The shocking events in Paris this weekend have rattled politicians internationally – and drawn into sharp relief the differences between Russia, China and the West. Quite simply, it is now time to change strategy. The war on terror failed, and it failed because it was never truly global.
When Washington proclaimed a ‘global’ war on terror in 2001, few envisaged an isolated America just two years later. The real story of Iraq 2003 was not Saddam or WMDs, but an unprecedented rejection of post-Cold War American leadership. France and Germany, and more significantly China and Russia, all refused to follow Washington into a political minefield.
Damaged American leadership produced a hamstrung coalition against ISIS. Contrary to Pope Francis, the war against ISIS is not ‘piecemeal third world war’. ISIS, apparently the nemesis of modernity, is fighting less than half of the world. Russia and China, second largest military and economic powers respectively, have by and large been absent in the arena until Putin’s belated intervention in October to save Assad.
At the G20 in Turkey, Xi Jinping has seized the moment and criticised what he sees as ‘double standards’ by the West. While condemning ISIS, the Chinese President argues western governments should back him in fighting Uighur militants in China, just as they fight ISIS.
The Uighurs are a Turkic and majority Muslim population in Xinjiang, bordering eight countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan. Human rights groups have long been dubious about China’s anti-terror measures in the region, such as banning government staff from observing Ramadan. The indigenous Uighurs were the ethnic majority until recently, following waves of Han Chinese migrants from the East.
While the troubles in Xinjiang owe more to separatism than international terrorism, ISIS has captured Chinese citizens too. Whether or not the two threats would merge, China is now decisively on the same side of an ideological struggle with the West for the first time since the Second World War.
Xi’s stance therefore presents an opportunity for an East-West convergence. If China will strike against ISIS in exchange for the West to recognise its anti-terror assaults, with Russia agreeing to a ‘Syrian-led and Syrian-owned’ political transition in Damascus, then a truly ‘global’ war on terror will emerge as the only credible avenue to defeat ISIS and its lethal ideology.
Make no mistake, this strategy will require compromise. Western governments may shy away from certain human rights campaigns; some of those I hold dear to my heart. However, the recent attacks on Paris, Beirut, and the Sinai have shown us the extent of the terrorists’ arms and the imminence of their threat. The necessity of choice, as phrased by Henry Kissinger, has now befallen western civilisation. We must be prepared to side with our opponents to annihilate our common, deadly enemy.
Many of my generation have never been through the audacity of choosing. In our post-Cold War collective memory, it appears that there is always a ‘Third Way’ for every challenge we face. With the ISIS on our doorstep, this is no longer the case.
Admittedly, I am writing this in the comfort of my study rather than on the battlefield in Syria. But if our generation is serious about defeating this terrorism, we must spend more time thinking about the compromises we will have to make as nations, instead of simply shouting ‘strike’ from the sideline. Our survival will depend on it.
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