What is Russia Really Thinking?

Since President Putin launched his attack on Ukraine, Russia has faced a considerable Western backlash. Disconnected from the global financial system and targeted by a sweeping range of economic sanctions, Russia has been set on a path to economic meltdown.

Over 400 companies have withdrawn from the country, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project has been canceled, and over ten 10 years worth of economic gains are on course to be wiped out. With the ruble collapsing, GDP plummeting, and prices soaring, the Russian economy is facing pain unseen since the 1990s.

Western nations are also preparing for substantial military build-ups. Belgium, Italy, Poland, Romania, Norway, and Sweden have all pledged to increase defense spending. Germany has announced a major increase in its military budget, a historic shift in the country’s foreign policy that ends decades of reluctance on defense spending and will transform it into the world’s third-largest military spender.

Russia’s invasion has also led to the deployment of additional NATO forces to eastern Europe. The alliance is set to double its battlegroups in the region, which has already seen the arrival of over 20,000 NATO troops.

Russia has condemned the economic measures imposed on the country, which Mr. Putin has referred to as “akin to an act of war” and has expressed strong discontent with the strengthening of NATO’s posture. “The build-up of NATO forces on the ‘eastern flank’ is openly provocative”, said the Russian foreign ministry.

The invasion has only exacerbated many of President Putin’s long-held concerns, and embroiled Russia in a bloody conflict that has seen its military take more casualties than the U.S. endured throughout the entirety of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, given public sentiment in Ukraine and the lethal aid provided by Western powers, it is likely this conflict will persist. Meanwhile, the Russian economy slides toward crisis and NATO forces mount along its border.

Commentators now frequently decry the invasion as a ‘miscalculation’, an epithet that provides a measure of comfort for Western audiences by assuring them this war would not have unfolded had President Putin understood its full consequences.

But, what if the backlash was foreseen? What if President Putin is motivated by something more than Western commentators understand? Does the West really understand what is driving this invasion?

“The Creation of a Vast, Continent-Spanning Russian-Eurasian State”

For much of its history, Russia’s suspension between Europe and central Asia has induced a sense of identity crisis. Its territory lies mostly in Asia, but its history of art, music, and literature are more closely associated with Europe.

Following the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, a group of Russian intellectuals called on the country to transcend its European fixation. Russia, they proposed, should dedicate itself to the creation of a vast, continent-spanning Russian-Eurasian state, independent of Europe’s influence, based on the legacy of Genghis Khan and the deep history of cultural exchange among people of Slavic, Turkic, Mongol, and other Asian origin.

This concept, known as Eurasianism, was suppressed by the Soviet Union. Indeed, according to early Eurasianist thinkers, communism itself was a destructive European import. Nonetheless, Eurasianism survived in the underground and reentered public discourse following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Over time, a new form of Eurasianism permeated Russia’s policy and military elite. A key moment in the ideology’s revival came with the publication of Aleksandr Dugin’s 600-page textbook titled The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia.

Dugin, an eccentric philosopher and sociologist, was once a fringe figure in Russia. However, through the years, his influence has grown significantly. Indeed, Mr. Dugin has been referred to as ‘Putin’s Brain’, ‘Putin’s philosopher’ and even ‘Putin’s Rasputin’. He has served as an advisor to key political and military figures and–on the insistence of Mr. Putin–his textbook forms part of the curriculum for the Academy of General Staff of the Russian military. According to Dr. Jane Burbank, a recently retired professor of Russian history at New York University, “a revitalized theory of Eurasian empire informs Mr. Putin’s every move.”

Aleksandr Dugin, Neo-Eurasianism, and the “Fourth Political Theory”

Dugin’s neo-Eurasianism involves a bizarre fusion of various political and religious ideologies. According to Dugin, fascism, communism, and liberalism represent the leading political theories of recent history. Fascism collapsed with the fall of Nazi Germany. Communism collapsed with the fall of the Soviet Union. Now, liberalism is collapsing as the West enters a “nihilistic post-modern stage.”

Therefore, Dugin proposes a “Fourth Political Theory,” an alternative political model that challenges the “progress” of world history. According to Dugin, human beings’ self-awareness is rooted in the world. Because this root differs across cultures, a multipolar world order is required for humans to feel a sense of identity.

Thus, the mission of Russia, as a nation of unique culture and destiny, is to create a Eurasian power center that can challenge the unipolarity of U.S. global influence and restore the root of human self-awareness across Eurasia.

The Fourth Political Theory combines what Dugin identifies as the strongest elements of communism, fascism, ecologism, and traditionalism. In sum, his political model represents a totalitarian synthesis of unlimited state power, ‘blood and soil’ nationalism, and traditional religious hierarchy.

Indeed, according to James Heiser, author of The American Empire Should be Destroyed’: Alexander Dugin and the Perils of Immanentized Eschatology, Dugin considers the true meaning of Russia to be “marked by [a] ‘dialectical triad’ which combines ‘Third Rome–Third Reich–Third International’”. Among the aims of this messianic, imperial project is the destruction of Western liberalism and a fundamental reordering of the global political landscape.

“One of the Poles in the Modern World”

Whilst the full extent of Eurasianist ideology on Mr. Putin is far from clear, “he’s always had an intellectual affiliation with Eurasianist thinkers” says Hannah Thoburn, a Eurasia analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative.

Indeed, Russia has been attempting to assert itself as a new geopolitical force for some time. It has been argued, for example, that the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union (E.A.E.U.) in 2015, a regional trade pact involving a constellation of post-Soviet states, is part of a broader effort to disrupt the U.S.-led world order.

“We suggest a powerful supranational association capable of becoming one of the poles in the modern world,” wrote Mr. Putin in 2011. Unsurprisingly, the E.A.E.U. was not well received by the United States. “Let’s make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it,” said then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012.

Whilst President Putin discussed the formation of the E.A.E.U. in mostly economic terms, his comments have alluded to a set of deeper ideological motives closely aligned with Eurasianist thought. For example, in 2013, he described the union as a “project to preserve the identity of the people who inhabit the historic Eurasian space…Eurasian integration is a chance for the post-Soviet space to become an independent center for global development–not a peripherality to Europe or Asia”.

“Ukraine is the Big One”

Ukraine has always played a key role in Eurasianist ideology. In 1927, Nikolai Trubetzkoy, one of the ideology’s founding figures, argued that Belarus and Ukraine should unite with Russia around their shared orthodox faith. More recently, in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dugin wrote that total dominion over the north coast of the Black Sea was an “absolute imperative” of Russian geopolitics and that Ukrainian independence represented “a huge danger to all of Eurasia.” According to Dugin, Ukraine had to become “a purely administrative sector of the Russian centralized state.”

Currents of Eurasianist ethnonationalism appear central to the propaganda campaign surrounding Russia’s invasion. In a 5,000 word article published in 2021, entitled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukranianians”, Mr. Putin reasserted his claim that Russians and Ukranians are “one people.”

For Putin, the invasion of Ukraine is part of a broader effort to reassert the unity of a divided Russian people. Indeed, according to Ivan Vejvoda, a senior fellow at the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna, “Putin wants to consolidate the civilizational border of Russia, as he calls it, and he is doing that by invading a sovereign European country.”

“Ukraine is the big one” says Alexander Cooley, a political science professor at Barnard College. The success of the Eurasian Union “hinges on Ukraine’s participation and cooperation.”

Perhaps the clearest display of the deeper ideological underpinnings of Putin’s war effort comes from a news article accidentally published by multiple state-run Russian media outlets just three days into the invasion. Commentators have explained that the article’s publication at exactly 08:00 suggests it was a pre-written piece intended to celebrate a swift Russian victory. However, Ukraine did not fall within the first days of the invasion, and the article was deleted.

The article claims that Ukraine was a problem for Russia “for two key reasons…the issue of national security, that is, the creation of anti-Russia from Ukraine and an outpost for the West to put pressure on us, is only the second most important among them. The first would always be the complex of a divided people, the complex of national humiliation – when the Russian house first lost part of its foundation (Kiev), and then was forced to come to terms with the existence of two states, not one, but two peoples.”

The article concludes, envisaging the collapse of the Kiev government, “Ukraine has returned to Russia…it will be reorganized, re-established and returned to its natural state as part of the Russian world.”


Across the West, Putin’s invasion has been met with disbelief. The Russian army has already sustained thousands of casualties. The economy is collapsing and NATO forces mount on its border. For many, Russia’s actions seem incomprehensible, even absurd. The commentariat reassure Western audiences that the attack was a ‘miscalculation’, an error of judgment that failed to account for Western sanctions or Ukrainian resolve.

But, there is another possibility. What if Putin expected this response? What if, despite knowing its full cost, he considered his invasion justified? What if his attack on Ukraine is motivated by a deeper ideological desire to reshape the world order and establish Russia as a new global power center, regardless of the cost?

Since the invasion, there have been many calls, including from Kiev, for Western military intervention. The unfolding humanitarian crisis is a catastrophe for Europe, but the threat of a major military confrontation between nuclear powers provides powerful cause for restraint.

Nonetheless, NATO must be prepared to hold its ground and cannot ignore the threat of an ideologically-driven, imperial project wreaking havoc on its border. Indeed, as Mr. Dugin has said, “the Russian Renaissance can only stop by Kiev.”

Restoring Ukrainian sovereignty and challenging Russia’s expansionist agenda will require engagement and negotiation on the military, political, economic, and, perhaps most importantly, ideological level. In order to end the war, the West must understand what is really driving this invasion. Indeed, its aims may be far more ambitious than many realize.


Oliver Alexander Crisp, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Plan Colombia

Strategies to Combat Narco-Terrorism in Latin America: The Case of Plan Colombia

During the 1990s, the U.S. and Colombian governments entered into a security and counternarcotics assistance agreement, known as Plan Colombia.

The strategy has been criticized both in favor and against due to its multiple impacts on security conditions in Colombia. For this reason, it is worthwhile to analyze its development and results in order to show how the strategies against drug terrorism have been implemented and what their effects have been.

What is the Plan Colombia?

At the end of the 20th century, the security situation in Colombia was extremely complex. The presence of drug traffickers, communist guerrillas, and the enormous extensions of coca hectares made it difficult for the Colombian State to guarantee territorial control and security throughout the country.

That is why in 1999, Colombian President Andres Pastrana and his U.S. counterpart, Bill Clinton, entered into a bilateral agreement called Plan Colombia. According to the Colombian National Planning Department, the Plan was an integral strategy of bilateral cooperation. The general objective is to combat illicit drugs and organized crime, in order to contribute to economic reactivation and the achievement of peace in Colombia, while strengthening control over the supply of illicit drugs on U.S. streets.

Plan Colombia had a 15-year duration and its initial budget was $7.5 billion, of which $1.6 billion was contributed by the United States. Between 2001 and 2016, the United States has reportedly provided an average of $404 million per year, prior to 2001 it was $262 million per year on average, to Plan Colombia.

However, in 2016, following a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the transformation of the program and its nature was announced. Former President Obama stated that the new chapter of the U.S.-Colombia partnership would be called “Paz Colombia”, whose economic aid would be more than $450 million during 2017, in order to support human rights and victims’ rights in the framework of the Colombian peace process.

Plan Colombia’s Achievements

The implementation of Plan Colombia had considerable achievements and successes, which explain its continuity for 15 years. Some of its positive results include an improvement in special operations, intelligence, professionalism of the Armed Forces, respect for human rights, strengthening of the means to fight drug trafficking, and state presence with social investment in remote regions. Likewise, in terms of coca hectares, in 1999 there were about 200,000 hectares of coca cultivated, while in 2016 there were only 60,000 hectares.

Other positive impacts of the program were the continued strengthening of the country’s military forces as never before in history, advances in social policy, and improvements in security conditions.

In fact, according to the INDEPAZ foundation, Plan Colombia allowed the government to go on the offensive, retake initiatives, neutralize the guerrilla advance and change the correlation of forces in Colombia. Under the shadow of Plan Colombia and the Southern Command, the military and police forces in Colombia were restructured. Mountain brigades and battalions were reorganized. The army was professionalized and sustained tactical operations were defined in previously forbidden territories. The war and national defense budget tripled as a share of GDP and the force level reached the highest level in the history of six decades of counterinsurgency.

Likewise, the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, Philip Goldberg, pointed out that Plan Colombia was a successful strategy that should now be a beacon to solve the multiple problems still burdening Colombia. This is due to the fact that the Plan had positive effects such as the improvement in the supply and logistics systems, communications, intelligence planning and military and police equipment, resulting in more effective operations against the guerrillas.  Between 1999 and 2014 Colombia went from having 35 military helicopters to more than 200 and the number of professional soldiers increased from 23,000 to 88,000 in the same period of time.

In addition, the FARC guerrilla weakened from 25,000 men in 2002 to about 6,000 in 2013 and went from maintaining a presence in 555 municipalities to only 103 by the end of 2014.

The improvement in security conditions was reflected in the reduction of coca crops, the fact that violent actions by illegal groups decreased 66% between 2002 and 2015, and that attacks on physical infrastructure such as oil pipelines, energy towers, bridges and roads plummeted by 85%.

Finally, the program had a social investment component, as social policy programs such as Familias en Acción, Jóvenes en Acción and Empleo en Acción were created.

Critics of Plan Colombia

Despite its achievements and successes in improving security conditions in Colombia, Plan Colombia has also been criticized.  The Plan’s implementation has had negative consequences, such as that drug trafficking deepened and fragmented during the Plan Colombia, making it more difficult to combat, and there was a marked increase in the number of victims of Colombia’s internal conflict, with more than 800,000 people said to have been victimized in 2008.  In addition, there was an increase in illegal mining, which allows for the financing of illegal groups.

However, the greatest criticism of Plan Colombia has to do with the aspect of respect for human rights during its execution. The Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination (CCEEU) noted that Plan Colombia had serious human rights costs, such as since the beginning of the Plan, more than 6 million people were victimized, more than 4 million people were displaced, more than 4,300 civilians were allegedly killed by government military forces to increase the number of casualties, more than 1,000 trade unionists and 400 human rights defenders were killed, and countless women suffered sexual violence.

Some additional criticisms point out that Plan Colombia gave priority to military assistance over social programs, the lack of resources allocated to programs for the substitution of illicit crops, attention to the vulnerable and displaced population, reform of the judicial system and environmental protection, and that the fight against drugs in Colombia transferred the problem of drug trafficking and increased the levels of violence in several countries of the continent.

Balance of Plan Colombia: A Successful Strategy?

The figures show that Plan Colombia was a decisive factor for the Colombian State to overcome the critical public order situation at the end of the 1990s and to exponentially improve its capacity to confront the guerrillas, reduce coca crops and improve security conditions in a large part of the national territory.

In fact, the results achieved by Plan Colombia allowed the program to evolve and become “Peace Colombia”, since, thanks to the advances in military capabilities resulting from Plan Colombia, the Colombian State weakened the FARC guerrillas so much so that they had to negotiate a peaceful solution to the conflict.

On the other hand, Plan Colombia also had negative consequences, especially in such sensitive aspects as the violation of human rights. Therefore, it is worth evaluating the achievements, vulnerabilities, lessons learned and failures of such a program in order to implement similar strategies in Colombia’s future or in other countries struggling in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism.

Finally, it must be understood that Plan Colombia is a strategy that was specifically designed to Colombia’s needs. Therefore, the implementation of similar programs in other regions must take into account the particular characteristics of their countries in order to achieve optimal results and impacts.


Daniel Felipe Ruiz Rozo, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Humanitarian Crisis

The Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine

When Russia invaded Ukraine this past February, there were a number of articles surrounding the logistics and numbers concerning the war. The most prominent angle which outside observers have viewed the conflict is through a tactical and logistical lens. However, the humanitarian aspect of the Russo-Ukrainian War has taken a secondary facet behind the backdrop of a great-power competition. Granted, it is important for policymakers to understand the state of the conflict to best support the Ukrainian’s struggle to retain their sovereignty. However, policymakers must also comprehend the scale of the human security and humanitarian crisis facing Ukrainian civilians.

Human Security Issues for Those in Ukraine

When Russia amassed troops along their border, many Ukrainians did not believe that such a move would coincide with a full-blown Russian invasion. When the eventual invasion did come, they were caught off guard due to the assumption that it was merely the latest saber-rattling by Russia to force the West to address their security concerns.

During the initial days of Russian offensive operations, the majority of targets were Ukrainian military installations throughout the country and Ukrainians residing in urban cores such as Kyiv were able to find refuge in the metro systems.

As Russia’s invasion has progressed, Russia has become increasingly mired due to logistical woes and coordinated Ukrainian resistance. Amid President Putin’s growing frustration with Russia’s military command as well as Russian intelligence officials, there has been a pivot of military strategy toward overwhelming and indiscriminate firepower. This worrying new phase in the war can be seen in Russia’s latest assault on Lviv which had been a reprieve for those who had been displaced by the conflict.

Further compounding the critical human security issues faced by the civilian population has been the deployment of mercenaries to Ukraine. The most notable PMCs to have reportedly joined the invasion has been the infamous Wagner Group. The group has been a key part of Russia’s realpolitik which has enabled its autocratic allies to stay in power through employing whatever means it deems necessary to quell dissent.

Furthermore, there is the increasing prospect of Syrian mercenaries being sent inside Ukraine. The presence of these mercenaries poses the risk of subjecting Ukrainian civilians to some of the worst human rights abuses since the Syrian Civil War, where the mercenaries honed their skills upon the Syrian populace.

Additionally, the quality of life for the average Ukrainian has decreased greatly since the invasion began. Infrastructure critical to the well-being of Ukrainians, such as clean water, have been ravaged by the fighting. The advancing Russians have also destroyed institutions which are vital to their health irrespective of long held international norms.

With an intensification of the conflict imminent, it is likely that Ukraine’s plight will grow more desperate without the intervention of outside groups to replace the lost institutions. Without such an effort, the conflict in Ukraine is likely to deteriorate into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

The Nations Taking In Ukrainian Refugees

While the world has been galvanized by the difficult circumstances which Ukrainians find themselves in, the scale of the human migration has been difficult to comprehend for Western policymakers, as they have opened their borders to meet the immediate needs of the refugees. According to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over three million Ukrainians have fled the conflict to seek protection in neighboring states.

The largest proportion of refugees have gone to Poland with more than a million refugees reported as fleeing toward Warsaw and other Polish towns. Although Poland has provided an outpouring of support to the refugee population, the support that they are able to impart is becoming increasingly strained due to the constant flow of displaced Ukrainians, especially as Russia intensifies its operations in the country.

Another nation which is feeling the strain of the Ukrainian refugee crisis is neighboring Moldova. Granted, there are other bordering nations such as Hungary which have taken in a considerable amount of refugees. Moldova however, has received the highest amount of fleeing Ukrainians per unit of population. In a bid to alleviate its logistical woes, Moldova has called upon the United States to lend humanitarian assistance. All of this comes as the country declared a state of emergency in light of Russia’s invasion of its neighbor.

Policy Options for Western States

Given the current circumstances which fleeing Ukrainians face, it is clear that a sustained multilateral response is required. As the most immediate entity with the capacity to ease the stress faced by the nations of Eastern and Central Europe, the European Union (EU) can orchestrate a more equitable resettlement of refugees.

The EU may be able to provide shelter to those displaced from the conflict, but they must also coordinate with NGOs which have the capacity to provide for other immediate needs. They must also provide bureaucratic support to help Ukrainians stay within their borders through visas and provide state-sponsored schemes to help refugees find employment, similar to how as Poland has done.

The United States has a wide variety of mechanisms which it can implement to aid in relieving the current humanitarian crisis caused by the Russo-Ukraine War. Through its influence within the international system, the United States should advocate for humanitarian corridors leading into Ukraine’s neighboring states where there is an effective deterrence for Russia not to escalate the conflict.

On the humanitarian front, the United States can revive the refugee resettlement program and other immigration reform efforts to better accommodate the needs of the Ukrainians. This would help relieve the humanitarian duress on states like Moldova and Poland are facing.

A Defining Moment for the West

For many decades, integral parts of the West’s economic and security architecture had been taken for granted. Challenges to these institutions came when the West failed to coordinate during previous humanitarian crises, such as the Syrian Civil War. A lack of coordination gave way to a wave of right-wing populism which provided a critical threat to the decades of agreements which came to form the framework of the EU. The effective management of this humanitarian crisis is not only imperative for the values which we hold dear but also for the morale of the Ukrainians fighting for their sovereignty.


Christopher Ynclan Jr., Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Historical Perspectives: French Terror and Emergency Measures

Since 9/11 terror attacks have been presented as an ever-increasing threat in liberal democracies and almost no democratic regime has been immune to these heinous acts. These attacks present a dual menace: both as a genuine threat to the safety of the citizens and, based on the reaction of the government in question, a more insidious risk of undermining the base democratic ideals upon which the state was founded.

French Terror Attacks and State of Emergency Measures

After nearly two decades of relative tranquility, France suffered a string of attacks in 2015 and 2016. Three major attacks hit the country in a short period of time. The offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French political satire magazine, were attacked between January 7th – 9th, and 17 people were killed in shootings both at the office and at a Jewish delicatessen in Paris.

Barely a year later, in November 2015, France again suffered a terrorist attack when a series of coordinated strikes in bars, restaurants, a concert venue and a stadium injured more than 200 people and killed 130.

A few months later, in July 2016, a lone attacker drove a cargo truck through the crowd celebrating Bastille Day on the streets of Nice, injuring more than 400 and killing another 86.

Finally, less than two weeks after the Nice attack, two terrorists attacked a church in Normandy, holding a priest and some of the parishioners hostage. The priest was assassinated, and one parishioner was gravely wounded. The severity of the casualties and the symbolism behind the attacks were unprecedented in France.

Shortly after the coordinated attacks in November 2015, the French government formally declared a “state of emergency,” which had wide reaching impacts on the French government’s executive and legislative powers to quickly curtail any potential terrorist activity.  These emergency measures also removed the necessity for prior judicial authorization for police to search houses day or night, and even allowed authorities to impose residence orders, de-facto house arrest, without legislative oversight. In July 2016, these measures were expanded to restrict freedom of assembly and expression, and authorities were expressly permitted to ban public demonstration. Amnesty International described these emergency measures as humiliating and traumatizing to hundreds of citizens.

Slide Towards Civil Liberties Abuses

In light of the extreme nature of the terrorist attacks and widespread public pressure to act, these temporary measures did not initially violate the civil liberties of French citizens. The temporary suspension of some civil liberties, especially with widespread public support, falls within appropriate governmental behavior. However, these powers, once created, did not remain within the stated aim or goal of countering terrorism, but were also applied to inconvenient civilians who posed no legitimate security threat. Protestors of the proposed reforms to labor laws and protestors against COP 21 were both subjected to the same measures as potential radical terrorists.

Emergency powers tend to be like a soft leather glove, they expand to fit the size of the hand wearing them and never again return to the size they were before. In the same fashion, emergency powers tend to expand and grow as they are used, and rarely return to the status quo which existed before they were implemented. The French government, by making some of the draconian emergency measures a permanent part of their legislative framework, has undermined the social contract and has begun to normalize authoritarian-style governance.

It is particularly troubling considering the ambiguity of much of the legal framework of these emergency measures. The unilateral freedom to stop and search, to detain without charge or trial, and to broadly surveil society without a well-defined target beyond the “war on terror” is deeply problematic and opens French society to a myriad of governmental abuses.

Civil liberties have been curtailed and the state of emergency has become entrenched as the new normal. More democratic and legal oversight is needed for such extenuating circumstances. A permanent state of emergency is a paradox used by authoritarian governments as a useful means of social control and the nature of the practice of the security measures in question creates a diminishment of the body of citizenship. Anyone from a migrant background, or Islam, or anyone viewed as being not French enough, became a different class of citizen.

Deradicalization in Civil Society

Any action which silences, marginalizes, or persecutes a particular group in a pre-emptive manner must be resisted by democratic regimes. The insecurity which may accompany this liberty can be addressed with less authoritarian means. France has experimented with softer strategies of de-radicalization; Prime Minister Valls, for instance, pledged to increase the number of moderate imams available in prisons, and that their training would be improved. French prisons tend to be a hotbed of jihadism and working to avoid extremism in the first place is more in line with the responsibilities of a government. It was not, however, a fully-realized measure because, apart from increasing the numbers of prison imams, their status was not elevated or professionalized, a fact that will continue to hamper their overall potential.

France’s admirable effort to introduce moderate imams into the prison chaplain system is an example of a softer attempt to diminish nascent jihadism. Finding a balance between recognizing both the rights and potential threats of Islamic French citizens, while at the same time remaining committed to classic French republican secular values is certainly a difficult task.

It is also imperative that France continually recommits to the protection of civil liberties. A temporary infringement of civil liberties in the face of a crisis is the prerogative, and the absolute duty, of good governance. Proportionality and specificity are of the utmost importance when moving to limit or shape individual freedoms in a democratic society. Creating a permanent state of emergency and using emergency powers, created ostensibly for a single crisis, outside the context in which they were intended is not acceptable in a democratic regime.


It is troubling that France, the birthplace and testing ground of many precious democratic ideals, has taken what can only be described as opportunistic steps towards the violation of civil liberties. If France wishes to remain the citadel of liberty, fraternity, and freedom, it needs to accept a broader plurality of voices contributing to the social contract.

Rather than pathologizing an entire group, and potentially undermining the future civil liberty of other marginalized groups, France should continue its grassroots and societal de-radicalization strategy. This recommitment to an egalitarian society, one which is true to the republican secularism upon which it was founded while giving voice to every citizen, would do credit to the ideals of democracy. The symbol of French liberty, Marianne in her Phrygian cap, losses all meaning if she cannot also be imagined wearing an Islamic headscarf with the same connotations of freedom and fraternity for all.

The biggest challenge presented to the government of France is balancing the long-standing secular republicanism, which has been a cornerstone of French governance since the revolution, against the reality of an ever-growing plurality amongst its constituents, and the genuine threat of terror attacks targeting civilians indiscriminately.

Rory McDonell, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


How the U.S. Withdrawal of Troops from Afghanistan Impacts India

The peace deal agreement between the Taliban and the U.S. in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, 2020, opened up various security concerns in India. And now, after nearly 20 years of annexing the paratroops in Afghanistan in a modus operandi to oust Al-Qaeda supported by the Taliban, President Biden’s government has recently withdrawn U.S. military troops from Afghanistan. Thus, the Taliban has become the de facto government across Afghanistan and controls territory such as border check-posts, rural areas, and urban areas. India shares geographical proximity to Afghanistan, unlike the U.S., and consequently any political instability in the Afghan government is concerning to neighboring countries.

Ultimately the 2020 U.S.-Taliban peace deal agreement stipulated that any group or individual could not use Afghan soil against the security of the U.S. and its allies.

The uncertain future of the Afghan government and the Taliban’s authority may threaten the security and economic interests of India and its assets in Afghanistan. India has deeply invested in standing by Afghanistan’s democratic government; thus, the rise of the radical groups does not bode well for the country.

Haqqani Faction & IS – Khorasan

The presence of the U.S. in Afghanistan was partially the reason for India’s investment in Afghanistan’s future. The Haqqani faction, led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, deputy leader of the Taliban, is the best armed and trained Taliban faction. The Haqqani faction may use their power and assert anti-Indian propaganda.  The Haqqani faction is also well known for working against the U.S. invasion in Afghanistan, and leading several attacks on Indian assets and Indians residing in Afghanistan.

In regard to IS-Khorasan, the current understanding that IS-Khorasan has a mixture of former Afghan insurgents, Pakistani militants, and radicalized Indians is a threat to the Indian assets, especially those involving economic relations between India and Afghanistan. Indian-Afghani relations have also been tested in situations involving radicalized Indians conducting attacks on Afghan soil.  Such was the case when IS-Khorasan claimed the Gurudwara attack in Kabul, which took more than 25 lives, and attributed the attack to an Indian ISIS member.


The relocation of the members of another terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) under the guidance of their chief, Hafeez Muhammed Saeed.  Saeed, who drew up plans with the Pakistani army to attack Indians in large numbers, is an alarming cause to be more prudent about strengthening the Pakistani military advancement owing to the new policy between Pakistan and the U.S.

The growing influence of Pakistan’s Inter-Service-Intelligence Directorate (ISI) on the Taliban can be harmful to India, especially considering India’s wary relations with Pakistan. The Taliban is expected to be ill-disposed towards India by its nature and ideological orientation. The increasing influence of Pakistani power in Afghanistan can cause turbulence to the extremist elements in Kashmir. Srinagar-based General Officer Commanding Lieutenant General D P Pandey stated that some militants might enter Kashmir, but the army is ready to tackle the situation if and when that occurs.

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is also the beginning of new relations between the U.S. and Pakistan. Prior to the U.S. troops’ presence in the Afghan region, Pakistan had received significant U.S. aid and cooperation for defense. For the past two decades, the relations between both countries have been dysfunctional and oscillating around the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The country’s strategic location has historically made it vulnerable to the involvement of outside powers and proxy battles. Pakistan was the medium and the connection between the Taliban and U.S. for counter-terrorism operations.

Another factor to consider in U.S.-Pakistani foreign affairs is the increasing Chinese-Pakistani relations, especially Chinese investments in Pakistan, which may hinder U.S.-Pakistani relations restoring to their pre-U.S. presence in Afghanistan conditions. Due to Pakistan’s strategic location, India must stay vigilant of Pakistan’s ever-evolving foreign relations, whether it be with the U.S., China, or the Taliban.

Additionally, the Taliban considers China a friend, since they have stated that they will not provide shelter to Uyghur Muslims from Xinxiang, China. Ultimately, India must strategically analyze Taliban-China-Pakistan relations and understand how these foreign relations could impact Indian affairs.

Since the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s growing power, India faces many possibilities due to the reshuffling of regional foreign affairs. India has previously invested economically and diplomatically in Afghanistan and, therefore, must stay alert to how these changes will affect Indian Afghan relations.  Amongst other points to highlight, the U.S. wishes to have cross-cutting relations with both India and Pakistan whilst increasing partnership with Pakistan and also playing the role of crisis management as it has been doing.

Possible Approaches for a Peaceful Co-Existence

Ultimately, relations between the Taliban and India can be strategically possible, provided that the Taliban adheres to peace agreements, through creating and engaging in diplomatic channels and by establishing connections to decrease the Taliban’s dependence on Pakistan.


Manasvini Rao, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Rise to Peace