The Daesh Dilemma ‘Wait and See’ or R2P?

Brian Adams*

Brisbane, 29 July, 2014 (Alochonaa): The best current thinking on how to defeat Daesh in the Middle East is that it will take a coordinated, two-pronged strategy.

First, it is necessary to stop their geographic and ideological growth. Geographic containment can only occur through a coordinated strategy incorporating the four main Islamic powers in the region: Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Division between these powers is a principle facilitator of Daesh’s success.

Second, there needs to be a legitimate ideological counter to the Daesh narrative of violent redemption through education, and mainstream and social media.

Let’s say that we are able to achieve this strategy, despite the difficulty of the latter initiative and the apparent impossibility of the former. We still have not defeated Daesh. We have not removed them or neutralised their threat. We’ve only stopped their growth. What then is our next step?

It is this question that raises the real dilemma in the Daesh problem, the real challenge to international norms.

I see two possible paths this next step could take. Unfortunately, neither of these presents a future that bodes well for the inhabitants of the land under Daesh control.

The first possible path is a wait-and-see strategy. By keeping it within a defined geographic region and leaving it as the principle power in that area, the successful containment of Daesh becomes a de facto acknowledgement or acceptance of the Daesh state. In today’s world, a state cannot endure in isolation. It will either have to come into the international state system, which means it will have to acknowledge the legitimacy of other states and moderate its own agenda, or it will collapse under its own weight/burn itself out.

Alas, a logical extension of this strategy is that the population within that region will also have to be contained or risk Daesh metastasizing to other areas. In other words, we would be condemning an already oppressed and terrorised populace to an indefinite continuation of oppression and terrorism. Furthermore, it is not unrealistic to suspect that, once its energies cannot be spent expanding its territory, Daesh will seek to consolidate its control over the population within its territory.

The second possible path is an application of some form of theResponsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, where states legitimise intervention into the internal governance of a state to protect a population (often minority) from unjust and cruel oppression. The justification for such an intervention would be a very easy argument to make. In fact, this would be an ideal scenario for calling upon R2P justification.

However, the justification of such an intervention is not the difficulty in this possible path; the difficulty lies in its implementation. Currently there is no state capable of committing the (human) resources necessary to invade and remove them from power that is willing to do so. Yet, even if this were to change in the future and one or more nations were to make the commitment, the cost to the population would be devastatingly high. Daesh has adopted the Hamas tactic of embedding personnel and core military and communications infrastructure in populated areas. Thus, in essence, an attack on Daesh becomes an attack on the broader population.

The dilemma with this scenario is a moral one: what to do for the population under the control of Daesh. Do we let them suffer under the horrible interpretation of Islamic governance, or do we apply the well-developed doctrine of Responsibility to Protect and inflict great casualties upon them?


*Dr Brian J. Adams is the Director of the Centre for Interfaith & Cultural Dialogue (ICD) at Griffith University.As a former Rotary Peace Fellow, Brian is primarily focused on promoting respect and understanding across cultural, religious and organisational boundaries. This work is supported by a Ph.D. (political science) in deliberative dialogue and two Master degrees in community development and conflict resolution. Crossposted via medium and with author’s permission. 


** is not responsible for any factual mistakes (if any) of this analysis. This analysis further is not necessarily representative of’s view. We’re happy to facilitate further evidence-based submissions on this topic. Please send us your submission at

Categories: IR

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