Aleppo. Mosul. Sana’a. Mogadishu. Gaza. These war-ravaged cities are but a few examples of a growing trend in global conflict, where more and more of the world’s most violent conflicts are being fought in densely populated urban areas, at a tremendously high cost to the civilians living there. Despite their aversion to urban warfare, American and NATO military strategists increasingly acknowledge that the future of war is in cities. Concurrently, humanitarian agencies such as International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are adjusting their response to relief operations in urban centers in real time. This rise in urban violence and the resurgence of warfare in cities comes from three key factors: the global trend toward urbanization, increasingly volatile domestic political conditions in developing countries, and changes in the character of armed conflict.
It is a touching characteristic of the optimistic liberal soul that it perennially inclines to believe that bad situations cannot get worse. But of course they can and often do get worse. This would seem to make it hard to be an optimistic liberal for very long, but some people accomplish it for decades on end apparently without much effort. How do they do it?
The Black Sea region in recent years has been marked both by sharp shifts and by intractable dilemmas. The biggest shift is Russia, which has expanded its military role throughout the broader Black Sea region even as it stumbles into conflicts with most of its neighbors. A second shift is in Turkey, where relations with other Western powers are at their lowest ebb in decades. Third, the West itself appears unsure whether it will continue pursuing its strategy of integrating Black Sea countries into NATO and the EU. Fourth, China is playing a bigger role in the Black Sea region than it ever has before. Every great power that touches the Black Sea, in other words, has a strategy that is currently in state of flux.
American fatigue in the Middle East from 15 years of conflict and a genuine lack of clarity regarding U.S. power and purpose have created an opportunity for Russia to play a more active role in the region—its most active since the 1970s.
The possible creation of a new geopolitical reality in the Middle East may have snuck under the radar this holiday weekend. The continuing spectacle of the investigations into Russia’s possible involvement in the 2016 Election and the continued naming and shaming of corporate leaders and politicians involved in sexual harassment (as well as Thanksgiving), may have overshadowed the summit in Sochi between the Presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, shortly after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited President Putin in the same city (and thanked him for “saving Syria”).
For the Jewish people, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (which fell this year on September 30), is the holiest day of the year. It is a day for solemn retrospection and repentance. In Israel, Yom Kippur is a phenomenon: it is the one day of the year when Israel’s borders and airspace are closed; while no law forbids it, only emergency vehicles are on the road in Jewish cities and neighborhoods; all shops are closed. Sixty percent of Jewish Israelis report that they fast on Yom Kippur.
The jihadist recruiters of today are not just the most tech savvy ever of their kind; they are also deploying recruiting techniques that would be very familiar to any intelligence agency case officer. In this way, they greatly broaden their prospective recruiting pool and evade detection more easily.
Though seldom mentioned in the same breath as prolific Western jihadi producers such as France, Germany, and Belgium, Canada has a long and often overlooked history of producing jihadists. From the “Millennium Bomber” and the “Toronto 18” to the “Ottawa 3” and the “Calgary cluster,” jihadis have organized on Canadian soil to carry out attacks, both in-country and around the world. While Canadians have fought on jihadi battlefields as far flung as Afghanistan and Syria, their government has failed to implement comprehensive counterterrorism and deradicalization measures. Lagging far behind its Western allies, Canada implemented its first counterterrorism strategy in 2012 and has yet to create a desperately needed nationwide deradicalization program. The rise of ISIS and lone wolf attacks has increased the need for these reforms.
Since 9/11, scholars and citizens across the United States have heralded jihadi terrorist groups as the single greatest threat to American national security. Mendelsohn however, argued that this assessment is not only hyperbolic, but it also fundamentally mischaracterizes the current objectives of al-Qaeda and ISIS. While both groups continue to make use of fiery rhetoric against the American far enemy, Mendelsohn posited that their actions demonstrate a prioritization of near enemy regimes in the Islamic world. With this realignment, both al-Qaeda and ISIS have increasingly shifted their tactics away from terrorism in favor of insurgency. It is for this reason that Mendelsohn argued we should rethink using the oft vague terminological framework of terrorism. While some scholars argue that any group that commits acts of terror are inherently terrorists, Mendelsohn argues that this label is too often used to describe insurgent groups that occasionally make use of terrorism. In order to properly counter al-Qaeda and ISIS, Mendelsohn suggested using the term “armed non-state actor” for both groups. This shift in terminology is critically important for policymakers because unlike terrorism—which serves as a political buzzword that must be met with extreme and often disproportionate measures—the term armed non-state actors allows for a more rational threat assessment that accounts for the multidimensional nature of these groups.