Category Archives: Europe

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

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

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

The events

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

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

Novichok Nerve Agent

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

Military personnel suiting up to contain the exposed areas.

The Fallout

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

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

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Expelled Russian ambassador board their plane bound for Russia.

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

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

 The ‘Russian way of warfare’

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

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

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

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Possible Image of a Russian Social Media bot.

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

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

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

Implications

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

  1. Losing control

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

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

  1. Hubris

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

  1. ‘Useful idiots’

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

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

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

  1. Escalation?

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

 

 Bibliography: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[17] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[24] Ibid

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

william marshall4

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

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

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

 

Bibliography:

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Ibid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cold Waters: The Return of North Sea Dangers

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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.

Intro

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

Bibliography:

[1] https://rusi.org/event/annual-chief-defence-staff-lecture-2017 – Annual CDS lecture, 14th December 2017

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42481216 – BBC: HMS St Albans – UK Frigate Shadows Russian Warship in the North Sea, 26th December 2017

[3] https://defenceindepth.co/2017/07/17/todays-russian-navy-taking-the-asymmetric-route-with-caveats/ Defence in Depth – 17th July 2017

[4] Ibid

[5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/russian-warships-skate-close-to-british-waters-over-christmas-holiday-uk-navy-says/2017/12/26/c46bf9b8-ea35-11e7-891f-e7a3c60a93de_story.html?utm_term=.548bc24f610f – Washington Post, 26th December 2017

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russian-submarines-are-prowling-around-vital-undersea-cables-its-making-nato-nervous/2017/12/22/d4c1f3da-e5d0-11e7-927a-e72eac1e73b6_story.html?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.6b3acec90fed – Washington Post, 22nd December 2017

[7] https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2017/12/military-prioritising-defence-of-undersea-telecoms-cables-amid-russian-threat/ – Engineering and Technology, 15th December 2017

[8]https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Julian_Cooper2/publication/299338379_Russia%27s_state_armament_programme_to_2020_a_quantitative_assessment_of_implementation_2011-2015_FOI_Report/links/56f11db508aecad0f31f235d/Russias-state-armament-programme-to-2020-a-quantitative-assessment-of-implementation-2011-2015-FOI-Report.pdf – 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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Could the Veneto and Lombardy referendums determine a stronger north-south division in Italy after the decisive vote?

IMG_1719
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. 

Abstract:

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.

Introduction:

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.

Conclusion:

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.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Giuffrida, Angela. “Italian regions go to the polls in Europe’s latest referendums on autonomy.” The Guardian. October 20, 2017. Accessed November 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/20/italian-regions-go-to-the-polls-in-europes-latest-referendums-on-autonomy.

[2] IBID

[3] Masters, James, and Valentina Di Donato. “Two Italian regions vote overwhelmingly for greater autonomy.” CNN. October 23, 2017. Accessed November 2017. http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/21/europe/italy-lombardy-veneto-vote/index.html.

[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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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German General Elections: Europe – Quo vadis?

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By Julia Huentemann, 2nd year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London and Editorial Assistant at International Relations Today.

The Results

Last Sunday 24th September, the German citizens elected a new parliament – the Bundestag – and decided to let Angela Merkel serve another four years as German Chancellor. Starting her fourth consecutive term, she now equals the record of her predecessor Helmut Kohl. Even though nobody actually doubted that Merkel respectively the CDU would make it, the result is far behind optimistic expectations and means a weakened position for Merkel.

Having run in office as German Chancellor for twelve years and being the leader of Europe’s largest economy since 2005[1], experienced “Mutti” Merkel tends to be seen as the ultimate safe option for stability in Germany and Europe in turbulent times on the political stages at home and abroad. But Merkel’s popularity plummeted significantly in 2015 as a result to her controversial immigration policies and the result reveals that her public support is less broad than assumed.

Even though the CDU gathered most votes with about 33%, this result means a loss of almost 9% compared to the elections in 2013. It would be ignorant to talk about a victory and it forces Merkel to find new partners for the required majorities to build a government, since the present coalition partner SPD is not willing to function as such any longer. Facing extreme losses of votes itself the SPD understands its role in the opposition working on a profile that significantly differs from that of the CDU. Moreover, there is to notice a growing resistance towards Merkel from members of the CSU (CDU´s sister party) who have been claiming a maximum limit of migrants and blame Merkel for the bad outcome.

With the main centre parties CDU and SPD both enjoying considerably less popularity, the actual winner of the 2017 General Elections is clearly the hard right “Alternative for Germany” (AfD), the first nationalist party to win seats in the Bundestag after 1949. This development is alarming and reveals that nationalist and thus anti-European tendencies are also very popular in Germany, especially in Eastern Germany, which makes further European integration – as recently claimed by the French Premier Emmanuel Macron – more difficult.

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The political landscape in Germany

Led by Angela Merkel, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) is Germany’s main centre-right party and has been advertising its election campaign with the slogan “For a Germany where life is enjoyable”.  It is said to rather represent employers´ interests and its dealing with the recent Diesel affaire can be taken as an example for this claim. The Conservative Party is most likely the equivalent in GB. Despite having lost ca. 9 % compared to 2013, the CDU remains the strongest party with about 33 %. It needs to be considered that this result is the sum of CDU´s and CSU´s (her sister party) votes.

Its main competitor on the political landscape is the SPD (Social Democratic Party), Germany’s main centre-left party. According to its slogan “It is time for more justice: securing the future and strengthening Europe” the SPD is focusing on justice and equality in a strong Europe. It is said to rather represent the employees´ interests and can be seen as the pendant to the Labour Party in GB. Led by the former president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, whose candidature had sparked an initial rise in support that subsided shortly after, the party has experienced a severe defeat with only 20,5 % of the votes compared to about 25,5 % in 2013.

The third popular party with almost 13 % nationwide became the right, nationalist, Euro-sceptic AfD (Alternative for Germany). Having welcomed Brexit and Trump, the anti-immigration, anti-Islam party is now represented in 13 out of 16 state parliaments and in the Bundestag as the National Parliament. Ever since 2015 with the constant influx of migrants, resentment and fear towards Merkel’s welcoming migration policies had been rising, feeding into the AfD’s plan of attracting support. Having increased ca. 8 % in votes since 2013, AfD leading candidate Alexander Gauland claimes that the AfD is “going to reconquer our land and our people”[2]

There are three more parties represented in the new Bundestag having exceeded the threshold of 5 percent: The FDP (Liberal Democratic Party) enjoying a support of 10,7 % (+ 5,9 %) of the votes, The Green Party focusing on environmental issues with 8,9 % (+ 0,5 %) and the Left Party standing for anti-Capitalism and women´s rights with 9,2 % (+ 0,5 %).

In this new parliament the two main centre parties unite just about half of the votes while the other half is shared in almost equal parts by four smaller parties. This distribution of seats is unprecedented in the German Bundestag and means a challenge to find a governing majority.

The Reasons

Of course, this is mere speculation, but taking into account the findings of political research AfD´s performance can be understood as a kind of protest against the establishment and especially against the “GroKo” (Great Coalition) which obviously has been experienced as a political standstill. Only a minority of those who vote for AfD are actually convinced of its program, but rather wanted to demonstrate resistance against current political practice. The fact that there hardly seems to be a significant difference between the program of the established parties also might have fostered the seduction to vote for the AfD. [3]

It is most likely that this result also reveals dissatisfaction with Merkel´s immigration policy. Obviously, politicians in office have failed to recognize public fears and worries and to take them seriously enough. I strongly believe that most of my German fellow citizens are willing to help refugees and welcome them as valuable members in our society, provided that they are willing to live according to our western democratic values and do not violate our laws. Unfortunately, some of them did and to the annoyance of the victims they mostly went unpunished. This is a policy hard to understand and a clampdown might have helped to avoid this development. I am confident that 13 % for the AfD is not an expression for anti-refugee or anti-European attitude but rather an expression for dissatisfaction about how politicians deal with the challenges coming across with refugee influx and European integration.

 The Consequences – for Germany and for Europe

Merkel needs to form a coalition and without the SPD the only realistic option is CDU/CSU with FDP and the Green Party. The CDU/CSU is also referred to as ‘black’, the FDP as ‘yellow’ and the Green apparently as ‘green’, which is why this combination is called the ‘Jamaica-Coalition’ relating to the Jamaican flag.

Even though there seems to be a general willingness to cooperate, content-related overlaps need to be identified and especially in terms of the European process this could become a matter of dispute. While the Green openly professes a strong Europe, the FDP is more reserved, especially when it comes to a shared fiscal policy. Inspired by the idea of negotiating the impossible (‘Fluch’ = ‘curse’), DIE ZEIT (a serious German weekly paper) titled as follows:

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It will be interesting to see, if, respectively how, the three of them will negotiate a compromise, because this will not only determine Germany´s but also Europe´s future.

Emmanuel Macron already expressed his worries that a coalition with the Liberal Party might cause problems for his plans concerning the European development. It is just smart and fair that he brings forward his claims before the coalition negotiations start, because they should be part of the negotiations.

And finally I don´t want to miss mentioning that the SPD as the leader of the opposition in Parliament inevitably stands for a pro-European course and will hopefully provide some positive impulses whatever the government brings forward. This could be one of the issues where the SPD could differentiate from the CDU/CSU in its next campaign. And as we have learnt from Macron: it is actually possible to win an election with pro-European claims against all odds.

Bibliography:

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/24/germanys-general-election-all-you-need-to-know.

[2] http://www.tagesschau.de/newsticker/liveblog-bundestagswahl-101.html#Reaktionen-bei-Union-und-SPD.

[3] http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/btw17/index.html.

 

 

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Helmut Kohl – Chancellor of German Unity

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By Julia Huentemann, a 1st year International Relations student at King’s College and Editorial Assistant at International Relations Today. 

Helmut Kohl – the Chancellor of the German Reunification and a pioneer for the European Unification – died Friday 16th June, 2017 at the age of 87.

Leaders from all over the world issued their grief about the loss of a great politician and a great European patriot in an official European ceremony in Strasbourg on 1 July 2017. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission and a close friend of Kohl, delivered an emotional and very personal speech recalling that neither the EU enlargement towards the East nor the introduction of the Euro would have been realized without Kohl. Bill Clinton, former US president, said ‘farewell my friend’ and stated that Kohl´s legacy is the chance to be part of something bigger than the personal career: the striving for a better world with mutual respect where no nation is dominated and no nation dominates others. The French president Emmanuel Macron praised Kohl´s merits concerning the German-French relation as a foundation for a united and peaceful Europe and called to appreciate and maintain these achievements. He remembered the legendary act of reconciliation with Francois Mitterand and Helmut Kohl holding hands at the graveyard of Verdun. Finally, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who had dissociated from Kohl during his lifetime, addressed the audience full of praise about Kohl´s life achievement: when he entered office in 1982 Germany was divided, when he left office in 1998, Germany has been reunited and the European unification has been in great progress. Without Helmut Kohl millions of people, including herself, would not have had the chance to live a life in freedom and peace and this is why she bowed before him in gratitude and humility.

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Even though Kohl was not without controversy in Germany, undisputed tribute was paid to him for his unshakeable confidence in the German Reunification and the European Integration, his commitment and his political instinct for the feasible. He realized the unique opportunity for a German Reunification with the blessing of USSR´s Michail Gorbatschow and the Western nations and courageously took the chance before the historic timeframe closed again. Due to his integrity, his solid reliability and his political fairness he enjoyed the highest respect and strong confidence among the political leaders and therefore managed to overcome the concerns about a reunited Germany.

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Besides his belief in the German Reunification he had a vision of a united Europe which became the driving force for his acting. As a graduate in History he was well aware of Germany´s responsibility and his political goal was to contribute to a free and peaceful community of all European nations with a united Germany amidst it. According to Juncker he saw the euro as a means of ensuring peace in Europe and therefore fought for the introduction of the euro.

A ceremony in Strasbourg, at the heart of Europe and the border of Germany and France, is symbolic for Kohl´s political legacy. It is now up to us to maintain this legacy and to make Europe great (again). ;  )

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The anatomy of TERROR

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By Diana Ecaterina Borcea, a first year War Studies Undergraduate at King’s College London and European Editor for International Relations Today.

 10:35pm Monday, May 22nd 2017. Massive explosion taking place at the Manchester Arena, shortly after the end of 20.000 people packed concert.

Two months earlier, on March 22nd, a 52-year-old British citizen drove a car into the pedestrians on the south side of the Westminster Bridge.

The timeline of the UK terrorist attacks started to count more and more incidents and deaths of the innocent since the beginning of the year, leading the detectives into the hunt for a terrorist network, especially after the Iraqi Islamic State’s responsibility claim over the bombing which happened earlier this week. However, the public proved itself to be increasingly confused in the attempt to contour a broader understanding of what the terrorists are looking for in their operations – or even better – what the real terror is meant to achieve.

Considering that UK has just been through the worst attack since 2007, the polarization of a pure anti-humanity agenda, successfully restored under the international spotlight since the beginning of the year proved once again, its underlying permanent influence over the global society, regardless of the geo-political targeting of the attacks. Therefore, what is actually primarily important to understand is the concept that describes best the perpetrators’ intentions in their offensive procedure, which essentially relies on the very definition of terror. They aim for publicity (which by its own means both attracting other individuals or groups on the side of the perpetrators and breaking the rational will of the targeted mass), they generally intend to deteriorate the image of a recognized government in the eyes of both the world and their own citizens, they inspire a super-wave of collective guilt amongst the individuals and ultimately, strive for a socio-political (and sometimes economic) paralysis of the targeted state-system, once the faith and the support of the masses are completely lost. From this point of view, UK’s constant response to the attacks can be theoretically interpreted as being antiterrorist, because it mainly relies on collective national security measures meant to keep sheltering the rights of the citizens and the rule of law. However, the increasing density of the attacks does raise some vital questions about the state’s protective capability, given the large numbers of casualties caused only since the beginning of this year. The more successful attacks, the lower the people’s faith in their own security and safety and implicitly, the lower the trust in the state’s protective ability. So what will happen next?

It is clear that unlike the Unites States, the British government does not see terrorism as warfare, nor does it look at it through the crime analogy. What UK has actually done so far is considering terrorism as being a matter of disease, which implies a cause-symptom treatment based on arrests and increased prevention through additional security measures. It is certainly important to note the achievements of this approach, as so far the danger of a social paralysis has been avoided and regardless of the extent of the destruction caused by the perpetrators of extreme violence, life went on. But how long will this last for?

A more relevant idea to bear in mind when dissociating terrorism is that due to the ever-changing nature of the phenomenon (including the targeting vision, the conduct of the operations, the tactics and devices used etc.), there is not and will never be a clear, comprising and universally valid definition for the case. This fact itself plays an important role in the broad understanding process of how and why the perpetrators act the way they do against the society. The psychological view of the attacker prototype does explain the individual’s perspective before and during the ‘pull of the trigger’, as it acknowledges the psychological map and processes taking place in human mind, which are, to a certain extent, quite similar to the ones of a soldier on the battlefield. It fails, however, to identify the vague transition between the ideological, religious, political, economic or personal motivation of an individual to carry out an act of extreme violence and the actual process of making it happen. In other words, there is no clear link between the theory and the practice of inducing terror. What is more, the group cohesion theory can barely justify the determination and outstanding operational focus of the terrorist groups and yet, it does not even reach the lone wolves’ case studies. Perhaps, this is one element that makes the latest London attacks stand out in the series of the recent attacks, because if the individuals acted on their own, one can hardly identify – not to mention understand – the mental realm of the terrorist. Thus, there is a general state of confusion between the target and the shooter. Unlike traditional warfare, the war on terror is not just asymmetrical from the grand strategic point of view, but it is also extremely irregular when it comes to the individual level of analysis.

Therefore, the thinner the correlation between the victim and the killer, the more endangered the conditions of life, regardless of the geographical zone discussed. What is certain, though, is that the continuation of the attacks against the human society has become in the past decades, an inherent matter of reality. Whether the hits similar to the one Britain took earlier this week will intensify or not, it is important to remember that terrorism is now a big part of the world we live in. The attackers are not prone to fundamental changes on any level of analysis, but what needs consideration is how (from the citizens to the states and to the international community) the society will ‘digest’ and cope with this traumatizing reality and the first step on this path is actually deciding whether the surviving mechanism of the world as we know it is actually that bulletproof against terror as we thought it was.

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Marine Le Pen and women’s rights: a personal opinion

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By Elise Lauriot Prevost, a second year Undergraduate studying International Relations at King’s College London.

Women’s rights have not been central in the French elections, as they are not in most elections. They never seem to be a priority even though women statistically represent 50% of the electorate. However, there is a chance that in two weeks a woman may become President. This woman is Marine Le Pen. Her opponent, Emmanuel Macron, a man, has pledged to do more about women’s rights than Le Pen. This is easily explained by looking at the party she represents, the Front National. Nonetheless, what is concerning is not only that woman’s rights are so absent from her program but more so how she frames her ‘slight’ concern.

A quick comparison of the two candidates programs on women’s rights shows us that:

  • Emmanuel Macron wants there to be parity in the candidates running for the legislative elections and in the directors of state agencies.
  • Marine Le Pen does not mention this.

 

  • When it comes to equal pay Macron would like to ‘name and shame’ companies that do not pay men and women the same and enforce by conducting regular checks.
  • Marine Le Pen does mention equal pay and does not give any concrete measures on how she would achieve this. Still she is against positive discrimination.

 

  • When it comes to women’s rights Emmanuel Macron would be stricter on ‘small infractions’ such as cat calling and other ‘antisocial behavior against women’ by imposing “on the spot” fines.
  • Marine Le Pen wants to defend women’s rights by fighting against Islamism which, for her, is the biggest threat against women’s fundamental rights. [1]

 

It is on this last point that I would like to focus on. This idea of Islamism and a repression of women rights has its roots in the colonization of North Africa by the French. The French quickly developed an obsession with veiling and unveiling woman which is obviously still the case with the recent ‘burkini’ scandal. Additionally, the 2005 ‘Loi contre les signes religieux ostensibles’ was passed as a matter of ‘laicité’ but would never have made it through had it not been for the campaign by French feminists that headscarves are just a sign of a Muslim woman’s oppression. Many authors have justifiably argued against this[2]. This removes a Muslims woman agency and her right to choose for herself. The headscarf also has a long history of being used as a form of rebellion against colonial authorities. Obviously, the headscarf does not equal fundamental Islam but for Marine Le Pen it seems to. By reducing Muslim women to their headscarves it completely removes their agency.

On top of this discourse with colonial and purely racist undertones there is another problem with what she is saying. As a French woman, I personally have never felt that Islamism was the biggest threat to my rights. Far from it. I feel that my reproductive rights are more threatened by the ‘family’ lobby (La Manif Pour Tous) in France which is mostly Catholic. I personally have been more put down, belittled and on the receiving end of lurid comments by white ‘French’ men than by the people Marine Le Pen blames, ‘immigrants’.  Obviously, I am generalizing here but my biggest concerns are everyday cat calling, being belittled by male peers and most importantly the fact that I still have to work twice as hard to get a job, an interview or even just to be taken seriously because I am a woman. And this has absolutely nothing to do with Islamism. What shocks me the most is that Marine Le Pen is arguably the most powerful woman in France today and to get there it must not have been easy.

I dislike her with every fiber of my being and would never excuse anything she says but, woman to woman, I am certain that she has felt the same sexual discrimination that I have. She has had to work twice as hard to get where she is, she has had to answer questions which a man never gets asked such as why have you put your career in front of your family? etc. I do not agree with her ideas but I am sure that she has been victim to as much and even more sexual harassment because of her prominent position. I am sure that people questioned her taking over from her father on the basis that she was a woman. With all this said I still struggle to understand why she does not take women’s rights more seriously. I am sure that she has had her rights questioned by way more non Islamic fundamentalists than Islamic fundamentalists. Women’s rights may not appeal to all her voters but she has tried to soften her image and distance herself from her father and party. How can a woman who has definitely experienced sexual harassment reduce it to Islamic Fundamentalism. You can be blinded by your ideas but work place harassment, belittlement is an everyday reality for woman and for her too.  How can you vote for someone who is so blinded by their racist and extremist ideology that they do not even take into account what affects them on a daily basis?

Bibliography:

[1] <http://www.rtl.fr/girls/identites/macron-le-pen-le-match-des-programmes-pour-les-droits-des-femmes-7788256778&gt;.

[2] Najmabadi, Afsaneh. “Gender and Secularism of Modernity: How Can a Muslim Woman Be French?” Feminist Studies 32, no. 2 (2006): 239.

 

 

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Is Romania finally making its first steps towards democracy?

Unbenannt

By Luca Patriniche, a first-year History undergraduate at King’s College London

The newly-appointed Social-Democratic (PSD, now in coalition with ALDE) government of Sorin Grindeanu approved an emergency ordinance (OUG13), during the night of 31 January 2017, which alters the Romanian penal code and reduces penalties for abuses of power. The order stipulated more lenient punishments for corruption. There was also an amnesty for those convicted of certain corruption offenses, which amounts essentially to the legalization of corruption. PSD proposed further measures that would ban protests deemed to be of “extremist nature” and free from jail those serving sentences of up to five years for offenses including abuse of power. All these measures would be a clear breach of democratic principles – they bear an uncanny resemblance to the new measures passed secretively in the night by the illiberal Law & Justice (PiS) government in Poland. Similarly to PiS, PSD’s first line of defense to criticism is their pro-social measures to ‘help the poor’, that are ‘the will of the people’.

The main beneficiary of PSD’s ordinance would have been the PSD president Liviu Dragnea. PSD won parliamentary elections in December 2016 with 46% of the vote, but President Klaus Iohannis (of the National Liberal Party, or PNL)’s anti-corruption drive since 2014 bars those with convictions from public office, thus preventing a Dragnea premiership. Dragnea has a suspended two-year sentence for vote-rigging and is being prosecuted in a separate case for abuse of power. The proposed changes would likely be made with the intention of making Dragnea prime minister. The changes would pardon and shorten the sentences of those convicted of corruption, including of many PSD politicians, and allow future abuses of power.

For a week after 31 January 2017, there was every night (in temperatures often below minus 10 degrees Celsius) between 300,000 and 600,000 people protesting in Romania (population of 20 million), making them the biggest protests since the Revolution of December 1989 against Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu. The protests have continued, albeit in much smaller numbers, as protestors want to ensure the Grindeanu government does not try to introduce a watered-down version of the ordinance after the proposals were withdrawn and Justice Minister Florin Iordache resigned. They call for the resignation of the entire Grindeanu cabinet. There were large protests outside Romania as well, in the Romanian diaspora of 4 million (compared to 20 million in Romania).

“Awaken, Romanian, from the deadly slumber into which the barbaric tyrants have sunk you!”[1] These opening lines of the Romanian national anthem, a song often sung at the protests for its message of liberty and patriotism, show the cynicism of the protestors and the mismatch between the reality of political, economic and social life in Romania and the optimism that followed the 1989 revolution. Corruption continues to pervade everyday life in Romania, and many are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, the country’s trajectory in the past 28 years and its prospects, particularly in relation to neighbouring countries that are perceived to have transitioned more successfully since 1989. The protests are in favour of well-functioning, transparent and accountable institutions.

Other popular slogans showed the same bitterness. Referring to the defensive way in which former Justice Minister Iordache avoided uncomfortable questions 24 times at a single press conference with “altă întrebare” (“another question”, in English), there were also cries of “altă întrebare, altu’ între bare” (“another question, another one behind bars”), calling for Iordache’s imprisonment. Protesters denounced the PSD as the “red plague” and declared that Ceaușescu was not, in fact, dead, but alive and simply disguised as Dragnea. References were also made to the 1990 ‘Golaniad’ protests against the transitional National Salvation Front (FSN) government of Ion Iliescu, during which the protestors often sang: “Better to be dead than a communist!” That 1990 protest called for the barring of former Communist Party (PCR) officials from public office; people have the grievance today that old members of the party, or those who formed advantageous connections pre-1989, are still privileged, or even that the style of governance today and lack of transparency and integrity resembles the old days.

Other popular slogans refer to the PSD’s late-night decree signings (“like thieves in the middle of the night”) or the anti-democratic nature of the decrees (“in a democracy, thieves stay in jail”) , but they all use the idea of this PSD government and many before them since 1989 having consistently stolen and blighted Romania’s chances to improve herself. Cynicism and bitterness reflect the national feeling about politics since 1989.

To understand this latest bout of anger at politics, one should consider the last year and a half in Romanian politics. The fire in the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest in October 2015 killed 64 people. Already lax safety regulations were said to have been avoided by way of a bribe to the local council, thus helping the fire to spread. Corruption had killed. This sparked a wave of anti-government protest, eventually resulting in the resignation of then prime minister Victor Ponta (PSD), himself facing allegations of tax evasion, money-laundering, plagiarism of his doctoral thesis, and of being involved in the suspicious ‘suicide’ of a prosecutor. The National Anti-Corruption Agency (DNA), under Laura Kövesi, continued Iohannises anti-corruption drive with renewed strength, arresting many politicians. After one year of technocratic government, the December 2016 parliamentary elections returned the PSD to power. The fact that a new party, the urgently-named Save Romania Union (USR) came third, being led by Nicușor Dan (an academic turned activist) and Clotilde Armand (a French businesswoman turned activist), shows the dire situation in Romanian politics. PSD then proposed Sevil Shaiddeh for prime minister, which President Iohannis vetoed on the grounds of her inexperience and thus vulnerability to being exploited by Dragnea, as well as because of her husband’s previous role as a minister for tropical and subtropical fruit in the Syrian Agriculture Ministry from 1988 to 2010, the government of Assad. This sparked a minor constitutional crisis which ended with the eventual formation of the Grindeanu government in January 2017, whose actions have provoked the recent protests.

he above does not answer the question but is essential to understanding the nature of the protests and having an idea of how successful protest can be. The fact that hundreds of thousands, a sizeable chunk of the Romanian population, turned out to protest peacefully, often in bitterly cold weather, shows great determination. The fact that the government soon backed down on its proposals and that Iordache resigned shows that protest can have a significant impact on policy. This would appear to be the first step towards true democracy and rule of law. The effectiveness of protest in causing political change depends on local conditions such as the flexibility of rulers and the determination, co-ordination, and mobilization of protesters. In Romania’s case, these factors in 2017 were, at least at face value, very much in favour of the protesters. However, the victory for the protesters is provisional; there is a long battle for them to safeguard Romanian democracy.

Romanians’ resilience is commendable given 28 years of underwhelming political development and proposed political changes that are clearly anti-democratic, and which endangers much-needed attempts by Iohannis and the DNA to fight the corruption that is endemic and damaging to the Romanian economy and society.

The protests inspired civic creativity. Considering again the protest slogans, one can see they show bitterness, but they also show humour and creativity; a hint of positivity, in other words. They show a unique Romanian style of protest. The protest has been common in Romania since 2012. Protesters are therefore energetic, enthusiastic and organized. Volunteers provide protesters with food and tea and keep peace amongst the protesters, so as to avoid attracting police responses. The streets can thus act as the main guardians of democracy if the politicians are not so keen to protect it. The Romanian culture of protest since 2012 has tended to be less conflict-based than elsewhere and it makes use of modernity. The protesting becomes humorous – funny custom-made posters were used. A good example of this is a play on a Coca-Cola advert: “Enjoying Coca-Cola since 1886” became the sarcastic “Enjoying corruption since 1989”. Video projections of Romanian flags onto buildings and huge puppets, particularly of Dragnea in a prisoner’s uniform, have also been used. These show cynicism but also creativity and satire – protest is not about displaying anger, but it is satire instead. The protesters show passion but are good-natured and fun. “Distracție plăcută!” (“Have a good time!”) was often wished to those going to the protests. The protests’ humour and good-naturedness are advantageous because it makes the protests less obviously ideological and less antagonizing and more an occasion for unity against a clear problem of corruption.

Protesters have made good use of technology. It helps their cause as well as it has helped to gain significant international attention for these protests. Social media can be used to further deride incompetent politicians. Social media enables a leaderless, inclusive and fairly spontaneous movement. The protests have also echoed modern tastes; many slogans and signs resembled Facebook messages or tweets. #rezist has become synonymous for the 2017 protests. Iohannis’s election in 2014 was aided by many sharing a “keep calm and vote Iohannis” photo and by making him the most “liked” European politician on Facebook.

Romanian protests have also managed to unite those fed up with corruption and poor governance, providing unity across different socioeconomic groups. A Facebook video of an elderly Bucharest street cleaner went viral, as she was shouting passionately at the young protesters to rise up and to be brave Romanians and take back their country after the politicians stole it. A desire for the rule of law unites these people who previously might have been politically detached by disillusionment. They have consolidated their unity in the last few years since it has been more or less the same demographic that has been protesting at each wave. As these people tend to be young, there is an element of being different from mainstream society, often associated with the older generations and the poor, rural population, particularly as these groups are seen as voting PSD and seen as having been paid by PSD to stage counter-protests in PSD’s favour.

he humor, unity, creativity and modernity of the protests may well be able to cause real political change, but that would require a real grassroots anti-corruption movement, similar perhaps to Beppe Grillo in Italy. Despite the undeniable Romanian energy for protest, there is no such movement with the level of impact that Grillo has. There are further problems; the protesters were not united on certain issues, such as how to engage the police, after a few incidents of hooliganism. PSD remains dominant in Romanian politics also, despite all the bad press for it.

The DNA and Iohannis are spearheading the anti-corruption drive, but they are not innocent either. Iohannis risks politicizing the protests by declaring himself explicitly on the side of the protesters against the Grindeanu government, and the DNA’s quick prosecutions suggest it benefits from a privileged but questionable network of information-sharing.

A reform of public services and government institutions is needed for there to be a truly democratic political class. This would mean local authorities, national and state institutions need reform, like the army, police or postal service. Local and national authorities must be created such that they are compatible with a competent and honest Western EU state. This would mean cutting through the networks of influence, nepotism, and corruption that make up Romanian ‘godfather capitalism’, which combines several elements. First, there is the renewed influence of the Orthodox Church (Romania is currently building the largest Orthodox cathedral in the world in Bucharest), arguably primitive, unwanted and unnecessary. Second, there is almost exclusively non-violent corruption (bribery) and incompetence among untrained politicians. Third, the lack of training of politicians, exacerbated by a poorly-paid political class in a country where voters and politicians alike are not so much ideological as simply looking to make some extra money where possible, leads to incompetent, incoherent government. This puts the political class in conflict with the justice system, but collusion between the two sides blocks the transition to a truly democratic political class.

The minimum gross monthly salary in Romania is 1450 lei (about 235 euros); the average gross monthly salary is 3130 lei (about 685 euros). A deputy in the lower house of parliament has a starting monthly salary of 5400 lei (about 1180 euros), not including perks. Perks include a certain immunity from prosecution, which is useful when the justice system would otherwise pursue corrupt politicians. People are left with little money after their living costs, so find it difficult to save. Thus many voters are tempted by PSD promises of higher salaries and pensions. The politicians are better off, but still poor by European standards, and given their position of power, are likely to abuse it and try to make extra money where possible. This problem affects all. The only political ideology becomes to make extra money where possible. Politicians have frequently migrated across the political spectrum to different parties, including between PSD (centre-left) and PNL (centre-right). The result of prioritizing personal profit itself is the outcome of a lack of funding and incentives, leading to incompetent, incoherent and dishonest politicians and political parties.

This is added to the social problems that entrench the old power networks. The Romanian diaspora numbers almost 4 million. The younger generation is tempted to leave but the old and the poor (many of them PSD voters) remain and continue to vote PSD, which as the largest party, attracts the networks of corruption and dishonesty. The other parties are not necessarily less corrupt, but PSD enjoys an unhealthy political dominance. The inter-generational rift does not help. Furthermore, the quality of the education system, apart from a few good schools, is declining. Like other public services, quality is stagnant because of lack of funding and incompetence. As many jobs are in the public sector, Romania also has many individuals dependent on those in power, which only further entrenches dishonesty.

Protests are undeniably effective in Romania in bringing about the short-term change of policy and politicians. OUG13 was cancelled and Iordache resigned. That brought some relief from endemic corruption and satisfied citizens’ dissatisfaction with corrupt politicians. The magnitude and ingenious methods of the protests consolidate the street’s role as a visible and influential actor in politics and politicized many. International attention on Romania, partly a result of Romanians’ use of technology to make others abroad elsewhere aware of the situation, would certainly have pressured the government to act as it did. However, there are many rifts in Romanian society, as shown by the mostly old people who were at the pro-PSD counter-protests, having been told Iohannis would cut their pensions. Deep reform is needed to stem corruption and entrenched networks of elitism and dishonesty. The political system would have to become more coherent and honest as well. There are also the very tricky demographic problems to solve. The population is ageing and declining, and the young and skilled go abroad, so the result is that it is very difficult to put more funding into services like education. Political parties like USR offer hope of a more honest future, but there is still a long way to go before such parties become large enough to have influence. If the current young and educated generation keep to their ideals of honesty, then that is encouraging for the future. However, this should not disguise the fact that deep reform is needed. The protest was able to cause political change, but without deep reform, the post-1989 situation of stagnant political development may well continue, in other words, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.[2] A large grassroots political movement for honesty, of which these protests are a small first step, would surely be a step towards that. The protesters’ determination alone won’t bring true democracy, but one has to wait to see whether their determination can develop into a serious political movement to challenge the status quo.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Romanian National Anthem, Desteapta-te, Romane!, (lyrics by Andrei Muresanu)

[2] Daltrey, Townshend, Won’t Get Fooled Again, 1971

 

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