The Need for International Cooperation and a Grand Alliance in the War Against the Global Islamist and Jihadist Revolutionary Movement

photo obama putin

by Gordon M. Hahn

Efforts to form a grand coalition in the fight against global jihadism are likely to be futile. I have been banging that drum for nearly a decade. Here are just some of my recommendations and warnings on this score for the record.

2007

Gordon M. Hahn, Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, May 2007): “Increase cooperation between US, Russian, and other intelligence services in the war on terror” (p. 235).

“For all the damage the Ichkeriyan-led North Caucasus jihad has wrought, it is still susceptible to effective security, political, economic, and social measures, especially if they are conducted jointly by Russian, US, and international authorities”(p. 240).

2009

U.S.-Russian Relations and the War Against Jihadism, Century Foundation’s Senator Gary Hart-Ambassador Jack Matlock ‘Russia Working Group’ Paper, May 2009, http://old.tcf.org/publications/2009/5/pb688 and https://gordonhahn.com/2015/11/17/report-2009-u-s-russian-relations-and-the-war-against-jihadism/: “Although it makes sense for Washington and Moscow to establish closer cooperation, even an outright alliance in the struggle against jihadism, this has not happened for a number of reasons. …

“Changes in the structure of the jihadist movement since the September 11 attacks strengthen the rationale for broader and deeper U.S.-Russian cooperation. The leading role of al Qaeda in the global jihad has weakened, and a more decentralized network of still-allied but more isolated and self-sufficient jihadist nodes such as the “Caucasus Emirate” has emerged. In part, this restructuring is a result of better intelligence, police, and immigration performance in the West and Russia. However “leaderless” the jihad may be, the combination of continuing mutual assistance between its local nodes requires real coordination between the United States and Russia if not joint efforts in order to disrupt communications and attack more localized nodes.

“Strategically, Washington and Moscow are on the same page, which reads the global jihadist threat is real and must be eliminated. But tactically, they diverge according to the extent that they perceive one particular jihadist movement or another as a threat, in particular to itself. With this in mind, in which regions can U.S.-Russian cooperation against jihadism be initiated and enhanced, and where is it an unviable venture, at least at present?

“Jihadists outside of Eurasia writ large—including Eurasia proper, plus Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and the Persian Gulf region in general—represent little or no threat to Russia, but do threaten U.S. interests and/or those of its allies. Thus, in places such as Southeast Asia and northern Africa, there is little or no common interest or threat, though jihadist takeovers ultimately would affect both countries’ interests in the long run. In the Middle East, including Iraq, interests and perceptions diverge significantly, though again, a jihadist takeover in Iraq would have serious implications for both countries.

“Regarding the more immediate threats to their respective homelands, threats to one are, by all appearances, of less concern to the other, but mistakenly so. A catastrophic terrorist attack in the United States would affect the entire world, something that the U.S. financial crisis and its spread around the globe underscored. Similarly, Russia’s own jihadist threat in the North Caucasus means that Russia, together with Pakistan and India, constitute the only countries that possess both a significant jihadist movement and large stockpiles of nuclear and other materials and weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, the North Caucasus mujahedin have metastasized into a threat to the U.S., albeit one with limited capacity at present. In regions bordering Russia, such as Central Asia and the southern Caucasus, especially Azerbaijan, deepening U.S. and Western involvement creates a modus vivendi for cooperation with Moscow in the war against jihadism. In sum, South and Central Asia and the Caucasus are the two regions where sufficient common interests and threats offer realistic prospects for increased U.S.-Russian security cooperation against jihadism.

“The global jihad-CE-Tsarnaev connection represents the kind of inter-linked cascade of networked influence and social movements that now defines the global jihad. These often self-replicating networks of networks produce jihadi insurgencies, terrorist groups, organizationally autonomous start-up cells, and lone wolves and will do so for some time to come. Forget Chechnya. They are jihadists who think, tweet, and act locally and globally, from Beslan to Boston and beyond. Shouldn’t we?”

2011

Gordon M. Hahn, Getting the Caucasus Emirate Right, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Russia and Eurasia Program Report, September 2011, http://csis.org/files/publication/110930_Hahn_GettingCaucasusEmirateRt_Web.pdf: “The one-sided perception of the causes of the North Caucasus violence as well as the misconceptions of both the CE’s theo-ideological orientation and goals have had important policy consequences.  They have produced missteps like the U.S. State Department’s June 2010 decision to include only CE amir Umarov on its list of international terrorist entities, the Specially Designated Terrorist list, but to leave the CE network as a whole off the list, despite its having carried out some 1,800 attacks and inflicted more than 4,000 casualties since its inception in October 2007. The United States asked for a postponement when the United Nations moved to place Umarov on its corresponding list and only acquiesced in March 2011. As writing for this report concluded in June 2011, the CE as an organization was finally included on the State Department’s list.

“Despite the belated U.S. support for Russia’s war against takfirism, Russia has been highly cooperative with the U.S. in its war with the Taliban and AQ, opening up the Northern Supply Route for transporting supplies to NATO and U.S. troops, carrying out joint anti-narcotics operations in Afghanistan, offering financial and other forms of support to the Afghan government, and exchanging intelligence on AQ with the U.S. government.

“Any continued underestimation of the threat posed by the CE not just to Russia, but increasingly to international and even U.S. national security, only increases our vulnerability to attack.  Sober analysis of the CE and the multiple factors producing violence in the North Caucasus is therefore requisite.”

2012

Gordon M. Hahn, “The Caucasus Emirate Jihadists: The Security and Strategic Implications,” in Stephen J. Blank, ed.,Russia’s Homegrown Insurgency: Jihad in the North Caucasus (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, October 2012), pp. 1-98, http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/PUB1116.pdf, at pp. 64-5: “Given the emerging CE threat, the U.S. Government should maximize cooperation across Eurasia to include Russia, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the war against jihadism. The United 65 States and Europe should also attempt to stabilize the Caucasus by resolving the Azeri-Armenian conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and at least minimizing Russian-Georgian tensions, so these do not play into the hands of CE or other jihadists. Another goal might be to rein in Georgian efforts to whip up trouble in the North Caucasus, especially among the Muslim Circassian ethnic groups.”

2013

Commentary on Boston Marathon bombing, 2013, http://www.start.umd.edu/news/discussion-point-caucasus-boston-and-beyond: “The prominent role of North Caucasus mujahedin within the jihadi wing of the Syrian revolution could avail the CE access to weapons or materials of mass destruction, which could be used against targets in Russia and/or the West. The global jihad-CE-Tsarnaev connection represents the kind of inter-linked cascade of networked influence and social movements that now defines the global jihad. These often self-replicating networks of networks produce jihadi insurgencies, terrorist groups, organizationally autonomous start-up cells, and lone wolves and will do so for some time to come. Forget Chechnya. They are jihadists who think, tweet, and act locally and globally, from Beslan to Boston and beyond. Shouldn’t we?”

Gordon M. Hahn, “U.S.-Russian Cooperation in the War Against Jihadism,” Russia – Other Points of View, 5 June 2013, http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/2013/06/us-russia-cooperation-in-the-war-against-global-jihadism.html: “I would not be at all surprised if one reason Russian and/or Dagestani security forces neglected to apprehend Tamerlan is that some higher-ups in the FSB or GRU suspected that he was an American agent and wanted him to remain on the loose so they could monitor him. In this case, the warnings sent to the FBI and CIA would have functioned as a probe of U.S. intention regarding the Tsarnaevs, and the US failure on occasion to respond would then have supported Russian suspicions. The only ‘winner’ in this failed game was Tsarnaev.

“Mutual distrust has led to the U.S. indirectly supplying weapons to the Al- Qa`ida tied to Jabhat al-Nusrah (Al-Nusrah Front) in Syria, which includes a large contingent of foreign jihadists from Russia’s North Caucasus––and the logic behind Russia’s position on Bashir Assad’s Syrian regime, Hezbollah and its supporters against the Al-Qa`ida-connected rebels.

“With the 2014 Winter Olymic Games in Sochi around the corner, the U.S. and Russia must step up intelligence sharing, cooperation, and mutual trust in the war against jihadism. A major wing of the Nusrah Front, the ‘Jeish Mukhajirin va Ansar’ (the JMvA or Army of Emirants and Helpers) is led by ethnic Chechens from the North Caucasus, including the top amir Omar al-Shishani It consists of more than one thousand jihadi militants. CE amir Umarov has publicly expressed his support for them. Moreover, we now know that the Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons. This means that the North Caucasian elements within the rebel front could acquire such weapons to attack the Winter Games. We in the U.S. would do well to reject the conspiracy theorists regarding Russia and make policy on that which we know to be true; no matter how politically inconvenient that may be.

“To be sure, Russia is not a paragon of democracy today – and Russian, Dagestani, Chechen, and other local security and police forces sometimes commit grave crimes against civilians while fighting the Caucasus Emirate jihadists, as also happens with us in our Middle East wars; but if we could ally with the far worse Stalin during World War II, then we can certainly partner with Moscow in the fight against jihadism.

“The global jihad is a decentralized alliance of networks spread out across the world. To the extent there is a weak or broken web of networks fighting it affords the CE and other jihadi groups important advantages and opportunities in places like Boston, Sochi and elsewhere.”

2014

Gordon M. Hahn, The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014): “Given this larger revolutionary and radicalizing context, international, Western, Eurasian, American and Russian security are likely to be threatened by this revolution’s intended and unintended destabilizing and violent effects for decades to come; the most virulent of which are the global jihadi alliance and its individual groups. The jihadi revolutionary alliance’s globalism dictates a global and cooperative response on the part of those whom it targets.” (p. 268).

“Given the emerging CE threat, the U.S. government should maximize cooperation across Eurasia to include Russia, the CSTO, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the war against jihadism.  The North Caucasus’s strategic position between Europe and Asia and the CE’s links to jihadi groups extending from Europe through Russia to Central and South Asia underscore the need to block CE operational expansion.  This goal is easier set than achieved, given the great mistrust between East and West and key regional players such as Russia and the Central and South Asian states, on the one hand, the U.S., NATO, and Georgia, on the other.” (p. 269).

“Only broad and effective regional cooperation involving all of the post-Soviet states will the U.S. and the West be able to defeat the global jihadi threat. The CE mujahedin, while few in numbers, are dedicated and capable fighters and operatives for the global jihadi revolutionary alliance. Underestimating, not to mention ignoring the threat described herein risks waking up one morning to find that a major U.S. or Western target has been hit by CE mujahedin fighting for the global jihadi cause. Again policymakers will convene commissions and produce reports speaking of a ‘lack of imagination’ and ‘a failure to connect the dots,’ when there was nothing that needed imagining and all the dots long ago had been connected at least by some. Tangential and misguided political agendas should not be allowed to obfuscate the emerging threat and to shut out those who warned about it.” (p. 270)

2014

Gordon M. Hahn, “New Cold War makes US, Russian cooperation against ISIS unlikely,” Russia-Direct, 28 August 2014, www.russia-direct.org/content/new-cold-war-makes-us-russian-cooperation-against-isis-unlikely: “A Western-Russian partnership would be an important element in any international campaign to defeat or at least contain ISIS. However, the collapse in Western-Russian, especially U.S.-Russian relations, over the crisis and civil war in Ukraine casts a dark shadow of doubt over the prospects for such cooperation. The new Cold War’ renders the U.S. less willing to cooperate with Russia on anything.”

2015

Gordon M. Hahn, “The Eagle, the Bear, and the Camel,” 5 October 2015, Gordonhahn.com, https://gordonhahn.com/2015/10/05/the-eagle-the-bear-and-the-camel/: “US President Barack Obama rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to build a united coalition to fight jihadism in the Levant. The American president apparently still believes the best way to fight jihadism is to destroy the secular regimes in the region. …”

“So rather then deluding ourselves about the moral high ground we hold in the region, a more realistic approach should be deployed; one that would have maintained U.S. predominance in the region while partnering with Moscow and other great powers to prevent the world war-scale crisis that now confronts the world in the Middle East.

“Let me be clear: that crisis began long ago, not in late September 2015, and it is driven by the rise of the global jihadi revolutionary movement. Instead of joining forces against the common threat posed by Al Qa`ida, the Islamic State, and their affiliates, allies, and imitators, the West (especially Washington), Russia, and insular China looked the other way. The West, especially, remained focused on its old alliances and approaches both globally (NATO expansion) and in the region (obeisance in Riyadh), even as it undermined real and potential allies and pillars of relative stability in Iraq, Egypt and Libya. The West could have helped to build an international coalition in the region and brought Russia and others in to fight the global jihadi revolutionary movement in the Levant and elsewhere. Instead, it backed the Arab Winter. …

“Ultimately, the moment for a Western-Russian modus vivendi and counter-jihadi alliance has been lost. Washington and Europe, as they have for a decade, were more interested in other things: expanding NATO to Georgia and Ukraine; paving the way for EU and NATO expansion by supporting the illegal seizure of power by opposition forces in Ukraine; rejecting any cooperation with the Russian-backed Collective Security Treaty Organization and Shanghai Cooperation Organization; and refusing to develop trade ties and coordinate EU integration issues with the Eurasian Economic Union.”

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Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; a Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California; a Contributor for Russia Direct, www.russia-direct.org; and an Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch, http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics. Dr. Hahn has taught Russian politics and other courses at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, St. Petersburg State (Russia), and San Francisco State Universities as well as the Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey, California. He also has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute. His website is http://www.gordonhahn.com.

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About Gordon M. Hahn