NATO Should Fight ISIS in Europe*

By Stephen Bryen - edited by Rachel Ehrenfeld
Monday, March 28th, 2016 @ 7:45PM

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Europe is in a war, but it has yet to acknowledge it. Neither does NATO which has not been called upon to fight the war. All of this is very strange because the turmoil being caused by ISIS in Europe poses a considerable threat to peace and security everywhere.

President Obama, as is well known,  belittles ISIS’s threat as non-existential. European cities and citizens reeling from ISIS’s attacks know otherwise. Moreover, we know ISIS was planning an attack on a Belgian nuclear reactor and was collecting data on other nuclear installations.  Extensive ISIS-made surveillance film captured by police shows dramatic evidence that ISIS was well along on organizing such action. We also know that members of the Brussels cell are on the loose.

There are different theories about ISIS’s nuclear objectives. These include: (1) blowing up a nuclear facility; (2) stealing radioactive material for a “dirty” bomb; (3) kidnapping nuclear officials and holding them for ransom; (4) sabotaging power plants and causing them either to go off line or unrepairable; (5) crashing an airplane or a drone into one of the power plants in Belgium.

Two of the bombers who attacked Brussels international airport Zaventem apparently were airport employees who with employee pass had free access to the facility. Had they chosen to do so, they could have allowed hijackers into the airport and the airplanes.

That ISIS has penetrated critical infrastructure facilities in Belgium is clear. These include nuclear power plants. We know of at least two Jihadists employed at the Doel nuclear plant who left Belgium for Syria to fight with ISIS. One of them, Ilyass Boughalab, is believed to have been killed in Syria, and another was briefly jailed for terrorism in 2014 before disappearing. And in November 2015, there was an unexplained explosion at the Doel Nuclear Power Station, which caused significant damage.

Tthe security situation overall in critical infrastructure facilities in Belgium is terrible. Israeli security had warned the country about the airport’s voluntarily, to no effect. Turkish authorities repeatedly warned about the suicide bombers and their colleagues, who they twice deported. Again nothing. It is likely Brussels got many other warnings and just sat on its hands.

The abysmal security situation in Belgium and to other European nations is a major threat not only to all their neighbors but also to the United States and many others countries, especially if there was a nuclear incident. After the Chernobyl melted down in Ukraine, the radiation fallout has spread all over Europe.  Even this year, 29 years after the disaster, forest fires in Ukraine have spread radioactive debris into Europe as far north as Scandinavia and to Italy in the south. The danger of a local nuclear plant explosion in the heart of densely populated Europe could effect hundreds of millions of people.

It is fairly clear that police and law enforcement authorities in Belgium, as in the rest of Europe are unreliable because they lack any real ability to deal with the local terrorist threat posed by ISIS and other Jihadists who flood into Europe. The Europeans’ lack of political will to invest in manpower, know-how and training to handle the situation, has turned Europe into a ticking time bomb.

What is needed is a military intervention managed by NATO. It is odd that NATO members have no lack of enthusiasm for the bombing of Libya, Iraq and Syria, but have nothing to say about the threat at their very doorstep. NATO has yet to hold a meeting on confronting ISIS’s threat in Europe or even declaring war on this terrorist organization.

How could NATO help? There are five major steps a NATO intervention can achieve:

1. Supply a multinational force to fight ISIS within Europe. This is important because a multinational force is less likely to be swayed by corrupt politicians and weak administration.  The force has the equipment in the form of armored vehicles, drones, helicopters, and communications to carry out all the needed tasks.  Putting NATO in charge will put professionals on the job and commit everyone to the goal of eliminating ISIS.

2. Assures far better targeting and coordination by bringing professional military command and control assets into play to fight the threat. This will immediately result in a huge improvement in going after targets and neutralizing them.

3. Assures more professional and decisive action against terrorists including emergency military courts to try those who are captured and incarcerate them for very long prison terms. The Nuremberg Military Tribunal is a good precedent to charge ISIS, as were the Nazis in 1945, in crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court’s definition of “Crimes against humanity” to include “any of the following acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

  • murder;
  • extermination;
  • enslavement;
  • deportation or forcible transfer of population;
  • imprisonment;
  • torture;
  • rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
  • persecution against an identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious or gender grounds;
  • enforced disappearance of persons;
  • the crime of apartheid;
  • other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious bodily or mental injury.

4. NATO will use professional military protection over critical infrastructure assets including nuclear power plants, nuclear industry, railroad, metro and airports, communications hubs, water supply and food distribution, and other critical government agencies. Thus, NATO will guard essential facilities and issue alerts and warnings of all threats. NATO would also carry out background checks on employees and others with access to critical infrastructure to ferret out ISIS infiltrators and spies.

5. NATO would deploy forces and intelligence assets across national borders to shut down ISIS links and break the back of their organization. This stands in contrast to national law enforcement groups that fight among themselves and not surprisingly fail to cooperate across national boundaries.

Fighting ISIS should be the priority of any self-respecting European government, and it should be the first duty of NATO to go after ISIS within its jurisdiction. Indeed, this is the only practical way to get rid of this menace.

 

* A version of this commentary is posted on Technology and Security.  

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