The 2018 Seminar – First Impressions

The 2018 CIOR Seminar has successfully been concluded – find some first impressions here:

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Read the 2017 After Action Report

The 2017 CIOR Seminar, assembling Reserve Officers from some 15 countries, most of them NATO members, took its participants from an opening shock statement through an intellectual exercise to a conceptual training and released them on the last day with the well-deserved satisfaction of having done something useful for the security and future well-being not only of the seminar participants but of the societies represented by Reserve Officers.

“Sudden knock-out or eventual points loss – How our security state will lose the fight” is the shock statement with which the Seminar’s theme was introduced.

Read more

Participants welcome evolution of the CIOR Seminar

This year’s CIOR Seminar on IS brought together a diverse audience and speakers from a wide range of subjects and professions, allowing for energetic discussions in which opinions were constructively challenged and scrutinised.

Survey results

This traditional CIOR Seminar atmosphere and the introduction of small-group workshops was designed to offer an environment which merged diverse perspectives of NATO member conferees to address an issue of great contemporary importance.

The current Seminar-survey shows that these goals were met: 100 percent of the survey’s participants rated this year’s topic as highly relevant, and three quarters considered this year’s seminar to be excellent. The evolved schedules – allowing for more frequent breaks in which to further discuss and digest the presentations – and the introduction of smaller workshops were widely seen as welcome additions to the seminar.

This positive evaluation was shared by the speakers – 90 percent of whom would like to stay in touch with the seminar.

Read the 2016 Seminar “After Action Report”

After Action Report

by Philippe Welti, Former Swiss Ambassador to Iran

The seminar program offered first a series of lectures on various topics regarding the phenomenon of the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – I.S.I.S.” (or IS). Then, participants were invited in four workshops to elaborate options of how to understand “I.S.” and how to deal with it. Finally, the seminar concluded its program with a general discussion on a summary of the lectures and the workshops.

IS is the organisation in Iraq that has supplanted the Sunni opposition against the Shia-run government of the State of Iraq. The IS has, then, infiltrated Syria, where the initial popular uprising against the autocratic rule of Basher al-Assad and the Alawite minority started during the so-called Arab Spring. The IS has declared under its leader Al-Baghdadi to be the Caliphate.

The term Caliphate standing for the united/unique political and religious leadership of the Muslims of the first generation after Mohammed the Prophet, goes back to the 7th century CE. The history of the Caliphate as a principle and as a political system has been terminated with the last Sultan in Constantinople 100 years ago during the demise of the Ottoman Empire. With the declaration of a Caliphate in Iraq, the IS claims continuity over centuries of Islamic history.

Historical Introduction

The Conference started with a historical introduction by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamini. In 2004, after the second Gulf war and the extermination of the Saddam Hussein regime, Iraq saw the appearance of a sort of Al-Qaida wing under the leadership of Zarqawi. Since 2006, the project of a Caliphate can be traced in conceptual documents of insurgent groups. Internal fighting for leadership and for the right strategy leads to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as new leader in 2011. Since then he commands the IS.

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

He is in command of the armed rebellion against the Shiite-dominated State authorities in Iraq. At the same time, in 2011, the ‘Arab Spring’ reaches Syria and triggers a country-wide rebellion against the Alawite leader Basher al-Assad, which leads to the current civil war. The most devastating price of the civil war between a disunited opposition and the regime in Syria is the infiltration of foreign fighters without any national Syrian legitimacy.

The predominant organisational structure of foreign fighters in Syria is the IS. Syria is a major expansion of IS out of its initial cradle in Iraq. Their presence illustrates the break-down of State structures and State legitimacy, the major cause of disaster for human society. In Iraq, IS has taken over the Sunni rebellion against the formally legitimate government in Baghdad and with it, former officers of the old Saddam army, who had developed hatred and rejection of the government out of frustration for having been excluded from State structures and political participation. So, in Iraq IS leads a sort of legitimate rebellion against an unfair regime.

In Syria, they intervene in a chaotic battlefield and realise, thus, probably for a short historic moment only, the idea and dream of a transnational Umma, a Muslim community across and beyond national borders. Then follow successes and lately a few set-backs in the expansion of IS.

Ideologically, IS is based on Salafi jihadi thought, which is the religious answer to the deep-rooted frustration of Muslims all over the world for having been left behind by the development of the world and for being unable to catch up with modern civilisation. Theologically, Salafi jihad is close to Saudi Wahhabism and anti-Shia. Beside specific causes for the rise of IS, the major cause is the general break-down of State structures and State authority in Iraq and in Syria.

Cultural and sociological aspects

Then, Huib Wursten, on cultural and sociological aspects, takes the seminar audience to the subtleties of the cultural dimension of religion. A more general understanding of religion as part of a cultural identity opens eyes for the pretended religious revolution carried by IS. His statement is: it’s not about religion, it’s all about culture. A clash of societies based upon collectivism (Arab/Muslim) with societies based upon individualism (western world).

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

Legal Aspects involved for NATO

Another eye-opener comes from Juliette Bird on legal aspects, it is on the complexities of law behind the fight of civilisation against terrorism. Use of force deployed by States derives its legitimacy from the UN Charter, Chapter VII, from NATO Article 5 and from EU provisions dealing with military interventions.

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

The most important conclusion in Juliette Bird’s presentation is the assertion that in a world where more and more non-State actors are engaged in warfare, the status of non-State actor as opposed to the sovereign State has become irrelevant. This would make military operations against IS legally easier. For NATO members it means: Legally, NATO can act militarily.

Future of Alliance Turkey, US and EU Relations, Kurdish Issue

Then, Saban Kardas exposes Turkey’s position within the Alliance and vis-à-vis the conflict area. Turkey is unable to address autonomously the regional crisis and is heavily dependent on the Alliance. Turkey is threatened a) by the flow of refugees coming from Syria and Iraq and b) the Kurdish PKK operating out of Iraq and now also out of Syria, where they found a safe haven; c) IS has declared war on Turkey.

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

For these reasons, Turkey carries out air strikes and artillery fire against IS and PKK in Iraq and Syria. For hosting refugees, Turkey will depend on a massive support from outside. Therefore, in cooperation with the international community various institutions and organisations have been erected to encounter this Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF’s). For encountering IS it is the Anti ISIL-coalition, Global Counter Terrorism Forum and cooperation with the United Nations Counter Terrorism Committee. The goal of these institutions in general is preventing inter-state travel of FTF’s, imposing law enforcement, countering incitement to terrorism (incl. internet), and revealing, and stopping, sources for financing FTF’s and their networks.

IS military & tactical perspective

Speaking of warfare in the region where IS is operating, a deeper understanding of the military perspective and in particular of the phenomenon of Proxy War is required. Andrew Mumford provided the necessary detailed insight into that phenomenon.

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

Most recent factors for the rise of proxy warfare are (a) the ‘Arab Spring’, which brought successful regime change such as Libya and unsuccessful attempts to regime change elsewhere, (b) the rise of IS. Proxy warfare spares State actors to engage in costly and risky classical battles and allows States to better engage against non-state actors. Proxy warfare is flexible in dispensing and stopping military training for rebels and in providing and refusing again arms to third parties. But it is also risky, because proxy actors are unreliable, can change alliances and can change the structure and composition of whole coalitions.

The tool of proxy warfare has played in favour of IS when it received US arms originally dispatched to Qatar for fighting Qaddafi or when it was financially privileged by the Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan. But when Bandar was removed from his position, IS lost this source.

Proxies can also turn against IS. Syria’s Assad, representing a State, is being used against IS as proxy of the anti-IS alliance in 2016, after having been the target of proxy war himself in 2011. Among the potential consequences of proxy war against IS is the unpredictable prolongation of violence, which intensifies the humanitarian disaster.

The particular role of religion in IS

A completely different picture of the conflict surrounding the IS, and a pessimistic analysis, was brought to the seminar by Hussein Solomon on the role of religion.

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

His wider picture of political Islam over the last 300 years communicated the sobering recognition that, in principle, the Non-Muslim world is confronted with an Islam that is not willing and ideologically not able to compromise on its eschatological bet on Armageddon, that is the ultimate battle between the Good and the Evil at the end of time, which is expected soon. Everything that an amazed world society sees as un-explainable atrocities against mankind is, for IS, or at least for their ideologues, nothing else than divine preparation for Armageddon. And for them it is set to take place in Syria. The general message of Professor Solomon is: there is no hope.

IS economical & financial aspects

Some hope is brought to the seminar by Fabio Mini. On economic and financial aspects, and without underestimating the potential of IS, he nevertheless identified as its weakness the sustainability of IS as a State-like concept.

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

So, there is hope. In fact, what Mini states, is: IS is economically and financially not sustainable. The history of Muslim frustration, the analysis of their religious and ideological background, the pictures carried by the media, all is depressingly scaring, but it is not sustainable, providing the strategic environment does the right thing.


The Conference, then, dealt in four workshops with I.S. and its relevance for Europe and the Alliance.

Workshop 1 looked at military options and concluded that geographic containment through military means restricting IS on land and sea and in the air would degrade IS’s operational capability, space and prestige, but would require large-scale joint forces operations.

Workshop 2 looked at refugees and Europe’s security. Participants recognised the need for a common centralised management of the flow of refugees for addressing the humanitarian crisis and the security consequences. The establishment of a major reception camp in the first arrival country, i.e. Turkey, seems inevitable, but could not be implemented without large-scale support to Turkey also including political concessions.

Workshop 3 dealt with Russia and Putin’s assumed intentions in Syria and the region. Based on Kiran Jaeger’s list of Putin’s intentions and Russia’s interests, participants recognised that Putin and Russia are driven, in their Syria engagement, by genuinely strategic motivations: the protection of the Russian navy port on the Syrian Mediterranean coast and the quest for respect by other powers of the region (US, UK, Turkey, France, Iran) including Arab governments of the region (Syria, Iraq, Gulf States). Russia , by joining forces with Iran in Syria is seeking influence and ultimately dominance in the region.

Workshop 4, on religion, asked whether, after all, it is possible to deal with religiously motivated warfare, i.e. to fight against the idea of a violent ideology. Such a fight would require the promotion of our own core values and their benefits for individuals and society, also by focussing on common and shared values and also by using modern technology (social media). Ultimately, we would have to improve the prospects of the masses of the poor by elevating their intellectual capacities and their living standards.

IS – Understanding the Threat and Its Implications

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

Courtesy of Leo Harskamp (2016)

The central theme of the 2016 seminar was Understand the threat posed by IS and its implication for security both outside and within NATO.
The seminar took place from 31 January until 3 February 2016 at the Hotel Bristol in downtown Bonn, Germany.

Topics covered by this Seminar were:

  • Presentations providing background on IS
    • historical roots
    • cultural and sociological analyses
    • legal aspects
    • the role of religion for IS
    • economical and financial analyses
  • Workshops to further the thoughts and try to provide answer to the most pressing questions
    • the existence and use of military options to counter the threat
    • the impact of the IS-induced refugee crisis on Europe and European security
    • the role of Russia in Syria
    • the ability of western states to deal with religiously motivated conflict
  • Providing glimpses into the future – most likely scenarious in the short, medium and long run

Possible consequences for relationship and interference between USA-China-Russia-NATO

Dr. Matthew Rhodes, Professor of National Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies gave an overview of relations between the West (NATO, EU, USA) and the East (Russia, China). under CC BY 3.0 under CC BY 3.0

With regards to Russia, Dr. Rhodes looked at NATO enlargement and identified it as a possible contributor to conflict, even though the enlargement was initiated by these states and not NATO itself. While there is absolutely no common ground and hence no room for negotiation with regard to the Ukraine conflict, Russia and the West at least share mutual interests in Afghanistan. Russia’s foreign policy aims that the country is again recognized as a (regional) super power even though its power in terms of GDP, population or defense spending do not support this.

The US decision to rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific-region in 2012 is mainly due to China, which is surrounded by “a ring of conflict”. The country, which annually increases its annual defense budget by 15-17%, is testing its power (and its limits). Both NATO and the EU have limited roles in the region and the focus remains on the US, Dr. Rhodes argued.

While there are limiting factors to cooperation between China and Russia, the Ukraine crisis has certainly brought the two countries closer together and lead to an increase in trade relations and energy cooperation.

The West’s Potential Military Response to Russia’s New Status and Direction

Dr. Guillaume Lasconjarias, Research Advisor at the NATO Defense College in Rome, argued that the current crisis in the Ukraine was in fact just one challenge for NATO on a list of many. Nevertheless, he found that the crisis so close to NATO’s borders would ideally serve as a “wake-up-call” for the Organization in terms of rapid response.

NATO’s Readiness Action Plan (RAP) ensures that the Alliance is ready to respond swiftly and firmly to new security challenges and is the most significant reinforcement of NATO’s collective defense since the end of the Cold War. The NATO Response Force (NRF) and especially the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) are foreseen to answer to all threats within 30 days and 48 hours respectively. However, the challenge is more of a financial and thus political nature as high readiness is very expensive. Given that only three states actually fulfill NATO’s requirement of a minimum spending of 2% of a nation’s GDP on its military forces, we should remain skeptical if the RAP can be fully implemented, however, Dr. Lasconjarias argued.

Sanctions work – in the long run!

At the 2015 CIOR Seminar, Professor Ralf Roloff of the Marshall Center sought to explain the implications of the sanctions imposed upon Russia by the European Union. Economic sanctions, he argued, work – albeit slowly – by utilising a logic of asymmetric interpendence: They simply hurt Russia much more than they do a politically unified European Union and can, therefore, be considered a valuable part of a new strategy of containment as well as engagement of Russia.

Sébastien Bertrand/ Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licenseBecause of the asymmetrical nature of economic relations between the EU and Russia, these sanctions will have considerable impact on Russia in the long run. Moreover, the sanctions threaten to throttle an already weakened economy which is vastly dependent upon oil exports. In contrast, the impact on the EU is small: Overall, economic growth might be reduced by 0.2 – 0.3%. However, the impact is not evenly spread, with countries such as Finland and the Baltic states bearing the brunt of the costs. This will have to be carefully managed through the Common Agricultural Policy, Roloff argued.

Courtesy of Henry Plimack (2015)

Professor Ralf Roloff – Courtesy of Henry Plimack (2015)