The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is an exogenous player in the international system that shakes the whole world. Terrorism, as a phenomenon is not new at all, but for the first time in the history of mankind it poses a true, tangible, global and even geopolitical threat much more evident and notable than that of al-Qaeda.
ISIS is more than just a terrorist organization with a nebulous structure and numerous cells abroad. It is an army without a state, but is willing to build one. ISIS is a terrorist army and this sounds somehow new, doesn’t it? The war we are facing now is a total one judging by its goals, as among the ISIS targets there are civilians. What is more dangerous is that by its character ISIS’s war on the international community is a guerilla, subversive and terrorist war.
The war started by ISIS is an unrestricted war. As two People’s Liberation Army senior Colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, in their book of the same name once formulated, unrestricted warfare “is a warfare, which transcends all boundaries and limits.” That ISIS could strike the West on its territory is simply a matter of time. In unrestricted warfare, “there are no rules, with nothing forbidden.” That’s exactly what the ISIS demonstrates every day.
Instability in Iraq and the civil war in Syria became the catalyst for jihadism and a magnet for extremists from all over the worldMaria Doubovikova
There is a concrete battlefield and even a frontline and territory under ISIS’s control, the contours of which we can put down on a map. However, the potential battlefield stretches across the world and there is no frontline and no ideas about where the next blow could possibly be delivered.
Is ISIS unmanageable?
The methods used by ISIS and forms of its warfare make it complex and practically unmanageable, meaning that a truly multidimensional approach is needed to fight it. While the international community is pursuing it, the ISIS threat acquires more and more facets. Its ideology and the will to build an Islamic state stipulate for the widening of their warzone and the opening of new fronts. North Africa, primarily Libya, is threatened, as is the Caucasus region.
Tarkhan Batirashvili, commonly known by his nom de guerre Omar al-Shishani (Omar the Chechen), is one of the ISIS commanders threatening to start a war on Russia. The target is the same – the Caucasus region. It is not the first threat. Earlier this autumn, on September 2, ISIS fighters sent a message to Vladimir Putin promising that ISIS will liberate Chechnya and all the Caucasus. Now, Omar al-Shishani is repeating practically the same threats. He claims that thousands of followers will come with him. It seems he is talking about ISIS opening a new front, a front within Russia’s borders.
It should be reminded that since the USSR’s collapse there were several conflicts in the Caucasus region with Russia’s involvement, twice on its territory proper. Recently, there was the Russo-Georgian War, and earlier there were two Chechen wars. After the first one there was a period of uncontrolled extremist growth that finally resulted in a series of bloody terrorist attacks followed by the second Chechen war. Almost ten years was spent on bringing relative piece to the region. From time to time, anti-terrorist operations are launched in the neighboring republics - Dagestan or Kabardino-Balkaria Republic for example. The region stays, however, relatively stable due to the titanic efforts of the central government’s forces, security services and republicans’ rational management.
Instability in Iraq and the civil war in Syria became the catalyst for jihadism and the magnet for extremists from all over the world. Dispersed, they pose much less of a problem and threat than united under a single command, ideology and flag.
According to reports, thousands of Chechens are fighting in ISIS’s ranks, although no official estimate has been provided. One major problem, stressed by many experts, are militants from the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, who played a role in the first Chechen war. It could be that the group has become a portal for Caucasus jihadist to travel to the Middle East and back.
Such a movement of extremists would almost certainly take place if ISIS were to lose ground due to the international community’s strikes or if the progress of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is impressive and it gains new territories and cities in need of consolidation. The flow in both cases would be remarkable and Russia’s special services, along with regional, republican forces would have to work truly hard not let them realize their plan.
However, despite the mostly positive perception of the situation’s development for Russia, a country used to living under the threat of terrorism, there is still a great risk of a negative scenario materializing. ISIS is not just a terrorist organization, its capacities impress. Their methods know no restriction and are dangerous and unpredictable. Taking into account the possible bioterrorism threat from ISIS, the prospects could be even more devastating. One thing is clear, a stable Russia and a stable Caucasus region are needed elements of the international system. This is a matter not only for Russia, but also for Caucasus republics, such as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The world is on the brink of a third world war but no one has mentioned it and no one wants to. The day the international community realizes this, it could already be too late.
Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme