Monthly Archives: August 2015

Radicalisation and Repression: Lessons Learned from Central Asia

by Abdullah Zaman, a first year student reading History at Cambridge, volunteers for the Patchwork Foundation (a foundation that aims to involve the disengaged in politics).

On July 20th, David Cameron outlined his plan to tackle radicalisation of British Muslims. Muslims who ‘silently condone ISIS’ are now liable to criminal prosecution and religious institutions are becoming increasingly monitored. Under these circumstances, even a 3-year old has been placed under a terror alert. While a novelty to the British society, this form of thought policing has taken place before, albeit in a much more aggressive form. Post-USSR dictatorships within Central Asia utilised similar techniques to dispel the threat of Political Islam. But rather than removing its presence, they altered it into something more destructive.

During the time of the USSR, religion was shed from public view due to the secular nature of communism. The collapse of the USSR therefore brought with it fervour of religious expression. After half a decade of repression, political branches of religious groups sprung up with a desire to play a greater role in the state apparatus. Many of those who capitalised from the collapse arose from Communist old guard. Political Islam threatened the power of these new dictators as it demanded change to the status quo. Therefore it was in the interests of the new dictators to continue the hostility to religion and suppress Political Islam.

This is what occurred under the rule of Islam Karimov, the ironically named dictator of Uzbekistan. Karimov rose up the USSR’s bureaucracy and became President of the Uzbek SSR in 1990, one year before the fateful collapse. He has maintained that position to this day after winning a series of sham elections since 1991. In the uncertainty of the post-cold war period, Karimov was able to consolidate power by exaggerating the Islamist threat within Uzbekistan. Western countries were still apprehensive of Islamism due to the tense relationship with the Islamic republic of Iran and newly-formed Islamist insurgency groups of the Middle East. By branding opponents as Islamist, Karimov had license to use any means to remove threats to his power. Religious organisations, such as Hizb-ul-Tahrir and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), were outlawed. But the state’s brutality climaxed in 2005, when police fired upon unarmed protestors over the detention of local businessmen. Body counts vary from 178, the government’s estimate, to several hundred thousand. An accurate figure is difficult to ascertain as mass graves were dug up to eschew the numbers. The massacre also caused a huge refugee problem, with victims escaping into neighbouring countries like Kyrgyzstan. By being a key ally to the US in the ‘War on Terror’, the government was able to gloss over international coverage by labelling the protest as an Islamist uprising.

Uzbekistan was not alone in taking draconian measures to deal with Islamism. Tajikistan has banned entry into mosques for under-18s and the wearing of the religious head scares for women in education. All of this preceded a Civil War between liberal reformers and Islamists from 1992 to 1997, with total number of deaths ranging from 50,000 to 100,000. Turkmenistan’s authoritarian regime never stooped to the lows of its neighbouring countries, but it too held a streak of regulating the prominence of Islam. It closely monitored the actions of religious officials within the country as well as banning any religious parties from the state. The region collectively holds a legacy of suppressing religious expression, though with varying degrees.

Attempts to suppress Political Islam only seem to have an adverse effect. Events like the Andijaan Massacre propel Islamists to further extremes and hinder the influence of moderates. It was only this year that the IMU pledged allegiance to the bloodthirsty ISIS, which has been defying traditional extremists organisations such as Al Qaeda. The instability of the region also has a habit of spilling in to nearby countries. Pakistan, a country faced with myriad terror threats, suffered an attack on its largest airport by Uzbek militants from the IMU in 2014. Additionally, Central Asians form a notable group of Muslims who defect towards ISIS. Much of this could have been avoided if the governments were more conciliatory towards Islamists. The example of Tunisia could have been replicated, were Secularists and Islamists have found working ground within government. Instead, their actions have only made the region a more fertile ground for radical groups like ISIS.

The UK is not Uzbekistan: it is still relatively much freer than the authoritarian state. But Cameron is beginning the same path of political censorship. By continuing down this line, he makes the case for radical groups by excluding moderates from the dialogue. Cameron needs the support of moderate Islamists to counter extremist narratives. Because, if not, he will find the problem of radicalisation mutate into something much worse.

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Bangkok Bombings: Why unity is more important now than ever before

By Philipp Harnik, an Austrian second-year Liberal Arts student majoring in International Relations at King’s College London. He is currently interning for a company in Bangkok and has visited the two bomb sites both before and after the attacks. Phil also acts as the current president of the Public Affairs and Communications society at King’s.

On Monday, 17 August, at around 7pm, a gigantic blast could be heard resonating through the streets around Bangkok’s busy Ratchaprasong intersection and beyond. For a brief moment time stood still as people far enough away from the Erawan shrine not to get hurt from the impact turned their heads in shock, perplexed as to where the sound was co
ming from.

bangkok-explosion_2870087bAs soon as the initial shockwave had passed, human moans could be discerned from among the hustle and bustle of the city. Initial awe turned into agony and distress as news of a bomb attack started spreading. This was soon followed by the first rumours of casualties with international media outlets reporting fatalities ranging from merely a single digit number to a few dozen with many more injured. It didn’t take long for graphic images of human body parts scattered on the street to appear all over social media and on the news. Speculation about the reasons behind the attack were made a long time before the last victims were rushed off to hospital and it also emerged that two more bombs around the area had been found and defused.

A day later, word got around of another bomb. This time, as can clearly be seen on CCTV footage released by the police, the bomb was thrown off a bridge at Sathon Pier on the Chao Phraya river, which serves as a busy jetty for ferries and boats catering mainly to tourists, transporting them to popular sights such as the Grand Palace, the Asiatique night market and Kao San Road. Luckily, the bomb hit a pillar and diverted into the river where it detonated, causing a huge cascade of water splashing up to ten meters high into the air. Had the bomb hit its target, it would undoubtedly have resulted in many more deaths. 

I am currently interning for a company here in Bangkok and have been at both of the aforementioned sights only days before the attacks took place. Fortunately for me, I was in my apartment at the time of the first attack and received my earliest updates of what had happened through concerned messages and emails of friends and family, both from Bangkok and further afield. As I got on my phone to check the news for a more detailed overview of what had really happened I started to realise the full dimension of the attack and its tremendous impact on the political and socio-economic environment not only here in Thailand but worldwide. 

At a time where hardly a single day passes without new reports of assaults perpetrated by the likes of Daesh and its affiliates, fighting in India’s disputed Kashmir region or new transactions in the rebounding arms industry, all suggesting a global atmosphere of rising tensions, the attack in Thailand’s capital might at a first glance seem like just another act of cold-blooded brutality and violence. However, when taking a closer look the Bangkok case presents us with a highly intriguing event as Thailand, a largely Buddhist country, has never witnessed attacks on such a grand scale before in its recent history. The incumbent prime minister and leader of the military junta, Prayuth Chan-ocha has indeed termed the fatal bombing ‘the worst attack on Thailand ever’.

With the official numbers amounting to 20 deaths (of which 12 were foreigners) and 120 injured, and the chosen location for the attack being the Erawan shrine, which is highly frequented by both tourists and locals, it was quickly established and easily discernible that the sole aim of this attack was to mutilate and kill as many people as possible. Whether or not this atrocity was plotted and carried out by an individual or rather a whole network of radicals remains unclear, even though the government has stated it believes it to be ‘unlikely’ to have been the work of an international terror organisation, as these normally claim responsibility a short time after their attacks. Additionally, officials seem fairly confident in the assumption that the main suspect, who was captured on CCTV leaving behind a backpack underneath a bench where the bomb detonated minutes after, was not Thai. On the footage he can be seen with longish curly hair and a yellow T-shirt. This has opened the floor for numerous wild speculations and accusations. 

As the initial shock and disbelief slowly gave way to a more factual and arguably more informed analysis of what had really happened and who the perpetrator(s) was/were, the first finger pointing started and various theories surfaced. Since around half of the reported fatalities were either mainland Chinese or Hong Kong nationals, the first theory goes that the attack was specifically targeting citizens from China. The alleged reason for this is last month’s forced deportation of more than 100 Uighurs, part of a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority from western China which had sought asylum in Thailand, which caused wide-ranging criticism.

Another theory holds that the attack was perpetrated by radical members of the red-shirt movement, who support the ousted Shintawara regime and are mainly made up of inhabitants of the rural areas of Thailand. Ever since the Bangkok riots that have kicked off in September 2006 and reoccurred on numerous occasions over the last few years, members of the red-shirt camp have been clashing with the more liberal and urban yellow-shirt camp which supports the opposition. During the clashes, several fatalities have been reported on both sides.

What appears to be the most likely motivation behind the attack, however, was to harm to the Thai economy, thereby not only harming the government but effectively the entire country and its people. With tourism making up roughly 16% of the country’s GDP of 12 trillion Thai Baht ($337Billion) it serves as a major source of income, providing work for many and boosting the Thai economy at a time of slumping exports. By trying to spread fear and a feeling of instability, tourists might think twice before booking their next flight tickets to Thailand, so the reasoning goes. Since the attacks, 23 embassies have issued travel warnings but the definite numbers of cancellations remain to be seen.

Whatever the reasons behind the Bangkok bombings might have been, the sheer brutality and dimension of the first one, and potentially also the second one, had it hit its target, suggest that the culprit(s) wanted to cause harm and spread terror, rather than just make a political statement. Otherwise a far less destructive, smaller explosive device, perhaps aimed at a military base or other official complexes, would have sufficed.

It is now crucial that the people of Thailand and from elsewhere don’t give in to these attempted scare tactics. Instead, there is a need to unite to fight violent radicalism together. No matter what one’s political orientation might be, what religious belief one might hold or what country one might identify with, we should never forget that we are all born under the same sun, as equals. And no matter how dissatisfied one might be with certain circumstances, arbitrary violence like it has occurred in the Bangkok bombings is absolutely inexcusable and should be condemned appropriately. What remains to be done is to stand tall and proud and show the perpetrator(s) of the Bangkok bombings as well as any other radicals who resort to taking lives in order to try to achieve their goals in these troublesome times, that their attempts will ultimately remain futile. By uniting to find and discuss solutions that serve the common good and not letting ourselves be governed by terror and fear, we will transcend their wickedness and fallacy.

Ps. Today, Monday the 24th a week after the initial attack, police claim to have found yet another bomb in one of Bangkok’s busiest roads, Sukumvit 83, but were able to deactivate it.

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Mullah Omar’s Death and the Next Chapter of Afghanistan’s Saga

by Kate Dinnison and Millie Radovic. Kate is an American second year student of BA International Relations at King’s, North America Editor of IR Today, and Academic Secretary of the War Studies Society. Millie, an Anglo-Serbian native, is also reading IR at the War Studies Department, the Chief Editor of IRT, and VP of the War Studies Society. Both hold acute research interests in Afghanistan, specifically its development in the 21st century: from invasion, to state building and counterterrorism.

741083-mullahomar-1406315124-483-640x480After almost 14 years of speculation on the whereabouts of the infamous Taliban leader, after he escaped ISAF’s grip on the back of a motorbike in 2001, the Afghan Government has now confirmed the death of Mullah Omar. Known for his cunning nature and religious rigidity, Omar’s grip was still felt by the Taliban from where he likely stayed in Quetta and Karachi over the years, until his death in Pakistan in 2013. The hunt for Omar had proven to be one of the most difficult on record for international intelligence agencies, some say because of Pakistani interference and support for Afghanistan’s insurgents among other factors that made Bin Laden easier to find in a suburban compound than this two meter tall, one eyed Mullah in urban Karachi. Now that the hunt for him is over, policy makers are questioning what this new information means for future peace talks and the strength of the Taliban without it’s long-time ideological leader. The full withdrawal of U.S. troops is now looming over the statesmen, insurgents and citizens of this long war-torn nation. What, in effect, is to become of Afghanistan?

Peace Talks & Power Brokers

One of Afghanistan’s greatest triumphs occurred in 2014 with the installation of President Ashraf Ghani via the largest and fairest election the country has ever seen, audited under UN supervision. His election marked the beginning of the long transition away from Hamid Karzai’s inefficient, corrupt and favouratist government, which had hindered the U.S. and it’s allies’ state-building efforts during the long fight against the Taliban. Prior to the announcement of Omar’s death, the Taliban orchestrated a statement that he supported the talks with the Afghan government in order to dispel any speculations of internal disconnect and conflict within the Taliban. A few weeks later, just days after the confirmed death of Omar, they released an audio recording of their new leader, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour – an inaugural address of sorts declaring “the jihad will continue until there is an Islamic system” in Afghanistan. What Monsour said about continuing Omar’s legacy was somewhat predictable, what he omitted, however, is promising for the path ahead. He did not use language suggesting the conquering of Afghanistan, rather the establishment of an “Islamic system.” Despite that he did not support the last round of peace talks hosted by Pakistan, he also did not rule out the possibility of future contact with the government that halted any progress in previous years. The planned peace talks were delayed with the announcement of Omar’s death and have yet to be rescheduled.

The imminent danger in fighting terrorism by eliminating High Value Targets (HVTs) is the inevitable power vacuum that ensues. The US and its allies have played a long game of Whack-A-Mole in the Middle East – one leader dies or one group loses power, another potentially more menacing one takes its place. Such is the fear of Monsour – while supposedly more open to peace talks as the new Supreme Leader, his controversial election could challenge the ideological structure previously set by the militant leaders. While this discord sounds ideal in the fight against the Taliban, behind closed doors, this rift could threaten the unity of the Taliban and cause it to break into smaller, but possibly more violent and extreme factions. This shift in central command could prove to be detrimental for both the Taliban as a unified entity, and for the Afghan National Army (ANA) and their allies if the peace talks prove to be unsuccessful. It is vital for the Afghan Government to utilize this window of opportunity while the Taliban is still somewhat unified and while they still have foreign military aid to strengthen their defenses in case of another bloody summer’s end.

China: losing a man on the inside

Meanwhile, not so much in the spotlight, China has actually been the most enthusiastic supporter of peace talks in Afghanistan. Why? As always, it involves  geopolitical and economic national interests. Its far west region, Xianjiang, has been dealing with civil strife for decades as a group of militant Uighur separatists claim that the region is not part of PRC, but that it is East Turkestan that was incorporated in 1949 and has since been under Chinese occupation. Now for China, the relationship between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban becomes important due to its small border Afghanistan (see picture below) that’s situated in the autonomous Xinjiang region. An unstable Afghanistan can become a safe haven for the muslim separatists and further destabilize an already fragile region. Meanwhile, what’s also at stake is China’s $40 billion Silk Road investment plan in Central and South Asia. Hence, it’s fairly obvious why for China, a stable Afghanistan is very important for both maintaining a hold on Xinjiang and securing its investments.

xinjiang 2

These vested interests, are set to cause a shift of foreign influence and involvement in Afghanistan. As the US led NATO mission winds down, it is the traditionally non-interventionist China that has been increasing its aid to Afghanistan. In October last year, when president Ashraf Ghani first visited China, he returned with promises from Beijing to provide $327 million in aid. Meanwhile, following the nation’s bloodiest day in years, August 8th, when over 50 died and 500 were wounded in three bombings in Kabul, China’s ambassador to Afghanistan called a “marathon meeting” with Afghan National Security Adviser where he said that China was ready to offer “equipment and support to Afghanistan’s security forces”. The extent of China’s involvement is also evident in that the recently postponed peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban were originally set to be hosted in Xinjiang itself. With Mullah Omar’s death announced it will be important to keep an eye on China’s relationship with both the Taliban, and Pakistan. PRC had built a certain relationship with Omar based on the assurance (in 2000) that the Taliban would not allow the Uighur militant groups to launch attacks against China from Afghan territory. With the announcement of his death, and the unity of the Taliban at risk it is difficult to predict what it’s role in the Uighur conflict will be. Then again, it’s important to remember that Omar passed away not this July, but 2 years ago. If the Taliban were to keep its unity under the current leadership a similar understanding between the insurgents and China could continue to hold. Meanwhile, because of China even Pakistan, notoriously a safe haven for the Taliban, will not find it in its interest to support the Uighur militants. This is because their likely target will become the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a particularly important development for Islamabad’s weak economy and ties with China.

ISIS: a limited option for deflectors

Meanwhile to make the situation even more complicated and Afghanistan’s position ever more tragic, the Islamic State has made headway in Afghanistan in its global bid to great an Islamic caliphate. Even before the confirmation of Omar’s death by the Taliban, deflections to the IS were in motion. Now, with the unity of the organisation at stake, it is possible if not probable that certain hardliner splinters of the group will indeed deflect to ISIS.

There are several developments to consider here. Firstly, those related to Al Qaeda. AQ last year confirmed allegiance to Mullah Omar, stating in particular that if anyone should be the supreme “caliph” of the Islamic world, commanding the loyalty of jihadists everywhere, it should be Omar, and not Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State terror group. Meanwhile following the confirmation of Omar’s death, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was quick to pledge allegiance to the new Afghan Taliban chief in an audio message posted online. The pledge to Mullah Akhtar Mansour was Zawahiri’s first message since September last year. There has been speculation about whether Zawahiri is himself dead, and indeed this message isn’t a confirmation that he’s alive (terrorist groups aren’t exactly trustworthy with such information) – however the pledge is confirmation that AQ’s leadership stands with the Taliban, not ISIS.

While this may not lead to Al Qaeda affiliates switching over to ISIS, the disarray that Omar’s death may cause could lead to defections “down in the trenches.” This is particularly noticeable as the 31st of July, the day after the Taliban finally confirmed that their leader had passed was one of the most active days for ISIS on Twitter seen in months. The Islamic State formally announced its presence in Afghanistan in January, and its supporters have since been battling Taliban forces in Nangarhar province. The concern is that instability within the Taliban could soon mean they get a significant boost. Analysts are arguing that ISIS militants are benefiting from a steady influx of young, disaffected ex-Taliban recruits joining their ranks.There have apparently already been “a number of significant breakaways from the Taliban”, with people leaving because they didn’t believe former Taliban leader Omar was still alive. KCL’s very own Dr Rudra Chaudhuri has stated that “splinter groups have burst into the open since the death of Mullah Omar.”

However, in assessing the possibility of ISIS making recruitment gains from the Taliban’s apparent rough patch, it’s important to remember that the groups have differing ambitions. The Taliban is focused on creating an Islamic state in Afghanistan with defined borders, while ISIS is seeking to create a global caliphate and mega-state spanning across several continents. On one hand this makes ISIS seem more appealing – not only are they making gains, but their ambitious aims may appeal especially to the younger members of the Taliban. However, it’s also important to remember that the Taliban are deeply rooted in the local tribal culture of the region. This will always be difficult for ISIS to successfully challenge as it claims to be universal. Hence, those fighting for nationalist reasons are arguably not very likely to deflect from the Taliban (who see their struggle as being regionally limited) to a group that will not prioritise their cause.

Lastly, it’s also important to remember the role of Pakistan, especially as the Taliban’s lifeline. Pakistan has no leverage whatsoever over ISIS and while it has served its interests to support the Taliban and keep its neighbour relatively unstable (and thus less threatening), it would not serve its goals in Afghanistan in any way for the Taliban to be replaced by ISIS. The nation has proven more than competent in sustaining the Taliban against the odds of fighting the United States. Hence, there’s no reason to doubt that they have the capacity and motive to do so against the Islamic State.

The West’s War: Counterinsurgency in the Middle East

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Notoriously criticised for their many mistakes in the invasion of and statebuilding in Afghanistan, the US and its allies face another difficult time now. Pulling out of Afghanistan has seemed to be a ‘no brainer’, especially with the arguably very impressive development of the Afghan National Army and the democratic election of the new president Ashraf Ghani. However, with the peace talks at risk, the unity of the Taliban in question, and the advance of ISIS, pulling out completely and for good will prove far more tricky than it had been planned. At the urging of the Afghan government, the deadline for taking the last NATO soldiers out of Afghanistan has been pushed back to December of 2016. But even meeting this will prove difficult. Moreover, with China’s interests in Afghanistan’s stability rising, and crises elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa multiplying it  looks so far like following the confirmation of Omar’s death, we’re set to see a shift in international presence and influence in Afghanistan. If China indeed steps closer to ensure its national interests are protected, and the West is looking to meet the December deadline, it must step up in dealing with the worldwide chaos that the Islamic State has caused: the migration crisis and militant clashes in Libya and Turkey in particular. Omar’s death and the scramble that has ensued could prove to be another fork in the road for the long-struggling Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; which path they’ll take will depend on the outcome of this transition period and the will of Ghani to do all in his power to succeed in the imminent peace talks.

SOURCES:

https://www.wash
ingtonpost.com/world/afghan-peace-talks-postponed-amid-fallout-from-taliban-leaders-death/2015/07/30/409f3da0-36b1-11e5-9739-170df8af8eb9_story.html

http://en.ndrc.gov.cn/newsrelease/201503/t20150330_669367.html

http://thediplomat.com/2015/08/china-responds-to-afghanistans-bloodiest-day-since-2009/

http://www.dw.com/en/why-chinas-uighurs-are-joining-jihadists-in-afghanistan/a-18605630

http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/08/03/chinas-man-in-the-taliban-mullah-omar/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/08/us-china-diplomacy-idUSKBN0IS0BQ20141108

http://www.dw.com/en/why-chinas-uighurs-are-joining-jihadists-in-afghanistan/a-18605630

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-33907666

http://uk.businessinsider.com/taliban-leader-mullah-omars-death-is-a-gift-to-isis-2015-7?r=US&IR=T#ixzz3j5EzZZeV

http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/596985/Islamic-State-ISIS-Taliban-split-Mullah-Omar

http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2015/07/29/how-death-of-talibans-mullah-omar-could-boost-isis-in-afghanistan/

https://news.vice.com/article/the-taliban-tells-the-islamic-state-to-get-the-hell-out-of-afghanistan

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33154074

http://nationalinterest.org/feature/taliban-vs-isis-the-islamic-state-doomed-afghanistan-13153?page=21

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/07/30/asia/afghanistan-mullah-omar/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-3353

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http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/what-could-mullah-mohammad-omars-death-mean-for-the-taliban-talk

IMAGES:

http://i1.tribune.com.pk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/741083-mullahomar-1406315124-483-640×480

http://christophgermann.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/chinas-central-asia-problem.html?m=1

http://www.columbian.com/photos/galleries/2015/mar/14/editorial-cartoons-march-15-21/

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No More Hibakusha

by Andreas Tsamados, a greek second year student reading BA International Relations at the War Studies Department of King’s College London. Andreas wrote this piece whilst interning at The Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs – from this year he is to be their representative at King’s College.

Seventy years ago, on the 6th of august at 8:15, the U.S. dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Annihilation followed the explosion as the blast, along with nuclear radiation took the lives of an estimated 140,000 civilians. Three days later, the city of Nagasaki became the second victim of the atomic bomb, suffering the losses of another 74.000 people. As the world commemorates these events, the Hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bomb) remember and share, as Kenzaburo Oe wrote “the only gift that the world has received from these bombings…the wisdom of their survivors”. A wisdom that can be translated as follows: Never again should a population endure such inhuman destruction.

August 6, 1945 700 m from the hypocenter Yuko Nakamura (13 at time of bombing, 70 at time of drawing) When washing my face with a bloody nose at a well outside, large drops of rain began splashing down. ‘America sprinkled petroleum!’‘Maybe they’re trying to annihilate us by setting fire on the mountains.’ Our faces stiff with fear, all of us ran into air raid shelters. The rain, which had been mixed with pitch black sand, stained our bloody outer garments and bandages with black dots. It was later revealed that this black rain was a dangerous rain containing radioactivity.

August 6, 1945
700 m from the hypocenter
Yuko Nakamura (13 at time of bombing, 70 at time of drawing)
When washing my face with a bloody nose at a well outside, large drops of rain began splashing down. ‘America sprinkled petroleum!’‘Maybe they’re trying to annihilate us by setting fire on the mountains.’ Our faces stiff with fear, all of us ran into air raid shelters. The rain, which had been mixed with pitch black sand, stained our bloody outer garments and bandages with black dots. It was later revealed that this black rain was a dangerous rain containing radioactivity.

Only four years after the bombings, on the 29th of August 1949 the world abandoned its hopes of never seeing such tremendous destructive power released yet again. Indeed, this date marks the Soviet Union’s first nuclear test, code-named “RDS-1” and the start of a new era: the era of nuclear power, in which the human race attained the intelligence necessary to destroy itself, but not the moral maturity to avoid seeking and using it as a weapon. Whether one believes that nuclear weapons can be used to deter wars or mitigate seemingly intractable problems will be irrelevant in the logic of the following paragraphs. Waltz’s laissez-faire attitude regarding nuclear proliferation or Mearsheimer’s idea of selectiveness encompass most of the arguments advocating the necessity of existence of these weapons, yet they cast aside the very real possibility of “accidents” and “irrational actions”.

Journalist Eric Schlosser’s book “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.” depicts numerous “close calls” that have filled the past 70 years and dangerously brought the world near nuclear war. Many of these accidents could have been described just as it was done by Kennedy’s adviser Arthur Schlesinger, regarding the Cuban missile crisis, as the most dangerous moment in history. The Black Brant scare in January 1995 is very representative of these and is proof of the continuing threat posed by nuclear arms regardless if the world finds itself in a bipolar or multipolar state. The Black Brant XII missile launched – in order to study the aurora borealis – from Norway streaked its way near Russian airspace and was mistook for a U.S. Navy submarine-launched Trident missile. As a result, fearing a high altitude nuclear attack that could blind Russian radars, Russian nuclear forces were put on high alert, and the Cheget, the nuclear weapons command suitcase was given to Russian president Boris Yeltsin. He had a mere five minutes to decide whether or not to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike.

General Lee Butler, the former commander in chief of the Strategic Air Command – which controls nuclear weapons and strategy – has described our survival up to that time as “some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”. Surely, after general Butler’s condemnation of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) and worldwide automated response systems twenty year ago have now been remodeled. However, basic problems in the nuclear arms administration persist in 2015 as the decision to destroy the world is ultimately still a decision left to the president, for must of the countries, and in a very limited amount of time. Current systems are not perfect, and the standards set worldwide for the preservation or movement of nuclear bombs are not necessarily met, leaving a scary amount of room to data and human error.

Ultimately, there are inherent problems with having nuclear weapons, mainly being that they are handled by fragile beings, affected by a mind-numbing compression from imminent threat and subject to blinding emotions. Adding to that, areas rooted in regional instability, historical vindictiveness, and suppressed national pride, it is indeed hard to conceive that the right decision will always be made by the people in charge. Events similar to the 1995 incidents are bound to occur, their denouement however might not be as fortunate. In addition, as the number of countries possessing nuclear armament increases we can only assume that the probability of accidents occurring will too. These simple facts constitute, in my opinion, a sufficient basis for the worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons. This distant dream can be attained; it only takes everyone agreeing to do it. Political realities and national interests around the globe do collide in some part with this conclusion, however, the necessary sacrifice in order to disarm nuclear weapons is insignificant in comparison to the one the world would have to make in the instance of a nuclear war. Technology can not be reverted, loosing the capacity of making nuclear weapons is impossible, but bombs can definitely be disarmed and we have a responsibility to do it.

SOURCES:

Schlosser, E. (2013) Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. Penguin Press.

Chomsky, N. (2014) As Hiroshima Day dawns, why are we still tempting nuclear fate?

For more on The Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs visit http://britishpugwash.org/what-is-pugwash/

General Butler Lee’s review. [Online] Available from: http://chomsky.info/interviews/20140405.htm

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The Brazilian Financial Crisis

By Tulio Konstantinovitch, a Brazilian second year student reading BA International Relations at the War Studies Department of King’s College London.
brazil crisis

Even though Brazil some years ago was showing a prospect of economic growth that would surpass Britain and France, this year it sank into a crisis that was not evident in the eyes of the population. Inflation rose and prices went up in the last months; interest rates grew in two years from 7% to 14%, a 100% increase, and the currency depreciated 40% from 2014 to 2015. Millions of people became unemployed and the industrial production shrank.

This made the country run deficits and get indebted internationally. Domestically, people are more and more in default with national and commercial banks. However, these catastrophic events did not happen out of nowhere, yet they are the consequence of a bad public administration that started to spend more than it should, creating false promises to the population. The embezzlement in the biggest Brazilian company, the oil-producer Petrobras, intensified this problematic scenario.

The Labour party, which has remained in power for 14 years, sold a false dream to the population. After Lula entered the public administration in 2002, he increased public spending in social programmes to boost demand of goods in order to develop the industrial and retail sector. He also increased the minimum wage and decreased the interest rates by 15%. This strategy worked well in the beginning, but led to complicated consequences for his successor, Dilma Rousseff.

A year ago, with the objective of re-winning the elections, the president Dilma Rousseff used public funds in order not to raise the prices of oil and electric energy. This led to public deficit since prices were controlled artificially, but the truth came out this year. In the last few months, the oil and electric energy prices had to be increased, but the problem was that the increment was too high for the population, especially the poor, causing a downfall in the overall economy.

With the fall of the Chinese economy, Brazil was also harmed. In the last years, the relationship between China and Brazil strengthened and now that China reduced the imports of Brazilian commodities, especially soil, the economy suffered. As if this was not enough, the political scandal involving the Brazilian national biggest company, Petrobras, made many investors take their assets out of Brazil, worsening the economy and depreciating the currency. With a decaying internal market, even with more interest rates and a low currency, investors are choosing to invest in countries that can offer a more extended market, such as China and India. At the same time, imports became more expensive and the international market has not developed the expected attractiveness to Brazilian goods, even with the low currency. In the long term, however, international speculators might invest more in Brazil and other countries may buy more goods due to the weak currency.

At the moment, as a solution to the crisis, the CEO of Siemens Brazil Paulo Stark, believes that “one focus should be public-private partnerships, which will largely depend on government policy, rules, and the concessions program. A revised concessions program that is more open to private capital could dismantle many of the hindrances we have today and attract a lot of foreign investment in infrastructure, which is critical for the country’s growth, in areas like energy, logistics, and water supply.” The problem is that Brazil is still a restricted country to investment due to the lack of trust in the current government. Before any major investment takes place, those in the government who were involved in crimes have to be held accountable and charged and the public machine has to be organised in a way to hinder embezzlement. In regard of mistrust in the country, this will only change in the presidential elections of 2018 if the Social Party wins. Before that, Brazil will not show a good prospect of growth.

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Knock Knock: the Migration Crisis reaches the Chunnel

by Gerard Swinley, a British second year student reading BA International Relations at the War Studies Department of King’s College London.

Sunday the 26th July 2015. Burger king or Starbucks? A difficult choice. A succulent burger or a refreshing coffee? In the end I decide I’m not hungry. At the Eurotunnel Calais terminal, there are hundreds of British families waiting to board the train and return to the UK. Faces have been tanned and the atmosphere is lively after a sunny European holiday.

Outside the terminal, the atmosphere is very different; it is raining heavily and the temperature barely reaches 14 degrees. Past the terminal’s carpark, it is eerily quiet. Not a single migrant can be seen. This is perhaps unsurprising considering the heavy rain and intimidating barbed wire fences which now surround the tunnel complex. As we near the train carriages, look closer, and evidence of migrant activity begins to appear; a thick coat on top of a massive barbed wire fence has flattened the wire and created a crossing. Several large French police vehicles, filled with anxious looking officers, patrol the fields in the surrounding area. These are the only signs of the thousands of migrants that are living just a few miles away, in the migrant camp known as “the jungle”, Calais’s very own shanty town.

I was incredibly lucky. Less than 24hrs after boarding the train, an estimated 2000 migrants stormed the tunnel. Fences were damaged and services were disrupted. A day later, another 1500 migrants attempted to enter the tunnel and reach Britain, one Sudanese man was killed in the attempt. This year alone, 9 people have died trying to reach Britain via the Eurotunnel and this figure is only expected to increase.

This week, David Cameron has pledged an extra £7m of funding in a joint effort with France to enhance security around Calais. Most of the money is expected to be spent on more fencing. Yet as Calais’s deputy major, Emmanuel Agius, highlighted, more fencing is not likely to deter or prevent the thousands of migrants who attempt the crossing daily. Instead, more fencing will likely only injure more people andpotentially lead to more deaths. Migrants who are willing to risk life and limb for a chance of reaching Britain will not be stopped by a large docile fence, however intimidating.

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The British government’s policy in Calais is clearly not working. Unless Britain and France accept greater responsibility for these migrants this problem looks set to continue. Some members of the British public question why taxpayer’s money is being spent on French soil. Similarly, many French feel that as the migrants are trying to enter the UK, it is something the British need to deal with. In reality, it is a collective European problem. Calais is just one of a number of places in Europe effected by an influx of migrants. Other examples include Lesovo in Bulgaria and off the shores of Italy and Greece.

Europe must rise to the challenge of ensuring that this new wave of migration is efficiency managed and dealt with as a European problem not as simply a British, French, Italian or Bulgarian problem. The issue is currently being exacerbated by the concentration of migrants in a few small areas within several countries. Although some effort has been made to try and ensure migrants are dispersed throughout the different members of the European Union, so far the policy has proved unpopular. Only when European leaders realise that a problem shared is a problem halved, will progress be made.

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