The politicization of justice: The current state of the International Criminal Court

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This article is written by Ari Salazar, a second year student studying International Relations at King’s College London. 

The 1990’s were characterized by a cumulative revolution of universal human rights norms, which catalyzed the formation of several ad hoc courts (De Hoon, 2017 ). As part of this normative effort, on July 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in The Hague as the first permanent international judicial body. Its inauguration marked an ambitious collective effort to secure global justice and end impunity for large-scale atrocities such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (ICC, 2018). But it also changed the dynamics between states and their own sovereign jurisdiction: the absolute power the Rome Statute bestowed on the supranational judges allowed the Court to hold state leaders accountable for their crimes (De Hoon, 2017). Currently, the Court is facing immense scrutiny, most notably around its decisions to prosecute heads of state. In particular, its overriding focus on Africa is heralding accusations of an anti-African bias and the general structural incompetence of its investigatory and prosecutorial strategies. The African Union has called for a ‘mass regional withdrawal’ of member states participating in the Rome Statute (Dickinson, 2009). The tensions between states under investigation, the African Union and the Court have led to a lack of co-operation between both sides, which is currently bearing a heavy weight on several of the Court’s operations. Over the past few years, the international community has witnessed the collapse of its most high-profile cases, based on lack of evidence and witness withdrawals. Furthermore, cases like Uganda, have raised alarm over the Court serving external political ends – or seeing its prosecutorial strategy impeded by national governments (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). Additionally, the strong regional backlash risks eroding the Court’s international legitimacy and prevents it from fulfilling its obligations as an external legislative body. Justice mechanisms rely on their widespread acceptance to fulfill their responsibilities (De Hoon, 2017). A most worrisome outcome is the window of opportunity this provides for impunity. For example, Sudanese president Al Bashir continues to evade prosecution due to the African Union’s non-compliance (LSE, 2007). Hence, the very task the ICC was set out to do, administering international justice, has become increasingly obstructed by aggressive local and regional politics (Roach, 2011).

This article seeks to investigate the political underpinnings of the Court’s deteriorating reputation through a case-by-case analysis, all the while observing how the political sphere overlaps with the ICC’s judicial agenda and vice versa. It demonstrates how the Court’s effectiveness is being hampered by both internally and externally vested political interests. The enquiry will first provide a brief theoretical overview on the intersections between law and politics, which aims to impart the reader with a lens of analysis. Second, it will delve into the local and international political dimensions of the Court’s activity to date in Uganda and Sudan. 

  1. Law and Politics: The ICC and the ‘Friend-Enemy’ Dichotomy

Before we delve into the intricacies of the controversy surrounding the Court’s jurisprudence, we must first and foremost understand it in context of a larger discussion addressing the intersections between law and politics. Rodman (2009) separates the debate into to schools of thought: Legal Traditionalists and Legal Pragmatists. On the one hand, Legal Traditionalists draw clear lines between international law and international politics. They emphasize the need for separation as quintessential in legitimizing the rule of law and building ethical legal precedents. By their definition, law must be apolitical to function. On the other hand, Legal Pragmatists, move away from such rigid legalism. They maintain that long-term stability can only be achieved through more lenient jurisprudence, and hence, must take political considerations into account (Rodman, 2009)

Considering, that judicial bodies justify their indictments largely on their apolitical integrity to defend their legal decisions – the debate on the distinction and definition between the two concepts is particularly relevant to the ICC (Tiemessen, 2014). For the purpose of this article, we will begin with Cerar’s general definitions of law and politics, before examining their functional nuances. According to Cerar (2009), politics is part of a process-related dimension: in which the political will is implemented as per the ‘social power and authority’ and constructed through ‘conflict and consensus’. On the other hand, law is the ‘binding value-normative system’ under the operational control of the state and international institutions – which aims to maintain justice and order by preventing domestic and international conflict. Cerar (2009) draws a comparison between politics and law based on their functionalities: as progressive and safe-guarding mechanisms. Although, he recognizes the autonomy of law – he insists that all judicial institutions are nevertheless a ‘partial reflection of individual or collective political decisions…which have assumed a legal form and nature.’ Expanding on this notion of pragmatist law,  Kircheimer warns us of the danger of institutions that legitimize their decisions based on their alleged ‘neutrality’ (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). In a recent interview, the ICC president defended the Court on the premise of its independence, ‘[t]here’s not a shred of evidence after three-and-a-half years that the court has done anything political. The court is operating purely judicially’ (Nouwen and Werner, 2010 ). Similarly, the Prosecutor emphasized ‘I apply the law without political considerations. But the other actors have to adjust to the law’ (Nouwen and Werner, 2010).  Based on this reasoning, the Court implies politics exists entirely separate to law and must be subordinated to the rules and principles of justice. Hence, the entirety of the Court’s existence rests on the assumption of it upholding its apolitical integrity (Roach, 2011). Building on these claims, Struett (2012) provides a helpful insight by elaborating on the inherently politicized nature of the Prosecutor’s role: considering that he or she is at the forefront of the conflict and an ‘unaccountable actor’, any action or inaction of the Prosecutor will have political consequences. Hence, it is important for the Court to acknowledge the political dimensions of its cases and be as transparent as possible, in order to avoid its practices becoming symptoms of lawfare (De Hoon, 2017).

Moreover, the Court’s public denial poses a structural problem, as it deflects discussions on the (intended or unintended) overlap of its verdicts with the political realm. As a result, the Court completely overlooks its own considerations of social power, legislative choice, prosecutorial discretion and judicial intervention – which all entail political dimensions (De Hoon, 2017). Furthermore, it bypasses the importance the highly contentious environment the Court operates in plays in determining all the relevant facts to the case.  The very selection of certain facts over others, along with whom it chooses to trial, inadvertently confronts the Court with a political stance (Koskenniemi, 2002). Hence, the autonomy of the law seemingly becomes infiltrated by politics when it circumscribes to the differentiation of adversaries (Cerar, 2009).

The risks of ‘polarized branding’ in Law and its darker undertones are delineated in Carl Schmitt’s ‘Concept of the Political’. Schmitt directs his focus on the functions of the political as a state-led mechanism of lawfare, that aims to distinguish ‘friends from enemies’ (Odysseos and Petito, 2006).  According to Schmitt, the constant threat of armed confrontation reinforces the friend-enemy classification process invoked by the polity – which uses the oppositional terms to justify its legitimacy. Collectivities have allies, ‘friends’, which secure their hard and soft power. The other, ‘enemy’, embodies the ‘constant threat’ to the order of the polity (Odysseos and Petito, 2006). He applies the friend-enemy dichotomy to humanitarian law: in which the ‘othering’ of a state’s adversary in the name of ‘justice, humanity, order or peace’ and charges of ‘crimes against humanity’ become a potent political weapon. By invoking a struggle on behalf of ‘humanity’, the ‘enemy of the state’ is simultaneously degraded to an ‘inhuman’ category – which exempts the state from any moral obligations (Luban, 2011). Nouwen and Werner (2010) refer to Schmitt’s lawfare critique, in their enquiry on the differentiation process of ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ in the ICC’s investigations and judicial proceedings. In doing so, they hold the Court accountable for having sacrificed the fundamental guiding principle of law, namely, justice, to the political criteria of parties to conflict. This article will partially draw on their analysis in its assessment of the political factors relevant to both case studies.

  1. The Ugandan State referral: Victor’s Justice?

The International Criminal Courts involvement vis-a-vis Uganda has been consistently subject to contention since its initial referral by the Ugandan government. The most immediate concerns address the accountability vacuum created by the unswerving bias of the investigation in favor of the Ugandan government (Langer, 2015). The conflict began in 2002, when the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) launched an insurgency against the Ugandan government. By 2003, the escalation in fighting led to a refugee crisis – with over 1.6 million displaced peoples falling victim to the war (Tearfund, 2007). The increasingly unstable conditions and shortage of aid attracted international attention and branded the crisis a ‘humanitarian emergency’. The failures of the Ugandan army to deter the threat and pursue possibilities for peace, along with President Musevini’s questionable domestic policies and allegations of corruption; subjected the state to sharpened criticism and external pressure (Tearfund, 2007). In 2003, much to the astonishment of the international community, Uganda sent an application to the Court calling attention to the large scale atrocities conducted by the LRA against the Acholi population (Dickinson, 2009). The self-referral was unanticipated, considering that the Rome Conference had primarily contemplated issues of sovereignty and state legitimacy, few had expected a member party to voluntarily invite the Court into its own territory and claim jurisdiction over its populace (Nouwen and Werner, 2010).  Conversely, if we operate under Schmitt’s assumption that “whoever invokes humanity wants to cheat”, it sheds some light on the Ugandan government’s readiness to abdicate its sovereignty to the Court (Odysseos and Petito, 2006). As previously mentioned, Schmitt is wary of any state using a ‘humanitarian argument’ to justify its military position (Luban, 2011). The Ugandan government was acutely aware that it was far from resolving the crisis, however,  the increased international scrutiny in conjunction with the falling contributions of international donors (which compromised 35-50% of Uganda’s income) pushed for a new security strategy. Nouwen and Werner (2010) separate the Ugandan government’s referral into two main tactical components: as an international rebranding campaign and a potent military strategy.

In a clever maneuver, the Ugandan government appropriated the Court’s determination to prove its practical efficiency as the safeguarding body of international justice, by using the self-referral as an opportunity for a rebranding campaign. By accusing the LRA of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Uganda invoked a humanitarian argument, which effectively put Schmitt’s friend-enemy hypothesis into action. The LRA transitioned from enemies of Uganda into enemies of ‘mankind’ and Uganda repainted itself as the ‘defender of humanity’ (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). In stark contrast to the previous criticism it had received for its domestic politics and UPDF operations, Uganda was now met with congratulatory remarks by the international community, praised for its philanthropic initiative (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). As Nettelfield (2010) rightly points out, war crime trials are meant to delegitimize acts of violence as acceptable political strategies, moreover, justice is put at risk if the war crime trials themselves become a political weapon. Allowing for the Prosecutor to openly favor the actions of one party, undermines notions of neutrality and the long-term legitimacy of the Court (Tiemessen, 2014) .

In addition to the self-referral facilitating a ‘rebranding campaign’, it also provided a potent security strategy. By inferring the LRA of ‘war crimes’ and ‘grave crimes against humanity’ the Ugandan government secured new means of defeating the rebel movement, as per the ICC indictment of high-profile LRA leadership and international assistance in the forms of economic and military aid (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). Likewise, the ICC provided Uganda with a significant regional leverage. The underlying power-politics were clear: any states seeking tensions with Uganda were synchronously challenging the hegemons of the international community. At the time, this balancing act was especially useful in providing Uganda with an alternative to declaring war on the Sudanese government, which had been supplying arms to the LRA –  and had, incidentally, recently made it onto the USA’s international terrorist list (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). Conjointly, Uganda applied its bargaining power to secure permission from both Sudanese and Congolese governments for cross-border operations against rebel fighters (BBC, 2004).

Insofar as the Ugandan government is accountable for abusing the instruments of justice for its political and military agenda, the Court is equally guilty of succumbing to such a political trap in the first place.  Since the official inauguration of the investigation, the ICC has through a series of diplomatic blunders, reinforced the friend-enemy dichotomy in service of Uganda’s security strategy and international reputation campaign (Tiemessen, 2014). A poor public relations strategy on part of the Court not only made it vulnerable to accusations of political bias – but also severely limited the development of an impartial prosecutorial strategy.  Upon receiving Uganda’s application, the Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, immediately released a joint-press statement, in which he underlined the international communities support in combating the LRA leadership alongside President Yoweri Musevini (Tearfund, 2007). In essence, the press-release was a formal establishment of the friend-enemy dichotomy: securing the LRA’s status as hostis humani generis: enemies of mankind, its initial introduction as a cooperative bystander arguably aiding its exemption from prosecution (International Criminal Court, 2004) . The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) took great care to cultivate a positive public image: proudly flaunting its relationship with the Ugandan government by organizing lavish parties and boat trips (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). Unsurprisingly, Moreno-Ocampo put himself in a tightly-knit diplomatic position, in wake of the Courts lack of police force, the investigation became highly dependent on the cooperation of the Ugandan government to secure necessary evidence (The Hague Institute for Global Justice, 2013).

To this date, the Court has at no point attempted to amend the double-standards: with a disproportionate ratio of five arrest warrants of LRA commanders shining in stark contrast to the absence of accusations targeting the UPDF. The Court defends its lack of examination on crimes perpetuated by the Ugandan leadership on the basis of their not fitting the ‘gravity’ threshold’ outlined in Article 17 (1) which would justify culpability (The Hague Institute for Global Justice, 2013).Moreover, the Courts blind acceptance of the oppositional terms set by the referral without assessing factors relevant to its admissibility, not only formed a potent scapegoat, but also prevented the Prosecutor from conducting an enquiry into Uganda. In view of it immediately being equated to supporting the LRA’s mission of thwarting the government (Nouwen, 2013 ). In the Rome Statute, Article 17 and 20 (3) stipulate that a case is only admissible if it is not being (has not been) properly investigated or prosecuted by the state in question (International Criminal Court, 2004). In the case of Uganda, the OTP disregarded the governments previous arrest warrants for Joseph Kony – which could have contributed to a discussion of inadmissibility in the Pre-Trial Chamber (Nouwen and Werner, 2010).

To summarize, by not critically engaging with the criteria of complementarity in Uganda’s referral, the investigation became vulnerable to political incentives and self-imposed limits on the adjudication of comprehensive justice by effectively vindicating the impunity of the Ugandan leadership (Tiemessen, 2014)

  1. The UNSC Referral: Power Politics in Darfur, Sudan

While the Court’s cases in Uganda demonstrates the impact of domestic political pressures on its effectiveness, the backlash in response to the UNSC referral inter alia Sudan reveals the internal structural politicization of the mandate itself: implying a framework monopolized by great power politics (Hassan, 2010 ). Using Sudan, this article will contest the ‘impartiality’ of the Court’s referral – by examining its inherent link to the Security Council. For over a decade, Darfur has been subjected to systematic violence as a result of the armed confrontation between the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese government (International Criminal Court, 2005). In February 2003, armed rebel groups staged attacks against the government in response to its coercion of Darfur’s non-Arab population, the government reacted with a vicious ethnic cleansing campaign. The fighting escalated into a proxy war, with various militia groups such as the government-funded Janjaweed wreaking havoc in local villages: conducting mass slaughter, rape and torture (Dickinson,  2009). The situation in Sudan drew many comparisons to the Second World War, in which the international passivity that enabled the Nazi regime’s abuse of power was equated to the inaction in (Hassan, 2010). The US Secretary of State testament to the Security Council thrust all accountability upon the Sudanese government – describing their judicial system as ‘corrupt, deficient, non-transparent and unable to deal with Darfur’, emphasizing a discourse focused predominantly on the government’s ethnic cleansing campaign, rather than accounting for the intricacies of the crisis, such as the international rivalries in the region and the scars of imperialism (Hassan, 2010). In response to international pressure amidst the rising death toll and refugee crisis, the UNSC invoked its jurisdiction under Article 16 of the Rome Statute and Chapter 7 of the Charter, following US-led Security Council Resolution 1593 (Roach, 2011). It referred the situation to the ICC for investigation in March, 2005 – opening the first case against a State not party to the Rome statute (International Criminal Court, 2005)

A large-part of contention towards the referral is directed against the Court’s ruling against Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir: the first head of state to be charged with the crime of genocide (Williams and Sherif, 2009). The indictment of Bashir proved a crucial obstacle in the development of the investigation: leading to a political deadlock between the ICC and Khartoum, with the Sudanese government refusing to cooperate in any form – denying the OTP entry into Darfur and access to state-held information (Tiemessen, 2014). Furthermore, Sudanese officials criticize the OTP’s negligence under Article 17 of the Rome Statute’s complementarity principle, which maintains that the ICC can only intervene when national institutions are unwilling or unable to meet their obligations (LSE, 2007).Considering Sudan was instigating its own domestic proceedings on conflict-related crimes, what right did the ICC have to impose its external jurisdiction? (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). In response, Nouwen (2013) points out that the Sudanese accusations are due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the complementarity principle. The UNSC, whom the case was referred by, has no legal obligation to consider matters of complementarity. Accordingly, the ICC is not meant to fill a gap (or replace) domestic judicial proceedings, rendering the Sudanese qualms of the ICC undermining its domestic courts inadmissible to the case. However, it is important to note Sudan’s insistence on its sovereignty rights was neither unjustified nor irrational. The belief that the UNSC operates under complementarity was even encouraged by the UN Secretary General ‘The Sudanese government should start its own reasonable and credible judicial process before seeking to defer Al-Bashir’s prosecution by the ICC’ (Nouwen, 2013). As a result, the presidential arrest warrants are considered a vengeful reaction against Sudan’s refusal to ‘hand over Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb’ for their alleged violence in Abyei. These claims were seemingly confirmed by a passing remark made by Luis Moreno Ocampo to an African Union official ‘if Sudan had handed over these two guys, it would not have had the problem of the President’ (Nouwen, 2013). In contrast, the OTP insists that it had consistently attempted to avoid confrontation with the Sudanese government prior to issuing the indictment. In the eyes of the Prosecutor, such compromises implied certain conditions, such as, handing over less powerful figure like Harun and Kushayb (Nouwen, 2013). Upon reflection, the cumulative decline of relations between the two parties can, in part,  be attributed to miscommunication. The initial bias the Sudanese government held towards the ICC and vice versa, led to a self-destructive offensive campaign on both parts. Both saw the other’s actions in purely oppositional terms, which prevented any form of cooperation or long-standing compromise (De Hoon, 2017). The ICC was perceived as ‘interventionist’ and the Sudanese as ‘irrational and corrupt’.  These villainizing conclusions reduced the situation in Darfur into a two dimensional conflict: of criminals and of heroic rebels (Hassan, 2010).

Moreover, Sudan’s concerns were not unwarranted, considering Sudan’s plentitude in oil resources, it has a historical account of global powers engaging in proxy wars to win over the geopolitical hotspot (Hassan, 2010). A fact the Sudanese officials have not shied away from pronouncing, pointing out the American administration repeated unilateral attempts at exploiting Sudan’s wealth over the years (Tafotie and Idahosa, 2016 ). Hassan (2010) claims that Washington’s foreign policy in the region is specifically geared towards containing Chinese influence and mitigating the remnants of France’s colonial influence. Specifically, Khartoum’s close economic relations with Beijing have threatened Washington’s vested interests. If the oil in Darfur was primarily under Sudan’s authority, China would become the chief benefactor in exploiting the regions oil (Tafotie and Idahosa, 2016).  In respect to Sudanese national security, the United States bid for South-Sudan’s self-determination and their close relations with the Chadian government directly impact Sudan’s counter-terror efforts (Tafotie and Idahosa, 2016).  Considering the Chadian government is openly at war with Omar al-Bashir’s regime and has supplied many of the Sudanese rebel forces with military provisions, the Sudanese government holds the United States complicit to such subversive activities (Tafotie and Idahosa, 2016). The close reminder of Washington’s interventionist rhetoric and its public declarations of ‘firm political oversight’ of the ICC proceedings reinforced Sudanese concerns, with officials pointing towards the politicized nature of the referral. Insofar as it conveniently rebranded Sudan an ‘enemy’ of the international community, in favor of broader power politics and the liberation movements they indirectly support (Tiemessen, 2014). It is impossible to ignore the hypocrisy of the United States suddenly asserting its fully-fledged support to the ICC, considering it refused to ratify the Rome Statute. In fact, the administration has worked exceedingly hard to ensure its own impunity through several international treaties and other bilateral agreements (Global Research, 2009). The Court’s acceptance of such a display of double-standards, merely catalyzes suspicions of it serving as an apparatus to foster UNSC members self-interest.

Furthermore, the mounting regional controversy surrounding Al-Bashir’s indictment has impeded the Court’s ability to fulfill the arrest. The proceedings inherently became synonymous with a politicized presence and an uninvited interventionist agenda. On 3 July 2009 the African Union called for all states to reject the ICC’s indictment and grant Al Bashir diplomatic immunity. As a result, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda all made no move to apprehend the President upon his incursions to their own territory (Tladi, 2009). The Prosecutor accused the latter members of the Rome Statute of non-compliance and in violation of international law, based on their binding obligations to the Rome Statute’s provisions and customary international law (Nouwen and Werner, 2010  ). However, such verbal accusations have done little to sway the situation and Al Bashir remains outside of the Court’s custody (Williams and Sherif, 2009). Given that the strongest support at the Rome Conference came from African nations, this decision marked an unsettling turn of events. The Court’s effectiveness hinges on the prerequisite of state cooperation and recognition of its ‘legitimacy’ as an impartial judicial institution (Tiemessen, 2014 ). The African Union’s denunciations of the politicization of the Court threaten its very existence by putting into question whether it is fit to arbitrate independently from to externally vested interests of international and regional actors (Tladi, 2009). The fact that Al Bashir has managed to evade prosecution is a stab to the Court fulfilling its primary duty: ending impunity (Williams and Sherif, 2009).

Fundamentally, a referral by the UNSC cannot be separated from international politics, based on the absolute power distribution between the United States, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom, all of whom have vested interests in the region (Hassan, 2010). As such, the ICC’s claims of neutrality are forfeited to each member’s ability to direct the cases up for selection, based on their own political priorities (Tiemessen, 2014).

  1. Final Remarks

To conclude, the Court’s activities in Uganda and Sudan are a pertinent reminder of how easily a culture of politicized justice can infringe on judicial proceedings. As discussed, the initial prosecutorial miscalculations and diplomatic blunders in Uganda allowed the Ugandan government to appropriate the ICC apparatus, in order to fit its personal strategic interests and ensure its impunity. In addition, the investigation prompted by Security Council in Sudan serves as a persistent reminder of the broader power politics at play and the Court’s omnipresent structural fallacies in mitigating such suspicions. Clearly, the Court is subject to the influence of external actors and makes political choices in its rulings. However, this deduction should not necessarily hamper its effectiveness. Realistically, the ICC will have to compromise following a grander justice framework in order to maintain a flexible approach. This should come as no surprise, as every case it accepts is unique and requires different points of attention in its judicial adjudication. I would like to stress that the issue at hand is not the intersection between law and politics, but rather, the Court’s denial and lack of transparency in accepting  politics as part of its structure (De Hoon, 2017). Under these conditions, it risks confusion over the nature of its decisions and invites criticism – which in turn restricts its effectiveness.

Perhaps, this article was exceedingly critical of the ICC, considering it is a relatively youthful body – there has to be space for it to learn from its case record. If we look at its current practices, the Court is noticeably attempting to amend points of tension made in the African Union’s proposal. For example, it is addressing the denunciation of its primarily ‘African case record’, by broadening its investigations into Afghanistan to scrutinize U.S detention and interrogation malpractices. With further preliminary investigations on their way in Georgia, Colombia, Honduras and South Korea. In addition, the ICC has requested for the AU to submit an outline of recommendations for reform (Reuters, 2013). Such inclusive measures are a step forward towards reconciling the gap between the Court’s grander judicial framework and the more pragmatic reality of its case-by-case advances. The African Union’s threats of withdrawal should not be seen as the erosion of the Court, but rather, an opportunity for reflection. The ICC’s ability to respond and communicate with its most ardent critiques, will be pertinent to its development as an autonomous international judicial institution. Indisputably, the ICC is integral in allowing for victims all over the world to receive justice amidst unimaginable atrocities. In wake of the lack of credible alternatives, for better or worse, the ICC’s staff and critiques should settle their attention to a comprehensive adjustment of the Court’s existing mechanisms.

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How did Women Link Worldwide contribute towards the inclusion of women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Colombia’s Constitutional Court in 2006?

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On May 10th 2006, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled 5-3 in favor of the decriminalization of abortion. The groundbreaking decision guaranteed a woman’s exemption from prosecution under three conditions:

(1) pregnancy by rape, incest or unwanted insemination

(2) severe fetal malformation or

(3) risks to life and health

Prior to 2006, Colombia had stood in solidarity with El Salvador and Chile – all of whom were adamant on reinforcing the blanket ban on abortion. Moreover, the penal code merely subverted abortion into clandestine spheres, with the government perpetuating a ‘double discourse’ on the matter by condemning it in public but allowing it in private. Such legal laxity created a public health crisis, with an annual number of 300,000 illicit abortions performed by unregulated providers, contributing to a third of all maternal deaths. As such, the judicial ruling came as a huge success to human rights activists – who for several years had been engaged in a fervent pursuit for social justice in the wake of the country’s harsh abortion laws infringing on women’s reproductive health. The trigger for the legal revision, came in April 2005, when the case (C-355) was brought to Court by attorney Monica Roa on part of the international organization Women’s Link Worldwide.

Despite the increased presence of human rights lobbies in Colombian politics, there had not been any substantial changes to Colombia’s Penal Code. The legal stalemate can mostly be attributed to the mobilization of the Catholic church in crucial policy and legislative areas. Over the years, the Church cultivated a vast network within the state administration and institutions, which granted it an influential oversight on any political or legal developments law. In addition, it subsidized many of the pro-life movements in disseminating their cause amongst the local communities. By casting the criminalization of abortion as both a religious duty and a state’s legal obligation, the Catholic Church reframed the political narrative into a deeply personal narrative. Hence, the boundaries between right and wrong were demarcated to fit overridingly patriarchal terms. Addressing the topic of abortion in such a discourse, becomes especially relevant if put in context of whom the ban affected – namely the urban poor and rural women. Considering the state’s legal laxity on the matter, the middle and upper class could easily access abortion without losing religious face – in contrast to the poor, who underwent incredibly dangerous and life-threatening medical procedures.

In order to challenge the Constitutional Court, Women’s Link convened in a collective effort on 14 March 2005 and developed a High Impact Litigation Strategy (LAICIA), which was separated into three focal points: creating a legal case for gender equality, securing national, regional and international alliances and a media-based public outreach scheme. Women’s Link opted for a constitutional case, over filing for a criminal complaint to the National Assembly. Even amongst women’s rights activists, this marked an unprecedented move, considering that most ‘rights activist [did] not use the courts as a means for advocacy’. By shifting abortion away from its previously politicized agenda, Women’s Link litigation strategy thus secured the case a legitimate site, from which to bypass the national government’s authority

In part, the triumph of Women’s Link was based on a favorable legal climate. First, the Constitutional Committee, which approved the application consisted of several liberal-minded judges who were sympathetic to the liberalization of abortion. Second, the official revision of the Constitution of Rights (1991) in 2005 re-emphasized Colombia’s commitments to international law and human rights treaties. Finally, the Court’s case history demonstrated a clear precedent of the Court using human rights law to resolve policy disputes. According to Bocse’s (2011) reasoning, the combination of the aforementioned factors, presented a political opportunity structure open to the claims set forth by the interest group.

Drawing on the Constitution of Rights (1991), Women’s Link reaffirmed Colombia’s commitments as a secular institution towards upholding pluralist values and the fundamental rights of the individual. The case pointed out the tension in-between the criminalization of abortion and the Constitution’s existing articles. These included: the right to dignity (Constitutional Preamble, Article 1), the right to bodily integrity (Article 12), the right to equality (Article 13), the right to free, individual development (Article 16), the right to reproductive autonomy (Article 42) and the right to health (Article 49).  Furthermore, Article 93 of the Constitution of Rights included Colombia’s obligations under international human rights law, established in multi-lateral treaties such as CEDAW (ratified in 1982), the Cairo Consensus (1994), and the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995). The case argued that the government’s blanket ban was an infringement of a woman’s equal right to life, health, reproductive self-determination, and privacy. Furthermore, Women’s Link noted the Human Rights Committee’s authoritative ruling in K.L v. Peru as an exemplary regional precedent for the Court to follow.

Women’s Link communication strategy untangled a narrative previously monopolized by religious actors and framed it as an issue of public health and equal rights. Aiding in the fight for public opinion, were the transnational actors network alliances with popular media and newspapers. For example, in between February and May 2006 alone, El Tiempo featured 150 articles, editorials and opinion pieces discussing the development of C-355. The liberal newspaper’s circulation of “real-life stories”, which described the horrors of women’s experiences under the strict ban, took an emotional toll on its audiences and increased public sympathy.  In particular, the story of the 34-year-old mother of four, Marta Zulay Gonzalez, also made headlines in Revista Semana, Hoy Diario and El Universal. At the time, Marta was suffering under acute ovarian cancer and was in desperate need of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. When she found out she was three weeks pregnant, she pleaded with a public hospital for her right to abortion, which was denied. Monica Roa mentioned Marta’s case, as a blatant example of the need for legal and accessible abortion to protect a woman’s health and the well-being of her family. With the combined advocacy efforts of Women’s Link and popular newspapers, Marta’s story evolved into a national symbol of the state’s duty to decriminalize abortion under certain circumstances.

Yet, despite the liberalization of the blanket ban, clandestine abortion rates remain at large over a decade later. Although the country’s constitutional and legal protections for women’s rights are amongst the strongest in the region, women continue to face many obstacles to legal abortion, indicating a practical gap in between the law and its implementation. Public health providers have performed 50,000 legal abortions since 2006, which pales in comparison to the yearly estimates of 400,000 women who suffer via illegal abortions. Although the Ministry of Social Protection issued a series of guidelines for the population and public health services to follow, there continues to be a lack of education on the ethical, legal and medical requirements of the Court’s ruling. Additionally, inadequate public knowledge on the correct application of abortion methods, primarily misoprostol, has led to high rates of complications at higher-level health facilities. Half of the women residing in rural areas are unaware of misoprostol’s existence and continue to perform hazardous self-induced abortions. The medical treatment of these complications costs the government large sums of money: approximately $14.4 million invested into by post-abortion care. However, there continues to exist a lack of political incentive amongst government officials to support policies that mandate institutional improvements to the provision of and access to contraceptive care and legal abortion services.

On average, only 11% of all public health institutions offer treatment. Given Colombia’s unstable conditions of inter-communal violence and poverty, travelling from rural villages to larger cities is not only costly, but also a highly dangerous endeavor, especially for a pregnant woman. Many women fall victim to rape, sexual assault or other attacks in transit. A combination of such violent prospects and lack of financial resources disincentivize women to leave their local communities in the first place.  Upon arrival at health care centers, the protracted bureaucratic process involved in acquiring a legal termination of pregnancy unnecessarily delays abortion services and is extremely intimidating for women. In between May 2006 and April 2008, La Mesa por La Vida documented a series of cases, in which health care professionals issued unjustified requests for medical or legal referrals. On top of these demands, women were urged and even pressured to continue their pregnancy, causing psychological strain.

However, it is not only the managerial inefficiencies, which are curtailing women’s reproductive rights, but the verdict itself. At the time, the Court declared that it did not have the professional expertise to rule over the technicalities of abortion, and hence left such decisions to health care professionals. Consequently, the Court’s ruling contains a crucial loophole, namely, a doctor’s right to ‘conscientious objection’, which is routinely appropriated by health care professionals as a means to deny women the right to termination. Furthermore, the absence of scientifically demarcated instructions in the judgement created confusion amongst doctors who operate on a case-by-case basis. For example, cases containing patients with mental health or rape are particularly susceptible to rejection. Most doctors will only factor in the physical component of a women’s health or when there is a clear threat to her life. The Court failed to legally resolve the ethical tension between a women’s and medical autonomy. As such, the lack of clarity in the verdict renders women vulnerable to the personal prejudices of individual doctors.

Consequently, the NGO’s advocacy network must continue its agenda-setting in Colombia’s social and political landscape. This includes increased public awareness, facilitating the capacity building and training of local groups and reinforcing international accountability measures. First, increased efforts must be directed towards ensuring that women, especially in rural areas, are informed on the availability of abortion services and their respective legal rights. Second, attention should be directed towards the legal mobilization of national actors, which aid in the proliferation of local-level knowledge of human rights and ensure no woman is unrightfully exempted from the treatment. Third, Women’s Link must continue to wield its credibility within the international community to cast a spotlight on government impunity. This includes remitting the contemporary infringements on gender rights to International Human Rights Committees, which in turn, can pressure the Colombian state to uphold its treaty obligations. Simultaneously, the framing of abortion as part of Colombia’s value structure should run parallel to Women’s Link agenda-setting, in order to combat conservative biases and secure social cohesion on the issue. Thus, despite Women’s Link having been able to provide the legal framework for change, there still exists a practical gap between women’s rights and national recognition of the gender policy reform.

Bibliography

Brusco, E. (1995). The reformation of machismo: evangelical conversion and gender in Colombia. Austin: University of Texas Press. 

Joachim, J. (2007). Agenda setting, the UN, and NGOs, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, Pp. 1-163.

Meriläinen, N. (2014). Understanding the framing of issues in multi-actor arenas. University of Jyväskylä. Jyväskylän Printing House, Pp. 11-80.

Carpenter, C. R. (2007). Setting the Advocacy Agenda: Theorizing Issue Emergence and Nonemergence in Transnational Advocacy Networks. International Studies Quarterly, 51(1),  Pp.99-120.

Keck, M. and Sikkink, K. (1998). Activists beyond borders. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Bocşe, A. (2011). Understanding transnational advocacy networks: the impact of the political opportunity structure on their emergence. Vienna: The Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe Press, Pp. 1-14. 

Crable, R. E.  and Vibbert, S. L. (1985). Managing issues and influencing public policy. Public Relations Review, 11 (2), Pp. 3-16.

Walgrave, S. and De Swert, K. (2007). Where does issue ownership come from? From the party or from the media? Issue-party identifications in Belgium, 1991-2005. The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 12 (1), Pp. 37-67.

Dunne, T. and Wheeler, N. (2009). Human rights in global politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sedacca, K (2017). Abortion in Latin America in International Perspective: Limitations and Potentials of the Use of Human Rights Law to Challenge Restrictions. The Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice, 32(1), Pp. 1-29.

Reimann, K. (2006). A View from the Top: International Politics, Norms and the Worldwide Growth of NGOs. International Studies Quarterly, 50(1), pp.45-68.

Risse-kappen, T., Ropp, S. and Sikkink, K. (1999). The power of human rights. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Farrior, S. (2009). Human Rights Advocacy on Gender Issues: Challenges and Opportunities. Journal of Human Rights Practice, 1(1), Pp.83-100.

Skaar, E. (2011). Judicial independence and human rights in Latin America. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Press.

Prada, E., Biddlecom, A. and Singh, S. (2011). Induced Abortion in Colombia: New Estimates and Change Between 1989 and 2008. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 37(3), Pp.114-124.

Ruibal, A. (2014). Movement and counter-movement: a history of abortion law reform and the backlash in Colombia 2006–2014. Reproductive Health Matters, 22(44), Pp. 42-51.

Budge, I. and D. Farlie (1983). Explaining and Predicting Elections: Issue Effects and Party Strategies in Twenty-Three Democracies. London: George Allen & Unwin Press.

Amado, E.D, García, M.C.C, Cristancho, C. R., Salas. E.P,  and  Hauzeur, E.B, . (2010). Obstacles and challenges following the partial decriminalisation of abortion in Colombia. Reproductive Health Matters, 18(36), Pp.118-126.

Levine, D. (1981). Religion and politics in Latin America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Velez, A.G. (2005), Current situation with abortion in Colombia: between illegality and reality. Cadernos de Saúde Pública, 21(2), Pp. 624–28.

Zorzi, K. (2015). The Impact of the United Nations on National Abortion Laws. Catholic University Law Review, 36(2), Pp. 1-22.

Htun, M. (2003). Sex and the State: Abortion, Divorce and the Family under Latin American Dictatorships and Democracies. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Williams, H. S. (2009). Constituting Equaliy: Gender Equality and Comparative Law. Cambridge University Press, Pp. 214-247.

Fine, B. J., Mayall, K. and Sepulveda, L (2017). The Role of International Human Rights Norms in the Liberalization of Abortion Laws Globally. Health and Human Rights Journal, 19(1), Pp. 69-80.

Brysk, A. (1995). Hearts and Minds”: Bringing Symbolic Politics Back In. Polity Journal, 27(4), Pp. 559-585.

Merry, E.S. (2006). Transnational Human Rights and Local Activism: Mapping the Middle. American Anthropologist, 108(1), Pp.38-51.

Reuterswärd, C., Zetterberg, P., Thapar-Björkert, S. and Molyneux, M. (2011). Abortion Law Reforms in Colombia and Nicaragua: Issue Networks and Opportunity Contexts. Development and Change, 42(3), Pp.805-831.

Roa, M. (2008). From Constitutional Court Success to Reality: Issues and Challenges in the Implementation of the New Abortion Law in Colombia. IDS Bulletin, 39(3), Pp.83-87.

Löfgren S. (2008).  Framing and shaming :Transnational networks and the decriminalization of abortion in Colombia. University of Gothenburg Press. Pp. 1-67.

Velez, A.G (2012). The health exception: a means of expanding access to legal abortion. Journal of Reproductive Health Matters, 20(4), Pp. 9-22.

Roa, M. and Klugman, B. (2014). Considering strategic litigation as an advocacy tool: a case study of the defence of reproductive rights in Colombia. Reproductive Health Matters, 22(44), Pp.31-41.

The Guardian. (2011). Abortion in the Philippines. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/journalismcompetition/abortion-in-the-philippines [Accessed 1 Apr. 2018].

El Tiempo.  (2006). Murió mujer símbolo de fallo de aborto. [online] Available at: http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/MAM-2528321 [Accessed 2 Apr. 2018].

La Mesa (2017). Encuesta de Percepcion sobre la interrupcion voluntaria del embarazo en Colombia. [online] Available at: http://www.despenalizaciondelaborto.org.co/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/ENCUESTA-DE-PERCEPCION-2017.pdf [Accessed 2 Apr. 2018].

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SPAIN UNCERTAIN: THE “FRANKENSTEIN” GOVERNMENT OF THE LEFT

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Alfonso Goizueta Alfaro is a 1st year History and International Relations Undergraduate student at King’s College London, author of several history books such as “Limitando el poder, 1871-1939” and “Los últimos gobernantes de Castilla”, with a great interest in diplomacy and politics.

 

Mary Shelly’s brilliant Gothic novel Frankenstein introduced us to, besides to one of the most terrifying creatures of universal literature, to this genre of the unknown, of the uncertain and of the obscure which was to reach its heyday in the 19th century, with other supreme oeuvres such as Robert L. Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. All of these breath-taking terror stories have cause such an impact in the history of literature not because of the madness of their characters but because of the atmosphere of unease and uncertainty they created. Since June 1st 2018, it seemed that Spain descended into one of these uncertain Gothic stories as the strong conservative government of Mariano Rajoy and the Popular Party (PP) who had, only a week ago, seemed to have secured power after passing the Budget in the Chamber of Deputies by a very adjusted majority (176 votes out of 350 MPs), were ousted from power by a no-confidence motion put forward by the leader of the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) Pedro Sánchez.

Nobody could have expected, Mr Sánchez least of all, that the centre-right cabinet which survived 316 days of political stalemate in 2016, and which has been able to consolidate Spain’s economic recovery and confront the secessionist movement in Catalonia, as well as several corruption scandals, whilst having to govern with a parliamentary minority (134 MPs), would have been swept away so swiftly. As a verdict for the polemic corruption scandal of the Gürtel affair was reached last week, sentencing former PP municipal leaders to prison, Mr Sánchez presented a motion of no-confidence which was to be voted May 31st and June 1st. According to the Spanish Constitution, if a motion of no-confidence is supported by the absolute majority of the Chamber (176 MPs), the government will be ousted from power and the candidate put forward by the party presenting the motion (the PSOE, in this case) would be considered to have the confidence of the deputies and will hence automatically become prime minister.

Apparently, the motion wouldn’t succeed. After the elections of 2016, the PSOE holds only 84 seats in parliament, less than 25%. The only plausible parties to support a anti-PP no-confidence motion were the anti-austerity left-wing populist party Podemos, the Catalan secessionist parties (ERC and PDeCAT), and other left-wing nationalist organisations (the Communist Basque EH-Bildu, the Valencian Compromís and the Canarian Nueva Canarias). They all added 175 MPs, still 1 vote away from the required majority. The only possible votes could come from the centre-right Nationalist Basque Party (PNV) who had just voted in favour of Mr Rajoy’s Budget last week.

 

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The Congress of Deputies (lower chamber). In sky-blue: PP (centre-right, 134MPs). Orange: C’s (centre, 32MPs). Green: PNV (Basque right-wing, 5MPs). Purple: Podemos (far-left, 67MPs). Yellow: ERC (Catalan left-wing, 9MPs). Red: PSOE (centre-left, 84MPs). Black: the “mixed group” (PDeCAT-8MPs, Compromís-4MPs, E-H Bildu-2 MPs, UPN-2MPs, FORO- 1MP, CC-1MP, NC-1MP).
350 MPs in total; absolute majority=176 MPs

The comparison of Spanish politics with Gothic literature isn’t just mere coincidence. The PNV, for example, has played the role of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, two different personas within one same body. After some tense negotiations with the PP, after the centrist and anti- nationalist Ciudadanos (C’s) party, which supports the PP, threatened to jeopardised the Budget if the government made concessions to the nationalists, the PNV finally decided to support the Budget which granted long-term stability for Mr Rajoy’s government. On May 24th, thanks to the votes of the PNV – which, by the way, weren’t free (an important percentage of government expenditure was destined to the Basque country) –, the Budget obtained the approval of the Chamber of Deputies. On June 1st, only eight days later, the PNV voted in favour of Mr Sánchez’s no-confidence motion and toppled the PP from power, alleging, like many other parties, reasons of “democratic hygiene” against the PP’s corruption. How did we get here? Corruption is too simple an answer. The PNV has voted in favour of the PSOE who holds one of the greatest corruption scandals of modern Spanish history in the Andalusian region (the “ERE affair”, funds destined for unemployment benefits being embezzled); PDeCAT, who also voted for “democratic hygiene”, has been involved in the scandalous “3% affair” (3% of the public budget of Catalonia being embezzled); Podemos is under investigation for receiving murky funds from the Venezuelan regime. Sadly, corruption is almost omnipresent in Spanish politics hence it cannot be the reason the PP has been ousted from power.

All parties have their own pragmatic reasons.

The Catalan secessionists hope a PSOE government to be more lenient towards the Catalan affairs after the non-violent coup they starred in October 2017, proclaiming independence after an unconstitutional referendum. Socialist leader in Catalonia, Miquel Iceta, already spoke in late 2017 of pardoning the Catalan leaders who were about to be indicted for rebellion (a crime punished with a minimum of 25 years in Spain). Furthermore, it has become a truth universally acknowledged in Spain that the “soft” application of Article 155 of the Constitution – which allowed Mr Rajoy, in 2017, to intervene the Autonomous Community of Catalonia – was the work of the PSOE. (This “soft” application was based, for example, on allowing the Catalan public television to remain in the hands of secessionists, which have transformed it into a propaganda machine). Furthermore, Catalan secessionists prefer a weak Socialist government which, in essence, “owes them” having supported the no- confidence motion, instead of centre-right PP government supported by C’s, the centrist party which has turned against all nationalistic privileges and which won (although without absolute majority) the December 2017 autonomic election in Catalonia.

 

Nationalists (both the extremist Catalan secessionists and the moderate PNV) have been shivering with the last election polls which predict a sweeping victory of C’s, achieving around 90 MPs. Was C’s to gain power, many believe that strong anti-nationalistic policies will be developed, policies which are a bit too much for both PSOE and PP governments which have historically governed with the support of small nationalist parties. The PNV fears the growing influence that C’s has upon the PP, which has been crumbling in election polls. In late April, a leading PNV member stated that they would accept the PP’s budget in order to ‘prevent C’s from reaching la Moncloa [Spanish presidential palace]’. Therefore, a Socialist weak government (even though it is supported by extreme left-wing populist and the Catalan secessionists – which, on the other hand, the PNV has always been lenient about) is convenient to the interests of the PNV as well.

Furthermore, in his speech during the no-confidence motion, Mr Sánchez guaranteed that, once in power, the PSOE would allow the PP’s Budget to prosper and would use it to govern. This was a great shock for everyone: one of the reasons the PP had had to engineer such a complicated arithmetic majority in parliament to pass its Budget was because the PSOE had claimed the budget ‘not to be what the Spanish society is looking for’6 and was ontologically against it. Yet, as said before, the Budget gave great financial advantages to the Basque country: the PNV wasn’t going to relinquish their gains; the PSOE hence swallowed the bitter pill of the Budget they had considered anti-social and perpetuator of social inequality.

How does Frankenstein come into all of this? The expression of the “Frankenstein government” has been used by Mr Rajoy and other PP and C’s members to describe the creature which will emerge from a Spanish government supported by those which seek to break Spain (E-H Bildu, the Catalan secessionists, anti-1978 Constitution Podemos…). They argue it will be a Frankenstein government because it will have the torso of the PSOE, the head of Podemos, the arms of the secessionists… Already has the threat of the Frankenstein government had a serious impact upon the economy: the Spanish stock exchange has been suffering badly because of the luring shadow of the Gothic government, and because of the political crisis in Italy.

Mr Sánchez confronts a very difficult future. With only 84 MPs to support him, he will be totally dependent on other political forces in order to pass any legislation. The PSOE, which has always considered itself a pro-Spanish unity party and which has been loyal to the government during the Catalan crisis, is now in the hands of the anti-Spanish and anti- constitutional forces which had put the country on the brink of confrontation in late 2017. Moreover, Sánchez will try govern with the 134 MPs of the PP in the Opposition along with the 32 of C’s.

Spain confronts the political uncertainty of an 84 MP-backed government born over a week and supported by those who are against Spain. Yet, in essence, this all part of the PP’s grand strategy. Sánchez didn’t want to govern: the no-confidence motion was certeainly a bluff he expected Rajoy to take and resign. Rajoy didn’t, and now Sánchez is chained to a paradigm which can destroy his party. The electorate of the PSOE is traditionally harshly anti-PP (it is difficult to find a “grand coalition” consensus between socialists and Christian democrats as in Germany, for example), but it is also bitterly pro-Spanish. Forcing Sánchez to govern alongside Communist Podemos and the nationalists will only erode the PSOE. In the meantime, the PP needs to undergo serious internal reform in order to purge all of the corruption inherited from the PP of the 1990s and early 2000s. This period in which Sánchez will be struggling to govern, and which might destroy him, will grant the PP time to restructure and recover from the weathering of almost seven years in power.

Bibliography:

To what extent will a rising China challenge the architecture of the current world order?

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By Julia Huentemann, a second year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London and Editor in Chief at IR Today.

Napoleon Bonaparte already warned that China was a “sleeping giant” who, once woken up, would shake the world. According to Henry Kissinger, there is little denial about China having woken up from her hibernation as she regains a stature by which she was last known in the centuries of her most far-reaching influence. In past decades, China has accumulated a significant amount of power resources including a population of over 1.3 billion, a territory that equals the size of the U.S., a military that exceeds the size of the U.S. armed forces and modern capabilities in cyberspace. Most attention is perhaps paid to China’s economic onslaught based on a current national GDP of ca 11,200 billion $ p/a and a growth rate of 6.5%. p/a.[1] At the same time, the world is witnessing the decline in global power of a strategically restraining U.S.. Given this inevitable shift in global power from “the West” towards “the East” it is reasonable to assume that China “will soon have the institutional power to promote its views in the world.”[2]

While China’s rise is inspiring a mix of awe, fear and scepticism among “western” publics, academics and policy-makers are left concerned with the question as to what extent the awakened giant will “shake the world”. This essay will connect to this discourse and assess the extent to which China will challenge the architecture of the current world order. This essay argues that China will develop her influence within the boundaries of current world order, rather than challenging “western” norms of sovereignty, statehood and rules-based institutions. Nonetheless, China will attempt to transform her power resources into influence by reversing western-led interventionism and shaping the way in which other sovereigns think and act as in a globalized world.

In doing so this essay will outline the origin and colonial distribution of the current world order, before drawing on China’s pre-modern vision of order. The following will discuss the extent to which China is willing and/or able to re-institutionalize this pre-colonial vision and thereby challenge the architecture of the current order. This investigation will follow in two analytical steps. The essay will present Tingyang Zhao’s advocation of a Sino-centric hierarchical world institution. Subsequently, the extent to which the academic discourse finds expression in Chinese political actions will be discussed.

Origin and distribution of the current world order   

According to Suisheng Zhao, world order refers to the “dominant values, rules, and norms that define the terms of global governance and give shape and substance to international society at any given time.”[3] The Peace of Westphalia, which ended thirty years of religious warfare in Europe in 1648, is often regarded to mark the onset of the modern world order as a “universe composed of sovereign states, each with exclusive authority within its own geographic boundaries.”[4] Having introduced and linked the principles of territoriality and sovereignty, the Westphalian Peace established the state – not the empire, dynasty or religion – as the singular legitimate actor within the international system.

Based on the new provision of statehood, Westphalia also enshrined the sovereign equality of states – the supreme reign over a fixed territory and population, free from outside interference regardless of power or domestic structure. With this the Westphalian Peace presents the first attempt to institutionalize an international order based on a series of procedural rules. As these structures, still serve as the foundation of the current rules-based international liberal order, it is reasonable to assert the Peace of Westphalia as “the path breaker of a new concept of international order”.[5]

Even though being treated as a globally accepted blueprint for world order today, the system of territorially sovereign states refraining from interference in each other’s domestic affairs was devised in 17th-century-Europe. However, it should be noted that when constructed in 1648, the Westphalian idea of world order was by no means designed to be exported globally. After all, the ones who crafted the Peace did not aspire to incorporate neighbouring Russia, whose Romanov Tsar Alexis (Алексе́й Миха́йлович) was reconsolidating his own vision of order fundamentally at odds with the Westphalian balance. Mutual interaction on a sustained basis was not permitted by the then prevailing technology and hence, each region considered its own concept as a unique template for a legitimate organization.

China and World Order

Among all the contemporary conceptions of world order, Asia, and China specifically, operated the “longest lasting, the most clearly defined, and the one furthest from Westphalian ideas.”[6] 4,796 miles east from the Westphalian City of Münster, Beijing constituted the centre of the pre-modern East-Asian international order in which political entities interacted with one another within a hierarchy ranked according to status. Chinese dynasties, from ca 1600 BC to 1636 AC considered themselves the peak of this hierarchy and hence the hub of the world in their own right. The emperor’s legitimacy was rooted in a set of Confucian ideas, according to which “hierarchy was not only present but essential.”[7] This Sino-centric “All Under Heaven” order (Tian-xia), in contrast to the Westphalian one, recognized the reality of the inequality among various political entities and became widely accepted throughout pre-modern Asia.

However, triggered by a series of both internal and external crises,  the 19th century saw the Qing dynasty disintegrate.[8] As European imperial powers coerced China to open to their trading demands, this intrusion sounded the death knell of the “idyllic Pax-Sinica.” While the Qing dynasty mobilized all possible resources to resist foreign invasion, Chinese governments between the mid-19th century and the mid-20th century “were never wholly in control of their territory.” Western representatives with their sense of cultural superiority were ultimately successful in globally imposing an alternative international order based on the principles enshrined in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia. This is especially evident in a statement by Scottish Sinologist James Legge in 1872, according to which China’s relation with “more advanced nations” had entirely changed. China had reportedly realized that she is “only one of many independent nations in the world and that the ‘beneath the sky’ over which her emperor ruled is not all beneath sky but only a certain portion of it which can be pointed out upon the map.”[9]

With the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, “Tian-xia” vanished from public discourse, being replaced by Marxist universalism, Mao’s revolutionary spirit and finally Deng Xiaoping’s dictum that, to thrive, China will “hide [her] capabilities and bide [her] time.”[10] Given the lack of material power to reimpose the domestic/traditional vision of order, holding back seemed like a logical stance. Still, China has never forgotten her past as a colony, enforced to engage in an order utterly at odds with her tradition. According to Gray and Murphy the global financial crisis of 2007/2008 has robbed the West of the moral authority to lecture the non-West and ultimately “opened-up space for rising powers of the global south to play an increasingly active role in the reform of global economic and political governance.” They conclude that a “regime change in global governance is now at least a distinct possibility.”[11]

If these predictions about China overtaking the U.S. as the dominant superpower are true, it is essential to investigate whether China will preserve or spoil the Westphalian status quo of the current world order. Against that background, some intellectuals advocate to reinvigorate ancient Chinese traditions as a source of legitimacy.

Among those intellectuals, Tingyang Zhao is a particularly vocal one, who challenges prominent Western experts asserting China as a status-quo preserving power, unlikely to challenge the international order. In order to understand contemporary visions of world order, Zhao draws on the ancient concept of “Tian-xia” and advocates a Sino-centric, post-Westphalian hierarchy governed according to Confucian principles. In his work
“The Tian-xia System: A Philosophy for the World Institution” he highlights the need for a global political reform, wherein all challenges become regarded not as challenges to the individual state but as challenges to the entire world. For this purpose, Zhao envisions a world government not only in control of universal institutions, laws and shared resources but also with authority to grant legitimacy to various culturally and geographically determined sub-states. Extending to “all under heaven”, this Sino-centric world institution shall not only supervise the socio-political conditions in those respective sub-states, but also have the punitive power against any sub-state contravening universal order.[12]

This institution appears similar to the United Nations, as both aim at ensuring peace, providing order and guaranteeing stability. However, Zhao argues that the UN institutionalizes everlasting competition and conflict and cannot move beyond being an organization of individual nations bargaining in pursuit of their individual interests.[13] If adopted, “Tian-xia” would constitute an improvement of the anarchic and conflict-prone  Westphalian system and contribute to the long envisioned Great/Universal Harmony, a term first coined by Emperor Yao (2356-2255 BC). Despite being a utopian vision, the Tian-xia system arguably has practical applications. It has frequently been associated with current President Xi Jinping’s declaration of a “China Dream”. As an effort to rejuvenate the Chinese nation and its 5000-year-old history, the Chinese Dream is to work for a harmonious world. [14] Advocating a “shared destiny premised on blissful cooperation instead of outright competition”, President Xi’s rhetoric heavily feeds into Zhao’ vision for a world institution in the pursuit of Great/Universal Harmony.

Those China pundits who foresee the emergence of a Sino-centric world institution point towards Chinese recent military and economic expansionism to portray China as a status quo spoiling power bent on changing the existing order. As China’s economy grows exponentially, the nation has been using infrastructure development as an inducement to bring other states into trade and resource relationships. This has resulted in the Asian economy to rapidly re-configurate around China and hence implies the return/re-appearance of some elements of the pre-modern Asian hierarchical order.[15] Coupled with China’s increasing inclination to employ military capabilities in the South China Sea and the Asia-Pacific, this would adhere to those interpretations of a People’s Republic that wants to slowly reintegrate Asian nations into a Sino-centric tribute system, much like the Chinese Empire did at its peak.[16] In this respect China seeks to expand its political system “not by conquest but by osmosis.”[17]

Promoters of Tian-xia argue that the system has been made available for export with the inception of the “Confucius Institute”, designed to acquaint the world with the Chinese Communist Party’s interpretation of traditional world order. As the idea of Great Harmony appeals to a world weary of war, China’s proposal of building “a new type of international relations” advances the nation’s soft power and arguably already signifies a trend towards a post-Westphalian order.[18]

ll these trends fit Robert Kagan’s analysis of the Chinese leadership which “views the world in much the same way as Kaiser Willhelm II did a century ago.” Kagan observes the Chinese leadership to worry about “changing the rules of the international system, before the international system changes them.”[19]

Zhao’s proposition is both ambitious and ambiguous. Presenting himself as a representative of the ultimate Chinese Perspective, he was heavily criticized for conceptualizing a system that, despite seemingly desirable in theory, lacks applicability in practice.[20] Seemingly an attractive concept, the failure to provide an actual path towards the transition from a state to a world-centred order is one among the many problems. Accordingly, his Chinese critics contend that the Tian-xia system is not suitable as a model for a contemporary world order. When serving as a model for a pre-modern Asian order, China was the largest state with a civilization superior to any other, at least in the absence of a competing paradigm (alias Westphalian sovereignty). The contemporary world, in which various states claim superiority, no longer corresponds with these attributes. Today, just as in the 19th century, Westphalian sovereignty proves superior in this duel of competing paradigms, for the vision of legal equality, however fictional it may be, is more appealing than the thought of subordinating to China as a benevolent ruler.

Without any incentive for major actors in the international system to engage in the Tian-xia system, any Sino-centric hierarchical order would suffer from a lack of legitimacy. Hence, Westphalian sovereignty, despite its flaws, is likely to remain the cornerstone of world order.

This argument goes in line with John Ikenberry’s “Liberal Leviathan” in which he asserts that the current rules-based-liberal world order is easier to join and harder to overturn and hence, substantially different than past international orders that rising states faced.[21] According to Ikenberry, the international liberal order, which at its core is based on the principles and rules established in 1648, has a high integration capacity, offers vertical and horizontal movement of trade benefits, and is capable of accommodating differences.[22] Furthermore, he argues that China has found means to exploit this order for her own advancements and invested her way to a superpower position.[23] This suggests that China’s rise and especially the sustainability of this attained status depend on the current world order.

Even though China may neither be willing nor able to adopt Zhao’s Tian-xia system, China may nonetheless come to shape the future of global order. Chinese leaders still aspire their nation to become central in setting further international rules as well as revising some of the ones that still prevail.  China may indeed affect such change, “and it arguably already has but this change is unlikely to be through the voluntary acceptance of Tian-xia,” Callahan admits.[24] Against this background it seems reasonable to find continued expressions of Westphalian principles in contemporary Chinese politics, especially in the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. These principles, first promulgated with India and Burma in 1954, manifest China’s dedication to:  Mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, Mutual nonaggression, Mutual non-interference in internal affairs, Equality and mutual benefit and Peaceful coexistence.

At the celebration of the 50th anniversary of their insurance in 2004, former Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China Wen Jiaboa ensured that these five principles remain important to China.[25] Emphasizing state sovereignty and contending that interference in other’s domestic affairs is unlawful, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence elaborate on the Westphalian principle of sovereignty. Responding to contemporary forms of western-led political, economic and military interventionism, China will attempt to shape how other legally sovereigns think and act in a globalized world. In doing so, China will attempt to transform her power resources into influence in order to challenge the U.S. as the singular normative power.

Now being backed by material and political power, Chinese re-emphasis on the Five Principles will pose a serious challenge to western-led interventionism. China will be able to establish a platform of resistance to “the West’s dilution of others’ sovereignty and desire to impose their ideas and political and economic systems on other peoples.”[26]

In that sense a rising China will not challenge the basic tenants of the Westphalian world order, but reverse the recent western-led trend of breaching sovereignty, a process that Stephen Krasner coined as “Compromising Westphalia”.[27]

This process is already visible in practice and manifested in China’s initiative to build its own set of regional and international institutions. Among these are the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launched in 2014 or the New Development Bank initiated in 2015.
Both were created with Chinese participation and have attracted a large audience since their inception. Unlike the western-led International Monetary Fund and World Bank, these institutions do not put conditions on development funds and thus offer aid irrespective of domestic political and economic structure. Appealing to a broad base of post-colonial countries, these institutions have given China agenda-setting and convening power of its own.

A further example of a foreign policy that manifests non-interventionism is China’s trajectory in terms of humanitarian intervention. When the international community opted to intervene in Libya in 2011 to end the Libyan Civil War, China as well as Russia abstained from voting upon UN Security Council Resolution 1973. One reason for China’s abstention is her tendency to rule out intervention in humanitarian crises. With the endorsement of the “Responsibility to Protect” the concept of state sovereignty was redefined in 2005. Previously considered a right, sovereignty was reinvigorated as a responsibility, contingent upon the ability and willingness to guarantee the protection of one’s citizens’ security and wellbeing.[28] Provided any respective state fails to do so, the international community has the legitimate responsibility to intervene. China has traditionally shown reluctance towards joining this trend of pushing back the boundaries of sovereignty in protection of human security.[29] The People’s Republic of China will continue to advocate the principle of state sovereignty in order to hinder the global imposition of a western human rights system.

This will have some serious consequences for the governance of threats relating to human security, such as human rights abuses and global health crises. It will be interesting how China will address this sovereignty-human rights dilemma.

Conclusion

The rise of China may be the most defining political phenomenon of the 21st century. This essay has attempted to cast some light on the consequences of this development for the future of world order. In doing so, this essay has critically assessed the origin and distribution of the Westphalian world order as a universal concept based on a community of equally sovereign states. Having supressed the traditional Chinese vision of order in a colonial struggle, the future fate of the Westphalian state system may be in question especially considering that post-colonial China has gathered the resources to institutionalize her vision of order.

 When determining whether a rising China will spoil the old and establish a new concept of world order (which this essay referred to as a Tian-xia system), this essay pays attention to thinkers such as Zhao, who seek inspiration from ancient Chinese political thought to guide the contemporary exercise of Chinese power. This discipline remains highly under-thought.[30]  Concluding that Chinese officials are neither willing nor able to implement Zhao’s Tian-xia system, Beijing commits to the preservation of Westphalian sovereignty. Although not being a revolutionary power – discontent with the architecture of the existing order -, China shall not be considered as a status-quo power – content to preserve the U.S.-led liberal world order. The governance of human security issues has created space for interventionist policies which are essentially post-Westphalian as they pushed back the pushback on the boundaries of sovereignty.  Based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Resistance, China will attempt to gather support among fellow post-colonial nations to counter the wester trend of breaching sovereignty. In that sense the rise of China could recalibrate the meaning of sovereignty, to the extent that a Pax-Sinica would therefore be more Westphalian that the current Pax-Americana.

[1] OECD, “Developments in individual OECD and selected non-member economies,” OECD Economic Outlook,

   Vol. 2017, No. 2 (2017), p. 121. Accessed 23rd March 2018 at: <http://www.oecd.org/eco/outlook/economic-

   forecast-summary-china-oecd-economic-outlook.pdf>.

[2] Callahan W.A., “Chinese Visions of World Order: Post-hegemonic or New Hegemony?” International Studies

  Review, Vol. 10, (2008), p. 749.

[3] Zhao, S., “China as a Rising Power Versus the US-led World Order,” Rising Powers Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1

  (2016), p. 13.

[4] Krasner, S., “Compromising Westphalia,” International Security, Vol. 20, No. 3 (1995-1996), p. 115.

[5] Ibid., p. 256.

[6] Ibid., p. 175.

[7] Mitter, R., Modern China – A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 21.

[8] Teufler Dreyer, J., (2015), p. 1020.

[9] Legge, J., The Chinese Classics (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1960), p. 52.

[10] Cited in Campbell, K.M. & Ratner, E., “The China Reckoning,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 97, No.2 (2018), p. 67.

[11] Gray, K & Murphy, C.N., “Introduction: Rising powers and the future of global governance,” Third World

    Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 1, (2013), p. 187.

[12] Zhao, T., (2009), p. 8.

[13] Ibid., p. 12

[14] Editorial, “The Chinese dream infuses socialism with Chinese characteristics, with new energy”, Qiushi

    (2013).

[15] Jacques, M., When China rules the world: the end of the western world and the birth of a new global order (New York: Penguin, 2009), p. 175.

[16] Roy, D., “China’s Military Rise,” in Denny Roy Return of the Dragon: Rising China and Regional Security

   (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), p. 70.

[17] Kissinger, H., (2014), p. 216.

[18] Editorial, “Five years on, Xiplomacy is reshaping China’s global role for a better world,” Quishi (2018),

   Available at: <http://english.qstheory.cn/2018-03/22/c_1122575770.htm#&gt;.

[19] Kagan, R., “What China Knows That We Don’t: The Case for a New Strategy of Containment,” Carnegie –

    Endowment for International Peace, Available at: <http://carnegieendowment.org/1997/01/20/what-china-

    knows-that-we-don-t-case-for-new-strategy-of-containment-pub-266>.

[20] Zhao, T., “Rethinking Empire from a Chinese Concept “All-under-Heaven” (Tian-xia),” Social Identities Vol.

    12, No. 1 (2006), p. 30.

[21] Ikenberry, J.G., Liberal Leviathan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), p. 122.

[22] Ibid., p. 123

[23] Ikenberry, J.G., “The Rise of China: Power, Institutions, and the Western Order,” in R.S. Ross and Z. Feng,

    China’s Ascent, Power Security, and the Future of International Politics (New York: Cornell University

    Press, 2008), p. 90.

[24] Callahan W.A., (2008), p. 759.

[25] Jiaboa, W., Premier, State Council P.R.C., Carrying Forward the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in

    the Promotion of Peace and Development, Address Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Five

    Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (June 28, 2004), Available at:

    <http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/topics/seminaronfiveprinciples/ t14077.htm>.

[26] Chang-Fa, L., “Values to Be Added to an Eastphalia Order by the Emerging China,” Indiana Journal for

    Global Legal Studies Vol. 17, No. 1 (2010), p. 18.

[27] Krasner, S (1995-1996).

[28] International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2011).

[29] Davis, J.E., “From Ideology to Pragmatism: China’s Position on Humanitarian Intervention in the Post-Cold War Era,” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 44, No. 2 (2011), p. 253.

[30] Xuetong, Y., Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2011), p. 245.

 

A New Low: Pro-Gun activists use Holocaust to attack gun control

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Flaminia Luck is a 1st year History and IR student with interests in ethics, war crimes, and human rights. She is an Ambassador for the Holocaust Educational Trust and uses her knowledge of the Holocaust to highlight contemporary issues such as racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

Following the tragic school shooting on Valentine’s Day in Florida and the subsequent ‘March for our Lives’ protests that have rallied across the United States, the debate surrounding gun control has found its way back into headlines.

As discussion over firearm sales, self-defence and the Second Amendment is reignited, a worrying idea that justifies the obstruction of basic gun control measures has disgusted me in a way that other pro-gun arguments are yet to do.

While the issue of gun control is a complex one, one argument that is often circulated by pro-gun activists is one that states that the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened if the Jewish population of Germany had been armed.

This case was brought to my attention, in typical millennial form, through social media. A photo on Facebook of the shoe exhibit on display at Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum posted with the caption ‘To all the kids that walked out of school to protest guns. These are the shoes of Jews that gave up their firearms to Hitler. They were led into gas chambers, murdered and buried in mass graves. Pick up a history book and you’ll realise what happens when u give up freedoms and why we have them’. This post has garnered over one hundred and forty shares and can be found in similar forms amongst Conservative, anti-gun control circles.

Not limited to just the dark depths of social media, this type of thinking has been expressed publicly by many prominent pro-gun politicians and gun rights activists.

These include leading author and pro-gun academic David Kopel who simply asserts that ‘If not for gun control, Hitler would not have been able to murder 21 million people.’

Wayne LaPierre, Vice President of the NRA, one of the most influential lobbying groups in the United States which claims to have a membership of five million, has likened proposed gun control measures to Nazi laws; ‘In Germany, Jewish extermination began with the Nazi Weapon Law of 1938, signed by Adolf Hitler.’ And finally, State Representative for Alaska, Don Young, recently stated in February of this year ‘How many Jews were put in the ovens because they were unarmed?.’

The suggestion that a small minority living in Germany, which accounted for 0.75% of the population, could have prevented their own genocide and the wider war merely through the abolition of gun control is absolutely absurd.

The irony of the phrase ‘Pick up a history book’ is particularly outrageous as this assertion completely lacks historical context and fails to acknowledge centuries of anti-Semitism in Europe which came to a climax in the 1940s due to a vicious combination of economic anxiety, political volatility and institutionalised violence against Jews to name a few.

This theory neglects the same fate of non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, including Roma and Sinti, homosexuals and disabled people amongst many others. It also enormously underestimates the power of the Wermacht; the German state military machine which included the SS, the SA and the Gestapo which was only stopped by the combination of years of armed effort from the Allied Forces.

Drawing on Nazi comparisons that bear no resemblance to modern gun control measures is disgraceful and demonstrates the lengths pro-gun advocates will go to in order to scare people into opposing logical common sense restrictions that could prevent unnecessary deaths. This fearmongering tactic uses an almost apocalyptic argument to present people who don’t agree with gun control as vulnerable to oppression and annihilation by their government.

This shameful strategy of pro-gun lobbyists which politicises the victims of one of the most heinous episodes in human history is unacceptable. The distortion of historical facts concerning the Holocaust in order to serve a pro-gun agenda is both incorrect and deeply offensive.

The Holocaust Educational Trust is a charity that uses lessons from the past to educate young people about where hatred can ultimately take society. It is committed to defending the truth and in an era of fake news, it is imperative to maintain historical accuracy in public debate and to stop the spread of this fictitious claim that disrespects the memory of 6 million Holocaust victims.

 

From Russia with Love: Agent Novichok, Russian and the UK

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William Reynolds is a 3rd year War Studies student with interests in counterinsurgency, maritime security and contemporary British security. He has been Head of Operations for KCL Crisis 2018, acted as a King’s Research Fellow for Dr Whetham at the Centre of Military Ethics and is currently a Conservation Volunteer on HMS Belfast. 

The poisoning of former Russian Military Intelligence (GRU) agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on the 4th March (2018) has sent ripples across the political, domestic and foreign spheres of policy within the United Kingdom. Appearing from nowhere, with no leadup, warning or claims of self-attribution, the attack has come as a shock to many, with social and public media abuzz with speculation. With some going so far to claim it comparable with 9/11, though this is clearly a significant exaggeration, the events of March the 4th will not quietly fade away in public discussion. What are the implications for Russian-UK relations? Why, if the accusations prove correct, did Russia do this? And does this mark an escalation into an unspoken Cold War 2.0? These are the questions that are being asked, and what this article will attempt to assess.

The events

First, what actually happened? The initial ‘attack’ was reported at 1615 hours on March 4th when a 999 call from Sergei Skripal was made from his residence. By the end of the day, both he and his daughter were hospitalised, alongside the presiding officer Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, in a serious [1]condition and a further two police officers were treated for minor conditions. Overall, 21 UK citizens were possibly exposed to the agent, but it was only those listed above who have, so far, been actively treated.[2]

By March the 9th, after analysis from the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at the nearby Port Down facility, military personnel drawn from the Defence CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) Centre, 29 EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) and Search Group, Royal Marines from 40 Commando, elements from 26 and 27 Squadrons RAF Regiment, and specialised Fuchs operated by Falcon Squadron Royal Tank Regiment were deployed to contain and deal with the exposed sites.[3] A local Zizzi restaurant was closed due to possible exposure. So at least something positive came out of it.

Novichok Nerve Agent

Novichok is a series of nerve agents developed within the Soviet Union and Russia from 1971 to 1993.[4] Its main purpose was to be used as a battlefield force multiplier, being able to counter NATO CBRN protective gear and being undetectable by current instruments. It further had the bonus of circumventing the Chemical Weapons Convention as it did not draw from the list of controlled precursors. Much like nuclear material, chemical agents have signatures unique to their places of production. A series of factors ranging from the workers to physical conditions result in agents with unique chemical characteristics associated only with their places of respective origin. The belief in NATO, and supported by defected Soviet assets, states that Novichok agents have unique characteristics only associated with the Shikhany facility in Saratov Oblast, Russia.[5]

Military personnel suiting up to contain the exposed areas.

The Fallout

After further assessment, the PM Theresa May publicly identified the agent as one of the Novichok family of agents on March the 12th. A deadline was set for an explanation from Russia as to how a deadly nerve agent made it to Sailsbury, which, as the PM put it, was responded to with “sarcasm, contempt and defiance” by the Russian government.[6] Thus, on the 14th of March the UK unveiled a series of measures as a response to this failure for clarification:[7]

  • 23 Russian diplomats and their families were expelled from the Country
  • Increase of checks on private flights, custom and freight involving Russian citizens
  • Freezing Russian state assets where there is evidence that they could be a threat to property and life of UK nationals and residents
  • A boycott from the Royal Family and government of the 2018 World Cup
  • Suspension of all high-level bilateral contact with the Russian state
  • Plans to consider new laws to aid against actions of ‘hostile states’
  • A new £48 million chemical weapons defence centre
  • Offering voluntary vaccinations against Anthrax to British armed forces personnel deployed at high readiness

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Expelled Russian ambassador board their plane bound for Russia.

By March the 15th the leaders of France, Germany, the UK and the US released a joint message which stated that it was “highly likely that Russia was responsible” and called upon Russia to provide complete disclosure to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), as the UK had given the organisation a sample of the agent earlier in the week.[8]

The Russian government remained consistent on their position of denial throughout the process. In retaliation to UK actions, the Russian government expelled 23 UK diplomats and ordered the closure of both the Consulate in St Petersburg and the British Council Office in Moscow.[9]

 The ‘Russian way of warfare’

The debate continues as to who can be attributed to the attack. Members of the opposition in parliament suggest the possibility of Mafia links, rather than the government itself.[10] This inability to categorically attribute, or at least attribute to such a degree to satisfy some critics, risks an uncoordinated response if it is indeed the Russian government at play. What does seem to be apparent however, is that resulting Russian actions, both officially in the political space and unofficially on social media, do share many similarities with disinformation campaigns of the past.

NATO loves to throw around new definitions. Be it ‘network-centric’, ‘multi-spectrum’ or ‘4th Generation Warfare’. However, a term that has stuck, and for good reason, is that of Hybrid Warfare. A doctrine attributed to the Russian Chief of Staff General Valey Gerasimov, though he strongly denies translating his academic thoughts into a Russian ‘doctrine’, Hybrid Warfare is a multi-spectrum approach, utilising all forms of human activity from War, Politics, Society and Economics, to achieve one’s political ends.[11] Much of what was stated in Gerasimov’s writings played itself out on the plains of Ukraine and Crimea. Though it hasn’t been repeated since, the utility of non-state actors as a viable tool without attribution has many NATO border states worried. After all, could not Russia repeat the same in a NATO border state? Without concrete attribution, such actions would risk breaking the alliance apart if Article V was triggered. Such a debate is still ongoing, with no real clear answer discernible as of yet. It is not in the purview of this article to deliver judgement. Rather, the context in which Sailsbury happened should be assessed in regard to Hybrid Warfare.

It is the disinformation campaigns associated with Ukraine and Crimea which are of interest. Though I cheekily referred to it as the Russian way of warfare, drawing upon Liddell Hart’s characterisation of the British affinity to conduct war from the sea, there are aspects of it which can be called uniquely Russian so far.[12] Through news agencies such as Sputnik and Russia Today the Russian government is able to spin its own story of events occurring. Though this isn’t unique to Russia, it is in conjunction with what can only be described as a vast army of ‘trolls’ and ‘bots’ on social media who push the Russian narrative as hard and as far as possible. Indeed, the US 2016 elections saw 36,000 of these Russian bots actively tweeting on social media.[13]

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Possible Image of a Russian Social Media bot.

Due partly to the interconnectivity we enjoy today, this allows particularly ‘loud’ individuals to propagate their message directly to the public (here’s looking at you Trump). The combination of ‘loud’ accounts and the quantity of them, in conjunction with a message that is stuck to rigidly, actively increases the visibility of the message over possibly more well-reasoned debates. This in turn creates enough of a ‘smoke screen’ to hinder any counter actions against the state. Without political and national consensus, Western states tend to falter in their resolve.[14]

To link it back to Sailsbury, an estimated 2,800 Russian bots were believed to have “sowed confusion after poison attacks”.[15] There is further evidence which can place attribution to Russian guilt. Exactly a week before the attack occurred, a Russian YouTube account called Group.M uploaded 4 videos of the former spy Skripal.[16] Whilst it may have been coincidental, a second source believed it to be part of a Russian organised campaign of disinformation.[17] In conjunction with the other elements assessed, it is hard to disagree.

Even after the attack, information continues to be deployed by Russia to create doubt of attribution. A particularly outrageous claim, by both ex-KGB and Russian politicians, is that it was a ‘False Flag’ operation. The proximity of Porton Down (8 miles) to the location of the attack has invited conjecture that the UK has poisoned its own citizens.[18] This feels more like a reflection of Russian attitudes to what is and isn’t acceptable for a state to do. Even bringing it up infers that a modicum of legitimacy can be attached to it via the Russian people. The newest element is a ‘former friend’, Vladimir Timoshkov, who has recently come forward stating that Skripal “regretted being a double agent” and wanted to go home.[19] The logic being, why would Russia kill someone who felt repentant for what he had done? Rather, I’d suggest this new information reflects a pivot in strategy as the realisation that the UK public wasn’t quite as divided on the issue as first thought.

Implications

So what are the implications for the Sailsbury attack? Is a Cold War 2.0 approaching? It seems unlikely. Rather, the Sailsbury attack has brought forward some suggestions as to possibly why it occurred and highlighted aspects for the wider UK political sphere to consider.

  1. Losing control

There are two possible reasonings as to why Russia may have decided to act now. This is all rather theoretical, so feel free to skip forward if you desire. A worrying conclusion one could draw to this unexpected action is that Putin has simply lost control of highly dangerous chemical weapons, or worse, parts of his intelligence apparatus. Neither bodes well for the West, as a more bellicose Russian intelligence service without the political limitations could lead to further acts of espionage. It is worth noting that there is little evidence to support either theory so far. Indeed, it seems even less likely that this was a ‘mafia hit’, as the ability to maintain a Novochok supply, assuming no new batches were made post-93, without state funding is universally agreed as almost impossible. Until we have proof of the Illuminati or lizard people ruling over us, I’d wager that the chemical was deployed via state actors.

Thus, we are left with Putin losing control of certain actors within his intelligence circles. The attack was very public and very traceable. Therefore, any smoke screen for attribution would be brittle in nature. Putin would have known this going in. So why do it? A plausible explanation is that of rogue agencies.[20] However, it is all rather theoretical. Thus, anything further then ‘He’s lost control’ is conjecture.

  1. Hubris

The second option is just that Russia does not care. As stated, the chemical is easily traceable. But with the proximity of the Russian elections, one could argue that Putin is attempting to reinforce the narrative of ‘the West’ actively attempting to undermine Russia. In this sense, it could be a Russian pseudo ‘False Flag’ operation. Though I’m sure many just rolled their eyes at the very casual comparison just made, one could argue that Russia conducted the attack to provoke a response which in turn provides Putin with legitimacy. Indeed, insurgent groups do this often, provoking a sharp response through their attacks in order to cause civilian casualties, thus increasing their legitimacy as they portray the security forces as barbaric.

  1. ‘Useful idiots’

A particularly troubling aspect of recent events are the ‘useful idiots’ within UK society. That is, British citizens, with no apparent links to Russia or their disinformation campaign, actively aiding in spreading the confusion and casting doubt on attribution. The most shocking event was in the emergency House of Commons session, where the leader of the opposition decided to use his speech to both caution attributing it to Russia and suggesting that government cuts could have possibly caused this.[21] Whilst of course advising calm is neither bad nor being ‘an idiot’, the political point-scoring driven off the back of it provoked much shock from both sides of the House. It is tradition for the opposition to back the government in acts of foreign policy, especially after an attack. Even Clement Atlee voiced support of Chamberlains decision to go to war (1939), despite knowing full well that appeasement had driven them to this point.

This quickly leads to the social media sphere. Many were quick to point out the links between Sailsbury and the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003. The reliance on intelligence, rather than an overt act of war, has left many peddling the Russian line. This ‘Iraq syndrome’ seems to have infected much of society, with even Jeremy Corbyn citing Iraq as a reason to not attribute it to Russia as of now.[22] Within the same speech Corbyn cast doubt on the validity of British intelligence, again citing Iraq as an example of their capabilities. Ignoring the fact that a possible future PM is laying into elements of the Civil Service, funnily enough echoing Rumsfeld and Cheney who both based the decision to invade Iraq off the back of their distrust of CIA information, comparing Sailsbury to Iraq is factually false. As stated by Lawrence Freedman, the writer of the Chilcot Report, Sailsbury intelligence is based off scientific facts rather than the human intelligence associated with Iraq.[23] However, the ‘useful idiots’ continue to cite it like gospel.

The final grating aspect of these ‘useful idiots’ is their ability to give Russia the benefit of the doubt. There have been calls, again also by Corbyn, to give Russia a sample of the agent to test for themselves. To which Lawrence Freedman sarcastically tweeted, “They should also do all the anti-doping tests on their athletes.[24] The argument being that we can dismiss any evidence they produce out of hand if it proves to be false. The issue here is that doing so adds legitimacy to their narrative. Handing samples over and even entertaining the idea of listening to their assessment implies the chance that we could be willing to believe them. Such legitimacy served to feed their narrative more than offset the doubt. The fact that many calling for this do not trust the UK intelligence services, or indeed the French and German ones, who undoubtedly assessed the evidence given to them independent of UK influence, and the international OPCW is worrying to say the least. Indeed, one would suggest that this could have easily been mitigated if Corbyn had sided with UK govt policy here. After all, much of the ‘useful idiot’ activity on social media is perpetuated by the self-described Corbynites.[25] One is inclined to believe that they would have changed their tune if Corbyn had voiced stronger opposition to Russia. However, it is not simply the Corbynites who make up this area. Russian disinformation seems to benefit from a collection of groups who take the view that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Thus, over the past week we have seen Anarchists, Marxists, Nationalists and Scottish Nationalists all trumpet their support of different explanations suggesting it wasn’t a Russian attack. Russian disinformation may be good at its job, but the UK public seems to be rather better.

  1. Escalation?

With this aside, is there a chance of an escalation? Whilst true this represents a significant step up from the usual, though not for the people of Ukraine or Syria, I’d wager there is little chance of a ‘Cold War’ developing as a result. Russian and UK relations have been chequered in recent years, with the UK leading the charge within the EU for sanctions against them.[26] Not much has changed since then. Rather, it appears to be a spike in tensions over what has been a game played since 2014. The UK alone does not represent an existential threat to Russia, but its heavily interconnected alliance frameworks do. However, it seems doubtful that the UK will push for more than economic retaliation. As a triggering of Article V would risk destroying the alliance, with possible declines of assistance occurring, thus undermining the entire legitimacy of NATO. With hard power not viable, what of soft power? It is here that seems the most likely axis of advance for the UK. Through its still quite considerable soft power, the UK will most likely press for further sanctions and tighten the grip already being felt. Indeed, this may prove beneficial. Both France and Germany have been considering loosening the sanctions put in place for Ukraine.[27] The Sailsbury attacks may prove to not only be the evidence required to prevent the lifting of sanctions, but enhance them.

 

 Bibliography: 

[1] https://cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/1/590x/russia-vladimir-putin-kremlin-brexit-cyber-attack-theresa-may-moscow-mp-pm-tories-labour-president-uk-election-887114.jpg – Accessed 25/03/18. 

[2]  Vikram Dodd, Ewen MacAskillJamie Grierson and Steven Morris, ‘Sergei Skripal attack: investigators wear protective suits at cemetery’, The Guardian, Accessed 25/03/18

[3] See, Toxic Storm for Royal Marineshttps://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2018/march/06/180306-toxic-storm-for-royal-marines-in-major-chemical-exercise; for 29 EOD Elite UK Forces – http://www.eliteukforces.info/eod/army-eod/; for RAF Reg RAF Winterbourne Gunnerhttps://www.raf.mod.uk/our-organisation/stations/raf-winterbourne-gunner/; and for a full overview, Rebecca Taylor and David Mercer, ‘Spy Poisoning: Amber Rudd Chairs Cobra meeting as military deployed in Sailsbury’, Sky News, Accessed 25/03/18.

[4] Mirzayanov, Vil (1995), “Dismantling the Soviet/Russian Chemical Weapons Complex: AN Insider’s View”, Global Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Hearings Before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, 104th Cong., pp.393-405.

[5] Ewan MacAskill, ‘Novichok: nerve agent produced at only one facility says expert’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/14/nerve-agent-novichok-produced-russia-site-expert – Accessed 25/03/18.

[6] Heather Stewart, Peter Walker and Julian Borger, ‘Russia threatens retaliation after Britain expels 23 diplomats’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/14/may-expels-23-russian-diplomats-response-spy-poisoning – Accessed 25/03/18.

[7] ‘Spy Posioning: How is the UK retaliating against Russia?’, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-43380378 – Accessed 25/03/18; and ‘UK Defence Secretary tells Russia go away and shut up’, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-43405686 – Accessed 25/03/18Owen Matthews ‘Has Vladimir Putin Lost Control of Russia’s Assassins?’, Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-lost-control-russia-assassins-840598Accessed 25/03/18.

[8] ‘Salisbury attack: Joint statement from the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom’, Government of the United Kingdom, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/salisbury-attack-joint-statement-from-the-leaders-of-france-germany-the-united-states-and-the-united-kingdom  – Accessed 25/03/1.

[9] Judith Vonberg and Oliver Carroll, ‘Russia expels 23 British diplomats in retaliation as diplomatic spat over Sergei Skripal poisoning intensifies’, The Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-spy-poison-british-diplomats-expelled-sergei-skripal-nerve-agent-a8260671.html – Accessed 25/03/18.

[10] Jeremy Corbyn, ‘The Sailsbury attack was appalling. But we must avoid a drift to conflict’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/15/salisbury-attack-conflict-britain-cold-war – Accessed 25/03/18

[11] General Valey Gerasimov, ‘The Value of Science is in the Foresight’, Military Review, Vol.96 (2016): pp.23 – 29.

[12] For more see, Holden Reid, Brian. “The British Way in Warfare: Liddell Hart’s Idea and Its Legacy.” The RUSI Journal, Vol.156 (2011): 70-76.

[13] ‘Russia using disinformation to sow discord in the West, Britain’s Prime Minister says’, NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/11/14/564013066/russia-using-disinformation-to-sow-discord-in-west-britains-prime-minister-saysAccessed 25/03/18.

[14] For more, see H.Smith, ‘What costs will democracies bear? A review of popular theories of casualty aversion’, Armed Forces & Society, Vol.31 (2005)

[15]Debroah Haynes, ‘Skripal Attack: 2,800 Russian bots sowed confusion after poison attacks’, The Sunday Times, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/2-800-russian-bots-sowed-confusion-after-poison-attacks-zf6lvb3nc – Accessed 25/03/18

[16] Debroah Haynes, ‘Skripal Attack: YouTube videos analysed for links to disinformation campaign’, The Times, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/skripal-attack-youtube-videos-analysed-disinformation-campaign-link-53fwb6pl9 – Accessed 24/03/18

[17] Ibid.

[18] Owen Matthews ‘Has Vladimir Putin Lost Control of Russia’s Assassins?’, Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-lost-control-russia-assassins-840598Accessed 25/03/18

[19] Skripal, ‘regretted being a double agent’, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-europe-43519494/skripal-regretted-being-double-agent – Accessed 25/03/18

[20] Owen Matthews ‘Has Vladimir Putin Lost Control of Russia’s Assassins?’, Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-lost-control-russia-assassins-840598Accessed 25/03/18

[21] Greg Heffer, ‘Jeremy Corbyn infuriates House of Commons with Russia response’, Sky News, https://news.sky.com/story/jeremy-corbyn-infuriates-house-of-commons-with-russia-response-11287599 – Accessed 25/03/18.

[22] Guy Faulconbridge, ‘Britain’s Labour Leader warns of rushing into new Cold War without full evidence.’, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-russia-corbyn/british-labour-leader-warns-of-rushing-into-new-cold-war-without-full-evidence-idUSKCN1GS0SN – Accessed 25/03/18

[23] Lawrence Freedman on Twitter (14th March 2018), https://twitter.com/LawDavF/status/973967779534704641 – Accessed 25/03/18

[24] Ibid

[25] Such as Owen Jones, https://twitter.com/OwenJones84/status/973952909682626562 – Accessed 25/03/18;

[27] Rowena Mason and Patrick Wintour, ‘UK to press European allies for tougher sanctions against Russia over MH17’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/21/uk-europe-tougher-sanctions-russia-mh17-putin – Accessed 25/03/18

[1] Macron as finance minister wished the sanctions to be lifted in 2016, ‘Macron in Mosocow: France wants Russian sanctions lifted by mid-year’, rfi, http://en.rfi.fr/economy/20160125-macron-moscow-france-wants-russia-sanctions-lifted-mid-year – Accessed 25/03/18; and Merkel also, ‘Merkel: EU will lift Russian sanctions when Minsk accords implemented’, politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/merkel-eu-will-lift-russia-sanctions-when-minsk-accords-implemented/Accessed 25/03/18[28]

 

 

 

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India and the Indo-Pacific

Ammar Nainar is a second year undergraduate student reading for a BA in International Relations. His research interests mainly include contemporary Indian Grand Strategy and applied history.

 

The term Indo-Pacific has off late gained a tremendous level of traction in major policy networks of the world. The term has recently appeared in the 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy, 2017 Australian White Paper on Foreign policy, Japan’s 2016 ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’ and the U.S.-India Joint Statement in June 2017. Not surprisingly, the four countries mentioned are major stakeholders in furthering and promoting this new geostrategic construct. So what exactly is the Indo-Pacific, why is it salient in a world order increasingly in disarray and what is its importance for India are some of the questions this article seeks to tackle.

What is the Indo-Pacific?

The term Indo-Pacific may be broadly defined as the region which stretches from Eastern Africa across the Indian Ocean traversing the Straits of Malacca to the Western Pacific Ocean. Though the U.S. has formally defined the Indo-Pacific as a region which ‘stretches from the west coast of India to the western shores of the United States’. Nonetheless, the Indo-Pacific is beginning to be viewed as a ‘single and shared strategic space’. The Indo-Pacific should be seen as a dynamic coupling of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean which undoubtedly brings together some of the world’s fastest growing economies and vibrant polities. For the U.S. in particular, the emergence of the Indo-Pacific has infused a tremendous level of political energy in terms of preserving mutual interests’ with allies and strategic partners like Japan, Australia and India respectively. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently proclaimed the Indo-Pacific to be the most consequential part of the globe in the 21st century’. For Japan, there exists a unique opportunity to enhance connectivity between Asia and Africa through a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’. Likewise, Australia aims to leverage numerous opportunities with countries like India and Indonesia, which are located in the Indo-Pacific region.

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The Salience of the Indo-Pacific

Common to both the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean as two maritime regions, is the rise of China and its muscle flexing which has raised eyebrows in New Delhi, Tokyo, ASEAN capitals and Washington D.C. Needless to say, China’s ongoing disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea, its naval forays into the Indian Ocean Region where it recently sailed into the East Indian Ocean with a fleet of destroyers and its recent acquisition of naval bases in Djibouti and Gwadar have created an unprecedented amount of strategic convergence’ between India, Japan, the U.S. and Australia. This strategic convergence is mainly to ensure a free, open, stable and secure Indo-Pacific region undergirded by a strong respect for rule of law and freedom of navigation. Though the political semantics of the four countries’ policy vis-à-vis China remains unclear, they would like to ensure that the post-world war rules based international order is preserved in this vital theater of the Indo-Pacific which is vulnerable to Chinese assertiveness. Hence, the salience of the Indo-Pacific lies with the fact that it is beginning to be seen as an arena where the rules-based international order should be preserved and if not neutralize, manage Chinese revisionism in the region.

The four countries taking the lead in this ambitious plan are categorized as Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond’. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2012 conceived the Security Diamond in a seminal article in the Project Syndicate where he opined Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. State of Hawaii form a diamond to safeguard the maritime commons from the Indian Ocean region to the western Pacific’. The coming together of maritime democracies was also evident in the recently held ‘Quad’ talks ahead of the ASEAN and East Asia Summit in Manila 2017. The four countries (Japan, U.S., India and Australia) agreed that free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region serves long term interests of all countries in the region’. The foundation of the ‘Quad’ is such that it comprises of democracies with a strong sense of shared values and interests. Nevertheless, the Quad grouping is very much a work in progress and has not yet materialized as a robust coalition due to the fact that each country will have to factor into their strategic calculus its effects on their relationship with China.

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India and the Indo-Pacific

The intellectual framework of Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy is his ambition to make India a leading rather than balancing’ power. The conception of India as a leading power is a desire to express ‘greater self-confidence’ in among other activities keeping the maritime commons safe and secure’. The Indian Navy unveiled its maritime security strategy of Ensuring Secure Seas in 2015 where it wants to guard important SLOC’s and shape a ‘Favorable and Positive Maritime environment’ through which it would enhance net security. Also, this Maritime security strategy is well in sync with India’s ‘Act East policy’ through which it aims to expand economic relations and security cooperation with ASEAN countries, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Hence, India’s role in the Indo-Pacific region and the wider world is very much a reflection of a well-connected and deeply articulate grand strategy which, according to Prime Minister Modi’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, has allowed India to improve our weight and punch proportionately’. So there is a suitable connect between India’s grand strategy and its ‘Act East’ policy in the Indo-Pacific where it aims to be a significant player in the geopolitics of the region.

The Indo-Pacific region is a vital theatre for India especially since 70% of an overall 90% of international trade flows through the high seas. Furthermore, to make sure international sea routes remain safe, secure and free for navigation, India must ensure the rules-based international order is preserved in the region. That being said, India conducts regular naval exercises with the Quad countries like the tri-lateral Malabar naval exercise with Japan and the U.S. off the Bay of Bengal, the bilateral AUSINDEX with Australia in the coast of western Australia.

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To conclude, the Indo-Pacific is a promising region of the world, which may be a hotbed of geo-economics and security issues. One should be cognizant of its significance as well as some of the challenges it faces and how a country like India can play a vital role in enhancing a conducive atmosphere for international free trade, stability and prosperity.

Bibliography

  1. Abe, Shinzo. “MOFA: Speech by H.E. Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, at the Parliament of the Republic of India “Confluence of the Two Seas” (August 22, 2007).” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Accessed February 27, 2018. http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/pmv0708/speech-2.html.
  2. Abe, Shinzo. “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond by Shinzo Abe.” Project Syndicate. Last modified February 26, 2018. https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/a-strategic-alliance-for-japan-and-india-by-shinzo-abe.
  3. Australian Government. “Foreign Policy White Paper.” Foreign Policy White Paper. Last modified November 21, 2017. https://www.fpwhitepaper.gov.au/foreign-policy-white-paper.
  4. Bhattacherjee, Kallol. “India, Japan, U.S., Australia Hold First ‘Quad? Talks at Manila Ahead of ASEAN Summit.” The Hindu. Last modified November 12, 2017. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-highlights-indo-pacific-cooperation-at-the-first-quad-talks/article20317526.ece.
  5. Brewster, David. “China’s New Network of Indian Ocean Bases.” Lowy Institute. Last modified January 30, 2018. https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/chinas-new-network-indian-ocean-bases.
  6. Consulate-General of Japan, Sydney. Accessed February 27, 2018. http://www.sydney.au.emb-japan.go.jp/document/english/Indo-PacificStrategy.PDF.
  7. “ENSURING SECURE SEAS: INDIAN MARITIME SECURITY STRATEGY.” Official Website of Indian Navy. Last modified October 2015. https://www.indiannavy.nic.in/sites/default/files/Indian_Maritime_Security_Strategy_Document_25Jan16.pdf.
  8. “IISS Fullerton Lecture by Dr. S. Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary in Singapore.” Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Accessed February 27, 2018. http://mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/25493/IISS_Fullerton_Lecture_by_Foreign_Secretary_in_Singapore
  9. Jaishankar, Dhruva. “Why 2017 Idea of the Year is the ‘Indo-Pacific?” https://www.hindustantimes.com/. Last modified December 29, 2017. https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/why-2017-idea-of-the-year-is-the-indo-pacific/story-A0fctWmn3s5Nc04PxZrCHO.html.
  10. Madan, Tanvi. “The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the ‘Quad?” War on the Rocks. Last modified November 16, 2017. https://warontherocks.com/2017/11/rise-fall-rebirth-quad/.
  11. MEA. “Speech by Dr. S. Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary to Mark 25 Years of India-Singapore Partnership at Shangri La Hotel, Singapore (July 11, 2017).” Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Accessed February 27, 2018. http://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/28609/Speech+by+Dr+S+Jaishankar+Foreign+Secretary+to+mark+25+years+of+IndiaSingapore+Partnership+at+Shangri+La+Hotel+Singapore+July+11+2017.
  12. PTI. “India, Australia Bilateral Naval Exercise Next Month.” The Economic Times. Last modified May 9, 2017. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/india-australia-bilateral-naval-exercise-next-month/articleshow/58599682.cms.
  13. PTI. “Tri-nation Malabar Naval Exercise Begins.” The Hindu. Last modified July 10, 2017. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-us-japan-begin-malabar-naval-exercise/article19250306.ece.
  14. Rao, Srinath. “NSA Ajit Doval Underlines Use of Power: India Should Stop Punching Below Its Weight.” The Indian Express. Last modified August 5, 2015. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/ajit-doval-underlines-use-of-power-india-should-stop-punching-below-its-weight/.
  15. Tellis, Ashley J. “INDIA AS A LEADING POWER.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Accessed February 27, 2018. http://carnegieendowment.org/files/CP_268_Tellis_India_final1.pdf.
  16. White House. Home Page. Accessed February 27, 2018. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf.
  17. ““Defining Our Relationship with India for the Next Century: An Address by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson”.” Center for Strategic and International Studies. Accessed February 27, 2018. https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/event/171018_An_Address_by_U.S._Secretary_of_State_Rex_Tillerson.pdf?O0nMCCRjXZiUa5V2cF8_NDiZ14LYRX3m.

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  1. http://www.firstpost.com/world/india-australia-us-and-japan-in-talks-to-establish-partnership-as-alternative-to-chinas-belt-and-road-initiative-4357883.html

 

End Game in Syria? Not so fast…The Worst could be yet to come.

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Source: https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-04-29/three-reasons-why-syrias-civil-war-has-no-end-sight

Will Marshall is a 1st year International Relations undergraduate student at King’s College London and MENA Editor for International Relations Today.

As the Syrian Civil War entered its seventh gruelling year – some audacious statesmen, journalists and commentators had tentatively begun to suggest that the bloody conflict, which has claimed as many as 470,000 lives and involved, in some form or another, almost every regional player in the wider Middle East was beginning to draw to a close[1][2]. The dramatic collapse of the so-called Islamic State , which seemed unstoppable at its zenith just a few years ago, the string of decisive victories by Russian-backed Assad forces and the abandonment of US-led training programmes to the motley Free Syrian Army appeared to suggest that, against the odds, the Arab dictator had finally managed to regain some measure of control over his country. The events of recent weeks however, have brought these claims into serious doubt with the emergence of notable new crisis points pitting the region’s major powers; Turkey, Iran, Israel and of course the Assad Regime directly against one another. This suggests that the war is entering a new and fundamentally distinct phase where Syria acts as the battleground for the region’s myriad geopolitical struggles. This raises the distinct possibility that rather than a gradual wind down in hostilities, we may be about to see yet another dramatic upsurge in violent conflict in the already war-ravaged state, with the potential to transform what has until now been a proxy conflict into a long-feared ‘hot’ war between the region’s main powers.

Until now, the war in Syria has been a story of rapidly shifting alliances and even quicker shifts in territorial control. The concerted effort against ISIS however, which briefly served to unite the conflict’s diverse factions against a common enemy has rather served to consolidate the factions control over their respective zones of influence: The Turkish-backed rebels in the Northwest, US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces in the East and Assad’s regime, with the backing of Russia and Iran increasingly entrenched in the South and West[3]. The result of this being that the front lines of the war are becoming increasingly fixed, with hostilities restricted to intense pockets where the strategic interests of these groups overlap such as Afrin, Idlib and Eastern Ghouta. As the battle lines stabilise and the sweeping offensives – which characterised earlier stages of the conflict – become a thing of the past, a hallmark characteristic of the Syrian civil war’s latest stage will be that of steady attrition, with victory going to the party that can hold out the longest and absorb the greatest losses, be they military, civilian or material.

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Source: https://news.sky.com/story/the-complex-whos-who-of-syrian-civil-war-11260774

Another trademark of the war’s shifting dynamic is the importance of outside actors in shaping the outcomes of the conflict. Though the war has been marked by external interference since the beginning, with Western powers providing material support to the rebels and Iran to regime forces since at least 2012, Russian airstrikes in support of Assad since 2015 and the reported presence of US, Russian, Turkish and Iranian ground forces at various points throughout the conflict; the extent to which Syrian forces now depend on outside support is unprecedented following seven exhausting years of combat[4]. Rather than a domestic struggle, albeit one in which foreign-sponsored proxies play a key role, more and more it is beginning to look like an international conflict of geopolitical interests played out on Syrian soil. In the words of Joost Hiltermann, director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at the International Crisis Group ‘Most of the conflicts now have nothing to do with Syria per se. They just happen to be fought there.’[5]

The offensives of recent weeks have done much to illustrate this point. Turkish military offensives, launched in late January have focused on the city of Afrin, a strategically crucial stronghold given its proximity to the Turkish-Syrian border. This is in a bid to oust the Kurdish-dominated YPJ, a group Turkey condemns as a terrorist organisation due to its links to the PKK, a Kurdish separatist movement responsible for a decades-long insurgency against Turkish control from its de facto jurisdiction over Northern Syria, a situation which naturally poses a key threat to Turkish national security. Such a move, whilst not entirely surprising given Turkey’s traditional enmity towards the Kurds, serves to upset the power alignments of previous months where it had seemed an emerging Russia-Turkey-Iran axis in support of the Assad regime was the best hope for a speedy resolution to the conflict[6]. The Turkish intervention however, turns such calculations on their head with appeals by Kurdish forces to Assad for the protection of the country’s territorial integrity resulting in the deployment of pro-Assad militias to backup Kurdish forces in Afrin according to Syrian State TV, thus making the prospect of a direct confrontation between Turkish and Syrian troops a distinct possibility[7]. Meanwhile, the idea of Turkey gaining a significant foothold in the country serves to upset the interests of the other major regional player in Syria, Iran. Tehran has committed itself to nothing less than achieving a decisive military victory alongside its Syrian ally and increased Turkish penetration into the country raises the prospect of a breakdown in the temporary collaboration between the traditional rivals. More significantly, a continuation of Turkish attacks on the YPJ increases the likelihood of a direct confrontation with the US, its long-term NATO ally – an outcome which would not only have major implications for the power dynamic in the Middle East but for the Atlantic alliance as a whole.

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Source: https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/us-warns-turkey-planned-invasion-afrin/

Perhaps more illustrative of the new direction the war in Syria is taking is the furore surrounding the shooting down of an Israeli F-16 Fighter Jet over Syrian territory last month. Israel has, until now steered relatively clear of hostilities in the country. Nevertheless, the recent successes of pro-Assad forces, increasingly dependent on Iranian manpower and material support only serve to bolster Israeli fears of an Iranian arc of influence stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean via pro-Iranian regimes in Baghdad and Damascus as well as proxies acting directly on behalf of the Iranian Government in Syria and Lebanon. Such an outcome is clearly unacceptable to Tel Aviv, with the entrenchment of Iranian proxy militias, not least Hezbollah in so close to the Syrian-Israeli border raising the prospect of a rerun of the 2006 Lebanon War not to mention the possibility of a more generalised conflict between the two arch-rivals. Israeli Prime minister Netanyahu’s fiery speech at the recent Munich Security Conference, in which he likened the current Iranian Regime to Nazi Germany illustrated the seriousness with which such a situation is viewed by Israel[8]. Netanyahu went on to reiterate his ‘red lines’ which, if crossed, would force Israel to respond to proactively, emphasising his commitment to preventing the establishment of a permanent Iranian military presence base on Syrian soil. Though it is hard to imagine an all out invasion by Israeli conventional forces, targeted artillery and airstrikes being a far likelier option such situations can escalate rapidly, as Israel’s long history of conflict with its neighbours will testify. With the number of ongoing proxy conflicts in the conflict and the increasing deployment of regular forces to the Syrian quagmire, the prospect of an all out international war between the region’s major powers is more likely than ever.

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Source: https://www.quora.com/Which-F-16-is-the-best-Israeli-American-or-Turkish

The growing disengagement of the global powers with the situation in Syria makes such an outcome even more likely. Whilst the Trump Administration has elected to maintain considerable military capacity within the country in support of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces for the time being, his electoral promise to disengage with morale- and resource-sapping conflicts in the Middle East still holds strong, with America’s professed sole objective in Syria being the eradication of IS[9]. That Trump is willing to turn a blind eye to the encroachment of the forces of what the President has previously called a ‘murderous regime’ on the borders of arguably America’s closest ally serves to highlight the degree to which the US has disengaged with the outcome of Syria[10]. Whilst the presence of Russia is considerably more active, with Putin continuing to launch airstrikes in support of the Syrian regime and acting as de facto monitor for the de-escalation zones across the country. Such has been the involvement of Russia in the conflict so far that the nation’s global prestige, geostrategic interests and military credibility are intricately entwined with the success of Assad[11]. Nevertheless, there are signs that Russia too is starting to take a back seat in the conflict with the withdrawal of the main body of Russian ground forces in 2016 and its continued occupation with the creation of de-escalation zones. It seems probable that, having guaranteed a pro-Russian regime in Damascus and continued access to military and naval facilities at Larnaka on the Mediterranean coast Putin seeks to negotiate a gradual exit from the war whilst his military reputation is still intact, increasingly handing over the reins to his regional allies in Tehran and Ankara. Without the restraining influence of the global powers however, there remains far less to deter regional powers from acting ambitiously on their own accord, further raising the potential for an unprecedented escalation. This disengagement of major powers therefore, is likely to represent another hallmark of the new phase of Syria’s war.

What we are seeing in Syria is not the winding down of the conflict that seemed apparent just two months ago,  but rather the fundamental transformation of the struggle from a domestic affair in which foreign players support their respective sides via proxies and clandestine means into something altogether distinct – and with a worrying potential for rapid escalation. The amount of territory controlled by forces lacking a major foreign sponsor is shrinking and in those which do the presence of outside actors is increasingly blatant. Though battle lines are solidifying, and conflict seems to be increasingly restricted to small pockets where rival geostrategic aims clash, the stakes involved, at least for the regional powers of the Middle East are on the rise. Syria increasingly resembles a chessboard where the ideological, military and geopolitical struggles for the region’s myriad rivalries are played out – one which offers the makings of an all out conflict to decide the fate of the Middle East.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/11/report-on-syria-conflict-finds-115-of-population-killed-or-injured

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-iraq-isis-yemen-saudi-arabia-iran-trump-wars-coming-to-an-end-a8133356.html

[3] https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/syria-civil-war-turkey-afrin-idlib-damascus-rebel-ypg

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22906965

[5] http://time.com/5159869/war-syria-entered-dangerous-new-phase/

[6] https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/expanding-russia-iran-turkey-alliance-puts-us-back-foot

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/19/turkey-warns-assad-not-intervene-kurdish-enclave-afrin

[8] https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/full-text-netanyahu-s-speech-on-iran-in-munich-1.5826934

[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/09/19/trump-has-accelerated-obamas-misguided-policy-toward-syria/?utm_term=.54469db19200

[10] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-iran-un-speech-murderous-regime-saudi-arabia-latest-a7955641.html

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/25/syrias-return-to-bombing-as-usual-is-down-to-russia

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Opinion | The Importance of Diplomacy in the Era of Trump

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Jack Lashendock is a Second Year student at Gettysburg College in America. He currently serves as the President of his school’s International Affairs Association and Model United Nations team (IAA/MUN) and a Senator in the Gettysburg College Student Senate. He is pursuing a double major in International Affairs and Political Science and a double minor in History and Middle East and Islamic Studies. His area of academic focus includes global diplomacy, international peacekeeping, Middle Eastern politics and history, and American government. He can be reached for discussion at lashja02@gettysburg.edu.

Recently, a friend of mine told me the story of an encounter she had on an international flight while traveling back to the United States via a stop at some foreign airport. Sitting on the plane, she met a man who worked for the United Nations. This man was by no means a top diplomat in the upper echelons of the organization, however, he was a United Nations diplomat nonetheless. Talking to a colleague, he discussed his disapproval of President Trump and made comments on the consequences of his actions in regards to international diplomacy. Unfortunately, the story ended here without specifics or direct expert thoughts, however, it invites one to ponder the importance of diplomacy in the era of President Trump. This opinion piece is inherently partisan– even just the notion of Trump and his policies elicits differing responses from political parties, interest groups, and most especially, Americans. I too have my own partisan beliefs on this subject, however, for the sake of this conversation, I will suspend them (and I hope you, dear reader, will do so as well) and present the facts of the matter and my opinions based on them.

I have the pleasure to serve as the President of Gettysburg College’s International Affairs Association which acts as a facilitator of international discussion and debate, in addition to organizing Model United Nations events and conferences. Since the election of Trump last November, our meetings have always included discussions of Trump’s actions– either directly or indirectly, depending on the discussion topic. Moreover, last Spring when our team traveled to London for our international conference many Londoners asked me to rationalize Trump’s behavior or, given my American citizenship, explain to them what the foreign policy of my nation’s chief diplomat was. More than a year following his inauguration, I still haven’t a clear answer for either question.

Trump’s rise to power on the campaign trail, and the foreign policy (for lack of a better term) during the first year of his presidency has been largely focused on two agenda items: reversion to the isolationist policies of pre-World War II and a seemingly aggressive push to abandon policies, agreements, and actions implemented during the Obama administration. According to Trump, and those who make up his base, allies and adversaries alike have been deliberately weakening the United States; this viewpoint holds that the multilateral agreements negotiated by the past administrations are in the best interests of everyone but the US citizen. Instead, Trump is a staunch advocate of bilateral negotiations where he believes the one-on-one atmosphere reduces the opportunity for foreign nations to take advantage of America and he has vowed to conduct foreign negotiations in this manner moving forward. For multilateral agreements that already exist, Trump has noted that he wants to leave them in favor of being more isolationist or renegotiate them in a more bilateral setting. In President Trump’s first year in office, the United States has announced plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran Deal, NAFTA, TPP, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

With isolationism and a focus on ‘America First’, it would seem there is no need for American diplomacy in the era of Trump. In the past year, we have seen diplomatic protocol breached by the Chief US diplomat: at the G20, Trump shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro so he could stand in the front row of a photo; his Twitter taunts and belittling nicknames directed at world leaders create unwelcome tension; and his expletive laden comments about nations in other parts of the world reflects poorly on our global image.

Despite this, diplomacy is still important – especially given President Trump. American Ambassador to Japan under President Obama, John Roos, once said of diplomacy: “Diplomacy is fundamentally working with people, bringing people together to deal with difficult issues.” In today’s era, there are innumerable issues that plague the world and no state, however powerful they may think themselves, can solve them alone. From global warming, to world health, to international security, to human rights, the world now, more than ever, needs to come to the negotiation table. Not everyone will agree, and contrary to popular belief, diplomacy doesn’t have to be appeasement– just respect and something to stand for.

This belief in diplomacy, and peace in general, is in no way naïve or over optimistic, rather history has demonstrated the inherent desire for humans to achieve either, even in states of conflict. Examples that come to mind include the impromptu Christmas Truce of World War I and the ekecheiria that occurred during Ancient Greek Olympics. Perhaps the most pivotal role diplomacy has played in recent historical memory is the Cold War– a war which was overwhelmingly fought with words. The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, the U2 Spy Incident, and the Cuban Missile Crisis highlight events in which a lack of diplomacy would have led to the outbreak of war between the two nuclear superpowers of the world. Even when the fate of the world doesn’t hang in the balance, diplomacy is often the first (and most successful in my opinion) step toward ensuring it never will. Nixon’s “ping-pong” diplomacy opened US- Chinese relations; the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) negotiations improved not only US-Soviet relations, but limited the threat of nuclear annihilation by either; and the Apollo– Soyuz Test Project highlighted the power of soft diplomacy to bring together opposing sides for the benefits of humanity as a whole.

Even on non-security related issues, diplomacy has achieved success– notably the global effort that has helped to eradicate smallpox, with Polio most likely being next, and overwhelming will of nations to commit to reducing their reliance on non-renewable energy and focus on ways to recycle natural resources.

However, there is much to be done and the United States has always been on the forefront–championing the world to achieve greatness. With the rise of Putin’s Russia and the growing wave of nationalism, the world today is beginning to feel like a redux of the Cold War. Leaders across Africa, South America, Asia, and Europe (well, just Russia for now) will not hesitate to use violence to achieve their end goals and global superpowers (now three of them) seem to be at odds over more than ideology. World leaders with unchecked nuclear weapons stockpiles may activate their arsenals at the slightest hint of provocation, while even leaders of more experienced nuclear states hurry to dust off their silo doors.

These threats mandate increased diplomatic activity and a greater respect for the power of multilateral statesmanship. Diplomacy allows world leaders to communicate and clarify misunderstandings so that dialogue isn’t misinterpreted as a threat or provocation. Diplomats serve as a powerful and crucial check to the sometimes heated and inflammatory things these leaders say and do. Regardless of how the Trump presidency effects America’s global reputation, our nation will always be a major international actor, even if our role is diminished in the next three years. The White House and Republican members of Congress must not be so close-minded to the effectiveness of diplomacy, for even when it appears to fail, success can be salvaged from the ashes.

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COUNTER-TERRORISM: WHY BRITAIN NEEDS A RADICAL NEW STRATEGY TO TACKLE THE ROOTS OF EXTREMISM

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By William Marshall, a first year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London with a special interest in Terrorism, Middle Eastern politics, the politics of ‘failed states’ and British Foreign Policy. 

2017 has in many ways been a year of unprecedented success in the incessant struggle against violent extremism. It has seen the dramatic collapse of the so-called Islamic State with Iraqi President Haider Al-Abadi recently declaring the defeat of IS in the country where the organisation surged to prominence following its incredible 2014 offensive which threatened Baghdad itself, after the capture of the groups last two strongholds along the Syrian border.[1] Meanwhile in Syria, US-backed Kurdish forces drove IS out of Raqqa, the groups de facto capital with surprisingly little resistance allowing for a rapid offensive which has, as of late December left IS control restricted to isolated pockets of the country’s eastern desert. As of yet, the feared resurgence of the organisation in its outlying ‘provinces’ has failed to materialise with the group and its affiliates gradually pushed back in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria. Nor has any other group emerged to fill the vacuum left by the organisation’s decline, with Al-Qaeda struggling to assert itself beyond its traditional heartlands and crackdowns on local insurgencies across the globe by governments keen to ensure their lands do not become the latest hotbed of Islamist Insurgency. The figures reflect this decline in global extremism with fatalities having almost halved to 7618 in 2017, compared to 14,356 the previous year.[2]

At home, by contrast the story couldn’t be more different. With three major attacks in as many months, 2017 was the deadliest year for Islamist terrorism in Britain since the deadly 7/7 attacks of 2005. That these attacks were deliberately concentrated against defenceless targets such as tourists and teenagers serves to illustrate Britain’s inherent vulnerability to attacks of this nature, a vulnerability exacerbated by the constantly evolving nature of terrorist tactics. Without a doubt, the shift towards attacks carried out using everyday items including vans, kitchen knives and homemade nail bombs, constructed with seemingly innocuous materials easily purchased in any hardware store up and down the country make the detection and prevention of such atrocities immeasurably harder. That suspects already under ‘active investigation’ such as Manchester Bomber Salman Abedi and London Bridge attacker Khuram Butt, not to mention the host of near misses interrupted moments before catastrophe – including a young man apprehended carrying a bag of knives in almost exactly the same location as March’s Westminster attack just days after the original attack were able to premeditate attacks undetected until the moment of catastrophe serves to illustrate the ease with which extremists adopting this new, low-tech style of terrorism can slip through the net of Britain’s Intelligence agencies.[3] Moreover, the collapse of IS in Syria and Iraq raises fears that a suspected 850 British IS fighters may return to use their skills picked up in the Middle East to commit mass casualty atrocities on home soil, with estimates suggesting that more than 400 of these hardened militants had already returned as of October 2017.[4] It would be wrong to suggest this indicates a systemic failure on the part of Britain’s Counter-terrorism services. Rather it is reflective of a threat that is not only becoming harder to detect and counteract but one which is growing at an alarming rate at the exact time that the Security Service is under an unprecedented degree of financial pressure.

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Photo Source: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/sep/11/london-new-armed-police-base-met-tackle-terrorism#img-1

The last year has seen a dramatic surge in the number of terrorism-related arrests, reaching a record high of 400 in the twelve-month period to September, an increase of 54% on the previous year.[5] This is not the only statistic of note. 2017 also saw the highest number of female arrests for extremism related offences since records began at 58, suggesting a broader demographic of extremist sympathisers among Britain’s Muslim population than the stereotypical disaffected, young male. More significant was the upsurge in white people arrested for terror related offenses from 81 to 143, a 77% rise on 2017, the vast majority on suspicion of far-right related offences with dramatic spikes in the aftermath of Islamist attacks on London and Manchester.[6] This highlights the increasingly multifaceted nature of the extremist threat in modern Britain. In some regions such as Wales and the East Midlands, Counter-terrorism Police dedicate as much time to dealing with the far-right as to Islamist threats.[7] June’s attack against Finsbury Park Mosque by far-right lone wolf Darren Osborne serves to underline that the threat posed by such ideologies is not one to be taken lightly, especially as the simultaneous growth in Islamist extremism feeds into the divisive ‘us vs them’ narrative pedalled by organisations such as Britain First and National Action. Meanwhile, the political controversy over the post-Brexit relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic raises fears of the re-emergence of sectarian tensions in the province, with terrorist activity by both Republican and Unionist groups seeing a worrying upswing since the June 2016 vote to leave the EU and MI5 recently reporting that activities by dissident groups were being disrupted ‘on a weekly basis’ in what has been described as ‘the most concentrated area of terrorist activity probably anywhere in Europe’.[8]

In the face of such a diverse and growing threat it is clear Britain’s Counter-terrorism strategy, due for revision in early 2018, is in urgent need of reform to address the rapidly evolving nature of the extremist threat to the UK. The sad truth we must confront however is that once a potential terrorist becomes radicalised it becomes immeasurably more difficult to apprehend a suspect before he commits a devastating attack, especially given the current trend towards low-tech, casualty maximising techniques. Such a strategy must therefore have an emphasis on tackling the root causes of extremism, promoting a multiagency, multipronged approach which reflects the complex and diverse origins of radicalisation in the UK.

The British Government’s current Counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST was formulated by the Labour Government in 2006 following the 7/7 London Bombings which left 52 dead in what is the most devastating Islamist attack on British soil to date. The strategy, reflecting the multifaceted nature of dealing with the contemporary terrorist threat consists of four key strands, colloquially referred to as ‘the Four P’s’; Pursue, Protect, Prepare and Prevent. Of the four Prevent has always been by far the most controversial, dealing as it does with the contentious themes of multiculturalism, identity and community which lie at the heart of the counter-radicalisation initiative. However, it is also the most fundamental. It is far preferable to prevent disenfranchised individuals from turning to extremism in the first place than constantly playing a deadly game of catch up with already hardened, motivated radicals.

Prevent has nevertheless attracted considerable criticism, both from experts and community leaders who argue the strategy produces the very outcomes it seeks to prevent. The strategy depends on building a network of contacts with education and healthcare professionals as well as within vulnerable communities who are trained to identify and report signs of violent and non-violent extremism, with individuals deemed ‘at risk’ referred on to Prevent’s sister programme Channel, which seeks to provide a support network to turn such individuals away from extremist ideology. This approach has led to accusations that the strategy demonises entire communities, particularly among Britain’s Muslim population by fostering what has been termed a ‘climate of fear’.[9] A series of high profile cases in recent years have illustrated the difficulties of relying on such a strategy, for example the furore surrounding the attempted installation of CCTV with Counter-terrorism funding in Muslim-majority areas of Birmingham in 2010 or more recent reports of details of Muslim schoolchildren being gathered by authorities without parental consent.[10] Such incidents merely act to propagate a culture of suspicion and mistrust among the very communities it seeks to benefit.

Moreover, the strategy has come under fire from human rights activists who argue the approach violates privacy and freedom of expression; for instance, the case of a seventeen year-old referred to police after he showed signs of increased religious observance or the cancellation of debates on topics such as Islamophobia on university campuses which has attracted criticism from the likes of Rights Watch UK and The Open Society Justice Initiative. As one recent report by the Justice Initiative succinctly concluded, ‘Being wrongly targeted under Prevent has led some Muslims to question their place in British society’, underlining the counter-productive nature of an initiative that has community cooperation at its core.[11] Indeed, even King’s has not escaped the controversy with the announcement that the university would reserve the right to ‘monitor and record’ student’s emails in line with the 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act provoking a scandal which hit national headlines just last academic year, highlighting the sheer extent to which the issue has pervaded contemporary British society.[12] That only 20% of those referred to Channel are eventually deemed at risk of involvement in violent extremism exhibits the heavy-handed nature of such an approach to radicalisation, one that tackles the symptoms rather than the underlying causes and serves to build barriers between communities and authorities rather than break them down.[13]

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Photo Source: https://www.google.co.uk/search?biw=1366&bih=662&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=CztRWu3HIYzagAblyYm4Ag&q=british+muslims+communities&oq=british+muslims+communities&gs_l=psy-ab.3…127766.131321.0.131769.12.12.0.0.0.0.77.702.12.12.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.1.76…0j0i30k1j0i5i30k1j0i8i30k1.0.tiDEcIGONHw#imgrc=xarTYilJJqkYKM:

Furthermore, the broad definition of extremism adopted by Prevent, specifically targeting so-called precursors to radicalism such as ‘pre-criminality’, ’non-violent extremism’ and opposition to ‘British values’ not only conflates many normal behaviours of teenagers trying to figure out complex issues of identity and belonging with signals of future terrorist activity but also risks undermining the very values, such as freedom of belief and expression that it seeks to promote.[14] Shutting down discussions on issues key to the radicalisation debate such as Islamophobia serves to stifle constructive, open discussion of these topics and drive debate underground, where it can be monopolised by extremists to promote their warped, vindictive worldview unchallenged rather than exposing and discrediting their repulsive, irrational ideologies for what they are.

Thus, Prevent appears to suffer from systemic flaws which serve to foster the very sense of alienation and injustice that it seeks to eliminate, playing into the hands of extremists and undermining the cooperation of communities when it comes to identifying and tackling potential terrorists.

It is, of course easy to point the finger and shovel the blame on Prevent for failing to protect us from terrorism. What we don’t see, however are the countless cases where Prevent referrals have successfully turned vulnerable individuals away from violent extremism. Whether it be Muslim schoolgirls in Tower Hamlets groomed by extremists online dissuaded from travelling to a life of abuse and fear in Syria or white working-class lads in South Wales turned away from far-right ideology by a timely referral to authorities. We will never really know just how many would-be extremists have been deterred from radicalism by Prevent, though if figures are to be believed it is safe to say they number within the thousands, if not more. Therefore Prevent, in spite of its inherent structural flaws is not a failed strategy. Rather it is one in need of comprehensive overhaul to address the evolving threat posed by extremism in all its forms by tackling the diverse array of underlying social, economic, political and psychological motivators which predispose vulnerable individuals to such ideologies.

As always, the key to such a strategy is winning the hearts and minds of communities most affected by extremism. If an individual feels that by embracing radicalism they face rejection by their community, they are far less likely to turn to such ideologies in the first place. Moreover, when a community feels supported and seen as part of the solution rather than the problem it is far likelier to cooperate with authorities in rooting out dangerous individuals. Realising such a vision, of course, requires grassroots, community-led initiatives by the vast majority within these demographics who reject violence. This involves community leaders working closely with authorities to develop strategies to tackle radicalisation on a localised basis, targeting specific factors driving radicalisation as well as identifying at risk individuals and building wider community resilience and cohesion.

Of particular importance is tackling the fraught issues of identity and belonging, notably among young people that, if left unresolved can morph into feelings of disenfranchisement, disempowerment and grievance which prove fertile ground for extremism to take root. Many, especially young British Muslims – those statistically most likely to be drawn into extremism remain trapped between conflicting values, juggling the traditional, family-orientated society of their parents with the temptations of contemporary Western culture.[15] It is no surprise therefore, that these young people are often left feeling a lack of belonging and are more susceptible than most to crises of identity. Tackling this naturally involves breaking down perceptions of marginalisation and encouraging a shift in attitudes towards demographics regularly stigmatised by the media. As many prominent scholars and clerics have pointed out, there is no inherent tension between Islam and British values, just as there is no conspiracy to eradicate Britain’s indigenous population as pedalled by many far-right organisations. It is these myths which grassroots initiatives must seek to challenge and invalidate.

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Photo Source:https://www.google.co.uk/search?biw=1366&bih=662&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=tD9RWtGKGYqMgAbz2obADA&q=young+british+muslims&oq=young+british+muslims&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0.347371.350299.0.350942.6.6.0.0.0.0.90.437.6.6.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.5.368…0i13k1j0i13i5i30k1j0i8i13i30k1.0.qNsivIidhgA#imgrc=2hrtqBwLCvogQM:

Whilst a revamped Prevent should have a keen focus on community empowerment there is also a need for a more centralised and coordinated policy-making at a national scale to tackle common themes and issues in the radicalisation debate. National initiatives to encourage integration, such as the prohibition of exclusionary religious schools, changing the national curriculum to disprove popularly believed and damaging myths as well as promoting dialogue and mutual exchange between de facto segregated communities are fundamental to building the interpersonal relationships between members of differing communities necessary to cultivate a society that is resilient and united in the face of extremism. Likewise, multiagency coordination is fundamental in tackling radicalisation in context-specific environments, such as online and in prisons, utilising the expertise of both law enforcement agencies and experts and professionals in their respective fields to formulate coherent national strategies to combat extremism in such settings.

This kind of revamped Counter-Radicalisation strategy cannot be effective however, without attempts to tackle the underlying factors common to extremism of all forms such as poverty, deprivation, family breakdown and mental illness. Indeed, research suggests that as much as 82% of Islamism-related offences between 1998 and 2015 were committed in the UK’s most deprived areas whilst around 44% of those referred to Channel during this period had histories of psychological and mental health conditions, a figure significantly higher than the national average.[16] Both far-right and Northern Ireland-related extremists also seem to share a markedly similar profile of social and political marginalisation with these Islamists. What is striking about these findings is how close the profile of an average extremist is to those involved in gang-related violence or other criminal activities. Recent attacks appear to underline this link, with both Westminster attacker Khalid Masood and Manchester Bomber Salman Abedi having held criminal records pertaining to drug and alcohol-related offences. This supports several studies which cite growing evidence of a ‘crime-terror nexus’[17], with individuals involved in extremism increasingly having been involved in prior criminal activity and motivated by the same root causes as conventional criminality such as poverty, unemployment and mental illness rather than the assumed religious or ideological factors.

Thus, it is clear that any attempt to tackle the long-term underlying causes of extremism must involve making headway on such issues. The scope of such a task of course, lies well beyond the remit of security and law enforcement agencies, though it serves to highlight that radicalisation, rather than being merely a security problem is a far broader social issue that requires a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to address in the long-run. It is only when we start addressing it as such that we will begin to see progress on this controversial issue.

 

Bibliography:

[1] BBC World Service: Weekend (10th December 2017): ‘Iraq Says War with IS now over’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w172vsq69s9dqmk [Accessed 5th January 2018]

[2] Esri Story Maps: Terror attacks 2017 (compared with same figures from 2016): 2017: http://storymaps.esri.com/stories/terrorist-attacks/?year=2017, 2016: http://storymaps.esri.com/stories/terrorist-attacks/?year=2016 [Accessed 2nd January 2018]

[3] Casciani, Dominic: BBC News: ‘Could MI5 have stopped 2017’s attacks?’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42244239 [Accessed 2nd January 2017]

[4] Dearden, Lizzie: The Independent: ‘More than 400 British jihadis have already returned to UK, report warns’: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/isis-british-jihadis-return-uk-iraq-syria-report-islamic-state-fighters-europe-threat-debate-terror-a8017811.html [Accessed 3rd January 2018]

[5] Evans, Martin: The Telegraph: ‘Surge in white and female terror suspects pushes up number of arrests to record high’: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/07/terror-arrests-hit-record-high-400-made-uk-year/ [Accessed 30th December 2017]

[6] Ibid

[7] Davies, Jordan: BBC News: ‘Far-right extremist planned ‘race war’ by making explosives’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-42450131 [Accessed 2nd January 2018]

[8] Corera, Gordon: BBC News: ‘MI5 warnings on Brexit, terror and Russia’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42434767 [Accessed 3rd January 2018]

[9] Singh, Amrit: The Guardian: ‘Instead of preventing terror, Prevent is creating a climate of fear’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/19/terror-prevent-muslims-police-terrorist-attacks [Accessed on 4th January 2018]

[10] Hasan, Usama: The Guardian: ‘The Prevent strategy can help stop terrorism – if we use some common sense’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/09/prevent-anti-radicalisation-strategy-baby-bathwater-teething-troubles-working-well [Accessed 29th December 2017]

[11] Cobain, Ian: The Guardian: ‘UK’s Prevent counter-radicalisation policy ‘badly flawed’’: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/19/uks-prevent-counter-radicalisation-policy-badly-flawed [Accessed 4th January 2018]

[12] Weale, Sally: The Guardian: ‘London university tells students their emails may be monitored’:  https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/20/university-warns-students-emails-may-be-monitored-kings-college-london-prevent [Accessed 5th January 2018]

[13] Muslim Engagement and Development (28th July 2015), ‘Channel: Safeguarding or stigmatising young children’: https://mend.org.uk/news/channel-safeguarding-or-stigmatising-young-children/ [Accessed 6th January 2018]

[14] Cobain, Ian: The Guardian: ‘UK’s Prevent counter-radicalisation policy ‘badly flawed’’: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/19/uks-prevent-counter-radicalisation-policy-badly-flawed [Accessed 4th January 2018]

[15] Versi, Miqdaad: The Guardian: ‘The latest Prevent figures show why the strategy needs an independent review’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/10/prevent-strategy-statistics-independent-review-home-office-muslims [Accessed 5th January 2018]

[16] Dearden, Lizzie: The Independent: ‘Children exposed to terror radicalisation by Government’s failure to tackle root causes of extremism, report finds’: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/prevent-terrorism-strategy-failing-tackle-extremism-root-causes-oasis-report-children-radicalisation-a8085656.html [Accessed 26th December 2017]

[17] Dearden, Lizzie: The Independent: ‘Isis recruiting violent criminals and gang members across Europe in dangerous new ‘crime-terror nexus’’: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/isis-recruiting-violent-criminals-gang-members-drugs-europe-new-crime-terror-nexus-report-drugs-a7352271.html [Accessed 5th January 2018]

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