In recent conflicts, the traditional rules of humanitarian neutrality and efforts to avoid civilian targeting have eroded. Long standing norms rooted in the Geneva Convention have been dramatically violated in recent years as the frequency and severity of attacks against health workers, facilities, and civilians have increased.
Five years after the revolution in Libya erupted against the Muammar el-Qaddafi regime in February 2011, the United States is once again contemplating a military intervention in the North African country. The need for U.S. action against the Islamic State in Libya is stark. The Islamic State (IS) first emerged in Libya in late 2014 by gaining small numbers of adherents from the country’s patchwork of Islamist militant organizations. Since then, the Islamic State has managed to establish cells across the country.
Tactical gains against ISIS/ISIL, such as the retaking of Ramadi, should not be mistaken for strategic success. Dislodging ISIS from large swaths of Iraq and Syria will not address the conditions that made the group’s rise possible—the political oppression and destitution of large populations in both countries.
The horrors of the war in Syria, terrorist attacks, burgeoning refugee crises, the annexation of Crimea, and South China Sea disputes continue to prompt fears about the world’s direction. But, earlier this decade, Steven Pinker argued violence was declining with the end of the Cold War and the success of some peacekeeping efforts. Is that good news story obsolete?
There is a growing cacophony of voices questioning why there is not more progress in the White House’s stated goal to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.” Indeed, although ISIL’s territory in Iraq and Syria shrank by 9.4 percent in the first six months of 2015, ISIL’s presence has grown significantly in other areas of the Middle East and North Africa since mid-2014. What gets lost in the cacophony is that the Counter-ISIL Strategy is not designed to be a quick win or overwhelming “shock and awe” campaign, nor is the onus solely on the United States to defeat ISIL.
Russia’s military deployment into Syria this month adds a layer of complexity to a multifaceted conflict, complicating how the war there will be fought and how it will end. Russian assets in Syria heighten the risk of altercations with counter-ISIS coalition forces and provide Russia with leverage in diplomatic engagement on Syria’s future.