Before the wave of extremist Islamic terrorism that the international security environment has faced in recent years and continues to face, the geopolitical tension after World War II that escalated into The Cold War spanned four decades where peace within the international security environment was far from stable. One can argue that there was a steady decline in intrastate conflict after the dissolution of the communist federal states in the early 1990s until the recent conflicts within Ukraine, Syria and Iraq. However, this brief period of relative peace in the international security environment does not support the statement that peace is the norm. This period of time does also include the deployment of a multinational coalition to Afghanistan to supposedly preserve international security but which instead only led to further deteriorate a war-ravaged country and create more hatred towards the west, with large swathes of the country falling back into Taliban hands in recent months.
A trend in recent decades has seen a shift away from large-scale interstate conflicts to smaller intrastate conflicts . Civil wars within countries across Africa and the Middle East have been continuous and with seemingly no end in sight, will continue to pose a threat to international security. These seemingly internal conflicts within countries are often also part of larger proxy-wars that do pose a significant threat to international security. For example, the Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy conflict, sometimes referred to as the Middle East Cold War , has been on going since the Iranian revolution in 1979 and has spanned and had influence upon seemingly internal conflicts such as the Lebanese Civil war and the Syrian Civil war to name just two. This involvement by larger state players poses a significantly larger threat to the international security environment than if the conflicts were purely internal. This has been an increasing trend over the past two decades as the geopolitical landscape has changed and states that would have previously actively deployed troops in a particular conflict can no longer due to lacking public support and are forced to instead arm, support and advise countries; this indirect involvement within countries then leads to rising tensions on the international stage.
The conflict in Syria is a prime example of how seemingly internal conflicts can become embroiled in international politics and de-stable any idea of peace within the international security environment. While Russia has deployed 48,000 troops in support of the Syrian Arab Republic, the United States has actively supported the Free Syrian Army, a group whose main intent is to bring down the Syrian government . Furthermore, The United States has also deployed conventional forces in an advisory role to rebels and Special Forces in a more direct role in the battle against so called ‘Islamic State’. This melting pot of troops and forces within Syria has the potential to cause catastrophic standoffs and international incidents involving two of the world’s greatest superpowers. An example of such an incident was in June 2017 when a US Navy fighter jet shot down a Syrian government warplane. The United States said that the plane had attacked US-backed forces and was downed “in collective self defence of coalition-partnered forces”.
Russia condemned the attack and stated that it would treat any plane from the US-led coalition flying west of Euphrates River as a potential target. Both Russia and The United States are involved in tackling so called ‘Islamic State’, however tensions between the two countries over incidents, such as the downing of a plane mentioned above, have the ability to spark a US-Russia conflict that would have catastrophic outcomes.
Another long-reaching and potentially de-stabilising outcome of seemingly internal conflicts across Africa and the Middle East, is the human impact and in particular the refugee crisis that these conflicts create. People from war-torn countries are forced to flee their homes and travel thousands of miles in search of the safety and security that the international community is not providing them with.
As a result of the conflict in Syria that began in 2011, 80% of Syrians now live in poverty, with over 13.5 million people inside Syria still in need of humanitarian assistance . Furthermore, Syria has been described as “the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time”, with over 4.5million registered Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict and risking their lives to get away from war. This influx of refugees has had a negative impact on neighbouring states infrastructure and development and caused rising tensions among the international community as some countries such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have not offered any resettlement for Syrian refugees but are among the richest and most able nations in the region.
The war in Syria is just one example of how a seemingly internal conflict can have a long reaching and de-stabilising effect on the international security environment. Moreover, the War in Syria is a current example of what can be argued has been a trend in the international security environment since the end of The Cold War. Wars have been fought over territory and ideology and have had large state players supporting, arming and advising non-state actors in order to achieve their underlying intentions without the larger scale conflict that, in the case of The United States and Russia, the larger scale conflict mentioned could have and could still result in World War III. For example, the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989) that saw The United States arming and supplying the Mujahedeen to fight against the Russians. This trend in proxy wars and tensions on the world stage since the end of the Cold War does not support the notion that ‘peace, not war, is the natural order of the international security environment’.
Although, as conflict trends show, deadly large-scale political conflict has been gradually decreasing over the past two decades , terrorism has and continues to be one of the largest threats to the stability of the international community and one of the largest preventers of peace within the international security environment. International terrorism has spiked since the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 with US policy makers “declaring transnational terrorism the next extreme threat to international security” in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. In 2015, the number of deaths from extremist Islamic terrorism in North America and Europe rose distinctly, supporting the view that the world, and in particular the international security environment is more volatile and unstable than it has been in the past. It has also been found that weak or failed states are centres of activity for terrorist activities and as such can have a devastating impact on international security
The attacks on September 11
2001 (9/11) undoubtedly illustrate a shift in primary motivation for terrorism to the religious and fundamentalist realm. However, before the wave of extremist Islamic terrorism that the world is facing currently, other terrorist organisations threatened and disrupted the peace within the international security environment. Nationalist and often separatist ideologies were considered the main motivation for terrorism before the shift after 9/11. Examples of such separatist movements included the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which conducted terrorist operations against the United Kingdom throughout the late twentieth century. Another example of such terrorism that has prevented peace throughout the international security environment is the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) that has conducted attacks within Spain and France, killing over 820 people to date.
Terrorism throughout the past century has evolved and changed continuously, from its motivators to the way in which it is conducted. However, terrorism has always been a constant threat to the international security environment and with no real end to terrorism in sight, as political and religious ideologies clash around the world, it is not far-fetched to believe that terrorism may be viewed, in some way, as a norm for the international security environment.
The future of international security environment suggests that war, not peace, is going to be the norm within among the global stage. Trends in religious and ideological conflicts across Africa and the Middle East in recent decades suggest international intervention will occur with varying degrees of success. Furthermore, these international interventions will cause a mixed reaction and divide public opinion among many of the contributing nations; we have already seen riots and uproar in retaliation to coalition bombing across the Middle East in recent years.
In the more immediate future of international security, transnational terrorism motivated by religious or fundamentalist views will continue to threaten and disrupt peace across the global stage, as it has done for the past seventeen years. This problem may become exacerbated by the refuge crisis, where optimistic would-be terrorists are travelling to countries under the false pretence of seeking asylum. Furthermore, as international intervention increases, and organisations continue to use social media and cyber warfare as a means to conduct terrorist activities, home grown terrorism will continue to prevent peace within the international security environment.
With both The United States and North Korea having potentially as volatile and unpredictable leaders as each other, the potential for all out, potentially nuclear, warfare is gradually increasing. This ever-increasing tension within the international community has strained relations and put the international community on edge, awaiting either side’s next move.
Throughout human history, conflict and war have been an ever-present factor in life and while the technology and nature of warfare may have changed dramatically over centuries, the reasons and motives behind conflict and war have not. Religion, money, power, territory and fundamental ideologies are just some examples of the catalysts that have ignited the war machine throughout history. One can argue however that religion and ideological conflicts can be seen as a constant factor in international conflicts. From The Crusades sanctioned by the Latin Church against Muslims, fighting over territory that both religions believed to be sacred, to the modern day so called ‘Islamic State’ attempting to secure a caliphate in Iraq; religion and conflicting ideologies have been and will ever continue to be a key reason behind conflict. Throughout recent decades, the Middle East has been at the epicentre of religious tensions that have not only seen conflict within the countries themselves but have had large negative impacts around the world, from the refugee crises to increased political tensions between the superpowers of the world.
It can therefore be argued that religious conflict is a trend that can indirectly influence the international security environment in such a way that it undermines the peace that the international community seeks to establish.
Peace within the international security environment seems a long way off with threats to national and international security abundant. Moreover, the trends in conflict in recent decades would suggest that war, not peace is the norm and while there have been sporadic periods of peace within the international community, the threat of conflict has always loomed.
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