Will Kurdistan Be the Katechon of a New Middle East?

The Syrian rebels and ISIS have lost important core areas that would have made ISIS- and rebel-held areas politically and economically viable, including Fallujah, Mosul, and Aleppo. International diplomatic meetings like the one in Astana, Kazakhstan signal the potential for a new stage, in which the combatants and foreign powers will attempt to reach an agreement on what the new post-war political landscape will look like.

Any peace plan will have to contend with the growing power of the Kurdish regions in Syria and Iraq, who are now, when taken together, a significant military power in the region. Kurdish YPG, YPJ, and Peshmerga militias are now considered the most effective fighting forces in the region. They were the first to deal ISIS significant setbacks, and as a core participant in the SDF, the YPG/YPJ are now poised to take the ISIS capital Raqqa.

The Kurds also possess an overwhelming force multiplier. They enjoy the support of several world powers: the US, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Russia, for example — some of whom have recently pledged to send the Kurds more arms. Turkey is isolated in its insistence that the US and others stop supporting the Kurds, and in asking the Kurds to lay down the arms their Western allies are supplying. As Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations observes, Kurdish military power “may prove to be an opportunity for U.S. policymakers to secure American interests in a turbulent region.”

This last statement brings to mind Schmitt’s rediscovery of the katechon as a significant concept in the theological foundations of Eurocentric international law. Another post discussed the katechon as a special designation pertinent to the Christian empires of the Middle Ages. As the “restrainer of the Antichrist” the katechon was more than a Christian kingdom. It was a special category of state that was given what Schmitt calls a “commission,” and with it, “concrete tasks and missions.” Schmitt’s language of ‘commission’ and ‘task’ is profound for reasons that will be discussed later. The important point is that the state (Schmitt uses the terms ‘crown’ and ‘Empire’) is given a mission, a goal beyond that of simply maintaining dominion over a nation or people.

While this phenomenon was proper to the European Middle Ages, in his book The Nomos of the Earth, Schmitt points to echoes of the katechon in other places and times.

[A]t one point England claimed to be the center of the earth, to have ceased being the administrator of the former European blanace, and to have become the representative of a new global equilibrium…. But the island of England was unable to achieve its goal of global equilibrium. England became the traditional power for certain areas of the Mediterranean and the passage to India. Here, she played the role of a katechon. (238)

Kurdistan is not an independent state, but is emerging as the katechon of a new Middle East as it has been tasked with the restrainment of Islamic jihadism, particularly ISIS. In this sense, Kurdistan is emerging as a new katechon. The scope and longevity of this new designation remains to be seen, but it could lead to the transformation of this proto-state into a historical power.


For Schmitt, the commissio, from which his usage of ‘commission’ derives, and the notion of the ‘concrete task’ always relates to the state of exception. As sovereignty is the ability to decide on the exception (to suspend or set aside all or part of existing positive law) the concept of commissio, as an instrument of sovereign power, contains within it this ambivalent relationship to law. The commission, in other words, is a creature of the executive, and as such, a instrument of the exception. The limit figure of the commissio is the commissary dictatorship, and Schmitt discusses this figure at great lengths in his 1921 book On Dictatorship (Die Diktatur).

The katechon, possessing a commissio, therefore stands with respect to international law in a position analogous to the exception in domestic law. The history of the modern state of Israel, particularly its quasi-legal or ambiguous status in international law, should be re-written bearing this in mind.

Like what you read? Give A Carl Schmitt Reader a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.