Tag Archives: legitimacy

Understanding the Islamic State’s System – The Calif and Legitimacy

In this section of our series on the Islamic State, we seek to assess the Islamic State’s ability to create a real and sustainable polity. The capture of Ramadi (Iraq, Anbar, e.g. Mitchell Prothero, McClatchy DC, 17 May 2015) on 17 May and Palmyra (Tadmur, Syria, Homs) three days later on 20 May 2015 (e.g. Oryx blog, 21 May 2015) by the Islamic State – showing among others the ability to win against two different governmental armies, one supported by the US-led coalition of 60 plus states (U.S. Gov) plus Shi’a militia and probably Iran, the other by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, two strategic cities on two fronts separated by 620km – the sudden acknowledgement by U.S. officials, that no, the war against the Islamic State is not so successful (Hannah Allam, McClatchy DC, 21 May 2015), only reinforces the vital importance to answer in-depth questions such as: Is the Islamic State about to collapse (obviously no, but the next battle(s) won will most probably generate again this type of gratuitous assertions)? Is it strengthening? Will it last one, two, or ten years? How far will it expand?

Calif, IS, islamic State, legitimacy, Shura Council, Sharia Council, Khilafah, Palmyra, Ramadi
Dabiq 9 (published 21 May 2015) already hypes the ability to succeeds on both Front with “Advancing East and West”, pp.31-32

Meanwhile we shall develop a better understanding of the type of polity created, which is indispensable to create a proper strategy to oppose an enemy. Previously, we focused focus on the overall structure of the Islamic State and its Khilafah, which can meaningfully be understood through the wilayat system, each wilayat being characterized by the degree of Islamic State-like administrative and military control over the population and the territory.

Here we shall focus on the top of the hierarchical structure – or rather part of it  – through which the Islamic State, declared as Khilafah, is ruled, namely the Calif, the Shura Council and the Sharia Council (the military and security Councils will be addressed in forthcoming post). We shall notably synthesise research made at different points in time and from different perspective, top down and bottom up. What shall concerns us most here is the extent of legitimacy, which may be separated in two components: the legitimacy of this specific type of Calif as office and the legitimacy of the specific individual who became the Calif, i.e. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. It is necessary to focus on legitimacy in the Islamic State’s own terms because it is a novel type of polity that is engineered, which does not recognise any other system (see previous articles).

The second part will be seen from the point of view of the possibility and impact of a change of Calif. It is indeed crucial to understand this aspect because it will have direct bearings on the efficiency of the policy offering bounties for al-Baghdadi and others within the Islamic State, as done by the U.S. State department (e.g. Meg Wagner, “U.S. State Department sets $20 million bounty for 4 wanted ISIS terrorists“, New York Daily News, 7 May 2015). It would also relativise repeated rumours regarding al-Baghdadi’s death, now temporarily stopped since its latest radio message (see “A New Audio Message by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ~ March Forth Whether Light or Heavy“, al-Furqan Media, May 14, 2015, Pietervanostayen).

The Calif, the Shura Council and the Sharia Council

As seen (H.Lavoix, “Structure and Wilayat”), according to a July 2014 source, then used in multiple reports (The Telegraph, 9 July 2015; Barrett, The Soufan Group; possibly Al Akhbar?; CNN), the Islamic State and its Khilafah are ruled by a highly organised and hierarchical structure, topped by the Calif (Khalif, Khalifa), the Shura Council and the Sharia Council. The BBC (3 September 2014), relying on documents provided by “international investigators funded by the British government” working in secrecy, suggests that right below the Calif are four councils: the Sharia Council,  the Shura council, the Military Council and the Security Council, the structure then being reproduced at wilayat then quitahaat (local) level. The sources used by the investigators are unknown. However, considering the dates and reference to “a Sharia Triad” (see BBC, diagram), as mentioned first by Suhaib Anjarini (Alakhbar English, July 10, 2014  – see below Sharia Council), we may wonder if the source used by the investigation team is not here again the same. The Military and Security Councils, as well as the lower levels structure will be analysed in forthcoming posts.

Calif, IS, islamic State, legitimacy, Shura Council, Sharia Council, Khilafah
Video by Al Hayat Media Center “Tends ta main pour l’Allégeance” – 18 May 2015

The Calif, currently Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al Badri al Samarrai), leads the Islamic State and its Khilafah. According to Barrett (2014: 24, 29-31), he was chosen by the Sharia Council, and approved by the Shura Council, while Haji Bakr (the man behind the documents on security and military organisation unveiled by Der Spiegel) had been instrumental in engineering this choice .

The Shura and Sharia councils are two essential bodies of the Islamic State for the legitimacy of both the Khilafah and the Calif, legitimacy which is closely entwined with the practical operation of the polity, as we shall see.

Although it is difficult if not impossible to find a single, unified model of what a Khilafah should be, and although each scholar and related political group will have its own interpretation, it would seem that we may nevertheless find enough similarities among some of them to at least draw a general broad framework.

allegiance, bay'a, Calif, IS, islamic State, legitimacy, Shura Council, Sharia Council, Khilafah
Video by Al Hayat Media Center “Tends ta main pour l’Allégeance” – 18 May 2015

According to Reza Pankhurst, an “Islamist ideologue”, member of radical party Hizb-ut-Tharir, which promotes the implementation of a “pure Khilafah” where the Calif has sole authority (), a Calif’s legitimacy derives from a contract (pledge of allegiance, bay’a), which includes three elements: the leader, the consultation and consent of the people who will be led, and who can be represented by “ahlul halli wal aqd – in the literature the people who bind and tie matters, meaning people of influence and power in a particular society – who collectively represent the will of that society and whose decisions are meaningful and widely accepted as authority”, and the pledge itself.

If we turn to South Asian Islamist scholar Maududi, as explained by El-Affendi of the University of Westminster (2007: 238), focusing on an Islamic state (which El-Affendi differentiates from a Khilafah), “an Islamic state should consist mainly of the leader (imam, khalifah, or amir) and a Shura council. Both the leader and the members of the Shura council should be individuals of high integrity, learning and commitment to shari’a.” (Note “Islamic state” (s with a lower case) will be used as generic for the political form, Islamic State (S with upper case) will be used for the specific political entity also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh etc.)

Assuming both statements hold true for this Islamic State, as it seems they do, then, we find the raison d’être of the two Shura and Sharia Councils. The Shura Council represents the consultation and consent of the people. Meanwhile, the Sharia Council represents ruling according and in obedience to Islamic law.

The Shura Council

The Shura Council thus represents the ruled and, as a result, should, ideally, for Maududi, “also be broadly representative” (El-Affendi quoting Adams, 1983: 123-124).

It should thus first be consulted for the selection of the ruler. Then, it should accept (consent) whoever has been selected as Calif. This corresponds to Barrett’s explanation (p.29). This is a crucial role in matters of succession, should the Calif come to die.

Outside those exceptional circumstances, the Shura Council has mainly a consultative role, assuming the Islamic State follows Pankhurst’s focus on the Calif, Mauduri’s approach, or current Saudi Arabia’s Majlis-ash-Shura consultative system: “It is the leader however who is the final arbitrer on what the shari’a says. He should consult with members of the Shura Council and others, but is not bound by their opinion (El-Affendi: 238 using Adams: 126).” However, according to El-Affendi (p.238), still using Maududi’s understanding, “the Council may dismiss the Khalifa if it is determined that he was no longer competent to do his job.” This possibility to dismiss the Calif is also found in Suhaib Anjarini analysis of the Islamic State (Alakhbar English, July 10, 2014), although underlined as theoretical.

The Shura Council of the Islamic State would have counted between 9 and 11 members by July 2014 (Anjarini, Ibid). Barrett (p. 24) had possibly identified seven of them. However, a reference to the early system of shura during Muhammad’s era, by Khilafah.com (most probably the website of party Hizb-ut-Tharir), points out that the Shura Council was then constituted of fourteen members, seven among the first followers and seven among those who helped at the arrival in Medina. It is thus not impossible, considering the Islamic State’s emphasis on original texts that, similarly, the current Islamic State’s Shura Council could count also 14 members, or could aim at reaching this number, maybe integrating new leaders having pledged allegiance.

The Shura Council would also be tasked, according to Barrett (p.29), with being “responsible for conveying directives from Abu Bakr (the Calif) down the chain of command and for ensuring that they are carried out”. However, this does not fit with the “consultative and consent” role of the Shura Council we saw, and the absence of source does not help us assessing the analysis. What we may have here, is that members of the Shura Council may also hold other positions of responsibility in terms of governance (see Khilafah.com), and it might be through these roles that directives are carried out.

The Sharia Council

Calif, IS, islamic State, legitimacy, Shura Council, Sharia Council, KhilafahThe Sharia council, headed by the Calif, is the supreme judiciary body of the Islamic State (Barrett: 30; March & Revkin, “Caliphate of Law”, Foreign Affairs, 15 April 2015; Anjarini, Ibid).  It would count six members (Anjarini, Ibid), and would be responsible to choose a new Calif should the actual one die (Ibid).

According to March and Revkin, “Under the authority of the Sharia Council, each wali (the governor of a regional administrative division called a wilaya) oversees a sharia deputy who in turn supervises the wilaya-level sharia commission. The sharia commissions (hayʾat al-shari‘a) are responsible for overseeing courts and the work of judges.” If we follow Barrett (p.30), the Sharia Council would also, through the sharia commissions, oversee the Islamic police, as well as Islamic outreach (da’wa).

However, even though March and Revkin’s work was published in April 2015, for the part above it relies on Anjarini analysis, which dates July 2014. Thus, if we Calif, IS, islamic State, legitimacy, Shura Council, Sharia Council, Khilafahcompare with Al-Tamimi “Aspects of Islamic State (IS) Administration in Ninawa Province” January 2015 analysis (part 1, 2, 3) using more recent documents – thus also a more evolved type of administration, it would appear that the sharia commissions (called committees by Al-Tamimi, part 3) are, in fact, the predecessor to the newer and more administratively evolved Diwan al-Hisba (responsible for the enforcement of public morality, includes the Islamic police) and Diwan (al-Awqaf wa) al-Masajid (responsible for dealing with waqf property endowments, management of mosques and religious institutions; in charge of sharia institutes and probably of da’wa).

We can thus make as hypothesis that the Sharia Council, through each wali and its sharia deputy (the process for the sharia deputy’s selection and appointment still being unknown) oversees both the Diwan al-Hisba and Diwan (al-Awqaf wa) al-Masajid. It is, however, not immediately clear if it also oversees the Islamic courts mentioned by March and Revkin but not by Al-Tamimi, as well as the Diwan al-Qaḍa wa al-Maẓālim (‘Judgements and Injustices Administration’) identified by both Al-Tamimi and March and Revkin.

The Sharia Council thus, somehow, represents both the judiciary as well as a kind of legislative body, however not completely as far as legislation is concerned. Calif, IS, islamic State, legitimacy, Shura Council, Sharia Council, KhilafahIndeed, interestingly, March and Revkin (Ibid.) show that the Islamic State would be following the “classical Islamic theory of statecraft known as siyasa sharʿiyya“, where it is recognized that “rules do not exist for every conceivable matter” and rather than trying to create them all, “legitimate authorities—from market inspectors to military commanders and governors up to the caliph himself—[that] have the right to make lawlike decisions as long as those decisions are issued solely with the welfare (maslaha) of the Muslim community in mind and do not violate known laws.” All “legitimate authorities” would thus constitute the Islamic State legislative body. The criteria for legitimacy of these authorities is left unexplained. We may however assume they are appointed hierarchically (note, that all officials can also be tried and convicted of crime, as shown by the various campaigns of purge, e.g. Ali Mamouri, “IS uses intelligence to purge opponents“, Al Monitor, 28 October 2014).

Finally three Sharia learned scholars would also assist the Calif, according to Anjarini (Ibid), but we do not know if they are part or not of the Sharia Council (the way the article is written let assume they are not, but there is no further evidence).

What does this structure implies in terms of legitimacy?

Legitimacy of the office: The Calif of the Khilafah of the current Islamic State

Consent and dynamic legitimacy

The question regarding the legitimacy of the office of Calif can be split in two. The first series of argument will revolve around the idea of consent: is there the consent which is necessary to see a legitimate Calif?  The legitimacy of the Calif of the Khilafah of the current Islamic State is indeed questioned, or there would be no war, currently, within the Sunni world. Being questioned, then it means there is no total consent, thus that the legitimacy is questionable.

Skikda, Calif, IS, islamic State, legitimacy, Shura Council, Sharia Council, Khilafah
Visual for the Audio of Algerian Skikda Pledge of Allegiance – 9 May 2015

Yet, as we saw previously (see Structure and Wilayat), the Islamic State, the Khilafah and its Calif have also gained in terms of legitimacy since July 2014, notably each time a new group pledges allegiance. The latest pledges of allegiance were done on 9 May 2015 by Algeria’s Battalion Skikda and by the Tunisian Mujahideen of Kairouan on 18 May 2015, (Williams, Breibart, 19 May 2015). Meanwhile, allegedly but not confirmed by the Islamic State, one part of al-Mourabitoun, Saharan Islamist group would have pledged allegiance, although Mokhtar Belmokhtar – co-founder of the group – declared the pledge invalid because not authorised by their own Shura Council (Reuters, 17 May 2015).

Pledges of allegiance made within existing wilayat in Mesopotamia are also recorded and used as psyops products. Here, however, the sad, crushed and desperate look of the Tribes Sheiks can be neither missed nor understated. Similar in-depth agency, Calif, IS, islamic State, legitimacy, Shura Council, Sharia Council, Khilafah, وكالة أعماقemotions can be read on the faces of many in those Islamic State psyops photo reports (another new type of psyops products started on 11 June 2014) involving Tribes. The same fear and despair may be read in the eyes of some people in those cities recently captured, in raw footage, possibly now published as new psyops product by “In-Depth Agency” (وكالة أعماق) since 18 May 2015. We chose neither to specify which video or report, nor to display pictures to ensure as much as possible this could not be used against those people.

Consent is thus obviously also obtained under duress. This type of consent seems to be also allowed by Khilafah texts, which, meanwhile, explain how Salafi legitimacy can be gained, and how it is related to the rule of consent

“The actual viewpoint is that if after an aspiring ruler takes power by force and is subsequently accepted by the people, at the point of being accepted and taking a pledge of allegiance from the people he can be considered the legitimate ruler, despite his actions in coming to power remaining sinful. In other words, his legitimacy is not a result of power projection, but rather is derived from the resulting consent of the people.” Pankhurst (Interview)

We are thus faced – as for all systems – with a dynamic legitimacy, which may increase and decrease according to actions and interactions with other actors, across space. Calif, IS, islamic State, legitimacy, Shura Council, Sharia Council, KhilafahFrom the point of view of those opposing the rule of the Islamic State, this is a crucial point to consider. Indeed, the more groups – wherever they are located – pledge allegiance, the stronger a legitimacy that may have been initially fledgling, and this, again, across territories. And the more consent is gained, the more likely consent may also be obtained, including because people, groups and tribes have no other choice. The feeling of an absence of choice, implied by control and coercion, but also enhanced by an apparent failure of other actors to bring meaningful change, would most probably rule out any possibility of rebellion.

Hence, once more, this implies that a war strategy against the Islamic State needs to be designed globally and systematically and not be solely compartmentalized according to specific territories, the focus being on Iraq and Syria. This is not to deny the specificity of each situation, for example the diplomatic quagmire in Syria, but to emphasise nonetheless that the whole of the Islamic State must be understood and considered. Libya, the Sinai or Afghanistan, may be as important to win the war against the Islamic State as Syria or Iraq. Similarly, for the coalition, thinking only in terms of air strikes (or special operations as we shall see below) does not make sense and a comprehensive strategy must be created, involving and considering all actors, as well as all political tensions and grievances as soon as possible.

Depending upon a Khilafah, sustainable and truly Islamic

The second series of argument according to Pankhurst – true enough supporting a Khilafah that would be implemented by his own political party – questions the legitimacy of the Khilafah itself, either because it would not be viable as a state or because it would fail to properly apply Sharia – knowing that this is open to interpretation according to where those making the evaluation stand. Indeed an illegitimate Khilafah would de facto rule out the legitimacy of the Calif.

We have already seen the importance of establishing a sustainable state prior to declaration of a Khilafah, as argued byharvest, Calif, IS, islamic State, legitimacy, Shura Council, Sharia Council, Khilafah the Islamic State itself (see H Lavoix, The Islamic State psyops – Words War, part “The Islamic State and the Khilafah”) . This makes our efforts in this series at understanding the Islamic State system, notably in view to evaluate its strength and sustainability even more important because it will also contribute to answer, albeit partially, to the legitimacy of the Khilafah. However, we must differ our answer and wait for the end of the assessment.

As far as obedience to the sharia is concerned, the existence of the Sharia Council and the way the Islamic State is organised administratively around the Sharia, as seen above, would tend to answer positively to this part of the legitimacy of the Khilafah and its Calif.

The Calif and the man

Let us now turn to second element of legitimacy, the legitimacy of a specific individual to hold the position of Khalif. Considering the current emphasis in believing that it is foremost in winning a war to target and killing specific leaders, as again exemplified in the U.S. special forces operation that succeeded in killing Abu Sayyaf (Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan, The Washington Post, 16 May 2015) and the related constant rumours according to which al-Baghdadi has been killed, or is so severely injured that he cannot be the Calif anymore, understanding these elements is absolutely crucial.

The legitimacy of the Calif as man would depend upon “classical conditions of eligibility”, which, according to March and Revkin (ibid., using the Islamic State document “Madd al-ayadi li-bayʿat al-Baghdadi,”) were explained as fulfilled by Al-Baghdadi, as soon as 22 July 2013. Enrico Galoppini (“Considerations over the institution of the Caliphate and the “Justice” in Islam“, Il Discrimine, 16 Calif, IS, islamic State, legitimacy, Shura Council, Sharia Council, KhilafahDecember 2014: fn 15) lists those conditions as:”1) Justice; 2) Science of the governmental and administrative matters; 3) senses in good condition: hearing, sight and speech; 4) Healthy parts of body: able to move and stand up; 5) Know how to administer the subjects and take measures of general interest (maslaha); 6) Courage and bravery in protecting the watan (the “Homeland”, the “Fatherland”, but also the place where you reside) and lead the jihad against the enemy; 7) descent from Banû Quraysh (the clan to which Muhammad also belonged): for some theorists it became an exceeded condition, although rarely some spoke of a‘jâm (“non-Arab”).” Further, El-Affendi (2007: 238) explains “The ruler is to be selected on the basis of his qualifications and it is not important how this selection takes place as long as it commands the assent of the community as a whole.”

If the current Calif is considered as legitimate, then what will happen if it were to die? Would that mean that the Islamic State would immediately crumble or, to the least, start unraveling? Al-Tamimi argues that “IS’s basis for claiming to be a state and caliphate is closely tied to Baghdadi’s persona”, and that no one else has been properly “groomed” as a successor (“Can Islamic State survive without Baghdadi?, BBC, 10 November 2014).

Yet, as evidenced by March and Revkin (Ibid.), rules for allegiance exist in case of succession, as planned when the Islamic State was still the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS – see text). We may assume that similar rules have been stipulated for the Khilafah, considering the importance of having a legitimate Calif for the whole endeavour. Furthermore, all senior leadership and Calif, IS, islamic State, legitimacy, Shura Council, Sharia Council, Khilafahsympathisers risk their lives in the survival of the Khilafah: should the Khilafah collapse, it would be very surprising that various tribes, factions, armed groups and governments in Mesopotamia and elsewhere, grant Islamic State’s officials fair trial and a peaceful life in a prison, while no one would probably accept them for golden retirement. It is thus highly probable that this senior leadership has prepared for this eventuality. This might even entail a pre-designation by Al-Baghdadi of a potential successor, that could be known solely to the Shura and Sharia Councils.

As a result, the death of the current Calif would most probably be turned into an event where mourning but also martyrdom and revenge would be emphasised. A new man would then be presented then approved by the Shura Council. The conditions of eligibility of this man would then be revealed, from his impeccable faith, his justice, valour, courage, and strength, his history within the context of the current struggle to his lineage from the Prophet’s family.

Calif, IS, islamic State, legitimacy, Shura Council, Sharia Council, Khilafah
Visual for the Audio Message by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ~ March Forth Whether Light or Heavy released by al-Furqan Media on May 14, 2015

As al-Tamimi underlines, Al-Baghdadi initial grooming was made through radio statements. Thus, the current Calif could be, for many or most, mainly a voice and a representation, whatever each wants to project upon this ever-present yet actually so remote Calif, of course within the bound of what an ideal Calif ought to be. In this context, changing individual may not be that difficult.

As far as the practical operations of state are concerned, the structures that are currently created would be tested but would help absorbing the change of leadership.

The possibility to see a change of Calif without it implying automatically the end of the Khilafah would be supported by history throughout space and systems. Everything being equal, the Ottoman empire did not disappear each time a Sultan died, nor the European Kingdoms each time a King died, nor the Chinese Middle Kingdom when emperors passed away, nor the South East Asian polities each time a ruler disappeared, etc.

It is the “rulership” that imbues the man with the qualities needed, including in terms of sacredness, whatever its form according to the system, not the other way round. True enough, some rulers are better than others, and, ideally, the ruler must also avoid being obviously too untrue to its mandate, but legitimacy systems have been designed and constructed over time for this very reason: allowing systems to continue beyond mere human mortality.

Historical and recent facts, furthermore, also support the continuation of the Islamic State beyond the death of its leader: the death of Bin Laden (e.g. BBC, 10 Sept 2012) did not imply the end of Al Qaeda. Nazi Germany did not collapse because Hitler died, but Hitler committed suicide because Nazi Germany was collapsing (e.g. Wikipedia). In the world of private corporations, the death of de Marjorie did not mean the bankruptcy and disappearance of Total (21 October 2014, Total).

Similarly, at lower levels in the hierarchy of the Islamic State, it is not because Abu Sayyaf was killed that the Islamic State will be stopped selling its oil. As underlined by Steven Bucci (“Don’t Be Fooled: America’s ISIS Crisis Is Just Beginning“, National Interest, 20 May 2015), precious intelligence will be gathered, but “unfortunately, Special Mission units seldom win wars.” The system may also be temporarily disrupted, but, most probably, nothing more. An interesting question would be to know if the temporary disruption added to intelligence are sufficient to carry out other successful operations and are part of a larger strategy, designed across the three levels of analysis (individual, state (or more largely polity) – adapted to the specific polity which is the Islamic State – and system, see Kenneth Waltz, Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis, 1954). The need for secrecy related to war makes it impossible to answer this question. It is, nonetheless, considering the current narcissistic heavy trend at work in Western societies, imperative to underline the need not to think solely in terms of operations against individuals.

Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues.

Featured image: From Dabiq 8, p.49 “Go and read the Quran” Ayyun As-Sikhtyyani.



Abedin, Mahan, “Interview with Reza Pankhurst”, Religioscope, 29 Jul 2014.

Adams, CharlesJ. 1983. “Mawdudi and the Islamic State.” In Voices of Resurgent Islam, ed. John L. Esposito, 99–133.

Al-Tamimi, Aymenn Jawad, “Aspects of Islamic State (IS) Administration in Ninawa Province” 1, 2, 3, January 2015.

Al-Tamimi, Aymenn Jawad, “Can Islamic State survive without Baghdadi?, BBC, 10 November 2014.

Anjarini, Suhaib, “The Islamic State: from Baghdadi the founder to Baghdadi the “caliph”, Alakhbar English, July 10, 2014.

Barrett, Richard, The Islamic State, The Soufan Group, November 2014.

Bucci, Steven, “Don’t Be Fooled: America’s ISIS Crisis Is Just Beginning”, National Interest, 20 May 2015.

El-Affendi, Abdelwahab, “Democracy and its (Muslim) critics: an Islamic Alternative to Democracy?”, in Islamic Democratic Discourse: Theory, Debates, and Philosophical Perspectives, ed. M. A. Muqtedar Khan, 2006.

Galoppini, Enrico, “Considerations over the institution of the Caliphate and the “Justice” in Islam”, Il Discrimine, 16 December 2014

Lavoix, Helene, “The Islamic State psyops – Words War”, Red (Team) Analysis, 16 January 2015.

March, Andrew, & Mara Revkin, “Caliphate of Law”, Foreign Affairs, 15 April 2015.

Reuter, Christoph, “The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State”, Der Spiegel, 18 April 2015.

Sherlock, Ruth, “Inside the leadership of Islamic State: how the new ‘caliphate’ is run”, The Telegraph, 9 Jul 2014.

Waltz, Kenneth, Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis, Columbia University Press, 1954.


Invasion Z: Zombie Wars or Resource Wars?

What are the numerous movies, novels, TV series and video games declining the implacable struggle between human survivors and proliferating populations of zombies really about? These “chronicles” of the worldwide zombie invasion are so pervasive in our twenty-first century global culture, and they have reached a status of such importance that they have even inspired an actual training plan by the US Department of Defence in 2014, as well as a very real military training session in 2012.

What is the strategic issue played out through the very complex zombie charade in our contemporary framework, when socio-environmental changes are also strategic changes? In other terms, what are the existential, political, geopolitical and military dimensions of the zombie invasion?

Furthermore, is it possible to use the “zombie chronicles” in order to anticipate near future strategic scenarios?

Chronicles of invasion Z

It could be said that the complex of movies, books, comic books, and video-games about the zombie invasion composes a strange but vivid counterfactual or alternate history of the world. This vast political “thought experiment” interrogates the contemporary societies, governments and varied political, military and security authorities and individuals: “What if” a massive threat emerged and had the means to rapidly saturate defense capabilities?

171px-Night_of_the_Living_Dead_afficheThe zombie invasion first struck the United States in 1968, with “The Night of the Living dead”, followed in 1978 by “Zombie-Dawn of the Dead” and in 1985 “Day of the Dead”, as well as “Land of the dead” (2005) and “Diary of the dead” (2007), one after the other having been realized by George A. Romero, the godfather of the American zombie culture. This “first wave” of “zombie proliferation”, from the sixties to the eighties, was largely directed by George R. Romero and followed the codes of horror movies, with an undercurrent of social critic.

The current invasion really started in 2002 with the powerful “28 Days Later” (Danny Boyle), and its impressive sequel “28 weeks later” (Fresnadillo), in 2008. In the same time “Dawn of the dead”, the remake of the 1978 movie, (Snyder) is released in 2004. This “second wave”, started at the beginning of this century, is post “9/11” then post wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is also “post Romero”,  and is permeated by the will to have a “realistic” treatment of their object, especially regarding the way the destruction of societies goes hand in hand with new extremes of violence (Jared Diamond, Collapse, 2005), which brutalize people and communities, while degrading politics.

Graffiti_in_Shoreditch,_London_-_World_War_Z_by_Paul_Don_Smith_(9425007908)by Paul Don Smith These movies tell stories of whole communities and cities, even of whole countries, such as Great Britain and France that are overwhelmed by the zombie plague. Alas, very soon, the zombie invasion widens into a worldwide war, which different human, military and political aspects are chronicled by Max Brooks in its novel “World War Z”, a global success (e.g. Michael Vlahos, “The civilizational significance of Zombies“, The Atlantic, June 18, 2013) and adapted by Hollywood (Forster) in 2013.

Meanwhile, zombies are not only colonizing the alternate present and future, but also our alternate past: immense armies of living dead are surging from the North, “Beyond the Wall”, when “winter is coming”, according to Game of Thrones, the huge best seller book series by George R.R. Martin, turned into an extremely successful TV series by HBO.

 Some of these chronicles are following the rules of “micro-history”, as The Walking Dead, the terribly impressive comic books series by Robert Kirkman, adapted into a TV series by AMC, which follows the grueling struggle for survival of the little community led by Rick Grimes, a former cop turned survivalist strategist. A long list of movies, cable movies, books and comics could be added to these, but these works are forming the current major references of the “Z history”.

The real meaning of the zombie invasion

To understand the strategic meaning of the proliferating zombie culture, it must be noted that all of these stories involve characters emerging from the military or security forces, which are involved in survival or counter-attacking the ever-growing mass of living dead.

It seems that zombies are able of only two forms of actions: feeding on living humans and, through biting, contaminating humans, which are then turned into zombies. This form of reproduction gives zombies the advantage of number, because it allows their population to grow very quickly exponentially, and thus turning the majority of the human population into zombies or into food, while contaminating indiscriminately, and, in particular, members of the defence and security community.

Leviathan_-_Hobbes'_Leviathan_(1651),_title_page_-_BLAnd so, as in the darkest periods of war, civil war and plague, human life is again “poor, solitary, nasty, brutish and short”, as defined in The Leviathan, when the political and social order promoted by the legitimate political authority (in this case the state) collapses, which unleashes the “war of all against all” (Hobbes, The Leviathan, 1651).

The ever-repeating pattern of zombie stories is that the zombie proliferation triggers a rapid and extremely violent collapse of any kind of political authority and large social structures. What is left are small, fortified or semi-nomadic communities, under constant threat, fighting for access to the rare vital resources left – food, water, and drugs – to insure their “sustainable survival”. In the same time, those last few remains of the human species are themselves turned into “resources” by the zombies, or by other groups, which survive through predation.

SurvivorZeroLogo1These stories show us what could happen if a brutal shortage of resources were to happen: the obliteration of the social contract, and the collapse of the state and government, through the destruction of police and military forces.

Decoding this pattern leads us to understand that “zombie wars” are, in fact, nothing but extrapolations of what resource wars (Klare, Resource wars, 2002) could be, or become, at a very large-scale for our industrial-consumerist economics and societies (Benjamin Barber, Consumed, 2008), which rely on constant flows of raw commodities, fuel, electricity, functioning infrastructures, drugs, and on the legitimate use of force through minutely defined social control (Kunstler, The Long emergency, 2005).

So, the zombie invasion culture condenses three powerful strategic features that have deeply traumatized past and present societies: epidemic surge, civil war and large-scale slaughter through mass destruction.

From “Zombie wars” to the future of strategy?

It must be noted that in 2012, the US Army has conducted the training exercise “Zombie Apocalypse” in an island near San Diego. The scenario was urban combat against a zombie invasion (Mulrine, No prank: on Halloween US military forces train for zombie apocalypse,The Christian Science Monitor, October 31, 2012).

zombie, strategy, strategic foresight and warning, resource war

In 2014, the Strategic Command, in charge of nuclear deterrence and space power, has published the “CONOP 8888” to “counter zombie dominance”, which, in fact, is “a training tool used in an in-house training exercise, where students learn about the basic concepts of military plans and order development, through a fictional training scenario. The document is not a U.S. Strategic Command plan” (Stratcom, 2014, cited by Lubold, Exclusive: the Pentagon has a plan to stop the zombie apocalypse. SeriouslyForeign Policy, May 13, 2014).

This convergence between the zombie culture and military training reveals a profound and complicated difficulty known these days by the US national security establishment (Valantin, Hollywood, The Pentagon and Washington, 2003): the extreme struggle to establish a united strategic definition of “the” threat. If, during the Cold War, the threat was the Soviet Union, this definition evolved during the 1990s and became centered on the dire effects of failing states and on globalization, before the emergence of the terrorist threat after 9/11.


Nowadays, strategically defining the threat necessitates to take into account new ecological parameters and risks, such as new epidemics threatening to become pandemics (e.g. the current Ebola epidemic), global warming, economic vulnerability throughout the poor, the emergent and, also, the developed world, new forms of social unrest, from the worldwide new hunger urban riots to the Arab springs, as well as new cycles of ideological radicalization (John Gray, Black Mass, Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, 2007).

Here, we shall call this the “coming strategic singularity”, which could install entire countries into a state of deep and violent disruption, and pit communities against each other in unending resource wars.

The “Zombie figure” appears thus as a powerful semantic tool to express the need to understand the emerging strategic monsters that are going to be the systems created by the potential convergences of different categories and scales of contingencies. This new breed of monsters has already started to spawn.

For example, the Fukushima catastrophe emerged from the meeting of a Tsunami, which is a well-known natural risk, with a nuclear plant (Union of Concerned scientists, Fukushima: history of a nuclear disaster, 2014). Prior to the Japanese tragedy, such a situation had simply never occurred in the history of mankind and of the Earth. Other strategic singularities may very well be created.

The zombie narrative symbolizes this current state of political and strategic anguish, and, as such, is a powerful warning signal regarding the way the convergence of complex tensions and built-in vulnerabilities may well threaten nations in their very fabric.

Dr Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) leads the Environment and Security Department of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defense sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

Featured image: Call of Duty XP 2011 – Zombies challenge By The Community – Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

War and Peace in Ukraine: The Separatists (1)

The war in Eastern Ukraine has killed from 15 April to 20 June an estimated number of “423 people, including servicemen and civilians,” (UN HCHR statement, 24 June 2014), which, compared with our own estimate of 99 deaths up to May 15 shows the rising violence of the ongoing fighting. Slavyansk 29 June, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineRefugees and Internally Displaced People (IDPs) from the East now reach “nearly 34,600″ people,  with nearly half of the displacements – estimated to 15,200 within the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – taking place “over the last two weeks”, i.e. after 6 June 2014. Russia estimates that it now hosts 16,700 Ukrainian refugees on its territory, notably in the region of Rostov (Ria Novosti, 27 June; 14,000 on 25 June 2014Itar-Tass). This, again, shows an intensification of the war and fear of renewed fighting. 

On 20 June, Petro Poroshenko, President of Ukraine, commanded a unilateral ceasefire that would last from 22:00 that day to 27 June to allow for the implementation of his peace plan in Eastern Ukraine, of course reserving the right to retaliate, would troops be attacked (President of Ukraine, 20 June 2014 20:13).

On 23 June a first negotiation took place involving “Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov, two representatives of the OSCE, former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the head of the public organization “Ukrainian choice” Medvedchuk, the Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Donetsk Alexander Boroday, and the leader of the movement “South-East”, Oleg Tsarev”, which led the insurgents to agree to a ceasefire until 27 June (RFE/RL Live blog, 23 June 20:41; Ria Novosti23 June).

On 27 June, right before the expiration of the cease-fire, a second meeting including the same representatives plus Battle aftermath, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, Ukrainethe Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) delegation – who were late on 23 June – led by Alexei Koriakin (President of the  Assembly) took place. There, an extension of the cease-fire until 30 June, besides the exchange of a list of prisoners and the final release of the OSCE hostages were agreed (LPR official website, 27 June 19:48). Later in the evening, President Poroshenko announced that the cease-fire was indeed extended until 30 June 22:00 on decision of Ukraine National Security and Defense Council – NSDC (President of Ukraine, 28 June 2014 00:27).

Are the cease-fire and the peace plan a window of opportunity opening, which will allow moving Ukraine outside crisis and war and towards peace? As peace can never be achieved without considering all parties, what is the perspective of the “insurgents”, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR)? What is their situation, including in terms of international support, and in which direction is it likely to evolve (next post)? As a result, are we moving towards peace or intensified war?

Truce and fire

Over the first two days following Poroshenko announcement, combats went on, each side mutually accusing the other to initiate fighting (e.g. Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 25 June 2014 statement; for the DPR and LPR side, see Novorossia News Agency).

After what could have been a very brief cease-fire on 24 June, the truce was broken by 16:00 according to Russian agency Ria Novosti, as Eastern cities were shelled. Gubarev, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineAccording to Paul Gubarev (ex People’s Governor of the DPR) Facebook page, the truce had never held, fire being notably exchanged, for example, in the region Semyonovka. Exchange of prisoners nevertheless took place (e.g. @DNRPress, 25 June 11:48) and the DPR finally released first four OSCE observers it held (OSCE, 27 June 2014) then all the remaining hostages (RFE/RL 29 June, 11:55).

Yet, mutual accusations to break the truce went on, for example over an attack of a National Slavyansk 29 June, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineGuard checkpoint near Slavyansk – Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) version (see RBC-Ukraine, 29 June 16:59) – and the heavy shelling of Slavyansk including residential areas – DPR and LPR version, as well as many inhabitants through Youtube videos (RT, “Slavyansk residential districts ‘a mess’ after Kiev troops’ shelling, at least 3 killed (VIDEO)“, 29 June). 

A first possible and logical explanation for continuing and renewed fighting is, besides plain bad faith from any or all parties, that both sides attempted to use the cease-fire to move troops to better tactical and strategic positions, thus planning ahead for the end of the cease-fire. Obviously, the other side cannot let such move happen. A secondtweet Maidan 29 June, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, Ukraine explanation is that peace-spoilers exist. Finally, and in a related way, we must also envision the possibility that Poroshenko may have less authority on the various elements composing the Ukrainian attacking forces than expected, and that he is under pressure to demonstrate Ukrainian strength, as shown by protests in Kiev demanding an end to the cease-fire, meanwhile also displaying anti-European sentiments  (e.g.  RFL/RE liveblog, 30 June 12:53 to 15:49).

The underlying logic is that the two parties do not really want peace: what they want if to achieve their objectives.

In any case, the continuing fighting underlines the high difficulty, if not impossibility, to implement a truce – or a peace plan – without the presence of many impartial observers, trusted by all parties, as underlined by  former President Kuchma on 26 June morning

“Unless we urgently ensure monitoring there, by observers from the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), Russia and so on, each side will be blaming the other, and nothing will come out of it.” (Interfax-Ukraine, 26 June 2014)

Without proper monitoring, as a result of continuing fighting, distrust increases, which actually questions the very idea of a true window of opportunity towards peace in Ukraine that could be emerging. Indeed on both sides feelings are exacerbated.

However, the existing meetings also allow for progress and, among the points that were agreed during the 27 June consultations, we find that the situation on the ground during the cease-fire should be jointly monitored by OSCE observers (President of Ukraine, 28 June 2014 00:27), i.e. European and Russian observers (LPR official website, 27 June 19:48). It was obviously impossible to implement such a monitoring over a week-end, but should the cease-fire be extended, then we may start having proper conditions to see it being truly implemented.

New political entities fighting a foreign aggressor

From the start, when answering talks about the coming Ukrainian unilateral cease-fire to allow armed bands to disarm in the East, the Donetsk People’s Republic had emphasized it refused to lay down weapons, thinking it would be a “ploy” (Novorossia, 18 June 2014).

DPR Flag, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, Ukraine LPR flag, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineThe DPR and LPR perceive themselves as independent sovereign Republics. They see themselves as domestically legitimated by the 11 May 2014 referendum (see Setting the stage), even though they are aware that they still lack the international component of legitimacy. They have indeed started working towards obtaining it, first writing to the UN then sending a request to fourteen states for the LPR to two (Serbia and South Ossetia), besides Russia, for the DPR, so far without much success, as only South-Ossetia, itself only internationally recognized by four states, accepted to recognize the LPR on 18 June (see LPR Official website, 23 June; 19 May;  for a summary, see ITAR-TASS, 20 June 2014 ) .

Thus, from their point of view, they are facing an invasion by a foreign state and when or if negotiating do so from an equal footing. As a result, they answered to Kiev’s 15 point peace plan with their own 7 conditions (see below for the full text of the two statements). They also reiterated during the 27 June negotiations that the creation of a full delegation to negotiate that should follow the 30 June deadline could only happen if there was a full withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from their territories (LPR official website, 27 June 19:48), which will obviously not take place. Note, that the list of exigence that are to be met by 30 June spelled out by President Poroshenko and the NSDC is as unrealistic, especially in 3 days (President of Ukraine, 28 June 2014 00:27), and underlines again how far apart both sides have grown.

Internationally, the position of the two People’s Republics is not that different from the claims held by various independency movements in the post-1945 world, during the period of self-determination.

The Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics’s evolving structure

Politically (and militarily), the two People’s Republics are structured as shown in the graph Donetsk, Luhansk, Ukraine, Peoples' Republic, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, Ukraine(click here or on image for a larger graph). It has been constructed out of documents and statements stemming from the official DPR (not up to date) and LPR websites, twitter thread (@dnrpress DPR), Novorossia news agency to which were added mentions found on various actors’ FB pages, or emanating from Russian news agency (Itar Tass and Ria Novosti) in their Russian version as the English ones are often different. Considering the fluidity of the situation, changes are to be expected.

Donetsk, Luhansk, Ukraine, Peoples' Republic, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineCurrently the DPR and LPR have decided to create a confederate Union of People’s Republics (UPR – Союз народных республик – СНР), which is a smart move to facilitate organization and fighting. The Union was adopted by the Supreme Council of the DPR on 24 June 2014 (Ria Novosti) and by the Supreme Council of the LPR on 25 June. It was ratified in Donetsk by the Union Parliament on 26 June (Novorossia). The overall population of the UPR would be estimated to 6.56 million (4.33 million for the Donestk region and 2.23 million for Luhansk region – Ukrstat, 2014).

Motorolla, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineAccording to Itar-Tass (infographics, no date), but no other source could confirm or infirm those data, militarily, they would have between 1800 and 3500 fighters for the DPR and between 3000 and 4000 fighters, including a 500 women support and logistic battalion for the LPR. The UPR forces would thus count between 4800 and 7500 fighters. Note also that on 20 June the creation of a new division of miners was announced by the DPR, while mobilization is ongoing (Ria Novosti, 24 June).

For the sake of comparison and everything being equal, ISIS – or rather the new “Islamic State” – would fight in Iraq with 5000-6000 of its own fighters to which should be added “4000 from allied Iraqi Sunni groups” (Rubin & Godon, 22 June 2014, New York Times). Its fighters benefit notably from the experience of the war in Syria.

A detailed list – that would need to be confirmed by other sources -of weapons available to the two Republics can be found on the Russian Wikipedia pages for the DPR and the Army of South East (LPR – section not updated), with possible origin for each weapon. Hurricane, Nona, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineSmall arms and light weapons are most probably readily available and, according to the 24 June 2014 UN HCHR statement, “there is an increase in arms”. We do not know however which type of arms nor if they have been taken from the opposite force or come from other sources.

With the forthcoming post, next week, we shall continue examining the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, focusing on their situation, which is quite challenging. We shall evaluate if it is conducive to war or to peace.


15 points versus 7 conditions

Peaceful plan of the President of Ukraine on the settlement of the situation in eastern regions of Ukraine

  1. Security guarantees for all the participants of negotiations.
  2. Amnesty for those who laid down weapons and didn’t commit serious crimes.
  3. Liberation of hostages.
  4. Establishment of 10 km long buffer zone on the Ukrainian-Russian border. Withdrawal of illegal armed formations.
  5. Secure corridor for the escape of Russian and Ukrainian mercenaries.
  6. Disarmament.
  7. Establishment of units for joint patrolling in the structure of the MIA.
  8. Liberation of illegally seized administrative premises in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
  9. Restoration of functioning of local government.
  10. Restoration of central television and radio broadcasting in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
  11. Decentralization of power (through the election of executive committees, protection of Russian language; draft amendments to the Constitution).
  12. Coordination of governors with representatives of the Donbas before the elections (in case of the approval of single candidature, in case of discrepancies – the decision is taken by the President).
  13. Early local and parliamentary elections.
  14. Program of creating jobs in the region.
  15. Restoration of industrial objects and objects of social infrastructure.” (President of Ukraine, 20.06.2014 20:30).

For their part, the leaders of the two People’s Republic, as well as the movement “People’s Front” set seven conditions that should be respected to see the start of “substantive negotiations”.

Seven Conditions for the Start of Substantive Negotiations

  1. Withdrawal from the territory of the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republic of the national guards, illegal armed groups and groups of Kolomoiski and right sector, as well as the Ukrainian army units responsible for the killings of civilians.
  2. Payments by Kiev of compensation to the bereaved families of civilians.
  3. Payments by Kiev to the residents of the Republics compensation for destroyed homes.
  4. Kiev compensation payments to municipalities for damage to utility infrastructure made by Ukrainian troops.
  5. Payments by Kiev of compensation to owners of destroyed industrial facilities.
  6. Agreement by the Ukrainian President and the Parliament on the draft Constitutional Act, defining the status of the People’s Republic.
  7. Amnesty to all participants of the militia and to all political prisoners who are in Ukrainian prisons.” (Central News Agency Novorossia Novorus.info, Statement Oleg Tsarov, decided on Friday 20 June see Ria Novosti, 23 June – translation Google)

Egypt and Climate Security

Since 2008, when massive food riots took place, followed by the “Arab spring revolution” in 2011, Egypt has become a land of political, religious and social conflicts (Krista Mahr, “Bread is life: food and protest in Egypt“, Time Magazine, January 31, 2011; Georges Corm, Le Proche-Orient éclaté, 2012), some of them between armed militant and religious factions on the one hand, the police, the military and the secret services, on the other. Meanwhile the civil society strongly emerges.

Beyond spectacular events, the causes of these domestic political and religious conflicts are rooted, among other factors, into international and climate change dynamics.


In effect, Egypt’s society and politics are deeply affected by the entanglement of economic, political, environmental and climate change trends (Werrell and Femia, The Arab Spring and Climate Change, 2013). The current political, religious and security tensions reveal what might be the greatest challenge Egypt, as a country and as a civilization, has ever had to face: the emergence of climate change and the way it could endanger the very fabric of Egyptian society.

Today, Egypt, as all countries and as all the living beings on this planet, is entering a new era, defined by the strengthening of climate change dynamics and their deeply transformative consequences on its national and international security.

The new plagues of Egypt?

The current political life of Egypt seems dominated not by climate change, but by the complex interactions between the military, an emerging civil society (Nicola Brooks, “Egyptians form grassroots movements to tackle urban issues“, Al Arabiya news, 13 April 2014), and religious militants movements and Islamist terrorists (Corm, ibid). In fact, this tense situation is deeply rooted in the dangerous combination of the fragile social, economic, infrastructural realities and the national and international effects of climate change.

The extreme weather events that affected the international cereals market in 2010 and 2011 are a good example of this new global threat, because Egypt is the EGypTarticleLargefirst importer of wheat in the world and suffered economically and politically of the ensuing food rising prices (Valantin, “Sustainability and security: the future of Egypt?” 2014). This combination has powerful political effects, as it puts the poorest people on the verge of hunger, thus feeds political and religious dynamics of radicalization and violence (Klare, The Coming Global Explosion, 2013).

Another climate related emerging threat lies in the way geography determines the repartition of 80% of Nile_River_and_delta_from_orbitthe population, which protects itself from the desert by living in Cairo and in the narrow Nile Delta. The littoral of the Delta is almost at the level of the sea, and only 240 km long. This geo-social reality could become a major trap in the years to come, according to the World Bank and the IPCC, because of the expected rise of the Mediterranean Sea of at least 30 centimetres during the next eighty years (World Bank, The impact of sea level rise on developing countries: A comparative analysis, policy research paper 4136, 2007; IPCC fifth assessment, Climate change, impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, 2014).

This risk of submersion is reinforced by the way the ground of the Nile Delta is literally sinking, the river not bringing enough sediment any more, as it is blocked 700 kilometers upstream by the giant Aswan dam, built in 1973.

The rising sea and the sinking ground are thus transforming the Nile Delta into a “topographic danger zone” (Hélène Lavoix, 2014). For more than forty years, the Delta has known a high demographic growth and urban densification, while remaining the main agricultural region of the country. According to the World Bank (ibid), if the sea rises of one meter between today and 2100, more than 10% of the population, mainly in the Delta, would be impacted, and it would hit 12.5% of the agricultural production, knowing that Egypt must already import half of its food.

In other terms, 8 to 10 million people (the Egyptian population is 80 million strong today, and expected to keep on growing) could become inner climate refugees, Security_was_especially_tight_after_a_series_of_bombings_ripped_through_Cairo_on_24th_January_2014_-_25-Jan-2014in a country where the available living space is already saturated and, even worse, shrinking because of the growing demographic pressure. This is happening in a country where some radicalized faith-based movements are committed to armed violence (The Guardian, “6 Egyptian military police killed as gunmen attack checkpoint“, 15 March 2014).

These dangerous life conditions meet the new power games, as explained in the previous post, centered on the sharing of the Nile water, the quasi-only source of water for Egypt (Franck Galland, Chroniques géopolitiques de l’eau, 2014). All of the upstream riparian countries, Uganda for the Blue Nile and Ethiopia for the White Nile, South Sudan and Sudan, need a larger share of the river, given the growth of their populations and, especially for Ethiopia, their economic development (Galland, ibid).

These new needs create political tensions between the riparian countries and Egypt that may only increase, knowing that, according to the IPCC, the rate of annual rain and thus of available surface water may decrease during the coming decades (IPCC fifth assessment, ibid).

However, in the same time, since 2013, Egypt benefits from a renewed political and strategic solidarity from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This new solidarity helps the Egyptian government to cover its financial, food and energy needs and is politically motivated by a common strategy of prevention of any further degradation of the economic, social and political conditions of Egypt (Mada Masr, “Saudi aid expected to flow after the elections“, February 5, 2014).

This Saudi-Egyptian cooperation is hoped to prevent the poorest people to join religious radicalized movements, like the Muslim Brotherhood, in reaction to the degradation of the lives of their families. In other words, Saudi Arabia helps the state of Egypt to remain sustainable for strategic reasons, in order to weaken the social support to Islamist movements across the Arab world, movements that both the Saudi and Egyptian governments understand as being dangerous for their legitimacy and their stability (Jason Burke, 9/11 wars, 2011).

The coming politics and strategies of climate change?

These politics and strategies of security and sustainability constitute a first kind of reactions to problems induced by the social-demographic-economic-climate nexus (Fritzsche and Ruettinger, Environment, Climate Change and Security in the Southern Mediterranean, Review report, Adelphi, 2013). In this framework, one must remember that Egypt has built itself on politics and grand strategies elaborated to overcome that very kind of challenge (Jacques Berque, L’Egypte, Impérialisme et Révolution, 1967).


During antiquity, the Pharaonic political system was protecting society from inner struggles, foreign invasion and environmental disasters, such as the yearly Nile floods, turned into the main support for agriculture through vast irrigation works. Thus, the state was ensuring the vital crops that turned Egypt into a “Mediterranean wheat granary” during centuries (Berque, ibid).


Today, climate change and resources depletion pulls the world into a new era of forced adaptation (IPCC, ibid), which, in the case of Egypt, appears to be by now the only alternative to the collapse (Jared Diamond, Collapse, 2005) that could result from the synergy of food, water and sea level rise crises.

A national adaptation to these new and evolving conditions implies to renew the legitimacy relationship between the political authorities and the population, through strategies that are not “simply” of social control, security and defence, but involve the emergence of a common national purpose (Edward Luttwak, Strategy, the logic and war and peace, 2001).

Choosing a future?

As the new Constitution of the Republic of Egypt, approved in 2014, establishes, the state must protect the environment and the natural and economic resources, as well as the infrastructures that the society needs for its sustainability. In order to give Egypt a livable future, the Egyptian government will have to devise what we shall call a “grand strategy of adaptation to climate change”.


The ability or inability of the different political authorities, especially governments (the Mubarak government ousted by the “Arab Spring”, then Morsi’s, ousted by the Tamarod Movement and the military), define the way those political authorities can, or not, protect the population from the vital danger that a pronounced rise in the food and energy prices could bring, and thus, by the same token, these authorities’ very legitimacy. When this legitimacy and authority weaken, the means to protect the population decrease, while the risks of radicalization and violence increase (John Gray, Black Mass, Apocalyptic religion and the death of Utopia, 2007). 

Thus, the present political situation shows the importance for the very survival of the country of the way the Egyptian legitimate authorities will shift, or not, to “grand strategies of adaptation” over the next twenty years.

The current struggle between the government and religious extremist factions, while coping with a giant economic and food crisis (Reuters, “Egypt has less than 2 months imported wheat, says ex-minister”, Al Arabiya, 11 July 2013), and the renewed foreign policy that accompanies it, gives us some indications about the path to the future that is currently chosen, between renewed sustainability and collapse (Diamond, ibid). Even if it is in the midst of great difficulties (Fritzsche and Ruettinger, ibid), Egypt seems to be choosing sustainability.

The option toward sustainability permeates the current axes of the new Egyptian foreign policy. On the one hand, the Egyptian diplomacy develops new economic alliances with Arab countries. It also wages, on the other hand, an international advocacy campaign to keep 55% share of the Nile water for Egypt (Michael Klare, Resource wars, 2002), despite the ongoing building of the “Renaissance dam” of Ethiopia, which is going to lessen the downstream flow of water when the regional climate may become ever more arid (IPCC, ibid).

327px-River_Nile_mapThis international strategy will necessitate strong continuity between domestic and foreign policies, as well as the creation of regional ways and means to manage African and Middle Eastern interdependencies in the context of climate change.

These continuities from domestic national security issues to regional and international politics may produce a grand strategy that strengthens the present and future social cohesion of Egypt against the risk of further radicalization of domestic politics, even though the collective life conditions may increasingly be at risk.

The success, or not (Acemoglu and Robinson, Why nations fail, 2012), of this grand strategy, will be the political basis for the legitimacy of the government, and a very important tool to prevent radicalization and violent social chaos by guaranteeing the material and political basis of social cohesion.

Furthermore, a national grand strategy of adaptation to climate change could also be a way to unite the Egyptian people against the common and collectively experienced threat of climate change, as well as a common political unifying goal. 640px-Giza_pyramid01(js)The vast endeavours that it would imply, such as the creation of a dike system along the Delta littoral against the rising of the sea, could deeply resonate with the tradition of public works and environmental management, from the building of the ancient pyramids 5000 years ago to the great Aswan Dam.

In other words, and against all odds, climate adaptation could be an innovative way, rooted in its history, for the Egyptian civilization to protect and project itself in the future.

Dr Jean-Michel Valantin leads the environment and security division at The Red (Team) Analysis Society.

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly No139, 13 February 2014

Editorial – Storms and floods, harbinger of multifaceted changes: While the US knows a very cold winter, Western Europe is hit by the ninth storm since 17 December 2013, each bringing destruction and floods in its wake. This shows first, in a somehow novel way, that so-called “rich and developed”countries can be relentlessly hit by what is most probably a consequence of climate change. Here we are faced with storms and related floods, but other types of extreme weather events could also occur. Second, these storms start giving us an idea of how this vulnerability will most probably have multifaceted and mammoth impacts.

Actually, this issue is far from being completely new. We have already underlined the high likelihood to see this issue coming to the fore in “A road to hell” and have explored with a scenario in The Chronicles of Everstate some of its potential  impact (read 2018 – 2023 EVT – Complex catastrophes and following posts). Yet, monitoring undeniable indications (signals) that the problem is happening here and now is a novelty.

The polemic that the floods in the UK generated, as reported by the Huffington Post in “Foreign Aid Or Flood Relief?“, as well as the very heated debates we can read in the comments following the article, exemplifies what is also most probably at stake here: a potential redefinition of foreign policy, notably in its aid and development component, and a change of the normative setting presiding to the world order.

As more people are directly impacted in their everyday lives by climate change, they will expect their political authorities to ensure their security first. As the overall resources of the state will also be hit by extreme weather events (would it be only through a loss of economic activity, to say nothing of the net loss of wealth) and as public deficit are already straining public policies, cut will have to be made in budgets, and aid and development is a very likely target for this.

Actors benefiting and living from the old order, not only people receiving aid but also IGOs, NGOs, consultants, experts, specific businesses, etc. will most certainly fight not to see their livelihood dwindle, which means that we shall see heated ideological debates and polarization. Short of a miracle or real black swan event, maybe of a grey swan event (and making one happen would be a smart strategy for those living of aid and cooperation), it is most likely that they will lose this battle, as the mission of political authorities is to ensure the security of their citizens, not of other countries’ populations. For example, in democracies, people will vote for those who will offer solutions to their problems, not for those who promise to help far away people.

As a result, the humanitarian norms that have been embedded in the international system will most probably change, assuming they are not just abandoned, which in turn will have strong impact on the way to define and conduct international policy.

Meanwhile, this week is also rich with signals on lasting, spreading or renewed issues, such as tension in East Asia, doubts on global financial health and related economic issues, crisis in Ukraine, Greece, Bosnia, and now Venezuela, war in Syria, etc. This is almost “business as usual”, although the piling up of signals, week after week, shows escalation and global instability.

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Horizon scanning, risk, war, security, warning, signal

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly No129, 5 December 2013

Editorial – A window of opportunity to regain some legitimacy? What do Hansen’s new study on the inanity of the current goals of the international community to mitigate climate change and the Council of Europe report regarding the terrible impact of austerity measures on European citizens have in common? The answer is legitimacy, or rather illegitimacy and is emphasized by Hansen: “We started this paper to provide a basis for legal actions against governments in not doing their jobs in protecting the rights of young people and future generations,” he said.” Governments and state or quasi-state administrations have lost a large part of their legitimacy, and by the actions and decisions that led to this dire situation have started a worrying vicious spiral: lack of legitimacy means that it is increasingly difficult to govern and thus to be efficient in ensuring the security of citizens, which in turns leads to even less legitimacy. If this spiral is not stopped at some point, then even Hansen’s goal could “relatively quickly” become obsolete: to take a legal action against a government demands to use the judicial system, which is also part of the system that is being increasingly delegitimized. More constructively, Hansen’s threat and the Council of Europe’s report, by openly, clearly and loudly saying what so many citizens think also open a window of opportunity for governments and states to start working towards reconstructing the legitimacy they have lost, which will also means confronting divergent interests…  a difficult and challenging but also potentially mobilizing task.

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horizon scanning, crisis detection, signal, national security

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly No127, 21 November 2013

Editorial – This week, three main themes stand out. They are unsurprising as we have been following them for a while, yet they show how difficult it may be to warn about an issue, i.e. to convince a client or an audience that a signal is neither noise nor anymore weak but strong (e.g. changes in the Middle-East for the U.S.), that warning may not be properly heard for self-interested reasons, but then with potentially more serious consequences (the crisis and legitimacy), and how (relatively) new signals may start emerging from older ones (e.g. Climate change, science and religion).
First of all, there is the Middle-East and the North-African region, which is definitely being redrawn, with an increasingly denounced blindness by the U.S. – which, of course, participates actively in the strategic evolution. I particularly recommend “Obama’s Middle East Debacle” by Michael Doran (Brookings). The uncertainties in Egypt and the increasingly worrying situation in Libya only add to the generalizing changes.
Then, we have the overall loss of legitimacy of the political elite and of governments that goes with the political aftermath of the financial crisis and the ongoing changes that were decided to answer it… despite ongoing beliefs that the crisis is over. This may well be the case, financially, both for a narrowing global class of happy few and for the enlarged, no less global, number of poor, as the two groups are now experiencing new opposite continuous realities. Yet, if the price to pay to obtain this new order was a loss of legitimacy, a new crisis, of a different kind, may well be looming, and the order may not last long.
Finally, there is climate change, extreme weather events, natural catastrophes and their multi-dimensional impacts, including – and this is where this week articles are so interesting – on the values and norms that are fundamentally legitimizing modernity, thus our political systems. The revival of religion versus, or maybe alongside, science is an important trend that should be integrated in our foresight and warning efforts, as a crucial factor.
Interestingly too, all of those themes interact and contribute to create the new strategic landscape in the making.

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Red (Team) Analysis, horizon scanning, strategic warning, risk

Strategic Intelligence Assessment for Syria (4) – State of Play Part III

(see last update, 27 January 2014 for the Syrian Sunni Factions here – Note that major changes have taken place since the initial State of Play was written, hence reading also the update in crucial and 24 February 2014 for the Jihadis, here).

This post will be the last one that presents the current state of play and the five categories of actors fighting in and over Syria.

The rise of the two groups of factions presented below – the Syrian Sunni factions intending to install an Islamist state in Syria and the Sunni extremist factions with a global jihadi agenda – as well as their mobilization power has been, first, eased by the protracted quality of the conflict and the despair it implied among Syrian people. It was then facilitated by the initial inability of the moderates to find support in the West, thus to demonstrate their power.

Syrian Sunni factions intending to install an Islamist state in Syria

The first nexus is composed of more extreme Islamist groups – compared with those seen previously – and of “Nationalist Salafis” groups – to use Lund (2013:14) terminology, noting that scholar of Jihad in Syria, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi questions the very dichotomy between Nationalist Salafis and Jihadi Salafis (see below update 8 July).

Nationalist Salafis want to create an Islamic Sharia state in Syria. Lund (2013: 14) quotes Abdulrahman Alhaj, an expert on Syrian Islamism he interviewed in January 2013: Continue reading Strategic Intelligence Assessment for Syria (4) – State of Play Part III

Strategic Intelligence Assessment for Syria (3) – State of Play Part II – The Kurds

The Kurds in Syria

Syrian Kurds(Updated 10 February 2014 – click here to reach the update directly) The Kurds in Syria have their own agenda, which will determine their actions. As the other Kurdish communities in the region, their priority is to create a semi-autonomous Kurdistan where they live, notably in the NorthEast of Syria. Kurdish enclaves in Syria can also be found around Jarabulus – North – and Afrin – Northwest, North of Aleppo (Tejel, 2009: xiii). As analyzed by Spyer, their recent history tells the Kurds in Syria that mastering their own destiny is the only way to live decently and according to their own way of life, thus benefiting for once from the bounty of their land, in terms of oil and crops (Spyer, March 9 2013). The Syrian Kurds’ objective was again reasserted by Sipan Hamo, commander-in-chief of the People’s Protection Committees or People’s Defense Units (YPG – the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Kurdish political force in Syria, see below), in a statement on 4 April 2013: “We will not bargain with any side at the expense of the Kurdish people.” (van Wilgenburg, April 5 2013, AlMonitor).

The Syrian Kurds have already achieved an important part of their goal as they are largely Continue reading Strategic Intelligence Assessment for Syria (3) – State of Play Part II – The Kurds

Strategic Intelligence Assessment for Syria (2) – State of Play Part I – Pro-Assad Groups and Moderate Opposition Forces

(Last updates 24 February 2014 here for the Pro-Assad regime groups and  here for the NC)

Keeping in mind the complex and fluid character of the situation in Syria we addressed previously, this article and the next ones will present the current state of play and the various categories of actors fighting in and over Syria, namely the pro-Assad groups, the moderate opposition forces and the Muslim Brotherhood “related” groups, the Islamist groups fighting for an Islamist state in Syria, the groups linked to a global Jihadi Front, and, finally, the Kurds in Syria, without forgetting the external actors. Scenarios for the future will follow from this assessment. The scenarios will then evolve, notably in terms of likelihood, from changes on the battleground and in interactions between all actors.main actors 3


Pro-Assad regime groups

The regime and government of Bashar al-Assad has lost full domestic legitimacy (or there would not be a civil war) and a large part of international legitimacy, but it remains

Continue reading Strategic Intelligence Assessment for Syria (2) – State of Play Part I – Pro-Assad Groups and Moderate Opposition Forces