Paris attacks and foreign fighters. A research agenda

The dramatic Paris attacks has raised attention (and concern) over the phenomenon of the so-called “foreign fighters“. Several scholars have already focused on the role played by foreign insurgents fighting on behalf of local rebel groups. (See for instance the detailed historical analysis, from the Texas revolution to Afghanistan, by David Malet). Since the end of the Cold War sub-national and transnational actors have played a growing role in global politics. The foreign fighters are the most recent and controversial example of the increasing relevance of transnational actors, especially in contemporary warfare.

Recent research has tried to track “Western” foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. For instance, the ICSR team has created a unique database with the social media profiles of nearly 200 British, European and Western fighters in Syria. Others consider the current conflict against the ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) as a “game changer” for the extremist threat to Western countries. The border between domestic and international security appears as blurring due to the possible menaces posed by those fighters, mainly in terms of consequences related to their experience on the ground (blowback effects, terrorist attacks, radical propaganda, etc.).

In next weeks/months also Venus in Arms will focus on the issue of foreign fighters. Through the case of the ISIL  we are interested in analyze the process of learning and adaptation of foreign insurgents in contemporary conflicts. In a forthcoming book chapter we investigate the effective extent of the role played by the foreign fighters in the process of elaboration and diffusion of approaches, tactics and lessons learnt in a cross-time analysis (2011-2014).

Despite a mounting interest over such issue, a scarce attention has been devoted to the mechanisms through which the foreign fighters are trained and, above all, the ways adopted for spreading military innovation and adaptation across conflicts and crises. From a bottom-up approach focused on foreign fighters, the book chapter (more details on the book  in next weeks..) examines how the lessons learnt derived from other conflicts have affected the ways through which insurgent organizations in Syria and Iraq changed to face new challenges on the ground. Thanks to primary and secondary sources, the study sheds light on the mechanisms of inter-organizational learning and the adoption of practices that come from the experience of foreign fighters.

Findings will allow to better assessing the role played by those fighters in contemporary warfare, illustrating the “institutionalization” of lessons learned in insurgent organizations.

Stay tuned…

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Borders in Transition: Rethinking Sovereignty, Domestic Politics and International Relations in the MENA Region

Venus in Arms recommends a very interesting conference: “Borders in Transition: Rethinking Sovereignty, Domestic Politics and International Relations in the MENA Region”. The event will take place at the European University Institute (EUI), Florence – 11-12 December 2014.

The conference is organized by the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies  and specifically by the project “Borderlands“, directed by Professor Raffaella Del Sarto.

Here you’ll find additional details on the conference. Here the Programme.

The conference sets out to explore the impact of the transition process in North Africa and the Middle East (MENA) on the nature and management of borders. Focusing on Libya, Egypt/Sinai, and Syria/Iraq, the conference addresses the following questions: Firstly, what are the implications of the altered nature of borders in the region for the notion of state sovereignty? Secondly, how did altered patterns of border management affect the role of specific local and societal actors? Thirdly, the conference will reflect on the regional and international dimension of these developments, including the implications for the EU–the ‘borderlands’ of the MENA region.

Registration for this event is mandatory.

See you there.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 22

This week out attention is still focused on the crises in Iraq and Syria.

The first suggestion is the detailed account provided by Air Force Times on the US air strikes in Syria. It was the first time the U.S. sent the F-22 Raptor into combat. Look also at Jane’s for the analysis of the ongoing military operation.

The crisis deeply involves several countries in the region. A relevant strategic actor is Turkey. Here the report on the clashes occurred at the Syria border. As stated in the article: “Turkey has begun to close some of its border crossings with Syria after about 130,000 Kurdish refugees entered the country over the weekend”.

In the meanwhile, two Chinese warships have docked at Iran’s principal naval port (Bandar Abbas) for the first time in history. According to The New York Times, the Iranian and Chinese Navies were scheduled to start joint exercises. The meeting was defined as a: “freindly visit”…

The situation in Libya is still dramatic unstable. Here you’ll find an interesting story on chemical weapons, international organizations and smuggling.

Finally, something completely different. Television and IR: Lost debuted 10 years ago (September 22, 2004). The (acclaimed and criticized) show, which represents a turning point for television series of our time, can be interpreted according to different paradigms of IR Theory (indeed Hume, Locke, Rousseau were among the main characters…). Venus in Arms is still thinking at a post on that…


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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 19

After long holiday, Venus in Arms is back. The summer has been intense, if not for Venus, at least for its creators (who tried to finish a book manuscript). And it was a very eventful – to say the least – August indeed in international politics. With clashes in Gaza stopping, attention remained directed to two major fronts. The first is Ukraine, where signs of unfreezing seem to emerge as this post is being published. The last days were still pretty tough, and with the President of the European Council in pectore, Polish PM Donald Tusk, calling for Europe not to fall into the traps that led to the Nazi invasion (of Poland) in September 1939 and Vladimir Putin sending “humanitarian aid” in Eastern Ukraine, the situation is still very uncertain. One of the constitutive elements of this uncertainty is “how far will Putin go”: Royal United Services Institute’s experts examine possible military strategies of Russia towards Ukraine.

In the meanwhile, Iraq and Syria are still on fire. The Islamic State’s fast appearance on the geopolitical map has been striking and left most observers as well as policy-makers pretty unsettled. President Obama’s prudence also surprised (and/or annoyed) those who wanted decisive action by the US. An article of a couple of weeks ago, however, sheds light on the domestic constraints to a more forceful US approach against ISIL.

NATO’s role in the two crises is still uncertain, and NATO troops moving eastwards these days are not (yet?) a clear clue of the alliance’s intentions.  Foreign Policy magazine’s David Francis reports on the troubles of the Alliance. A good read-ahead for the NATO Summit that will take place in Wales later this week.

The inevitable focus on Ukraine and the Middle But should not obscure that other events are unfolding. The Guardian reports on US action in Somalia to disrupt the al-Shabab network organization, which is far from being defeated according to the same report.

Finally, (the return of ?) power politics in Asia. New Indian PM Narendra Modi visited Tokyo and called for close cooperation between the two countries so that they can better cope with the growing Chinese presence in the region. More than twenty years  after the end of the Cold War, is it really time for the realization for an extended version of John Mearsheimer’s “back to the future”?



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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – Week 4

Quite difficult not to start with Ukraine, with the crisis apparently escalating (again). In the midst of several commentaries, data can be useful. Fivethirtyeight provides the usual insightful analysis on which regions might be the next Crimea, according to electoral, polling and demographic data.

A movie by David Cronenberg, a few years ago, beautifully reconstructed Russian mafia penetration in London. But Russian money as well might play a role in influencing UK stance on the Ukraine crisis. On Jonathan Hopkin and Mark Blyth offer a bleak but interesting picture of the links between London as a financial center and Russian money.  A catch-phrase: “(…) the Ukraine crisis has crystallized a broader trend in British politics: the increasingly subordinate attitude of the government toward the capital’s super-rich, many of whom are not even British citizens”.

Military transformation is taking place pretty much everywhere these days, in least in rhetoric. Israel has a long reputation of translating words into practice in the field, and here you can find more info on where that transformation is going: in a few words, more cyber and less tanks.

The US Army is also thinking about how to prepare for future challenges. A post appeared on Rand Corporation’s website pushes for the Army to remain “ready for battle” and avoid transforming itself in an organization devoted to nation-building or peace-support operations.

Finally, legendary reporter Seymour M. Hersh explores the international dimension of the Syrian civil conflict, providing a detailed account on intelligence that led to the escalation of the crisis, and Obama’s threat to intervene because of the alleged regime’s use of chemical weapons in August 2013. Hersh lucidly argues that intelligence on Syrian rebels developing their own gas was available, and that Erdogan’s government in Turkey was much more involved in helping rebels than generally recognized.





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