"The Australian Minister for Defence, delivered the Gallipoli Memorial Lecture at the Royal United Services Institute today.
In a sanguine speech, he cautioned against giving 'Daesh' - the newly adopted pejorative name for 'ISIS' - the role that it wanted- the role that it wanted, namely as the protagonist in what he called a 'war of civilisations', a term adapted from Samuel P. Huntington's infamous 1996 study, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
But whereas Huntington cast the world into distinct civilisational fault-lines, the Minister was careful to differentiate the current situation with Daesh, which eschews the relative neatness of a geographically bounded threat. His very use of the term 'Daesh' is a nod to the post-geographical nature of the confrontation, or clash: it represents the West returning ideological fire against the opening salvo of the extremist group in claiming to be 'the Islamic State'. And given the global reach of the tendrils of extremist ideology, it is both significant and absolutely correct that the Minister continues to refute the legitimacy, even reality, that Daesh claimed by casting itself as 'IS', 'ISIS', or 'ISIL'. 'Daesh' is quite literally a semantic evisceration of these claims, being itself an acronym of the the Arabic name 'Al Dawla al-Islamyia il Iraq wa'al Sham' and thus putting it beyond the ability of non-Arabic languages to comprehend fully. It remains deliberately peripheral and, by extension, unconscionable, in other languages, subtly making the statement that Daesh is unwelcome in word as it is in deed.
And one's word, the Minister's speech certainly reminded the audience, is of ever-growing importance in the hyper-connected, globalised world. Daesh's ideology may be medieval, but it travels fast and capitalises upon vulnerabilities left open by or societies' oversights. Thus it simply will not do to dismiss the threat out of hand: there is a difference between refusing to acknowledge Daesh's legitimacy and failing to acknowledge what legitimate steps we should take ourselves to counter it.
As the Minister repeatedly made clear, a 'rules-based international order' is the best insurance policy against such organisations taking hold, whether at home or abroad. And it does not take a physicist to know that in order for any system to function efficiently, its rules must be applied consistently throughout it. The Minister furnished the audience with a recent illustration of this principle when extremists were arrested in Melbourne with the cooperation of British authorities and agencies, casting a seamless web between our two countries in order to catch the perpetrators. But had we not identified and acted upon a common set of rules based on a common core moral code, raison d'état might have trumped intelligence sharing, interoperable technology or standard operating procedures, and the culprits may have escaped.
For the rules-based order to survive, it must be robust and rigorous. The Minister hinted in his speech that Australia would be moving in this direction through greater investment in what he called the 'enabling' tools and technologies after their spending review. These enabling forces include the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) specialisms, which will increasingly become part of the standard way that Western defence and security forces do business. Consistently with NATO literature, the Minister stated that these enablers are the 'glue' that bind our conventional capabilities together to maximise their effectiveness. One could argue that we are already at the point where in many cases, conventional force is the glue that makes the consequences of breaching the international order stick: from intelligence-led special forces arrest operations, loitering drones as deterrents, to electronic warfare of every exotic variety, it is not hard to imagine a world in which kinetic action is the distasteful fraction of a much wider international operation. We are perhaps witnessing the beginnings of a shift not just in the character but the very nature of warfare, in which the maintainence of world order becomes evermore preventative, evermore a function of good policing rather than good soldiering.
It is understandable that no government wants to be left behind the technological curve, potentially missing out on the juciest fruits of that electronic tree. Yet as the Minister reminded us all, this burgeoning area of defence interest and investment is a vulnerability as well as a strength. We must beware not only becoming over-reliant on 'enablers' to the point that they have become the sine qua non of military force, but also of ignoring conventional threats altogether. History is nothing if not the boneyard of policies trusting to the unrepeatability of the war just fought: the Peace of Nicias, the Treaties of Westphalia, Paris or Versailles. The 'low-risk, high-impact' threats, as the Minister referred to them, are precisely the ones that tend to go unnoticed.
In this significant year for the ANZAC community, we in the UK would do well to reflect on the ideological unity in the West that is such a great source of strength for our respective nations. Treating, and indeed naming, 'Daesh' as the unconscionable organisation it is is a commendable step that we should all adopt. The other half of the equation is not to lose sight of the fact that in our shared language lie shared values that need constant reinforcement and protection from incursion. Rather than shyly skirting around the underlying moral framework that underpins our defence and security posture, we should acknowledge it, along with the international ethic that it necessarily demands. Let us hope that the Australian Defence Minister's commitment to stamping out Daesh in word is met by all NATO Allies and Partners in deed.
Dr Andreas Stradis
Senior Research Fellow
Atlantic Council of the United Kingdom