G7’s neglect of ISIL threat underlines its irrelevance

ISIL militants taking position on Iraq-Syria border

ISIL militants taking position on Iraq-Syria border

How should the G7 summit have marked the first anniversary of the June 10 fall of Mosul to ISIL? Indeed, should they have acknowledged that dreadful marker of ISIL’s ambitions at all? Yes, not in words but with actions, or at least the promise of some action to counter the group’s spread.

On Tuesday, the day after the summit ended, ISIL’s Libyan franchise seized a power plant close to Sirte. This represented remarkable progress just eight months since it first came to attention in Libya by capturing the city of Derna. Now, it’s feared that ISIL may exploit Libya’s chaos to stage attacks elsewhere. Then, the G7 will presumably be a great deal more focused.

The G7 – the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan – is supposed to informally agree on ways to deal with problems. Consequently, along with the sanctions designed to punish Russia for its aggression in Ukraine and woolly but well-meant plans for “the decarbonisation of the global economy”, one might have expected the G7 to address the issue of ISIL. It is, after all, the most profound security threat facing the world.

Instead, there was Barack Obama’s bald admission that “we don’t yet have a complete strategy”. Perhaps it was a disingenuous, devilishly clever ploy to lull the rainmakers of ISIL. Unfortunately though, it’s more likely to have been the honest truth. Despite the 400 military trainers thought to be heading from the US to Iraq’s Anbar province, there is no appetite for a boots-on-the-ground campaign to smash ISIL and sweep the debris into the dustbin of history. More dispiritingly, there seems an apparent strategy bypass as well on two other countries dangerously affected by radicalism – Nigeria and Tunisia. Both are key. Nigeria, because Boko Haram has declared allegiance to ISIL. And Tunisia, because it is the group’s biggest manpower source with anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 of its citizens in its ranks.

This year’s G7 host, German chancellor Angela Merkel, was punctilious about forming an outreach group that included the Iraqi, Tunisian and Nigerian leaders. Each of them arrived in the Bavarian Alps bearing a wish list, but there has been little indication that the G7 leaders agreed a strategy of assistance.

First, Iraq. It was barely a week ago in Paris that prime minister Haider Al Abadi made known that there was no more money for fresh arms contracts. Unnamed senior Iraqi officials added that it might be hard even to pay six million government workers next month. Add to that the reports that began to emerge in May of complaints against the Iraqi government from senior Sunni leaders in Anbar. Sheikh Wissam Hardan, co-founder in 2006 of the US-backed Sahwa or Sunni Awakening movement against Al Qaeda, said that some of his fighters had not received arms, money or supplies for 15 months and this has driven them to ISIL. “The government destroyed the Sahwa,” he said, explaining that it was not ideology but base incentives that were forcing his men to cleave to the limited order and local authority represented by ISIL. If the G7 did nothing else, it could at least ensure that the Sahwa fighters were paid and kept on side.

Second, Tunisia. Once said to shine in the aftergloom of the Arab Spring, the country is dangerously volcanic, with a 25 per cent unemployment rate and a government that seems disinclined to end the culture of crony capitalism. Before the revolution that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the telecoms and air-transport industries accounted for 21 per cent of total profits but only 3 per cent of private-sector output and 1 per cent of jobs. Today, the country doesn’t even have an open skies agreement (limiting its tourism potential), for fear of annoying the inefficient national airline, its unions and powerful people with a stake in the status quo. Even though Mr Obama has said he will designate Tunisia a major non-Nato ally, what the country needs is the sort of international investment that Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s Egypt is enjoying. That’s where the G7 could help. As Rached Ghannouchi, president of the opposition Ennahdha party, recently put it: “That the Tunisian model – harmony between Islam and democracy, security and human rights, stability and prosperity – succeeds is important not just for Tunisia, but for global security.”

Last, Nigeria. When former president Goodluck Jonathan decided it was time to tackle Boko Haram, he managed a minor miracle, dealing major blows to the terrorist group in a way that hadn’t happened in the previous five years. The Nigerian military, with a little help from “trainers” from South Africa and Russia, and backed by the forces of neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, retook territory in the north east.

Now, the new man in charge, former general Muhammadu Buhari, wants serious help to fight Boko Haram. For, with the group’s leadership still intact, it may still have the ability to regroup and rearm. Back in February, the Pentagon said the US was discussing its participation in a task force with African nations to help Nigeria build up its counterterrorism capabilities. This is the sort of assistance money can’t easily buy and that several of the G7 countries could offer at short notice.

For the G7 to address none of this would reinforce the perception of irrelevance that has hung over it for years. That said, it is, admittedly, a long list and the G7’s defence will probably be the same as for Mr Obama: the mess is not our fault. In any case, no one has a better idea.