Uni­fy­ing the strug­gle against ISIS

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - By Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier

The Novem­ber 13 ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Paris – which struck at the heart of France and of Europe as a whole – have brought the ter­ror­ist threat posed by the Is­lamic State (ISIS) to the fore­front of the for­eign-pol­icy agenda. For me, the an­swer to such as­saults can­not be to lock our doors and board up our win­dows. To sur­ren­der the way we live, to give up on our open so­ci­eties, would be to play into the ter­ror­ists’ hands.

But our re­sponse needs to be, first and fore­most, a po­lit­i­cal one: more vig­i­lance at home and more in­ten­sive co­op­er­a­tion with our part­ners’ se­cu­rity au­thor­i­ties. We in the West must show re­solve in bat­tling the so­cial ex­clu­sion that breeds alien­ation, which im­plies step­ping up our ef­forts to in­te­grate Mus­lim and other im­mi­grants at all lev­els. At the same time, we must tackle the evil of ISIS in the places where it be­gan: Iraq and Syria.

On the night of the Paris at­tacks, Ger­many promised France that we would stand at its side. We de­cided re­cently that our re­spon­si­bil­ity to keep this prom­ise in­cludes a mil­i­tary con­tri­bu­tion to the fight against ISIS.

We all know, of course, that ter­ror­ism can­not be de­feated by bombs alone. But we also know that the threat posed by ISIS will not be over­come with­out mil­i­tary means, and that, un­less ISIS is coun­tered mil­i­tar­ily, af­ter a year there may well be noth­ing left on which to build a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion for ei­ther Syria or Iraq.

I spent two days in Iraq re­cently. In the past year, ISIS has been suc­cess­fully pushed out of a quar­ter of the ter­ri­tory it once con­trolled there. But the most dif­fi­cult tasks in con­fronting ISIS lay ahead of us. Three com­po­nents are cru­cial to the suc­cess of our po­lit­i­cal strat­egy.

The first com­po­nent is sup­port for those con­fronting ISIS. Ger­many’s de­ci­sion last sum­mer to pro­vide the Kur­dish Pesh­merga with arms and mu­ni­tions was not with­out risk, but it was the right move. In Novem­ber, also thanks to Ger­man sup­port, the Pesh­merga lib­er­ated the city of Sin­jar, where ISIS car­ried out hor­rific mas­sacres of Yazidis last sum­mer. The ad­vance by ISIS could not have been stopped with­out the Al­lies’ air strikes.

Sec­ond, we know from pre­vi­ous con­flicts how i mpor­tant it is to re­store pub­lic con­fi­dence in ar­eas lib­er­ated from ISIS. That is why we are in­vest­ing in sta­bil­is­ing th­ese re­gions, re­build­ing po­lice forces, schools, elec­tric­ity grids, and wa­ter sup­plies. Thanks to Ger­man help, more than 150,000 peo­ple were able to re­turn to their homes af­ter the city of Tikrit was lib­er­ated.

The strat­egy’s third com­po­nent is the most dif­fi­cult to re­alise and yet the most im­por­tant. In the long term, the con­flicts and chaos that en­abled ISIS to spread in the first place can be over­come only if all pop­u­la­tion groups in Iraq and Syria have a shared po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tive.

In Iraq, Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi has launched a coura­geous re­form pro­gramme to pave the way to­ward greater po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion by Sun­nis. In Syria, such a po­lit­i­cal process is of course still a long way off; nonethe­less, we must do all we can to work in this di­rec­tion.

Ger­man for­eign pol­icy is at the fore­front of th­ese ef­forts. I have had count­less (and of­ten dif­fi­cult) talks in Riyadh, Tehran, Ankara, Beirut, Am­man, and Vi­enna in the last year to help bridge the di­vide be­tween coun­tries in the re­gion – and thus rein in their proxy forces bat­tling one an­other in Syria.

I am heart­ened by the fact that, for the first time af­ter al­most five years of civil war, we suc­ceeded in bring­ing all key states to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble in Vi­enna and agreed on a road map for a cease­fire and a po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion process. It’s too early to cel­e­brate, but there is fi­nally a min­i­mal con­sen­sus – shared not just by Rus­sia and the United States, but also by Iran and Saudi Ara­bia – on a way for­ward to re­solve the Syria con­flict. The meet­ing of Syr­ian op­po­si­tion groups in Riyadh in De­cem­ber was the first step on this path.

Achiev­ing a po­lit­i­cal agree­ment will be a long and ar­du­ous jour­ney, and the out­come is not en­tirely in our hands. Some of the part­ners who we need on board are pur­su­ing in­ter­ests very dif­fer­ent from ours. Some are at log­ger­heads with one an­other.

But com­plain­ing about the com­plex­ity of the sit­u­a­tion in Syria is no sub­sti­tute for ac­tion. The fact that some po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties do not fit the friend-foe tem­plate can­not be an ex­cuse to sit back and wait un­til the re­gion’s an­tag­o­nisms and con­flicts in the re­solve them­selves – or un­til there is no Syr­ian state or in­sti­tu­tions left to save.

The suc­cess­ful ne­go­ti­a­tions to con­tain Iran’s nu­clear pro­gramme showed that per­sis­tent good-faith diplo­macy can work. In Libya, too, with an ex­pe­ri­enced Ger­man diplo­mat at the helm of talks be­ing held un­der the aus­pices of the United Na­tions, we have the op­por­tu­nity to find a po­lit­i­cal route back to an or­dered state.

As for­eign pol­i­cy­mak­ers, we must face up to re­al­ity, with all of its un­cer­tain­ties, and take re­spon­si­bil­ity for both our ac­tions and our in­ac­tion – even when there are no guar­an­tees of suc­cess ei­ther way. This makes it all the more im­por­tant that we are cer­tain of our bear­ings. We will not be able to counter ISIS and the threat posed by Is­lamist ter­ror­ism by pulling up the draw­bridge; what we need is per­sis­tence and a po­lit­i­cal strat­egy that care­fully in­te­grates mil­i­tary, hu­man­i­tar­ian, and diplo­matic en­gage­ment.

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