The Dimensions of ISIS

As ISIS is becoming a more well known issue, the controversies surrounding it seem to be more and more complicated.  Issues of security, legal, and economic dimensions of dealing with ISIS are continually discussed by states around the world.

Security is the major concern of most states around the world when it comes to ISIS problems.  Safety is the highest concern due to the need for self-preservation of a sovereign state and for the safety of the people within.  The states surrounding Iraq and Syria are obviously the most concerned for their physical security.  ISIS is a media savvy group, the most well advertised of any terrorist groups seen to date.  ISIS principles expressed in these media pieces draw people from other countries to fight, as well as inspire branch groups in other countries.  This potentially will strengthen ISIS forces ability to attack or infiltrate surrounding states producing a major security threat.  We have seen what ISIS can do (ex: Syria and Iraq) once they’ve got a solid foothold in a state.  By losing people (physically and psychologically), they are losing potential resources, soldiers, and supporters, becoming all around weaker.  It is definitely a problem for the safety of the region.  These are the issues that countries around the world are considering.  Although many do not perceive ISIS as a direct military threat in itself, it definitely has the power to expand its influence abroad more than it already has.  Recently there was one of the first instances of foreign influence, not too far from home.  On Wednesday, there was a shooting by an ISIS supporter in Canada.  Cpl. Nathan Frank Cirillo was killed by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau in Ottawa.  ISIS members around the world celebrated it as a victory, saying “Canada starting to pay the price of intervention”.   India is also another country that is ramping up its defenses in response to recent developments.  Recent reports say that the National Security Guard of India has been warned of a potential Al Qaeda – ISIS joint attack with the assistance of domestic terror organizations.  ISIS flags and banners have appeared in the country sporadically throughout the past few months.  An Indian Lieutenant was quoted saying, “ISIS has the capacity of attracting young men and that is a concern for us”.  There has also been a lot of debate in the US as to how it affects our security.  Some consider ISIS a significant threat.  The secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, spoke on meet the press about ISIS’s abilities to conquer territory, recruit troops, and spread it’s influence.  In his words, “They’ve demonstrated a depravity and a willingness to kill Americans because they are Americans,” he continued. “So we’ve got to take the fight to this organization.”  But others dispute this, saying that ISIS poses no threat to the US.  Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY) says that ISIS does not pose a threat to national security.  He sees the cancerous ideas that are invading the thoughts of the world, but that it will actually be more dangerous if the US is militarily involved.  He states that “it appears as though there could be an overall a threat, not directly to us, but for us to be involved in a military way”.  All these opinions are legitimate, and that is the problem.  States are conflicted as to whether the face more of a security threat by intervening, by playing an indirect role, or by staying out of it completely.

The economic status of ISIS is interesting.  They are currently regarded as the richest terror group world-wide.  Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington, D.C., sees ISIS as “the best-financed group we’ve ever seen.”  Most of their money has come from looting the territory they control, the wealth of oil fields they have acquired in Northern Iraq and Syria, and donations.  The looting alone has allowed them to amass roughly two billion dollars.  They are a fully functioning group, paying salaries and providing rations for troops.  As they advance militarily and structurally they continue to gain an estimated one to two million dollars a day.  This is an unprecedented pace of growth for a terrorist organization.  The oil and gas sales are mostly made through Assad’s regime in Syria and neighboring Turkey.  Gas prices in Turkey are extremely high, about $7.50 per gallon.  It’s so bad that people don’t care if they are getting their oil from their enemies, as long as it’s cheaper.  Donations are given by individuals, as well as wealthy sympathizers in Qatar and Kuwait.  Many are drawn to do this by ISIS’s very visible media attention and social media savvy.  Ransoms from hostages, taxing locals, and robbing of banks in areas they control boost revenue as well.  Other nations are targeting ISIS controlled oil fields to reduce their cash flow from that source.  They are also trying to counter ISIS’s media presence to reduce outside support.  ISIS has very little effect or presence in the International Political Economy.  Although they are amassing wealth fast, they are far from achieving the ability or acceptance to compete on the international market.  Other than oil sales and donations, ISIS is run almost entirely on internal revenue.  None of the international economic institutions apply to ISIS or the turmoil they are causing.

There are many international legal issues surrounding ISIS.  First of all there is the issue of Human rights.  ISIS is known for it’s violence.  They actively torture, execute, and behead people as hostages or as a form of punishment.  No official statement has been made about crimes against humanity, but it is definitely a problem.  A United Nations official recently cited ISIS for possible genocide.  There has been no official actions or legislation to this effect, but it is another aspect of ISIS that must be combated.  If either of these issues are eventually officially addressed by the UN, then in essence the UN would have indirectly recognized them as a legitimate power.  This may only increase the draw of ISIS, because it will be seen as having power enough to draw the attention of UN legislation.  For these reasons, I don’t think that the UN will ever take any official action in regards to this.  The largest issue surrounding the combat against ISIS, is that of non-intervention.  This is a sticky issue, because you can approach it from many angles.  First of all, they are not recognized as a state, but hold many of the functions and powers of a state.  They control territory, collect taxes, provide for their people, and have a standing government and army.  Those states helping to eradicate ISIS from their foothold in Iraq and Syria cite the fact that ISIS is not a state and therefore does not have the right to non-intervention.  But then again, although ISIS is a rebel group, they are conducting themselves in two recognized sovereign states, Iraq and Syria.  Although both have had their problems, they do have the right to non-intervention.  So do the intervening states have a right to be there?  It is almost definite that foreign forces have a legitimate claim to be involved in Iraq, because Iraq reached out for help after the initial ISIS assaults.  Syria is another story.  Syria is in turmoil itself, even before ISIS.  Syria is in the midst of a civil war with multiple groups and multiple fronts.  No help was asked for, and no UN action was sanctioned.  But other states, including the US and the UK, have found their way into Syria.  Airstrikes are the major form of action that is being taken at this point.  The legality of those are a major controversy, as is the possibility of additional troops.  Turkey is leading Kurdish forces from Iraq into Syria to help the situation there.  The US  claims it has a right to intervene due to threats to its national security.  This is a stretch in a lot of opinions, but it is yet to be supported or stopped by the UN.  Without any structure put in around this issue, the intervention policies of outside actors could become even more extensive.  Finally there is the claim to “Just War”.  ISIS claims that its cause is for a just reason.  They are there to set up a state that abides by Qur’anic law and rids the area of its corrupt, ineffective governments.  The governments of Syria and Iraq have had problems with stability and equal representation.  Iraq was actually on the way to a more balanced representation within it’s government, but Syria was and still is in the middle of a civil war.  By the basic UN definition of legal war (self defense and UNSC sanctioned peace enforcement), this war is not legal, and most others agree.

Interestingly, the only major international actor in this conflict is ISIS itself.  ISIS is not formally recognized by any state as such.  Others see ISIS as a terrorist organization occupying the territory of two existing states, Iraq and Syria.  But ISIS actually has many functions of a state.  They have a standing army, a law that they follow, they collect taxes, they have economic income from the oil fields they control, and they definitely have a certain power to influence world affairs.  Their existence and actions have had a profound impact on the countries it occupies, those surrounding, and the rest of the world.  They have created chaos in Iraq just when it was becoming more stable.  It helped to contribute to the continuing civil war in Syria.  Regional powers are now have safety concerns in relation to the influence and military success of ISIS.  Other world powers are affected by the influence and international actions of supporters of ISIS.  That is why it is difficult to even consider ISIS a non-state actor.  The role of international institutions and transnational actors has been very limited.  The UN has yet to make any definitive actions as the most widely regarded international institution.  ISIS was a topic of discussion at the last UN General Assembly meeting, but that was the extent of the action.  Questions of just war and the rights of states have not been dealt with.  No economic or security measures have been taken on by any institutions or transnational actors.  As far as this issue is concerned, non-state actors have been almost completely irrelevant.

With the complexity of this issue there are bound to be even more facets of this that I have not addressed.  Overall, ISIS has been seen as a security threat but is still contested.  Economically they function almost completely on the domestic and internal level.  The legal issues surrounding this are the most complex.  Claims to just war and interventionist policies have yet to be defined and completely addressed.  With the continuation of this conflict, we wait to see the development of these points.

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