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Ukraine

Russia Invaded Ukraine: What Happens Next?

Russia invaded Ukraine after months of military build-up near the border and failed diplomatic talks with the West. “I have made the decision of a military operation,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin in a statement on live news announcing a full military operation (by land, air, and sea) with the purpose of “demilitarisation and denazification” Ukraine but not “occupy” the country.

On the 24th of February 2022 at roughly 9:30 p.m. ET (4:30 a.m. in Ukraine), Russian troops began their military operations in eastern Ukraine. Heavy fighting is taking place on the border and Ukraine cut off all diplomatic ties to Russia, urging people to take up their arms.

Why an invasion

By invading Ukraine, Russia makes a statement against the United States and its allies to back off from Russia’s doorsteps while showing off their military power to change the world order. Russia has long confronted the Western military alliance with Ukraine, particularly Ukraine’s invitation to join NATO. Russia is afraid of NATO expansion further to the east and does not want its neighbor Ukraine to join this alliance that was set up in 1949 to counterbalance the Soviet Union. Tensions have been rising between the parties before.

In 2014 Russia annexed Crimea. In his speech, Putin mentions that NATO repeatedly ignored Russia’s demands of an equal power balance in Europe. Thus, by attacking Ukraine, Putin puts Russia back on the map as a powerful country that can and will do what it wants when it is not heard.

He further mentioned that any intervention from outside powers (by which the West is meant) to hinder Russia would be met by an immediate response and severe consequences. It also seems that Russia intends to emphasize that the West has made more mistakes in the past. Putin referred to the US and allies attack or “invasion” of Libya, Syria, and the invasion of Iraq. Again, this shows Putin is justifying his military invasion of Ukraine. His argument is: what you can do, we can do too.

Responses from the West

As the US and allies prepare to respond to the Russian military invasion, financial sanctions remain a vital option to avoid further military escalations. For President Biden, it’s going to be a tough sell to the American people given the fact that Americans are burned out of the longest US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the American values and democracy will be on top of Presidents Biden’s agenda, a direct military engagement is not an option as that will lead ultimately lead to catastrophic consequences and possible World War III which will be the end of many of us with existing of nuclear nukes compared WW II.

Since Ukraine is not a member of the alliance, article 5 of the NATO Treaty states that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on the entire alliance. Article 4 of NATO discusses that “the parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened.” This article entails consultations between member states to reach an agreement and take action.

From a NATO standpoint, they cannot declare war, but allies can impose heavy economic sanctions to degrade Russia’s economy with intentions to decrease their military aggression. The United States and the European Union already announced these sanctions, restricting Russia’s access to certain financial accounts, the EU’s capital, and financial markets. However, these sanctions on Russia could also backfire, as the country is one of the main suppliers of the region’s gas. The prices of gas already went high in Europe – one direct impact of the war and the sanctions.

Prospects

It remains to be seen what will happen in the upcoming days. Until Putin’s demands are heard, he will continue to put pressure on the West by increasing military aggression in Ukraine.

History has shown many scenarios could unfold (for instance the implementation of UN safe zones and the break-up of Ukraine). In any case, it is important to not forget the humanitarian side of the conflict: The conflict will prompt Ukrainians to flee, could cause the displacement of millions of Ukrainians, and can lead to many civilian casualties. 


Vibeke Gootzen is a Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow at Rise to Peace

Ahmad Shah Mohibi is the founder of Rise to Peace

Afghan evacuees

Afghan evacuees in UAE still wait to be resettled in US

Tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees at Emirates Humanitarian City (EHC) and the Tasameem Workers City (TWC) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), seeking answers from U.S. Government (USG) while in limbo.

Following the August 2021 collapse of the Afghanistan government and subsequent takeover by the Taliban, the U.S. military evacuated over 100,000 people from Afghanistan during the largest noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO) airlift in history. While tens of thousands of these evacuees were brought into the U.S., others are still in limbo in third countries.

During the NEO operation, the United Arab Emirates agreed to temporarily house an estimated “5000” evacuees in their Emirates Humanitarian City refugee camp while the U.S. could process their immigration cases. The USG evacuation was operating normally with 2-3 chartered flights from the UAE to the U.S. until November 07, 2021 where flights suspended. 

On February 09, 2021, evacuees protested “demanding” answers from the U.S. government which resulted in mass media coverage and eventually grabbed the attention of the US government officials. On February 15, 20 representatives of evacuees (10 women and 10 men) held a meeting with the U.S. State Department and UAE officials, it was announced that the evacuees had agreed to temporarily end their demonstrations to allow their cases to be processed.

Unlike other Afghan refugee camps in Ramstein Air Base in Germany and US army base in Qatar where evacuees have had relatively quick entry processes into the U.S., these individuals live in a state of fear and uncertainty as to their futures.

Evacuees have criticized the insufficient amount of personnel at the site to process and transfer them out of the camp. Additionally, individuals report that when they seek answers from U.S. Embassy staff about their transfer status, they are told a generic answer that lacks clarity. 

This is not the first time Afghan evacuees have protested for U.S. resettlement. In November 2021, Rise to Peace reported an estimated 9,000 Afghan refugees were being housed in Abu Dhabi at the Emirates Humanitarian City refugee camp and demanding answers to their entry status.

Six later, these refugees, including many families, still do not see a clear future ahead of them. Their path to placement in the U.S. is ambiguous and they remain in bleak circumstances within the refugee camp. Some living in the camp have described conditions to be “prison-like”.

Beginning February 9, 2022, refugees in the facility began demonstrations, demanding transparency on their resettlement status. Photos are circling the internet of young children within the camp holding signs that read, “Move Us To The United States As Soon As Possible” and “I Don’t Want To Be Here For More Time”.

Many of these children have gone without any kind of education for the past six months, simply receiving the bare necessities while awaiting resettlement. After initially hoping for speedy entry into a new home country, many families worry for their children’s development. Additionally, there are widespread concerns about the mental health of those being housed in the camps.

One of the loudest concerns from the evacuees at the Emirates Humanitarian City is the uncertainty of when they will be processed and brought to the United States, most notably for those who have valid documents or family sponsorship. Many say they were working with U.S. diplomats and military before the Afghan government collapsed and now feel abandoned in their time of need.


Brynn Larimer, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Ahmad Shah Mohibi, Founder of Rise to Peace Twitter: @ahmadsmohibi

Child Terrorism

An Overview of Child Terrorism in Syria

One crisis plaguing Syria is the issue and threat of child terrorism. Child terrorism is a reality many Syrian children must face by being born into a war-torn country. No human being is safe, no future is guaranteed, no child can live unscathed. Measures and organized efforts are flourishing and need to be supported and expanded internationally to address and combat child terrorism.

Child Terrorism and Children’s Rights

Terrorist groups are doing their best to teach children that America’s war on terrorism is an act of aggression. Children are particularly vulnerable to military conscription because they are easily manipulated and subjected to violence.

The Syrian Human Rights Network (SNHR) released its 10th annual report on the violation of the rights against Syrian children. According to a report, at least 29,661 children have been killed in Syria, and 5,036 children have been arrested or disappeared.

The Action Plan

U.S. relations with Syria began in 1944 and have since resulted in a long road of support and diplomatic correspondence. Syria has been included on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism since its creation in 1979 due to its continued support of terrorism and terrorist groups, and its pursuit of weapons, missile programs and weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, Syria has continued its efforts to use and develop chemical weapons. Finally, Syria has continuously attempted to undermine U.S. and international efforts to stabilize Iraq and Syria.

Syria is exposed to legal sanctions, including export sanctions under the Syrian Liability Law, and are not eligible to support the U.S. or purchase U.S. military equipment. Following the outbreak of conflict in Syria in March 2011, a follow-up decree was issued against continued violence and human rights violations in Syria.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) signed an Action Plan with the United Nations to prevent the recruitment or use of children under the age of 18. Through the Action Plan, “the SDF commits to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children, identify and separate boys and girls currently within its ranks, and put in place preventative, protection and disciplinary measures related to child recruitment.”

Ultimately, the United Nations dedicates an office to gathering information and reports on how and where children are affected by armed conflict. Additionally, the United Nations has identified six severe violations against children which include, “the recruitment and use of children; the killing and maiming of children; rape and other forms of sexual violence; abduction of children; attack on schools and hospitals; and the denial of humanitarian access.”

The New Child Rights Law

On August 15, 2021 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad introduced a new law, known as Law No. 21, which prohibits the trafficking of children, including child soldiers in Syria. Many organizations recruit children, including the Syrian government.

While the law appears to be an important step in the right direction, many groups, such as the Syrian Center for Accountability and Justice, are skeptical of the law’s actual ability to end the use of child soldiers by militants.

This new law was a crucial win for Syrian children that have been used as a tool and helping them avoid such dark and traumatizing experiences.

Outcomes

An urgent need for an effective solution to the root of the problem of child soldiers must be found. UNICEF is helping approximately 8,700 children released from military service around the world. These rehabilitation and poverty alleviation efforts enable the proper healing of trauma. UNICEF also provides special support to Syrian children through health care, education, and improved living conditions.

Overall, the Action Plan between Syria and the United Nations, as well as the new legislation for the prohibition of child trafficking are a few organized steps that will hopefully make a difference. A global effort is needed to establish peace in a war-torn country that has suffered a myriad of wounds for many years, and ultimately stop its use of child soldiers.

 

Katerina Rebecca Paraskeva, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Syria

An Update on Syria: The Execution of an ISIS Leader and Prison Attacks

In recent news, U.S. efforts against the leader of ISIS, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, resulted in his death via airstrike and was recently reported by the Head of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism. Despite the death of the ISIS leader, the international community must remember the show of strength ISIL displayed this past January in north-east Syria when they attacked a prison.

The Attack and Collateral Damages 

ISIL’s prison attack occurred on January 20, 2022, lasting for a few days and greatly impacting Syria. The attack attempted to release fighters from al-Hasaka prison, highlighting the need to swiftly bring them to trial and hold ISIL fighters accountable. Ultimately, while the military is an effective tool to combat terrorism, it alone is not sufficient to address all of terrorism’s intricate facets.

Specifically, an example of immediate action stems from ISIS fighters attacking a Syrian prison, which housed some 3,000  fighters and 700 children. While this event was foreseeable, due to the nature of the target, attacks such as this can be minimized through urgent action amongst the entire international community to combat those suspected of being associated with extremist groups in Syria’s prisons and camps.  Deputy Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov told the UN Security Council that the Islamic State group “emphasized and called for a break in prisons.”

The Result of an Overnight Raid

On early Thursday morning, February 3rd, U.S. President Biden said the ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, was killed in an airstrike conducted by U.S. Special Forces in northwest Syria, killing at least 13 people in the raid. President Biden addressed the use of special forces to attack the ISIS leader, stating that the choice was a tactical decision to minimize civilian casualties, despite a greater risk to U.S. troops.

However, initial reports indicate that al-Quraish installed an explosive device in his apartment on the third floor of the building, which killing several people, according to President Biden and Pentagon officials.

While speaking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, President Biden explained the story of the ISIS leader, saying that he had ordered a series of atrocities involving the Yezidi. “Thanks to the courage of our soldiers, this terrible terrorist leader no longer exists,” President Biden stated.

Overall, al-Quraish did not initially appear to be a major problem. Intelligence officials spotted him sometime last year while tracking a package in Syria. However, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in the midst of locating al-Quraish did not appear to be a major problem.

Current Situation and Outcomes

Undersecretary-General Voronkov of the U.N. Security Council urges states to repatriate suspected ISIS fighters and their families from prisons and concentration camps in northeastern Syria. “The repatriation of third country nationals from Syria and Iraq remains a major priority for the United Nations and we stand ready as a reliable partner to member states in responding to these challenges,” Voronkov said.

Although the United Nations has made tremendous progress against ISIS, the group continues to pose threats, so the United Nations must remain vigilant and active.

U.S. Forces are stationed in Syria as part of the United Nations, however, all countries must work with them in the fight against ISIS. In particular, countries should also support the United Nations Global Framework for Refugee Assistance in Syria and Iraq, which was launched in 2021.

While the Russian Federation representative said ISIS fighters raided al-Sina’aprison, ultimately, anyone responsible for the crimes against innocent Syrians should be held accountable. The United Nations and humanitarian partners must demand a full account of any civilian casualties. Syrian forces backed by Moscow will continue to search and attack terrorist groups in Syria.

For 2022, we should anticipate a response from the U.S. and a general, more drastic change of tactics from the previous ones. Now, it is the time to systematically focus and help solve Syria’s dramatic conditions and future threats.

 

Katerina Rebecca Paraskeva, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Neo JMB

The Threat of Neo JMB in Bangladesh Since the 2016 Holey Artisan Attack

Attacks spread panic and chaos among civilians and law enforcement agencies. Following the 2016 attack at the Holey Artisan Café, security forces in Bangladesh established various counterterrorism and peacekeeping measures. Although there was a decline in terrorist attacks, the current trends and analysis of interactions with ISIL indicate that the Neo Jama’ Atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo JMB) can launch an unprecedented terrorist attack.

Terrorist groups such as Neo JMB are leveraging social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to spread misinformation and recruit members through radicalization and spreading fear. JMB seeks to replace Bangladesh’s system of governance with Sharia law and the Islamic model. There is a significant increase in domestic extremism and radicalization in Bangladesh through modern advanced technologies and social networks that could result in attacks in the future.

Funding and support from various individuals and organizations have ensured that terrorist organizations thrive despite efforts to eradicate the groups. Terror attacks negatively impact the lives of civilians and peacekeepers in the country. This analysis focuses on terrorism, extremism, and counterterrorism measures. In addition, it focuses on bringing peace among different groups of people with respect to gender, race, and religion.

Threat Analysis on Bangladesh

The Neo JMB claimed responsibility for the Holey Artisan Café terrorist attack in July 2016 in Dhaka. In addition, the group has natured a network of female jihadists. Several members of the military wing of the Neo JMB group were arrested in 2021 by various anti-terror organizations in Bangladesh. Following the attack in 2016, Security Forces (SF) have combated over 47 terrorists, including prominent group leaders.

Many youths in Bangladesh continue to resonate with the Islamist ideologies that claim to continue the fight to establish Caliphate. Videos released by ISIL in August 2019 urged support from Bangladesh to carry on the war by targeting the enemies around them, including political leaders, non-Muslim communities, and law enforcement agencies. Numerous arrests were made in Dhaka for Neo JMB members who had explosive devices and other weapons for conducting terrorism.

Following the recapture of Afghanistan by the Taliban may encourage Neo JMB in Bangladesh, resulting in a surge of militancy attacks on civilians and peacekeeping forces. The return of Jihadists from Afghan and Syria is equally a critical challenge to the authorities. In addition, the radicalization of youths in Bangladesh could result in unprecedented extremism and a resurgence of violence.

During crackdown and operations in 2021, Bangladesh security forces were experiencing heavy exchanges and discovering advanced ammunitions in possession of members of the Neo JMB group. They have arrested some members of the terror group who are experts in bomb manufacturing and possess explosive materials, remote controls, and manuals to produce weapons that could be used for mass destruction. Therefore, there is a high possibility that the group could be preparing to launch an attack in the future.

Despite ongoing joint counterterrorism efforts, the residue members of the terrorist organizations and continued radicalization cannot be ignored. According to intelligence sources, the parent JMB group was founded in 1998 and conducted synchronized blasts in August 2005, which injured over 100 people and claimed the lives of three. Although the organization went quiet later, the members of the initial organization are now operatives and a crucial part of military planning and radicalization for Neo JMB. For instance, Mohamed Enayet, arrested in 2006 with explosives, spread radicalization inside the Kashimpur jail.

Although security forces are trying their best to break structures and terror organizations, the group is advancing its recruitment methodologies through radicalization and extremism, internal communications, and preparing for attacks. In addition, Neo JMB is recruiting highly trained youths who combine the knowledge from different educational disciplines with advanced technology to overwhelm security forces and evade counterterrorism measures.

Recommendations

Multiple factors result in the violent extremism and radicalization of Neo JMB recruits. These include economic, political, religious, and social reasonings. Bangladesh can employ several strategies to minimize violent extremism by incorporating economic development, tolerance, and peacebuilding strategies.

Effective economic development models can address challenges that youths face. There is a need to reduce economic issues, including corruption, unemployment, and poverty. Early intervention safeguards young people from recruitment into terrorist groups. Additionally, the government has a role in countering individuals and organizations that finance terrorist groups through the Financial Intelligence Unit.

Also, the government must provide equal rights to minimize conflicts among social and religious groups. The government should use an inclusive economic development model that promotes development, tolerance, and diversity. The Bangladesh government must focus on better methods for gathering intelligence and changes in criminal justice systems.

Crackdowns on group members can disrupt the recruitment process, the radicalization of youths, and attacks from the Neo JMB. The government must pass legislation that secures the borders of Bangladesh. It is significant to ensure that returning fighters from Afghanistan, Syria, and other nations affected by violent extremism do not become agents of terror groups by providing technical and strategical aid to other terrorist organizations.

 

Aru Rongchitim Tisso, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Ukraine

Ukraine is Fearful of a Possible Attack: Emergency Call for Help

There is an urgent call for help in Ukraine as it has been under the constant threat of a possible attack.  Generally, too many unresolved issues have become highly complicated through the years. Currently, Russia is looming along the Ukrainian border, creating speculation of an imminent attack. Numerous terrorist threats have been made and, unfortunately, could not be dismantled or somehow settled. It appears terrorist threats are steadily increasing in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Vulnerability Against Russia

Lately, Ukraine and its Western allies have watched Russia purposefully assemble forces in excess of 100,000 men on the border. In spite of the fact that he professes to have no expectation of attacking, President Vladimir Putin is tactically innovative.

Ultimately, President Putin is trying to prevent Ukraine from joining both NATO and the E.U. by displaying Russia’s power and strongarming the world to comply with his demands. One of President Putin’s strategies is to create tension between the U.S., its allies, and international organizations.  Also, Russia is attempting to undermine the U.S. and President Biden by highlighting the recent fallout of events in Afghanistan. Additionally, President Putin hopes to impress Chinese President Xi Jinping through his display of force.

Ultimately, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine did not begin overnight. Russia fears that Ukraine’s acceptance into NATO would undermine its political and cultural dominance in the region, and also belittle its power and authority in Ukraine.  Additionally, Russia fears that ethnic conflicts may arise once Ukraine joins NATO, resulting in harmful practices against the Russian-minority population in Ukraine.

The Upsurge of The Terrorist Excursion

Several attacks have aimed their sites on Ukrainian targets, resulting in the Ukrainian government’s recent announcement that it has impeded several premeditated assaults within its borders, such as a bombing in Kyiv. Currently, attacks have been focused against property, however, some fatalities have been reported.

While attacks have currently been aimed at Ukrainian targets, this could change in the future incidents focusing against differing targets.

In January, the Biden organization deduced that Russia was secretively planning assaults against its own rebel partners in eastern Ukraine. “The U.S. has information that indicates Russia prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine,” an authority told CNN. “The operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces,” an official told CNN.

Outcomes And Future Advice

In 2022, Russia has multiple types of attacks to choose from in which they have achieved success in the past.  One such tactic Russia could use is a raid, however this would require extensive manpower. Some experts predict that for Russia to conduct a successful raid, they would require at least 175,000 troops.

However, if Russia chooses to conduct a raid, they will need to consider the cost of other resources, besides just manpower. This attack style would require a significant number of guns, surface-to-surface missiles, and air strikes against both Ukrainian personnel and equipment, such as maritime vessels. For Ukraine to handle this mounting and tentative Russian threat, it is imperative they receive assistance from foreign allies to deter a potential ambush.

While Russia is well equipped for a physical confrontation with Ukraine, they may also be planning a cyberattack, similar to their attacks in 2014, possibly targeting Ukraine’s weapons, communications, and electric systems.

Ukraine is unquestionably the center of attention at the moment, as there is a strong possibility of an attack from Russia. There have been numerous terrorist threats and now more than ever lurks the danger for the entire country. The U.S. should be prepared to assist in the event that Russia does instigate an attack against Ukraine.

 

Katerina Rebecca Paraskeva, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Refugees

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Persistent Challenges Facing Afghan Refugees

With the eyes of the world fixated on the crisis in Ukraine, the dire situation in Afghanistan and the plight of Afghan refugees grows ever more critical. An unstable Afghanistan has created one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world today. Moreover, inaction on the part of policymakers contributes to this and the deterioration of regional instability. For the appropriate stakeholders to make informed policy on these issues, they must understand the present conditions befalling the Afghan people within their nation and abroad.

Searching for Solace

In the pursuit of safety for their families, a significant number of Afghans fleeing from the Taliban regime have made a perilous trek across Iran into Turkey. However, several geopolitical developments have weakened the human security of Afghan refugees escaping the turmoil of Afghanistan. A contributing factor is a tightening of border security within Turkey due to the strain migration has had on its resources.

Even with added security, the most perilous stage of their journey has been crossing from Iran into Turkey. This has been made evident with the discovery of migrants who froze along the Turkish-Iranian border.

Refugees who have made it inside of Turkey still face many considerable challenges toward the establishment of new lives. Many who fled to Turkey did so without documentation as they were in fear of a return to a Taliban-led Afghanistan. Due to this, many face deportation in Turkey as well as Iran.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also magnifying the problems of the refugees as they are having trouble receiving adequate access to vaccines which are desperately needed.

Afghans who have made it to safety in the U.S. are met with hindrances to their security. One such issue they face is finding a direct pathway to permanent legal residency within the country. This problem has worsened by the backlog of applications preventing them from doing so. Another such issue preventing the settlement of refugees has been the lack of affordable housing throughout the United States. They have also faced difficulty in receiving the critical health care needed while waiting for resettlement.

Winter is Coming

Many Afghans have escaped Taliban rule, and geopolitical developments in the region have magnified their plight. When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021, they were met with the freezing of their funds belonging to the previous Ghani administration. As of late, many of the financial resources of the Taliban regime remain frozen by the Biden administration.

With more countries in the region having their resources strained by the influx of migrants, they have made a conscious effort to send aid to keep Afghans there without trying to guarantee their rights. Such an environment has allowed the Taliban to target the LGBT community within the country, depriving them of their most basic human rights.

How Policymakers Can Respond

Given the severity of the Afghans’ situation, it has become clear that there needs to be an intervention by relevant stakeholders to ensure their safety and security. The opening of financial resources and legal aid from multilateral institutions would greatly reduce the burden placed upon refugees. Without such aid, many Afghans face deportation back to a state which will dramatically compromise their security.

Nations with the ability to do so must increase efforts to ensure the human rights of Afghan citizens. States trying to formalize ties to the new Taliban government have done so with caution, but there remains uncertainty due to their citizens’ treatment and ideological fervor. Such actions breed resentment against the Taliban and create the opportunity for the cycle of violence to begin anew.

Therefore, it is imperative for human rights to be preserved within Afghanistan to show the rest of the region that they may help rebuild the war-torn society.

 

Christopher Ynclan Jr., Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

 

Insurgency

Insurgency within the United States: Absurd or Inevitable?

“No one wants to believe that their beloved democracy is in decline, or headed toward war,” says Barbara F. Walter, a professor of political science at the University of California. But “the United States, a democracy founded more than two centuries ago, has entered very dangerous territory.” Speculation of a second civil war within the United States was once an outlandish proposition, a fantasy confined to the eccentric fringes of political discourse. Today, the threat of an insurgency within the country has invaded mainstream culture and commentary.

“Headed for Civil War”

Since the start of 2022, headlines that were once unthinkable have been emblazoned across the pages of the U.S.’s most popular news publications. “Is a Civil War ahead?” enquires the New Yorker, “Are We Really Facing a Second Civil War?” reads a column in the New York Times, “Is America Headed to a New Civil War?” asks the Washington Post.

The publication of these stories follows the recent release of two books detailing the looming threat of widespread civil unrest and political violence breaking out within the United States. In “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them”, Barbara F. Walters describes how American democracy has already passed through phases of “pre-insurgency” and “incipient conflict,” and that the attack on the Capitol may signal its entry into “open conflict.” According to Walters, the U.S. is “closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe.”

Meanwhile, as described in his book “The Next Civil War: Dispatches From the American Future”, Stephen Marche writes “the United States today is, once again, headed for civil war, and, once again, it cannot bear to face it.”

Whilst nearly three-quarters of Americans think that ordinary people rejecting political hostility and divisiveness would be a good thing for their country, less than one in ten believe this will happen. Indeed, with 42% believing it will increase, it is little surprise that polling following the Capitol Hill riot found that 51% of Americans foresaw political violence increasing in the coming years.

Further, a 2021 national survey by pollster John Zogby concluded that 46% believe a civil war is likely, and a new report by NPR/Ipsos published early this year has revealed that 70% of Americans agree “America is in crisis and at risk of failing.”

Discussion of a violent insurrection within the United States has been dismissed as absurd, sensationalist, alarmist, and even irresponsible by some commentators. But, as the immense pressures of collapsing institutional trust, obscene economic inequality, intensifying racial tensions, climate-related crises, and technological disruption push American society to breaking point, ordinary citizens are increasingly vulnerable to radicalization, captured by the allure of extremist narratives that celebrate political violence.

As crisis and strife shake the country and as citizens come to see violence as their only means of political expression, the question must be asked: could an armed insurgency really emerge within the United States?

Democracy in Decline

“Civil wars ignite and escalate in ways that are predictable; they follow a script,” writes Walters, a member of the Political Instability Task Force (P.I.T.F), a C.I.A. advisory panel that predicts outbreaks of civil war.

By law, the task force cannot apply its evaluative models to the United States, but in her new book Walters applies the same predictive criteria used to assess the emergence of political conflict within countries such as Ukraine, Northern Ireland, or Rwanda to the United States. “I’ve seen how civil wars start, and I know the signs that people miss. And I can see those signs emerging here at a surprisingly fast rate” Walter says. She concludes that the U.S. is on the threshold of “open insurgency,” an outbreak of sustained political violence involving terrorism and guerrilla warfare.

In her book, Walters outlines the strongest predictors of civil conflict. The first is whether a country is moving toward or away from democracy. When a country becomes an “anocracy”–that is, a country that is not a full democracy or autocracy–its likelihood of descending into civil violence significantly increases.

Despite the powerful mythologies surrounding American democracy, a majority of its citizens express skepticism. According to a 2018 report by the Pew Research Center, 63% believe the U.S. government does not reflect the views of most Americans, 69% do not believe the government is open or transparent, and 72% believe that campaign contributions lead to greater political influence.

These views are supported by extensive research. In December 2021, a report by the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance designated the United States a “backsliding democracy.” Further, a widely reported 2014 study from two prominent U.S. political scientists, drawing data from over 1,700 policy initiatives across a two-decade period, concluded that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interests have little or no independent influence.” According to the authors, the U.S. can now be described as a “civil oligarchy.”

Indeed, according to analyses cited by Walters from the Center for Systemic Peace’s “polity score” index, which rates countries on a scale from +10 (fully democratic) to -10 (fully authoritarian), the U.S.’ score of +10 in 1974 has steadily declined, reaching +5 in 2020. Any country between -5 and +5 on the polity scale can be considered an anocracy, says Walters. Here, countries are three times more likely to experience civil war than full democracies. According to Walters, “a country standing on this threshold–as America is now, at +5–can easily be pushed toward conflict.”

Ethnic Factionalism

The second major risk factor for civil conflict is what the P.I.T.F. calls “factionalism,” a specific form of political polarization wherein identity becomes the dominant feature of party affiliation. According to Walters, “countries that factionalize have political parties based on ethnic, religious, or racial identity rather than ideology, and these parties then seek to rule at the exclusion and expense of others.”

According to Walters, the United States is currently undergoing a process of ethnic factionalization. “As late as 2008, white Americans were equally likely to vote for Democrats as they were to vote for Republicans”, Walters says. “That changed when Obama was elected and the white working class began to gravitate towards the Republican party.”

“Today, the Republican party is 90% white”, says Walters. “That is, by the task force definition, a country with an ethnic faction.” These factions become particularly dangerous during a phenomenon known as “downgrading” wherein a dominant group loses social status and political influence. According to Walters, “the groups that tend to start civil wars are the groups that were once dominant politically but are in decline. They’ve either lost political power or they’re losing political power.”

Walters points to the downgrading status of white Americans as a powerful risk factor for civil conflict. For many, the election of President Obama represented the emergence of a multiracial democracy that threatened the long-standing political hegemony of white America. Indeed, based on their demographic trajectory, white Americans are destined to become a minority within the United States over the next 20 to 30 years.

“We know historically that these types of groups tend not to go down without a fight,” says Walters. Given her analysis, it is little surprise that the number of armed militia groups within the United States surged from just 42 prior to Obama’s election, to over 300 within his first two years in office.

“A Party That Doesn’t Benefit from Democracy”

As the social and political status of white America continues to downgrade, with the country on course to becoming majority non-white within the coming decades, the ethnic factionalization of the Republic party could represent a serious threat to American democracy.

“It’s going to get harder for [the Republicans] to win elections as long as they embrace only this one subset of the population,” says Walters. “Suddenly we have a party that doesn’t benefit from democracy anymore, that doesn’t want democracy, that’s doing everything they can to cement in advantages that will lead to minority rule.”

These efforts to retain political influence in spite of the huge demographic shifts reshaping the United States have led Republicans to embrace various policies that have been criticised as anti-majoritarian, and even anti-democratic, by some commentators, such as electoral reforms that disadvantage non-white citizens, the redrawing of voting districts, and the packing of federal courts.

However, perhaps most concerning is the Republican party’s growing distrust in the electoral system itself. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans doubt the legitimacy of President Biden’s election victory, with 57% saying they will not vote for any future candidate who even recognises his victory. Further, whilst 90% of Democrats say they have trust in the 2024 election, this is true for just one in three Republicans.

Claims of election fraud have become a feature of mainstream Republican rhetoric. Regarding election integrity, Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina has said, “if our election systems continue to be rigged, then it’s going to lead to one place and that’s bloodshed.” Whilst other Republican lawmakers, such as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, has called for a “national divorce” between Republican and Democratic states, providing an outline for a breakup of the United States.

With faith in American democracy in freefall amongst Republicans, political violence is becoming increasingly normalized. In describing the actions of the Capitol Hill rioters, 56% of Republicans said they were “defending freedom,” 46% said it was “patriotism,” over a quarter expressed direct approval. Indeed, Republicans (30%) are almost three times as likely as Democrats (11%) to agree that “true American patriots might have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

“It’s Really Unlikely to Happen”

However, there are strong reasons to think that the U.S. may not be headed for widespread civil conflict. “One important thing to know about civil war is that it’s very rare,” says Jay Ulfelder, a former P.I.T.F. research director and a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

“Onsets of new civil wars are quite rare, especially in the last several decades. We’re usually talking not more than a few around the world in any given year. And, very importantly, almost never in very wealthy countries, and certainly not in very wealthy democracies — that almost never happens. One of the rare exceptions is the conflict in Northern Ireland. But that kind of thing is virtually unheard of in wealthy, ostensible democracies in the last half-century. My knee-jerk reaction is that it’s really unlikely to happen [in the United States].”

Even if there were to be an outbreak of civil conflict within the U.S., it would bear little to no resemblance to the symmetrical, state-backed conflict of the 1860s. “One of the reasons most Americans can’t even conceive of a second civil war here is because they’re thinking of the first one,” says Walters. “They’re thinking about two large armies meeting each other on a giant battlefield, men in uniforms dragging cannons.”

According to Walters, “twenty-first century civil wars tend to be more like insurgencies, they tend to be decentralized, fought by lots of small groups, militias, paramilitary groups. Sometimes [they’re] working together, sometimes not, and they’re using unconventional tactics.” Indeed, a Northern Ireland-type insurgency appears the most plausible model for civil conflict within the United States.

These types of insurgencies are almost unseen in wealthy democracies. Indeed, whilst countries that fall into the anocracy zone are at heightened risk of civil conflict, Walter’s list of contemporary anocracies that have collapsed into full-scale civil war consists exclusively of countries shifting from authoritarianism to democracy. “It’s not clear, however, that the move from democracy toward authoritarianism would be destabilizing in the same way”, writes New York Times columnist, Michelle Goldberg. Indeed, as Walter concedes, “the decline of liberal democracies is a new phenomenon, and none have fallen into all-out civil war–yet.”

E Pluribus Unum

In sum, whilst there is reason to be concerned about civil conflict breaking out within the United States, commentators must remain measured and balanced. Inflammatory and hyperbolic language surrounding a potential insurgency can be dangerous.

“The belief that there was going to be a civil war in Ireland made everything worse. Once that idea takes hold, it has a force of its own,” writes Fintan O’Toole, drawing on his childhood experience of the Northern Ireland conflict. “The logic of the preemptive strike sets in: Do it to them before they do it to you…Premonitions of civil war served not as portents to be heeded, but as a warrant for carnage.”

However, whilst commentators must remain cognizant of their role in shaping public discourse, they should not ignore the risk of increasing political violence. The United States meets the two key predictive criteria for civil conflict, and as democracy backslides and racial polarization increases, the threat of insurgency only looms larger.

According to Walters, the multivariate modelling of the P.I.T.F. predicts that any country that meets these criteria is at around a 3.4% annual risk of civil war. Whilst this may seem small, this risk compounds over time; should a country consistently meet these criteria over a 20-to-30-year period, the threat of civil violence is enormous.

Fortunately, these trends can be reversed. The United States must work to protect its democracy, and to restore faith in elections. Further, efforts must be undertaken to prevent the ethnic factionalization of the political landscape. Government, the private sector, and civil society organizations all have an important part to play in this comprehensive effort at restoring trust in American democracy and rebuilding a sense of civic unity. The United States must remember that the reconciling of difference is at the core of its national ethos. Whether those differences be in ideology or identity, there is one truth that this country should never forget: e pluribus unum – out of many, one.

 

Oliver Alexander Crisp, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Zacatecas

Violence Overflows in Zacatecas: The War Between the CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel

The Mexican state of Zacatecas is the battlefield between two criminal organizations and narco-terrorists. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel face a bloody war that has already left many dead in the region.

The security situation in Zacatecas presents an enormous challenge for local and national authorities. Furthermore, the clashes are likely to continue in the coming weeks.

The Actors: The CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel

The CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel are two of the most important and powerful criminal organizations in Mexico and worldwide. However, their stories and dynamics are distinct.

The CJNG emerged after the dispute between two factions of the Milenio Cartel: La Resistencia and Los Torcidos. Los Torcidos won the dispute, and its members founded The Jalisco New Generation Cartel. Specifically, Nemesio Oseguera Ramos, alias “El Mencho,” is considered the leader and founder of the CJNG.

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel is characterized by being an extremely violent organization. In states such as Jalisco, the homicide rate forced disappearances and the discovery of clandestine graves has significantly increased. Some of their criminal activities include the murder of police officers in Mexican municipalities, an attack in which Omar García Harfuch, Secretary of Security of Mexico City, was injured, massacres, beheadings, and they have also hanged corpses on bridges in various States.

Additionally, the CJNG has uploaded videos on the internet of its military capabilities, including armored vehicles, large caliber weapons, and military uniforms.

Furthermore, members of the CJNG bring food, toys, and clothing to vulnerable communities in Mexico to create propaganda videos and gain support from the local population. This is concerning for the Mexican government since the CJNG seeks to act as the State in these communities.

On the other hand, the Sinaloa Cartel emerged after the dissolution of the Guadalajara Cartel. The factions that made up the Guadalajara Cartel moved to areas such as Tijuana, Juárez, and Sinaloa and fought each other to establish geographical dominance.

After several years and confrontations, the Sinaloa Cartel, under the leadership of “El Chapo” Guzman and other drug traffickers, grew and became one of the largest criminal organizations in Mexico and globally. Eventually, after the breakdown of the Beltrán Leyva Organization (OBL) in 2008, “El Chapo” became the most visible leader of the organization; although, he was later joined by Ismael Zambada García, alias “El Mayo,” and Juan José Esparragoza Moreno, alias “El Azul.”

However, after the arrest of “El Chapo,” “El Mayo,” and El Chapo’s sons, Joaquín Guzmán López, Ovidio Guzmán López, Iván Archivaldo, and Jesús Alfredo, also known collectively as “Los Chapitos,” continued to run the Cartel’s operations.

In fact, without “El Chapo,” the Sinaloa Cartel remains one of Mexico’s leading criminal groups. El Chapo’s absence has hardly affected the Sinaloa Cartel, even though some of the group’s main leaders and other important members have been arrested. The Cartel continues to expand throughout Mexico and the world, making alliances with mafia groups such as the former FARC guerrillas.

The War in Zacatecas

Zacatecas is one of the 31 states of Mexico and is located in north-central Mexico. Zacatecas is the primary location where the two cartels have confronted one another.

The war zone developed in Zacatecas because its location is in the middle of the trafficking routes. However, Zacatecas is also the closest place to the Golden Triangle of drug trafficking, where the Durango mountains, Sinaloa, and Chihuahua converge. The Sinaloa Cartel has dominated this area for the past three decades. In other words, Zacatecas is an important center point and geographically favors the illicit activities of cartels.

Due to the wave of violence, the Mexican government sent 4,778 military and National Guard troops to priority municipalities such as Fresnillo, Lazaro Cardenas, Zacatecas, Calera, Guadalupe, Ojo Caliente, and Valparaiso.

In June 2021, a confrontation between the two organizations took place in Zacatecas, leaving 18 dead. Likewise, criminal cells associated with the Sinaloa Cartel have clashed with the CJNG in Zacatecas. Such as the case with Flechas MZ, an associated organization that has the strength, power, money, and firepower to defeat the CJNG in the region.  Flechas MZ has been active since late 2020, threatening CJNG leader Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” and warning him that his regions will be in direct dispute with Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia.

Also, in 2021, shootings were recorded with a large number of victims.  Sinaloa Cartel gunmen ambushed members of the CJNG in a scuffle that left 40 dead. In addition, since November 2021, numerous people have been murdered every week, many of them hanging from bridges throughout the state.

The horror continues in Zacatecas at the beginning of 2022.  On January 22, 2022, authorities in Zacatecas located a man hanging from a tree in Monte Escobedo, shot to death, and near his body was a poster with a “narco message.”

On January 6, 2022, a car with ten tortured bodies was abandoned in front of Zacatecas’ state governor’s office. Also, more raids were registered in Valparaiso, Loreto, Pinos, Calera and Guadalupe. Additionally, three police officers were murdered in Sombrerete, Zacatecas, in northern Mexico.

A few days later, three human heads, dismembered bodies in black bags, and a narco-message were abandoned by the CJNG near the municipal capital of Jerez, Zacatecas. Photographs circulated revealing the content of narco messages signed by the criminal organization commanded by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, “El Mencho,” which warned of a “cleansing” in the municipality.

The situation of violence and horror has led national and state security reports to describe Zacatecas as a narco-state.

The Need for a Response

The wave of murders, torture, dismemberments, and shootings in Zacatecas reveal an insufficient response of the federal and state governments. The war between the two cartels will likely continue in the coming weeks, and homicide rates will increase.

Thus, Mexican authorities need to evaluate better security policies to confront the two cartels and reduce the rates of violence in the region. However, in addition to a military response against the narco-terrorist organizations, it is also necessary to examine the structural causes that lead to the unending phenomenon of drug trafficking. The civilian population of Zacatecas deserves an effective and swift government response to put an end to the horrors in the Zacatecas.

 

Daniel Felipe Ruiz Rozo, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Oil

The Effects of Oil Production on the Niger Delta

Peaceful, full of life, resource-rich, and green are all features that were once attributes of the Niger Delta. The region, located in Nigeria, comprises a few states in its southern area. The region’s economic buoyance dates back to its pre-colonial days when it boasted of trade explorations extending beyond its borders. With such magnificent antecedents, expecting the Delta to attain far-reaching heights in infrastructural development at the least is not exactly out of place. Unfortunately, the rightful expectation is far from reality. Regardless of its several positive attributes and resources such as oil, the region remains underdeveloped; and continues to fall victim to challenges which worsen its state.

Why is the Region Important?

After almost half a century of exploration, the year was 1956, and oil was discovered in Oloibiri, Niger Delta. The discovery led Nigeria to join the ranks of oil-producing countries in 1958, with a production output of 5,100 barrels per day. Over the years, Nigeria continued to reach a significant record in its production output, recording up to 2.5 million barrels per day in 2004. With the discovery of oil in 1956, Nigeria, which had a vibrant agricultural sector, slowly began to overly focus on oil and gas at the cost of developing other potential industries.

According to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the body charged with covering the spectrum of all petroleum industry operations, the petroleum and gas industry accounts for about 90% of Nigeria’s gross earnings, though this figure has significantly reduced. Simply put, the oil industry is a significant player in Nigeria’s economy, and the Delta is home to this crucial resource.

Twenty-Six Years Ago

On November 10, 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine, commonly referred to as the Ogoni Nine, were hanged at a prison in Port-Harcourt under the military rule of Sani Abacha. These men were leaders of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). The crimes of these men were that they demanded better environmental practices and oil revenue sharing for the region. The response was imprisonment and eventual execution.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta

In 2006, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) claimed responsibility for kidnapping four foreign workers in the region. MEND’s demands are very similar to those made by the Ogoni Nine, howbeit through a different means. The group expressed concern for environmental pollution, underdevelopment, and perceived unfair revenue sharing that belittles the oil-producing communities. The group’s continued attacks on oil facilities and oil workers impacted Nigeria’s economy significantly, reducing its oil outputs by one-third.

Overall, MEND has become a prominent militant organization posing significant challenges to oil production through its relentless efforts to undermine the oil industry in the Delta.

Truth or Imaginations

The continuing long-term struggle that has dominated the region for decades in various forms is not misplaced. Even though oil accounts for most of Nigeria’s earnings, making it the largest oil producer in Africa, the region bears significant environmental pollution.

In the last six years, the Nigerian Ministry of Environment has recorded an alarming 5,000 cases of oil spillages, with a record event occurring a few months ago. In November of last year, members of a community in the region where the devastating effect of a leaking wellhead had become unbearable held a protest. The leak, which began about a month before the demonstration, had continued to spread into nearby communities and extended into neighbouring states. Unfortunately, such cases are not uncommon and have left a lasting impact on the environment.

The environmental impact is multi-layered affecting lands, rivers, air quality, and income sources for residents. So devastating are these effects that accessing clean and safe water is nearly impossible. Unsurprisingly, the overall consequence is unequivocally visible in the significant difference in the life expectancy rate in the region, which is ten years lower in the Delta region in comparison to other parts of Nigeria.

Beyond the Obvious

Jonah Gembre, an activist from Iwhrekan, stated, “we were thinking the oil companies were coming to elevate us from poverty, but they only give us poverty, and the economy is dying.”

The statement above reveals the expectation of many others living in the region. Sadly, the reality is farther away from the desires of the Delta people. Another overwhelming disappointment that further makes their desires for change seem unrealistic is the rise and fall of emancipators, whose sole goal, it would seem, is self-enrichment. 

A Blink of Hope

In January 2021, a Dutch court indicted a famous oil giant for spills in the region, ordering it to pay $111 million to affected communities. With the long history of exhaustion, frustration, and exploitation of the advocacy journey, January 2021 remains noteworthy to the people of the Niger Delta. Perhaps, there may be left, a remnant of truly devoted patrons that would bring to an end the critical dilemma of the region.

 

Joan McDappa, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Rise to Peace