Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region


By Kagusthan Ariaratnam

This article was originally published on “The Modern Diplomacy” on October 15, 2018.

Addressing an event last week at London's Oxford University, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing "imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas the Hambantota Port (in southern Sri Lanka) is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants - a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange."

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has denied US’ claims that China might build a “forward military base” at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port which has been leased out to Beijing by Colombo. Sri Lanka failed to pay a Chinese loan of $1.4 billion and had to lease the China-developed port to Beijing for 99 years. Both New Delhi and Washington had in the past expressed concerns that Beijing could use the harbor for military purposes.

The USA, China, and India are the major powers playing their key role in the “Neo-Cold War” in Central Asian landmass and the strategic sea lanes of the world in the Indian Ocean where 90% of the world trade is being transported everyday including oil. It is this extension of the shadowy Cold War race that can be viewed as the reason for the recent comment made by the US Vice President Mike Pence that China is using “debt diplomacy” to expand its global footprint and Hambantota “may soon become a forward military base for China’s expanding navy”.

According to some analysts, the deep-water port, which is near a main shipping route between Asia and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China's Belt and Road Initiative.

indian ocean

In his book “Monsoon” Robert D. Kaplan (2010), a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security notes the following:
[…] the Indian Ocean will turn into the heart of a new geopolitical map, shifting from a unilateral world power to multilateral power cooperation. This transition is caused by the changing economic and military conditions of the USA, China and India. The Indian Ocean will play a big role in the 21st century’s confrontation for geopolitical power. The greater Indian Ocean region covers an arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Its western reaches include Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan -- constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking […]
Two third of the global maritime trade passes through a handful of relatively narrow shipping lanes, among which five geographic “chokepoints” or narrow channels that are gateway to and from Indian ocean: (1) Strait of Hormuz (2) Bab el-Mandab Passage (3) Palk Strait (4) Malacca and Singapore Straits and (5) Sunda Strait.

While Lutz Kleveman (2003), argues that the Central Asia is increasingly becoming the most important geostrategic region for the future commodities, Michael Richardson (2004) on the other hand explains that the global economy depends on the free flow of shipping through the strategic international straits, waterways, and canals in the Indian Ocean.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) report published in 2017, “world chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About 63% of the world's oil production moves on maritime routes. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world's most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit” (p.1). These channels are critically important to the world trade because so much of it passes through them. For instance, half of the world’s oil production is moved by tankers through these maritime routes. The blockage of a chokepoint, even for a day, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and thus these chokepoints are critical part of global energy security. Hence, whoever control these chokepoints, waterways, and sea routes in the Indian Ocean maritime domain will reshape the region as an emerging global power.

In a recent analysis of globalization and its impact on Central Asia and Indian Ocean region, researcher Daniel Alphonsus (2015), notes that the twists and turns of political, economic and military turbulence were significant to all great players’ grand strategies:
(1) the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), China’s anticipated strategy to increase connectivity and trade between Eurasian nations, a part of which is the future Maritime Silk Road (MSR), aimed at furthering collaboration between south east Asia, Oceania and East Africa; (2) Project Mausam, India’s struggle to reconnect with its ancient trading partners along the Indian Ocean, broadly viewed as its answer to the MSR; and (3) the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, the USA’s effort to better connect south and south east Asian nations. (p.3)
India the superpower of the subcontinent, has long feared China's role in building outposts around its periphery. In a recent essay, an Indian commentator Brahma Chellaney wrote that the fusion of China's economic and military interests "risk turning Sri Lanka into India's Cuba" - a reference to how the Soviet Union courted Fidel Castro's Cuba right on the United States' doorstep. Located at the Indian Ocean’s crossroads gives Sri Lanka the strategic and economic weight in both MSR and Project Mausam plans. MSR highlights Sri Lanka’s position on the east-west sea route, while Project Mausam’s aim to create an “Indian Ocean World” places Sri Lanka at the center of the twenty-first century’s defining economic, strategic and institutional frameworks. Furthermore, alongside the MSR, China is building an energy pipeline through Pakistan to secure Arabian petroleum, which is a measure intended to bypass the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca altogether.

A recent study done by a panel of experts and reported by the New York Times reveal that how the power has increasingly shifted towards China from the traditional US led world order in the past five years among small nation states in the region. The critical role played by the strategic sea ports China has been building in the rims of Indian Ocean including Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh clearly validates the argument that how these small states are being used as proxies in this power projection.

This ongoing political, economic and military rivalry between these global powers who are seeking sphere of influence in one of the world’s most important geostrategic regions is the beginning of a “Neo-Cold War” that Joseph Troupe refers as the post-Soviet era geopolitical conflict resulting from the multipolar New world order.


Alphonsus, D. (2018, June 30). Cartopolitics and Sri Lanka: Rereading and Repainting Twenty-  First Century Asia. Retrieved from

Chellaney, B. (2015, August 13). Sri Lanka election to decide whether to bow to China. Retrieved from

Fisher, M., & Carlsen, A. (2018, March 09). How China Is Challenging American Dominance in Asia. Retrieved from

Grare, F. (2008, July). Along the road: Gwadar and China’s power projection. Retrieved October 13, 2018, from

Kaplan, R. D. (2010, November 19). Monsoon - By Robert D. Kaplan. Retrieved from

Kleveman, L. (2004). The new great game: Blood and oil in Central Asia. London: Atlantic.

Press Information Bureau Government of India Ministry of Culture (2014, June 21). Project ‘Mausam’ Launched by Secretary, Ministry of Culture. Retrieved October 13, 2018, from

Richardson, M. (2007). A Time bomb for global trade: Maritime-related terrorism in an age of   weapons of mass destruction. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Sri Lanka rejects US claims, says no Chinese military base at port. (2018, October 11). Retrieved from   claims-says-no-chinese-military-base-at-port/articleshow/66163389.cms

U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis. (2017). Retrieved from

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Impending Threat of Islamic Radicalization: A look at Assimilation

By Kagusthan Ariaratnam & Ammna Nasser

This article was originally published by “NATO Association of Canada” on January 22, 2018.

Youth radicalization has acquired renewed momentum in the current age of ISIS (Daesh). Repeated victories reported by the Iraqi and Syrian security forces is pushing Daesh to rethink survival strategies to live and fight another day. The group is keen on expanding itself beyond the Iraqi and Syrian battlefield, and is desperately attempting to infiltrate the rest of the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. Members of the organization continue to disguise themselves as civilians, blending into mainstream society, where they have achieved unprecedented success in planning, preparing, and executing major attacks worldwide. A significant proportion of alleged assailants happen to be youth, some as young as 12. Furthermore, Daesh is also transforming its operational headquarters from a physical space to a virtual platform that is far removed from Iraq and Syria. A key peril of international terrorism, it is against this backdrop that one must acknowledge the national, regional, and global security implications that emanate from Daesh-affiliated threats.

Similar to Al Qaeda, the Mujahedeen, and the Taliban, Daesh represents and acts as an ideological enterprise which seeks to radicalize Muslim youth within the Middle East and beyond. These ideologues exploit, corrupt, and utilize young minds for their pernicious cause, and extensively promote their ideological mindset among the current and next generations of Muslims. However, Daesh is hardly unique in targeting the youth, especially when we speak of the large-scale indoctrination and training of young men. It is paralleled by Al Qaeda, which also sought to radicalize the youth into pledging the organization’s toxic mantra pertaining to Islamic extremism.

There are a series of imperative dynamics which nonetheless distinguish Daesh from other groups with similar aspirations. Primarily, ‘lone wolf’ attacks, which are inherently inspired but not necessarily orchestrated by the terrorist organization itself; largely a consequence of widespread accessibility to cleverly articulated propaganda promoted via Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. However, while the role of social media is critical in Daesh’s captivation of today’s youth who are congenitally addicted to technology, the internet, as reported by the Homeland Security Institute, is merely a tool through which radicalization is accelerated. Youth radicalization in itself is also a process rapidly unfolding offline, in a real-world context.

Globally, terrorist activity among the youth has emerged from a rather heterogeneous population, who are seduced into any form extremism for a variety of reasons. A study published by Bizina and Gray (2014) in the Global Security Studies journal brought forth a crucial underlying cause for radicalization: economic, social, and political marginalization which, when taken together, cultivate a sense of purposelessness and lack of hope for the future. Nevertheless, it is imperative to note that economic, social, and political marginalization on their own do not make everyone susceptible to radicalization. Several people remain poor, voiceless, and frustrated in the West. It is safe to conclude, however, that violence aimed at threatening the core of society are still not commonplace.

Daesh has strategically coined perspectives founded on ‘Islamic ideals’ to inform a pseudo-spiritually inspired congregation, thereby legitimizing economic, social, and political grievances by acting as a catalyst for change, promising empowerment along the way and paradise in the end. However, as Christian Picciolini, a reformed white nationalist, said: “People become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology. The ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs, which are intertwined: identity, community and a sense of purpose.” Picciolini’s statement is applicable to much of the Muslim youth in the West, who face relative deprivation compounded by deliberate political and social exclusion in North America and Europe, rendering them invisible and hence susceptible to Daesh’s ideology.

It is worthy to pay attention to the broader social structure in which young Muslims and their families are embedded. Even in present day Western Europe, third generation Muslims are often clearly identified as immigrants, which often disables them from fully integrating in the host country’s society. Despite a plethora of policies in place to ensure the assimilation of immigrants, they are often not fully accepted or welcome in the social structure of white Europeans. The Muslim community (or any other ‘immigrant’ populace for that matter) is forced to create a “parallel society,” as Bizina and Gray describe, which can be observed in France, the UK, and Germany, naming only a few. When they construct a sub-sect in Western European countries, they continue to practice their daily traditions, religion and uphold values from where they have migrated, often residing in poor neighborhoods. Young educated Muslims are confronted by an identity crisis, caused by the stark differences experienced between the private and public sphere. They are deeply tied to their respective communities when home and are therefore unable to experience what it does mean to be European when outside their vicinity, merely a consequence of their ethnicity. As young Muslim men and women strive to find their identity, confusion breeds vulnerability, and this serves as a leading cause for them to fall prey to Islamic fundamentalism, especially when preached by a charismatic persona. The Boston bombings are a classic case in point. The Kyrgyz-American Tsarnaev brothers turned to radical ideology to demonstrate their anger, frustration, and explicit hatred toward a country which failed to provide them financial and social support in a desperate situation. Pledging to the Jihad equipped them with much-needed empowerment to demonstrate their personal grievances.

The nature of terrorism is inherently political; they campaign and terrorize to captivate attention in whatever way possible, even if death is a certain outcome. Terrorist campaigns are often a response to further deprivation and marginalization of individuals. In France, for instance, officially enshrined hostility pertaining to the public display of any faith is deemed a deliberate attack on Islam by many Muslim people. In contrast to France’s quest for secularism, mainstream Islam does embrace a public representation of the religion through wearing a black veil or breaking a fast in the middle of the day. The banning of the hijab is akin to curbing a Muslim woman’s desire for self-expression which, when pitted against the crux of France’s democratic values of equality and universality, can be deemed biased. In 2008, for example, the French court denied a woman of Moroccan descent French citizenship, as reported by the Guardian. The court’s justification was that her veil was acting as a barrier to her prospective ability to assimilate in France. While Vincent Peillon, France’s former education Minister, has argued in favor of secularism as a mechanism to bring the society together as one, the effect has been paradoxical. It has left many feeling disenfranchised, and has often paved the path for Islamic extremists such as Daesh to ‘help’ the marginalized.

As we seek a solution, one cannot emphasize the importance of inclusiveness. As outlined by the Security Council Counter Terrorism Committee, all civil society groups (i.e. women, religious, cultural, social and educational leaders, the youth) must work together to promote social inclusion and cohesion. Their efforts must focus on ensuring ongoing dialogue addressing the significance of understanding and promoting an environment of coexistence. Families from various ethnic and religious backgrounds should strive to create a balance between their child’s cultural-self and mainstream-society-self. Alternative perspectives pertaining to integrity, human rights, and tolerance must be promoted by local cultural and religious leaders through creative mechanisms such as art and poetry, for instance. Moreover, it is also critical to involve the voice of all youth in the decision-making architecture at a local, national, regional and international level, explicitly addressing their grievances and fully acknowledging their ideas of action regarding countering violent extremism.


Ahmado, N. (2017, November 22). Experts Say Extremism Can Be Fought by Involving Civil Societies. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

Bizina, M. & Gray, D.H “Radicalization of Youth as a Growing Concern for Counter-Terrorism Policy” Global Security Studies, Winter 2014, Volume 5, Issue 1. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

Charlie Hebdo: The Tension Between France And Its Muslim Population. (n.d.). Retrieved  December 13, 2017, from

Christmann, K. (2012, January 01). Preventing Religious Radicalisation and Violent Extremism: A Systematic Review of the Research Evidence. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

Crowell, M. (2017, September 28). What Went Wrong With France's Deradicalization Program? Retrieved December 13, 2017, from   

Norman, J. M., & Mikhael, D. (2017, August 28). Analysis | Youth radicalization is on the rise.   Here’s what we know about why. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

The Internet as a Terrorist Tool for Recruitment and Radicalization of Youth. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

UN Security Council Counter Terrorism Committee (n.d) Countering violent extremism. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

Photo: Representation of the ‘Black Standard’ Flag used by ISIS/ISIL. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, via Wikipedia. Public Domain.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Unintended Intelligence Consequences: How Yesterday's Proxy Insurgents turned into Today's Terrorists

This article was originally published on “The Modern Diplomacy” on March 7, 2017.


During the Cold War, nations were increasingly sponsoring and/or supporting insurgencies. For instance, the United States of America supported Afghan-Mujahedin, Nicaraguan Contras, and Tibetan Buddhist fighters. The Soviet Union supported communist guerrillas in Angola, Greece, and South Africa. China supported insurgents in Vietnam. India supported Sri Lankan Tamil rebels. In fact, Trends in Outside Support for Insurgent Movements by Daniel, Chalk, Hoffman, Rosenau and Brannan (2001) discusses how 74 operational guerrilla movements and/or insurgencies were supported. This is why the term proxy, the authority to represent someone else, became very common in discussions of the Cold War.

As such, this essay will examine how proxy insurgencies of Cold War and post-Cold War have transformed into modern terrorist organizations. Firstly, the essay will look at the implications of proxy war and subsequent transformation of state-sponsored terrorism. Secondly, it will discuss the modus-operandi, tradecraft, structure, and the anatomy of these terrorist cells. Finally, the essay will conclude by addressing the byproducts of proxies, the threat that stems from these actors, and responsive and preventative measures vis-à-vis the global war on terror.

The Implications of Proxy Wars

A proxy war is one that is instigated by a major power, but, that power does not itself become involved. Proxies, and the consequence of proxy wars, have presented serious dangers in our modern world. Intelligence agencies must learn to understand the implications of post-Cold War support for insurgents. Proxies and their support for insurgencies have transformed into a process of sponsorship for terrorism. Although it is understood that great powers were seeking sphere of influence in the global arena during the Cold War, and used proxies to advance their influence, it is less understood that this practice slowly transformed into state-sponsored terrorism.

For instance, it is understood that Iran sponsored Hezbollah in Lebanon, and in response, Pakistan supported al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan to destabilize regional powers politically, economically, and militarily. It is understood that the United States of America sponsored anti-Baathist groups in Iraq and Syria, while Russia, on the other hand, provided support to opposition groups in the wider Middle Eastern region. It is less understood that these situations worsened when state-sponsored insurgencies around the world became monsters against their own masters. To illustrate, during the Cold War, the world’s strongest democracy, United States of America, armed, trained and funded Osama bin Laden who led the Afghan-Mujahedin to fight against the Soviet Union. Eventually bin Laden turned against the United States and transformed into the enemy. A similar analogy appears when the world’s largest democracy, India, armed, trained and funded Veluppillai Pirabhakaran who led the Tamil Tigers to fight against the Sri Lankan government. Eventually, Pirabhakaran made a “U-turn” and ordered his cadres to fight against the Indian troops. India lost over 1000 troops as a result; and moreover, this resulted in the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. All in all, insurgencies transformed into terrorist organizations as a result of the support and sponsorship of proxies.

Proxies are particularly concerning because interference is often motivated by a nation’s self-interest, absent of regard for future implications. For example, the Tamil Tigers were armed, trained, and funded by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s foreign intelligence agency in the early 1980’s. India’s proxy-rationale was governed by the hope that, in controlling the insurgency, they would be able to pressure the Sri Lankan government into making concessions for Tamils, and be able to pressure the Tamil militants into accepting the concessions (Richards, 2014:15). Later, the Tamil Tigers were trained by the Israeli secret service Mossad. Mossad’s nexus to the Tamil Tigers was further corroborated by ex-Mossad intelligence officer Victor Ostrovsky and his book “By Way of Deception” published in September 1990. Richards, in her paper “An Institutional History of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)”, provides a detailed account for the historical institutionalization of the Tamil Tigers as one of the most sophisticated groups ever assembled. Overall, proxies do not offer sincere aid.

For example, the present day Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) is an offspring of al Qaeda; and al Qaeda is an offspring of Afghan Mujahedin and Taliban. As noted earlier, the United States of America, as a proxy, created the Afghan Mujahedin to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Therefore, what happened on 9/11 and the subsequent wars on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, are interconnected and ultimately a devastating byproduct and extension of the post-Cold War proxy wars.

According to various defectors and seized al Qaeda documents, all terrorist organizations have learned their tactics and techniques from their masters. Waldman (2010), from Harvard University, explains that the relationship between nations’ security agencies and insurgents moves far beyond contact and co-existence. In fact, nations’ support and sponsorship sustains and strongly influences the movement, and this “is as clear as the sun in the sky” (Waldman 2010: 1).

In 2011, the New York Times reported that Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the USA Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army General David Petraeus, previously head of the U.S. Central Command and new director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) demanded that the Pakistani military intelligence agency, Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) must discontinue their support to the Taliban and al Qaeda. This illustrates the United States’ perseverance to interfere. Nonetheless, ISI support had already influenced al Qaeda beyond repair, as they learned valuable intelligence operations and tradecraft. This demonstrates how quickly and effectively support and sponsorship impacts insurgencies.

The following is a more recent example of how nation state support for insurgencies produces terrorist organizations. The International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism at George Mason University reported that the “Emni”, the intelligence apparatus of ISIL, learned its modus operandi and inner workings from the former Iraqi Security forces of Saddam Hussein. The report explains that “one of the many things that multiple defectors described were the many Iraqi former Baathists leading the organization, even in Syria, who had brought with them the tradecraft and totalitarian intelligence operations they had practiced in Saddam Hussein’s government” (2016: 3). This illustrates the degree of threat and danger involved in training insurgents. The following paragraphs will describe the modus operandi of many terrorist organizations, and it will become evident how they emulate state military and intelligence agencies.

The Anatomy of a Terrorist Cell

Many have argued that, to fight in war, the most basic and important asset is that of a secret service or organization specifically dedicated to intelligence gathering operations. It may be a government agency or the military, but this is also relevant to non-state actors or terrorist groups. Thus, it is vital to analyze the anatomy and structure of terrorist cells to better understand the modus operandi of terrorist organizations. Simply put, a terrorist cell is the systematic network of the organization’s members. Even though the Terms of Engagements and/or the Rules of Engagements differ from a conventional force, a terrorist network’s secret mission and/or operation remain well-organized and professional. It was once understood that terrorist networks were not well structured; however, after incurring heavy losses, such as losing valuable agents and informants to arrest and identification by nation states’ security and intelligence agencies, terrorist organizations came to realize that they must establish a professional intelligence unit.

Because terrorist organizations don’t have the same resources that government intelligence agencies have, they mostly rely solely on Human Intelligence as opposed to more sophisticated Signal Intelligence, Electronic Intelligence, Imagery Intelligence, Technical Intelligence, etc. However, because terrorist organizations were once state-sponsored, they emulate and resemble professional military and intelligence agencies, thereby demonstrating how terrorist organizations adopt and apply the tradecraft training and intelligence they received from nation states. To illustrate, the Principal Agent Handler (PAH) and his team consist of an Agent Handler, a Deputy Agent Handler and more than a dozen Principal Agents. See the following diagram for a visual representation of the structure of the agent handling model. The PAH directs the Agent Handler, Deputy Agent Handler, and Principal Agents within the organization’s controlled areas. They work from inside offices and are known as “Desk Agents”. There is a second set of agents directed by PAH who work in the field (hostile area) controlled by the enemy. They are known as “Field Agents”. There is always a middle man who works as a “contact” or “go between” for Desk Agents and Field Agents. He is known as the Intermediary or Cut-Out.

Intelligence-gathering is, by its very nature, a difficult task, but of utmost importance. Terrorist organizations are extremely cautious when recruiting their agents and informants. Most of the time they tend to cultivate personnel from the same religious or ethno-nationalist groups who show potential for accessing enemy targets. For every member hired, each must undergo an extensive background check. The organization focuses on the individual’s profile, including his/her character, vulnerabilities, and motivation to assess if he/she is the right person for the job.

Recruits must go through a special training period to acquire the skills necessary to perform assigned tasks. These include specific techniques in the trade of espionage, which is called “tradecraft” and could include such specialties as agent-handling, covert communication, counter-interrogation, reconnaissance, coding and decoding, drawing maps, photography, martial arts, linguistic skills, and so on. Once a recruit completes the tradecraft and skill training period, the handlers assess each recruit, keeping the individual’s potential and background in mind, to confirm whether he/she is fit to become an agent or informant. This recruitment process greatly resembles that of professional military and intelligence agencies, thereby illustrating how terrorist organizations adopt and apply the training and intelligence they have received from nation states.

Before spies and informants are assigned to a mission, they are instructed on every single detail of the target. The target could be soft or hard, such as a VIP member or a football stadium –whatever it may be, the handlers brief every detail and then debrief for further intelligence. Informants must learn about the specific physical environment beforehand so that they can easily provide updates on selected targets. To make this task easier, many organization prefer to hire refugees, students and government employees working in the area, selecting them carefully after identifying and confirming their potential usefulness, because they have already spent years within that environment and have become a part of that environment. Their social and human capital is recognized as a valuable human resource.

All these agents work together to analyze, assess, and exploit the intelligence they have gathered. The final intelligence product is sent to the decision makers, that is, the top leader such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who decide whether or not to take advantage of the information for tactical, operational, or strategic purposes. Whether the decision makers take action or not, the Principal Agent Handler and his staff make weekly assessments to update the Data Bank.

Once all intelligence has been gathered, it must be centralized in the Data Bank: a large repository of data on a particular topic that is only accessible by a limited number of users. The Principal Agent Handler oversees the Data Bank. He is provided with thousands of situational briefing reports every day from various sources, including intelligence wing operatives (spies) who operate all over the world; foreign fighters, students, and government employees (informants) across the world; special reconnaissance teams; local-patrolling and open-source intelligence-gathering.

Successful intelligence gathering depends on secure and covert communication. Without security, there is no intelligence; therefore, it is of utmost importance that an organization protect its human assets. This can only be done if there is a systematic way for intelligence to flow from hostile areas to the organization’s Data Bank. It is the Principal Agent Handler’s responsibility to make sure that his sources are safe and secure. This structure of ranking and communication protocol is also adopted from state military agencies.

Within hostile areas, there are well-established agents working for the PAH known as Resident Agents (RA) who organize and direct compartmentalized “cells” that are operating in the field. Each RA deals with a maximum of 4-5 Agents (e.g. A, B, C, D, E) who are cultivated or hired and trained by those Desk Agents. See the diagram below for a visual representation of the cells. Since agents work under a considerable amount of risk, they are proactively given a cover story to ensure their security. For instance, the perfect cover story for an RA would be a well-known journalist who lives in the area, sending and receiving information from all parts of the country. A marine engineer working in a harbor would be the perfect cover story for an informant.

When an RA contacts one of his agents and/or informants to exchange information, he must be extremely careful so not to expose or compromise them to anyone. The RA would therefore meet with them in different Safe Houses, and afterwards, the Intermediary would meet with the RA in a separate Safe House to pass the information on further to the Desk Agents.

In special cases, an Agent might contact the PAH directly without going through the RA and/or the Intermediary. In such instances, the Agent would use covert communications and code sheets to pass along the information. These kinds of cells are not only used for transferring information but are also used to transfer other resources such as weapons and personnel. For example, when al Qaeda planned an attack on World Trade Center in New York City, they commenced with the acquisition of field blueprints. To acquire these blueprints, al Qaeda members would identify themselves as employees at the facility. This Agent/Informant is then instructed to contact the RA or a separate cell on a regular basis to provide contemporary intelligence. An Intermediary would contact the RA to obtain the information in order to pass it along to the Principal Agent, or mail the information in segments directly to him.

Terrorist organizations also hire other agents who work, for example, as a cleaner to provide technical information such as storage, electric boards, the number of employees in the building, opening and closing hours and so on. He/she would give the information to the RA or mail it directly to the Principal Agent or even the Principal Agent Handler. Throughout this intelligence gathering, the Data Bank provides information to the Intelligence Wing for the building of a model of the target while another cell becomes engaged in training personnel on how to execute the mission, using the same process of agent handling.

Finally, the attack squad would be trained and briefed about the plan and sent to different locations using different routes. Since 9/11 was an airborne attack, in which civilian aircrafts were used as weapons, the RA would’ve coordinated the hijackers. Since many suicide bombers would be required for such a big attack, they would have been pre-emptively cultivated as “sleepers” to be used in the long-term. A sleeper is an inactive undercover agent who is cultivated over a long period of time to be used over such time. Sleepers would be contacted by the Principal Agent Handler to be briefed on the plan and provided with instructions and resources through different cells. The Principal Agent Handler would not, under any circumstance, expose or compromise the sleeper to the rest of the cells or vice versa, to ensure everyone’s security. Overall, the complexity of the modus operandi of terrorist organizations illustrates the value that nation state training offers. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done, so we must focus on how to address the byproducts of proxies.

Addressing the Byproducts of Proxies

How do we prevent refugees and foreign fighters from entering and targeting countries? We must allow refugees to escape and settle in our countries thereby showcasing the soft power of nations. This will allow the NATO-led hard power strategy to unfold. That is, the bombing of ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria. This highlights a long-term strategic advantage. The new challenge and threat to law enforcement agencies are about distinguishing between refugees’ motives. As influxes in European and North-American immigration occur, nations are faced with an overwhelming security concern. This forces us to consider how to identify and weed out potential members of ISIL who may infiltrate nations as disguised civilians.

The best way to prevent and deter future terrorist attacks is to separate or isolate the terrorists from the general populace. By weeding the insurgents out of legitimate refugees, we can eventually apply Mao Zedong’s theory, “insurgents are like fish in an ocean of people”. By separating the “ocean” (general populace) from the “fish” (insurgents), we will be able to determine the survival of the enemy insurgents/terrorists. So, how does one separate the populace ocean from the insurgent fish?

We can achieve separation through the core strategy of the COIN doctrine: if we're able to win the hearts and minds of the general populace, then the general populace will do the job for us. Thus, we have to win the hearts and minds of the people. This is where soft power comes into play. Although hard power is vital to safeguard a nation’s interests, when we are confronted by an enemy with many different faces, we must explore other tools to combat the enemy through non-military means. As Sun Tzu reminds us, the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting; eliminating the will to fight and destroying the spirit of the enemy’s potential to fight is paramount.

It is against this backdrop that we must come up with a strategy on how law enforcement agencies can prevent terrorists from infiltrating and/or exfiltrating western nations. Decisively, there is a method called “Spotter Force Multiplier Theory” (SFMT), which is a successful tradecraft in human intelligence also known as “Link Analysis”. That is, in any organization, albeit police, intelligence, military or even non-state organizations such gangs, mafia, drug cartel, or terrorist organization, you can only identify the members by using the organization's very own members. As we confront terrorist organizations, state security organizations come across and identify at least one genuine member. This member must be utilized as a “spotter” for governments to identify others. In other words, the member who is arrested and/or defected must undergo a brief rehabilitation process - instilling them with compassion and indoctrinating them with soft power contrary to aggressive interrogation techniques - and in turn, work for the state’s security agencies. As more individuals are found, the “spotter force multiplier” emerges and continues until the “big fish” is caught. The advantage of using SFMT is that we would have a complete picture and understanding of insider information regarding enemy organizations, that is, valuable tactical intelligence.


The global powers, including, but not limited to, American, Russian, Chinese, and Indian governments and their intelligence agencies, supported and sponsored insurgencies around the world. This ultimately transformed insurgencies into terrorist organizations. Global powers must come to understand the implications of supporting insurgencies, and learn from the consequences of past proxies – especially in a globalized world that is experiencing an increase in the number and severity of terrorist attacks. Therefore, global powers should be held accountable, and adopt the COIN doctrine and SFMT as a responsive and preventative measure.


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Friday, February 10, 2017

Recognizing Outdated Power and Eliminating the Divide: Countering Terrorism through Smart Power


Countering terrorism through “smart power” is a concept deliberated on creative thinking to combat one’s enemy, especially terrorists. This essay will examine the reconceptualization of traditional approaches toward counterterrorism, and discuss how ideologies from a western liberal democracy can respond to an unconventional terrorist ideology. To begin, the term “power” will be defined. Following, conventional “hard power” strategies and more lenient “soft power” strategies for confronting terrorism will be analyzed. A case study on the advantages of soft power strategies from personal experience will then be introduced. The combination of hard and soft power strategies, known as the “smart power” doctrine, will be discussed; but more importantly, how it can be applied as a counterterrorism strategy. Finally, the essay will reflect upon broader counterterrorism strategies and recommend new ideas to combat terrorism effectively.

Defining the Term “Power”

The concept of power is defined by Robert Dahl (1957) as “[…] ‘A’ has power over ‘B’ to the extent that he can get ‘B’ to do something that ‘B’ would not otherwise do […]” (p. 202). This is a thought-provoking concept since Dahl’s explanation of power relations directly relates to the relationship between state institutions and an individual living within that state. To illustrate, a state institution could represent ‘A’ and an individual living under the influence of such a state could represent ‘B’. Through different forms of power, the state can get the individual to do what it wants. Since the state functions in a hierarchical order and since the state is more powerful than the individual, an individual would not know the motives behind the state institution. Therefore, the individual has no choice but to comply with the law and order of the state.

Max Weber (1946) viewed power as the ability to attain one’s desires in the face of resistance or objection from others. In this context, power is the exercise of a social relationship and always encompasses the communications of at least two parties (Lindsey & Beach, 2003). Weber used the concept of domination to refer to circumstances in which an entire group of people could be directed to comply with specific commands (Bartels, 2009; Weber, 1968). For example, in military, the high-ranking commissioned officers have dominance and authority, requiring, on some level, the acceptance of obedience. Non-commissioned members obey the commands of the high-ranking commissioned officers thereby acknowledging their dominance. Dominance is always an expression of hierarchy in that one group is stronger or can control the actions of another.

To further the concept of power, Patrick O’Neil (2013) argues that politics is the quest for ruling and making decisions that will affect the community. It is, therefore, hard to separate the idea of politics from the idea of power, since both involve the ability to influence others or impose one's will on others (O’Neil, 2013). Politics is therefore the competition for public power, while power is the ability to influence and extend one's will. Systems of power exist in a range of units: the government imposes its will on people; the commander of an army orders and directs their soldiers; the owner of a company manages their will on employees; a father undertakes his will on his family. Hence, political, or social power can often be interpreted as a form of force or injustice; but nevertheless, the exercise of power is accepted as rampant in society as it continues.

Hard and Soft Power in the “War on Terror”

Joseph Nye (2011) defines political or social power as the ability to influence others to get them to behave in ways that you want them to behave, either through coercion and/or payment (elements of hard power) or through attraction and/or persuasion (elements of soft power). Hard power apparatuses include intelligence, law, policing, and military control, which are important to safeguard a nation. Soft power instruments on the other hand include political, social, cultural, and economic control alongside broader policy initiatives dealing with the environment, development, critical infrastructure, migration, and humanitarian intervention in which a nation's civil society plays a significant role.

Like communism, nazism, and fascism, terrorism - the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, to pursue political aims - is a type of ideology (Cohen et al. 2016). An ideology is best fought with a better counter-ideology, rather than by swords and guns alone. As the great American psychologist, Abraham Maslow (1966) once wrote, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail” (p.15). This concept, known as the law of the instrument, is relied on too much in counterterrorism, with the hammer being military might. Today, however, there is ambiguity in how we combat terrorism effectively when facing a multipronged and multifaceted ideological enemy and it demands a new approach to the traditional counterterrorist orthodoxy. In the context of the US-led “war on terror”, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) could technically eliminate some terrorist groups, religious extremists, and hard-core individuals by military might. In the long run, however, NATO will never be able to destroy ambiguous Islamic ideologies, such as Wahhabism, Salafism, or Jihadism, because an ideology is better subsumed progressively rather than destroyed violently.

To counter it long-term you also need to apply soft power. As Nye (2008) emphasized, “in the information age, success is not merely the result of whose army wins, but also whose story wins” (p.5). Hence, America and other Western nations should not exclusively engage ground troops and air strikes in the Middle Eastern region. Rather, U.S-led nations should turn the tables politically and diplomatically - via soft power measures – and strive to give the majority of moderate Muslims a bigger responsibility and leadership power to deal with the proportionally small percentage of the population that embraces violent extremism. In this way, the West can attempt to avoid the current struggle being characterized exclusively across the Greater Middle East region as a narrative of Christians against Muslims. This debased narrative only feeds into the extremists’ ideology. By training and “arming” moderate Muslims to combat regional terrorism effectively and strategically with soft power Islamic tools, the West can counter the damaging narrative of Crusade versus Jihad, while still having its comforting “hammer” at the ready. Ultimately, the Western diplomatic community has to craft a winning counter-narrative comprised NOT just of Western liberal values and morals, but it must find connective diplomatic bridges with moderate Islamic parties (bridges that legitimately give Islamists a leadership role and executive management of the narrative). This will allow both sides to portray a partnership that gives dignity, soft power responsibility, and global legitimacy to the Islamist side of the team. This has so far been relatively absent from Western counterterrorist strategies.

A Case Study: Soft Power in Action

The idea of applying soft power in counterterrorism interests me because it relates to my personal experience. As such, I demonstrate the effectiveness of soft power by way of case study. When living in my country of origin, Sri Lanka, during times of ethnic conflict in the beginning of 1990s, I was manipulated and forced by the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist organization in the eyes of the world, to enlist in their militia. Kidnapped from high school and forced to fight as a child soldier with the Tamil Tigers, I rose quickly through the ranks to become an intelligence officer, working closely with the Tamil Tigers leadership. Having broken the Tamil Tigers’ arbitrary code of conduct by falling in love, I was blackmailed to work for the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) - the Indian government's foreign intelligence agency. Fear and despair drove me to eventually defect to the Sri Lankan security forces in the summer 1995. In working with the intelligence services of the Sri Lankan government, I was implicated in the demise of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009. I was a great asset and tremendous source of information for the government of Sri Lanka, having been a former naval intelligence officer who knew the modus operandi of the Tamil Tigers. In fact, I was willingly providing intelligence to India’s foreign intelligence agency, RAW, while still holding a position in the Tamil Tiger’s notorious intelligence wing.

I did all this, because throughout my childhood, I became indoctrinated with the south Indian popular culture; I had internalized the melodious music of maestro Dr. Ilaiyaraaja and A.R. Rahman, thereby I felt a brotherhood with Indians. It is difficult for me to describe how crucially important music has been in my life. From the Hindu bhajans (devotional songs) praising God, to the sweet, romantic South Indian cinema music of Ilaiyaraaja and A.R Rahman, I feel that music has taught me and inspired me to hold a higher purpose. It has almost been like a drug to me, helping me to escape the sometimes unthinkable realities of my life and to hope and believe that other things were possible.

After I was forcibly recruited into the Tamil Tigers, I was not allowed to listen to cinema songs – the Tamil Tigers did not allow cadres to fall in love or listen to music or watch TV. Their doctrine being that “you are born to die, and you might as well die nobly as a martyr to your country, allowing no frivolity to distract you”. The subjects of the music that I listened to were mostly about romantic love, camaraderie, peace, and other things that were forbidden by the Tamil Tigers. Nonetheless, I would sneak away and listen to this music whenever I had the chance; and twice, I got caught. I did not care; nothing could keep me away from this melodious music that evoked profound emotion in me and to which its message of brotherhood and love spoke to me. When A.R Rahman's first hit album ‘Roja’ came out, I could not resist secretly going to my home to listen to it. Rahman’s music is a beautiful combination of Western and Eastern fusion. When we would leave the camps, we would hear this music in the air and in the newspapers, reading from the sections on cinema and entertainment. I was tired of listening to Tamil Tigers’ news about war and death; I would try to distract myself by reading the papers and listening to this music, even though the militants had banned and blocked all sorts of cinema, songs, and other popular cultural and entertainment resources. It could even be said that the south Indian popular culture, especially the music, finally saved my life in a way more powerful than Tamil Tiger’s deliberate ideological brainwashing.

This matters when we consider strategic soft power counterterrorism, because in order to sustain their totalitarian ideology and propaganda, terrorist organizations like the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), are all maniacally violent toward civil society-driven soft power instruments, such as art, social media, popular culture, music, and entertainment. These soft power avenues are radically blocked from people under the dictatorship of these groups. This soft power war is the war that terrorists do not want and really cannot win. But the West fights this war from a Western-dominated perspective that is inefficient and somewhat culturally arrogant. Soft power does not have to always mean the inculcation of ‘western’ culture into the counterterrorist fight. There are local versions of cultural soft power that can be deeply impactful and powerful instruments that move people to fight despotism. Rock and roll music may have successfully been a soft power element that intrigued the Soviet people and undermined the idea of communism (McCarthy, 2011), but that does not mean one defeats radical Islamist ideology only with Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. If the Western-moderate Muslim partnership is truly built with shared power and leadership, the expansion and applicability of cultural soft power tools will be monumental and those tools will often need to be non-Western.

Getting Smarter for Counterterrorism

In higher academia, it is the Realist School of Thought that emphasizes hard power, especially the hard power of the state, while Liberal Institutionalist scholars emphasize soft power as an essential resource of statecraft (Wilson, 2008). Baylis, Smith and Owens (2014) explain that Realism has been the dominant theory of world politics since the beginning of academic international relations. Realism has a longer history in the works of classical political theorists including Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Rousseau (Baylis et al, 2014). Realism argues that states find themselves in the shadows of anarchy, and that their security cannot be taken for granted. Although we have seen heightened criticism of Realist assumptions since the Cold War, Realism continues to attract academicians and policy-makers in the dawn of the new millennium. Realism, that views the ‘international’ as an anarchic realm.

Baylis, Smith, and Owens (2014) argue that Liberalism is a theory of both governments within states, and good governance between states and peoples worldwide. Unlike Realism’s anarchic realm, Liberalism seeks to project values of order, liberty, justice, and toleration into international relations. The peak of Liberal thought in international relations was reached during the inter-war period in the works of idealists who agreed that warfare was an unnecessary and outdated way of settling disputes between nations. Liberals nonetheless disagree on fundamental issues, such as the causes of war and what kind of institutions are required to deliver Liberal values in a decentralized, multicultural international system (Baylis et al, 2014).

Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye (2007) refer to the combination of hard and soft measures as “smart power”, that is, “by complementing US military and economic might with greater investments in soft power, America can build the framework it needs to tackle tough global challenges” (p. 1). The National Counterterrorism Center (2016) defines “counterterrorism” as the practices, tactics, techniques, and strategies that governments, militaries, police departments and corporations adopt in response to terrorist threats and/or acts, both real and imputed. As counterterrorism increasingly becomes more complex and involves different dynamics, countries must rethink strategy and evolve ideas in order to approach the phenomena anew.

It is of paramount importance to reconceptualize our approaches of the past in order to end terrorism and prevent the propagation of such atrocities. We must identify the root causes of terrorism, including the feelings of injustice and inequality, ethnic and religious hatred, denied dignity and freedom, and political exclusion and repression. Terrorism, mainly driven by political motive, is a form of political violence. Therefore, it can be resolved through answering political grievances. To address political grievances adequately, we need to employ a combination of soft and hard power measures. Former American President Theodore Roosevelt relates to this: "speak softly, and carry a big stick". In referencing foreign policy, Roosevelt (1913) explained that this involves: "the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis" (p.522).

It must be noted that soft institutions and hard power institutions are founded within and exercised by different and distinct institutions, and therefore, the two concepts oppose one another (Aly et al, 2015). To illustrate, in the U.S., hard power apparatuses are founded within the Pentagon, while soft power institutions are founded within the State Department. Because hard and soft systems of power are not neutrally wielded, there exists the need for a central governing authority that exercises the “balance of power” when combating terrorism. It is against this backdrop that NATO should be responsibilized to address a unified method for combating terrorism effectively. There is an urgent need to come up with a new ideology.

Since hard power is inclined towards “Realism” and soft power towards “Liberalism”, the global community must strategize a “Realist-cum-Liberalist” doctrine to survive and succeed in this new global information age. Instead of thriving to survive individually within a state, nations must work in the pursuit of collective goals between states. Perhaps the ultimate solution to combat terrorism involves "One World" by ensuring geostrategic-cum-borderless “global village” for the modern citizens of the world (Ariaratnam, 2015). For instance, the Global South are known as the poor countries of the world including Asia, South America, and Africa, and are home to roughly five billion people who are living in extreme poverty. Thus, relationships around the world are not balanced (Shah, 2009). In fact, 80% of global resources are consumed by only one billion people - those who live in the wealthy and industrialized Global North countries, i.e. Western Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia, and Japan (World Bank Group, 2010). Income inequality and poverty involve powerlessness and invisibility, producing shortages of money, basic nutrition, health care, education, freedom, personal autonomy. Although there are exceptions between the North-South, as a rule, states in the Global North are democratic and technologically advanced, have a high standard of living, and experience very low population growth (Ravelli & Webber, 2015). Is it fair or justifiable that developing countries must try to survive on only 20% of the world’s resources? Terrorism that is rooted in inequality is best combated politically, diplomatically, economically, socially, culturally, educationally, and religiously rather than militarily alone. This involves uniting the whole global community as one system.

Joseph Nye (2008) wrote the following just before President Barak Obama was elected - and after eight years and the end of two terms, it is very much relevant today at the dawn of another president entering the White House:

The next president must understand the importance of developing an integrated grand strategy that combines hard military power with soft attractive power. In the struggle against terrorism, we need to use hard power against the hard-core terrorists, but we cannot hope to win unless we gain the hearts and minds of the moderates. […] Right now, we have no integrated strategy for combining hard and soft power. Many official instruments of soft power—public diplomacy, broadcasting, exchange programs, development assistance, disaster relief, military to military contacts—are scattered around the government and there is no overarching strategy or budget that even tries to integrate them with hard power into an overarching national security strategy. We spend about 500 times more on the military than we do on broadcasting and exchanges. Is this the right proportion? How would we know? How would we make trade-offs? And how should the government relate to the non-official generators of soft power—everything from Hollywood to Harvard to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—that emanate from our civil society? (p.4)

The international community must utilize and balance its soft and hard power foundations when combating terrorism. Each nation possesses a unique and popular culture that is so rich and deep that it can be greatly effective against hard-core individuals, enemy organizations, and radicalization. This can also be applied in indoctrinating the target population. In his oldest military treatise in the world, The Art of War, published 5th century BC, the ancient Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, wrote that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” (Giles, 2007, p. 62). Thus, eliminating the will to fight and destroying the spirit of the enemy’s potential to fight is paramount. In other words, under the U.S military’s counterinsurgency doctrine, we must win our opponent’s hearts and minds.


To combat terrorism smartly in today's global information age, nations must backstop and infuse conventional hard power tactics with more flexible and cunning cultural soft power strategies. In other words, countries should apply FUSED military and non-military strategies, very much in the way that I was forced to live part of my young life in Sri Lanka. To date the West embraces both versions in battling counterterrorism but those approaches tend to be distinct and isolated from each other. Since the US-led West is confronting an unconventional and radically ideological enemy, Western nations must plan, prepare, and execute an innovative and creative strategy that is not based solely on its own concepts of culture or liberal progress. This is where the international community must come together to integrate the role of hard power and soft power instruments as a new innovative core of counterterrorist smart power. If this new partnership can be created it will be paramount in winning the hearts and minds of the general populace in the Greater Middle East that is indeed moderate but is still justifiably fearful to be anything but silent about extremism.

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Friday, January 27, 2017

Deconstructing the Sri Lankan Counterterrorism Model for the Obliteration of ISIS


As the whole world is coming forward to combat Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), I would like to share my opinion here on how to fight ISIS and eventually obliterate them just like the Sri Lankan military defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) just seven years ago. ISIS, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, continues to commit atrocities against humanity in Iraq, Syria, and now Libya. Unless this fast spreading violence and hatred are stopped, the carnage will most likely expand throughout the Middle East and Asia.

In reading Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) of the ongoing counterterrorism operations in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, I have noticed a pattern in the Islamic State terrorists’ “modus operandi”, that of an analogical spider. Spiders have eight legs and two body parts, including the head region (cephalothorax) and the abdomen. Most spiders have toxic venom, which they use to kill their prey. So, if the international community wants to get rid of ISIS, hypothetically speaking, they must get rid of ISIS’ cephalothorax, rather than fight with its eight legs. What I try to pinpoint here is that, while ISIS's headquarters (cephalothorax) are in Syria, their means of survival (abdomen) depend on how many areas they control in Iraq. Thus, before this ISIS "spider" transforms into a "multi-headed" and "multi-pronged" spider, the international community must target their headquarters in Syria.

Of course, ISIS will replace their cephalothorax; but, it is important that counterterrorism efforts maintain target on any/all future headquarters. All we need is the collection of accurate and effective tactical military intelligence. Although international intelligence agencies have feet of clay, particularly in dealing with an enemy of many different faces, I feel that they deserve a more involved role than just being the eyes and ears of any one nation. Recommendations for an appropriate tradecraft to achieve collective intelligence are the need of the day. Although there is no truth to search for, no absolute truth, since everything is subjective, the valuable role that intelligence agencies play in producing deterrence is paramount. Achieving a state of global terrorist deterrence is what I consider the essential argument.

Countering Terrorism: The Sri Lankan Model

Sri Lanka, a small South Asian island nation located in the Indian Ocean, has been politically and economically destabilized as a result of an ethnic conflict that has lasted over three decades. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the “Tamil Tigers”, a secessionist-cum-terrorist organization, fought against the Sri Lankan government to establish a separate homeland for Tamils in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka. This organization was a trendsetter for other terrorist groups around the world. Many organizations, including al-Qaeda, Taliban and now ISIS have used LTTE’s tactics as a template for terrorism. In May 2009, the Sri Lankan security forces militarily obliterated LTTE.

Prior to this obliteration, Sri Lankan political and military analysts, as well as laymen alike, had been closely monitoring the military operation in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka where the battle to liberate the rest of the Wanni region was fast approaching. They knew that it was a “do or die” situation for the LTTE. During the last five weeks of the battle, the LTTE claimed they had pinned down and killed approximately 1000 Sri Lankan troops by infiltrating offensively into the army’s defense lines.

The LTTE desperately attempted, in vain, to infiltrate the military’s forward defenses, but ultimately left more than 100 of their own cadres killed and just as many injured. The LTTE was preparing for a large-scale offensive attack toward the existing military defenses at Palamathalan and North of Puthkkudiyirippu, engaging over 200 cadres including suicide bombers and Sea Tigers. Following the initial thrust, the LTTE planned to send waves of around 200 cadres as reinforcements. According to the Sri Lankan security forces, this was the first time during recent battles that the LTTE had engaged many of its 'high profiles' to the battlefront. Security sources say that top LTTE commanders, such as Banu, Soosai, Swarnam, Theepan, Pottu Amman, Lawrence, Ratnam Master, Sasikumar Master, Thinesh Master and few other high profilers, were directly involved in masterminding the pre-emptive assaults.

The timely detection and precise ground intelligence received from the Directorate of Military Intelligence was proven valuable, as LTTE’s offensive waves were received with intense military counter-attacks. The Sri Lankan security forces could finally claim that the Mullaittivu battle was reaching its final phase. Over 150 cadres were killed during the initial thrust while the rest were hunted down by the 2nd Commando Regiment, 12th Gajaba Regiment, 12th Gemunu Watch, and 8th Gemunu Watch troops during the last 48 hours of the final battle.

As claimed repeatedly by defense experts, the fighting power of the LTTE was enormously weakened by the scarcity of military supplies and manpower. This contributed to the defeat of the LTTE. The last LTTE offensive attempt was initiated from the control of a 65-kilometer radius, reminding troops that the LTTE was still capable of planning, preparing and executing surprise raids on any advancing military. It was against this backdrop that security forces were forced to rethink strategy and implement unconventional warfare tactics, that is, to lead by military intelligence.

By utilizing OSINT, intelligence agencies can extract up to 95% of strategic intelligence, however, tactical intelligence depends on human intelligence (HUMINT) which refers to any information that can be gathered from human sources. Other categories of intelligence include signals intelligence (SIGINT) which is obtained by intercepting and decrypting communications information and transmissions; and imagery intelligence (IMINT) which is obtained by studying photographs taken from air or space. It is no secret that the Sri Lankan security forces have been trying to strengthen their HUMINT gathering capacity for some time now. In fact, they have been openly recruiting former LTTE cadres and other Tamil militants who were working with security forces as “paramilitary” groups. In addition, the Sri Lankan Army’s Deep Penetration Unit (DPU) and/or Special Force Regiment (SF) also plays a vital role in the forces’ HUMINT gathering efforts.

The Sri Lankan security forces were planning to exploit their latest HUMINT during the final military operation in order to fully liberate the Wanni terrain and wipe out LTTE completely, as the security forces had done in the eastern province. The Directorate of Military Intelligence engineered a “break-away” faction, just like Karuna Amman’s defection in 2004. In fact, Karuna Amman was providing HUMINT to the directorate, and at the same time, convincing some LTTE senior cadres to run away from the LTTE and surrender to the security forces. It can, therefore, be seen that the security forces’ HUMINT played a vital role. The military’s signal intelligence infiltrated and analyzed the LTTE’s communications and transmissions systems for the purpose of convincing these cadres to surrender. All in all, the fusion of the military's SIGINT and the contribution of Amman’s HUMINT was an effective strategy.

Given the status quo in Sri Lanka, it was very easy to conduct projects of psychological warfare, since security forces were moving in quickly and most of the non-hardcore LTTE cadres and leaders were in low morale within the organization. As a result of human nature, LTTE cadres prioritized their survival during those days. Nonetheless, security forces were not successful in the defection of LTTE top leaders like Banu, Soosai, Swarnam, Theepan, Pottu Amman, Lawrence, or Nadesan. This is because these men were married to female LTTE cadres and bore children together. Consequently, security forces sought young, but clever, LTTE cadres for the job. It was indeed a good strategy, proven by the fact that Karuna Amman was made a minister following his defection, and, by the fact that former LTTE child soldier Pillaiyan was appointed a chief minister of the eastern province.


As a terrorist organization that possessed an army, navy, and rudimentary air force, the LTTE set a threatening example for other terrorist groups; and therefore, they were not only a threat to the domestic stability of Sri Lanka but also to the security of the regional and global systems. This explains the support from the international community for the Sri Lankan government during its war against terrorism. This support contributed to the eventual annihilation of LTTE.

By and large, the Sri Lankan security forces were attempting to engineer a defection within the LTTE, as they battled to destroy LTTE leadership. In other words, security forces were attempting to engineer defection against the “cephalothorax” of the spider, instead of fighting with its eight legs. The defection of LTTE’s top commander, Karuna Amman, along with two-thirds of the organization’s manpower created a desperate split within the LTTE, weakening the organization. The Sri Lankan military intelligence exploited this situation and enlisted Karuna Amman and his cadres in the Sri Lankan army as a paramilitary group, making their fight against terrorism easier. Moreover, the killing of LTTE’s supreme leader Veluppillai Pirabhakaran reinforces the argument and importance of the spider analogy. This also reinforces the argument that military intelligence deserves a primary and active role in counterterrorism efforts.

The importance of intelligence as capital in counterterrorism is further illustrated by the response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in the United States, since the international community came together to share intelligence on terrorist organizations in order to dismantle their operations throughout the world. This essentially crippled the LTTE’s maritime logistics support to which their survival depended on. The LTTE’s threat to global security was obliterated at the hands of the international collaboration of intelligence agencies. Since the modus operandi and tradecraft of al-Qaeda, Taliban, and the recent ISIS is the replica of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, I believe that the international community is capable of combatting ISIS by utilizing the same model that Sri Lankan military used against the LTTE.


Does this latest military defeat of a terrorist organization make us ponder the improbable? Can we learn anything from the Sri Lankan experience to deal with ISIS? Can we apply a similar counterinsurgency or counterterrorism model to which the Sri Lankan military used against LTTE?

Annotated Bibliography

Balasingham, A. (2001). The Will to Freedom: An Inside View of Tamil Resistance. Mitcham, England: Fairfax.

This book is an insider’s look at the armed conflict by the LTTE, which portrays them as freedom fighters. As a historical account, The Will to Freedom clearly examines important events, episodes, and the turning points of the 30-year-long conflict. This book will be an important source for this essay because it sheds light on the unknown characteristics of the LTTE leaders, cadres and their mindset, motivation, strengths, and weaknesses.

Balasuriya, M. (2011) The Rise and Fall of the LTTE. Colombo Sri Lanka: Asian Network on Conflict Research.

As an Inspector General of Sri Lankan Police, Balasuriya examines three main areas in his book. First, he addresses the crucial element for defeating the LTTE – political leadership and well-trained armed forces, police, and intelligence services. Second, he looks into the government of Sri Lanka’s realistic approach to war and peace. Third, he explores the LTTE’s genesis, growth, decline, infighting, and defeat by Sri Lankan security forces and the international collaborators, particularly the United States, India, and China. As such, this book will be a valuable account for this paper because it focuses on the LTTE’s history and reasons for its defeat.

Chandraprema, C.A. (2012) Gōta’s War: The Crushing of Tamil Tiger Terrorism in Sri Lanka. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Ranjan Wijeratne Foundation

This book presents a clear picture of the importance of political and military leadership for wiping out terrorism in Sri Lanka. The author gives credit to the Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, as well as the Secretary of Defense, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, for political and military victories respectively. The book will be an important account for this paper because it points outs how Gota (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) planned, prepared and executed the war against the LTTE successfully in the midst of many obstacles.

De Silva, K.M. (2012) Sri Lanka and the Defeat of the LTTE. New Delhi, India: Penguin

In his book, the veteran Sri Lankan historian De Silva outlines the history of ethnic tension in Sri Lanka since its independence in 1948. Then he examines the origin, development, and demise of the LTTE, the triumphant Sri Lankan government and the security forces. Finally, De Silva talks about the necessity of post-war reconciliation, rehabilitation, and rebuilding of the country as well. As such, contents of De Silva’s book will support this paper’s arguments regarding the causes of the LTTE defeat.

DeVotta, N. (2009) The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Lost Quest for Separatism in Sri Lanka. Asian Survey, 49(6), 1021-1051.

This journal article analyzes the root causes of the Sri Lankan conflict, such as discrimination and oppression of its own minorities by the successive Sri Lankan government. This led to the birth of the LTTE which engaged in terrorism and fascistic rule in the areas they controlled, thereby weakening the Tamil community. DeVotta goes on to explain that the Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s extra-constitutional counterterrorism strategies led to the eventual defeat of the LTTE. As such, this journal article is important because it provides an opinion on the ethnic conflicts in Sri Lanka that contributed to the development and demise of the LTTE.

Gunaratna, R. (2002). Inside al-Qaeda: Global Network of Terror. New York, NY: Barkley.

As a leading scholar who wrote more than six books on the LTTE, and who heads a counterterrorism think-tank in Asia-Pacific, Professor Gunaratna now writes about Al-Qaeda comparing the organization’s ideologies, structures, tactics, and operations to other terrorist organizations, especially the trendsetter LTTE. Gunaratna writes this book based on al-Qaeda’s documents and his own interviews with al-Qaeda associates, which led to five years of an extensive research. This book points out the obvious in that al-Qaeda copies all their operational tactics from the LTTE, and therefore, this book’s findings will immensely contribute to this paper.

Gunaratna, R. (1997) International and Regional Security Implications of the Sri Lankan Tamil Insurgency. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Unie Arts.

Basing on surrendered and arrested LTTE cadres’ interviews, the author Gunaratna discusses how LTTE became a threat to regional and global security. This book analyzes the LTTE organization’s structure, strategies, tactics, and profiles. This is one of those books that led Western nations’ to label the LTTE as a terrorist organization rather than a freedom movement. Thus, this book’s contents will be useful for understanding the reasons why Western nations banned and fought against the LTTE.

Hoffman, B. (2009) The first non-state use of a chemical weapon in warfare: The Tamil Tigers’ assault on East Kiran. Small Wars & Insurgencies, 20(3-4), 463-477.

This journal article explores a shocking detailed account of the LTTE as the first non-state actor using chemical weapons in East Kiran, Sri Lanka against the Sri Lankan security forces in June 1990. The article begins with the general background of the LTTE and goes on to state how innovative and lethal they are as a terrorist organization. The article concludes with the outline of the motivations behind a terrorist group to use chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons and suggestions on how governments can prevent this from happening in the future. Therefore, this journal article provides a key understanding into the dangerous dimensions of the LTTE and possible consequences for the global security.

McCants, W. F. (2015). The ISIS apocalypse: the history, strategy, and doomsday vision of the Islamic State. New York: St. Martin's Press.

The Islamic State is one of the most lethal and successful jihadist groups in modern history, surpassing even al-Qaeda. Thousands of its followers have marched across Syria and Iraq, subjugating millions, enslaving women, beheading captives, and daring anyone to stop them. Thousands more have spread terror beyond the Middle East under the Islamic State's black flag. Based almost entirely on primary sources in Arabic, including ancient religious texts and secret al-Qaeda and Islamic State letters that few have seen, McCants explores how religious fervor, strategic calculation, and doomsday prophecy shaped the Islamic State's past and foreshadows its dark future.

Mayilvaganan, M. (2008) Is it Endgame for LTTE? Strategic Analysis, 33(1), 25-39.

This journal article examines the LTTE’s struggle during the “Global War on Terrorism” following the post-9/11 scenario. The author enlists the factors contributing to the defeat of the LTTE, such as internal conflict, international pressure, the predominance of the Sri Lankan military, scarcity of arms and new recruits, which are some of the elements. Mayilvaganan further questions the regional and global implications of the anticipated defeat of the LTTE. Therefore, this journal article validates this paper’s argument about the impact of the 9/11 attacks on the LTTE.

Narayanswamy, M.R. (2003) Inside an Elusive Mind: Prabhakaran. New Delhi, India: Konark.

As one of India’s leading authors on terrorism, Narayanswamy writes about why the LTTE was armed, trained and funded by the Indian government in order to placate India’s geopolitical interests in the late 1980s. This book is an interesting portrait of a man who was the only decision maker and the supreme leader of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization. Narayanswamy also throws light on the hitherto unknown facts of the Indian intelligence interventions in Sri Lanka that led to the eventual assassination of India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE. Therefore, this book’s contents will be beneficial for this paper because they provide evidence on how state-sponsored terrorism becomes a threat to the regional and global security.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Responsibility to Protect Syria - A Case Study


It is widely believed that non-intervention is the norm within an international society since international law restricts the use of force except for purposes of self-defense or by way of collective enforcement as authorized by the United Nations Security Council (Bellamy and Wheeler 2014). This misunderstanding is grounded in the debate on how the international community should react when governments commit acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, or other mass atrocities against their own citizens. Important, yet complicated, questions always arise. Were governments unable to avoid such abuses, or, have they collapsed into civil war and/or anarchy? Does sovereignty provide the country with a blanket of legitimacy to treat their own populations inhumanely? Should sovereign states not safeguard the security of its citizens above all else? Does the international society have a legal and moral duty to protect its fellow global citizens?

This paper will examine the successes and failures of the international intervention in Syria, as a case study, using the core principles that sustain the concept of “Responsibility to Protect”. Firstly, it will outline the concept “Responsibility to Protect” (RtoP) as per the United Nations’ Charter. Secondly, the paper will discuss the context of the Syrian conflict and the stakeholders within. Finally, it will assess the international community’s response and intervention in regards to their Responsibility to Protect vis-à-vis the conflict in Syria.

Outlining the Concept of “Responsibility to Protect”

As stated by the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (2005), “the Responsibility to Protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing has developed as an important global principle since the adoption of the United Nations World Summit Outcome Document in 2005”. As stipulated in the outcome of this document, the concept of RtoP refers to the state’s obligation to their populations and toward all external populations at risk of genocide and other mass atrocities. RtoP specifies three pillars of responsibility:

Pillar One: Every state has the Responsibility to Protect its populations from four mass atrocity crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Pillar Two: The wider international community has the responsibility to encourage and assist individual states in meeting that responsibility. Pillar Three: If a state is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take appropriate collective action, in a timely and decisive manner and in accordance with the United Nations Charter (United Nations Office 2005).
According to the Global Centre for Responsibility to Protect (2008), the above principles originated in a 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which was recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, paragraphs 138, 139 and 140.

The United Nations Secretary-General released a report in January 2009 on implementing RtoP. Following, was the first General Assembly Debate on RtoP in July 2009. At this debate, the United Nations’ Member States overwhelmingly reaffirmed the 2005 commitment and the General Assembly passed a consensus resolution taking note of the Secretary-General's report. The Secretary-General has since released annual reports in advance of the General Assembly Informal Interactive Dialogue on RtoP. Moreover, the Security Council and Human Rights Council have invoked RtoP in more than 45 resolutions since 2006 (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 2008). It can, therefore, be seen that RtoP has been discussed, debated, and assessed on numerous occasions throughout the years, indicating its transformation from convention to the norm. Throughout these conventions, RtoP has transformed: no longer a debate between sovereignty and human rights, RtoP has become a discussion on how to best protect people in danger (Bellamy & Wheeler 2014). It must not be taken for granted, however, that these discussions are absent of controversy. In fact, a complete international consensus has yet to emerge: since RtoP involves sovereign nations forcibly intervening on other sovereign nations, it undermines the concept of sovereignty itself and threatens national security (Bellamy & Wheeler 2014). The morality aspect of RtoP seems to be what justifies such responses, that is, the compassion for humanitarian intervention (Bellamy & Wheeler 2014).

The Syrian Conflict and its Stakeholders

The conflict in Syria erupted in March 2011 and can be traced to the Arab spring, which involved the mass movement of uprisings and demonstrations in the Arab world that began in Tunisia following a street vendor who set himself alight in protest of police brutality (Hove & Mutanda 2014). The event subsequently led to a chain of uprisings that engulfed several Arab countries, including Syria. At the beginning of the Syrian conflict, stakeholders predicted its outcome to be similar to that of the Egyptian and Libyan revolutions, or to that of other Arab states affected by the Arab spring (Hove & Mutanda, 2014). On the contrary, the peaceful protests in Syria were met with a violent response and turned out to be one of the most catastrophic humanitarian crises that led to an eventual civil war. This escalation was the result of external intervention.

One must understand the hostility within Syria as a power struggle rather than a humanitarian intervention, especially within the city of Aleppo. Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, over 280,000 people have been killed (The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 2016). The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that as of October 2016, there were over 4.8 million Syrian refugees and at least 6.1 million internally displaced persons, which is the largest number of people displaced by any conflict in the world (The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 2016). According to the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect report (2016), both Russian and Syrian government aircraft are currently conducting sustained airstrikes in Aleppo, with illegal barrel bombs, cluster munitions, and bunker-buster bombs. As of September 2015, Russia commenced airstrikes in Syria, claiming that it would help defeat the militant group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. However, most of these airstrikes have targeted other opposition forces and civilian areas outside government control. Additionally, an international coalition, led by the United States, is currently conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 5,357 fighters of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and 611 civilians were killed during coalition airstrikes between September 2014 and September 2016, while Russian airstrikes had killed 2,861 fighters of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and 4,162 civilians, including over 1,000 children, by 30 October 2016 (The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 2016). Furthermore, Amnesty International investigated 11 coalition airstrikes and in October 2016, reported in that an estimated 300 civilians were killed in these attacks (The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 2016).

The United Nations Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry has asserted that Syrian government forces have committed crimes against humanity as a matter of state policy. Syrian government airstrikes in residential areas have breached the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2139, which demanded all parties cease attacks on civilians and the use of indiscriminate weapons (The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 2016). The Commission of Inquiry has reported that government-allied militias and other pro-government forces have also conducted widespread attacks on the population, committing crimes against humanity, including “extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts” (The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 2016). Numerous armed opposition groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq, have also committed war crimes, violating International Humanitarian Law by targeting religious minorities through mass killings and sexual enslavement. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, between June 2014 and October 2016, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria executed 4,500 people, including nearly 2,450 of them being civilians (The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 2016).

Assessing Responsibility to Protect vis-à-vis the Conflict in Syria

The Syrian conflict transformed from an internal political protest to an international affair (Hinnebusch 2012). It was the intervention of “superpowers” like the United States and Russia that influenced the dimension of the Syrian conflict toward a different direction than what would have taken place without their involvement. Russia was intensely opposed to the United States’ domination in the Middle East, and ultimately reacted as a catalyst, intensifying the conflict. Russian intervention in Syria revealed important developments in Russia’s broader foreign policy thinking (Averre & Davies, 2015).

To elaborate, Syrian President Assad belongs to the Baathist political party and is thus supported by Iran and Hezbollah and to some extent by the Iraqi Shia government. Because of Assad’s authoritarian regime, the majority of the Syrian population do not want him in power. At the same time, countries such as Russia, Iran, and Iraq don’t want a change in regime because this will cost them an important political ally. As such, these sovereign nations, acting in opposition to the United States, were fighting for regional, possibly global, hegemony. Like Russia, Syria and its supporters, were ultimately seeking to exercise powers of sovereignty. For example, this conflict was important to Russia because the Syrian regime is the only remaining geostrategic Russian ally in the region wherein Russia’s strategic naval base is located (Ratelle 2016). It can be therefore seen that Russia’s intentions differed from that of the United States, because their intervention was not motivated by International Humanitarian Law and/or International Human Rights Law, rather, it was motivated by self-interest.

Throughout this conflict, Moscow continuously argued that peace talks should include President Assad’s government and his key ally Iran (Mohammed and Al-Khalidi 2013). In so doing, President Assad wanted to avoid a repetition of what Western powers did in Libya under the guise of RtoP (Hove & Mutanda 2014). Some of the regional powers including Saudi Arabia and Qatar also began arming and funding opposition groups against countries that were acting under the pretense of RtoP. Meanwhile, Iran and Hezbollah continued to provide crucial economic, military, and political support to the Syrian government, all in the name of regional stability (Phillips 2015). In critiquing the use of RtoP, Bellamy and Wheeler, for example, argue that states do not intervene for primarily humanitarian reasons:

States almost always have mixed motives for intervening, and are rarely prepared to sacrifice their own soldiers overseas unless they have self-interested reasons for doing so. For realists, this means that genuine humanitarian intervention is imprudent because it does not serve the national interest. For other critics, it suggests that the powerful only intervene when it suits them to do so, and that strategies of intervention are more likely to be guided by calculations of national interest than by what is best for the victims in whose name the intervention is ostensibly being carried out (2014: 482).
States have historically become involved in a humanitarian intervention on a selective basis, often escalating contradictions over policy, rather than protecting people strictly out of moral obligation. From a realist view of statism in the anarchic realm, the most powerful player in international relations is the state itself (Ratelle 2016). The problem of selectivity arises when an agreed moral principle is at stake in more than one situation, but national interest limits different responses (Ratelle, 2016). As such, the interest of any given government determines the behavior of a state, and thus they become selective about when, where and how they choose to intervene. Therefore, in the case of Syrian intervention, RtoP became corrupted, acting as a means to an end. The intervention of some countries was motivated by political preferences that ultimately affected their power rather than intervening for the purpose of humanitarian protection. RtoP was created on the basis of legal and moral obligations to intervene; however, this is not what resulted.

The Syrian government, with support from its international allies, continues to engage in its military might, grasping for more power at all costs. Combined Syrian and Russian airstrikes have enabled Syrian government forces to recapture Aleppo and regain the significant territory that was previously lost to opposition forces. The direct participation of Russian aircraft in the bombardment of Aleppo makes them complicit in alleged mass atrocities and war crimes (The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 2016). The failure of the ceasefire agreements and escalation of fighting in Aleppo proves that all sides in Syria remain committed to an outright military victory and that the ongoing civil war continues to endanger the lives of countless civilians. Attacks on soft targets including hospitals and civilian infrastructures demonstrate a complete disregard for International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law. Therefore, restoring the cessation of hostilities is vital for the protection of civilians and reviving peace talks. Although there have been, to some extent, a few successes from RtoP as enacted by western liberal democracies (especially in opening their borders for the mass influx of refugees fleeing Syria), Syrians are still living amid war, a war that could not be resolved by RtoP. By and large, the international society has failed in their moral obligation to protect the vulnerable populations of Syria.


The Assad regime in Syria has not only immensely failed to abide by Pillar One of RtoP, but also bears primary responsibility for the ongoing commission of mass atrocities and crimes, exacerbated by their refusal of Pillar Three involving intervention. As hostile divisions thrive within Syria, the United Nations Security Council continues to fail in enforcing compliance with intervention. Outside political influence, including western liberal democracies and the wider middle eastern regional powers, continue to weaken Syria’s chances of ceasing hostilities. Despite the current military, political and diplomatic stalemate, Russia, the United States, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia remain key players in all negotiation settlements regarding this conflict. Therefore, any significant change in the Syrian conflict will only be achieved when these sovereignties intervene solely on their legal and moral Responsibility to Protect, rather than advancing on motives of national interests, hegemonic culture, or selective bias.


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