By Rachel Furlow
With the global community still reeling over the recent Daesh (ISIS) attacks on Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, world leaders now face the harsh reality that the current military strategy, or lack thereof, for containing Daesh has failed. Although the group has lost large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria, these recent terrorist attacks have caused global leaders to reconsider more aggressive tactics. Many fear that use of increased force in the region is reminiscent of past failed interventions, such as the Iraq War. While it is crucial that we remember previous policy mistakes in the region, the answer is not complete non-interventionist strategies. However, the questions remain, who will lead future military offensives and how will they be carried out?
After the Paris attack, many have begun to wonder about the possibility of NATO involvement in the conflict. Under the NATO Charter, Article 5 states that each member of NATO agrees if one of their member states is attacked, collective defense requires all other member states to intervene. France has not yet declared whether or not they will invoke Article 5, but it remains a strong possibility. In this situation, NATO could be the ideal coalition leader for further military operations against Daesh.
The timing could not be more ideal for NATO to recruit nations across the globe to join an international coalition against Daesh. The most recent wave of violence has sparked outrage in many nations. Two members of the United Nations Security Council, Russia and France, have just been victims of massive Daesh terrorist attacks. These attacks could lead Russia, a nation historically against NATO, to reassess their unilateral offensive strategy and team up with these unlikely allies.
Many critics of NATO involvement in the conflict are nervous about more prolonged Western involvement in the region. However, by creating an open coalition and utilizing local forces as the main military force, it is possible to keep NATO’s involvement as an effective, short-term strategy.
One of the main challenges facing a NATO coalition in Syria and Iraq is the organization’s struggle to adapt to the tangled web of alliances in the region and its ever-shifting political landscape. Traditional NATO coalitions consist of participating NATO states that are required to adhere to a single doctrine and set of beliefs before admittance into the organization, as well as some participation from nations in satellite programs such as Partnership for Peace. However, if NATO structures itself instead as the leading force of a temporary, not traditional, coalition, it will allow for more flexibility in nontraditional member participation, rather than restricting it to conventional Western nations, and keep the focus on a single-issue approach. Instead of being structured as a traditional NATO coalition, this single-issue approach means that members of a temporary coalition do not need to commit to a single doctrine, they just need to commit to a specific objective, in a specific place, at a specific time. Such a coalition creates strange, but useful, bed-fellows. States with clashing interests, such as United States and Iran, could theoretically unite against Daesh under a single-issue coalition, as they successfully did against the Taliban after 9/11. Furthermore, this approach widens membership from traditional NATO members to be more inclusive. Previously, open coalitions have allowed the United States to gain the support of nations such as Pakistan for critical military operations.
This new NATO open coalition should turn its focus away from the current air offensive tactic in order to devise a more effectual train-and-equip program that targets institutional deficiencies with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), repeats the 2007 Sunni Awakening of tribal leaders, and attempts to integrate disenfranchised Sunni militias and Peshmerga forces into a cohesive group.
Primarily, the coalition should improve and build on its train-and-equip program. The current tactic of focusing on ISF combat deficiencies does not address the real issue of why these forces have not been effective against Daesh. Many who have been on the ground throughout the offensive note a lack of morale and cohesion among the ISF. Unlike Daesh, the ISF lack a unified ideology and, therefore, a train-and-equip program should spend more resources to unify the ISF under a common objective. This would incorporate a long-term goal of developing a plan for a secure, representative government the ISF can fight for. Throughout this process however, it is still essential to retain Iraqi primacy in the force structure in order to avoid a Western-dominated intervention.
In addition to reforming the train-and-equip program, the new coalition should work to include disenfranchised groups and integrate them in the ISF, a crucial strategic gap in previous train-and-equip programs. Two major groups, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the Sunnis, have been blatantly under-utilized in the current program structure. Attempts to include the Peshmerga forces in 2014 failed because there was no integration strategy. As for disenfranchised Sunni militias, a temporary coalition should devise a strategy reminiscent of the 2007 Sunni Awakening where Sunni tribal leaders cooperated with U.S. forces and played a major role in containing Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). By integrating these three groups into one militia, any military operation will be more cohesive and effective.
With Daesh forces and the current global coalition currently at a stalemate in Iraq and Syria, it has become clear that a NATO-led temporary coalition could be the short-term military solution the global community has been looking for. However, in order to avoid repeating mistakes of the past, the focus should be on empowering and supporting local actors. Undoubtedly, more long-term economic, political and humanitarian solutions need to be discussed. Yet, by taking these short-term steps in order to contain the Daesh threat, the international community can finally begin to make real, joint progress towards a more permanent solution.
Rachel Furlow is junior majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in the Middle East. She previously spent a semester abroad at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and is currently living in Jordan where she is studying Arabic and Middle Eastern foreign policy.