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.


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.


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.


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.


  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.
  2. Abe, Shinzo. “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond by Shinzo Abe.” Project Syndicate. Last modified February 26, 2018.
  3. Australian Government. “Foreign Policy White Paper.” Foreign Policy White Paper. Last modified November 21, 2017.
  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.
  5. Brewster, David. “China’s New Network of Indian Ocean Bases.” Lowy Institute. Last modified January 30, 2018.
  6. Consulate-General of Japan, Sydney. Accessed February 27, 2018.
  7. “ENSURING SECURE SEAS: INDIAN MARITIME SECURITY STRATEGY.” Official Website of Indian Navy. Last modified October 2015.
  8. “IISS Fullerton Lecture by Dr. S. Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary in Singapore.” Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Accessed February 27, 2018.
  9. Jaishankar, Dhruva. “Why 2017 Idea of the Year is the ‘Indo-Pacific?” Last modified December 29, 2017.
  10. Madan, Tanvi. “The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the ‘Quad?” War on the Rocks. Last modified November 16, 2017.
  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.
  12. PTI. “India, Australia Bilateral Naval Exercise Next Month.” The Economic Times. Last modified May 9, 2017.
  13. PTI. “Tri-nation Malabar Naval Exercise Begins.” The Hindu. Last modified July 10, 2017.
  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.
  15. Tellis, Ashley J. “INDIA AS A LEADING POWER.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Accessed February 27, 2018.
  16. White House. Home Page. Accessed February 27, 2018.
  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.





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



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.



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.



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.



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.












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Opinion | The Importance of Diplomacy in the Era of Trump


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

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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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:

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:…127766.131321.0.131769.….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.

william marshall4

Photo Source:….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.



[1] BBC World Service: Weekend (10th December 2017): ‘Iraq Says War with IS now over’: [Accessed 5th January 2018]

[2] Esri Story Maps: Terror attacks 2017 (compared with same figures from 2016): 2017:, 2016: [Accessed 2nd January 2018]

[3] Casciani, Dominic: BBC News: ‘Could MI5 have stopped 2017’s attacks?’: [Accessed 2nd January 2017]

[4] Dearden, Lizzie: The Independent: ‘More than 400 British jihadis have already returned to UK, report warns’: [Accessed 3rd January 2018]

[5] Evans, Martin: The Telegraph: ‘Surge in white and female terror suspects pushes up number of arrests to record high’: [Accessed 30th December 2017]

[6] Ibid

[7] Davies, Jordan: BBC News: ‘Far-right extremist planned ‘race war’ by making explosives’: [Accessed 2nd January 2018]

[8] Corera, Gordon: BBC News: ‘MI5 warnings on Brexit, terror and Russia’: [Accessed 3rd January 2018]

[9] Singh, Amrit: The Guardian: ‘Instead of preventing terror, Prevent is creating a climate of fear’: [Accessed on 4th January 2018]

[10] Hasan, Usama: The Guardian: ‘The Prevent strategy can help stop terrorism – if we use some common sense’: [Accessed 29th December 2017]

[11] Cobain, Ian: The Guardian: ‘UK’s Prevent counter-radicalisation policy ‘badly flawed’’: [Accessed 4th January 2018]

[12] Weale, Sally: The Guardian: ‘London university tells students their emails may be monitored’: [Accessed 5th January 2018]

[13] Muslim Engagement and Development (28th July 2015), ‘Channel: Safeguarding or stigmatising young children’: [Accessed 6th January 2018]

[14] Cobain, Ian: The Guardian: ‘UK’s 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’: [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’: [Accessed 26th December 2017]

[17] Dearden, Lizzie: The Independent: ‘Isis recruiting violent criminals and gang members across Europe in dangerous new ‘crime-terror nexus’’: [Accessed 5th January 2018]

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Cold Waters: The Return of North Sea Dangers

north sea 1

William Reynolds is a 3rd Year War Studies undergraduate. He is interested in maritime history and security and is currently researching a dissertation on the role of the Royal Navy for British policy in the 1970s. Will has worked for the Centre of Military Ethics as a Kings Research Fellow, is currently a researcher for the Kings Middle East North Africa Forum and is head of Operations for the Kings Crisis Team 2017/18.


It is safe to say that those working in defence and foreign policy have had much to concern themselves with when it comes to the actions of Russia. The resurgence of an assertive Russian foreign policy, both in Europe and the Middle East, has caught NATO officials scrambling and politicians worrying over future prospects. Both news outlets and pundits claim a second Cold War is on the horizon, yet despite all this focus on the Eastern ‘Front’ and the proxy warring in the Middle East, very few have focused upon the North Sea.

                 This radically changed, at least in the UK, in December of this year where the annual RUSI CDS (Chief of the Defence Staff) talk focused heavily upon these Northern waters.[1] With defence cuts on the horizon, whichever threat the CDS decided to focus on could reasonably be inferred to be the primary security concern of the UK for upcoming years. This was then further supplemented on Christmas and Boxing Day where British tabloid newspapers and the BBC itself focused on a ‘recent upsurge’ of Russian naval activity transiting through waters of interest to the UK.[2] It is with this in mind that this short piece hopes to layout the history of this area, the return of Russia and how this may factor into the security calculation of not only the United Kingdom but Europe as a whole.

The Cold War

For many, the Cold War inspires images of spies, the Berlin Wall and ICBMs sitting in their silos. However, popular culture, thanks very much in part to Tom Clancy’s Hunt for the Red October, has further given the role of submarines a place in Cold War History. To a degree, there is truth in this. Soviet submarine technology initially was superior to the Allies thanks to their patronage of ex-German engineers and the capture of much material alluding to the manufacturing of subsurface vehicles which, and as a result, were used to a large extent by both the Soviets and the West playing catch up.

                It is for this reason that the North Sea played such a crucial role for NATO. In order for Soviet submarines, of all types be it diesel hunter-killer to nuclear ballistic-missile submarines, to prosecute both their peacetime and possible war times objectives, they would have to get out into the open Atlantic. Thus NATO strategy focused on bottlenecking them in through a series of Chokepoints ranging from Japan to the Dardanelles and Gibraltar to the GIUK (Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom) Gap.

  noth sea

                                              The GIUK Gap

With this in mind, the North Sea, during the Cold War, became the domain of nuclear submarines, carrier battle groups and naval diplomacy in its sharpest form, that being literally chasing your opponent out of an area of interest.

The Return of Russia

This history lesson is all very well and good, but what is the point of it? Whilst much focus has been placed on the Baltics, Crimea, the Ukraine and Russian activity in Syria, the British public rarely looks at actions in the UKs own ‘back yard’, the North Sea. This could be for a variety of reasons; inherent British belief in maritime superiority, the concept of Russia being a cause for concern ‘over there’, and many others. This piece isn’t attempting to deduce that. What is clear, is that Russia is returning to its old playing field.

                First one must look at the politics of the navy. The Russian navy has never been the centre of its military policies. Even under Admiral Gorshkov, a pioneer in Soviet strategy and quite frankly the father of the powerful Soviet Navy of the 80’s, the Red Army remained the centre of attention. Yet, in the State Armaments Programme (Gosudarstvennnia Programma Vooruzheniia – GPV) of 2011 – 2020, the Navy received the largest share of the defence budget (25%).[3] What is more surprising is the political ‘affection’ for the surface fleet. Both Vladmir Putin and Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev have lauded the Navy consistently. However, the Russian Navy’s strength has always lied in its submarine force. Gorshkov tailor made the Soviet Navy of the 70’s and 80’s to directly counter the superior US Carrier Task Forces through asymmetric warfare. He did this through submarines, not vulnerable surface units.

 north sea 1

  The Pyotr Velikiy being escorted through the Channel by HMS Northumberland

However, surface units provide something which submarines do not. Visible power. As of mid-2017, the Russian Navy possesses six large surface vessels. The Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the nuclear-powered Battlecruisers Pyotr Velikiy and Admiral Nakhimov, and three Slava-class Cruisers.[4] These may be Soviet legacy vessels, but they are all still capable of projecting power in a blue-water environment. The deployment of the Admiral Kuznetsov to Syria was not a necessary requirement, yet it was done so anyway. The ship itself was a clear statement of Russian intent in Syria. After all, the US Nimitz-class Carriers and Arleigh-Burke-class Destroyers are products of the later Cold War also and yet they remain the backbone of the United States Navy.

The North Sea has indeed seen increased activity. As mentioned previously, the Royal Navy was forced to escort and keep tabs on four separate Russian ships, one a combatant and one an intelligence gathering vessel, within the space of two days.[5] Furthermore, it is not only the Russian surface fleet that is beginning to make more of an appearance. On the 22nd December US Navy Rear Admiral Andrew Lennon, commander of NATO’s submarine forces, stated We are now seeing Russian underwater activity in the vicinity of undersea cables that I don’t believe we have ever seen.”[6]. Indeed the activity has caused NATO to reopen a command centre to reinforce SACLANT (Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic) which further infers the amount of activity being witnessed. NATO would not simply reopen a station on a whim.

A New Threat?

So Russia has returned to the North Sea. Is it a credible threat? The CDS of the United Kingdom, Sir Stuart Peach, seems to believe so. In his RUSI speech not only did he bring up the threat of Russian maritime actions in the North Sea, but focused upon the idea of underwater cables. These cables control the flow of information. To use a piece of maritime strategic thought, these cables are the new ‘lines of communication’. Whereas this use to mean the travel routes of convoys and shipping, it now quite literally means lines of cables running through the seabed.

north sea 3

A map of submarine cables in Northen Europe

Just looking at the above map one can see that the majority of submarine cables run from the British Isles across the Atlantic. There is much said the of the UK being the ‘Trans-Atlantic bridge’ between Europe and the US. Politically that may be doubtful. But it is quite clear that for communication purposes, the British Isles is vital.

                Just one counterfactual secenario of a submarine ‘cutting’ one of these cables could throw the economy into jepordy. This would then have a knock on effect for the rest of the region, as the communications reliant London stock exchange, would inevidbly tank as a result. As Sir Peach put it,

“Can you imagine a scenario where those cables are cut or disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living if they were disrupted?”[7]

However, whilst this threat is indeed very real, one must holistically analyse the Russians capability. The increased funding of the Russian Navy may not see the advent of more Russian ships on the high-seas. Russia no longer has the workforce or facilities to construct vessels of higher tonnage than a Frigate. Much of that, during the Cold War, came from the Ukraine.[8] Thus the large Cruisers, Battlecruisers and Carrier of the Russian Navy will not see a replacement anytime soon.

Furthermore, whilst Russian shipbuilding capabilites has retained the full capacity to construct submarines of all types, cost is becoming an issue. Sanctions, falling oil princes and the like will increasingly put pressure on shipbuilding. There is a strong import dependance on EU and NATO states for items vital to this sort of work. One figure places machine tool parts at 88% imported from said states and that was only in the domestic sphere.[9] Thus NATO will not have to contend with a Gorshkov level of rearmament for the time being.


The Russians as of now do not posess the capabilites of their Soviet past. However, as we have seen in the Ukraine, Crimea and Syria, they are willing to forgo conventional means of warfare and adopt an asymetric style unique to their own needs. We will not see the large behmoths of the 80’s continuing to stalk the Northen passages. But if all it takes is a single submarine, cutting several cables to cause, NATO should heavily reconsider its policy of Anti-Submarine Warfare in the North Sea. This piece was not meant to gauge whether the Russians would actually commit such an attack, but rather highlight that despite seeming distance between the Western states and the Red Army, all it could take is a single maritime asset to critically injure the alliance and the EU.



[1] – Annual CDS lecture, 14th December 2017

[2] – BBC: HMS St Albans – UK Frigate Shadows Russian Warship in the North Sea, 26th December 2017

[3] Defence in Depth – 17th July 2017

[4] Ibid

[5] – Washington Post, 26th December 2017

[6] – Washington Post, 22nd December 2017

[7] – Engineering and Technology, 15th December 2017

[8] – Russia’s state armament programme to 2020: a quantitative assessment of implementation 2011–2015, Julian. S Cooper (FOI: March 2016), pp. 49 – 50.

[9] Ibid, p. 38.

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A War of Words Over Taiwan: China, the US, Taiwan, and the “One China” Policy

Silje Undlien is a third year War Studies student at King’s College London and the East Asia and the Pacific editor of IR Today.


Trump and Xi with their wives in Beijing / Reuters

In December 2016, Donald Trump risked the wrath of the People’s Republic of China when he tweeted in defense of a protocol-breaking telephone call with Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen. Being the first communication between leaders of the United States and Taiwan since Washington ended formal diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979, the telephone call was rumoured to reflect the views of Trump’s hard-line advisers urging the United States president-elect to take a tough opening line with China. [1] Some even suggested that the move revealed an intention to break with Washington’s long-standing “One China” policy. One year later, the President signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2018 fiscal year. In the act it is stated that it ‘is the sense of Congress that the United States should “consider the advisability and feasibility of reestablishing port of call exchanges between the United States navy and the Taiwan navy.” [2] Such visits would be the first since the United States established formal ties with Beijing thirty-some years ago.

Obviously angered by the Taiwan sections of the law, the PRC responded by accusing the United States of interfering in its internal affairs. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang stated that the Taiwan-related sections ‘severely violate’ the “One China” policy. [3] Diplomat Li Kexin further reminded the United States that China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, quoted as saying that “the day that a U.S. Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung [Taiwan’s largest port city] is the day that our People’s Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force” at a Chinese embassy event in Washington. [4] It is no wonder cross-Pacific and cross-Strait relations have soured considerably these past few weeks; but what does this all mean for the bilateral relationships between the PRC and the United States, and the PRC and Taiwan?

While some contend that Taiwan should no longer be considered the primary operational concern of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the resolution of Taiwan’s status vis-à-vis the mainland remains a rallying point for all Chinese. Taiwan is, furthermore, one of the most sensitive and important issues between the PRC and the United States. [5] Determined to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity, Beijing meets any official exchanges and military contact between the United States and Taiwan with resolute opposition. As it could be considered a move by Washington to strengthen its informal relationship with Taipei, the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act is, not surprisingly, the cause of increased tension between the United States and China.

In Chinese media, however, the recent move by the United States is described as a ‘trick’, or a mere attempt by the Trump administration to raise its bargaining power over its relations with the PRC. [6] Chinese analysts speculate if Washington will dare to break decades of American diplomatic practice with a port visit to Taiwan. Retired United States Navy Captain Jerry Hendrix, on the other hand, wrote in National Review that the United States now has little choice but to send its navy to Taiwan in response to China’s bullying behaviour. [7] We recall that President Trump, in an attempt to ease tensions with China, vowed to uphold the long-standing “One China” policy shortly before Xi Jinping’s Florida visit earlier this year. The United States’ arms sales to Taiwan, however, have kept Beijing’s bilateral relationship with the Washington on edge. With the groundwork for possible port visits by the United States Navy to Taiwan laid, it seems as though new ambiguity surrounding the Trump administration’s commitment to the “One China” policy has been born.

When reviewing recent developments in cross-Strait relations, on a different note, we should note that those relations have soured considerably since 2016. Indeed, bilateral relations between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan have been at a more negative juncture since the leader of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, Tsai Ing-wen, took office as Taiwan’s president in May 2016. After Li Kexin recently threatened to invade Taiwan should the United States decide to make a port visit to the island, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry responded by accusing the PRC of failing to understand how a democratic society works. Moreover, adding to a number of similar patrols conducted near Taiwan in the past year, China, days after Li Kexin made his threats, conducted island encirclement patrols near Taiwan. Already suspecting that President Tsai Ing-wen wishes to declare Taiwan’s formal independence, the PRC was further displeased to see the recent signing of a new investment deal between the Philippines and Taiwan. [8] Tsai Ing-wen, from a Taiwanese perspective, has said she is committed to maintaining peace with China, but will, if necessary, defend Taiwan’s security. With the PRC flexing its military muscle in close vicinity to Taiwan, Taipei has kept close watch on Chinese patrols of military development. The trajectory China’s military follows is considered significant for regional security dynamics, and a raised Chinese military posture may harm cross-Strait ties further. The worry, from a Chinese perspective, is that the Taiwanese President will call for a full-fledged referendum in the near future, which is considered a red line for Beijing.

Whether we will see United States Navy vessels tarry at seaports in Taiwan in the near future or not remains to be seen. What we do know, however, is that the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2018 fiscal year, with its Taiwan-related sections, likely caused new ambiguity around Washington’s commitment to one of the most sensitive of Beijing’s core interests, the “One China” policy previously agreed to by the United States. China’s response to the development in bilateral relations between Taiwan and the United States, furthermore, did nothing to improve its standing in Washington and Taipei.


[1] Anne Gearan, Philip Rucker, and Simon Denyer, ‘Trump’s Taiwan phone call was long planned, say people who were involved,’ The Washington Post, December 4, 2016

[2] 115th Congress, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, 12 December 2017,

[3] ‘China opposes Taiwan-related military clauses signed into US law act,’ Global Times, 14 December 2017

[4] ‘Taiwan criticises Beijing diplomat over invasion threat,’ South China Morning Post, 11 December 2017

[5] ‘China, Taiwan spar over Chinese diplomat’s invasion threat,’ Reuters, 11 December 2017

[6] Yang Sheng, ‘US defense bill allowing US-Taiwan naval port calls a trick: experts,’ Global Times, 14 December 2017

[7] Jerry Hendrix, ‘China Mistakenly Challenges Andrew Jackson to a Duel,’ National Review, 15 December 2017

[8] ‘China unhappy as Philippines signs investment deal with Taiwan,’ South China Morning Post, 9 December 2017



What the death of a US Border Patrol agent says about the state of the Southern Border

Carly Greenfield is a third year International Relations student with an interest in non-wartime violence, gender theory, and organized crime, especially in Latin America .


Four weeks ago, United States Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez died in the Big Bend, Texas area of the United States (US)-Mexico border. His partner was critically injured in the incident. Border patrol deaths are rare compared to other law enforcement bodies— the last murder of an on-duty agent was in 2010, making this case national news. The cause of death remains murky: while the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott (R), has called it a murder, others remain unsure of the circumstances surrounding Agent Martinez’ death. The agents were allegedly ambushed by a group of migrants crossing the border illegally and were then attacked with rocks. This storyline, however, becomes complicated by the fact that Agent Martinez’ body was found with both his gun and his wallet and his wounds may indicate a fall. Culberson County Sheriff Oscar Carrillo has said it could have been an accident, meaning weeks later, the cause of death remains unknown. While we still await a clearer narrative, the death has already revealed the importance of the US southern border across many fronts. The border plays the two-fold role of both being a material manifestation of US-Mexican collaboration and being a striking physical divide between the two countries. It is also an area that sees constant movement and exchange in its own local space and at the national level. All of these factors complicate the border, the role of the US Border Patrol, and the reactions and actions taken following the death of Agent Martinez.

The border plays a key role in the Conservative imagination. State and federal Republicans visualize the border as an impenetrable and controllable line that separates the United States from Mexico. This is seen through the constant calls for increased funding to both the Border Patrol and to the structural border— currently made up of fences, walls, sensors, checkpoints, and the like. The view of ‘Fortress America’ separates the national conversation from the daily interactions seen on the ground. Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R), for instance, tweeted this statement:

 “This is a stark reminder of the ongoing threat that an unsecure border poses to the safety of our communities and those charged with defending them. We are grateful for the courage and sacrifice of our border agents who have dedicated their lives to keeping us safe. I remain fully committed to working with the Border Patrol to provide them with all the resources they need to safeguard our nation.”

This view of border communities as separate from one another furthers the conservative narrative of an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ and denies the major links in the region that exist below the state level. With 10% of the US population having Mexican roots, and the border being former Mexican territory, heritage in the area crisscrosses the border. More than 14 million people crossed the border in just El Paso in the first six months of 2017 alone. But still, the Border Patrol is a strong image of a force protecting our border and our people from them. It began as a makeshift group patrolling the Southern border— this is important in understanding its politicization. While the agents now patrol both the Northern and Southern border, the Southern border has always been the primary target. This partition is emphasized even though the Southern border features many cities that are only bifurcated by the border itself. President Trump’s rhetoric has furthered this division. Following Agent Martinez’ death, he tweeted:

       “Border Patrol Officer killed at Southern Border, another badly hurt. We will seek out and bring to justice those responsible. We will, and must, build the Wall!”

 Although information about the situation was not yet available, it was already assumed that a non-American took part in the assault and that a wall would have prevented Agent Martinez’ death. The Border Patrol’s labor union quickly stated that they believed the agents were attacked with rocks by ‘illegal aliens’ or members of drug cartels. This shows the language around the border to be that of a hard, controlled space. President Trump has automatically assumed that the violence is from the outside and not an internal occurrence. This stands in contrast to how the governments of both Mexico and the US communicate behind closed doors, where the conversations around border violence and security churn constantly in a collaborative effort. President Trump, instead, has positioned himself as a protector of the American people against those of Mexico, summoning false images of both a monolithic American population and Mexican one, respectively. This rhetoric has strained his relationship with the US’ Southern neighbor, along with marking a massive shift in tone from former presidents.

Agent Martinez’ death, and its quick politicization, is evidence of President Trump’s departure from previous administrations’ policies towards Mexico and also makes the background bureaucratic work between the two countries more difficult. While the current administration uses heavy language when discussing the border, government agencies continue to operate behind the scenes in close collaboration. The border, especially in the last decade, has been a place of communication on an institutional level. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a department formed in 2002 under President W. Bush’s watch, has its closest foreign partnerships with Mexico. The department, which brought together formerly separate agencies, is the third biggest in the US and comprises major components such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the US Coast Guard (USCG), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). All of these components communicate daily with the Government of Mexico (GOM), with one of the first occurrences following Agent Martinez’ death was a call from Mexico to see if the possible killer was a Mexican national. More so, following the Merida Initiative in 2006, the US has contributed millions of dollars to better securitize Mexico and work in close collaboration to fight transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) based in the region. This has led to extradition agreements, initiatives such as the Border Violence and Prevention Council (BVPC), law enforcement training, and re-integration plans for deported Mexican nationals.

Charting further back, the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 raised trade between the two countries and led to many US companies building their factories on the Mexican side of the Southern border. The raised purchasing power of local Mexicans and the cheaper goods on the Mexican side then saw high levels of civilian crossings for consumer purchases. These numbers continue to be high for both work and pleasure purposes. As of 2016, 81% of Mexican exports went to the United States. Most of these go through the border— again emphasizing the importance of the border in economic and security terms.

The border is a complex region due to its institutional and local significance. It is the main port of entry for illicit drugs into the US, but also serves as a main entry-point for Mexican products. Its population oftentimes straddles the border, living on both sides and sharing heritage with both sides. There is also the complication of indigenous lands and populations— creating yet another structural difficulty for American administrations.

This is why Trump’s rhetoric can have serious repercussions for the border and for both countries’ politics. As Mexico heads into an election year, anti-Mexican sentiments from the sitting US president fuel anti-American sentiments in Mexico. It makes collaboration more difficult as it is hard to keep the day-to-day work of bureaucrats separate from the hyperbolic speech at the national level. Even President Trump has admitted this— in a phone call to Mexican President Peña Nieto in August, he said that the wall was a large political problem but hardly the focus of the US-Mexican relationship. For President Peña Nieto and his party, the answer is not so clear: the  Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), will have a hard time defending close relations with the US when President Trump speaks so brashly and uses the wall as a symbol to pander to his supporters. The impact of the President is far reaching. Illegal crossing arrests are at their lowest in years, with many saying this is due to President Trump’s hard language. This may not show the whole picture, however; fear of arrest could simply be pushing migrants to try and reach further into the interior of the US, fueling the smuggling business around the border. When the layers of local and state interaction are added, as both the US and Mexico have federalist systems, it is plain to see why the border is a region that should be treated with attention to detail and an understanding of its history. The death of Agent Martinez’, however, tells a different story, and is another example of this administration’s one-dimensional approach and the future of the border.

Corruption, Poverty & Elitism: Mugabe’s Legacy in Zimbabwe

By Andrei Popoviciu, a 3rd year International Relations student in the War Studies department at KCL. Because of his strong interest in journalism, he is editor in chief of IR Today and runs a weekly podcast called IR Unedited on KCL Radio.



On November 14th, 2017 Zimbabwean military troops drove tanks into the capital city, Harare. They patrolled the streets, blocked access to government buildings and took over the state television station to insist that “this is not a military takeover.” But it clearly was. Troops invaded the presidential palace and put the president, Robert Mugabe, in custody. The military assured everyone that the president is safe and secure together with his family. The African Union (AU) chief said the political crisis in Zimbabwe “seems like a coup”, while calling on the military to restore constitutional order. Today, on the 21st of November, Mugabe resigned after being ousted from the party but not without a fight. However, in all this political turmoil and fight over influence, the people of Zimbabwe have been forgotten.


After a military coup, it is common to assume that the next step is a transfer of power.  However, it is very clear that this was no revolution. It is rather a fight between the country’s elites. Zimbabwe is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and what we’re seeing is a fight to keep it that way. Once praised as a war hero and a Marxist guerrilla, Robert Mugabe helped Zimbabwe gain independence from Britain in 1980. He became president under Zimbabwe’s new constitution with the wide support of the people. But soon he digressed into a repressive dictator, securing his power through aggression and threats. Reports by the New York Times[2], the Economist[3] and the Guardian[4] show Mugabe sponsoring torture and killing his political opposition.


Within a generation, Mr. Mugabe has turned an entire country upside down. Now that Mugabe is 93 years old (the oldest head of state in the world) and in poor health, the fight for political influence is more intense than ever. The scramble for political influence and for office reached its peak. Consequently, this has caused a split in Mugabe’s own party, Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).


On one side, we have the old guard led by Mugabe’s former VP – Emmerson Mnangagwa. Like Mugabe, he fought for Zimbabwe’s independence and has a past that include human rights abuses against political opponents and ethnic minorities. As an old friend to Mugabe and VP since 2014, Mnangagwa was the apparent heir for many years due to the strong support from ZANU-PF and the military. But all that changed on November 6th when Mugabe’s government said that Mnangagwa had exhibited traits of disloyalty and fired him.[5]



The reason for firing his VP stems from Mugabe’s wish to assign someone else as head of state. Grace Mugabe was the obvious choice for him. Hence, his support for his wife taking his place after he dies was not hidden. She has recently risen in power within the party, but remains extremely unpopular nation-wide due to her luxurious ways of life and extravagant shopping habits, earning her the nickname “Gucci Grace”.  Nonetheless, her involvement and wish to take over the vice presidency (and later the presidency) together with Mnangagwa being fired, might have been the trigger of the coup that ended Mugabe’s 37 year reign.


The military has sided with Mnangagwa as the next leader, and on November 15th they took control of the capital under the curtain of a “guardian coup” in the alleged interest of the people and the country. Zimbabwe’s military says it has seized power to target “criminals” around President Robert Mugabe, who it is said is “safe and sound” in custody. However, their interests seem to be more self-motivated: they want to secure their own power. They have control over lucrative farming, mining operations and access to foreign currency. To keep this power, they need a united ZANU PF who faces elections scheduled in 2018.  Thus, on the 19th of November, they ousted Mugabe as the party leader and gave Mnangagwa the position. As the new party leader, he now had the full support of the party together with the support of the military. On the same day, under the pressure of an impeachment ultimatum, Mugabe delivered a lengthy and long-awaited speech, with the expectation that he would announce his resignation. Living up to his persistent reputation, he failed to do so while shocking everyone of how determined he is to hold the grip of Zimbabwe.


All changed on the 21st of November after lawmakers began impeaching proceedings against him. Mugabe, a man who once said that “only God will remove me” – resigned as the president of Zimbabwe on the same day. Statesmen and lawmakers have erupted into cheers together with the people in the streets. The political rival of ZANU PF, Movement for Democratic Change, seconded the motion for impeachment and showed how there was a striking sign of the consensus in the political class that Mr. Mugabe had to go.




However, something is missing from all of this. The people of Zimbabwe. Whoever ends up in charge, Mnangagwa, the military, or Grace Mugabe, corruption will continue. All these actors want to keep the status quo, but for the general population, the status quo is a society of unequal opportunity and poverty. These power imbalances and the elitism of the country have kept back the economic and social development of Zimbabwe. Seizing power and control over the political apparatus seems to have been the key thing Mugabe and the political class have focused on since gaining independence.


During Mugabe’s 37 years of leadership, massive corruption was common place. There have been repeated allegation of Mugabe and his cabinet embezzling money from diamond and mining industries.[6] He is known for his aggressive hand in supressing opposition and the violent crackdowns he led together with the country’s Fifth Brigade when he was believed to have killed up to 20,000 people, mostly opposition supporters. He was accused of rigging elections and squashing any whim of political opposition while even winning the state-owned lottery in 2000.[7]


Moreover, Zimbabwe’s flourishing economy began to disintegrate after a program of land seizures from white farmers, and agricultural output plummeted and inflation soared. Transparency International estimated that Zimbabwe loses a billion dollars a year to corruption.[8] All this while Zimbabwe’s economy has suffered.[9] Almost a quarter of Zimbabweans are currently in need of food assistance and 72% live in poverty.[10] At one point in 2008 inflation hit the rate of 231,000,000% and GDP growth has been stagnant according to the World Bank in 2017.[11] This has made Zimbabwe one of the most economically unequal countries in the world, a problem it shares with much of the region. Hence, why low levels of economic growth and high levels of poverty are common conditions in African states that have experienced military coups.


South African state media reported that “it has reliably learnt that Zimbabwe is likely to have a transitional government”.[12] Also, international and regional response show leaders trying to stabilise the crisis through diplomatic assistance.  South African Defense and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and State Security Minister Bongani Bongo arrived in Zimbabwe for discussions with authorities, according to the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation.[13] UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutters has appealed for “calm, nonviolence and restraint,” deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement to CNN.[14]


What is uncertain in the near future is Zimbabwe’s political leadership. What is not is that Zimbabwe’s elites are fighting over their own interests while the people are forgotten.




















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Could the Veneto and Lombardy referendums determine a stronger north-south division in Italy after the decisive vote?

A poster with instructions about Lombardy’s autonomy referendum is seen at a polling station in Lozza near Varese, northern Italy, October 22, 2017.

By Chiara Valenti, a 3rd year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London. 


Throughout its 150 years of unification, Italy has suffered from a north-south divide based on an array of socio-economic shortcomings between regions. Regionalist parties in Italy have adopted this disparity to fuel their political agenda and back political claims. The most recent of European regionalist events has sourced from this issue, as the Lega Nord – Italy’s North-based regionalist party – called for a referendum in two of Italy’s most prosperous regions asking the respective populations if they wanted their regional representatives to move for greater regional autonomy. This request has fallen under criticism for different reasons, but a main concern is if the consequent vote will deepen the existing divide within Italy. This article will first examine the motivations for the referendums and their critiques; then analyse the Lega Nord’s political project and offer critiques; then examine the reasons for the economic divide between the North and South of Italy; and finally, conclude by arguing that the results of these referendums will not be what deepens this chasm between North and South but the rhetoric from which they stem and Italy’s inability to profit from the South’s undervalued resources.


On October 22, 2017, the latest of regionalist events in Europe took place, as the political party known as Lega Nord (Northern League) held referendums in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto requesting greater regional autonomy. Such autonomy would give the regions more control over their finances and administration. It is worth noting that unlike the Catalonian referendum, this referendum was legal as the Italian Constitution allows it. Nonetheless, the party’s move was brought under fire by a variety of criticisms. Firstly, the plebiscites costed 55 million euros, a cost that is essentially unnecessary as the Italian constitution gives each region the ability to expand their powers via dialogue with the central government without public vote. This process has recently been undertaken by the Emilia-Romagna region. Lega Nord’s Luca Zaia and Roberto Maroni, the party’s leaders for the Veneto and Lombardy regions respectively, claim that their attempts at dialogue with Rome have been ignored despite proof that says otherwise. Secondly, the call for the public vote is an evident attempt to bolster support for Lega Nord before the upcoming March 2018 elections, as greater autonomy has been a long-standing promise of the party. Finally, the party’s rhetoric behind the incentives for greater autonomy are a representation of the greater socio-economic chasms between the North and South of Italy that have plagued the country since its unification 150 years ago.

Lombardy makes up 20% of the country’s GDP with Milan as its economic capital, while Veneto makes up another 10% of the GDP as the main exporter of Prosecco[1].  Zaia and Maroni argue that in addition to their taxes, they each send 50 billion euros more than what they get in return in public spending because of their regions’ economic prosperity.[2] Consequently, the Lega Nord argues that as a result of bureaucracy and a biased central government the South reaps the benefits of the North’s hard work. The party claims that by achieving greater regional autonomy they would have greater economic freedom, in addition to more control over immigration, education systems, and industries within the region. Accordingly, the referendums were held to send a message to Rome that the people of the Lombardy and Veneto regions are determined to gain more autonomy. The result, 95% of voters who cast ballots, 57% being in Veneto and 39% in Lombardy, opted to vote “yes” to more autonomy, according to officials in both regions.[3] This result is not surprising as these regions have always been major supporters of the Lega Nord’s anti-South rhetoric and motion to detach from Italy to different extents. However, to understand whether or not, and why, these referendums could determine an even stronger north-south division in Italy, it is necessary to examine the reasons for this divide and the ways in which the Lega Nord has used and exacerbated these chasms.

The Lega Nord’s political project:

Lega Nord is one of the many regionalist political parties in Italy, and its demands for greater regional autonomy are part of a wider trend amongst regional parties across Europe. Lega Nord does differ from other forms of European regionalism, such as those in Catalonia, in that the party’s political project is not based in an area with historic claims to nationhood. Rather, the party has opted to invent an ethnicity for the North of Italy, based on the rejection of the concept of the Italian nation-state called Padania. Padania, the Latin term for the basin of the River Po, has never existed geographically or historically, but the Lega Nord has attempted to construct it so to justify its political claims for the protection of the region’s economic interests. The party has been successful in creating this ‘ethnicity’ by exploiting the issues faced by citizens of northern Italy, through interpreting and adapting their concerns to its own political project. Lega Nord’s argument is that the South of Italy is the bearer of all wrong within Italian politics and society, and Italy’s central government is corrupt, wasteful, bureaucratic, and biased towards the South.[4] This strong anti-Southern discourse is the main element within Lega Nord’s political agenda, and it is what allows it to create a socio-cultural identity for the North by using the South as the ‘other’ to fear.

Many of the claims the party makes in regards to the South are misleading and inaccurate stereotypes, but the party’s ability to reproduce such anti-South sentiment in the North is the reason for its growth.  One of the party’s main arguments throughout its existence, and one of the main push factors for the referendum, are the economic differences between the North and the South which the party ascribes to the alleged contrasts in culture and mentality, claiming that the north has a superior value system and culture than the lazy and egoistic South. “Although this clearly misses the real and full explanation for the socio-economic differences between the North and South of Italy, it is a powerful discourse for the party and one which is seen as a correct interpretation by a good deal of supporters and activists of the party.”[5] From these inaccurate identity depictions, Lega Nord has argued that the South maintains its languor as it reaps the benefits of the North’s high-producing economy, explaining the demand for greater regional autonomy to better reap the benefits of their economy alone. In othering the South the Lega Nord has managed to articulate a socio-cultural identity for the North. It has utilised racist ideology, based on cultural rather than biological differentialism, and accompanied it with a racist subtext through which negatively evaluated characteristics are attributed to the ‘other’.[6]


The origins of the North-South divide:

This chasm between the North and South of Italy has been a long-standing feature of the Italian nation-state from its creation. It developed after unification in 1861, and stemmed from the South’s inability to match the industrial progress of the north. However, it is an inability that is linked to a broader, national development failure rather than the inferior value system and culture tied to the South by the Lega Nord. After Italian unification the main factor that separated the North and South of the country was the process of industrialization. While the North was able to industrialize because of its natural endowments that attracted factories, the South did not. This is because Italy began industrializing through the second wave of industrialization instead of the first. Had the state developed the technological know-how correctly, Italian development would have been faster and more contemporary, as it would have depended on human resources, with proper training across the territory, leading to a more balanced development between North and South.

As the industrial divide became more and more evident in the post-WWII era the Italian government made massive policy interventions in favour of the Mezzogiorno, the South, through what was called the Cassa del Mezzogiorno. This policy’s goal was to promote economic development in the South through the creation of infrastructure via funding from the more prosperous Northern regions. However, this policy did not create the conditions for autonomous development. Rather, supporting capital-intensive activities instead of promoting tourism for example, in an area so abundant in labour as the South of Italy, turned out to be short-sighted—a mistake probably attributable to the economic milieu of the time. These mistakes became evident during the 1970s crisis, which involved the collapse of a large part of the new heavy industries in the South. Once the top-down strategy failed Italy lacked a new or consistent approach, and instead regional policy was redirected towards unproductive expenditures, in such a way that it probably even favoured the enforcement of organized crime and the decline of social capital.”[7] Nevertheless, the South was crucial to the economic development in the North, as it was the South of Italy which served the dual purpose of providing an extensive market for products produced in the North as well as a source of relatively cheap and skilled labour. Therefore, the economic development of the North of Italy was facilitated by its links to the South, a truth that the Lega Nord does not acknowledge in its political rhetoric.


Thus, when asking whether the results alone of these referendums will determine a stronger north-south division within Italy it is evident the answer is no. This is because these referendums, although symbolic, hold no true political weight as it is up to Rome to make the final decision. Moreover, greater regional autonomy would not translate to an absolute secession from the nation-state as political and economic collaboration with the South would still be required to certain extents. However, it is the long-standing, racist, and inaccurate rhetoric behind Lega Nord’s reasoning for the referendums that is deepening the divide. This same rhetoric is what leads to an underestimation of the economic potential of the South in terms of agriculture and tourism alone. An underestimation that is based on a population’s ignorance of their territory’s potential, an ignorance which is then exploited by regionalist parties like the Lega Nord. The issue has always been the same – economic disparity between the North and South of Italy. Thus, the solution would be to reign in the South’s economic potential and make use of it, stripping the Lega Nord of its imperative discourse of how the North’s successful economies should not be used to fund poorer areas in the south of Italy.



[1] Giuffrida, Angela. “Italian regions go to the polls in Europe’s latest referendums on autonomy.” The Guardian. October 20, 2017. Accessed November 2017.

[2] IBID

[3] Masters, James, and Valentina Di Donato. “Two Italian regions vote overwhelmingly for greater autonomy.” CNN. October 23, 2017. Accessed November 2017.

[4] Giordano, Benito. “A Place Called Padania?” European Urban and Regional Studies6, no. 3 (1999): 215-30. doi:10.1177/096977649900600303.

[5] Giordano, Benito. “Italian regionalism or ‘Padanian’ nationalism — the political project of the Lega Nord in Italian politics.” Political Geography19, no. 4 (2000): 445-71. doi:10.1016/s0962-6298(99)00088-8.

[6] Bull, Anna Cento, and Mark Gilbert. “The Lega Nord and the Politics of Secession in Italy.” 2001. doi:10.1057/9781403919984, p. 174

[7] Fenoaltea, Stefano. “I due fallimenti della storia economica: il periodo post-unitario.” RIVISTA DI POLITICA ECONOMICA, March & april 2007, 341-58.

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Catalonia: “Chronicle of a Coup Foretold


By Alfonso Goizueta Alfaro, a first year History and International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London, and author of the diplomatic history book “Limitando el Poder, 1871-1939: Historia de la Diplomacia Occidental”

The world was shocked on October 1st: many people were because the images of police charges against voters in Catalonia; Spain was because of the disloyal and rebellious course that a democratic institution, the Generalitat of Catalonia, had chosen to follow, stepping outside of any legal parameters. The world was shocked on October 1st: many people were because the images of police charges against voters in Catalonia; Spain was because of the disloyal and rebellious course that a democratic institution, the Generalitat of Catalonia, had chosen to follow, stepping outside of any legal parameters.  The independence referendum held by the Catalonian regional government has been the greatest challenge to Spanish constitutionalism since the failed military coup of February 1981: held without any guarantees or electoral census, the referendum wasn’t an expression of democracy but of disloyalty and treachery. The referendum, and the later proclamation of independence in Catalonia, was the sad finale of coup d’état organised by democratic leaders.   Yet this coup, disguised with democratic principles, goes far beyond October 1st: for over a month, democratic boundaries and freedoms were defiled by the regional government and those loyal to it. For over a month, those who claimed to be crusading for democracy, outraged the freedom and the liberties of the citizens of Spain and Catalonia: this is the chronicle of their coup foretold.

The origins of the coup Catalonia is the region with the largest self-government prerogatives in Europe: the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and the Statutes of Catalan Autonomy (1979 and 2006) give the Generalitat (Government) powers over Education, Treasury, Taxation, Commerce, Tourism, Health, Agriculture, Police…; these offices are held by the consellers (councillors or regional ministers).  The financial crisis of 2008 hit Spain badly, causing economic and social hardship. Catalonia, the second richest region in the country, also suffered greatly. In a policy of inter-territorial solidarity, Catalans felt their money was being increasingly taxed by the central government and used to support poorer regions of Spain: this was the genesis of the myth of “España nos roba” (Spain steals from us), created by the right-wing nationalistic president, Artur Mas, who was trying to cover up the precarious economic situation and several corruption scandals within his party (CiU). Thus, the sentiment of independentism started to mushroom once again in Catalonia: Mas’ government pledged to call for a referendum of independence with which to break from Spain. The Spanish Constitution provides with legal parameters and procedures to do so was any region to desire its independence: Catalans didn’t proceed by these legal parameters and several times denied debating their project in the Chamber of Deputies.  In 2016 the pro-independence coalition Junts Pel Sí won the autonomic elections and, thanks to the parliamentary support of the anti-capitalist party CUP, managed to form a government in Catalonia although Carles Puigdemont, and not Mas, was now in charge. His government started developing an anti-constitutional policy seeking a unilateral declaration of independence in October 2017, after a referendum was held. Amidst the growing tension between Barcelona and Madrid, Puigdemont refused to negotiate with the central government: his unilateral and illegal referendum was the immovable condition for any prior negotiation with Madrid.   Spanish government couldn’t accept.


The Parliament of Catalonia after the Autonomic Elections of 2016: Junts Pel Sí had 62 deputies but needed CUP’s support to achieve absolute majority (68). Grey= Junts pel Sí (pro-independence); Yellow = CUP (pro-independence, anti-Capitalist); Blue = PPC (Conservative); Red= PSC (Socialist); Orange= Ciutadans (Centre); Purple=Podem (Extreme Left) (Wikipedia – Parlament de Catalunya, 28/3/2016)

The coup: the laws of Referendum and Political Transience

In early September 2017, Puigdemont and his parliamentary group began their coup, which was to culminate in a Unilateral Declaration of Independence of late October. Using their majority in the Regional Parliament and their control over the Chamber’s presidency (held by Carme Forcadell, member of Junts Pel Sí), Puigdemont started bypassing all of his constitutional obligations: the Parliament’s agenda was subsequently and suddenly changed to the convenience of Junts Pel Sí without informing any of the other parties in the Chamber, on-going commissions regarding Health, Education or other topics were suspended, and government refused to undergo the control of the Chamber – something it is obliged to do weekly. No longer would President Puigdemont answer the questions of the Opposition or intervene in Parliament, always under the aegis of loyal Forcadell. In the meantime, Puigdemont’s government allied with the pro-independence associations (Catalan National Assembly, of which Forcadell was a member, and Omnium Cultural), beginning to use coercive measures to promote independentism among Catalans – the leaders of these associations are currently imprisoned, charged with the crimes of sedition and intimidation.  The coup’s machinery began on September 6th, when Mrs Forcadell altered the Parliament’s agenda without informing the Opposition’s deputies: Parliament’s organisms, monopolised by Junts Pel Sí members, approved Forcadell’s petition to change the agenda and vote two laws proposed by the government: the law calling for a referendum on October 1st and the Law of Political Transience, which would proclaim a republic and open a constituent process after the referendum.


The deputies of the Opposition leave the chamber in protest for the illegal modification of the parliamentary agenda. The laws were voted without the Opposition present in the Chamber (El País (6/9/2017) picture by Massimiliano Minocri)

After 40 years of dictatorship, in which the entrance to the Parliament of Catalonia had been walled, Junts Pel Sí had once again expelled democracy from the Chamber. Forcadell went through with the vote; the Opposition’s claims weren’t taken into consideration nor were the Chamber’s letrados (high lawyers) allowed to speak against the presidency’s illegal acts. Parliament’s Regulation was broken; Junts Pel Sí celebrated with a loud applause, claiming to be one step closer to freedom from oppressive and non-democratic Spain.  The following days, the Spanish Constitutional Court declared both laws illegal and outside constitutional parameters.

The referendum and beyond: Article 155

Despite the Constitutional Court’s verdict, Puigdemont and his allies continued to organise an illegal referendum using public funds.  On October 1st, the referendum was hold without any guarantees or electoral census. Having already been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court, judges ordered National Police officers and Civil Guards to seize the ballot boxes and close the polling stations illegally opened for the referendum. Many mayors of Catalan towns denounced having been threatened to open polling stations in their municipalities. In the meantime, Catalan autonomic police (under Puidgemont’s control) hindered National Police officers’ actions and refused to abide judicial orders: their captain, Major Trapero, ordered them to do so, under pressure from Puigdemont’s government.


The pro-independence associations Puigdemont had been closely working with encouraged violent resistance against police forces. Amidst the chaos, many people took the opportunity to vote several occasions in different polling stations; later that day, the Catalonian government stated that means had been in place to avoid this situation and totally denied it. Once again, the referendum was declared illegal by high judicial organisms. Only Puigdemont and his allies recognised the result. King Philip VI addressed his people on October 3rd and delegitimised the referendum. No country or international institution recognised the results nor Puigdemont’s Declaration of Independence on October 27th. Supported by the Constitution, Mariano Rajoy’s government, after giving Puigdemont several opportunities of coming back to legality, implemented Article 155 which, with the support of the Senate, gave the government full powers to restore legality in a rebellious region. On October 27th, a few hours after the Declaration, Rajoy dismissed Puigdemont and his councillors, taking over the autonomic government and calling an Autonomic Election on December 21st.

The international community supported Rajoy and his government. Soon after their destitution, Puigdemont and four councillors fled to Belgium; the Vice-president and the remaining members of government were imprisoned, accused of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement. Puigdemont’s departure to Belgium accelerated the process by which Justice Lamela ordered the arrest of other government members, fearing they could also flee.  The political turmoil unleashed by Puigdemont has had catastrophic effects on Catalonia: not only has the economy suffered from the exodus of over 1000 firms since mid-September, but the society has been morally fractured between those for independence and those against it. In the midst of the crisis, the Catalan economy is growing at a slower rate and the whole of Spain’s economic recovery process has been endangered. Puigdemont had several occasions of withdrawing from his claim and calling and Autonomic election before Article 155 was implemented, yet he rejected these options and fled leaving his colleagues behind. Was this the president supposed to bring prosperity and international recognition to the Catalan Republic?  Spain has proved to be a strong democracy in which the rule of law is invincible. Puigdemont’s adventure was born cloven and without any possibility of success. The members of his government now await a firm judicial verdict which could sentence them to thirty years in prison, and he is under an international order of arrest.  Illegality after illegality, defiance after defiance, Puigdemont has pledged the greatest challenge to Spanish democracy since Tejero’s military coup in 1981. But, just like him, Puigdemont has failed to break Spanish democracy and its national sovereignty. What he though was a crusade against the oppressive Spanish state turned out to be a chimera: Spanish democracy remains strong and firm against anything which can endanger the rights and liberties of the Spanish people.




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