The most extraordinary aspect of the refugee crisis gripping Europe’s newspapers right now is that everyone is fixated on the symptom of the problem – mass migration – rather than the cause.
While economic migration has always been a pull factor for those leaving the developing world for the developed, this has been exacerbated by the strong push factor, particularly in Syria, that life has become unliveable under the twin terrors of the Assad regime and ISIS advance. It stands to reason therefore that in order to diminish that push factor – which taking in ever-increasing numbers of migrants will do nothing to resolve – we will need to address what is going on overseas, rather than pretend it has nothing to do with a problem now knocking on our doors.
Indeed, if ever there was a demonstration of the perils of non-intervention, the Syria crisis is it. We have stood by and watched as a country of 23 million has lost half of its population, to death, injury, internal displacement and external flight. We deluded ourselves that stopping Assad – who is responsible for the conflict – mattered little to us, even when he broke international norms by using chemical weapons. ISIS took advantage of his murderous regime to mount a ‘resistance’ movement that accounted for its initial growth, before it expanded into Iraq. ISIS recruitment today still features Assad’s atrocities as its major call to action for Muslim youth in the West to join its jihad. Assad, in turn, uses ISIS as a justification for the need to keep him in power as a bulwark against radicalisation. It would not be an exaggeration to term their relationship symbiotic, particularly as there have been many cases of collaboration between Assad’s regime and ISIS over issues like oil sales.
We had the chance to intervene against Assad in 2013 and blew it. We are now no more than half-heartedly engaged in strikes against ISIS. The result has been the destruction of a country, and the importing of the human misery this has caused to our shores. Those legislators who voted against intervention on the grounds that it would lead to contagion have been proven wrong. As others such as ourselves suggested at the time, contagion was likelier to occur because of non-intervention. As it now has done.
So we can continue debating how many refugees we wish to take in a sticking plaster type of solution. Or we can decide that a crisis of this nature requires more drastic action. Because until Assad and ISIS have been beaten, not one refugee is going to return to Syria. And we can be guaranteed that hundreds of thousands more will be ready to follow them here.
FROM THE DIRECTOR’S DESK
When the Henry Jackson Society was first founded, it possessed a different tagline to its logo than it does today. Instead of “Democracy. Freedom. Human Rights” this read “Project for Democratic Geopolitics”. I was reminded of this when we hosted the former Sky News Diplomatic Editor Tim Marshall this week on the subject of his new book, Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics.
Geopolitics is the study of the effects of geography on international politics and international relations (IR). For many years, it has been an underrated discipline in IR circles, with academics being more interested in theories of IR behaviour than in practical-led examinations of why international crises occur and flashpoints develop. As Tim Marshall reminded us, and we have expounded for some time, some crises are more obvious than others, and geography offers a clue as to why they have developed.
An obvious example would be the Russian seizure of Crimea. With the Russian Black Sea fleet being based at Sevastopol – leased to Russia but in Ukraine – there was an obvious geographical and strategic advantage to seizing this permanently and securing a base that might have been at the mercy of others. Equally, the reason that Israel so desperately requires a security guarantee in any two state solution with the Palestinians, and a demilitarized Palestine, is because the geographical features of a semi-mountainous ridge in the West Bank would otherwise allow the bulk of Israel’s population to be targeted by missiles or artillery.
In short, geography matters when we consider the conduct and course of IR. But the nature of regimes is important too, which is why we originally added “democratic” to our tagline. After all, the Russians didn’t need to invade Crimea to seize a base that was theirs by lease and which they would have had no need to fear losing had they not been run by the paranoid and autocratic Mr Putin. As we have stated many times: wouldn’t the world be a safer and better place if there were more liberal democracies in it?
Dr Alan Mendoza is Executive Director of The Henry Jackson Society
Follow Alan on Twitter: @AlanMendoza