Are we looking at a new Thirty Year War?
instead of the “old” Thirty Years War mostly confined to Europe, the “new” Thirty Years War will be globa
The Thirty Years' War was fought from 1618 until 1648 between Protestants and Catholics and political struggles between the Holy Roman Empire and other powers. It ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The rivalry and destruction brought famine and economic hardship to all of Europe. Some pundits are arguing that MENA may be entering a period of long-term instability with no end in sight. The expansion of the Islamic State, the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli violence, and the arc of instability across Africa may see several decades of upheaval and change. Are we in the beginning of such a period of time? The answer is yes.
The key to the issue of a new Thirty Year War – from 2014 to 2044 – is searching for the common denominators. Clearly religion, terrorism, and proto-state formation are the greatest factors. Quite recently, the Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia declared Benghazi an “Islamic Emirate” after claiming to have taken total control of Libya's second largest city, seizing military barracks with rockets and ammunition. The official spokesperson of the extremist group told local Radio Tawhid that “Benghazi has now become an Islamic emirate.” The announcement makes for the creation of yet another Islamic state-let in the MENA region including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Jabhat al-Nusra intends to form an Emirate in Syria in the near future. Of course, there have been other Islamic Emirates announced in the past notably in Afghanistan, Egypt, Gaza, and Iraq before the Arab Spring. But there seems to be a new urgency—and opportunity—to create these alternative state-lets.
The emergence of Emirates based on Salafist-Jihadist thought is a troubling development. Although these emirates illustrate the collapse of governance across a broad expanse of territory, endangering lives, creating chaos, and forcing the evacuation, deportation, arrest, and even execution of those not “inclusive” of the new “regime”. There is also other attributes at play: the mosaic of ethnicity, tribes, religion, and secularism that are at war with each other on multiple levels that allows Salafi-Jihadists to come to power. According to an Arab official, these Emirates are an alternative state structure that excludes everyone but the pious. But there are other more subtle attributes that make these states—Emirates—more dangerous for the entire region.
Salifist-Jihadist Emirates are the wave of the future in the turbulent areas of the MENA region. The events in Libya, specifically in Benghazi, are the most recent manifestation of an Emirate experiment and it is important to connect the dots on Emirates formation. Of course, some may question the creation of the Islamic State as part of this effort. The announcement of the Islamic State by “Caliph Ibrahim” on the first day of the Holy Month of Ramadan this year is not related to the events in Libya directly but is instead part of the evolution of the Jihadi-Salafist universe that are recognizing that now is the time to announce proto-states. These proto-states build alternative government structures and are attractive recruitment tools across the region and beyond because they offer “a new vision”. Such emirates could erupt on the Sinai Peninsula and in Houthi controlled areas of Yemen in the coming year or two.
Surrounded by threats
The ongoing warfare between Hamas and Israel may ebb and flow but there continues to be major trouble on the horizon. Israel’s ongoing Gaza operation means that Israel is now completely surrounded by threats. Not only will Islamic Jihad, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Popular Resistance Committees, and the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades not give up, but they will continue to attempt to kill as many IDF personnel as possible through terrorism. To the north, east, and south, Hezbollah, the Islamic State, and al-Qaeda affiliates are all threatening to Israel—mostly in terms of separate agendas. This threat to Israel not only takes the shape of Hezbollah-backed, Iranian Quds, Syrian troops but also the Islamic State and the groups attempts to penetrate Jordan. While ISIS tried once already to enter Jordan, there will likely be future attempts that will be used to draw the Israelis into Jordan as well as the United States due to existing security agreements between Amman, Tel Aviv, and Washington, D.C. The result may be an unholy mess, one where the IDF will not want to be engaging enemies on all fronts—and a threat that seems to have no end in any reasonable amount of time.
Across Northern Africa, is an arc of instability rising where religion and insurgency plays a major, seemingly unstoppable role. The nexus of piracy, terrorism, drugs, and transnational crime are turning the entire northern part of the continent—including the Sahel and the Maghreb, into a wide arena of instability. Terrorist groups and trans-regional criminal organizations are benefiting from the remnants of the pirate economic model from ransom to illegal trade to launch attacks against governments and civilians thereby hurting state stability in a number of different countries from Kenya, Nigeria, Yemen and North Africa. In the Horn of Africa, Al-Shabaab continues to enjoy the freedom to organize, train and access logistics, including weapons and munitions, attacking at will both soft and hard targets in Somalia and Kenya. Weapons supplies for Al-Shabaab are increasingly coming from Yemen and Libya where arms and ammunition transit due to weak border controls and internal upheaval. In addition, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is considerably different than piracy off the coast of Somalia where more states are under severe duress.
Poor governance in Nigeria has produced insurgent-like activities, which have in turn produced piracy including groups such as Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPV), Boko Haram, Ansaru, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Transnational organized criminal networks seize on this chain of instability for political and economic gain and spread their operations throughout West Africa. When combined with the upheaval of the Levant, then it is clear that that there is a wide arena of grievances that will afflict the region for years and perhaps decades to come.
Overall, the pieces are all in place for a new Thirty Year War. The groups operating from Mali to Iraq are slowly turning into one overarching network of communication, duplication of objectives, subverting economies and governments, and rallying portions of the trans-regional populations—specifically youth-- to turn against their elected leaders, regimes, and clergy. The fighters who are in today’s killing fields will be tomorrow’s leaders of radical, violent groups who share one goal in common: State meltdown. State meltdown will continue to be a phenomenon for the foreseeable future unless there are strong, robust efforts to fix these problems now before the next five years elapse or the following 25 years will be extremely traumatic for the entire world economy and supply chain networks. So instead of the “old” Thirty Years War mostly confined to Europe, the “new” Thirty Years War will be global. The contingencies for such a new war need to be planned now.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.