The violent extremists of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have seized major cities and swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq and are seeking to create a caliphate over the entire Muslim world. The group poses a threat not only to the region but to global security. The battle-hardened forces of ISIL include hundreds of fighters from Europe and Chechnya and even some from the United States. Some of these fighters will likely take their warped ideology and violent skills with them when they return home.
Why then, in the face of this clear and present danger to global security, has the United States not joined with other countries in bringing this matter to the UN Security Council? Isn’t that why the UN was created, to mobilize cooperative action in response to international security threats? The failure to work through the UN diminishes the prospects for building an effective international coalition against ISIL. It reduces the repertroire of potential responses to the crisis and contributes to the atrophy of the UN and of multilateralism in general.
Thirteen years ago, in response to the 9/11 attacks, the response was very different. The Security Council met immediately and adopted a wide range of measures to harness international action against al-Qaeda. Most significant was Security Council Resolution 1373, which required every country to freeze the financial assets of al-Qaeda terrorists and their supporters, deny them travel or safe haven, prevent terrorist recruitment and weapons supply, and cooperate with other countries in information sharing and criminal prosecution. In its response to 9/11, the Council also expanded existing sanctions on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, created new bodies to monitor and assist compliance with counterterrorism measures, and established a wide range of counterterrorism programs that have helped, along with U.S. military pressures, to diminish the global threat from al-Qaeda.
Contrast that robust response to the meager efforts of today. The Security Council Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee recently added names of ISIL leaders to its existing sanctions list, but it has not taken effective action to ensure compliance with those measures. Although ISIL is mercilessly pursuing its aim of creating a terrorist quasi-state in Iraq and Syria, the Council has not met to address the growing threat. It has not adopted new measures to suppress ISIL and cut off its supply of money and recruits. It has not discussed needed diplomatic efforts to encourage more inclusive political governance in Iraq and Syria.
It’s time to mount a vigorous global response commensurate with the magnitude of the threat. Here are some of the diplomatic and political steps the United States and other states might consider through the UN:
- Impose an arms embargo along with rigorous financial and travel sanctions against the leaders of ISIL and their supporters and prohibit any form of assistance for the organization and its operations. Create a special sanctions committee and panel of experts to facilitate and monitor compliance and to recommend further measures to isolate and suppress the organization.
- Join with neighboring states in convening an international conference for Iraq, to assess the current security and political challenges facing the country and the region and to develop appropriate diplomatic, political, and if necessary security responses. Work with the government of Iraq to implement the recommended responses.
- Re-convene the Geneva diplomatic process on Syria, with the full participation of Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other neighboring states, to renew the search for a negotiated solution to the Syrian civil war and enhanced security for neighboring states.
The proposed actions are no panacea for peace. UN engagement will not magically resolve the deep crises afflicting Iraq, Syria and the region. More concerted multilateral action can help, however, and at a minimum can heighten global involvement and help to broaden the global alliance against ISIL.