Hostilities by nationals in foreign service
January 3, 2020 by Sergei Oudman
Over the past few years it has become evident that both Iraq and Syria have turned into failed states. The Islamic State (IS before that ISIS) saw the opportunity and took it while in Iraq al-Maliki was consolidating his base of power. The same happened in Syria where al-Assad is fighting for his own survival. The similarities are plenty, both cling to power at the expense of their own nation, fueling ethnic and religious strife for the next decades to come. Even if ISIS is defeated the damage will already have been done and the lack of social cohesion in the region and respective states will be deteriorated thus far that it will be extremely hard to consolidate peace and stability.
Much can be said about the conflicts that are raging at the moment. For a long time the international community has looked at the situation in Syria and despite the words of condemnation no intervention is in sight. And why would the West do this? Recent bombardments of the IS forces in order to alleviate the Yazidi show that they slowed their advance. But in order to stop it more is needed, and it is not just an intervention force. The other, more urgent matter, is that of local recruitment in the West by radical Islamic groups. This has been an ongoing process for the past 15 years, and during the past 15 years this problem has been marginalized and underestimated. Even at this moment these groups have developed a network of recruitment and support. These recruits are being send to the Middle East, and if they survive, bring back their knowledge and training skills to be passed on. These groups are continuously being empowered via experience in the battle field and use the loopholes in the law and rule of law in the West to create a foothold and base of operations.
Many countries have laws that prevent their nationals, be it autochthonous or not, to serve or at least be recruited at their own territory in a foreign army or force that is not engaged in hostilities against the host state. Strangely enough this is being permitted because many administrations see groups like ISIS or the Syrian opposition forces not as a nation state army that are engaged in direct warfare with them. The reason some states allow has to do with either enforcement or convenience. It is a complex problem that is being underestimated. Jurisprudence has not been developed in many cases, and the current situation worldwide lingers of procrastination. The problem itself is not yet apparent.
Citizenship in a state brings rights but also responsibilities. Nation states need to take a good luck at their current laws and, if they make any changes, enforcing them properly without damaging freedoms. The process of designating groups as terrorist organizations also needs an overhaul. However, one of the most important factors of democracy is the possibility to make your voice being heard and to have a say in policy via polity groups. If people skip this and jump to arms instead we are feeding future conflicts at home.
This post was originally written at my personal blog in 2014. After 6 years this discussion is still ongoing. What to do with those that fought for ISIS and want to return "home"?