Waking up to the new world order

Britain may still consider the US to be its closest ally, but it must look beyond old friends to new

Every foreign secretary quotes Lord Palmerston, who famously said we have no permanent allies and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests. But is it true? Today, we have permanent alliances. The US is the single most important bilateral relationship. We are committed members of the EU. We are proud of our role in the UN. These alliances are founded on shared values and embedded in shared institutions. The evolution in foreign policy is not in our values or alliances, but in changing circumstances and the changing distribution of power. This requires new thinking and new solutions.

Foreign policy has never been more integral to building success domestically. Our prosperity relies on a more open Britain - open to new investment and trade, to new people and ideas. Our security relies on tackling injustice at home and abroad, and co-operating with countries on terrorism, migration and organised crime. Our mission to empower citizens depends on global agreements and institutions to tackle glo bal problems alongside more local accountability for local issues. Foreign policy should be a force for good for Britain and in the world. The two are interconnected. But the new distribution of power requires a new diplomacy.

During most of the past century our security concerns were primarily about excessive and expansionist state power. Today, some of the greatest threats emerge in countries where state power is too weak, not too strong - in failing or fragile states. At the same time, we have seen the re-emergence of China, India and Russia. Within 20 years political, economic and military power may be more geographically dispersed than it has been since the decline of the Chinese empire in the 19th century.

Equally significant, however, is that the power to co-ordinate at scale is no longer dependent upon access to the hierarchies of bureaucra- cies; co-ordination can occur through networks. This can be seen in benign forms with Linux challenging Microsoft Windows, or political campaigns such as Make Poverty History, Stop Climate Chaos and MoveOn. The malign counterpart is the increasing capacity of extremists and terrorists to co-ordinate their activities without the vulnerability of a single point of control.

These shifts in power have implications for how we carry out foreign policy. Our influence in the world will depend on four key tools. The first is intellectual leadership - winning the battle of ideas. This means being clear about questions of principle: for example, rejecting the false charge that our foreign policy is targeted against any one set of people or countries. We are right, for instance, to argue for the urgency of a two-state solution in the Middle East. But we do so because it is right, not to placate al-Qaeda.

We also need to be clear about values. For example, the agreement at the world summit in 2005 on the "Responsibility to Protect" marked a vital new stage in the debate about the relationship between human rights and national sovereignty. And leadership means being clear about facts and evidence, such as the economic and national security implications of an unstable climate.

The second tool is influence within institutions and networks. Britain acting alone does not possess the power or legitimacy to effect change. Acting with others, we can make a difference. Bri tain must use its strength as a global hub, financially, culturally and politically.

Multilateral action is not a soft option. Just look at Afghanistan - a country that symbolises our dual goal of protecting our national security and promoting human rights. Our forces are deployed as part of a Nato operation, backed by a UN mandate. The military operation is backed by a comprehensive approach including EU and UN investment in development and humanitarian assistance.

Nor does multilateralism replace the need for bilateral relationships. In practice, multilateral action requires the participation of the major world powers. The US is our single most important bilateral partnership because of shared values but also because of political reality. The US is the world's largest economy. Engaged, whether on the Middle East peace process or climate change or international development, it has the greatest capacity to do good of any country in the world. That is why we welcome the commitment of President Bush to give priority to long-term political negotiation of a two-state solution side by side with short-term humanitarian support for the Palestinian government, led by President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.

Some people try to compare our relationship with the US with our position in the European Union. But the EU is not a bilateral relationship - we are members of the EU. That membership is an asset in economic terms, guaranteeing markets and setting standards. It is an asset in tackling crime. And it needs to be an asset in foreign policy, not substituting for nation states, but giving better expression to the common commitments of nation states. But the EU was founded to tackle a threat that no longer exists: conflict within western Europe. If it is to renew its mandate, it needs to find a new raison d'être, including, I believe, a focus on addressing climate change. Creating an Environmental Union is as big a challenge in the 21st century as peace in Europe was in the 1950s.

The third tool - incentives and sanctions - represents harder power. History suggests that the attraction of becoming members of "clubs" such as the EU, the WTO, or Nato is a powerful one.

The benefits of free trade or military protection are linked to states playing by the rules. I am a strong supporter of Turkish accession talks with the EU. The prospect of EU membership has built a bridge to Turkey. In recent years it has abolished the death penalty and improved the rights of women and minorities.

A balanced package of incentives and sanctions is also required to apply pressure to particular countries and regions. Iran has every right to be a secure, rich country, but it doesn't have a right to set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East or undermine the stability of its neighbours. That is why we are taking a dual-track approach. We are continuing to discuss further sanctions with the group of nations that comprise the E3+3, an international coalition brought together to address concerns about Iran's nuclear programme. In parallel, through the E3+3 process, we are offering a comprehensive package of incentives, including help with a civil nuclear power programme and measures to support Iran's access to international markets and capital.

There are times when incentives and sanctio ns will need to be combined with, or replaced by, a fourth tool: direct intervention.

Obligations to Iraq

It was right in Kosovo in 1999 to deal with the terrible ethnic cleansing going on there. Almost a decade later, it is right that the UN and African Union are working together to put a strengthened force into Darfur to protect vulnerable civilians there, and right, too, that under French leadership the EU is working on deploying a small military force along the Chad/Darfur border. In Iraq, the Prime Minister has made clear that we will fulfil our international obligations to the Iraqi people and we are determined to do so. As we take these propositions forward, we need to tap into the expertise and insight that lie in and beyond traditional diplomatic circles. That process begins this week in a conversation about how we do business.

First, priorities. Given the levers I have just described, where should the UK concentrate its global effort; where are we most needed and where can we most effect change? My starter for ten would be that if we are to succeed at anything we must succeed at tackling radicalisation and terrorism, building a European Union that is a force for good within its borders and outside, and shaping the global drive for the transition to low-carbon prosperity.

Second, co-operation across UK government. The Foreign Office is a unique global asset. But diplomacy has to be allied to other assets across government: aid, trade, financial institutions and military intervention. How can we improve co-ordination across the FO and other departments on particular countries and challenges?

Third, how can we engage beyond Whitehall, with faith groups, NGOs, business and univer sities? The new diplomacy is public as well as private, mass as well as elite, real-time as well as deliberative. And that needs to be reflected in the way we do our business.

Those of us committed to engaging with the world face profound questions. We confront scepticism and fatalism. John F Kennedy got this right. He said foreign policy should be based on "idealism without illusions". I am under no illusion as to the challenges and the difficulties. But the idealism is there - above all about Britain's ability to be a global hub for discussion and decision-making about the great economic, social and political questions we face.

David Miliband MP is Foreign Secretary

David Miliband is the  President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee
He was foreign secretary from 2007 until 2010 and MP for South Shields from 2001 until this year. 

This article first appeared in the 23 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Pink Planet

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Inside the minds of the Isis murderers

As pressure on the terror group who claimed responsiblity for the Manchester attack intensifies, the threat to Britain will only become more acute.

The police and security services had consistently warned that a significant terrorist attack in Britain was inevitable. Yet no warning could have prepared us for the horror of the suicide attack on the Manchester Arena on Monday night. Twenty-two people were killed and at least 60 were wounded as they were leaving a concert by Ariana Grande in what was the most deadly attack in Britain since the London bombings of 7 July 2005, in which 56 people died.

Like the London bombers, the Manchester suicide attacker, Salman Ramadan Abedi, was British. He was 22, lived in Manchester and studied business management at Salford University before dropping out. He worshipped at Didsbury Mosque. The son of Libyans, Abedi is said to have returned recently from a visit to the North African country, where Islamic State has a foothold.

Ariana Grande is a former children’s TV star who made her name on channels such as Nickelodeon. Her fan base is overwhelmingly young and female, and many of those killed or wounded were children, including Saffie Rose Roussos, an eight-year-old girl from Leyland, Lancashire.

Islamic State inevitably claimed responsibility for the massacre, dismissing the victims as “crusaders”, “polytheists” and “worshippers of the cross”. This is not the first time Islamist terrorists have targeted children.

A Chechen jihadist group calling itself ­Riyad-us Saliheen (meaning “Gardens of the Righteous”) took more than 1,100 hostages, including 777 children, in a school siege in Beslan, Russia, in September 2004. In the event, more than 330 were massacred, including 186 children. Gunmen from the Pakistani Taliban also stormed a school in 2014, killing 148.

For terrorist actors, these are neither whimsical nor irrational acts. Contemporary jihadist movements have curated a broad and expansive intellectual ecosystem that rationalises and directs their actions. What they want is to create an asymmetry of fear by employing indiscriminate barbarism to intimidate and subdue their opponents into submission.

We have grown accustomed to a wave of terrorist attacks being carried out in the name of the self-styled Islamic State ever since the group’s official spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani began prioritising them in 2014. (He was killed in an American air strike on Aleppo province in Syria in August last year.)

The US-led coalition against Islamic State has weakened the terror group in its former strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. In response, IS has been forced to concentrate more on what it calls “external operations” – by which it means inspiring its sympathisers and operatives to carry out attacks on Western countries. Indeed, al-Adnani encouraged the group’s supporters not to migrate towards IS-held territory but rather to focus their efforts on attacks in their home countries.

“The tiniest action you do in the heart of their [Western] land is dearer to us than the biggest action by us,” he said in an audio statement released last year. “There are no innocents in the heart of the lands of the crusaders.”

Islamic State refers to its strategy as “just terror”. Its framing places culpability for attacks on Western states on these nations themselves by claiming that IS actions are a response to aggression or assault. That much has been outlined in the group’s literature. “When will the crusaders end their hostilities towards Islam and the Muslims? . . . When will they recognise that the solution to their pathetic turmoil is right before their blinded eyes?” the militants ask in the IS magazine Dabiq. “Until then, the just terror will continue to strike them to the core of their deadened hearts.”

IS offered a rationale of this sort as justification for its bombing of a Russian commercial aircraft – Metrojet Flight 9268, travelling from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt to St Petersburg. That attack in October 2015 killed 224. Similar reasoning was offered for the attacks in Paris the following month in which 137 people were killed, in a series of co-ordinated, commando-style gun and bomb outrages across the city.

“Revenge was exacted upon those who felt safe,” IS declared in Dabiq. “Let the world know that we are living today in a new era. Whoever was heedless must now be alert. Whoever was sleeping must now awaken . . . The [caliphate] will take revenge for any aggression against its religion and people, sooner rather than later. Let the ­arrogant know that the skies and the lands are Allah’s.”

***

Through my academic research at King’s College London, I have ­interviewed scores of Westerners who became foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq to quiz them about their motives. Last year, one man from High Wycombe who had joined IS told me that it wanted to attack British targets in response to the vote in the House of Commons to extend British air strikes against IS targets to include sites in Syria (the British had only been targeting the group in Iraq until that point). “Do they [the British government] expect us to sit back and do nothing? ­Idiots,” he said.

In this respect, IS frames its attacks as acts of “revenge” and predicates its response on the Islamic principle of qisas, which is comparable to lex talionis or the doctrine of “an eye for an eye”. Qisas was always intended to be a tool of private redress for an individual or his/her family to seek justice in matters relating to bodily harm. Typically, it relates to cases of murder and manslaughter, or acts involving physical mutilation (say, leading to loss of limbs). The principle creates a framework for retributive justice.

The contemporary Salafi-jihadi movement has adopted a particularly innovative approach to the concept of qisas in two ways. First, groups such as IS have taken the idea and construed it in a way that justifies indiscriminate terrorism, such as the attack in Manchester. They argue that qisas has a political dimension and that it can be applied to international affairs in a way that holds civilians responsible for the perceived crimes of their governments.

Second, qisas is normally applied only in cases where the aggressor is known. IS, by contrast, holds every citizen-stranger of an enemy state responsible for the actions of his or her government. Thus, when it released its statement claiming responsibility for the Manchester attack, it said that it had struck against a “gathering of the crusaders . . . in response to their transgressions against the lands of the Muslims”.

It is this militaristic construction of qisas that allows IS to rationalise the bombing of a venue where large numbers of young girls had gathered to watch a pop concert, dismissing them as “crusaders”.

This is not new. In 1997, Osama Bin Laden told CBS News that “all Americans are our enemies, not just the ones who fight us directly, but also the ones who pay their ­taxes”. His rationale was that all Americans, by virtue of citizenship alone, are vicariously liable for the actions of their government.

Just a few years later, Bin Laden used the same idea to justify the 11 September 2001 attacks and also invoked it in reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The blood pouring out of Palestine must be equally revenged,” he wrote. “You must know that the Palestinians do not cry alone; their women are not widowed alone; their sons are not orphaned alone.”

IS used the concept most dramatically in January 2015, when it burned alive a Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot, Muath al-Kasasbeh, whose plane had crashed in its territory. A video of the killing was circulated on the internet and social media. The group claimed his bombing raids had killed civilians and that it wanted to punish him with “equal retaliation”, in keeping with qisas.

What is well known about al-Kasasbeh’s murder is that he was burned alive inside a cage – but that is not the whole story. To understand how IS tethered this to the principle of qisas, it is the end of the gruesome video that is invested with most significance. After al-Kasasbeh has died, a truck emerges and dumps rubble over the cage. It was claimed this was debris from a site he had bombed, thus completing the “equal retaliation” of returning like for like. The idea was that IS had retaliated using the two principal forms in which a missile attack kills – by fire or debris.

***

The Manchester attack came on the fourth anniversary of the brutal murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south London. Rigby was killed by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale in the middle of the afternoon on a street outside a military barracks. That attack was in keeping with a pattern we have become increasingly accustomed to in Europe: an unsophisticated plot that employs ordinary, everyday items – a car, say, or a knife.

The consequences of such attacks have been seen across Europe, most notably in Nice on 14 July 2016, when 86 people were killed during Bastille Day celebrations after a jihadist drove a truck into crowds on the promenade. Similar attacks followed in Berlin, Westminster and Stockholm.

The security services find that these murderous attacks are extremely hard to disrupt because they typically involve lone actors who can mobilise quickly and with discretion. The Manchester attack was different. Explosives were used, which means the plot was inherently more sophisticated, requiring careful planning and preparation.

We know that two of the 7/7 bombers had previously trained in Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions, where they honed their skills. In other plots, such as the connected attacks in London and Glasgow Airport of 2007, the explosive devices failed mainly because the bomb-makers had found it difficult to travel abroad and develop their skills in safe environments. Whatever Abedi’s connections, the long war in Syria and Iraq has once again created a permissive environment for terrorist training and attack planning.

The devastating impact of this has already been felt across Europe. Since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, more than 800 Britons are believed to have travelled there to fight. From Europe as a whole, the figure is over 5,000, of which a significant number are believed to have joined IS. Of the British contingent, the security services estimate that about half have returned or become disengaged from the conflict. Of those who remained, a hundred are believed to be active, the rest having been killed.

It is improbable that Abedi acted alone in Manchester or that this plot had no international component. Indeed, he was already known to the authorities (and had returned recently from Libya). As pressure on IS intensifies across Syria and Iraq, the threat to Britain will only become more acute as the group’s sympathisers prepare for what they consider to be a fightback.

This speaks to the scale of the threat facing Britain, and Europe more generally. Our police and security services have been stretched and continuously tested in recent years. Just recently, in March, the Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Mark Rowley told Radio 4’s Today programme that 13 plots had been thwarted since Lee Rigby’s murder in 2013. Put another way, the police have disrupted terrorist plots every four months for the past four years.

Naturally, Islamic State is not the only threat. On 13 May, one of Osama Bin Laden’s sons, Hamza, released a video, titled “Advice for martyrdom-seekers in the West”, on behalf of al-Qaeda. Hamza, 27, who was his father’s favoured successor to lead the group, called on its supporters to concentrate on attacks in the West rather than migrating to conflict zones in the Middle East and beyond. Scenes of previous ­terrorist attacks in Britain played throughout the video.

The central leadership of al-Qaeda is increasingly looking for opportunities to reassert itself after being eclipsed by Islamic State and losing control of its affiliates in Syria. It needs attacks and a cause in the West with which to revive itself. Hamza therefore cited the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris as a critical example, calling for the assassination of anyone deemed to have “insulted” Islam.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was especially important for al-Qaeda because it enabled the group to transcend the fratricidal conflicts that frequently define relations between the various jihadist groups. In Syria, for instance, al-Qaeda’s affiliates (when it had better control over them) and Islamic State have been in open war with each other.

Yet, the Charlie Hebdo attack brought warm praise from the group’s Islamist rivals because none of them wanted to appear ­unsupportive of an atrocity that had, as the terrorists proclaimed, “avenged” the Prophet Muhammad’s honour.

The British man from High Wycombe who joined IS told me the group had welcomed the attack for precisely those reasons. It was something that, in his view, had confirmed the “nobility” of the attackers, even if they had not been members of IS.

Is it too late for the West to save itself, I asked him. What if the West simply accepted all of Islamic State’s demands: would that provide respite?

The answer was as emphatic as it was stark: “We primarily fight wars due to ppl [sic] being disbelievers. Their drones against us are a secondary issue.”

He went on: “Their kufr [disbelief] against Allah is sufficient of a reason for us to invade and kill them. Only if they stop their kufr will they no longer be a target.”

In other words, we are all guilty, and we are all legitimate targets.

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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