Munich Security Report details France and Russia’s foreign fighter problem

Maxime H. Dschihadist aus Frankreich

New figures compiled by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political for the Violence for the Munich Security Report show that by now 1200 fighters from France and 500-600 from Germany and the UK respectively have traveled to Syria and Iraq. Russia meanwhile has seen even more fighters leave for the region. According to data presented in the paper 800-1500 went to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist groups.

France, Germany and Britain are the EU countries with the largest contingent of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, according to new data from the first Munich Security Report. Even more fighters stem from Russia.

The data is part of the Munich Security Report, 70 pages long, published this year for the first time prior to the three-day meeting scheduled for early February. It is intended as a primer for the conference and presents some food for thought for the host country as well. Last year’s conference was marked, among other things, by the announcement of leading German politicians that Berlin was ready to play a more active role internationally.

But a new survey conducted by TNS Infratest for the Munich Security Report shows that Germans remain skeptical of a more active German engagement in international crises. Only 34 percent (2014: 37) are in favor of a stronger engagement, while 62 percent say Germany should continue to exercise restraint (2014: 60).

This is one of a several new and recent polls featured in the Munich Security Report titled "Collapsing order, reluctant guardians". The document introduces the major issues of the current international policy agenda as seen through the lens of the Conference organizers and a host of global think thanks which collaborated on the report.

Divided into four sections the publication shines a spotlight on key actors, major hot spots and emerging challenges on the global stage before suggesting to readers noteworthy reports or books if they want to dive deeper into certain issues.

Conversation starter

To be sure, the Munich Security Report offers no exhaustive treatment or possible solutions for today’s most pressing international relations topics. But that was not the intention of the publication as Conference chairman Wolfgang Ischinger, states in his introduction.

"The report is meant, first and foremost, as a – hopefully thought provoking – conversation starter for our conference," writes Ischinger.

"It’s a good development," said Thorsten Benner, head of Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute and a regular at the Conference. "It shows that the Munich Security Conference is really committed to content, that it is committed to providing policy makers and analysts with the latest thinking on these issues and that they do that with the necessary humility."

Another long-time participant, James Davis, professor of international politics at the University of St. Gallen concurs: "It adds a number of important questions even if it doesn’t provide any real answers to them. I think it should be understood as it is advertised to be – an invitation to dialogue."

Both Davis and Benner highlight the section on rising powers and whether some of them are "free riders" as a valuable starting point for further discussion in Munich and beyond.

Another important question posed is "whether the current instabilities we see in the international system are a function of a collapsing order or of a failure on the part of the United States to lead," noted Davis.

Data from the World Economic Forum featured in the Report suggests there is a wide-spread perception of a global leadership crisis. Large majorities from the World Economic Forum’s knowledge network across all world regions agree or strongly agree when asked whether there is a leadership crisis in world today.

Meanwhile most Americans feel that their country, long-considered the world’s leader, is less important as a global leader than a decade ago, according to Chicago Council on Global Affairs study. While 48 percent of Americans think the US plays a less important role, only 21 percent say it is more important now than 10 years ago.

Public document

A third reading suggestion per Benner, "in terms of new and up-and coming topics is information warfare and in general asymmetric warfare which we have seen in the case of Ukraine and they highlight that very well in the report."

For instance, a majority of Russians (59 percent), according to a survey compiled by the Levada Center and featured in the report, think that Russian media present an objective picture of events in Ukraine. But 54 percent of those polled are convinced that Ukraine is conducting an information war against Russia while 55 percent are certain that the US and the West are waging an information war versus Russia.

While the Munich Security Conference itself is not open for the general public, even though its key debates will be streamed live via DW’s homepage, the Munich Security Conference report is not just geared for Conference participants, but available for the interested public as well.

“I think this is an important effort to educate the public about the important topics we must talk about and it can also help to correct some of the misconceptions about the conference”, said Davis.

You can read the Munich Security Report here.

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