AMU Homeland Security Intelligence Terrorism

Terrorism and Politics: The Actions and the Reactions

TuckerBy William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security

As I’ve stated in this sphere many times, nation-states, and even non-state actors, all pursue their self-interests. A rather profound statement to be sure, but one that bears repeating in light of ongoing negotiations between the United States and Russia, and also the recent terrorist attack carried out by the Islamic State in Brussels, Belgium. For each action in pursuit of these interests that a nation-state or non-state actor takes, there is a high probability that these actions will run counter to another group’s interests. Therefore it is vital to plan and prepare for your adversaries’ reaction when carrying out any sort of operation whether it is diplomatic, military, or intelligence related.

US-Russia Negotiations 

In the early 2000’s the United States had supported through non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, many governmental transformations in former Soviet bloc states that challenged Russia’s hold on their near abroad. These were known as the color revolutions. At the time there was a sense that Moscow was far too weak to respond, therefore the United States could keep pushing these governments in a more pro-Western direction. While this was good in theory there was a fundamental problem – U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, and eventually Iraq, removed the possibility of U.S. force involvement in protecting some of these nations that were not NATO members. With US forces involved elsewhere, and the Chechen wars between Moscow and Chechnya concluded, Moscow was able to push back and started rolling back some of these revolutions.

Once this occurred the stage was set for an eventual clash between the interests of the United States and Russia in a more belligerent form that culminated in the 2008 Russian invasion of the republic of Georgia. Georgia is a U.S. ally and with US forces too busy elsewhere Washington was unable to come to the aid of Tbilisi. One other change in government of note was that of Ukraine. Kiev ushered in a pro-Western government through the orange revolution, but this too, was rolled back by Moscow. When the Euromaidan protests kicked off in 2014 the pro-Russian government was removed from power once again. Moscow responded by annexing Crimea and supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine – the ongoing conflict there today.

In all of this movement the United States and Russia constantly miscalculated the others response. Washington decided that instead of targeting governments seen as friendly to Moscow and trying to replace it with something more pro-Western that they could instead sanction and eventually isolate Russia. Moscow responded by demonstrating that it could interject itself in other conflicts as what happened with Syria. You would think that after a fifty-year cold war between United States and the Soviet Union, ultimately replaced by Russia, these nations would have a better understanding of each other’s interests and would devise ways to pursue these interests without causing blowback.

The Obama administration initially tried a reset with Russia back in 2009 that ultimately failed. Shortly after the reset failed to gain traction U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2009 stated, “They [Russia] have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they’re in a situation where the world is changing before them and they’re clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.”

Mr. Biden is correct in many aspects of these issues; however they were not slated to catch up with Russia anytime soon, thus making Washington’s calculations of Russia’s capabilities largely incorrect. A miscalculation that complicated matters in Syria six years later. Understanding these miscalculations in a short historical process clearly demonstrates the importance of planning for your adversaries’ reaction when preparing operations.

The Brussels Attack

Understanding your adversaries’ interests and possible reactions is also worth considering when taking the fight to violent non-state actors. Like Al Qaeda, the Islamic State is often the subject of conflicting beliefs as to what the terror group wants. For instance, some claim that when the Islamic state carries out a terrorist attack they are trying to provoke the west into increasing military operations in the Middle East while others claim the terror attack is in response to Western meddling in the same region. As baffling as it may seem these contradicting points of view often come from the same individuals. What’s important to remember is that the Islamic state is going to spin this either way to suit its needs. Indeed we’re already seeing this just a few days after the Brussels attack.

Preparing for an adversaries reaction is admittedly difficult but making matters worse by using poorly thought out assumptions as a basis for analysis is a terrible starting point. It’s true that while considering how a nation-state or violet non-state actor may react can at times be difficult it is no excuse to abandon solid analytical principles. Otherwise our global strategy will suffer as a result.

Glynn Cosker is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. In addition to his background in journalism, corporate writing, web and content development, Glynn served as Vice Consul in the Consular Section of the British Embassy located in Washington, D.C. Glynn is located in New England.

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