Last updated 26 January 2016
Latest updated maps, for the Islamic State and its Khilafah, may be found for Mesopotamia (Iraq and Syria) here and for its global reach here. The text below remains largely true, with variations of course, notably as awareness of the danger created by the Islamic State has suddenly increased after the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015. As the post below shows, had we, in January 2015 gone beyond the positivity mindset, the odds to see the latest attacks mitigated might have been increased.
Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.
World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – Foreign ministers of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State are meeting in London, as “much more [than air strikes] needed to be done”, according to British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. According to the BBC, the aim is “to find ways to halt the flow of recruits to IS, cut off its funding and “tackle the underlying narrative”. In the meantime, the successes of the coalition’s strategy are also emphasized, as is regularly stated by most governments, including by U.S. President Obama in his State of the Union address.
Yet, facts on the ground tend, to the least, to question this relative optimism, even if governments officials are careful to use cautious words and statements, as shown, for example, by the excellent updated maps published regularly on Pietervanostayen website (and accessible each in a large format) and made by Thomas van Linge (@arabthomness). We are displaying here the 15 January versions of the maps together (approximately merged), rather than separately with Iraq on the one hand and Syria on the other, as it better reflects the reality on the ground, and helps perception. The merged version (click here to access a larger merged map) notably shows the probable impossibility of dealing with the Islamic State if considering the Iraqi battlefield only and thus underlines the very real complexity of having to consider the Syrian diplomatic quagmire on top of war.
Considering the various allegiances to the Islamic State, and the various wars and fightings taking place from West Africa to Pakistan, as abundantly documented in the crowd-sourced articles, the same mapping effort needs to be repeated on a larger scope (update 21 May 2015 – see draft map in Understanding the Islamic State system – structure and Wilayat, bottom of the post).
Undoubtedly, the various state instances, notably military and intelligence, involved within the coalition use such maps.
But then, would it not be time that governments (understood in the European sense of the word, as distinct from state), if they truly want to do much more than strikes, in a successful and meaningful way, including when trying to stem the flow of foreign fighters, as they most certainly know the situation on the ground, stop first the “communication” tack according to which everything must be positive and reassuring and nice, and only specific parts of the truth are told? True enough, their discourse could be part of a real need for secrecy and of counter-psyops operation, rather than part of PR and politician communication. Yet, in both cases, in the age of the internet, anyone can work out that such a message is just, at best, not exactly representative.
Systematically emphasising and hyping only what is positive is likely to backfire in many different ways, from loss of legitimacy to polarization to adverse cognitive impact on all actors, including analysts, who can always fall prey to the fear to tell the truth.
Even if we are not yet there (at least from the point of view of some in the coalition, as Syrians and Iraqis, or Lebanese, or Jordanians among so many others would probably say and feel in their everyday life otherwise), could we imagine Churchill making similar statements during the Blitz or when Singapore fell to Japan, which did not stop then a remarkable use of decoy and propaganda, true enough before the existence of the internet?
Alternatively, a better, but more pessimistic, reference might be the speech “Air Parity Lost” given by Churchill at the House of Commons on 2 May 1935 (everything being equal, as the problem here is not evidently loss of air power):
“Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong—these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”
Meanwhile, check also a number of articles on Ukraine considering the tensions that just flared up again, with, as apparent major difference, compared with the pre-Minsk agreement period, an American and European political class that might be less inclined into following Ukrainian statements regarding alleged open Russian aggression in the Donbass, as peace is of primary import, on the contrary from many mainstream media. Tensions however remain.
Economy – An excellent article by Dr Odette Lienau from Cornell University on her latest book explaining why “It’s time we reconsider(ed) the principle that states must always repay their sovereign debt” (LSE Blog). It also points out the dangers for understanding to fail to pay attention to the meaning and construction of norms as well as to history.
Energy and environment security – Dr Keith Daum more particularly pointed out the need to monitor “how the appointment of Magnusdottir as Minister of the Environment of Iceland might influence the agreement Iceland signed with China last year to allow increased access to the Arctic. It is important to watch how this appointment may alter or clarify the current political pathway.”
He then outlined a number of articles addressing the problem of dissenting opinions on climate change and the need to consider them, beyond one’s initial position. “First, NOAA recently published information that 2014 was the warmest year on record. However, Dr. Roy Spencer had an alternative analysis and also deserves to be read, notably because he has some basis for that disagreement. Meanwhile, an article this week pointed out the potential biases from omissions of data, while another stressed how challenges, such as those related to the oceans can be overstated. For the ICCP, NOAA and other narratives to stay resilient, it is important to address dissension in the open, acknowledging what is useful and using data to show errors in analysis.”
Science – Some interesting conclusions regarding the ability “to predict the future” as identified by the still ongoing “geopolitical forecasting tournament” organised by the U.S. Intelligence are summarized in Quartz “Some people really are better at predicting the future. Here are the traits they have in common”: part gift, part work and proper methodology, as well as team work.
Tech & Weapons – Two articles stand out this week. First, one on “New method to generate arbitrary optical pulses” (Science Codex), which could have impact on laser-based weapons. Second, Google’s massive investment in SpaceX (NPR) not only enhances the odds of seeing an “Internet Access For All” but has also multiple potential impacts, from the spread of propaganda and mobilization to remain with a current topic, to the overall area of space security.
Ebola – A potentially unfavourable piece of information emerged this week, regarding the genome of the current Ebola strain. The virus mutated compared with the previous epidemic, which might question the usefulness of the various drugs being currently prepared. As a result, the uncertainty surrounding the epidemic and its potential futures increases. According to the WHO latest situation report, we now have a total of 21689 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of EVD and 8626 deaths … reported up to the end of 18 January 2014.”
The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.
The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.
If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.
Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons