On Monday, October 26th at the Council on Foreign Relation’s, Foreign Affairs and the International Crisis Group (ICG) in New York hosted an event on “Reality, Risk, and Potential: Managing Today’s Conflicts.” The event featured panels of experts consisting of think tank fellows, academics, journalists, and business professionals.
The first panel discussed the conflict in the Middle East, the exceptional number of displaced people, and the failure of international institutions to combat these issues. The panel included Jean-Marie Guehenno, President of ICG; Emma Bonino, Former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy, Riina Ruth Kionka; Chief Foreign Policy Advisor to the European Council President; and Javier Solana, President of ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics, and distinguished fellow at the Brookings Institute.
The panel focused on the immigration crisis in Europe, but also discussed the conflict in the Middle East and homegrown violent extremism in this context. One of the many fears is that this mass of refugees will carry with it terrorists and other unsavory actors into the West. Guehenno pointed out that homegrown violent extremism is a greater threat. When an individual feels disenfranchised and yearns to be a revolutionary they can hijack an ideology and subscribe to its most perverse interpretations to rationalize their behavior. This illustrates how Islamic extremism is not inherently different from other schools of thought, like communism, that can be taken to a radical conclusion.
The second panel discussed the turmoil in the Middle East, and focused on the Syrian civil war, Daesh, and the Saudi-Iranian power struggle with Ali Vaez, Senior Analyst for Iran ICG; Ali Al Shihabi, founder and former Chairman of Rasmala Investment Bank; Joost Hiltermann, MENA Program Director ICG; and Denise Natali, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies as speakers.
As Daesh loses territory to western airstrikes and Syrian troops on the ground, the land is not being reclaimed by the displaced Sunni Arabs but by the Kurds. This could spur future conflict. Natali noted that the Kurds are not one unified group as is often portrayed in the media, but are fractured along the lines of the countries into which they have assimilated. There are internal disputes within the Kurdish assembly that would inhibit the assembly of a Kurdish nation. The Kurds’ territory gains are a new variable to resolving the Syrian conflict and could encourage further ethnic conflict between Syrian Arabs and the Kurds in the future.
The third panel discussed the economic opportunity, conflict, and political trends in Africa, in the hopes of discerning if Africa is improving or regressing. The speakers were Mo Ibrahim, founder of Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Celtel International; Comfort Ero, Africa Program Director ICG; and Howard French, Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. All of the speakers were in agreement that Africa cannot be thought of as a single entity, and that a lot of failed policy comes from this mindset.
The breakout session “Violent Extremism and Modern Warfare,” discussed Daesh, al-Qa’ida, and al-Qa’ida’s affiliates’ ability to prosper in war zones. The speakers were Issandr El Amrani, North Africa Project Director ICG; Claudia Gazzini, Senior Analyst of Libya ICG; and Wadah Khanfar, Co-founder of Al Sharq Forum and former Director General of Al Jazeera. A central trend was that extremist groups gain legitimacy by providing security where nation-states have failed. According to El Amrani, when people feel disenfranchised by their state and physically and economically insecure, they revert back to a more tribal mindset for security. These extremist groups have capitalized on this by offering physical security and economic opportunity where there is little, if any.
The final panel discussed drug policy in reference to the global war on drugs and its impact on women, specifically. The panel was comprised of Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group, Javier Ciurlizza, Program Director of Latin America ICG, Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, Director of Global Drug Policy Program and Open Society, and David Mansfield, who is the author of A State Built on Sand: How Opium Undermined Afghanistan.
The security issues the global community faces are increasingly complex. Some feel leaders are forced to choose between bad and worse options, as seemingly disparate issues become more interconnected. Reality, Risk and Potential: Managing Today’s Conflicts encouraged an examination of the root of the issues, beyond the politics, to explore solutions.