There should be only one question on the lips of French citizens today and that is: are we really going to allow Islamic terrorists to continue to kill us without hindrance?
If, as I suppose, the answer is ‘no’, then we should expect decisive action against ISIS by France and the other states which are similarly at threat. If nothing else is plain, it must surely be beyond doubt that passive defence, which depends on security measures and intelligence-gathering, is not working, and neither is the pin-prick aerial assault on the Islamic state, itself, by various NATO and other forces.
The enormous success of the Paris attack and the ineffectual responses of the various western states to earlier attacks have only served to strengthen ISIS and Islamic extremists generally. Before we have too many more incidents of this kind, we need to recognise that there is a real war going on. The Islamic State is carrying on the project, given by the Prophet, to bring the whole world to Islam. In this context, there is no compromise with infidels. They either convert or they die.
There is something else to be noted. Islamic fundamentalists do not accept the ‘Enlightenment’ notion that there is only one moral community and that is the whole of humanity. We are simply not part of their moral community and they recognise no principles of restraint as far as we are concerned. That much was amply demonstrated in Paris only yesterday.
What needs to be done then, is the immediate preparation of a joint-expeditionary force to destroy the ISIS proto-state. This will involve ground forces with air-support. These will be not simply special-forces but also armour and infantry units and their mission will be to take ISIS-held territory and capture, or kill, all activists. This should not be a difficult task. Kurdish forces, without much of the training, equipment and support that is available to the forces I am envisaging, have had considerable success.
Of course, there will be casualties. That is what happens to soldiers, when they set out to defend their fellow citizens. But there are things that can be done to minimise these consequences. The first is to make sure that operations are whole-hearted and committed to success (a characteristic missing from many recent deployments by the parties concerned). Secondly, the states concerned must not handicap their forces by the sorts of politically-correct rules of engagement that have characterised military operations by Western forces in recent times. It also needs to be recognised that there will be persons harmed who are not clearly combatants, however that term is defined. This is especially so since the adversary here understands that this is a vulnerability for western forces and their governments. They do not care if their own people are harmed and they may well contrive such ends for public relations purposes. Of course, there are very likely to be manifestly civilian casualties, arising from error, or ‘military necessity’. I mention the latter because it is the basis of a defence against a charge of war crimes.
In the present case, there is also the complication that Russia is now involved in the Syrian conflict and has regional and global foreign policy objectives that are in conflict with those of the western alliance that I am envisaging. In the aftermath of the ISIS destruction of the Russian airliner, it may be that they see sufficient common interest to cooperate with western forces. Otherwise the situation may need careful handling on both sides. Of course, such agreement might be helped by accepting a wider settlement that includes a place for President Assad. Given that western interests did very little to actually help the Syrian democratic opposition in the early stages of their struggle, this might not be too much of a sacrifice.
There remains the very considerable problem of what might be reasonably expected of those Muslims who do not support extremism. For them, there are hard choices. If the actions of the terrorists are not supported, they have an obligation to say so – ‘not in my name’ (as some have already been saying). Such Muslims living in western countries, also have an obligation to their fellow non-Muslim citizens to cooperate with the agencies of law and order to report such threats as they may become aware of. This may be difficult but unless such an obligation is accepted, it may be that they should seriously re-consider their continued presence in that society.
Of course, I am not suggesting in any of the forgoing that New Zealand forces should be sent to join the coalition, notwithstanding that we obviously have a profound security interest in the destruction of ISIS. The fact is that through many years of short-sighted parsimony by both major parties, we really have no significant defence capabilities to send, beyond a small cadre of special-forces. This is not a time for gestures. To a considerable degree, ‘gestures’ is what got us into this mess in the first place. Now is the time for something serious.