Leaders from 30 countries have pledged their support to the “global offensive” that the United States government is directing against the terrorist group the Islamic State. The indignation felt before the jihadis’ inhumane acts is natural, and so is turning to a multilateral strategy to fight it. However, if a solution to the problem of international terrorism seems elusive, it is because the causes and aggravating factors leading to it have not been properly studied, or, if they have been, they have not translated into appropriate policies.
A report on terrorism published in February by Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre recorded a 150 percent increase in global terrorist activity in 2013 compared to 2009. Everything seems to suggest that this trend will continue in 2014, especially the increased activity of Boko Haram (in Nigeria), the al-Nusra Front (in Syria) and the Islamic State (in Iraq), among the many terrorist groups that have been on the front page of the world’s daily news so far this year.
These international security specialists were given the task of studying this phenomenon, but there are a few things that stand out from every angle for anyone wishing to undertake an analysis of the situation. For example, the nefarious card that the world’s great powers have often played in the Middle East — interventionism.
Some of the most important moments in the history of intervention in this region are the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, the United Nations’ plan for breaking up Palestine in 1947 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yet the war in Afghanistan in 1979 sheds a great deal more light on our discussion. At that time, the Soviets wanted to establish a moldable government in Afghanistan; the United States decided it didn’t want that, and so it supported the Islamist guerrillas known as the Mujahedeen, funding them and providing them with weapons. Subsequently, a Mujahedeen leader, Osama bin Laden (1957-2011), used the training and weapons provided by the United States to shape the al-Qaida terrorist group, which operates internationally and which has contributed to the creation and rise of the Islamic State itself.
What stands out the most here is that interventionism usually ends up creating greater problems than the ones it originally tried to fix. It is for this reason that large portions of the world’s civil society disapprove of the policy President Obama wants to continue applying in Syria — giving money, training and weapons to insurgent groups — arguing that they are going combat the Islamic State and not President Bashar al-Assad. Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov said it is wrong to think that there are good terrorists and bad terrorists just because they have “circumstantial aspirations to overthrow a regime that the West deems undesirable.”*
Finally, Pope Francis explained that the wars of our time are akin to a third World War fought “piecemeal.” If one of the fronts of this war is going to battle terrorism, it must learn from the mistakes of the past, and recognize that giving arms to insurgent groups has been a failed policy and one which has produced monstrosities like al-Qaida and the Islamic State.
*Editor’s Note: This quote, accurately translated, could not be verified.