Monthly Archives: June 2015

What’s Driving ISIS? How Can It Be Stopped?

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for several terror attacks last week. In Tunisia, 38 people were killed when a gunman opened fire at a beach popular with foreign tourists. The government responded over the weekend by announcing the closure of 80 mosques it blames for spreading radical Islam. In Kuwait, a suicide bomb attack outside a Shiite mosque killed 27 and wounded more than 200. And in France, a man crashed his van into a chemical factory in an attempt to cause an explosion and release chemicals into the air. ISIS claimed responsibility for all three attacks, though no independent authority has confirmed the group was involved. Interestingly, the attacks all took place during the holy month of Ramadan, which began this year on June 17 and historically has been viewed by most Muslims as a time for fasting, reflection, and prayer.

For many ISIS fighters, Ramadan is viewed as an opportunity to expand the organization’s reach.

What’s driving ISIS’s current efforts? There are several interpretations. In this interview with the BBC, Majid Nawaz, Chair of the Quilliam Foundation, offers a complex interpretation of current events, suggesting that the expansion of the Islamic State is driven by a combination of factors that includes foreign policy, identity, underemployment and other grievances interpreted through a lens of Islamism that provides justification and inspiration for action. If correct, his analysis suggests a response rooted in isolating and challenging radical interpretations of Islam (and by extension, other religions) that lead to radicalization.

What do you think? Do you agree with Nawaz’s analysis? Why? And what does it suggest for efforts to prevent the apparent spread of Islamic State terrorists?

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War Crimes in the Middle East

A report issued by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council earlier this week concluded that both the Israeli government and Palestinian militants committed war crimes during the summer 2014 conflict that resulted in more than 2,200 Palestinian deaths—the majority of whom were civilians—and 73 Israeli deaths.

Both sides were quick to condemn the report. In a press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that Israel remains “committed to the rule of law” and noted that the country has repeatedly been forced to defend itself against “Palestinian war crimes.” In Gaza, Hamas authorities complained that the report stablished “a false equality between victims and their killers.”

The report could further efforts by the Palestinian Authority to launch a formal war crimes complaint against Israel with the International Criminal Court, a strategy Palestinian officials already appear to be pursing.

What do you think? Given the report’s findings, does the international community have an obligation to help resolve the longstanding conflict and prevent further civilian casualties? What if anything might be done to de-escalate tensions between Israel and Palestine? And is the Palestinian strategy of pursuing recourse through the International Criminal Court the correct one? Why?

Will China’s Stock Market Burst?

The Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen A Share stock markets—China’s two largest stock markets—posted large losses yesterday, capping a week of sharp falls. The two markets were down about 13% each. It marked the worst week in China’s stock markets in more than 7 years. Although they are up year-to-date, the sharp losses this week lent weight to speculation that the bubble in the Chinese markets could soon burst. According to Bloomberg,

Fueled by record margin debt and unprecedented numbers of novice investors, China’s market capitalization has tripled in the past year to $9.8 trillion. At 84 times projected earnings, the average stock on mainland exchanges is now almost twice as expensive as it was when the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index peaked in October 2007.

If the Chinese stock market were to fall, it could have dramatic effects both within and outside China. As much as 80 percent of investment in Chinese markets comes from middle-income Chinese citizens, and a sharp decline in their wealth could spark demands for political change.

What do you think? Is China’s stock market a bubble about to burst? If so, what might the effects be on Chinese politics and the legitimacy of the Chinese government? What international effects might a sharp fall in Chinese markets have? How might it affect China’s international influence? Why

Greece’s Economic Future

Less than a week after International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde accused the Greek government of failing to negotiate in good faith, it appears Greece, the IMF and the European Union are no closer to reaching a deal to restructure or postpone Greece’s looming debt crisis. Greece faces a massive €1.6bn payment due on June 30. The Greek government has already indicated it will not be able to make the payment, an option the IMF says is not acceptable.

The Greek government has several options. It may compromise with the European Union and the IMF and cut spending on social services as part of a wider austerity package. But according to the Greek government, the effects of such a move would be devastating. Equally important from their perspective, it would violate a central campaign promise made by the center-left government less than a year ago.

If no agreement can be reached by June 30, Greece could default on its loan payment. If Greece defaulted, it could be forced to exit the Eurozone. No country has ever left the Eurozone so it is unclear what that process would look like or who would be responsible for making that decision.

What do you think? Can Greece reach an agreement with the EU and the IMF to avoid default? What might that deal look like? Or is Greece better off defaulting on its loan payments? Why?

Is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Dead?

Congressional Democrats voted yesterday to deny the President fast-track trade authority and effectively ending hopes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be finalized. Democrats were upset that the President had failed to value relations with Congress and did not reach out to Congressional Democrats to bring them on board.

Congressional Democrats have long maintained that the free trade agreement would lead to American jobs being lost to overseas producers with lower wages and fewer protections for workers. Republicans failed to support the measure, leading to its defeat.

What do you think? Were Congressional Democrats right to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Are its critics correct in asserting that it would have led to a loss of American jobs? Or are its proponents correct to argue that free trade promotes prosperity? Do you support the TPP? Why?

The Resurgence of the Ukrainian Crisis

Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was on CNN yesterday and claimed that there were 10,000 Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil. As part of a plea to the West to help train and equip the Ukrainian military, he also suggested the Minsk Protocol was still viable. Negotiated in late 2014, the Minsk agreement included provisions establishing a ceasefire in Ukraine and mandated the withdrawal of heavy weapons and combat aircraft from  a “line of contact” crossing the eastern part of the country.

To date, the West has been hesitant to take a more proactive stance against Russia. At the G-7 summit over the weekend, US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement agreeing to leave economic sanctions against Russia in place until the Minsk Protocol was fully implemented. At the same time, Jeb Bush, a likely Republican candidate for the Presidency, issued a blistering statement in Germany yesterday, suggesting that President Obama’s permissive stance towards Russia precipitated the crisis in Ukraine, and demanding the United States take a more aggressive posture towards Russia.

What do you think? What factors are driving Russia’s intervention in Ukraine? Is Bush right? Should the United States take a more aggressive posture towards Russia? And if so, what exactly would that involve? What responsibility, if any, do the United States and the European Union have to address the resurgent crisis in Ukraine? Why?

Social Media and the New Frontiers of War

According to a press conference statement by US Air Force General Hawk Carlisle, a selfie posted to a social media sight by an ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) fighter led to a successful US airstrike against an ISIS command-and-control facility in Syria. The airstrike follows the announcement that between 10 and 13,000 ISIS fighters have been killed since US operations began, but that the overall strength of ISIS remained unaffected due to successful recruitment of new fighters by the organization.

ISIS has made effective use of social media to recruit new fighters, reaching a following of more than 200,000 through Twitter and other social media sites. But as the story suggests, the organization’s use of social media represents a double-edged sword, as it provides its opponents with intelligence regarding the organization’s operations and status.

What do you think? How has the use of social media affected the conduct of war in the 21st century? How will future conflicts (military, economic, or otherwise), look different as a result of social connectivity? How does the recent report of Chinese hacking into US federal employee databases fit into this context? And how should governments adapt to the new landscape?