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New world disorder

sukumar muralidharan | Updated on March 10, 2018

Seeds of discontentMalian PresidentIbrahim BoubacarKeita visits theRadisson Blu hotel inBamako after a raid byarmed attackers leftover 20 dead. A threadhas emergedconnecting the latestsiege to that of anAlgerian refinery in2013.   -  REUTERS

Sukumar Muralidharan   -  BUSINESS LINE

Non-state actors are playing out the global danse macabre of terrorism

Munich hosts a showpiece annual conference where security officials and experts gather from around the world. Since its start in 1963, the event has witnessed its fair share of discord. But with the world supposedly graduating out of bitter bipolarity in 1991, concord has been the rule.

The promise of a ‘new world order’ came from a US president who, in 1991, vanquished a truculent Arab regime in Iraq that sought to redefine national identities in defiance of lines drawn after World War I. As the year wore on, the Soviet Union, the opposite pole in the world order created by World War II, passed into history.

In the feast of concord that followed, the February 2003 fracas in Munich — when US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was frontally abused over his unseemly lust to wage war in Iraq — was a rare occurrence.

Early this year, security apparatchiks gathered in Munich in a state of gloom at the “collapse of the world order”. An official report remarked in some despair that the guardians of the world order were proving reluctant to rebuild the props that were systematically being knocked out of it.

The resurgence of Russian militarism in Ukraine was a worry, when there was a smug expectation after the Soviet collapse and the wars that followed in the Balkans, that the US agenda would encounter no barrier in its march through Eastern Europe.

The state of meltdown in the Arab world was a deeper concern. And the tidal wave of refugees washing up on European shores was a challenge to the humanitarian pretences of the western liberal order, straining its rapidly diminishing capacities.

When reason fails, theology is the fallback option. Once a favoured term of comic books pandering to the Manichean sensibility, ‘monster’ has now become accepted currency in the global security dialogue. It was a term that British Prime Minister David Cameron reached for while recently demanding parliamentary authority to join the aerial bombing fiesta over Syria, which already involves some 60 countries.

The ‘monster’, as the French political theorist Michel Foucault put it, is violation incarnate. It is a breach of both the laws of nature and society. It “combines the impossible and the forbidden” and is that extreme point at which “the law is overturned”.

Cameron secured his mandate, though considerable scepticism shrouds his eagerness for war, except the perverse gratification that comes from a purposeless exercise of military power. The bellicosity and escalation of military operations comes even as documents emerge suggesting a 1957 plan by Britain and the US to stage a series of border provocations in Syria as a pretext for invasion and regime change. Then ruled by the compliant and easily malleable Hashemite dynasty, Iraq was to be staging post for the military adventure.

The consequences were disastrous. Syria walked into a political union with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic. Iraq witnessed a violent insurrection and the liquidation of the puppet monarchy. And in desperation at the threat to a friendly regime in Lebanon, the US had to intervene militarily to contain the spreading unrest.

The shock waves subsided when they were absorbed into the polarities of the Cold War. Today’s spiralling chaos is unlikely to ebb without fuelling a fresh new polarisation in the world order. The mindless recourse to military force ensures that the new configurations of power will take shape in perilous proximity to armed conflagration.

The decision to double down with military force comes with a proclivity to ignore the trail of havoc caused in countries designated as recipients of imperial ministrations. State structures are collapsing and multiple armed groups emerging to stake territorial claims.

On November 12, just a day before the lethal attacks in Paris that drew global condemnation, two bomb blasts in Beirut killed close to 40. A week afterwards, an upscale hotel in Bamako, capital of the African republic of Mali, was raided by armed marauders who took hostages and held them for four days, killing over 20.

Neither of these attacks registered in global consciousness the way Paris did. The disparities were so stark that even a magazine of hardened cynicism such as The Economist could take note of the “empathy gap” and try to quantify it using internet search numbers as proxy variable.

Amid conflicting claims of responsibility for the Mali attack, a thread emerged connecting it to a hostage siege in an Algerian refinery in 2013. French forces had been deployed in Mali to put down a revolt by Islamic tribesmen spilling over from the turmoil in Libya. The Algerian hostage siege was an effort to compel their withdrawal.

Credible information is now available that Al Mourabitoun, the group believed to be behind both incidents, is an asset of the Algerian intelligence agency, the DRS. It was assembled from fragments of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which fought a brutal civil war with the Algerian military regime through the 1990s. Since the war on terror became official policy in 2001, the DRS has used Al Mourabitoun to bid for a role as understudy of US and French intelligence, with sole enforcement rights in North Africa.

It is an arrangement rife with conflict and discord, which none of the parties involved can get out of. Ultimately, that is a distinctive feature of the “non-state actors” playing out the global danse macabre of terrorism rampant. None of them would really exist, far less flourish, except as instrumentalities for official, though concealed, policies of state actors. And the threads that control them run a convoluted course but usually end in the hands of western and allied intelligence services.

(Sukumar Muralidharan is an independent writer and researcher based in Gurgaon and Shimla)

Published on December 11, 2015

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