Dr. Tewfik Hamel: “Terrorism risks to become unmanageable in the near future” (Part 2)

Publié le par Mohsen Abdelmoumen

Dr. Tewfik Hamel

Dr. Tewfik Hamel

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: Do you think that Algeria remains a major regional player and with what means of pressure will Algeria be able to weigh in the Sahel region? Does the internal crisis of governance not affect the regional role that Algeria can claim?

Dr. Tewfik Hamel: In the 1990s, the priority objective of Algerian diplomacy was to avoid the isolation of the country; ensure that major capitals accept the cessation of the electoral process of 26 December 1991. After a decade of extraordinary upheavals, and despite the continuing violence, Algeria is showing signs of recovery and assertiveness on the international scene. The rediscovery of the country’s traditional foreign policy activism is likely to have important implications for North Africa and the Mediterranean region. The re-emergence of Algeria will now present a series of challenges for policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic. For in his soul, Algeria seeks to be a free electron. But whatever one says, Algeria is a factor of stability, a security exporter. Despite its weaknesses, it has made a great contribution to international peace and security, particularly in the delegitimation of the apartheid regime in South Africa at a time when the so-called « free world » supported it, the release of the American hostages in Iran in 1981, the ceasefire between Iran and Iraq, the Taif Agreement (an inter Lebanon treaty), the resolution of several crises in Africa, the fight against terrorism, among others. Western countries must recognize the role of Algeria in its true value. The period of retreat is mainly due to the traumas of the 1990s that Algeria is overtaking.

Geography affects security dilemma. There is a clear link between the geographical place and the policy. Importance of Algeria from this point of view stems from the multiple axes overlapping and leading to the region. The favorable geographical position of the Maghreb defines in large part its historical importance in world affairs. The history of the region has been profoundly affected by its geographical location as a strategic crossroads (constituting the southern coast of the Mediterranean and spanning the ways of communication between the Middle East, Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa) and Algeria occupies a central place. Geographically, it occupies a central position with 6343 km common land borders which it shares with seven neighboring States, and 1200 km maritime. With an area of 2,381,741 km2, the country is ranked 11th at the world level and the 1st in Africa in terms of area (three times larger than Morocco, including Western Sahara) and almost 15 times larger than Tunisia. The richness of its soil in raw materials and the opening on the sea make Algeria the « heartland » of the Maghreb. Being in many aspects the most important and influential State in the region and the only country to share common borders with the five Maghreb countries, Algeria with its Sahelian depth is well positioned to realize its economic potential, to play a strategic role and to contribute to the economic integration between North Africa, Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.

This centrality may however sometimes be a handicap or a source of vulnerability, especially in the context of current regional instability. This requires a considerable effort to monitor and control its long borders, but the country has everything to gain from its central position. In any case, the country is very active diplomatically, militarily and securely in order to establish its leadership. It has become an indispensable but difficult partner. Due to its central and strategic location in the regional architecture, Algeria began to emerge as a nucleus in the eyes of Americans in several initiatives of multiple and regional cooperation such as the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP). Although technically the TSCTP encompasses nine countries, the core participants in the exercises and cooperation are Algeria, Chad, Mali and Niger. Algeria has more advantages than all its neighbors – geographical and capabilities. In short, Algeria is considered to be the key State of regional security, while Tunisia, Morocco, among others, not participating in all aspects of the partnership, are peripheral States in the TSCTP. These are the security imperatives that led the United States to involve the countries of North Africa and sub-Saharan in the TSCTP.

The countries of North and West Africa participating in the Trans-Saharan Partnership against Terrorism. United States Government Accountability Office, “Combating Terrorism: Actions Needed to Enhance Implementation of Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership”, GAO-08-860, Washington, D.C., July 2008, p. 6. (GAO-08-860)


There is no virtual presence. To be influential, it is necessary to be present on the ground.But Algeria’s strategic doctrine forbids the army to intervene militarily outside the national territory even when it is strongly solicited by its neighbors or international partners. Not only this principle has not prevented its military forces from providing logistical assistance and training to the armed and security forces of neighboring countries such as Mali, Libya, Tunisia, etc., but the country remains very active in regional and international cooperation and is involved in many security architectures. The use of multilateral diplomacy is a way to reconcile its principles of non-intervention, the imperative to face threats to its security and prevent external interventions in its neighborhood. There is a certain « strategic rationality » in Algeria’s refusal to engage outside its borders. But a doctrine is not the Koran. A certain strategic ambiguity is needed and the country must develop other means of presence and action outside its borders.

Algiers is aware that without a systemic approach to more cooperation and capacities strengthening of States, threats to security and stability will increase. Algerian strategy is multidimensional, combining multilateral and bilateral approaches. Particularly since 2009, several high-level meetings of the region’s leaders have been held under the impetus of Algeria to further strengthen regional cooperation in the Sahel. In April 2010, a military summit was held in Tamanrasset. The countries present at this meeting were Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania. Officials from Libya, Chad and Burkina Faso also joined the summit as observers. The result was the installation of a Joint Operational Staff Committee, based in the same city and called the « Tamanrasset Plan ». In September, the heads of intelligence of these four countries agreed to create a Center of Intelligence on the Sahel, based in Algiers and whose direction is revolving. The main objective of this initiative is to increase the level of cooperation of the secret services between the four countries, and to make their actions more coherent and effective. An important factor to strengthening the security of the region is a solid and operational intelligence cooperation between the various security and intelligence agencies and their regional and international counterparts.

Since October 2004, the country hosts the African Center for Studies and Research on Terrorism of the African Union (CAERT). The center aims to provide coordinated regional research and a training place for counter-terrorism efforts in African countries. The creation in 2015 of AFRIPOL (headquartered in Algiers) is an initiative of great importance which strengthens the soft power of Algeria and its role as a node of contact and cooperation in the regional architecture of security. Moreover, Algeria is particularly active in lobbying for an international campaign against the payment of ransoms to terrorist groups. Besides to working to strengthen trust between communitiesand ethnic groups, Algiers facilitates social interaction. Algerian mediation in Mali and Libya is an example of this approach giving priority to dialogue and political solutions. Moreover, Algeria is working to improve regional security cooperation, the operational capabilities of States to control their national borders in order to reduce the flow of recruits and arms to criminal and terrorist groups. Algeria is an active member of the Global Forum to combat terrorism.

Thus, in order to support its regional strategy, the Algerian government continues to seek to extend the scope of its cooperation with the external powers, in particular the United States, in its efforts to combat terrorism and maintain regional stability. These last years, Algiers has become a key partner in US efforts to cope with terrorist activities in North Africa and the Mediterranean, and as such has experienced a substantial increase in the level of bilateral cooperation. In addition to regional partnerships and multilateral programs, the United States and Algeria launched a Joint Military Dialogue in 2005 to promote exchanges, training and joint exercises. Algiers prefers bilateral activities with the United States and other major powers that recognize its regional importance. The Algerian approach is legalistic, insisting on the centrality of the UN. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), launched in July 2001, and the decision to cancel the debt of 14 African countries ($ 902 million) complements the Algerian approach to Three D: Defense, Development and Diplomacy.

Is not the present status quo characterized by the President’s illness and his absence from the national and international arena harmful to Algeria on a regional and international level?

The internal transformations that Algeria has experienced these recent years, the upheavals of the outside environment of security and the change of its role on the regional and international scene have not been accompanied by a new presidential speech including new concepts in harmony with the history and objectives of the country. Define national security is not just an academic exercise; this is in no way a neutral act but a necessarily political act. But who could really offer a directional clarity except for the president who benefits from the democratic legitimacy? The vision of the leader is a useful basis for the development of a national strategy because it articulates a vision of a realistic, credible and attractive future for the nation; it provides an important link between the present situation and the future trajectory of the nation. Plans and strategies engage stakeholders at a more analytical and rational level, the leader (in contact with the citizens) is at a deep emotional level. His usefulness depends on the quality of his vision, leadership, credibility and various other possible factors. In times of crisis, people need to be reassured, implying that officials, including government members, are in regular contact with citizens.

Presidential leadership creates narratives because events can not speak for themselves. Instead, they acquire meaning only when people weave together coherent stories. In The President as Leader, Edwin Hargrove argued that the first task of the presidential leadership is « to teach reality through rhetoric to the peoples and their politician colleagues « . Teaching reality involves explanations of problems and contemporary matters. Therefore he must invoke and interpret the eternal ideals of national experience expressed in the past and present as guides for our future. The presidential discourse is important because it helps to establish the presidential primacy as a central feature of the Algerian national security constitution, preponderant in the Algerian system. It is important because it is rare for new ideas to develop in the modern world outside of institutional networks.

The vision of the presidency should serve as both a source of inspiration and a sense of what needs to be done – a guiding idea. Its great advantage is to raise politics to a higher level. The highly personalized nature of the Algerian presidential system makes the strengths and weaknesses of the presidential team more prominent. Among the consequences arising from the centralization of political responsibility in the Algerian presidential system, the president is the only actor who can speak with a clear voice to the Algerian people and establish a standard of ethics and morality, excellence and grandeur. The President is not only the main architect of national policy, but he has to approach the process of elaboration of the policies vigorously. The President is supposed to define the reality of foreign policy and national security by general principles which will then form the basis for the formulation and implementation of operational plans and strategies. For many Algerians, the world is a mysterious and dangerous place, the Presidential speech creates (otherwise is supposed to establish) a sense of order. « In society, voters are looking for four things: the sense or direction, confidence in and from the leader, a sense of hope and optimism, and the results ». These elements are the basis of what Jason A. Edwards calls « leader-follower interdependence ».

The President and his team provide « directional clarity »- a clear presidential leadership through a strong speech – because their visions express the place of Algeria in the world, including its responsibilities and enemies, as well as the instruments to be used in world affairs. The absence of such a speech constitutes a weakness to which it is necessary to remedy quickly. Being the centralized nature of the Algerian system, the President, for better or for worse, remains the defender of the higher interests of the nation and of a foreign political mission in harmony with national history. Unlike plans emerging from analysis processes, the vision transcends competing facts and interests by presenting a unified, synthetic and attractive view or a future « happy ending ». The strategic declarations are wide and global, and appeal to touching words and general observations on the challenges of our world. In order to establish a roadmap for the future, the presidential speech engages the government in the promotion of a specific action plan and mobilizes public opinion to support the President’s approach. The leader’s vision acts as the glue that links various elements of the national system, establishing a basis for building national consensus on the details of deliberate strategies.

This is especially useful in times of great upheavals and major crises requiring painful sacrifices, or in situations involving significant conflicts of interest between the sections of a society, as it is currently the case: regional instability, transitional terrorism, return of geopolitics and proxy wars, economic crisis, political and social fragmentation. The challenges facing Algeria require a strong presidential speech. In times of crisis, the public (parliament, media, press) turns to the president (and his team) as a crisis manager, leader, problem solver and savior. The responsibility of the president increases. These critical moments offer to the presidential leadership the opportunity to introduce a new history of the national security likely to attract the public to support the national strategy and lay the groundwork for far-reaching changes in national policy.

A national security narrative is an image that gives meaning to new challenges. The formulation of a national security narrative during a troubled and uncertainty period (such as that experienced by Algeria) and a period of stability does not meet the same criteria. During disturbed periods, the success of a national security narrative requires that the leaders are engaged in the narrative as opposed to analytical arguments. The mobilizing speech of President Bouteflika in 1999 is a good example. Conversely, arguments on facts would be more effective during stable periods. Presidential leadership must understand that troubled times require narration; while stable times require arguments. The arguments and stories differ in purpose, structure, depth and presumptions. The arguments defend in favor of specific policies; the narration aims to give a meaning, explain a series of events and offer an interpretation of the world. The absence of such a strong presidential speech has resulted in false notes within the Sellal government. It’s as if the government had no cape.

Do not the crisis and the chaos that prevail in Libya directly threaten Algeria in its own existence?

The Algeria borders have never been so troubled and porous. The imperative of securing borders becomes a priority. Today, Libya has lost control of its borders. Tunisia, Mali, Niger and Nigeria fight to keep control on theirs. The threats come mainly from bandits, terrorists, traffickers, etc., but state threats have not completely disappeared. Indeed, the instability and insecurity in the South and the East posed mainly by non-state players and transnational threats imply a reorganization of the national defense perimeters. The question of securing borders constitutes a « security dilemma » imposed by the growing unrest in the Sahelian-Maghrebi geographical neighborhood. The threats are diverse, versatile, ambiguous, vague and sometimes contradictory. In the past, relations between countries were the main reason for problems at the border, but today non-state threats are the cause of agitation at the border, due to the fragility of the State or its absence in the neighborhood. Any operational environment must take account of the existence and spread of criminal groups, with the possibility of an increasing overlap between criminal activities, terrorist activities and internal armed conflicts. Securing borders requires cooperation between two parties to share burdens and tasks on both sides of the border. The problem stems from the inability of all neighboring countries to control their borders, either because of the collapse of the State (Libya), the fragility of the internal situation linked to the transition (Tunisia), the bankruptcy of institutions (Mali, Niger, Mauritania).

The situation on the western borders is no better. Clearly, there is not really a border problem, but rather a State problem. The result: the Algerian State assumes almost alone the securing of its borders and those of its neighbors. NATO’s intervention in Libya has had a destabilizing effect on North Africa and the Sahel. The destabilization of Syria only exacerbated the problem of international terrorism. US intervention in Iraq, NATO intervention in Libya and the destabilization of Syria are the key moments in the strategic environment change in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and even Europe. Algeria, Mali and Tunisia have suffered majority of the attacks in the region, which has seen terrorism increase by more than 600 % since 11 September 2001. Algeria is working on all fronts to secure its borders. In a 2011 report, the Pentagon called for strengthening the capacity of the Algerian armed and security forces. It reveals that Algiers assumes her alone 60 % efforts of the counter-terrorism in the region of the Maghreb and Sahel, whereas Morocco, Mali and Mauritania and Niger assume 40 %. The transformation of terrorist groups following their participation in wars underscores the need for a conceptual framework to understand the problem through time and space. There has been a marked change in the behavior of armed Islamist groups concerning their activities to terrorize the civilian population, such as bombings and kidnappings. The situation of terrorism in Africa has the following characteristics:

  • the mode of terrorist attacks passes from sporadic series to targeted attacks and with greater impact;
  • dispersed terrorist forces and groups tend to alliances;
  • the situation of terrorism is characterized by sustainability;
  • terrorist activities are more complex and multifaceted;
  • religious extremist forces become the main force of terrorist attacks in Africa.
Yonah Alexander, Terrorism in North Africa and the Sahel in 2015, Seventh Annual Report, Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies & International Law Institute, March 2016, p.8
Yonah Alexander, Terrorism in North Africa and the Sahel in 2015, Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies & International Law Institute, mars 2016, p. 18


The insecurity and instability of the neighborhood of Algeria are likely to last for a long time. And this imposes on Algeria to dedicate immense human and financial resources to secure its borders, to the detriment of the economic development which remains a priority in this period of deep crisis.National security and national solvency are mutually dependent. Otherwise, the Algerian economy risks collapsing under the burden of expenditure. It is much more difficult to set clear priorities. This is a classic dilemma. It is a question of striking the right balance of a triptych (triple priorities of protection, consumption and investment) that produces a profound dilemma for society. If it removes consumption, the consequence may be severe internal social tensions and class conflicts may become more acute. If society fails to pay the costs of defense, external weakness will inevitably lead to its defeat or intimidation by other powers. If society fails to save and reinvest some of its surplus wealth in industry and agriculture, the economic base and its capacity to support consumption or protection will decline.

In short, peace and stability are the cornerstones of prosperity. When Algerian diplomats and soldiers combine their efforts to help create stability and security in a neighboring country or region (Libya and Sahel), then stability and security attract investment that generates prosperity. And prosperity strengthens democracy, which creates greater stability and security. Real stability implies predictability – secure and predictable borders, threats that do not arise unexpectedly, and confidence that conflicting interests will be resolved in a peaceful manner. This is what Algeria is doing by securing national borders and seeking to resolve the Malian crisis and restore order in Libya. The instability of neighboring countries has a direct and detrimental effect on the development of the country. As capital seeks security, stability and profitability, the return of stability in Sahel will also mean more capital and investment in Algeria. The security influences the development by its effect on the investors confidence. Domestic private investors, as well as foreign investors, will be more willing to invest in countries that appear relatively safe.

In 2007, the Economist Intelligence Unit interviewed 154 company directors on their views concerning the impact of the threat of political violence on international companies. Political violence (including terrorism) led 37 % directors to avoid investment in certain regions, 22 % to change their travel policy and 23 % to increase their insurance expenses. In short, peace and stability are the cornerstones of prosperity. Stability and security attract investment. Investment generates prosperity. And prosperity strengthens democracy, which creates a greater stability and more security. In general, on the one hand, the resistance and capabilities of the defence forces should increase security in an objective manner as well as in the perception of investors, and, on the other hand, the presence of internal and external threats should reduce it. Without the sense of security provided by the Algerian army, the In Amenas gas complex would still be closed. 13.1 billion defense budget, that’s too much, say some, but it’s nothing compared to its role in the national economy. Without the army, the entire Algerian economy would be paralyzed given the dependence on hydrocarbons. With the instability in the immediate vicinity and Daesh at our borders, it is thanks to the power of the Algerian army and the feeling of security that it provides that foreign companies continue to operate in the Algerian Sahara.

How do you explain that the French foreign intelligence chiefs, the DGSE, are all former ambassadors of France in Algeria?

The appointment of the former French ambassador tin Algeria, Bernard Émié, as Director-General for External Security (DGSE) is probably due to the France’s commitment in Africa and in Middle East. The priority given to the fight against terrorism is not without connection to this choice. Bernard Émié has held many sensitive positions, notably as ambassador of France in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. In 2002, he was called back to headquarters as director of North Africa and Middle East. Paris certainly expects to make operational cooperation for fluid in the field of information exchange. Atomization and empowerment of terrorist groups certainly favor lightning operations. The « time factor » is crucial. The established relationships and personal ties cultivated as ambassador would be very useful in accomplishing his new mission to overcome the bureaucratic burden. Let us not forget that Algiers is the headquarters of AFRIPOL (African Police Office) and of the African Center for Study and Research on Terrorism (CAERT).

Algiers is a mine of information concerning certain groups active in the Sahel. In 2012, while Boko Haram was for many Western countries only a vague sect in Nigeria, the Algerian president had a different vision. During discussions with President Bouteflika, Francois Hollande spoke of Operation Serval. A French diplomat, present during the exchange between the two men, confided: « And here he surprises us. The problem for Africa, he tells us during the presidential tête-à-tête, is not Mali, it is Boko Haram. We fell from high ». »For us it was a sect story in Nigeria, nothing more. We did not really take him seriously », he concluded. The continuation is known. The reality is that the role of Algeria in the establishment of regional and international peace and security has never been fully recognized. It is astounding that some Western countries accuse Algeria of laxity in the fight against terrorism when the Algerian army faced a ruthless adversary in the 1990s, combining guerrilla tactics with asymmetrical attacks. The responsibility of NATO countries in the regional chaos is indisputable. The principle is simple: « you break you pay ».

You have seen the violent and abject manner with which the pensioners and invalids of the Algerian army who claimed their rights were treated. Those who faced terrorism during the red and black decade were clubbed. Do you think it is a good image that the Algerian power sends to the world by beating up its own soldiers?

“God and the soldier all men adore in time of trouble and no more, for when war is over, and all things righted, God is neglected and the old soldier slighted”, declared John F. Kennedy in a speech at West Point on June 6, 1962. This way of treating ex-military poses moral and even security problems. Morally, the nation is indebted to all those soldiers who saved the country from sudden death. From a security point of view, some social changes (whose effects will be felt in the years to come) lead young people to take less and less interest in the military profession. This will pose a problem in finding new recruits, among others.Such treatment is not an incentive. A new contract is needed between the army and society to build bridges between the civil and military worlds. It is also dangerous to describe how repentant terrorists are treated and not to pay particular attention to the demands of retired military personnel. Let us not forget that we speak of people with military know-how while national reconciliation always applies to the new Repentants. National reconciliation was a necessary evil to get out (and turn the page) of a bloody « black decade », and we must strengthen the gains. But it has a limited life span. Otherwise, it could threaten already fragile peace. Their luck was given to them.Now only eradication is possible as an option. The armed and security services have taken the initiative and are in a strong position. The number of terrorists linked to the « black decade » active on the national territory is insignificant. As for the terrorists linked to the world jihad, they are not interested in any compromise. It is true that Algeria is still in the recovery phase of an exhausting « black decade » and the challenges are enormous. However, this problem should not be treated lightly.

There is a lack of interest in terrorism from the media except in the event of an attack. They react but do not deeply analyze the terrorist phenomenon. Have the media and various press bodies updated and are they not only able to react to the attacks but to play their part by opening their doors to researchers like you to be more in a substantive work which is to study this phenomenon rather than react to factual events?

It is not just terrorism, which is only the immediate challenge. Anticipatory policies require a forward-looking approach. 1) Population growth, 2) accelerated urbanization, 3) concentration of population growth on the coasts, 4) increase in digital connectivity; will be crucial to the security environment. These trends are bringing about changes in the world. Physical pressures (population, resources, energy, and climate) could be combined with social, cultural, technological and geopolitical changes to create a greater uncertainty. This uncertainty is aggravated both by the unprecedented speed and magnitude of change, and by the interaction between these trends themselves. David Kilcullen explains that « rapid urban growth in underdeveloped coastal areas overloads economic, social and governance systems, puts pressure on the city’s infrastructure, and clutters the city’s transport capacity designed for much smaller populations. […]The implications for future conflicts are deep with more people competing for rare resources in overcrowded, under-serviced and under-governed urban areas. » The chaos of megacities is a major challenge. In addition to the environmental and public health consequences, the urbanization of poverty in the world has produced the urbanization of insurgency and terrorism. The acceleration of these trends, combined with increasing digital connectivity, means that urban conflicts will take on a new level of violence and intensity that will be disseminated instantly in the world. It is within this framework that terrorism must be addressed. Unfortunately, the media discourse minimizes violence and changes that the developing countries are experiencing.

The Arab countries, for example, far from being homogeneous, have been affected by profound social changes, notably due to the increase in the school enrollment rate and the influence of Diasporas with important consequences for the future of these societies. « Social change, in itself, has always been associated with rising levels of conflict. These periods of change are, by definition, transitory, and characterized by conflicts of values and interests that become common and violent.” This was explored by Pitirim A. Sorokin, in Social and Cultural Dynamics, Vol. III: Fluctuations of Social Relationships, War and Revolution (1937): a study of twelve European countries and empires over the period from 500 BC to 1925 AD which showed that the extent of « social unrest » is at its highest level during periods when a society has undergone a major change of world view for example from a religious world to another world whose horizon is centered on more secular and materialistic perspectives. Probably the changes to come will be even more acute and profound because of the age of information, urbanization, population growth, and so on. Information technologies are spreading at an exponential pace and putting totalitarian societies face an inextricable dilemma.

The social implications of the information revolution are both ubiquitous and profound. Social, economic and political trends combine with emerging technologies, and lead to the social and ecological breakdown of metropolitan areas. The bursting refers essentially to the dismantling of public networks such as water, electricity, transport and telecommunications that were standard in Western cities through the processes of privatization, deregulation and globalization. Probably the information technologies have been the most powerful engine for expanding global participation. Information technology is expanding at an exponential rate. From virtually zero in 1990, the number of Internet users worldwide has grown by more than 40 % per year for 20 consecutive years, connecting more than 1.6 billion people today. This new disruptive trend, not expected in the 1990s, is likely to link overcrowded coastal regions to the rest of the world. Connectivity is a great multiplier of strength in modern urban insurrections. It is undeniable that the technological environment shapes populations and societies. He is doing it today more quickly and more profoundly. Technology and the global communications revolution have transformed trade, finance, social relations, and armed services, and so on at an incredible rate. They force all nations to reconsider traditional methods of thinking about national sovereignty, and the transformation is just beginning, and accelerating without slowing down.

Sociologists have written extensively on urbanization for decades and urban conflicts have been a major concern of American military thinking in the 1990s, but it was before the mobile phone era, before the Internet penetrates the developing world, before widespread access to satellite television. In 2000, for example, less than 10 % of Iraqis had a mobile phone reception, while Syria, Somalia and Libya did not have significant cellular telephone systems – Syria had only 30,000 cell phones for 16 million people, while Libya had only 40,000. Ten years later, there were 10 million mobile phone subscribers in Iraq and 13 million in Syria, while Internet access and satellite television have increased massively. Nigeria rose from 30,000 cell phones to 113 million in the same decade. The explosion of digital connectivity changes both the security environment and the threats that the soldier may encounter within it. The acceleration of trends in population growth, in urbanization and in concentration on the coasts, combined with increasing digital connectivity, means that urban conflicts will take on a new level of violence and intensity that will be disseminated instantly in the world. The most pressing issue for the future is how the process of change and evolution itself will be managed. In any case, the « West » will not stay away. The depoliticization of terrorism (i.e. the dissociation of terrorism and the counter-terrorism struggle of the political project) is one of the reasons for the current impasse. The enemy was built as a band of barbarian criminals who attacked innocent American citizens out of hatred for values dear to the West.

The media reading is very simplistic and reductive of Islamist terrorism. It is even dangerous because it could lead to strategic and operational errors. The media discourse draws deeply into Orientalism. It leads to confusion and does not help to understand the stakes. It is under Orientalism that terrorism and changes in the Muslim world and in Africa are addressed by the media. There are many works of Western social scientists very enlightening, but their works are not sufficiently disseminated and remain confined to academic circles. Understanding the « concept of the West » is useful to understand how Western media addresses terrorism and changes in Muslim countries. Although frequently used by the media, political leaders and academics, it remains an abstract term, imprecise and misunderstood. References to « the West » are omnipresent in research and wider political discourse. Geographically, « the United States, most European states and Japan, with Canada and Australia, constituted the nucleus of the ‘West’. » But its significance is not only geographical. Conceptualized as a political order and a community of values, « the West » is composed of various formal and informal institutions including complex institutional arrangements that have been the subject of a continuous process of adjustment and transformation. Its conceptualization as a semantic category constitutes a source of legitimization of policies which the players can use and of which they can take advantage in possible processes of meaning and action.The reference to « the West » as a common ground for political action allows the rationalization and integration of different, sometimes contradictory, positions of the Atlantic players. Precisely because its content is imprecise, the meaning of the West is constantly updated and reproduced.

In Civilization: The West and the Rest, Niall Ferguson focuses on ideas and values rather than on blood or territory. « The ’West’ […] is much more than just a geographical expression. It is a set of norms, behaviors and institutions with extremely blurred borders ». « Western peoples » are not defined by race or ethnic origin, but rather by a particular cultural state of mind. « Some of the most ardent and eloquent defenders of Western values today have ethnic origins […] very different from mine, » he says. If the book is dedicated to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a writer of Somali origin whose the criticism of Islam has caused much controversy, Ferguson is very concerned about the lack, in his view, of the Muslims assimilation in Europe, and the key role played by Islamic centers in universities and elsewhere. The building of the West included the shadow of the Other against which the West itself was defined, a modernity delimited above all by its difference from the Other pre modern. In short, « the West is often identified with Europe, the United States, We, or with this enigmatic entity, the modern Me, » writes Fernando Coronil. It is in the name of this « modernity » that the expansion of the West is justified.

The sociologist Hall Stuart lashes out directly at the construction of Western discourse, which he says uses a binary approach of « the West and the rest » to emphasize the unique European character and non-Western inferiority. The persistence of these ideas, he says, continues to infect even the best well-intentioned contemporary specialists. In the « West Discourse and the Rest », he continues, « terms such as » the West « and » the rest « are historical and linguistic constructions whose meaning changes over time. There are many different discourses, or ways in which the West has come to talk about and represent other cultures. Some, like ‘the West and the rest’, were very centered on the West, or Eurocentric. Others […] were culturally much more relativist. […] The discourse of ‘the West and the rest’ has become a very common and influential discourse, contributing to shaping public perceptions and attitudes’. Above all, Stuart draws attention to the fact that « our ideas of ‘the East’ and ‘the West’ have never been free from myth and fantasy, and even to this day, they are not ideas focused primarily on place and geography « . On the whole, « the West is a historical construction, not a geographical one. This is geography, but also […] something else. It is a type of society; a level of development […] The West was the model, prototype and measure of social progress […] Without the Rest (or its ‘inferior’ Others), the West would not have been able to recognize itself as the summit of human history ».

Stuart criticizes the construction of « the West » as a concept itself. Its usefulness as an abstraction allows European observers to classify societies into different categories, to condense a complex set of images and peoples into a simple idea, to provide a « standard comparison model » and « assessment criteria against which other societies can be classified. Once a concept, the West became in its turn productive, « the creation of knowledge on other places and peoples ». Difference served as markers – the difference of these Western societies and cultures was the standard to which the achievement of the West was measured. It is within the framework of these relations that the idea of the West « took on […] a meaning […] National cultures acquire their strong sense of identity by themselves in contrast to other cultures. » This concept of the West obscures the important differences between Western peoples by presenting them as a homogeneous whole. This construction « establishes raw and simple distinctions and constructs an oversimplified conception of difference ». Thus, European soldiers and explorers, and others, saw native societies as complex and backward. Similarly, the confusion between « modernity » and « Europe » where the West is based on these presumed « differences ». The natives are often illustrated by extreme behavior in European discourse – docile, monstrous and cannibal. All this led the Age of Enlightenment, which developed this discourse, to spread these beliefs while constructing a model of « refined » and « rough » nations.The social sciences of this time put forward the idea that « the West has been the model ».

Clearly, the security concerns associated with Islamist terrorism are real and legitimate. However, the Muslim societies are most affected by Islamist terrorism and they were also the first to fight it – while many Western countries grant refuge to Islamists. This truth is completely absent in official discourse. The heart of the problem is the almost theological conviction that the power of the West is good by nature – a force of the good and for the good – and in its wake will follow freedom, democracy and stability. Libya and Iraq are just the most recent and most glaring examples. It is always necessary to be factual. The example of the FOS theory (ndlr: facts, opinions, feelings) is interesting. Much of the work and analysis mainly reflects the author’s opinion and sentiment at the expense of the facts. Muslim countries are undergoing a period of profound and crucial transition.Probably, this transition will be more or less violent depending on the country, a violence specific to the transition itself, contrary to Western media discourses that seek explanations in culture. People must bear in mind that the only way to ensure a better life and ensure their safety is building astrong and modern rule of law.

You mentioned a redeployment of the Americans in Africa. Some of our contacts have confirmed this and we are now seeing an Israeli redeployment in Africa. What is your reading about it?

Why such a structure or the establishment of what is more than just a bureaucratic reorganization? There are a number of ways of thinking about the AFRICOM creation but the most obvious would be to look at its creation from a realistic perspective. Africa is strategically important. It is wrong to assume that Africa is simply the object of humanitarian concerns or a cause of charity. AFRICOM aims to support US policy and promote US national security objectives in Africa. There are many strategic US interests in Africa, including ensuring access to natural resources, particularly energy resources, concerns related to extremist violence and the fight against terrorism and other potential threats posed by uncontrolled areas such as piracy and illicit trafficking. Added to this are trade and economic interests which are not negligible. Many US leaders have stressed that protecting the free flow of Africa’s natural resources to the global market, terrorism and China’s growing influence are all challenges and the mainspring of AFRICOM. Western and Asian oil companies are turning their eyes to this continent, one of the last arenas in which they can operate with some freedom. In this context, Israel is also trying to get its piece of cake. Given the narrowness of its economy, Israel lacks a « strategic depth » and Africa presents economic opportunities for its exports. Moreover, Africa also represents a sphere for diplomatic deployment in order to emerge from its isolation in the Middle East.

With an Africa that currently produces 12 % of world oil and holding 9.5 % of the world proven oil reserves, it is hardly surprising that there is a growing interest especially as the continent is largely unexplored. Africa is increasing its integration into the global economy and diversifying its partnerships, and competition is increasingly tough. In 2009, China surpassed the United States and became Africa’s largest trading partner. Africa’s share of trade with emerging countries has increased significantly over the past decade, from 23 % to 39 %. In addition to the concerns and hopes of China’s engagement in Africa, it is a fact that the macroeconomic impact it may have on African economies can no longer be ignored.

China’s growing role in oil production in Africa is often cited as the most important example of how the new emerging powers usurp the US and European countries by threatening to « expel » West of the continent. This is exaggerated given that Beijing receives less than 9 % of total oil exports from sub-Saharan Africa, while 32 % of Africa’s oil still goes to the United States and 33 % still goes to Europe. In reality, China does not receive significant quantities from African countries – about 30 % of its total imports come mainly from Sudan, Angola and Nigeria. The large quantity of its imported oil comes from the Middle East, specifically from Saudi Arabia, where the oil production is dominated by American companies. Moreover, the use of renewable energies provides a solution to certain problems, but without putting an end to the question of dependency. And as China controls almost all of the world’s rare land supply and has imposed export restrictions, mine restructuring and other policies have triggered a frantic rush to secure these metals.

The Americans say they provide free and safe access to the region’s oil and natural gas through their presence and undisputed military supremacy. For this reason, Asia, including China, depends on the United States for its oil and gas, and hence for its economic prosperity and growth. The leverage effect of energy access control can counterbalance the leverage effect of China and the proximity of the Pacific coast. This control also allows exercising a significant power over China itself. US officials insist that the new policy is not specifically targeted at China, but the implication is quite clear: henceforth, the main objective of US military strategy will not be counter-terrorism, but the containment of this country in full economic boom. And a part of the American effort in Africa is contributing to the containment of China. Coincidence of calendar or not, former President Bush announced on 6 February 2007, that the United States would create a military command center for Africa at the same time as Chinese President Hu Jintao was on tour in eight African countries to negotiate agreements that would allow China to secure the flow of oil from Africa. However, not only petroleum, but also rare earths that take strategic importance in the « Information Age » for the transition from developed countries to post-industrial economies.

Source; Derek Scissors, « China Global Investment Tracker: 2012 », The Heritage Foundation, January 6, 2012

Since the 1960s, the largest producer was the Mountain Pass mine in California (closed in 2002). But the position of the United States changed when China accelerated in the 1980s its production of rare earths at prices below world prices.Due to financial pressure, mines around the world began to close in the 1990s, and Beijing has become the world’s largest producer of rare earth elements – providing more than 90 % of global supply.If the restrictions imposed by Beijing on exports in 2005 have only reinforced US concerns, economists estimate that the world’s rare earths consumption outside China (which consumes 50 % of its production) is about 55,000 Tons per year.The current quota does not seem to be sufficient and this will exert pressure on prices with direct consequences on daily life.

Global rare-earth-oxide production trends. Source; Pui-Kwan Tse, « China’s Rare-Earth Industry », Open–File Report 2011–1042, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior, Virginia: 2011, p. 3

In 2010, the Department of Energy developed its first Critical Materials Strategy worrying that « several clean energy technologies including wind turbines, electric vehicles, photovoltaic cells [solar panels] and fluorescent lighting use materials at risk of short-term supply shortages ». Among the materials analyzed five rare earth metals: dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium and yttrium, as well as indium, were judged to be the most critical in the short term (up to 5 years) and medium term (five to 15 years). « Critical » is defined as a combination of the importance of a metal to the economy of clean energy and the risk of supply disruptions. « Near-critical » metals in the short term include cerium, lanthanum, and tellurium. The « non-critical » metals were gallium, lithium, cobalt, praseodymium and samarium. But within five years, the Department of Energy predicts that cobalt, indium, lithium and praseodymium will be considered as « near critical ».

The Chinese government has justified the decision to restrict exploitation by the fact that the country has « paid a high price » for the problems in its rare earth industry, including excessive exploitation, environmental damage, unhealthy industrial structure, far too low prices and smuggling. Given Beijing’s control of virtually all of the world’s rare earth supply and its export restrictions, mines restructurings triggered a rush to secure these metals. The fight on minerals has entered a new phase leading the US, EU and Japan to collectively file a lawsuit against China, accusing it of violating the rules of world trade and manipulating mineral prices. Rare earths become a national security issue. The national power depends to a large extent on it. And Africa offers an opportunity. According to estimates, the continent would hold about 30 % of the world’s mineral reserves. Specifically: 75 % of diamond reserves, 40 % of gold reserves, 60 % of cobalt, particularly located in the DRC, 80 % of chromium, 30 % of bauxite, mainly in Guinea, 60 % of manganese, 85 % of platinum, particularly in South Africa.


Green energy relies heavily on multiple advanced technologies such as solar cells, gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, compact fluorescent lamps, and giant wind turbines. The rare earths metals are an essential component of green technologies, but also of devices as diverse as smart phones, loudspeakers, computers, magnets, medical imaging equipment, guided missiles and smart bombs, aircraft engines, etc., products that play a crucial role in everyday life. In this way, it seems that environmentalists, commercial industrialists, and military leaders would all have an interest in increased access to rare earths. In this area, apart from a small amount of recycling, the United States is 100 % dependent on imports of rare earth elements and is heavily dependent on many other minerals that support their economy. In addition to the risks of supply disruptions, the price of rare earths which has risen sharply is not negligible. Ultimately, businessmen and politicians perceive China’s monopoly on the 17 elements of rare earth as a strategic vulnerability, discouraging innovation and national defense.

On 1 October 2008, a total of 172 missions, activities, programs and exercises were effectively transferred to U.S. Africa Command from U.S. European Command, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command. To tell the truth, caution is required as for the future role of AFRICOM. It is a fact that AFRICOM is more than just an administrative change at the Pentagon (1), reflecting the evolution in the perception of American decision-makers of the growing geopolitical importance of Africa for US strategic interests. AFRICOM is also part of the process of increasing militarization of US policy. The United States spends about 20 cents of every tax dollar on defense, compared to just over a cent for activities related to international non-military affairs. In Africa, AFRICOM drives the American diplomacy. In many cases, American embassies can not keep up because of the lack of resources.

(1) The creation of a new command requires the President to make changes to the Unified Command Plan (UCP), which establishes areas and spheres of responsibility for the commanders of the new command. These changes to be introduced to the UCP are usually initiated by the President of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCA), who makes a recommendation to the Secretary of Defense, and after consideration by the latter, a proposal is presented to the President for approval. Prior to the advent of AFRICOM, the most recent unified command, established in 2002, was NORTHCOM, created after the September 11 attacks to protect US territory. The PCU is revised at least every two years as required by the Goldwater-Nichols DOD Reorganization Act of 1986 (PL 99-433)

                            Areas of Responsibility and Examples of Activities Transferred to AFRICOM                                 from other Combatant Commands

Source: GAO, Defense Management: Improved Planning, Training, and Interagency Collaboration Could Strengthen DOD’s Efforts in Africa, Report to the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, House of Representatives, GAO-10-79, July 2010, p. 11.

The Department of State and Department of Defense do not have the same priorities and the same bureaucratic organization. The State Department responsible for formulating foreign policy is organized with six regional offices.Conversely, the Secretariat of State of Defense which is responsible for National Security and Defense policy is organized into six different regional offices under two Under Secretaries of Defense (see map). In addition, the Secretary of Defense assigns geographical responsibilities to six combat commanders (NORTHCOM, SOUTHCOM, EUCOM, AFRICOM, PACOM, and CENTCOM). Due to a budgetary imbalance (the difference in human and financial resources), the Department of Defense has finally imposed itself, thus marginalizing the State Department in the formulation and execution of foreign policy in Africa. In some cases, this has led to the creation of parallel programs. In the end, it is difficult to say that Africa is more stable today since the creation of AFRICOM almost 10 years ago.


In a previous interview you gave me, we talked about the ideological aspect in the fight against terrorism and the need to fight ideology before militarily fighting. Do you see an evolution in this direction in countries affected by terrorism?

It is difficult to say that lessons were learned when so many attacks were committed in Europe (attacks in London, Nice, Bataclan, to name just a few). The Departments and Ministries of Defense of certain Western countries have become power projection institutions, not security institutions and National Defense. National security is confused with a projection of power. Military options are only an instrument in the fight against terrorism. The inability to develop a comprehensive and well-coordinated strategy has often hindered their efforts to counter terrorism. To be effective, a counter-terrorism strategy must be supported. Its objectives must be realistic. Cosmetic safety measures must be avoided. What do the terrorists want? No question is more fundamental than this one for the development of an effective counter-terrorism strategy. The first step in an effective strategy is to understand its practitioners. The question of motivation is fundamental to the success of the counter-terrorism strategy. Terrorists have motives and there is a strategic logic to their actions, and examining these things can reveal strategies that can frustrate and dispel their efforts. It is difficult to find general explanations to predict why (and who are) people radicalized.

Of course, it is possible to identify a certain number of radical Islamist groups and sometimes violent, but their emergence, their members and the modus operandi are not consistent with a particular model. The environment is important, but it is not the only one and the radicalization of the Islamists is a very complex phenomenon. About violent radicalization, one member of a group may become violent, while others do not become violent, which it make the individual (rather than the group) the player (instead of victim) of such a process. Many analysts prefer to talk about « risk factors » instead of « causes » of terrorism. Instead, a number of prerequisites are listed, which implies that it is necessary to establish conceptual distinctions between the different types of factors. First, there is a significant difference between the preconditions, factors that open the way to terrorism over the long term, and the precipitating factors, specific events that immediately precede the onset of terrorism. Then another classification divides the prerequisites into factors allowing or permissive, which offer opportunities for terrorism to occur, and the situations that directly inspire and motivate terrorist campaigns. Precipitating factors are similar to direct « causes » of terrorism.

The most difficult aspect could be redefining victory. The purpose of full « unconditional surrender » makes no sense in the context of terrorism. Many voices say the challenge posed by violent extremism today is nothing like what the West has faced in the past. The allegations about the unique nature of religious violence are based on a number of arguments. In addition to being adversaries known as dynamic, unpredictable, diverse, fluid, grouped in networks and constantly evolving, religious terrorists have anti-modern, anti-democratic and anti-progressive objectives. At the same time, their objectives are absolutist, unrealistic, irrational, apolitical, making dialogue impossible and useless. Negotiation with terrorists is considered impossible and especially undesirable for many reasons: rationality (terrorists are pathologically foolish or fanatical), viability (no common interest but a zero-sum game), representation (terrorists can not fit into a diplomatic system), and legitimacy (diplomacy – a system of norms, conventions and practices – can not be applied to players who reject this system). According to this argument, terrorists today aim to kill as much as possible. Terrorism has become an end in itself (not a means) and terrorists seek destruction and chaos as an end in itself. And there’s nothing else to understand. Former CIA director James R. Woolsey reflects this line of thinking: « The terrorists today do not demand a seat at the table; they want to destroy the table and everyone sitting around it. »

According to traditional descriptions, war is limited for both rational and political reasons. The armed forces are based on discipline and hierarchy, and use force in an intentional and deliberate manner. States have a moral responsibility to seek ways to control and manage the use of violence in their relationships with each other. Mainly an interactive social process, war is a political act to achieve political goals. Executives are supposed to be rational and willing to engage in cost-benefit calculations when making policy decisions. But insofar as the new adversaries have adopted radical or even nihilistic religious doctrines, it is not clear how to reason them and how the traditional tools of diplomacy and military coercion can work. Faced with such adversaries, motivated by what Clausewitz calls a « blind natural force » composed of « primordial violence, hatred and enmity, » it is not clear how to dissuade them. Indeed, the rise of non-state players as a major security problem has created conceptual, doctrinal and organizational challenges for military, politicians and security practitioners. To respond, a branch of thinkers defends the strong method and calls the West to develop its own « warriors » and to use the weapons of the enemy (to fight a monster you have to be a monster).

Such a solution poses major problems for Western societies that have seen significant changes in the conduct of war including the objectives, strategies and structures of military organizations. These changes due to strategic, technological and societal factors have resulted in constraints on the use of military force. The fight against terrorism requires that the aim and practice of the security and military forces be governed by liberal and democratic values. Counter-terrorism practices must be adapted to the preferences of civil society, and this makes difficult the application to liberal values.There are structural reasons that hamper Western strategy. Societal factors such as changing norms and increased media coverage have affected the way military operations are conducted. Public influence on decision-making has increased relatively over the past five decades.

Contemporary culture has eroded the war ethos and societies have become skeptical concerning those who adhere to the warrior code. Gil Merom explains that « what brings about the failure of democracies in » small wars « is the interaction of sensitivity to victims, repugnance to brutal military behavior and commitment to democratic life ». More clearly, « democracies fail in small wars because they are unable to solve three dilemmas: « How to reconcile the humanitarian values of a part of the educated class with the brutal demands of the counterinsurgency war […] how to find an acceptable internal compromise between brutality and sacrifice [and] how to preserve support for war without undermining the democratic order « . It is these tensions which supply the substance of an internal debate about the utility and the legitimacy of coercive measures.

Since participation in the holy war is an individual decision, the excessive dependence of external conditions and the causes of terrorism must be avoided. For too much focusing on the external influences of the individual’s behavior deprives the person of free will and, more specifically, of power to choose to engage in terrorism. Many people can choose terrorism because they perceive it as a means of extending their influence and power, for example. Factors such as psychological influences, kinship, belief system, grievances (revenge, perception of injustice) contribute to a person’s motivations to engage in terrorism. Terrorism per se is not generally a reflection of masses discontent or deep divisions in society. More often, it represents the disaffection of a fragment of society which assumes the responsibility of acting on behalf of the majority which (according to this fragment) is unwilling to take its destiny into its own hands. There are different causes, but in the end, as James Forest explains, terrorism is fundamentally “the product of choices informed by dynamic interactions between individuals, organizations and environmental conditions, influenced by time and space considerations and by whomever and whatever helps us interpret the world around us.” Saying that the individual is at the heart of the process of radicalization is to avoid the externalization and the transfer of responsibilities. Forest suggests two frameworks of analysis:

1. The first suggests taking into account only three levels: 1) the individual and organizational characteristics, 2) the environmental conditions that produce grievances between members of a population, and 3) environmental conditions that provide opportunities for individuals and organizations to support violent activities

2. The second describes the engagement (or disengagement) of an individual in terrorist activities as a process.

3. The Dynamic Interactions Frame: Incorporating Time, Perceptions and Interpretive Influencers.

The Static Frame: Observations of Characteristics and Conditions that Contribute to the Risk of Terrorist Activity. Source: James J.F. Forest, « Terrorism as a Product of Choices and Perceptions », Prepared for the CATO Institute Conference, “Shaping the New Administration’s Counterterrorism Strategy,” January 12, 2009.


The combination of the two frames helps to (and highlights the need to) understand the mechanisms and tools (including ideologies, myths, symbols, social networks, the Internet, etc.) that frame the individual, the organization and the environment. Everything is linked if not recycled in a three-level interaction. The idea is to explore the phenomenon of terrorism through a kind of « bifocal lens »: one of these focusing on characteristics and conditions, the other on perceptions and dynamic interactions. Try to explain Islamist violence through culture by decontextualizing Islam is a mistake. In any case it has not worked so far. Instead of new forms of violence, there have been processes that have intensified since the birth of the modern era. The technological revolution combined with major social, political and geopolitical changes in one and the same time had a great impact on the manifestation of violence. This does not mean that nothing has changed in the relationship between war and society. What has genuinely changed is the increasing use of technology as well as the social, political and ideological context in which violence is worked and wars are waged. The continuation of the war is at the height of the technological, economic and social transformations of the current era. « Every age has its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions, and its own peculiar preconceptions« , said Clausewitz.

There are tens of thousands returnees in Europe. Are Western intelligence services or of some Maghreb countries like Tunisia prepared to handle such a serious and complex situation? Does not this massive return of jihadists represent the increase of a permanent terrorist threat? What about the additional risk of attacks?

The answer is yes. « Foreign combatants » present immense conceptual, political, legal and operational challenges. The concern for security practitioners is that this threat is thought in descriptive and non-prospective terms. The transformation of terrorist groups following their participation in wars highlights the need for a conceptual framework to understand the problem through time and space. The strategy against the jihadist project must be expanded to address the entire jihadist cycle, from entry to exit. The discussion on this phenomenon is more centered on a descriptive than a predictive analysis. The cycle begins with radicalization and ends with rehabilitation, prolonged imprisonment or death. Each war generates new operational, organizational and logistical capabilities. This partly explains the change in terrorist methods and why Al-Qaeda/Daesh affiliated groups have grown in strength, size and influence at an alarming rate across the Middle East and Africa, including Europe, and are expected to expand. Counter-terrorism efforts focus primarily on the operational phase of this cycle – from the beginning of the recruitment process to death or capture, but without an overall vision. While each participation in a war generates new warriors with new abilities, an insufficient attention is given to the fight against radicalization, indoctrination and recruitment. This in part explains why an increasing number of extremist groups affiliated to the world jihad and similar extremist groups or not have intensified their violent attacks in Europe and through the « arch of instability » from the Atlantic to the Red Sea.

The challenge of foreign combatants is made up of several problems that reflect the life cycle of the « foreign combatant » phenomenon. This cycle includes the pre-war phase, the war and post-war phase; each phase raises a host of disparate issues that would require unique treatment. In such a way that the Afghan war (against the Soviet Union) and the Iraq war (against the forces of the US occupation coalition) changed the mujahedeen and the insurgents (Bin Laden is a product of the first and Daesh of the second), it is to be expected that the Syrian and Libyan conflict will change the nature of terrorism and violence in the region. The return and dispersion of the fighters who fought against USSR deeply changed the security environment. But this problem has not been sufficiently studied. At the end of the war against USSR, the mujahedeen state of mind changed completely and they became more radical and ambitious in their goals. Moreover, they became true warriors as they learned new tactics of war. The resistance of the mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan gave rise to the Taliban and convinced many Islamists that the armed struggle (jihad) could succeed in creating an Islamic State. The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, seen as a victory for the mujahedeen, has discredited the peaceful voice and given new impetus to the re-politicization of Islam.

The consequences were not thought out. Take the case of « Algerian Afghans ». The strengthening of the jihadist trend in Algeria was partly facilitated or even accelerated by the return of the Algerian fighters who had fought in Afghanistan and brought a global jihadist ideology to the country. The ex-FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) has provided a vehicle for the spread of radicalism through sliding across society, which was further aggravated by fracturing after the electoral process ended in 1992, which is only a « precipitating factor ». The « Algerian Afghans » were active and accelerated the militarization of the struggle. Several of them have operated or continue to operate within the GIA (Armed Islamic Group), GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat), and finally AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). Estimated between 2,000 and 3,000 on their return in Algeria, they drifted towards the extreme wing of the Islamist movement and later they have formed the hard core of the GIA, which quickly dissociated itself from the other armed groups by its ferocity, its willingness to use extreme forms of violence and its intransigence expressed by its motto « No dialogue, no reconciliation, no truce ». The unique brutality of the GIA results in part from the important position of these « Afghans » within the group.

Syria is also revealing of the complexity of the challenges posed by the foreign fighters. Syrians’ participation in the fighting in Iraq against the American occupying forces has changed the deal. On their return, part of them began the fight against the Syrian regime. The dominant view on the subject is too narrow, mainly focused on the degradation of the operational capacities of the jihadists, by eliminating the jihadists without paying enough attention to prevent recruitment, induce defections or renounce to the jihad. The flow of foreign fighters to Syria, Libya and the Sahel must be closely monitored. For example, we must not stop at the question of what impact the return of the Tunisians will have on the security of Tunisia. Anticipatory policies are needed. We need to broaden the research and ask ourselves: what will be the new situation of Tunisia and what impact will the return of the Tunisian jihadists have on the Mediterranean security environment, notably on Algeria or Europe for example?

Daesh is also a product of the Iraqi occupation. This war gave rise to new forms of organization, new tactics and combat techniques. In 2014, 70 % of Daesh’s management is composed of former Baath members. The decapitation of the Iraqi army with military know-how enabled the armed organizations to benefit from it. In this sense, it is quite plausible that there will be other forms of violence following the war in Syria and Libya. Today, Iraq, Libya and Syria are become « exporters of terror ». At this rate, terrorism risks to become unmanageable in the near future. Conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria have served and are still serving to socialize a younger generation of potential recruits, both in Africa and Europe. Each war generates other forms of violence. The challenge is to find out how the chaos of Syria, Libya and Iraq will further change the regional security environment.

What do you think of the joint cross-border military force that France wants to set up in the Sahel and of the last Bamako meeting, and the one held in Seville, Spain, and of which Algeria was dismissed?

No official document from the United States and European countries mentions a part of their responsibility in the current situation in Africa to which they have imposed a series of American design programs. Algiers has considerable advantages, but following its refusal to do the dirty work, the European powers seek to circumvent it and even to isolate it. From this point of view, Algeria’s role in the Maghreb-Sahel region remains uncertain. The Western powers, notably France and Spain, are not prepared to leave Algiers alone in the Maghreb-Sahelian ring. Their support depends on the extent to which Algeria’s agenda is aligned with their interests. Faced with Algeria’s hesitation in pursuing an active policy beyond its borders, the great powers fill the emptiness directly or by encouraging other powers in the region to fulfill this role. France and Spain are looking for security subcontractors. Algiers has its own vision of security in the Sahel. History has shown several times that Algeria was right in particular by warning France in 2012 that Boko Haram was the greatest danger, then during the military coup in Mali, and so on. If the national interests of Algeria are not taken into account, Algiers has no reason to support a strategy that does not support its interests.Objectively, it already does enough. The accusations that Algiers is lax in the fight against terrorism in reality reflect the paternalistic spirit of the northern countries in their relationship with the south. Algiers must imperatively focus its efforts on (and succeeding) its political and economic modernization, it is the basis for an international influence and an active and effective diplomacy.

At the strategic level, a great power has three ways to secure its interests abroad: forces positioned forward, strategic deployment from home, or lean on reliable allies. The general rule is to find a balance between the three depending on the operational environment and strategic value of the regions in question. Given the period of austerity and the specificity of irregular wars, a rebalancing took place to focus on building new, strong and aligned alliances. This strategy politically implies the cooptation of elites, political subversion. Militarily, this implies access, positioning of combat assets, logistical support, military training, etc. The strategy is to strengthen the government while weakening the insurgent terrorists in order to achieve a final state in which the government, with minimal external assistance, can defeat the internal threats to its security. There are a number of tactics required to achieve this, both the death and capture of insurgents, the strengthening of the security forces of the host country (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad). All this contributes to the reduction of the insurrection strength, which increases capacities of the government and its forces, and allows reaching a crossing point where the forces of the host country can continue with minimal external assistance. The G5 initiative aims to put in place what is called in military jargon a strategy of « counter-insurgency light » calling for the development of a counter-insurgency capability based on a « light footprint » with advisors and logistical support, an expanded consultative unit. This is how France seeks to secure its interests in the Sahel. The success of such an initiative is not certain: the question of financing is not ensured, there is the interoperability of the different forces, etc.

Historically, such practices are not new. France is directly responsible for this regional chaos. Gaddafi’s overthrow was not motivated by humanitarian reasons. Historical parallels exist between past imperial actions and recent military interventions, such as the invasion of Libya by Italy in 1911 and the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011. The challenge of failed or fragile States did not automatically raise the nation construction to the top of the international agenda. The rise in power of the theme was progressive – the result of a series of reassessments of the priorities of the Atlantic community in particular. Three international agendas – peacekeeping, the fight against poverty and the war against terrorism – have contributed in parallel and jointly. Mark Mazower retraces the rise of UN peacekeeping operations, the doctrine of « responsibility to protect » and the International Criminal Court, and suggests that these developments have become « the instrument of a new civilizing mission ». These new types of international action have been used by powerful states as tools for intervening in domestic politics of weaker States, enabling them to frame these sovereignty violations in the language of universal moralism and international law while evading these provisions.According to their interests, the large States have adopted or marginalized the various international organizations in a selective way.

The « R2P » (Responsibility to Protect) is nothing other than « the return of the civilizing mission and the » humanitarian « interventions of the previous centuries. The « civilizing mission » of the colonial era served not only to legitimize colonial domination and the colonizers superiority notion, but also to produce the « order » by extending control over colonial subjects. As colonialism and imperialism have been associated historically, many scholars and commentators have come to conclude the end of imperialism with the movements of decolonization. But more than one way was used by the imperialists. The direct annexation of territory (colony) is only one way among others. The discourse on development associated with the fight against terrorism must be apprehended from a historical point of view to seize the ideological background of the European approach of Africa. The operational strategies are expressed in the language of human rights, counter-terrorism, humanitarian intervention, etc., but in the end only the national interest counts. The realistic approach takes precedence and draws on a deep ideological background. Many have treated development as a means of rules, visualizing it under a governmental prism as a mode of power practiced by institutions with hegemonic aspirations. Development in this sense is not an end, but a means that helps the State to gain or maintain power and legitimacy. The infrastructure meant much more than the construction of railways and bridges.The issue was to open territories that were considered « empty » or « ungoverned » and to establish rules. Infrastructure required people to use it, and this assumed that individuals also had to be trained and their skills developed.

In this process, traditional mindsets had to be aligned with the requirements of rationality and efficiency that accompanied imperial development programs. In this sense, the nineteenth century has flourished from what James Louis Hevia calls the « Pedagogy of imperialism » – The effort to « train » members of « less developed » societies or groups in « modern » modes of behavior and thinking such as children in school. Although much has changed since our social dependence on technology and the context in which violence is practiced, little has changed in the relations that the countries of the North have with Africa. Thus, low economic growth requires structural adjustments; political instability requires peace-recovery, peace-keeping and peace-building operations; widespread poverty requires support for health and education; political corruption requires transparent governance, and so on. The aim is to keep African States in a dependency on developed countries, without really wonder (otherwise rarely) whether these prescriptions lead to economic growth, political stability and poverty reduction. The G5 is one of the ways in which European countries seek to preserve their interests. A passage in force. In September 2011, the EU launched its strategy for security and development in the Sahel region. But it did not recognize the central role of Algeria in the Sahel and did not integrate it adequately into the regional response.

The strategic doctrine of Algeria forbids the Army to intervene militarily outside the national territory even when it strongly solicited by its neighbors or international partners. Not only has this principle not prevented its military forces from providing logistical and training assistance to the armed and security forces of neighboring countries including Mali, Libya, etc., but the country remains very active in regional and international cooperation and is involved in many security architectures. The use of multilateral diplomacy is a way to reconcile its principles of non-intervention with the imperative to face threats to its security. In his soul, Algeria seeks to be a free spirit. Theoretically, it has the means of its policy. The influence is assessed according to who pays who, what and when (cooperation, help, etc.) and this is where the Algiers strategy fails, which seeks to take Africa out of the box, but does not accept to assume all the financial, political or military implications that this involves at the operational level. It is more constructive for it to opt for a « positive » commitment negotiated in win-win terms. This is the best way to shape western strategy towards its immediate environment. In any event, after all, Algeria does not have the means to respond to the problems of the Sahel alone.

If we were to ask Mr. Hamel, whom I consider to be one of the best researchers in the field of counter-terrorism and defense, concrete proposals to counter terrorism, what would be your priorities?

Islamism, in all its manifestations, constitutes a threat to sow chaos and anarchy which are essential to its conversion into a political and military force as Abou Bakr Naji shows in « Management of Savagery », a strategy paper written online in 2004 that can be considered the Mein Kampf of jihadists which describes the successive stages of the creation of an Islamic caliphate. Islamism is able to undermine the foundations of society – much like termites could harm a wooden house – by imposing the social fracture: deprive society of the ability to communicate, observe and interact (a macro version of the sensory deprivation used on individuals) in order to create a « feeling of helplessness ». As the Daesh prototype illustrates, Islamism could create an illusion of infinite strength and cruelty; always inflict brutal retaliation against those who resist. It aims to destroy the will to resist before, during and after the battle, if this is a necessary step to impose their ideological vision. Islamism sows chaos and at the same time it needs to expand. By ideology, we mean excessive simplification of social reality and especially access to power. Ideology has many functions.

If experts point to the medieval religiosity of Muslims, the Islamists have been very adept at wielding and manipulating modern political ideologies – nationalism, self-determination, free market – under the banner of Islam and at gaining popularity. At the same time, the laity went so far as to espouse Islamist motives to galvanize a sense of Islamic identity when it becomes appropriate for them to do so. States confronted with Islamist mobilization often take steps to curb the call of Islamists through the adoption of certain aspects of Sharia, or Islamic law, in their political systems. There are many examples in the Arab world. The result is a degradation of political rights and civil liberties. These developments make it difficult to follow and understand the alliances, networks and ideologies of the social forces. It is surprising that European countries are calling on imams to intervene on issues that they do not control over and which exceed them widely. They often intervene on issues that are essentially political. The most striking example is that of Hassen Chalghoumi. Unfortunately, this phenomenon (the use of politics by religious leaders), observed in Muslim-majority countries, is also evident in European countries, albeit at a completely different level.

The study of the political expression of Islam gives us information on how religion is manipulated by States or organizations claiming power or social justice, but it says nothing about the place of this religion in the lives of individuals and social groups. The relatively recent politicization of Islam has eclipsed the spiritual dimension of this religion. Research on Islam has focused on political analysis to the detriment of historical, anthropological and sociological analysis. The political approach of Islam is based on an old postulate that Islam is « din wa dawla » (Religion and State). While the link between religion and politics has become an undeniable reality in contemporary Muslim societies, its importance has been overestimated because of the international political context. This has been particularly strengthened since 9/11. The problem with the American strategy (and other major Western countries) has not only identified al Qaeda and later Daesh as the enemy; it considers it as a product of a barbarous, cowardly and evil « civilization », in contrast to theirs, which is civilized, moral and courageous. These dichotomies have been put as much on « We » as on « Them », they were designed to sanctify their mission in the war against terrorism as divinely inspired. The explanation of why democracy suffers in so many Muslim countries has more to do with historical, political, cultural and economic than religious factors. The absence, if not the decline, of free Islamic thought stems from the importance of military stakes and calculations as well as the economic interests of Arab political regimes, including Western States. Post-independent political leaders in Arab countries politicize religious issues to serve their interests.

Only ideology is likely to streamline the Islamic program. Each ideology revolves around certain concepts and claims that distinguish it from other ideologies and endow it with a specific structure or morphology. According to political theorist Michael Freeden, « At the centre of any analysis of ideologies is the proposition that they are characterized by a morphology that displays fundamental, adjacent and peripheral concepts ». What makes a ideology political is that its concepts and claims select, privilege or narrow the social meanings related to the exercise of power in society. Political facts do not speak for themselves. Different ideologies provide divergent interpretations of what the facts may mean. Each ideology is an example of imposing a model of how we interpret (or misinterpret) facts, events, circumstances and political actions. The way of seeing things and understanding the social reality is not an entirely independent act, but linked to the representations mediated by the (re)production structures of meaning over time throughout society. We must not lose sight of the inevitably political function of ideology. It is not only a recipe of how to put a system of thoughts together properly. On the contrary, it is an agenda of things to discuss, questions to ask, assumptions to be made. Ideology is inextricably linked to the many ways in which power is exercised, justified and modified in a society. It constitutes the cement that binds theory and practice by directing and organizing political action in accordance with general rules and cultural codes of conduct.

The real question to ask about the future is not « what will we have to do tomorrow? » but rather « what we have to do and what we can to do today to rise to the challenges of tomorrow?”. The logic implies that it is necessary to make more efforts now to do less tomorrow. To live in security tomorrow means to act today. Many ideas are likely to lead gradually to the weakening of terrorist organizations. More often than not, these ideas are expressed in general terms « We have to do », « … governments must … », « … need to strengthen cooperation … », « If the government had done that, we could have avoided … », etc. The question: Why was it not done? But as politics is the art of the possible, it is quite possible that the situation will deteriorate further, especially with the rise of tensions between the great powers. Strategic mistrust will reduce the exchange of intelligence, direct human and financial resources needed to the preparation of conventional wars to the detriment of terrorism and other asymmetric threats, the return of wars by proxy, and so on.

Indeed, reflecting an analysis (however brilliant) into political lines that must in turn be expressed into operational strategies is both a difficult exercise and a complex process. Bernard Brodie rightly notes: »Strategic thinking, or ‘theory’ if one prefers, is nothing if not pragmatic. Strategy is a ‘how to do it’ study, a guide to accomplishing something and doing it efficiently. As in many other branches of politics, the question that matters in strategy is: will the idea work? More important, will it be likely to work under the special circumstances under which it will next be tested? […] Above all, strategic theory is a theory for action« . The most urgent thing in the development of a counter-terrorism strategy is to return to the UN framework and to stop the strategies of « regime change » especially in Syria.

So it’s not enough for the idea to be interesting. Indeed, everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. The current counter-terrorism struggle can be summarized in this way. The aim to fight Al-Qaeda, Daesh and associated groups is on everyone’s lips, but no one is making the concessions necessary to achieve this goal. The great absent in this struggle is the UN. As a result, each State has its own list of terrorist organizations. An approach within the framework of the United Nations could have achieved the necessary consensus. It is sufficient to note that the interventions in Iraq, Syria, Africa, etc. are carried out outside the United Nations. Since no single definition of terrorism has been universally recognized or reached by consensus, the search for an adequate definition is still relevant. The return to international law and the UN framework are likely to clarify the issues and the means.

There is no definition of terrorism, and probably it will not exist in the foreseeable future for the simple reason that there is not one terrorism but several terrorisms, different in time and space, in their motivations, in their manifestations and in their objectives. The thinking on the terrorism phenomenon is constantly evolving. Achieving a consensus definition has more practical advantages than simply a better understanding of terrorism. The absence of such a definition does not mean that terrorism can not be studied or fought. The real problem is that the term « terrorism » is used as an ideological weapon rather than as an instrument of analysis. Terrorism is a challenge to manage. It is useful to point out, however, that the lack of a clear and unanimous definition has seriously hampered the fight against terrorism. The confusion reigning around Islam, Islamism, and terrorism could have been avoided. Be able to characterize terrorism is also be able to define the necessary means to deal with it; it is also be able (or not) to define terrorists and justify (or not) any appropriate action. A consensus on these issues will be more likely to emerge within the UN.

In the immediate future, the urgency is to foil any attack attempt; this task is mainly the responsibility of the security and intelligence services. But in the long term, it should be noted that the fight against terrorism is not merely a technical issue. The risk of terrorism seems to be a dynamic condition that is closely linked to other forms of national and international crises. It is essentially a political issue. Depoliticization occurs by constructing a universe of meaning in which specific deficiencies need to be corrected through more coordination means and information exchange. Depoliticization occurs when challenges are represented as purely technical problems and the interventions envisaged are conceived as purely technical solutions. P. Loizos suggests that « we need to understand not only a personal predisposition to violence, but we must also ask questions about the time, place and choice of victims. » Problems considered as technical are simultaneously and automatically made non-political, and this is precisely the case with the fight against terrorism. Condemning and calling for a minute of silence is not a strategy, much less a policy. The responsibility of the policy is to act, to provide solutions and to protect the people.

As soon as terrorism is understood as the « evil » in terms of deficiencies rather than in terms of power relations and as a product of these relationships, this leads to the depoliticization of this scourge. Technical problems require technical solutions. But terrorism is anything but a technical problem. Terrorism is by its nature an organized and planned or political event – although random events can obviously terrorize. Lutz Klinkhammer, a historian of the German occupation of Italy, notes that: « So far, there is a lack of answers to questions like: ‘Why this place and not another?’, ‘Why this region and not the next?’, ‘Why are the people killed are from this area?’, ‘Why did it happen that particular day?’ […].We must be able to find an answer to this question: Why are massacres taking place in some cases but not in others even if the circumstances are similar? Why such a concentration of massacres in the region of Arrezo but not in the neighboring region of Siena? « . This type of question seems necessary to understand the terrorism (s) and to be able to put in place strategies to counter it.

Depoliticization leads to the treatment of symptoms and privilege the safety approach by neglecting prevention. There is no possibility of a united front against terrorism (especially outside the UN). Only the development of a united front against social and international injustice could contribute to a front against terrorism. The link between security and development is evident. The transformative power of development is known. But what kind of development is appropriate for peace? This fundamental issue is at the heart of the debate on the link between underdevelopment and armed violence. Political institutions and not economic conditions, demography or geography, are the most important factors in the emergence of political instability. There are objective reasons why democratic systems are more equipped to cope with social violence, including terrorism. The status quo is unsustainable in the Arab countries, and it is uncertain whether the transition will be short or will take place without violence. An enlightening and enlightened political voluntarism is necessary.

Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen

Who is Dr. Tewfik Hamel?

Tewfik Hamel is a Algerian researcher in Military History & Defense Studies at CRISES (Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Humanities and Social Sciences) of Paul Valéry University in Montpellier and consultant. In charge of research at the Foundation for Political Innovation (2008-2009), Tewfik Hamel is a member of RICODE (Interdisciplinary research Network « colonization and Decolonization ») and the Reading Committee of the Geostrategic Review (geopolitical Academy of Paris). He is also the editor of the French version of the African Journal of Political Science (Algeria), a correspondent for The Maghreb and Orient Courier (Belgium) and a member of the Cabinet de Conseil Strategia (Madrid).

Tewfik Hamel is the author of numerous publications in collective works as well as in major newspapers specialized in France and the Arab world (Global Security, National Defense Review, Geo-Economics, Geostrategics, STRATEGIA, Common Market and European Union Review, Materials for the History of Our Time, NAQD, Magazine of Political Studies & International Relations, etc.). Author of reports on the geostrategic situation in the Middle East and North Africa, his latest study is entitled « Hybrid security threats: what answers to the crime-terrorism junction? » (National Institute for Global Strategy Studies, Presidency of the Republic, Algiers, 2017). His article in the magazine Global Security was published in the United States under the title « The Fight Against Terrorism and Crime: A Paradigm Shift? An Algerian Perspective « .

Mr. HAMEL particularly wishes to thank Professor Jacques ABEN (University of Montpellier, France).

Published in American Herald Tribune, July 10, 2017: http://ahtribune.com/politics/1773-tewfik-hamel-terrorism-risks.html

In Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.110717.htm

Publié dans In English

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