Wednesday, September 12, 2007

IISS Report: 'US suffered a loss of international authority as a result of the failure to impose order in Iraq'

A U.S. Marine with Regimental Combat Team 2 provides security outside an Iraqi railroad station during an scouting mission outside Al Qaim on August 22nd.

A respected think tank concluded Wednesday that the United States has lost influence as a result of failings over the Iraq war, encouraging its detractors — including Iran and Russia — and jeopardizing stability in Asia and the Middle East.

In its annual report on global security, the International Institute of Strategic Studies painted a bleak picture of conflict in the Middle East, an emboldened al-Qaida and growing Islamic radicalism across Europe. New European leaders offer hope of a fresh approach in the fight against terrorism, the report said, but success is unlikely with the White House struggling to command global respect.

With weak leadership from Washington, "the risk is that simmering international tensions will spill over and endanger global prosperity," the report said...

"The United States and its allies have failed to deal a deathblow to al-Qaida; the organization's ideology appears to have taken root to such a degree that it will require decades to eradicate," the report said.

Read the rest at the Houston Chronicle

Public Statement by the International Institute of Strategic Studies on it's report (abridged):


In general, Strategic Survey argues that during 2007 the US suffered a loss of international authority as a result of the failure to impose order in Iraq. Leaders and groups around the world sought to take advantage or to protect themselves from the consequences of this loss of prestige. A few countries flexed their muscles regionally more confident in their relative power, while radical groups sought to discredit the leaders of those countries who maintained solid relations with the US. Other countries appeared to hedge their diplomatic relations with the US by strengthening their links with regional powers.

This shuffling in the international power and influence balance made it difficult for strong initiatives for conflict resolution to be undertaken, just as it complicated the diplomatic coordination needed to address some security crises...

It remains the case that, moving towards 2008, there is a sense that the world is approaching key turning points on a number of international crises and that at the same time, the shifts in the global balance of power do not herald decisive and effective action to deal with these crises.

The agendas on international terrorism, Israel–Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and non-proliferation in Iran and North Korea will continue to be major strategic issues.

Islamist Terrorism

There is increasing evidence, Strategic Survey argues, that ‘core’ al-Qaeda is proving adaptable and resilient, and has retained the ability to plan and coordinate large-scale attacks in the Western world. Regional jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and al-Qaeda in the Maghreb have sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda and have begun to show ambitions beyond parochial concerns in support of al-Qaeda’s global objectives. Plots that have come to light in Europe and elsewhere point to a growing trend of Islamic radicalisation.

The long-term challenge is to confront the extremist ideology which gives rise to terrorism and which al-Qaeda has shown great skill and ingenuity in propagating. That challenge is of a different kind in different parts of the world and needs to be met in specific contexts. Overall, what is referred to as the ‘single narrative’, that sees Muslims as victims of non-Muslim aggression, needs to be addressed, both in the Islamic world and elsewhere. In the Islamic world, governments with de-radicalisation programmes tend not to contest the propositions of the single narrative but rather to encourage individuals to contemplate non-violent responses to perceived injustices affecting their co-religionists. Over time, that approach may not be sufficient, and there will be a need to build political cultures that encourage aspirations for the fruits of modernity and success, something best done by leaders able to establish their political legitimacy.

Western governments tend to meet the Muslim ‘single narrative’ by way of rebuttal, arguing against its basis in fact. But this too is an approach with limited effects. While there is a consensus among all European elites that the war on terror cannot be fought by military means alone, there is a less overt acceptance that defending the largely liberal and secular nature of the ‘public space’ in Europe will require a more assertive application of the ‘political science’ of that liberal-secular tradition. That means looking again at issues as complex as the relative balance between individual and community rights and between secular and religious visions of social organisation. On this basis, it may become possible to find more fluid ways to achieve the effective integration of Muslim minorities into European societies and obtain the national cohesion necessary to meet the wide range of security challenges the modern world poses...


The testimony before Congress this week provided by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker highlighted both the successes but also the problems faced by the US administration in Iraq. Petraeus naturally highlighted the military gains made by the surge. The surge, which began in February and reached its peak in terms of troop deployment in June, saw increased US forces stationed amongst the population of Baghdad. This new approach has impeded al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s ability to deploy mass casualty attacks in and around the city. It has also constrained the activities of Shia death squads attempting to exact revenge by terrorising Sunni residential areas in the capital. Although the data on Iraq are clearly open to analysis, the level of violence fluctuates from month to month and remains higher than in 2004 and 2005, civilian casualties have dropped from their peak in the second half of 2006. In June, July and August 2006, for example, Baghdad suffered from an average of 42 car bombs a month. This average dropped to 23 during the same period this year.

Petraeus also stressed notable successes against al-Qaeda in Anbar province, the heart of the so-called ‘Sunni triangle’. Here US forces have capitalised on the so-called ‘Anbar awakening’, supporting Sunni tribes who have revolted against the harsh Islamism imposed upon them by al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The hope is that this model can be successfully transferred to other areas surrounding Baghdad.

However, the sustainability of these gains and a further reduction in violence is increasingly dependent upon Iraq’s own security forces. Although there has been progress in the training and expansion of the Iraqi army, a congressional report suggested it is still 18 months to two years away from self sufficiency. That same report added that the national police were so penetrated by Shia militias that it should be disbanded and rebuilt.

If General Petraeus could report limited success on the security front Ambassador Crocker faced a much more difficult task politically. The government headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was supposed to be one of national unity. However, two key Shia parties and more importantly the main Sunni political block left the government after disagreements with the prime minister. The Sunni Tawafuq or Consensus Front complained that Maliki was unwilling or unable to reduce the sectarian actions of key ministries including the Ministry of Interior and its police force. Maliki’s constitutional and political weakness lies at the heart of this problem. Constitutionally the prime minister does not have a great deal of power to impose his will on a fractious cabinet. Politically Maliki is only the deputy leader of a comparatively small Shia party with no militia. His government is dominated by the two Kurdish parties and most importantly the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and its militia the Badr. Until Maliki manages to accrue more power in the office of the prime minister he will be unable to control let alone remove sectarian actors scattered throughout his government.

Acceleration in efforts for political reconciliation remains the surge that is most important in Iraq, for any military gains to be sustained. For this to happen, the US needs to put much greater political pressure on the Iraqi government to reform. Goals will need to be set for Cabinet ministers, from Nuri al-Maliki on down, ranging from the removal of sectarian actors through to the unbiased delivery of government services. If these targets are not met then the US might have to consider reducing its financial and security support for those ministries and ministers not complying with its requests.


The final deployment of forces of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) under command of NATO was completed in October 2006. Today the main battle is for the Sangin Valley in Helmand province with a key objective being the Kajaki dam. Once secure it is hoped that the dam can be developed beyond its previous capacity to bring power and water to a large area of the deprived South. If successful this initiative will send a positive message to the Pushtun people that might begin to turn them from supporting the insurgency.

National caveats continue to limit the flexibility of NATO commanders in deploying forces from one region to another. For some major troop contributors such as Germany, which has command of NATO’s Regional Command – North, it is still unacceptable for troops to become involved in combat operations in areas where the insurgency is most intense such as in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces. Some states are due to vote on the renewal or withdrawal of their mandates authorising the deployment of troops in Afghanistan – the German Bundestag votes in October. Uncertainty about troop deployments limits the ability of NATO to plan as well as act and may give some advantage to the Taliban and its allies who can play on this perceived weakness by targeting countries whose commitment may be perceived to be limited.

The capacity and capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have improved with more funding going to building the national police force. At the same time the successful deployment of training and mentoring teams with the Afghan National Army has helped the ANA battalions to play an increasing role on operations. Although they are able to share more of the burden for combat operations, they are still unable to support themselves logistically.

The debate about how to deal with poppy cultivation continues.In its 2007 World Drug Report the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) states that there was a ‘massive increase in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan in 2006’. An estimated 30% of the country’s GDP comes from the illicit drugs trade which provides 92% of the world heroin supply. Through the National Drug Control Strategy, the government of President Hamid Karzai recognises the need to bring illegal cultivation of poppy to an end, but Karzai himself sees the problem as being long term and is against short-term measures such as crop spraying which have unknown consequences and may play into the hands of the Taliban.

If there are grounds for optimism they lie with the possible success of initiatives such as the Kajaki Dam project, which are designed to bring significant improvements into the lives of the Pushtun population. But an increasingly unstable Pakistan raises once again the spectre of the north-west frontier and tribal areas being beyond the control of government, thus allowing militants to operate across the Durand Line with impunity.


In the period covered in this book: late 2006 through to the present, global security politics were deeply uncertain. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the problems of international terror grabbed the main headlines. But domestic politics and the regional environment in various degrees unsettled and disturbed a number of geo-political swing states: Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan, Nigeria and others whose stability is normally key to the regions in which they find themselves. This occurred as domestic politics were infected by regional instability or were subject to stronger sectarian influence and at a time when larger powers could not provide effective and comforting security blankets. These trends by which awkward domestic politics will increasingly affect regional balances of power will continue into 2008.

Indeed, the world in 2008 will be doubly consumed by the politics of parochialism – sectarian rivalries and religious disputes – and by the manoeuvres of balance of power politics – alliance politics and arms races. Intriguingly, these two trends will run side by side and will not always inter-relate with each other. In Europe, the US and Asia big powers will talk to each other about role, status, alliance, deterrence, containment, balance of power. In the meantime, groups around the world will fight those states and alliances. As Strategic Survey has argued this year, the shifts in the global balance of power and the continued growth of anti-state terrorism carry uncertain results.

China is too strong to be seen as just a developing nation, though still too weak definitively to shape its regional environment alone. The US is too strong to stay on the sidelines of global events, but too weak to implement an agenda that it has set without wide agreement. Russia has accumulated great economic power at the state level but wields it in a way that weakens its reputation and causes distrust. Europe has reputation and economic strength but limited strategic vision and ever declining military power to support it. In this ‘non-polar world’, the space for aggressive non-state actors to advance their particularist strategic aims has grown. In 2008, managing nuclear proliferation and terrorism will remain the priorities. But the unsettled relations, rivalries and shifting strengths of the powers that see themselves as custodians of the state system will make the necessary coordination of approaches to these threats immensely hard.

From the International Institute for Strategic Studies