How to measure geopolitical capability in the age of ISIS
Last month the Henry Jackson Society, a British conservative think-tank, published a report titled “An Audit of Geopolitical Capability: A Comparison of Eight Major Powers”, which measured the national capability of China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US based on seven categories. These are geographic integration, demographic condition, economic clout, technological prowess, diplomatic leverage, military strength and cultural prestige.
Although the report was very enlightening and thoroughly elaborated, one crucial component was omitted: counterterrorism capability, which deserves being singled out given the increasing global spread of terrorist threats.
According to a study on counterterrorism effectiveness, since 2010, there has been a “gradual increase in jihadi attacks and in casualties emanating from these attacks”. Worse still, the threat seems to be growing further.
It is not only the heightened danger itself that makes counterterrorism effectiveness a crucial component in measuring geopolitical capabilities, but also the fact that today we are facing an absolutely new challenge to global security. For this reason, counterterrorism capability should be included in the list of parameters by which the major powers are ranked.
Above all else, counterterrorism capability should not fall into a category of “military strength”, as it is by no means confined to fighting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In recent years, it has become evident that ISIS puts increasing stakes on converting the territories of other states into symbolic war zones by carrying out terror attacks there. Therefore, one of the crucial indicators should be a nation’s capability of countering such attacks and, more important, of preventing them. Prevention is a key factor, and this may be the point where France, a prime target for ISIS terrorists, has failed.
As Brian Michael Jenkins, senior adviser to the president at the RAND research center, put it, the ways France and the US deal with terrorist suspects differ. “The priority in France is to neutralize suspects at the earliest moment possible in order to prevent attacks. When a terrorist plot is suspected, French authorities are not hesitant to arrest the main suspects and people in near contact with them on the basis of intelligence,” he said.
But where France stumbles is at the prosecution stage, as the law requires sufficient evidence to arrest suspects. As a result, a large number of jihadis have been released without being brought to trial.
One crucial factor that makes terrorism a global threat is the existence of ISIS cells in target countries, what can fairly be interpreted as the presence of enemy forces on national soil. As was observed in an article in the conservative Washington Examiner by political commentator Tom Rogan, “ISIS’s success demonstrates that it continues to generate attack capability faster than security services can disrupt new ISIS cells.”
Even one of the most recent developments, the terror attacks in Barcelona, indicates that there are undetected ISIS cells operating in Europe.
One of the crucial indicators pointed out in the report by the Henry Jackson Society is “global reach”:
For the ability to project power, two indicators have been selected. The first is “global reach”, namely the ability to push “the point of culmination” – ie, the geographic or temporal point at which the armed forces can no longer operate effectively as far away from the national homeland as possible. For most countries, the culminating point is either on their own border or a few hundred kilometers beyond. Outside of this area, they find it hard or impossible to undertake any form of military operation.
This is certainly true. However, by elaborating the idea, we can fairly state that ISIS has a “global reach” making it a full-fledged geopolitical adversary of major powers, since its terrorist cells are established throughout the world.
Does this imply that the capability to disrupt ISIS cells within national territory should be considered an essential indicator in assessing geopolitical capabilities of major powers? I believe it does. In the age of ISIS terrorism, many countries have faced absolutely new challenges, so other key points need to be highlighted in developing geopolitical policies by governments.
Last but not least is the capability to combat the spread of ISIS propaganda, which is global in itself and creates an enabling environment for lone terrorists, radicalizing them and eventually pushing them into carrying out attacks. These individuals can be viewed as “soldiers” of Islamic State, but since potential lone terrorists are very hard to uncover, radical Islamist propaganda should be considered a factor responsible for the emergence of this kind of “soldiers”.
Significantly, ISIS propaganda is different from that of other extremist groups, al-Qaeda in particular, in its sophistication and ways of distribution. It effectively targets young people who do not share the identity of the societies in which they live, turning them into supporters or militants of the terrorist group.
In view of the above, counterterrorism capability is a crucial component that must be considered when measuring geopolitical capabilities of major powers. This would have a definite practical utility, as counterterrorism activity would gain more attention and weight that would definitely enhance global security.