Category Archives: MENA

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



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

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

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



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

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



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



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

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












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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

[6] Ibid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[15] Versi, Miqdaad: The Guardian: ‘The latest Prevent figures show why the strategy needs an independent review’: [Accessed 5th January 2018]

[16] Dearden, Lizzie: The Independent: ‘Children exposed to terror radicalisation by Government’s failure to tackle root causes of extremism, report finds’: [Accessed 26th December 2017]

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

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The Iranian Irritation:​ President Trump’s menace to the Iran Deal


Clément Briens is a second-year undergraduate student in War Studies & History with an interest in Cybersecurity and Nuclear Proliferation.

On October 15th, Donald Trump must decide in front of US Congress whether to certify that Iran is complying with the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) signed in 2015. After more than 20 months of negotiations, P5+1 countries (the Security Council Permanent 5 members+ Germany) signed a deal with Iran limiting their nuclear weapons development program in exchange for tightened economic sanctions. The JCPOA became integrated into US Law with the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act passed in May 2015.

This act asks for re-certification from the US President every 90 days that Iran is, in fact, complying with the deal; if the POTUS refuses to certify, then a period of 60 days opens up in which US Congress may decide to reintroduce sanctions against Iran, hence formally marking an exit of the United States from the JCPOA. President Trump has recently made headlines by threatening to decertify the deal during the next hearing this October, which might lead to a collapse of the deal with Iran.

Donald Trump has always strongly opposed this deal and has been extremely vocal about his opinions regarding the regime, especially during his presidential campaign. However, President Trump’s first UN speech in September was particularly brutal and was of unprecedented violence: he described the Iran deal as being “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” He even qualified Iran of being a “corrupt dictatorship” hiding as a democracy. “Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it”, he warns.

A potential exit of the United States from the deal would be disastrous for all parties. This includes US firms seeking to conduct business in Iran, America’s allies, as well as provoking irreversible damage to an already strained relationship between Iran and the United States.

It is also foolish to believe that it is the JCPOA’s aim to completely stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; our best hope is to slow down Iran’s program while we repair relations with what used to be a crucial regional ally. As declared by, Robert Einhorn, a US academic who was partly behind the American negotiation of the deal, “opponents have had to scale back their criticism, in large part because the JCPOA, at least so far, has delivered on its principal goal—blocking Iran’s path to nuclear weapons for an extended period of time.” Therefore it is important for us to review what this deal’s objectives as they were designed by policy-makers are before threatening to cut it off and measure the benefits and shortcomings before assessing whether President Trump should jump the trigger of decertification.

Can we really stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons?

Signed in Vienna on July 14th 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action marked an agreement between P5 countries and Iran that it would limit its nuclear enrichment activities (that would eventually lead them to gaining access to nuclear weaponry) in exchange for the lifting of various embargos and economic sanctions put in place by the Security Council since 2006. Here are the simplified terms of the agreement[1]:

  • Arms embargo until at least until 2020. Ballistic missile technology embargo until at least 2023.
  • Limitation of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium to 300kg until 2030.
  • Redesigning of the heavy-water Arak Reactor so it does not produce weapons-grade plutonium as waste. No building of further heavy-water reactors until 2030.
  • Inspections and security measures until 2040.
  • End of economic sanctions on Iranian assets and end of embargo (UN Resolution 1737)
  • Redesigning of the heavy-water Arak Reactor so it does not produce weapons-grade plutonium as waste. No building of further heavy-water reactors until 2030

So what sense can we make of these terms? Do they stand to actually stop Iran from developing nuclear devices in the near future?

Firstly, the most obvious and the most alarming to some is how these agreements are limited in time, with quantitative limits over-enrichment and ballistic weapons research that last until approximately 2030, effectively delaying Iran’s “breakout time” instead of avoiding it. Adversaries of the deal, such as President Netanyahu, have called these limits a “sunset clause”. Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michel Oren declared in July that Israel and the US would cooperate “to ensure that the sun never sets on the sunset clause until there is a different Iranian regime.”[2]

Secondly, one may wonder how it would be possible to enforce these measures. While redesigning a reactor might be possible to be publicly proven by Iran, what stops them from building secret, undetectable reactors or nuclear enrichment facilities under mountains in the Iranian countryside?

This is where the IAEA[3] comes in. This international agency is a key factor in the enforcement of this deal, as they are the ones that provide the reports concerning Iran’s compliance with the deal. Their main framework for these reports is the Additional Protocol (AP) a treaty signed by Iran in 2003 in supplement to the NPT[4] which allows IAEA inspectors to visit any nuclear facilities in a very short notice (as to avoid hiding evidence of nuclear enrichment) and most importantly is legally binding for the signatory. [5]

Therefore, trust is an inherent factor in Iran’s compliance with security measures. This may explain the West’s approach at the Vienna summit: if the West successfully negotiates a delay in Iran’s nuclear programme, then it buys time for the West to rebuild economic and diplomatic ties with Iran, in order to ultimately persuade Iran that it does not need nuclear weapons, to begin with. Real change comes within. Being coercive with a key regional power is not the solution to achieve nonproliferation.

Upholding the agreement is a divisive question even in the POTUS’ camp. Both Rex Tillerson, Trump’s Secretary of State, and General James Mattis, his Secretary of Defence, are both rumoured to defend the deal. Mattis, in particular, has been very vocal about his support of his deal, despite his beliefs that it can be reinforced. “Iran is not in material breach of the agreement, and I do believe the agreement to date has delayed the development of a nuclear capability by Iran,” Mattis claimed in front of a Senate hearing.[6]

So is the Iran deal really one-sided?

To many observers, this deal stood out as being mutually beneficial, as Iranian compliance allowed for peace of mind for Western leaders regarding Iran’s nuclear activities as well as dropping economic sanctions which effectively opened Iranian markets to foreign investment. Boeing is poised to make an estimated $16.6bn from a first deal made in December 2016 for more than 80 planes, with a project for a second deal worth $3bn in the works.[7] European rivals Airbus have also exploited this golden opportunity and have passed a similar deal worth $20bn. Of course, what President Trump will omit from his speech on October 15th is the 18,000 jobs that are said to be created from this deal for American workers in Boeing plants all over the country.[8] His 2016 campaign was, of course, heavy with slogans of “bringing jobs back to America”.

Many private actors in other domains have also benefitted from this opening, such as rail and road infrastructure, potentially $25bn and $30bn markets respectively. Iran has also benefitted from this economic opening: they have claimed to have made “more than $100bn” from the end of economic sanctions.[9]

One look at the Iranian economy tells us why: oil represents more than 80% of the country’s public revenues.[10] The Iranian economy is volatile, as any country whose economy depends on market prices for natural resources- this is why they would also benefit from a situation of trust and stability, as it is easier to find clients in a time of crisis.


Iran is not only valuable as a potential geopolitical ally, but also a potential customer and economic partner. Trust is not only the key to diplomatically persuade them from developing nuclear weapons. It is also the key to the stability of their economy. An economy that, if it finds the right diversification under the right leadership, can transform Iran into a global power, and a powerful ally to the United States.

President Trump is right in that the international community should be uncompromising concerning Iran’s violations of human rights and sponsoring of terrorist groups such as Hamas, which are issues that should not be ignored and need to be solved. America’s commitment to its alliance with Israel is also crucial in the President’s decision. However, threatening to decertify the only sensible solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions should not be on the United States’ agenda, and is of an unprecedented magnitude of violence concerning his speech.

Unfortunately, the West will not be able to stop Iran from getting the bomb short of invading them. The economic and political benefits to the JCPOA far outweigh any sanctions, as well as having the potential to make Iran reconsider their bright future as one without nuclear weapons. Trust is once again a key factor in both economic relations but also in the ability for the IAEA to enforce its security measures, hence allowing the international community to verify Iran’s compliance. Trump’s comments about Iran being a “rogue state” was detrimental to this effort and clearly shows his intent in decertifying- one may only hope that the remainder of the P5 powers will remain sensible and attempt to uphold the agreement despite America’s divided leadership.





[3] International Atomic Energy Agency

[4] Non Proliferation Treaty









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3rd Anniversary of the Yazidi Genocide


Article by Barbora Mrazova, 2nd year BA International Relations at KCL, currently volunteer with the STEP-IN project in Iraq

3rd of August is a sad day for all Yazidis, especially those that live in northern Iraq. Also, for all of us, who watch them remembering it. Three years ago, a Yazidi genocide by the Islamic State happened with the international community standing by. Before Yazidi people suffered 72 genocides – but this was the first one in the 21st century.

 Yazidis are a minority group, mostly living in Northern Iraq. Before the genocide on August 3rd, 2014, many Yazidis were living around the Sinjar mountain east of Mosul. Some in the surrounding villages and some in the Sinjar city. They were forced to flee their homes after ISIS started to take over their territories and there was no one left to protect these defenseless people.

 As a result, they ran onto the Sinjar mountain. People were running (the majority of Yazidis don’t have a car) and behind them ISIS was chasing them on Toyotas. They had no other option, since ISIS surrounded the mountain from all sides. For a few long days, they were without water, food, shelter, or another set of clothes. US, UK, and Australia made some emergency airdrops of canned food and water to people trapped on the Sinjar mountain, but it was too little and too late. Some never accessed these airdrops.

 Everyone was desperate. First of all, from dehydration and hunger but also because there was no access to news and they did not know what is actually going on around the mountain. Then, people started to receive messages, that ISIS is taking women and children to captivity and executing men right on the spot.

 On August 5, 2014 Vian Dakhil, Iraqi Kurdish MP, delivered a speech in the Iraqi parliament on behalf of the Yazidis that were trapped on the Sinjar mountain. She said: “I beg you, Mr. Speaker, my people are being slaughtered… For the past 48 hours, 30,000 families have been besieged on mountain Sinjar without food or water. They are dying… Our women are being taken captive and sold on the slave-market… Stop this massacre.” After this very emotional speech, full of tears, Dakhil almost collapsed. Nevertheless, she brought the international attention to the terrible atrocities that were carried out by the hands of Islamic State on Yazidis.

 This genocide resulted in a huge number of deaths and even greater number of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). Up to this day, some Yazidis have already returned to their destroyed homes, but the majority is staying in camps like Dawoodyia or Cabartoo located in Kurdistan region of Iraq.


Children of Dawoodyia camp, waiting until the exhibition will start. 

Today, on August 3, 2017, STEP-IN contributed with a small exhibition to a commemorate day of the genocide in Dawoodyia camp. For us in STEP-IN, it was one of the saddest experiences from our time in Iraq. This feeling of powerlessness to help people that came was crushing. Especially when we have seen those, whose personal stories we know. It was very hard to see little children with posters in their hands, on which there were pictures of mass graves with bodies of their families, neighbors and friends from their villages posted by ISIS on social media. Also, they had printed pictures with faces of those men that were killed right on the spot by ISIS, or even a picture of parents holding their beheaded daughter.

There are no words to describe what Yazidi people went through. We cannot understand their pain when they remember the day of the genocide. We can only try.

 During the exhibition, I wanted to do a short interview with Mukhtar (the leader of the people) of Dawoodyia camp. He tried very hard to at least explain in a few sentences what happened on this day. But then tears started to run down his face. He apologized but could not continue. One of our employees tried to finish but the same repeated. The memories are still too painful. Yazidi people suffered too much.


Young girl holding a flag of Kurdistan and wearing a head bandana with the date of the genocide during the exhibition

We ask ourselves: What can we do for them? Not much. But what we can do, we will. STEP-IN’s mission right now, among others, is to provide primary healthcare for people living in Dawoodyia camp. We are aware, that this is only a drop in the sea, but if we can help to at least a few people, we will continue to do so.

It does not matter whether we are Christians, Muslims or Yazidis, Iraqis or Europeans. We are all humans. Therefore, we must act human and help each other as much as we can, regardless of our differences.


A photo from the exhibition in Dawoodyia camp, Kurdish part of Iraq



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MOAB’s and Afghanistan – Another Day, Another Munition Dropped

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By William Reynolds, a 2nd year undergraduate studying War Studies. From a British Armed Forces background, William follows the military capabilities of the West and the security issues in the Middle East with great interest, placing special emphasis on COIN and the experiences of individuals on the ground. William has worked as a Research Fellow for Dr Whetham in the Centre of Military Ethics and is a spammer of many articles on the King’s Middle East and North Africa Forum (MENA).

The recent deployment of a GBU-34 Massive Ordinance Air Blast (MOAB) munition over ISIS territory in Afghanistan has grabbed headlines and sparked debate on President Trump’s strategy. Many attribute this deployment to a more muscular approach and possible signalling to both Syria and North Korea that the current administration is not messing around. This, of course, is reliant on one massive assumption: That Trump gave the order for the strike.

The MOAB is indeed one of the largest non-nuclear weapons that the US possesses in their inventory. However, the GBU-43 (MOAB) that was deployed has been incorrectly labelled as the most powerful in the US armoury. That honour falls to the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP) at 30,000 lb (or 14,000 kg). Nevertheless, the MOAB cannot be considered to be in a ‘special category’ such as that which nuclear weapons inhabit. To the planners on the ground, the MOAB is simply another tool for the job. Indeed, during the Vietnam campaign is was not uncommon for the MOAB’s predecessor, the BLU-82 ‘Daisy Cutter’ to be deployed regularly against the National Liberation Front (NLF) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA). The MOAB simply falls into the same category as a Hellfire missile or 2,000 lb JDAM.


It is with this in mind that we must question whether Trump explicitly ordered the deployment of such a munition. In general terms, an air strike is called in through a Forward Air Controller (FAC) who is deployed forward with the combat troops. FAC’s don’t necessarily control what ordinance is dropped. Close Air Support (CAS) strikes are not tailored fit for the platoon’s on the ground, rather they make do with whatever assets are assigned to that area of operations. Now a MOAB is most certainly not a munition deployed in the CAS role. Thus, there was pre-planning involved, possibly placed as a useable asset for the push into the ISIS-held region. Such munitions have proved valuable in the past when clearing out insurgents from rough terrain. The Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan and Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam springing to mind.

Ultimately, the buck could have theoretically stopped anywhere along the chain of command. It could have gone as far as CENTCOM Commander Votel, the regional commander in Afghanistan or simply the acting commander of the occurring operation. Whoever did indeed give the go ahead, it does not signal a clear change in strategy. The US has always been focused on killing the insurgent. Whilst not particularly favourable in population-centric warfare, they are certainly good at it.

What commentators on the Afghan war should be looking at was the recent deployment of US Marines back into Helmand province. Whilst numbering only 300, the deployment of Marines usually signals an urge to regain the initiative and go on the offensive. Marines are shock troops first and foremost. Their deployment may signal a change in strategy in the region. Indeed, the deployment to Helmand in itself is a signal of sorts. Helmand has always been the stronghold of the Taliban post-2004, with multiple British, American and Dutch offensives turning up little in terms of major gains for ISAF. The deployment of Marines in the region can only mean the focus shifting away from the maintenance of Kabul’s security.


This possible change in strategy has further intrigued commentators who note that as of today (09/05/17) NATO has requested additional troops from the UK to be deployed in Afghanistan. This will not mean another British Battle Group will place their feet on the tarmac of Camp Bastion again. But it does signal a possible resurgence of military power into the graveyard of empires.



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Cybersecurity and Economic Espionage: The Case of Chinese Investments in the Middle East


By Sharon Magen, a master’s student at SciencesPo in the field of International Security.


The recent usage of emerging technologies for purposes of cyber-attacks or acts of cyber-espionage and the subsequent threat posed to the national security interests of governments in the economic sphere specifically is the cornerstone of this paper. Although many have referred to cyber security risks that are directly connected to the security sphere, national security threats posed by cyber-attacks or acts of cyber-espionage in the economic sphere have not been dealt with to the same extent, a rather puzzling state of affairs.

As cyberspace is increasingly utilized for espionage purposes in various areas, it is imperative to further study the possibility of exploiting cyberspace for intentions of espionage in the international economic arena specifically; far-reaching economic globalization has made the international economic scene vastly interconnected, thus intensifying the world economy’s vulnerability to possible cyber security breaches and intensifying the repercussions of a possible breach on national security interests on a wide scale. It is this lack of contemporary research regarding the utilization of cyber means in order to conduct economic espionage and the subsequent consequences regarding national security that has driven me to further examine this subject in this paper.

The growing importance of further observing this phenomenon, where cyber means may be utilized by foreign entities in order to conduct economic espionage so as to achieve strategic goals, has provided for the incentive of this research. The growing risk to national security posed by economic espionage by cyber means, coupled specifically with China’s economic and political rise, rather intensifies the importance of dealing with this issue. As a country seeking to become a game-changer in the global arena, it is plausible that China, significantly more than other countries, makes use of economic espionage through cyber means to the fullest extent, so as to achieve its goals in other spheres, such as the security and political spheres. It is therefore my belief that this issue should be further studied, in order to assert whether cyber espionage in the economic sphere is a threat posed by China especially, and should therefore be taken into consideration while assessing economic integration which Chinese entities.

During the past few decades, cyber interconnectedness and vast economic integration have transformed the global marketplace into an arena in which state actors and others may utilize cyber means to conduct economic espionage and advance other strategic goals. The current global reality of international cyber and economic interconnectedness presents a new type of threat to national security, as these cyber means may be utilized by foreign actors as vessels for conducting harmful economic espionage. In this case, foreign governments, through private or state-owned companies, may choose to target certain economies or foreign companies in order to make an investment which will inter alia allow that government to conduct cyber espionage in the economic sphere, such as obtaining new technologies, an act that may tip the scale in favor of the investing country, that otherwise would not have been able to receive these technologies.

This phenomenon cements cyber espionage in the economic arena as an undeniable threat to national security nowadays. This accusation is mostly directed today towards China by the United States, as Chinese companies, whom are mostly state-owned, are suspected of utilizing global cyber and economic integration as a vessel for conducting economic espionage. However, it is contended by some that China in fact is not the sole committer of cyber espionage in the economic sector, and therefore should not be targeted as such.

All countries today engage in economic espionage through cyber means to a certain degree, and therefore the question in this paper will deal with the reason for the behavior of the United States, spearheading the notion that China conducts gross economic espionage through means of cyber, whilst it is maintained that other countries do so as well. This research underlines the imperativeness of further study of world cyber integration and the economic espionage risk it entails. Although international cyber integration may present an opportunity for growth, countries must take into consideration the risk of exposing their economy to economic espionage via cyber means.

Past Research Pertaining to Cyber Economic Espionage

According to Mary Ellen Stanley, technological advancements and economic integration have vastly altered the perception of national security in the intelligence sphere, due to wide-ranging cyber economic espionage.[i] Similarly, Matthew Crosston argues that typical types of international economic activity may constitute an intelligence collecting structure through means of cyber, meant to aid as an added aspect of military might enhancement.[ii] Alongside these assertions, Souvik Saha specifically stresses the United States’ standpoint which emphasizes the Chinese encompassing involvement in economic espionage, and the undeniable national security threat it poses.[iii] Furthermore, Magnus Hjortdal stresses that cyberspace is a pivotal element in China’s strategy to ascend in the international system, and that one of the key reasons for this is conducting economic espionage to gain strategic advantage.[iv]

However, Ibrahim Erdogan argues that cyber economic espionage is an immensely lucrative industry in which all countries participate,[v] and therefore cannot be attributed to one specific country. Furthermore, when it comes to the United States specifically, Duncan Clarke contends that even allies of Washington, such as Israel, have been committing acts of economic espionage against the United States for years. According to Clarke, Israeli intelligence units continue to utilize existing networks for collecting economic intelligence, including computer intrusion,[vi] thus rendering the argument maintaining that cyber economic espionage against the United States is an act of war spearheaded by its foes, redundant. The assertion that many other countries, apart from China, commit cyber economic espionage acts against Washington, including allies, and are not reprimanded, weakens the severity of China’s acts and the argument made against it by the United States intelligence community, that it is indeed the forefront of the cyber economic espionage.

Regarding the integrity of the American intelligence agencies’ assessments, John Yoo contends that intelligence and national security agencies in the United States do not always depict an accurate portrayal of national security threats.[vii] In other words, it is plausible that the United States uses untruthful means to protect the nation’s security, thus arguably sacrificing the integrity of the government’s efforts. Robert Bejesky similarly throws into question the reliability of these organizations’ assertions; according to Bejesky, allegations maintaining that executive encouragements may induce intelligence assessments to support the position preferred by the executive branch are not without basis. The CIA for instance has a long history of politicizing intelligence, and at a 2001 panel held at a Harvard conference deliberating the account of the CIA, it had been maintained that the agency does not conduct its role faithfully when it comes to sharing unpleasant truths with the executive branch.[viii]

If so, it is feasible to comprehend that although cyber economic espionage may pose a national security threat, the United States’ formal accusation of China being the main committer of cyber economic espionage may be biased. Although China may be committing acts of economic espionage through means of cyber, it cannot be confirmed at this point that it spearheads this area more than any other country.

Growing Interconnectedness

During the past few decades, technological developments have immensely changed today’s governments’ perception of national security. Conventional acts of espionage which can be traced to a certain perceptible entity have merged significantly with cybersecurity, thus rendering the identity of the intelligence threat ambiguous, and exposing new domains in which harmful data collection may occur, such as the global marketplace.[ix] Today, the world is moving towards a single global economy, due to financial integration.[x] This current reality of cutting-edge technology and worldwide economic integration, has changed the face of espionage, and has created a world in which national security can be harmed, inter alia, via cyber means in the global marketplace.

Today there currently is a necessity to balance a nation’s economic affluence and its national security, as economic globalization may become a vessel for espionage through means of cyber, the bedrock of connectivity in today’s international market. The key methods through which international economic integration may enable cyber economic espionage, are when a foreign state-owned or government associated body conducts business in the host country, or when a foreign entity acquisitions a local business within the country.[xi] It can be contended that this type of activity is not merely a manifest of economic policy, but also functions as a well-planned intelligence collecting scheme intended to serve as an additional facet to military rivalry.[xii] Although it cannot be affirmed that cyber espionage intentions are the main incentive for economic integration, it can be asserted that economic integration enables the possibility of conducting cyber espionage activities. Countries may abuse economic integration in order to conduct cyber economic espionage so as to enhance military might.

In this regard, many claim that China is currently spearheading the sphere of cyber economic espionage.[xiii] According to this approach, China intends to harness today’s worldwide market espionage possibilities in order to enhance its regional and global supremacy. Washington especially perceives Beijing’s intention to commit economic espionage through cyberspace as a dire national security hazard, as China’s success in conducting effective economic espionage may translate into a sharp increase in China’s power potential relative to the United States. China’s current investment policy in economies such as the United States consists of mergers and acquisitions which enable opportunities for undesirable proliferation through means of cyber of intellectual property and trade secrets to Chinese firms.[xiv],[xv]

This type of activity is particularly problematic when Chinese multinational corporations, which are mostly government owned, attempt to purchase American companies with strategic significance or deal with critical infrastructure and assets. According to most recent assessments from the United States intelligence community, there is a heightened assertiveness within China’s international policies, and as part of this it has resorted to massive cyber economic espionage.[xvi] Moreover, according to Pentagon reports, China will continue to aggressively collect sensitive American technological information through cyberspace espionage.[xvii]

However, it can be contended that this assertion, that China is the main global conductor of cyber economic espionage, is meant to serve certain political policies in the United States, rather than represent an accurate status of global cyber economic espionage. Although FBI Director James Comey had stated in May 2014 that the Chinese government blatantly seeks to use cyber espionage to obtain economic advantage for its state-owned industries, Robert Gates, then former United States Secretary of Defense, openly stated that as much as 15 countries at that time were conducting economic espionage in order to take possession of American trade secrets and technology,[xviii] thus shifting the focus from China being the sole leading committer of this act. Furthermore, it has been contended that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) itself had committed cyber economic espionage activities against France.[xix]

Given the circumstances, the main question that arises in this regard is why the vast majority of official American security and intelligence bodies spearhead the notion that China is currently the worldwide main conductor of economic espionage through cyberspace, whilst it is maintained by other sources that other countries are committing cyber economic espionage acts as well, including the United States itself. It can be asserted, that though China does not actually head the world cyber economic espionage sphere, leading security and intelligence institutions in the United States promote this assertion in order to support political needs and policies towards China, who’s growing regional and world dominance is perceived as a threat to the continuation of Washington’s own world dominance and strategic might. In other words, it can be asserted that China’s rise poses a political threat to the United States, a fact which leads to American prosecution of Chinese interests in the economic sphere.

Therefore, another question that arises in this regard is whether other countries similarly argue that China is the global forefront of cyber economic espionage. If it is asserted that other countries equally claim that China is indeed the global leader of cyber economic espionage, another question that would arise in this regard would refer to the reasons supporting this argument. If other countries contend that China is the world leader of cyber economic espionage, despite it being asserted that many other countries in fact participate in cyber economic spying, the question is why they do so. It is my assumption that this is due to security motives, having to do with China’s rise and the security threat it poses via economic growth. This would assist in asserting the assumption that China’s rise de facto poses a threat to American strategic interests.

That being the case, it can be argued that the vast majority of official American security and intelligence bodies currently head the notion that China is the forefront of global cyber economic espionage in order to serve political and foreign policy purposes, and do not therefore portray an accurate assessment of the global cyber economic espionage scene. According to other sources there are a number of global actors that currently take part in cyber economic espionage, therefore not leaving the field for any singular country to spearhead. However, I contend that it is possible that the formal approach of the vast majority of the American intelligence institutions towards China in the cyber economic espionage sphere is intended to serve the United States’ grand strategy towards China’s rise, as they hold the belief that China’s rise may pose a threat to American strategic interests.

The hypothesis claiming that the United States leads the global notion that China is the current forefront for international cyber economic espionage due to political, foreign policy and security reasons can assist in understanding the gap between the popular claim within the American intelligence community and other entities regarding China’s role in the current cyber economic espionage arena. Many contend that China’s vast economic growth coupled with its enhancing military capabilities places it on a collision course with the United States.[xx] It can be asserted that in order to battle against China’s rise, the United States advocates an argument which depicts China as a country with minimal respect for intellectual property, sovereignty, and other critical factors that comprise the bedrock of global trade. International trade serves as China’s bread and butter, fueling its growth and ability to expand its military capabilities. If the United States can damage China’s ability to conduct global trade by asserting that it promotes cyber economic espionage, it would thus damage Beijing’s capabilities in the security sphere.

 My methodology for examining this theoretical assumption entails the assessment of other countries’ approach to China’s supposed cyber economic espionage intentions. If other countries similarly claim that China is the main conductor of global cyber economic espionage, despite the fact that it has been asserted that other countries take part in such espionage acts as well, it would be vital to assert what are the reasons for this type of behavior. In order to assess the approach of other countries towards Chinese cyber economic espionage, I contend that it would be most affective to focus on countries that are not western, such as the Middle East countries. This in my opinion may contribute in portraying a more balanced assessment of other countries’ approach towards China’s cyber economic espionage intentions.

Consequently, in this paper I examine the approach of select Middle East countries to China’s massive involvement in world trade and the possibility of its gross cyber economic espionage activities, in order to assess Washington’s claim. To this end, I examine the cases of Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The rationalization for choosing these two countries is such; the main nexus that binds Beijing to the Middle East region concerns economic security, as more than half of China’s oil and natural gas imports are sourced from the countries of the region.

However, in contrast to the majority of other actors in the region, hydrocarbons do not play a big role in Turkey’s relations with the China, thus making Ankara a meaningful choice for a study of relations with China within the Middle Eastern context. If so, an outtake on the Turkish possible responses to Chinese alleged cyber economic espionage may provide an original contribution on investigating this matter. Regarding the UAE, it is important to note that the federation is only the third largest economy in the Middle East behind Saudi Arabia and Iran. Being a source of oil and natural gas imports for China, but not one of China’s principal suppliers, the UAE represents a significant case study in this sense, as it cannot be characterized as being overly essential to Chinese interests. Therefore, the UAE’s approach to Chinese cyber espionage intentions will not be tilted in favor of Beijing.

If proven that these two Middle Eastern countries have taken action against Chinese economic transactions, it can be affirmed that this is due to the national security threat posed by cyber economic espionage. The apprehension that through cyber economic espionage China could access key economic interests in a host country’s economy and realize its interests regardless of the host country’s interests could in my opinion propel them into taking action against Chinese economic transactions, thus initiating the suspension or cancellation of Chinese backed investments and so on.

 In order to measure these Middle Eastern countries governments’ approach to possible Chinese cyber economic espionage through, I will examine possible objections and restrictions made at a government level towards Chinese economic transactions and Chinese funded projects within the country. I contend that upon presenting a consistent trend of government level objections to projects funded by the Chinese, it can be affirmed that this is due to the fact that there is a tangible threat to national security posed by cyber economic espionage, enabled by economic integration.


Although more than half of China’s oil and natural gas imports are sourced from the countries of the Middle East region, thus deepening Beijing’s dependence on the region, hydrocarbons do not play a pivotal role in Turkey’s relations with China. Nonetheless, Turkey is a rising power in the region, and has not directly experienced the upheavals felt in the Arab world in the past few years, a fact which still places Ankara as a pivotal partner of Beijing in the region, in the economic and political spheres alike.[xxi] Regarding the Turkish government’s stance on possible Chinese cyber economic espionage activities, it is important to note that in November 2015, Ankara had cancelled a 3.4 billion dollars long-range missile defense system tender provisionally awarded to a Chinese state owned firm in 2013.[xxii]

Turkey had originally entered negotiations in 2013 with the China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC) to finalize the billion dollar contact. Even though French-Italian consortium Eurosam and US-listed Raytheon had also submitted offers, the Turkish government had preferred talks with the Chinese company, a fact which raised serious concerns over the compatibility of CPMIEC’s systems with NATO missile defenses, as Turkey is a member. In its official statement given by a representative from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s office, the Turkish government had declared that it had cancelled the deal with China mainly because Turkey had decided to launch its own missile project.[xxiii]

Though the Turkish government officially maintained that the core reason for its cancellation of the multi-billion dollar deal with the Chinse frim had been its decision to self-develop the long-range missile defense system, it can be contended that this was actually done because of concrete concern within the Turkish government regarding Chinese cyber economic espionage. As previously asserted, Turkey had led a comprehensive process in order to decide on a foreign company to lead this project. If Turkey had indeed wished to self-develop this defense system, it would have done so from the beginning, and would not have conducted a complete procedure so as to choose a foreign firm to conduct this project.

In other words, it can be argued that after Turkey had decided to continue with CPMIEC in order to further this project, serious concerns had risen within the Turkish government and out of it regarding subsequent possible exposure of sensitive NATO systems to Chinese eyes. Although the deal did not explicitly determine the direct exposure of critical and classified systems to the Chinese, this transaction could have enabled Chinese access to systems through which harmful data collection could be conducted. Transactions such as this may inadvertently permit foreign penetration through means of cyber, as foreign firms gain access and exposure to computerized systems through which such infiltration may be conducted. Such harmful data collecting activities through means of cyber that are enabled by seemingly innocent business transactions are especially perilous when these transactions involve critical infrastructure of the host country.

If so, it is significantly plausible that Turkey had canceled this multi-billion-dollar deal with China due to cyber economic espionage concerns. Although it can be contended that other motives had brought the Turkish government to the decision to call-off the collaboration with the Chinese state-owned firm, such as the formal Turkish response that contended that Turkey had decided to self-develop the long-range missile defense system, this, as stated, is problematic to comprehend as Turkey had initiated a long process of selecting a foreign contractor. If so, it can be contended that the Chinese cyber economic espionage threat was a pivotal motive in Turkey’s decision to call-off the deal, as it is perceived as a real danger by the Turkish government to its national security.


The UAE is a federation comprised of seven separate emirates, which together represent the third largest economy in the Middle East behind Saudi Arabia and Iran. The UAE has the seventh largest proven reserves in the world of both oil and gas, and in 2010 China imported 64,500 tons of liquefied natural gas from the UAE valued at more than 23 million dollars. Furthermore, the China Petroleum Engineering and Construction Corporation (CPECC) assisted with the construction of the Abu Dhabi Crude Oil Pipeline Project, which now enables the transport of 1.5 million barrels of crude oil per day from Abu Dhabi’s collection point at Habshan to the export terminals at Fujairah. Oil transported through the pipeline bypasses the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has repeatedly threatened to block if it is attacked militarily. However, it is imperative to point out that the 3.3-billion-dollar project had experienced repeated delays, initiated by the UAE.[xxiv]

Although it had been officially stated that The UAE has been forced to delay the construction of a pipeline allowing oil to bypass the Strait of Hormuz due to construction problems,[xxv] according to industry sources close to the project, the reason for the delay was that although CPECC was already preparing to commission the pipeline, the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Petroleum Operations (ADCO) was not involved in this initial preparation process, a rather perplexing situation, as ADCO would first have to make sure that the commissioned pipeline design suited its standard prior to commencing the production procedure.[xxvi]

The Chinese commencement of designing the pipeline without the participation and involvement of ADCO, the UAE state firm in charge of the project, plausibly points to the fact that there was a Chinese intention to commit an act of sinister nature, regarding the construction of the pipes; such pipelines include highly sophisticated control software that can be hacked and even manipulated prior to its assembling. In 2004 for instance, Thomas C. Reed, an Air Force secretary in the Reagan administration, wrote that the United States had effectively implanted a software Trojan horse into computing equipment that the Soviet Union had bought from Canadian suppliers, used to control a Trans-Siberian gas pipeline.[xxvii]

If so, it is quit plausible that the Chinese had begun the UAE commissioned pipeline design without involving ADCO because they had something to hide, such as the insertion of cyber espionage measures. This would not be an isolated incident for the Chinese, as in 2013 The former head of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Michael Hayden, contended that it is clear that Chinese telecoms giant Huawei spies for Beijing,[xxviii] a fact which rather solidifies the argument that China indeed utilizes business transactions in order to conduct cyber espionage. In the case of the Abu Dhabi Crude Oil Pipeline Project, the numerous delays due to Chinese repetitive exclusion of ADCO from the pipeline design process can be explained by the fact that CPECC had engaged in illicit activities concerning the manufacturing of the pipeline, namely the insertion of cyber espionage measures. However, it is important to note that in this case, although it can be contended that China had engaged in cyber economic espionage, the UAE had only delayed the project, and had not opted to cancel it entirely.

If so, it is apparent that although these two Middle East countries do not share Washington’s vehement stance towards the Chinese cyber economic espionage threat, there is an understanding of the possible threat, reflected by their cancellation or delay of business transactions with Chinese firms. Although none of these Middle East countries have gone out and exclaimed, as the Americans have, that China makes use of cyber means in order to conduct economic espionage, their behavior towards major Chinese investment points to a government level comprehension that Chinese economic conduct differs from that of other countries, due to a heightened threat of cyber economic espionage.

These two Middle East countries, as others, are not cemented in great power politics such as the United States, and therefore lack the incentive, as well as the protective means, to denounce Chinese economic conduct due to Beijing’s use of such demeanor in order to conduct cyber espionage and enhance its strategic might. Therefore, although it is possible to witness a government level resistance to major business transactions with Chinese firms, it is mainly done so through inconspicuous ‘soft’ methods such as project suspension. However, project suspension coupled with cancellation of business transactions with Chinese firms in my opinion forms a stable foundation for the argument that Chinese business transactions specifically are not treated the same as transactions done with firms from other countries, therefore pointing to the fact that they pose a threat.

However, due to the fact that the anti-China steps taken in the economic sphere are mostly discreet, it is speculative to assume that these steps were taken in light of Chinese cyber economic espionage intentions. Even when publically announcing the suspension or cancellation of Chinese funded projects, those governments do not state that this is due to misconduct rooted in cyber economic espionage. That being said, it can be conferred from their actions that Chinese economic conduct is in fact treated differently than economic transactions originating from other countries, a fact which perhaps further solidifies the American notion that China’s economic behavior is not innocent, for if it were so, there would be no publically announced suspension or cancellation of major Chinese funded projects in both countries.

In the literature review section of this paper, I have noted Crosston’s approach, which states that typical types of international economic activity may constitute an intelligence collecting structure, meant to aid as an added aspect of military might enhancement. Additionally, according to Saha, recent assessments from the United States intelligence community contend that there is an intensified decisiveness within China’s international policies, and as part of this it has resorted to substantial cyber economic espionage. China’s focus on the infrastructure, energy and telecommunication sectors in terms of business transactions, which are all considered critical to national security, may suggest that the Chinese indeed intend to utilize information gained by means of cyber through economic integration in these sectors for strategic purposes. The suspension and cancellation of key Chinese funded projects, prima facie due to technical reasons, suggests that these governments see Chinese further economic involvement in their countries as a threat.


In conclusion, it is feasible to comprehend the vast impact of global cyber interconnectedness and economic integration on the perception of a country’s national security. Whilst pertaining to be of economic nature only, typical types of international economic activity may constitute an intelligence collecting structure through cyber means, meant to aid as an added aspect of a nations’ power enhancement. International economic conduct may permit opportunities for proliferation of economic intelligence through means of cyber into the investing country’s hands, thus compromising the receiving country’s national security. The American claim that China currently spearheads cyber economic espionage worldwide by means of economic integration seems to be sustained by other governments as well, further to the reaction of the governments of Turkey and the UAE to business transactions with Chinese firms. Although these countries’ reaction is not as intense and straightforward as that of the American government, it is nevertheless apparent that they are striving to restrict or monitor it, at the very least.

In regards to the main question of this research, dealing with the reason for the official American intelligence bodies approach, claiming that China is currently the worldwide main conductor of cyber economic espionage, whilst it is maintained by other sources that other countries are committing economic espionage acts as well, in light of the findings regarding the two previously examined Middle East nations, it can be contended that the United States does so because Chinese investments in particular are conceived as a national security threat, a notion shared by other countries. As seen in the cases Turkey and the UAE, the suspension or suspension of Chinese projects, point to the fact that business transactions with Chinese firms are indeed looked upon, not only by the United States, as a source of peril. Although some sources may maintain that China is no different than any other country when it comes to cyber economic espionage, it is in fact proven that other countries, and not only the United States, perceive China specifically as an ominous threat when it comes to economic integration and possible cyber economic espionage.

Even though the global market place is becoming increasingly interconnected via cyber means, countries must take into consideration the risk of exposing their country to national security risks, due to the fact that international economic integration may prove to be a vessel for cyber economic espionage. Indeed, in this research it has been asserted that the United States is not exaggerating in its description of the cyber economic espionage intentions of the Chinese; rather, as a superpower, it is one of few countries that have the prerogative to openly state their opinion on the matter. It is critical therefore, to assess Chinese business transactions differently than those originating from other countries, in light of the fact that the Chinese specifically use economic integration means in order to conduct cyber espionage and enhance Beijing’s military and strategic might on the path of its rise.


[i] Mary Ellen Stanley, “From China with Love: Espionage in the Age of Foreign Investment,” Brooklyn Journal of International Law 40, no. 3 (2015): 1033-1079.

[ii] Matthew Crosston, “Soft Spying: Leveraging Globalization as Proxy Military Rivalry,” International Journal of Intelligence & Counterintelligence 28, no. 1 (2015): 105-122.

[iii] Souvik Saha, “CFIUS Now made in China: Dueling National Security Review Frameworks as a Countermeasure to Economic Espionage in the Age of Globalization,” Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business 33, no. 1 (2012): 199-235.

[iv] Magnus Hjortdal, “China’s use of Cyber Warfare: Espionage Meets Strategic Deterrence,” Journal of Strategic Security 4, no. 2 (2011): 1-24.

[v] İbrahim Erdoğan, “Economic Espionage as a New Form of War in the Post- Cold War Period,” USAK Yearbook of International Politics and Law no. 2 (2009): 265-282.

[vi] Duncan Clarke, “Israel’s Economic Espionage in the United States,” Journal of Palestine Studies 27, no. 4 (1998): 20-35.

[vii] John Yoo, “The Legality of the National Security Agency’s Bulk Data Surveillance Programs,” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 37, no. 3 (2014): 901-930.

[viii] Robert Bejesky, “Politicization of Intelligence,” Southern University Law Review no. 40 (2013): 243-551.

[ix] Mary Ellen Stanley.

[x] Lucyna Kornecki and Dawna Rhoades, “How FDI Facilitates the Globalization Process and Stimulates Economic Growth in CEE,” Journal of International Business Research 6, no. 1 (2007): 113-126.

[xi] Mary Ellen Stanley.

[xii] Matthew Crosston.

[xiii] Stuart Malawer, “Confronting Chinese Economic Cyber Espionage with WTO Litigation,” New York Law Journal, December 23, 2014.

[xiv] “Foreign Spies Stealing U.S. Economic Secrets in Cyberspace,” The Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, April 14, 2016,

[xv] Souvik Saha.

[xvi]  Ibid.

[xvii] Geoff Dyer, “China in ‘Economic Espionage’,” Financial Times, May 19, 2012.

[xviii] Zachary Keck, “Robert Gates: Most Countries Conduct Economic Espionage,” The Diplomat, December 17, 2015,

[xix] “WikiLeaks Reveals NSA’s Economic Espionage against France,” Progressive Digital Media Technology News, Jun 30, 2015,

[xx] Souvik Saha.

[xxi]Altay Atli, “A View from Ankara: Turkey’s Relations with China in a Changing Middle East,” Mediterranean Quarterly 26, no. 1 (2015): 117-136.

[xxii] “Turkey Says ‘yes’ to China’s Trade Initiative, ‘no’ to its Missiles,” South China Morning Post, November 15, 2015,

[xxiii] “Turkey Cancels $3.4 Bln Missile Deal with China,” The French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China, November, 15 2015,

[xxiv] Manochehr Dorraj and James English, “The Dragon Nests: China’s Energy Engagement of the Middle East,” China Report 49, no. 1 (2013): 43-67.

[xxv] “UAE Delays Project to Bypass the Strait of Hormuz,”. Al Bawaba, January 9, 2012,

[xxvi] “UAE Delays Oil Pipeline to Bypass Hormuz to June,” Oil & Gas News, January 16, 2012,

[xxvii] John Markoff, “Old Trick Threatens the Newest Weapons,” The New York Times, October 26, 2009,

[xxviii] “Huawei Spies for China, Says Former NSA and CIA Chief Michael Hayden,” Business Insider, July 19, 2013,


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Why ISIS will not succeed in Afghanistan


By Lily Hess, a 2nd year undergraduate Student studying International Relations. She is currently studying abroad, and is the Foreign Editor of International Relations Today.

In 2014, a worrying development occurred in Afghanistan: The spread of ISIS’ Khorasan branch into several provinces, with its stronghold in Nangarhar. Following its stunning successes in Syria and Iraq, ISIS decided to expand its franchise outside the Arab world. The Khorasan branch encompasses South Asia in general — including India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. Afghanistan had appeared as a particularly promising country for expansion, given the limited control of its weak government and extensive history of jihadist wars against Western invaders and the “indel” regimes they support. ISIS’ strategy was to use its reputation, superior resources, and the internal discord of local competitors, like the Afghan Taliban, to recruit and integrate existing militants in Afghanistan to build up its own force there. [1]

Currently the Afghan Taliban and ISIS are at war with each other, while both also fight the NATO-backed Afghan government forces. Why didn’t ISIS decide to simply cooperate with groups like the Taliban, a jihadist group that is well-organized and holds long-established networks? This answer may stem back to the foundations of ISIS in Syria. The predecessor of ISIS is the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), al-Qaeda’s previous branch in Iraq. At the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, al-Qaeda saw a ripe opportunity to expand its operations. It tasked the ISI with helping to establish its new Syrian branch, and the Jabhat al-Nusra was declared in 2012. [2] However, al-Qaeda kept ambiguous its connection to al-Nusra in order to give it more leeway to gain the support of other local fighter groups in Syria. At the same time, the leadership of ISI itself wanted to spread its operations into Syria and establish itself as a separate group from al-Qaeda. These tensions culminated to the point where ISI announced that al-Nusra was it’s Syrian subsidiary, but from then on its existence would be unnecessary because ISI would reform itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Most of al-Nusra rejected this association, and in the process had to let loose that it was a branch of al-Qaeda. [2] ISI’s (newly ISIS’) announcement was followed with a series of large victories in Syria and Iraq, which propelled it to international attention. But it’s brutal tactics and hunger for sole control caused other militant groups, including al-Nusra, to increasingly oppose the new group. Al-Qaeda also denounced and dropped its Iraq branch, now ISIS.

 The hostility between ISIS and al-Qaeda has been transcribed into the South Asian theater, owing to the ties between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But ISIS’ vitriol toward the Afghan Taliban also stems from what it believes are ideological deficiencies. It denounces the Taliban’s adherence to local tribal laws instead of a blanket application of a strict form of Sharia Law claiming  the Taliban a puppet of Iran and Pakistan’s intelligence service, in order to present its illegitimacy. Before the world knew that Mullah Omar had been dead for years, ISIS publicly assailed his “nationalist” worldview as opposed to trying to unite all Muslims. After he was found to have been dead, ISIS accused the Taliban of deceiving their followers and being untrustworthy for hiding his death. [3] Indeed, the revelations of Mullah Omar’s death stirred unrest within the Taliban as a power struggle ensued. When Mullah Mansour emerged as the leader, it disaffected a number of its members, some of whom then joined ISIS in Afghanistan.

On top of the discord within the Taliban, ISIS also has used other inter-group tension to recruit top fighters. The two original leaders of ISIS’ Khorasan branch are solid examples of these: The leader, Hafiz Saeed Khan, was a former chief of the Orakzai branch of the Tehreeke-Taliban Pakistan who was passed over for the highest position in the organization. The second-in-command (but since deceased), Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, a former commander in the Afghan Taliban, had perceived an unfair tribal representation in its shura council, and was frustrated over whether Mullah Omar was alive or not. By itself, ISIS also had the advantage of resources over the other groups. Owing from its victories in Syria and Iraq, the group became rich from oil, antiquities, kidnapping, extortion, and other activities. Furthermore, it was willing to spend large sums of money to expand its networks in South Asia. Finally, its sophisticated media campaign was far more advanced than the Taliban’s. [1] Overall, ISIS had the perfect opportunity to use it many advantages to unseat the Taliban and become the dominant insurgent force against the state and expand its “caliphate”.

However, since its early successes in recruiting militants to its cause, ISIS has been facing severe failures in Afghanistan. The main cause of this ultimately originates from its core brutality and intolerance for local practices of Islam and society. Afghanistan’s tribal variations and provinciality, which have long bedeviled the Afghan government’s attempts at constructing a national identity, now bedevil ISIS’ attempts at garnering local support. The group is a foreign import, and does not understand the local people as much as the indigenous Taliban. The largest ethnic group in Afghanistan — and the majority of Taliban fighters — are Pashtuns. ISIS has criticized the tribal code of Pashtuns called Pashtunwali, which does not help their recruitment of Taliban fighters. [3] While the Taliban can be harsh, ISIS is brutal to another level, to the point where it alienates the local population. In fact, ISIS has minuscule local support and no cooperation with other militant groups in Afghanistan. The majority of its fighters in Afghanistan are actually former members of the Pakistani Taliban that were driven out by Pakistani military operations in its tribal areas. [4] In the competition between ISIS and the Taliban, this gives the Taliban two legitimacy advantages: They can claim to be the indigenous and (comparatively) moderate group. Meanwhile, ISIS is being targeted from all sides as American drone strikes, Afghan operations, and clashes with the Taliban batter down the group. The Khorasan Branch is geographically far from its central leadership in Iraq and Syria. Owing to the recent challenges it faces there, it seems unlikely that the central command would place the Khorasan Branch as a high priority and send aid. The group has been virtually eradicated from South and West Afghanistan. [5] While the Taliban now holds more territory than ever since the US-led invasion in 2001, ISIS has lost more than half the districts it once held in Afghanistan. [6]

In the future, ISIS’ influence in Afghanistan is likely to steadily decline, especially if it loses most of its territory in Syria and Iraq. However, the risk of spread to other regions is always present. Many of the fighters are likely to return to their home countries eventually, and this may be troubling news for Central and South Asia. ISIS has recently been attempting to control territory in Northern Afghanistan in order to create a corridor for militants from Central Asian states it borders and Afghanistan. [5] While it is highly unlikely that ISIS will ever succeed in conquering Afghanistan and adding it to the “caliphate”, remnants of the group will disseminate to neighboring regions, where they can remain as a small but perpetual threat.


Picture credit: Link:

1 = Jones, Seth G. “Expanding the Caliphate: ISIS’ South Asia Strategy.” Foreign Affairs. 11 June 2015.

2 = Mendelsohn, Barak. The Al-Qaeda Franchise. New York City: Oxford University Press, 2016. Print.

3 = Barr, Nathaniel and Bridget Moreng. “The Graveyard of Caliphates.” Foreign Affairs. 13 January 2016.

4 = “ISIS increasing recruitment from Pakistan, Afghanistan: US.” Financial Express. 24 March 2017.

5 = “IS in Afghanistan: How successful has the group been?” BBC. 25 February 2017. http://

6 = Gidda, Mirren. “Why ISIS is Failing to Build a Caliphate in Afghanistan.” Newsweek. 25 March 2017.



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Andrei Mateescu is a Bucharest based young professional in the area of International Affairs. He recently finished his BA in Economics at the University of Economic Studies of Bucharest with great interest in Political Economy. Currently he is working for a Political Marketing firm.


This week, on the anniversary of 9/11, sorrow, grief, and tears for the passed roam the world as we remember a tragedy that still represents one of the most important turning points in international affairs of the last two decades. What started as the clash between two super-powers in the Afghanistan of the 1980s, spiraled into a world-wide spread of radicalization. 2001 was the year when a specific type of terrorism, focused on religious extremism and having the origin in the Middle East, captured our minds across the world. Therefore, nowadays we can say that it has a fixed place in how we see the world, or how we fear the world.

Living in the years of ISIS dominating the medial portrayal of terrorism and its ease at marketing its power, and propagating fear, we ask ourselves: where could the next attack happen? Will such a brutal disaster as 9/11 repeat itself in the most threatened nation on paper by Islamic Terrorism, the United States?

ISIS now has established momentum, due to concrete actions and also through its fruitful use of the digital realm to propagate its purpose. So should the US be afraid? Concrete actions, except the brutal activity in the controlled parts of Syria and Northern Iraq, occurred in the last years in Western Europe as well as “lone-wolf” attacks in the US. Is the US at risk for another large scale attack?

In contrast to the “boogy-man” image of those terrorists that we relate to the appearance of Osama Bin Laden in the ’90s, there is a huge change of who they are. The recent attacks were not the masterpiece of infiltrated ISIS members in western societies as it happened with the team of 9/11. They were citizens born and raised in the “West”, shockingly as it is for those countries.

 France has a large muslim population and in it has also a large subgroup of marginalised citizens with often little economic means to secure a comfortable standard of living. Easily manipulated people seem to ease the dynamic that ISIS is building up around the world. Due to many factors, ISIS has now become a form of an outsourcing giant in global terrorism. The situation of the US is different than that of France, at this moment it does not have the premises of a terrorism hot spot. Hence, ISIS is powerful only if it can have something to outsource and it is unclear whether it has achieved this as much in the US as it has in some parts of Western Europe.

There is also the view of the US secret and security services as being better prepared than those of France and Belgium, for instance. Remember when Molenbeek was trending in the press? The problem of the overly bureaucratized Belgian police was trending also in the press as a long forgotten problem and which just get vocal after its size grew exponentially. For example, Brussels has 6 distinctive police institutions serving its area and lacks a centralised managing system. Its 19 distinctive mayors also make it hard to implement social policies that would enable it to tackle such sensitive issues like that of radicalisation.

The French counter-part is less problematic but also bureaucratised and its intelligence units failed in the field of prevention. The “boogy-mans” delivered by ISIS in Europe are seen now as less complex and more foreseeable. This induced the thought that ISIS is not as powerful as its ego may be making the organization seen.

But this dynamic will most likely be continued until ISIS levels up their game – and that’s a question of resources and strategy, not outsourcing on psychically unstable persons.


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From black gold to the 21st century

Andrej Bacholdin is in his penultimate year of studying BSc Economics at UCL. He comes from Prague, Czech Republic. Andrej is also an avid follower of current events and has started his own economics and politics blog (


The oil price began its momentous, and largely unforeseen, collapse in June 2014. After nearly five years of stability, by November the price had fallen 40%. With the exception of a few short-lasting rallies and periods of false stability, the decline continued until January 2016, when Brent Crude reached $26.55, the lowest level in 10 years.

Few were prepared. The Russian ruble lost more than 50% of its value; Nigeria’s central bank abandoned the naira’s peg to the USD. But, while still unbeknownst to the outside world, Saudi Arabia was also nearing disaster.

Last spring, the IMF predicted Saudi Arabia’s reserves could last the country for at least five years of low oil prices. To the handful of insiders in Riyadh, the situation could starkly be any different. Saudi’s burn rate of $30 billion a month meant that, at that rate, the country would be bankrupt within just two years.

Yet the story of Saudi Arabia’s survival, and indeed future, began long before the events that grabbed the world’s attention. And much of the story revolves around one man.

Prince Mohammad bin Salman, nicknamed MbS, is Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Defence, chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, deputy prime ministers and 2nd in line of succession. Western diplomats call him Mr. Everything. He is also 31 years old.

The late King Abdullah and MbS had a delicate history, with the King banning his nephew from setting foot into the Ministry of Defence, apparently for his disruptive and power-hungry tendencies. But they also a shared a crucial interest: to rid Saudi Arabia of its dependence on oil.

For 80 years, oil was for Saudi Arabia what democracy is for the UK. Plentiful oil revenues provided the basis for Saudi’s social structure: absolute rule by the Al Saud family, in exchange for generous public spending, all legitimised by the Wahhabi religious establishment.

Two years before his death in 2015, King Abdullah tasked MbS to prepare a plan on reducing the economy’s dependency on oil as well as change the country’s entire social construction. When MbS’s father, King Salman, assumed power in 2015, he gave his son unprecedented control over the state oil monopoly, Ministry of Defence, national investment fund, and economic and foreign policy. In practice, MbS is currently the power behind the throne.

So when Saudi Arabia began heading for bankruptcy, MbS swiftly reinstated strict spending limits, tapped debt markets and cut the budget by 25%. Disaster, for now, was averted. However, Saudi Arabia’s transformation goes far beyond surviving until the next oil price spike.

Saudi oil policy, under the prince’s guidance, has broken with decades of historical doctrine as the leader of OPEC. In April, an OPEC-Russia production freeze was cancelled after the deal was already agreed; MbS intervened because Iran did not want to freeze its production. In fact, according to him, he does not care if oil prices rise or fall. “$30 or $70, they are all the same to us,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. If they rise, that means more cash for nonoil investments. If they fall, Saudi Arabia, as the world’s lowest-cost producer, can regain market share.

In June, Saudi Arabia unveiled the National Transformation Program, a plan to reshape the country’s economy. Its goals, such as tripling non-oil revenue and creating 450,000 private-sector jobs by 2020, are ambitious. But so are the measures, which include the introduction of a value-added tax, cuts in public utility subsidies, and levies on luxury goods and sugary drinks. That is not to say the days of generous Saudi spending are over; there are, as yet, no plans for income taxes and, to cushion the impact of a slowing economy, poorer households are directly given cash handouts. The government is also exploring a possible IPO of Saudi Aramco, the national oil company. Valued at up to $3 trillion, Saudi Aramco would be larger than Apple, Google, Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway combined.

However, transforming the Saudi economy is impossible without transforming its society. The country can’t thrive if half the population is severely constrained in daily activities. The prince has hinted that he would support increased rights for women, who can’t drive or leave their home without a male relative’s permission. “We believe women have rights in Islam that they’ve yet to obtain,” said the prince. According to a former senior US military officer, MbS commented, “If women were allowed to ride camels [in the time of the Prophet Muhammad], perhaps we should let them drive cars, the modern-day camels.”

Another social problem hindering the prince’s ambitious economic plan is getting young people to work in the private sector. Youth unemployment stands at about 30%, and few are willing to sacrifice their cushy public-sector jobs for more demanding private firms; many, however, may not have a choice given the large public-sector budget cuts. A greater challenge is increasing the attractiveness of Saudi workers. Until now, the Wahhabi religious establishment has supplied the Al Saud family with political legitimacy, in exchange for clerical control over education and the judiciary. Most Saudi youths are underqualified due to an education largely based on religion.

And here lies the greatest challenge: MbS’s relatively liberal views (he recently broke the Ramadan fast while on a visit to the US) risk sparking a collision with the Wahhabi clerical establishment. The prince may be seeking other sources of legitimacy from his own generation, but in a country surrounded by extremism both outside and within, any religious tensions are perilous.

There is no doubt Saudi Arabia still faces an uphill battle. This quarter, the non-oil economy has, for the first time since 1980, slipped into a technical recession. But, with $581.3 billion remaining foreign exchange reserves and a highly ambitious and forward-looking leadership, Saudi Arabia is better positioned than most oil-producing nations. If successful, Saudi Arabia would serve as a model for its Gulf neighbours and other oil superpowers, notably Russia and Malaysia. Perhaps, the black gold’s importance to countries’ economies has already plateaued.


Image source:

Glover, Peter C., and Michael J. Economides. “OPEC Fracked – The Commentator.” OPEC Fracked – The Commentator. S.M.A.R. S.r.o., Web. 17 July 2016.


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With Yemen, “one step away from famine” according to the UN, what prospects are there for the Saudi & Iran led coalitions in the conflict?

By Nahil Nassar, a 1st Year IR Student in King’s College London from Egypt.


Since before my lifetime, the Middle East – once home to some of the greatest minds and civilizations in history – has generally been no stranger to the poison of political corruption, veiled agendas, and a general disregard for human rights. The Arab Spring of 2011, however, began leading the region into an optimistic era that would put an end to political oppression. It would be a time remembered for inspiring dormant voices to awaken, finally free to sing their songs of liberty. That was, until shit hit the fan. The lethal civil conflicts in states such as Syria and more recently Yemen, being key examples of revolutionary hope gone horribly wrong.

Both conflicts not only share a past in tyranny, but an equally shaky future which seems to rest in the hands of everyone except the liberty singers. In the special and recent case of Yemen, Saudi Arabia (supporting the Sunni pre-revolutionary government) and Iran (continuously affiliated with the Shia Houthi “rebels”) seem to hold the most tangible interests in keeping their (alleged) allies in power, some even going so far as to claim that the people’s war is not for the people at all, but a proxy war for both historically adverse countries.

Nonetheless, with the growing humanitarian concern regarding the lives of those stuck in the crossfires, international actors grow increasingly uneasy at the impending possibility of this war being dragged on any longer, people like Johannes Van Der Klaauw, UN Humanitarian Coordinator, labelling the situation a “humanitarian catastrophe.”[1]

Will the exponentially growing number of children orphaned or dead be enough to end the internationally led bloodshed? Will Tehran and Riyadh finally be able to put aside its long-lasting competition to save the lives of millions of Yemeni families?

Probably not.

How Yemen turned into a political battlefield

In March 2015, a sea of citizens swarmed the streets of Yemen, having built the strength in 2011 to revolt against any government unable to meet their expectations. Following the capture of beleaguered President Abdrubbah Mansour Hadi by Shia rebel forces – known as Houthis – the majority of north Yemen fell under Houthi siege. However, shortly after, Hadi fled to his hometown of Aden, located in the south of Yemen, where he nationally broadcasted his legitimacy as president and public opposition to the Houthis, escalating an already unstable national situation into a chaotic clash between supporters and armies of both political parties[2].


Naturally, as a Sunni leader, Hadi was immediately backed by Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), among which are most other Arab countries, such as Egypt and Jordan. Seeing this, the international community has grown suspicious of Iran’s role in the civil war, due to their religious ties to the Shia Houthis and long standing “regional Cold War” with the Saudi Kingdom[3]. However, no known evidence has been released and denial of any military support to Houthi armies has been repeatedly insisted by Iranian officials, despite prevalent verbal condemnations of Hadi and his supporters publicized by the Iranian government.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is a different story.

After little, if any, diplomatic attempts to return Yemen to Hadi’s government, Saudi Arabia began air strikes in areas controlled by the Houthis, taking little consideration for “collateral damage” along the way. Though the air strikes were officially terminated in April 2015, they continue to this day under different “operations”, in an attempt to discourage Houthi efforts of sieging southern Yemen and withdrawing their forces from Yemeni soil all together[4].

While a total of 9 countries around the GCC and Middle East have created a coalition with the kingdom, countries like Oman[5] have attempted to bridge the gap between the two adversaries through peace plans. With their efforts unsuccessful, one must ask…

Why is Yemen such an investment to either country?

As with most international interventions in areas of conflict, the intentions overtly displayed by outsiders often fail to show the full story. Though Iran and Saudi Arabia may claim to have dug their feet into their political positions in this conflict on the notion of doing what they believe “right” by the Yemeni public, it is clear to most political analysts that there may be more behind this than meets the eye.

In the case of Iran, their interest is simple; location, location, location. With a Shia government in power, Yemen would become a key asset in Iran’s power struggle within the region. With an ally so near to Saudi Arabian borders, Iran would have instant influence in the kingdom’s political decisions in conflict zones such as Syria and Iraq, unlocking doors to friends in high places[6].

To Saudi political leaders, the very thing that could drive Iran to power could be the beginning of their end. Such close proximity to the monarchy’s territory could lead to a contagion of AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) support within Saudi Arabia, thanks to their abundant presence within Yemen. Furthermore, as recent statistical evidence attests, weapon smuggling between members of Houthis and Iran seems to be a growing industry, an unquestionable security threat for Saudi Arabia, who shares a “porous 1,770km southern border with Yemen”, and who considers Yemen to be “easy prey for Tehran to penetrate and manipulate”[7].

With such high stakes and opportunities for each respective country, it would appear that the prospect of an end to Saudi and (theoretically) Iranian coalitions is virtually non-existent. However, could growing international concern for the humanitarian consequences change Yemen’s apparently terminal destiny?

“4/5 Yemeni’s Now Need Humanitarian Aid.”


One does not need more than a beating heart and a glimmer of conscience to realize that human suffering should never be warranted, that a mother watching her bundle of joy dying of starvation is never okay. But being so far removed from the Yemeni conflict, it can be easy to trick ourselves into thinking “16 million”, “7,655”, “8,875”, “14.4 million”, “2 million”, “70” and “90” are just numbers on a piece of paper. But think again.

Almost 16 million were in need of humanitarian aid before conflict had even begun[8]. According to the UN, 7,655 are the number of civilian causalities recorded between the 26th of March and 16th of October 2015, at least 505 below the age of 18[9]. 8,875 are the number of human rights violations reported as of November 18th[10]. 14.4 million are how many Yemeni citizens are now considered food insecure, 2 million acutely malnourished[11]. 70 are the number of humanitarian organizations attempting to gain any access into Yemeni borders and waterways to provide the aid that is so desperately needed[12].

90% is the percentage of food import Yemen once relied on to feed its people. After the air strikes began and fighting around the port of Aden became prominent, all but a few ships were allowed into Yemeni waters, halting imports of food and destroying any chances of mass nourishment, thus placing the Yemeni population near famine[13].

And the numbers continue to rise.

Will Enough Finally Be Enough?

With numbers rising as fast as they are, it becomes harder to block out the eerie similarity between conditions in Yemen and Syria today. The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross seemed to find it difficult as well, for after returning from a visit in August, it was observed that “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years”[14].

And guess who have their fingers in that war too?

Saudi Arabia and Iran’s refusal to place their petty power games on hold, despite international pressure for a resolution to be found for all parties, leaves no point of reference to indicate that either country has any intention of backing down from their respective support in Yemen either – at least not for the sake of humanitarian concern.

While eager talks between Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers have been at play with the possibility of a more fruitful relationship blossoming, events like the Saudi ordered execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr in January of 2016[15] suggests the opposite.

Attempting to stay optimistic in the wake of the Kingdom’s recent economic downturn, all hope may not be lost. Though the air strikes may not end for the sake of humanity, the thinning number of royal paychecks might. In 2015, Saudi Arabia managed to gather the highest budget deficit in decades at nearly $100 billion, constituting 15% of its GDP, and this is only getting worse[16]. With the increasing instability of oil markets, and lacking investment into other industries, the former richest country in the region may need to resort to taxing its people, who would then get to have an actual say in national matters. Gasp! Needless to say, Saudi Arabian leaders may not be loving that idea. Thus, dropping the costs inflicted by the civil war may be the only solution for now.

As for Iran, with no real evidence of any coalition happening with Houthi forces, not much can be questioned as of yet.

We’ve Lost Sight of What Matters

Yemen has been cursed with turmoil for decades, with a weakly calculated attempt to unify a marginalized south and heavily populated north in the First Gulf War era, a weak economy, and a relationship with Saudi Arabia on thin ice.

Today, Iran and the Kingdom’s interests in Yemen are political, economic, and strategic. It doesn’t seem to be the one thing it should: Humane.

As governments that claim to be international leaders in the Islamic faith – known to most as a moral faith – it is disheartening to see such immoral priorities in action; money and power are placed above peace and compassion. It appears that we’ve lost sight of the people who need support in the first place: Yemeni families fighting for the future of their children.


 Saudi Arabian and Iranian differences need to be pushed aside if we want to actively put an end to disorder in the Middle East. As Anwar Sadat, a loved Egyptian leader of a better time, quoted:

“There can be hope only for a society which acts as one big family, not as many separate ones.”[17]


[1] “Yemen Crisis: How Bad Is the Humanitarian Crisis?” BBC News. BBC Newsnight, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[2] “Yemen Crisis: Who Is Fighting Whom?” BBC News. BBC, 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

[3] Reardon, Martin. “Saudi Arabia, Iran and the ‘Great Game’ in Yemen.” AlJazeera. N.p., 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

[4] Gatehouse, Gabriel. “Inside Yemen’s Forgotten War.” BBC News. BBC Newsnight, 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[5] “Oman Offers Seven-point Peace Plan for Yemen.” Alarby. N.p., 24 Apr. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[6] Reardon, Martin. “Saudi Arabia, Iran and the ‘Great Game’ in Yemen.” AlJazeera. N.p., 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Yemen Crisis: How Bad Is the Humanitarian Crisis?” BBC News. BBC Newsnight, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Yemen Crisis: How Bad Is the Humanitarian Crisis?” BBC News. BBC Newsnight, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[15] Sinclair, Harriet. “Nimr Al-Nimr Execution: Former Iraq PM Al-Maliki Says Death Will ‘topple Saudi Regime'” Independent. N.p., 2 Jan. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.

[16] Nasser, Amal. “How Long Can Saudi Arabia Afford Yemen War?” Al Monitor – Gulf Pulse. N.p., 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

[17] Cochran, Judith. “VII. The Educational Open Door Policy 1970-1983.” Educational Roots of Political Crisis in Egypt. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2008. 76. Print.

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