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Any Decision on ISIS Is Too Little Too Late

By Maria Dubovikova

8 July 2015

Estimations of the size of the ISIS army differs from 20,000 to 200,000 militants. What is clear is that the recruitment drive is intensifying. Recruiters fuel the ISIS forces coming both from the territories taken by ISIS and the web it effectively uses as its soft power.

ISIS–held territory is rich in natural recourses and the negligence of some players provides them with the financial capital needed to make their system function and to guarantee its relatively stable existence.

The recent trends show that ISIS recruitment doesn’t only seek to make people come to the territories of the self-proclaimed Caliphate, but to make each recruiter a terrorist cell himself: its leader, member and soldier.

There is no more need for sophisticated, expensive terrorist plans. After the Arab Spring, the Libyan collapse and the devastating consequences of the Syrian civil war and the Iraqi collapse, access to weapons that flooded the region became an easy matter.

Luring In Vulnerable Minds

The over-simplified scheme of luring in vulnerable minds with false religious promises is still being practiced in such places as Tunisia. For the most part, ISIS members are far from representatives of the prosperous, successful and well-educated circles of society. They emerge mostly from the most socially risky underprivileged classes, who have a limited future in the societies to which they belong, or just have a strong feeling of the unfairness of the world and system they live in. Some people are joining ISIS to achieve Paradise, some for money, some for equity that the supposed Islamic State also promises. So, ISIS has the most dangerous army, full of blind and thoughtless people with already washed out brains and a strong feeling of resentment and the will to fight for their miserable state.

Thus there are many scenarios of ISIS’ survival as a state or state-like structure and one can only guess at when it will collapse. And even its collapse also promises nothing good to the international community. Thus, both options have negative elements, one more than the other, either ISIS will stay or ISIS will fall.

On the one hand we have the most probable development of the situation, in which ISIS will stay and all the current effort of the international community will collapse as it is ineffective and out-of-date in the face of the new challenges.

Tough Realism

ISIS will stay as a state or a state-like structure at least at the territories it is occupying now. Only tough realism in the internal decision-making process and replacing rose-tinted idealism and liberalism can stop the global spread of ISIS. However, it will damage the foundation of civilized Western societies. Direct action should replace everlasting talks. This should include action on the enormous illegal migration flows in the Mediterranean – the problem that has a direct impact on ISIS’ spread and security, as according to the EU officials the Migrant boats crossing the Mediterranean and carrying the migrants looking for exile also bring ISIS fighters to European shores. That is why this problem needs strong and fast measures instead of the long unproductive debates that are taking place now.

But it is unlikely that the developed world will succeed in even stopping the spread of ISIS, especially in minds of people. For this we need not only to counter propaganda, but the severe restrictive measures at home, especially in the media freedom sphere. Moreover the totality of the problems started from the illegal immigration from hot spots in the Middle East; accommodation and society integration policies in Western countries create dangerous preconditions for the uncontrolled spread of extremism of all kinds. The rest of the world, and primarily the Middle Eastern countries, are also at a high risk of facing ISIS, primarily through the inevitable attacks of its individual recruiters.

The opposite of all this is if ISIS was to collapse. But if this happens, it will come from the inside only. The factors that can precondition its collapse are disillusionment of the people, a fight for power inside its system, the extreme unstoppable violence, witch-hunts and massive killing sprees of the supposed traitors. What is more, ISIS can be blown up by the international community from the inside, not from the outside. What would have the strongest impact on ISIS, pushing it to its destruction, is a cutting off of its financial flows, as money remains one of the fundamental reasons behind its attractiveness. The problem is that money rules and the needed measures to dry the financial resources of ISIS won’t be taken. Ideologically subversive activities would have a strong impact also, but can hardly be performed.

Idea of the Caliphate

But even if we suppose that ISIS will collapse, the idea of the Caliphate won’t disappear. It will stay and will continue to threaten stability and the future of the region and of the world, especially in the case of the continuing creation of an unfavourable climate and attitude towards the West among the Muslim communities all over the world. Moreover, ISIS’ collapse will lead to the return of ISIS foreign fighters back to their homelands, bringing the extremist ideas with them.

What we have to accept for now is that ISIS exists and will exist. In the near future, the headlines of media agencies will be hit by reportages about the new attacks on tourists in the popular resorts in the Middle East with pointed attacks in the European land mass and Middle Eastern countries becoming more and more frequent, cruel and bloody. We should be ready to witness the new destruction of the World Heritage monuments, to witness and to “thank” world leaders for making all this nightmare possible through their lack of will and their inability to act in time. The time for taking sound decisions has passed.

Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy.