also more costly to win.[xxix]For that reason, Blum argues that in order to reconcile the values, which especially liberal democracies are trying to uphold, with the necessary “evils of war”, victory is articulated in ever broader, blurrier terms.[xxx]

The difficulty of precisely articulating victory can further be connected to the framework of just war theory, which has become the predominant lens through which war and peace are being perceived in the West.[xxxi] However, victory is not problematized among contemporary just war theorists, which is highly problematic since “just war is just war”.[xxxii]This means that the central concept of victory cannot be euphemized but needs to be studied even if this uncovers dissatisfying aspects, namely that even a just war will produce unfavorable outcomes when victory is reached.[xxxiii]Thus, it seems as if the attempt to uphold particular values, which are enshrined in contemporary just war theory, have formed a mindset that hindered the formulation of a more pronounced concept of victory – in the practitioner’s and scholarly realm alike.

Victory as the Great Unknown – Consequences and Dangers

As has become clear, without a theory of victory that can answer questions such as “what does victory mean?”, “what are the benefits, costs, and risks of victory?” and“are we willing to pay the price of victory?”, wars cannot be won and set goals will not be achieved.[xxxiv] Roberts makes the case for the United States and argues that a continuous lack of a theory of victory regarding potential regional conflicts but also the changing character of war might result in US defeat in the next big war.[xxxv] Regarding the employment of nuclear weaponry, Gray emphasizes that if a theory of political victory is absent to reasoning about nuclear war, “there can be little justification for nuclear planning at all”.[xxxvi]

A theoretical framework of victory is indispensable for policymakers to be able to decide when it is necessary to use force.[xxxvii] This is particularly significant in the context of military interventions. If decisions about military interventions are based on a sound conception of victory, policymakers will be enabled to better achieve their goals, minimize costs, foresee the consequences of their decisions, and boost the prospect of success.[xxxviii]If military interventions are pursued without a concrete understanding of victory, as was arguably the case in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, military strategies are designed under great uncertainty, using inapt tools and might consequently be doomed to fail.[xxxix] This can have catastrophic consequences for both the intervening country and the country being intervened in. Similarly, peace operations operate on increasingly vague mandates. Thus, a coherent theory of victory is often absent – with all the negative consequences this entails.[xl]

Further, a clear definition of victory is crucial to enhance public support as transparency and public scrutiny can be ensured.[xli]More importantly, a theoretical framework of victory will provide the tools to meaningfully debate the (lacking) necessity of the use of military force and will thereby improve legitimacy.[xlii]

Hence, if victory continues to be theoretically and conceptually underdeveloped, the greatest danger will be the repetition of past mistakes – be it regarding miscalculations of necessary resources to achieve victory or the decision if it is worth to go to war.

Conclusion

De Landmeter concludes that “victory as a concept appears to be very problematic and might be devoid of meaning altogether” – especially regarding modern war.[xliii]The opposite is the case. It is true that the term victory has been (mis-) used as a shapeshifting, convenient catch-all term. Yet, as was demonstrated, above all the emergence of new ways of warfare presupposes not an abandonment of victory but a thorough theory of victory to enable policymakers and scholars to assess which aims can be realistically achieved, at what cost and under which risk. In sum, the concept of victory must be further theorized and adjusted to current contexts to unfold its full potential as a guidance for future strategic decisions and to prevent any rhetorical or strategic misuse.

War will not cease to exist, thus the strife for victory won’t either. While especially the Obama administration tried to ban victory from its “strategic lexicon”, President Trump had already returned to the rhetoric of victory.[xliv] Hence, victory is a sticky concept that is not to be defeated easily – even if attempts were made to avoid the term and replace it with the even vaguer notion of success.


[i] See, for instance, Armstrong, Jan and J. J. Widen, Contemporary Military Theory. The Dynamics of War (New York: Routledge, 2015), 44.

[ii] Mandel, Robert, Reassessing Victory in Warfare. Armed Forces & Society 37 no. 4 (2007), 13.

[iii] Angstrom and Widen, Contemporary Military Theory, 43.

[iv] King, Iain, Beyond Ends, Ways, and Means: We Need a Better Strategic Framework to Win in an Era of Great Power Competition. Accessible via: https://mwi.usma.edu/beyond-ends-ways-and-means-we-need-a-better-strategic-framework-to-win-in-an-era-of-great-power-competition/?fbclid=IwAR2M07YxxJ0FafODMGB9A80msbjbH4eOMI1qCbRB1ti0B3r7TPEY6GwOf9w [last access: December 19th 2020].

[v] Martel, William C., Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Strategy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 371.

[vi] Hoffman, Frank G., The Missing Element in Crafting National Strategy. A Theory of Success. JFQ 97 no. 2 (2020), 61 and Bartholomees, J. Boone, Theory of Victory. Parameters 38 (2008), 25.

[vii]Landmeter, Eric A. de, What constitutes victory in modern war? Militaire Spectator 187 no. 3 (2018), 141.

[viii]Bartholomees, Theory of Victory, 26.

[ix] Ibid., 30.

[x] Hao, Chong Shi, A Swift and Decisive Victory: The Strategic Implications of What Victory Means. PRISM 4 no. 4 (2014), 108.

[xi] Martel, William C., Victory in Scholarship on Strategy and War, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 24 no. 3 (2011), 518.

[xii]Ibid., 514.

[xiii]Brodie, Bernard, The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1946), 75.

[xiv]Gray, Colin, Nuclear Strategy: The Case for a Theory of Victory. International Security 4 no. 1 (1979), 62.

[xv]Ibid., 63.

[xvi]Ibid., 70.

[xvii]Landmeter, What constitutes victory in modern war?, 144.

[xviii] O’Driscoll, Cian, No substitute for victory? Why just war theorists can’t win. European Journal of International Relations 26 no. 1 (2020), 198.

[xix]Snegovaya, Maria, Putin’s Information Warfare In Ukraine. Soviet Origins of Russia’s Hybrid Warfare. Russia Report I (2015), 15, accessible via: http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Report%201%20Putin’s%20Information%20Warfare%20in%20Ukraine-%20Soviet%20Origins%20of%20Russias%20Hybrid%20Warfare.pdf [last access: December 19th 2020].

[xx] Lind, William S., Understanding Fourth Generation War. Military Review (2004) and Kaldor, Mary, New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999).

[xxi] In the context of the specific role of the US in “endless wars”, Stephen Wertheim argues in an interview on his new book “Tomorrow, the World” (Cambridge et al: Harvard University Press, 2020), that “US military dominance became an end unto itself. Endless dominance produced endless war” (For the interview in full length see https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674248663, last access: January 25th 2021).

[xxii] Gordon, Philip H., Can the War on Terror Be Won? Foreign Affairs 86 no. 6 (2007), 53.

[xxiii] Keen, David, Endless War? Hidden Functions of ‘The War on Terror’ (London: Pluto Press, 2006), 82.

[xxiv] https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/specials/attacked/transcripts/rumsfeld_092001.html [last access: January 25th 2021].

[xxv] Howard, Michael, When are wars decisive? Survival 41 no. 1 (1999), 129.

[xxvi] Gordon, Can the War on Terror Be Won?, 54.

[xxvii] Blum, Gabriella, The Fog of Victory. The European Journal of International Law 24 no. 1 (2013), 392.

[xxviii] Ibid., 393.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Ibid. 420f.

[xxxi] O’Driscoll, No Substitute for Victory?, 189.

[xxxii] Ibid., 201.

[xxxiii] Ibid.

[xxxiv] Martel, Victory in War, 32.

[xxxv] Roberts, Brad, On the Need for a Blue Theory of Victory. War on the Rocks, September 17th 2020, accessible via: https://warontherocks.com/2020/09/on-the-need-for-a-blue-theory-of-victory/ [last access: December 20th 2020].

[xxxvi] Gray, Nuclear Strategy, 82.

[xxxvii] Martel, Victory in War, 371.

[xxxviii] Ibid., 38.

[xxxix] Blum, The Fog of Victory, 421.

[xl] Cf. Garcia, Antonio, South Africa and United Nations Peacekeeping Offensive Operations: Conceptual Models (Chitungwiza: Mwanaka Media and Publishing, 2018).

[xli] Martel, Victory in War, 382.

[xlii] Ibid., 376.

[xliii]Landmeter, What constitutes victory in modern war?, 146.

[xliv] O’Driscoll, No Substitute for Victory?, 190.

Sandra J. Bandemer graduated in History and Political Science at LMU Munich and is a second year Master student in Peace Research and International Politics at the University of Tübingen. Currently she is based in Paris and studies at Sciences Po. Her main focus lies on international security studies as well as the history and politics of the Middle East.

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How Putin’s Russia is Exploiting Jihadists Against pro-Navalny Protesters?

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Who is Putin’s terrorist: Navalny or Jihadist?

Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin is considering using old tactics to stem the growing wave of nationwide protests in support of his fiercest critic, popular opposition leader Alexei Navalny. This tactic was developed in the late 90s by the KGB ideologists and successfully applied in order to bring to power Vladimir Putin, who is ruling the country with an iron hand longer than all his Soviet predecessors except Joseph Stalin. The tactical skills of the Putin’s policy architects were aiming to frighten Russian citizens by Islamist terrorism and Chechen separatism and unite patriotic and nationalist forces around a new leader capable of challenging the West.

Thus, when the nationwide protests in support of Navalny from Yakutia to Kaliningrad became the most serious challenge, the Kremlin began to trumpet the threat of Islamist extremists and international terrorists. This time, the Putin regime is intimidating protesters with impending terrorist attacks of Central Asian and Caucasian jihadists and their Syrian parent organization, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

On the eve of the next nationwide protests on February 14, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Investigative Committee and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russia warned of the inadmissibility of calls to participate in an unsanctioned rally. Russian state news agencies RIA Novosti and TASS have disseminated information that the most powerful Sunni militant faction of HTS in northern Syria is preparing a series of lone-wolf attacks during the upcoming mass street protests of Navalny’s supporters in various Russian cities. In doing so, however, the pro-Kremlin media cited its undisclosed law enforcement sources and ultimately spread merely conspiracy theories.

According to anonymous sources of Russian security services, HTS-backed Uzbek Jihadi battalion Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad(KTJ), Chechen militant groups Ajnad al-Kavkaz (AK) and Jaysh al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar (JMA) are planning to carry out explosions and attack protesters. To achieve these purposes, terrorist groups allegedly recruited Russian citizens and Central Asian migrants, who expect their leaders’ commands.

pro-Navalny protesters

The Putin regime faced the most serious challenge when anti-government protests took place across the Russia in support Navalny in recent weeks. As is known, in mid-January, Navalny returned to the country after recovering from a chemical Novichok poisoning that nearly took his life and was immediately detained and later jailed for alleged parole violations. The robust Putin regime first demonstrated its grave alarm when tens of thousands pro-Navalny protesters demanded his resignation in more than 100 cities and towns, chanting Putin as a ‘thief’. Police detained more than 11,000 people at what they say were unsanctioned protests that the Moscow condemned as illegal and dangerous.

Alexei Navalny’s political creativity and tactical skill inspired Russian liberal youth weary with the corruption-plagued political order presided over by Putin. Fierce clashes between protesters and riot police during the mass rallies indicate that a new generation is not afraid of arrests and the repressive state machine. And to stop the pace of marathon confrontation with the opposition, Putin resorted to his long-standing KGB tactics, intimidating society with possible terrorist attacks and explosions by Islamists.

Will Uzbek and Chechen Jihadists hit pro-Navalny Protesters?

But the fact is, it’s not the first time Putin’s Russia has intimidated society with possible terror attacks by Islamist terrorists and Chechen separatists to achieve political goals. During the transition of power from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin at the end of the second millennium, Kremlin ideologists successfully tested anti-Islamist tactics to overcome the challenges of the political opposition. The ideologists of Putin’s election campaign created his image as a decisive and strong leader, the one who can defeat Islamist terrorism, Chechen separatism and preserve the integrity of Great Russia. His image as the only savior of the Russian Empire was accompanied by radio and television spots and news about the atrocities of Chechen militants and their beheading of Russian soldiers.

Meanwhile, there is a conspiracy theory in Russian political circles that the powerful FSB orchestrated apartment bombings in the Russian cities of Buinaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999 to boost Putin’s approval rating aiming to ensure his victory in the presidential elections. As a result of these “terrorist attacks”, 307 people were killed, more than 1,700 people were injured. Russian officials concluded that there was a “Chechen trail” in the bombings, but no proof of their involvement was adduced. Many still doubt the results of the investigation and consider Putin to be the culprit of this tragedy.

That’s when Putin uttered his famous phrase: “We will pursue the [Islamist] terrorists everywhere. If they are in an airport, we’ll kill them there. If we catch them in the toilet, we’ll exterminate them in the toilet.” Many still believe that the apartment bombings and the FSB’s tactic against Islamist extremists catapulted Putin into the presidency. Putin soon launched a second war in Chechnya and emerged victorious in the intra-Kremlin struggle. His ratings soared. He met with huge approval in a society weary from the economic collapse, corruption and crime of the Yeltsin era.

Usually people prefer to keep quiet about this tragedy. Russian political figures Sergei Yushenkov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, and Boris Berezovsky worked to unravel the mystery of apartment bombings. But all of them were brutally murdered under mysterious circumstances. Ultimately, the Kremlin’s tactics to combat Islamist terrorists not only helped to rocket Putin to the political Olympus, but also increased Islamophobia, nationalism and chauvinism in Russian society.

Today, even 22 years after Putin came to power, the Kremlin’s ideologists have begun to intimidate Russia’s liberal society with likely Islamist terrorist attacks again as the nationwide protests seriously threaten his regime. This illustrates the regime exhaustion and the lack of confidence in face of the strategic sophistication of Navalny’s team.

So far, neither HTS, nor Central Asian and North Caucasian Salafi-Jihadi groups have officially responded to the FSB on the plotting of terrorist attacks in Russian cities during opposition rallies. However, in encrypted Telegram chats, Uzbek and Chechen jihadists actively discussed the “leak information”.

Thus, one of the KTJ’s followers on Telegram under the name Al Hijrat said in Uzbek: “Kafir Putin frightens his people with the just sword of Allah.But the people of the blessed land of Sham know that he himself is the main terrorist. Russian infidels and Putin’s Nusayri puppy (Alawites regime of Bashar al-Assad) bomb Greater Idlib to destroy Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah. Executioners will have to hold a harsh response before the Almighty for their crimes.”

A pro-Jihadi chat “Inspire” in Telegram wrote in Russian: “the information about the impending attacks by Ajnad al-Kavkaz is fake. The authorities are trying to hold Russia’s awakening people from mass protests against Putin’s criminal group. To intimidate civilians, the Russian siloviki (FSB) can and are ready to commit terrorist acts, blaming HTS for this, which are not interested in what is happening there in Russia. The Putinists have a lot of experience in killing their own citizens and blowing up their houses.” In this message, Chechen militants indirectly protect HTS from accusations by pro-Kremlin media on impending terrorist attacks in Russian cities during opposition protests. This is no coincidence, since Ajnad al Kavkaz is known for its close ties with HTS.

On Telegram channel, some Russian-speaking jihadists from the post-Soviet space mocked at the ‘leaked information’, some expressed their anger against the “Russian occupants” in Sham, some advised protesters to be vigilant before the FSB provocation. A pro-Jihadi chat Icharkhoin Telegram recommended Muslims of Caucasus be ready for new repressions of Russian infidels and local Murtad (apostate), because after the bombings of houses in Volgodonsk, Putin started the 2-Chechen war and took away the independence of Ichkeria. The Telegram chat “Muhajireen” says that the Kremlin is preparing for a harsh suppression of the mass protests.

It is not the first time the Russian authorities have accused Central Asian and North Caucasian Jihadi networks of organizing terrorist act. On April 3, 2017, the Russian FSB blamed KTJ for the bombing on a subway train in St. Petersburg that killed 16 people and injured 67 others. On October 15, 2020, the FSB once again accused the Uzbek KTJ militants of preparing subversive and terrorist acts in Russian cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ufa, Maikop and Volgograd. In a statement, the intelligence services claimed that during the counter-terrorist operation, they prevented explosions and eliminated two members of KTJ. Then FSB distributed photos and videos of firearms, ammunition, IED’s chemical components, and religious literature seized during the operation.

On October 16, 2020, KTJ in its statement denied the Russian authorities’ accusation in these attacks. The Uzbek militant group stated that “according the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s policy, our activities are limited to the territory of Sham, and we do not conduct jihadi acts outside of it.” Further, KTJ assured via its Telegram channel that it “does not have its cells in Russia and is not involved in organizing terrorist acts there.”

Jihadi factor of Russian democracy

The Russian authorities often make thunderous statements about plotting terrorist attacks by “international terrorist groups” and how siloviki (FSB) successfully prevented its. This time, trumpeting about terrorist plots by HTS and its foreign subsidiaries during mass protests in various Russian cities, Moscow hoped to hit two birds with one stone. First, the Kremlin hopes that alarm on terrorist attacks could become a cold shower for Navalny’s supporters, as a result of which the activity of protesters will subside and the scale of the rallies will decrease. Second, by accusing HTS of plotting terrorist attacks, Russia is trying to justify its bloody bombing in northern Syria before the international community.

However, experts on jihadism and political Islam were skeptical about accusations of HTS for plotting terrorist attacks in Russia.HTS, Syria’s most powerful rebel group, is trying to implement a new strategy to transform itself from a global jihadist outlook into a local “moderate national liberation movement”. Today its new agenda is entirely dedicated to Syria and the Syrian local Sunni community. Within this new strategy, HTS severely restricted external attacks by its subsidiaries – Central Asian and North Caucasian Salafi-Jihadi groups –KTJ, AK and JMA. Consequently, HTS, which holds the last major rebel bastion in Idlib province and backs the local Salvation Government, is focused only on the internal Syrian jihad than organizing external terrorist attacks.

HTS emir Abu Mohammed al-Julani is well aware that any terrorist attacks in Russia could place his group among the global terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and al Qaeda, from which he decisively disavowed. HTS pursues a pragmatic approach to the political context, and its external attacks outside of Syria could undermine its fragile legacy, which Julani has achieved with great difficulty.

According to the new strategy, HTS has excluded Central Asian and local hardliners from its ranks. Those jihadists who did not want to submit to its new policy, such as former KTJ emir Abu Saloh al-Uzbeki and HTS Shura Council member Abu Malek al-Talli, were arrested or taken out of the Syrian jihad zone. Given the ability of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to pressure Russian-speaking militant groups to abandon its global jihadist ambitions, it can be concluded that the Russian FSB’s accusation against HTS raises many questions.

In conclusion, the Russian authorities alert about Islamists terrorist attacks during pro-Navalny protests is aimed at an internal audience and pursues exclusively domestic political goals. And these goals are clear as plain as the nose on the face. Using these methods, the Kremlin wants to stop the turbulent development of mass protests and divert the attention of people from the Navalny factor. If they succeed, the authorities will take time out to gather strength for the parliamentary elections in the fall of 2021.But if the wave of protests grows ever stronger and threatens Putin’s regime, then a repetition of the 1999 scenario is quite possible. As then, radical Islamism and terrorism can become a starting point for strengthening authoritarianism in Russia.

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Corona pandemic: Realism limitation in solving 21st century security threats

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Today, most serious threats of the 21st century are not ones we can protect ourselves by using armies or advanced weapons. Indeed, the popularity of extreme-right politics, unilateralism based on nationalism and COVID-19 are threatening the world’s post-war security architecture. 

The state-based unilateralism and the trends of national response to the 21st century’s biggest security threat trigger lack of coordination, diplomatic divisions, and incoherent global answer to COVID-19. Hence, as we face the biggest challenge of the contemporary century today, we need to rethink the very nature of our comprehension of national security threats. By doing so, we need a different approach to facing security threats.

With the Corona pandemic as a security threat, one of the foundational international relations theories, the realism, has been revealed to be far limited in terms of its explanatory power than it declares. The argument is that realism has a valid logic and reasons for confidence since answers to the pandemic have confirmed the supremacy of sovereign states, the grounds for the state’s power competition. Nevertheless, the pandemic also presents realism’s weaknesses as a source for successful policy answer to this security challenge. In other words, realism is better at defining risks and threats than suggesting solutions. Put simply, realism’s explanatory power lies in diagnosis rather than treatment or prevention. To make this clear, one insight the theory emphasizes is the representation of states as the fundamental actors in world politics. 

As the coronavirus hit, states shifted quickly to close or tighten international borders, controlled movement within their borders. However, while much independent national action is understandable from a realism’s point of view, it’s insufficient. Unilateralism and state-based measures, such as border controls did not spare states from the pandemic, and unilateral measures risk ending up in national economic and social crisis. 

To fight the Corona pandemic most efficiently, policymakers will have to shift to other theoretical traditions to overcome this security threat. They will depend more and more on greater international openness, trust and cooperation. Hence, while from the realism’s view, unilateral and state-based actions may serve national interest to fight the pandemic “within the national borders”, the pandemic is a global security threat and thus remains unsolved so long as other states and non-state actors have not done the same and states move on unilaterally. 

Solving global crises and security threats such as a pandemic, similar to world economic or other security crises cannot be solved based on the realist considerations of zero-sum competitive logic. Instead, transnational security threats, such as Coronavirus, is unmasking the limitations of individual states actions in the global system. Thus, while realism does an excellent job of “diagnosing the problem”, it does not offer solutions to that problem.   

Considering the necessity of worldwide medical items and actions, coordinated and offered by international organizations and non-state actors, the uncoordinated state-based actions result in an ineffective solution to this security crisis. The perspective this article aims to offer is that given the limitations of realism, we need more faith in international transboundary cooperation based on mutual trust, especially trust vis-a-vis international institutions. However, neither the United Nations nor the World Health Organization (WHO) nor any other non-state actor can overcome the Coronavirus on its own; nor non-state actors such as international institutions are alternatives to national states in international relations. 

Instead, they are an instrument of foreign policy and statecraft and states need to rely on them, incorporating them in finding solutions to global security threats. According to constitutionalists, Robert Keohane and Lisa Martin, “States are indeed self-interested, but cooperation is often in their interest and institutions help to facilitate that cooperation.”

From our partner Tehran Times

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The Media System Within and Beyond the West: Australian, Russian and Chinese Media

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This article takes Australian, Russian and Chinese media as three examples to differentiate media systems and elucidate their political or economic context to understand media systems globally. Arguably, the concept of media systems “does not possess a normative or even generally accepted definition“, mainly because the notion is posited on existing publications and empirical research rather than normative theory. More precisely, “this is so for two reasons: firstly—because of the term’s content specificity; secondly—because it is dynamic and variable in time and therefore difficult to precisely define“.

Drawing on the current research of advanced capitalist democracies in Western Europe and North America, Hallin and Mancini propose “there are two main elements of the conceptual framework of Comparing Media Systems (setting aside political-social system variables): the set of four “dimensions” of comparison, and the typology of three models that summarizes what we see as the distinctive patterns of media system development among our 18 cases”. Furthermore, they clarify the four major dimensions that can be compared in different media systems: “first, the development of media markets, with particular emphasis on the strong or weak development of a mass circulation press; second political parallelism; that is, the degree and nature of the links between the media and political parties or, more broadly, the extent to which the media system reflects the major political divisions in society; third, the development of journalistic professionalism; and fourth, the degree and nature of state intervention in the media system”.

Drawing on the four dimensions, Hallin and Mancini summarize three modules from Western Europe and North America: “the Mediterranean or Polarized Pluralist Model, the North/Central European or Democratic Corporatist Model,

and the North Atlantic or Liberal Model”, which will be elaborated on by the next tables.

Table 1 Mediterranean or Polarized Pluralist Model

Country ExamplesFrance, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain
Newspaper IndustryLow newspaper circulation; elite politically oriented press
Political ParallelismHigh political parallelism; external pluralism, commentary-oriented journalism; parliamentary or government model of broadcast governance—politics-over-broadcasting systems
ProfessionalizationWeaker professionalization; instrumentalization
Role of the State in Media SystemStrong state intervention; press subsidies in France and Italy; periods of censorship; “savage deregulation” (except France)

Table 2 North/Central European or Democratic Corporatist Model

Country ExamplesAustria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland
Newspaper IndustryHigh newspaper circulation; early development of mass-circulation press
Political ParallelismExternal pluralism, especially in the national press; historically strong party press; a shift toward neutral commercial <p>press; the politics-in-broadcasting system with substantial autonomy
ProfessionalizationStrong professionalization; institutionalized self-regulation
Role of the State in Media SystemStrong state intervention but with protection for press freedom; press subsidies, robust in Scandinavia; strong public-service broadcasting

Table 3 North Atlantic or Liberal Model

Country ExamplesBritain, the United States, Canada, Ireland
Newspaper IndustryMedium newspaper circulation; early development of mass circulation commercial press
Political ParallelismNeutral commercial press; information-oriented journalism; internal pluralism (but external pluralism in Britain); professional model of broadcast governance—formally autonomous system
ProfessionalizationStrong professionalization; noninstitutionalized self-regulation
Role of the State in Media SystemA market dominated (except strong public broadcasting in Britain, Ireland)

Source: created by the author of this thesis and based on Hallin and Mancini.

Furthermore, it is unfeasible to simply apply the conceptual framework to other countries without appropriate modification. In fact, the “four dimensions” and “three models” are just perfect types, only loosely matched by the media systems of different countries. The ultimate purpose is not to classify individual media systems but to identify the “characteristic patterns of relationship between system characteristics“. Consequently, these inherent patterns of media systems offer “a theoretical synthesis and a framework for comparative research on the media and political systems“.

The Australian media system as an outlier in the Liberal Model

Hallin and Mancini illustrate that Australia should be another example of the Liberal Model. It is because firstly, the “Liberal Model is the broadest, attempting to bridge the trans-Atlantic gulf that regularly emerges in the comparative literature“. Secondly, Australia has historical connections with the UK and the US regarding “early democratization and highly professionalized information-based journalism“. This association has led to strong characteristics of Anglo-American conventions in the Australian media structure, with the quintessence of a dual media system. The binary design has combined the UK-style PSBs (public service broadcasters) such as ABC and SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) with the “US-style commercial networks“. Thirdly, Australia is famous for one of the highest commercial media ownership concentration rates globally, particularly in the newspaper area.

However, the Australian media system does not offer the quintessence of the Liberal Model. Jones and Pusey apply the Liberal Model to the Australian media system and identify four remarkable discrepancies. More precisely, compared to the Liberal Model, Australia has “historically late professionalization of journalism; comparatively low levels of education of journalists; low per capita investment in PSBs; poor regulation for accuracy and impartiality of commercial broadcast journalism; and slow development of relevant bourgeois liberal institutional conventions and rational-legal authority, e.g., formal recognition of freedom of the press”.

Furthermore, Jones and Pusey contend that Australia has several similar features with the Polarized Pluralist Model, especially in clientelism. Based on the definition of Hallin and Mancini, “clientelism tends to be associated with instrumentalization of both public and private media. In the case of public media, appointments tend to be made more based on political loyalty than purely professional criteria”. More concretely, Jones and Pusey outline the following examples to indicate the similarities of the Australian media system with the Polarized Pluralist Model: “the widely accepted recognition that appointments to the ABC Board have been more often than not party-political; the infamous ‘Murdoch amendments’ by the Fraser government to broadcasting legislation in the late 1970s to facilitate Murdoch’s concentration of television ownership; and the long history of proprietorial intervention in the political world”.

Thus, to this extent, there is a certain degree of political parallelism in the Australian media system. However, the Australian one does not match the Polarized Pluralist Model in some key areas. More precisely”, Australia does not have a highly polarized political culture and a strong tradition of mass-circulation party newspapers“. Therefore, it is arguable to perceive the Australian media system as an outlier of the Liberal Model, which can be shown in the following figure:

Figure 1 Relation of individual cases to the three models

Source: derived from Jones and Pusey.

Beyond the West: the unique Russian and Chinese media model

Although the Australian media system is an outlier in the Liberal Model, it still belongs to the typology and scope of the three models, posited on the empirical reality of Western Europe and North America. However, bringing the Russian and Chinese media models into this global comparative apparatus involves two distinct and peculiar systems into the Western-centric framework. Thus, the three models’ classification cannot apply to Russia and China’s two unique systems. Nevertheless, the four dimensions of comparison as a tool for analyzing systemic characteristics still work. However, they are not perfect and need to be modified in the application, as mentioned before.

The Russian media system as a statist commercialized model

After the disintegration of the USSR, Russia took a series of measures to adopt elements of the Western media apparatus, such as “abolition of censorship, freedom of press concepts and related legislation, privatization of media, a shift to more objective reporting, and increasing control by journalists and editorial boards over news production“. However, arguing that the Russian media have been westernized only shows “a poor understanding of” the legacy of the Soviet Union and the “complexity and dissimilarities of the post-Soviet society“, ignoring the most influential factor in the Russian media system: the state. Arguably, the interplay between the state and media has defined the essence and main features of the Russian media system. Historically and culturally, “in Russian public communications, relations between the state and a citizen have involved a clear subordination of the individual to a social power that has always been associated in the Russian context with the state“.

Thus, even though the Polarized Pluralist Model is the most similar of the three models to the Russian one, the Russian media system is still far from the Mediterranean apparatus. The Russian state’s role has exceedingly overshadowed that of the Mediterranean states, suggesting that they cannot be classified as the same type. Ivanitsky differs the Russian media system from the Polarized Pluralist Model in that “it is the state which defined the particular journalism modes such as Court journalism, Imperial journalism, Communist Party journalism in Russian history. Currently, while liberating the media’s economic activity, the state is not ready to relax the control over the content”.

This overwhelming influence of the state also reflects in Russian political parallelism. Although new political parties have appeared after the formation of the Russian Federation, Oates argues that “rather than encouraging the growth and the development of a range of political parties, media outlets in Russia have worked at supporting relatively narrow groups of elites”, part of which have been formed due to the privatization. These elites, combining old political and new emerging business elites, “became key players in the media scene“. More concretely, they created “a particularly Russian form of political parallelism” by using “political media as traditional instruments of political elite management“. Besides, due to the dominant role of the state in Russia, “media, particularly television, have been used to subvert the development of a pluralistic party system“.

Furthermore, in terms of the media industry, the influence of the state is also ubiquitous. Ivanitsky believes the state “has produced practically unsolvable tension for the media themselves trying to function both as commercial enterprises and as institutions of the society”, even though Russia has achieved rapid development in its advertising and media market. Hypothetically, these tensions between the media and the state are supposed to be the “decentralized market competition as a vital antidote to political despotism“. However, Vartanovaargues that “the aims of the state converged with those of the advertising industry, and commercially determined content became both a means of increasing depoliticization and instrumentalization of political communication, and of stimulating consumption”. From another angle, de Smaele believes that the Western influence on Russian media has only been limited to market demand, with the lack of Western notions such as “independent Fourth Estate”.

As for Russia’s professionalization, “journalism as a profession had a rather late start” with a strong censorship history, thus resulting in a self-censorship tradition until now. Another factor contributing to the self-censorship is that “formally declared freedom and autonomy of media professionals came into conflict with the efforts of the new owners”, deeply connected to the state and political elites, “to use these new professional values to further their own interests” rather than the public interests and social responsibility. Thus, to notch economic successes and avoid potential political risks, Russian journalists have become increasingly market-driven and apathetic to politics. Due to the different “professional identity“, Russian journalists have a dissimilar “literary style and attitude to facts and opinions“, which has restrained them from integration into Western journalism.

However, this statist media policy does not mean there is no freedom regarding the Russian media system’s political news. Admittedly, the state has strong influences on “television channels with national distribution“, which has been regarded as “the main source of information about Russia and the world“. By comparison, the pressure of the state has become weak and even non-existent in some less disseminated areas such as the television channel “REN-TV“, the radio station “Ekho Moskvy“, and the newspapers “Novaya Gazeta“, “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” and “Kommersant“, as well as almost the whole of the internet.

Therefore, it is possible to say that the duality of authoritarian attitudes to mass media and journalism—a statist media policy deeply rooted in the framework of state influence on media combined with the growing market-driven economy—has become the most crucial characteristic of the Russian media system“. To this extent, the Russian media system can be described as a statist commercialized model.

The Chinese media system as a state-dominated model

If there is still a likelihood to compare the Russian media system with the Mediterranean Model due to a certain extent of similarities, “bringing the Chinese media system into a worldwide comparative project is to bring one of the most dissimilar systems into the non-Western empirical reality“. Furthermore, if the role above of the state in the Russian media system can be portrayed as “strong influence”, the Chinese state’s position or the sole ruling party CPC in its media apparatus should be regarded as dominant. As mentioned, regarding the political news, Russians still enjoy some freedom in less influential media. In contrast, there is no autonomy in the Chinese press, with the omnipresent regulative measures such as media censorship and the internet Great Firewall in China. Thus, considering the state’s special role, the Chinese media system is far beyond the intervention framework in the West.

In fact, despite Deng Xiaoping’s reform, the Chinese media system of the post-Mao period has still applied the “different versions of Marxism and socialism” to “build socialism with Chinese characteristics” by “providing moral guidance to the population and engineering economic development and social change“. One of the most important reasons that may clarify this “guidance”, namely, strong and resilient media control, is the media ownership in China. It is undeniable that the post-Mao economic reforms have expanded the private capital to some areas that had been commanded by the Chinese government or state-owned enterprises for decades. However, Zhao argues that “in the media sector, although the Chinese state has not only drastically curtailed its role in subsidizing media operations but has also targeted the media and cultural sector as new sites of profit-making and capitalistic development, the state continues to restrict private capital, let alone the privatizing of existing media outlets”.

In fact, the Chinese state has opened the door to private and even foreign capital participation in “the media’s entertainment function” such as the film industry with the intention of profit-making. However, this profit-making entertainment also needs to be filtered by the ideological orientation of the state. More importantly, “the production and distribution of news and informational content” and the “ownership of news media outlets” have remained “monopolized by the state“. Furthermore, this monopoly also results in the fact that the state has appointed major media agencies’ leadership.

Despite the state’s overwhelming control, the Chinese media market has boomed for years since the economic reform of Deng Xiaoping, attributable to the power of marketization. For instance, in 2004, there were 6,580 daily newspapers published worldwide, and the number of daily newspapers published in China ranked first in the world, accounting for 14.5% of the global daily newspapers. However, the commercialization of the Chinese media industry has not surmounted the ideological control of the state. The media market has constituted “two distinct and yet institutionally intertwined press sectors or subsystems“. The first press sector is market-based as the film above industry, while the second is “the party organ sector“, which combines the duality of the political instrument and profit-making. This is because “most state media outlets no longer receive large government subsidies and have largely to depend on commercial advertising“. Nevertheless, rather than causing tensions, the dual roles the party organ sector plays have adopted and contained the marketization within the current political control by the statist implementation of “licensing system and the sponsor unit system“. Consequently, these two systems have guaranteed the predominance of the state over the commercialization and marketization.

As for the political parallelism, the state-dominated Chinese media system has top-level political instrumentalization, indicating “all the features of a quintessential party-press parallelism“. Almost all the media content should and, in practice, have revolved around the official ideology and slogan of the state. This is pertinent to another aspect of four dimensions, based on the theory and standard of Hallin and Mancini: the utterly low professionalization in Chinese journalism, where journalists have to successfully balance the “market forces and the party-press system” to obtain financial benefits and political security. Furthermore, Pan and Lu argue that Chinese journalists “do not fit their practices into the universal model of professionalism”, but “utilize and appropriate diverse and often conflicting ideas of journalism through their improvised and situated practices”, leading to the “truncated and fragmented in Chinese journalism”. Also, unlike the Western conception of relative objectivity in journalism, Hackett and Zhao create a term “regime of objectivity” to describe how Chinese journalists portray information on the precondition of conforming to the state ideology.

Therefore, due to its restricted commercialization and dominated state, Chan summarizes the Chinese media industry’s development as commercialization without independence. Drawing on the above, the Chinese media system can be described as a state-dominated model.

References

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