Tag Archives: current affairs

Made Democracy strong again

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By Julia Huentemann, 3rd year Student in International Relations and Editor-in-Chief of International Relations Today. 

Following the presidential elections on November 8th, 2016, the United States held its Midterm Elections on Tuesday November 5th, while the world was eagerly watching how America voted halfway through Trump’s term in office.

What mandates stood for election?

Both chambers of Congress, the Senate (consisting of 100 Senators, two from each state) and the House of Representatives (composed of 435 members representing the states according to the size of population) had to be re-assembled. In both chambers the Republicans have been holding the majority; in the Senate (Upper House) with 51 to 49 Senators and in the House of Representatives (Lower House) with 235 to 193 seats.

While the members of the Lower House only serve a two-year term (but in practice are often re-elected), the Senators are elected for six years. In order to guarantee continuity, not all Senators are elected at the same time. Hence, every two years one third, i.e. 35, of the 100 Senators and all members of the Lower House stand for election.

In this Midterm-Election, among the Senators 26 Democrats and 9 Republicans and among the Representatives 193 Democrats and 235 Republicans had to defend their mandates. Even though no final results are at hand when writing this article, it is a fact that the Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives (at least 223 of the 435 seats) and that the Republicans were able to firm up their position in the Senate with at least 51 of the 100 Senators.

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 What do these results bring about for President Trump and his Administration?

The primary function of Congress is the enactment of laws. To make a new law, a bill is introduced by a member into one of the chambers. Each house of Congress has the power to introduce legislation on any subject except laws for raising money, which must originate in the House of Representatives. Hence, a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives can (and most likely will) refuse to authorize money for projects they do not support (such as the wall at the Mexican border). Moreover, a Democratic majority can submit requests making sure that the Trump Administration has to engage in matters other than prioritized. And finally, as a united front, the Democrats could force Trump to transparency (e.g. in terms of his private tax declaration) and to account, e.g. concerning the Russian involvement in the election campaign 2016.

In order to bypass a blockade policy by the Democrats, Trump could bring through his policy via presidential decrees, just like Obama did in his last years in office, struggling with a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress. But in this case, his successor in office (in case he should not be re-elected) could rescind such decisions. To ensure sustainable change, Trump is reliant on Democratic cooperation and needs to find compromises, a skill he has not proven so far.

Another threat for Trump resulting from a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is the initiation of an impeachment process. But this is rather a theoretical threat, because in practice, Trump’s removal from office will not happen, since this requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate-vote, and a Republican-led Senate will not vote for Trump’s impeachment. Hence, this would be a waste of time and resources.

His power to appoint Supreme Court judges and ambassadors and to choose the heads of all executive departments and agencies is not affected by the new balance of power in the Lower House.

 To what extent can these results affect Europe and the rest of the world?

The president´s chief duty is to protect the Constitution and to enforce the laws made by Congress. But for formulating and executing the foreign policy of the United States, the president has overall responsibility and participates in summits conferences where chiefs of state meet for direct consultation. In this field of policy Trump does not depend on the Democrats and a policy of blockade in internal affairs might encourage him to concentrate on foreign policy instead with unpredictable consequences for the rest of the world. The more he gets under pressure on the national stage, the more he might let off steam on the international stage. A scenario, the world does not need.

Who is the winner of this election?

It was a small victory for the Republicans to have defended their narrow majority in the Senate. It was a remarkable victory for the Democrats to have gained control in the House of Representatives.

And it was a great victory for democracy! No midterm election in the recent decades has enjoyed so much attention – neither nationally nor internationally. Polling participation has increased from 37 per cent to 48 per cent respectively from 83 million to 113 million voters. Many young Americans have found their way to the polling station and especially the female electorate has been mobilized. Whatever his legacy will once be associated with, Trump obviously managed to boost appreciation for democracy itself, whether on purpose or not.

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It was neither a triumph for Trump nor actually for the Democrats, even though both parties claim election victory. Only future will tell who the real winner is, but for sure this election made Democracy strong again.

 

 

 

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100th Anniversary of the First Czechoslovak Republic

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Lucie Škopková is a 2nd year Student at King’s College London studying European Politics with a special interest in Central and Eastern European Politics.

The day of October 28th, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the First Czechoslovak Republic. The Republic emerged amidst the economic hardships and sociopolitical turmoil following World War I. under the presidency of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and its significance powerfully resonates throughout the society to this day. Many people in the Czech Republic today continue to regard the First Republic as a democratic breakthrough for the nation, especially when addressing its Declaration of Independence that was drafted on October 18th, 1918. This included important references to general suffrage, minority rights, greater gender equality, as well as the Republic’s acceptance of economic and political responsibility on the international scene with regard to the post-war environment.1

 Perhaps the two elements most profoundly associated with the First Czechoslovak Republic are the complex question of nationality and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. The First Republic consisted of several ethnic groups that included Czechoslovaks, Hungarians, Germans and others, which put pressure on the Republic’s national identity. This pressure was revealed by the 1921 population census in which Czechs and Slovaks were merged under one national group of ‘Czechoslovaks’ in order to create a national majority group, contributing to the rise of a termed nation-state. Furthermore, the newly merged Czechoslovak national group concealed the fact that Czech and Slovak speakers alone were often outnumbered by German speakers, for example, which would have otherwise undermined the strength of the First Republic’s national character.2 The key figure of the First Czechoslovak Republic was the afore mentioned Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who adamantly lobbied and pressed for Czechoslovak independence on the international scene following World War I. He was the Republic’s first president and was glorified by the people as the nation’s guardian and to this day, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk is referred to as ‘Tatínek’ or the founding father of the nation and remains a celebrated, symbolic figure representing national pride and sentiment of the Czechs.

 The First Czechoslovak Republic provided the fundamental basis upon which the Czechoslovak nation continued to develop until its formal separation into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1st, 1993. However, the official separation of Czechoslovakia did not mean the influence and sentiment of the First Republic diminished amongst the Czechs and the Slovaks. It rather became one of the most symbolic and inherent parts of the nations’ history to which many contemporary historians continuously return in their academic studies.

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Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk

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Greater coat of arms of the First Czechoslovak Republic (“The Truth Wins”)

 

(1) Pergler, Charles. “An Experiment in Progressive Government: The Czechoslovak Republic.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 84, no. 1, 1 Jan. 1919, https://doi.org/10.1177/000271621908400107.

 (2) Heimann, Mary. “A Troubled Democracy.” Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed, Yale University Press, 2009, pp. 48–87.

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China’s Greater Bay Area: How infrastructure will influence the future of the world’s most densely populated area and beyond

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Louis Hobbs Martin is a 2nd year International Relations student at King’s College London with a particular interest in China and South East Asia Region.

Autumn 2018 is seeing the inauguration of two key infrastructure projects in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) in the Chinese province of Guangdong, southern China. The new Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) was inaugurated on September 22nd, linking Hong Kong to China’s vast network of high-speed rail, whilst the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HZMB), the world’s longest sea bridge, is currently set to open later this month, following long delays. [1]

These are key projects initiated by the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party in order to create a giant megacity in the Pearl River Delta, similar to the Jing-Jin-Ji megacity project linking Beijing, Tianjin and the Hebei province and merging them into one. [2] In order to understand the scale of this project, it is essential to understand that the Pearl River Delta is the most densely populated area in the world, having a population of approximately 70 million inhabitants in an area roughly the size of Croatia. Although outside of China, little is known of the PRD in comparison with Hong Kong, it is worth noting that the scale of the cities on the mainland side of the PRD, such as Guangzhou (old Canton) and Shenzhen (a new city created less than 40 years ago) dwarfs that of Hong Kong with its 7 million inhabitants. Were the Pearl River Delta to be its own nation, it would have the world’s 12th highest nominal GDP, standing between South Korea and Russia. [1] Nonetheless, this area is also one of great complexity with the presence of the two Chinese Special Administrative Regions (SARs): Macau and Hong Kong. The two SARs have their own monetary, legal and administrative systems, at least until 2049 for Macau and 2047 for Hong Kong.

However, with the completion of projects such as the HZM Bridge and the XRL, China hopes to further integrate its SARs into the Pearl River Delta to make it the “Greater Bay Area”, capable of becoming China’s Silicon Valley and rivalling San Francisco’s Bay Area. [3]

Given the cost of these projects (a $20bn 55-kilometer sea bridge and an $11bn trans-border highspeed railway) it is indeed to be hoped that there are sound economic reasons.

With the HZM Bridge, journey time between Hong Kong and Macau/ Zhuhai will be reduced to thirty minutes from three hours previously. [4] Officials also hope that the HZM Bridge will help to further to develop the West coast of the PRD (Macau/ Zhuhai) which is very much under-developed in comparison with the East coast (Hong Kong, Shenzhen). [5]

As for the XRL, officials hope to make it easier to get from Hong Kong, the major financial hub in Southern China to Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, via Shenzhen, the home of tech giants such as Tencent (WeChat) or Huawai but also China’s first Special Economic Zone. Indeed, many believe it to be in Hong Kong’s interest to open up to the Greater Bay Area.

Historically, Hong Kong has been considered as the “gateway to China”. However, this role has been more contested over the last few years as Shanghai has emerged as the economic capital of China. But even in the PRD, Hong Kong’s importance has diminished. [3] Whilst its stock exchange is still more important than that of Shenzhen in terms of market capitalisation and its airport still busier that Guangzhou’s in terms of annual passenger traffic and cargo traffic, its port, which historically made Hong Kong what it is today, has been surpassed by Shenzhen and is seriously in danger of being overtaken by Guangzhou. Greater cooperation and higher integration of Hong Kong in the PRD could very well be one of its best chances of limiting competition coming from Guangzhou and Shenzhen as well remaining a great financial hub in the region. [3] All in all, China’s goal of building expensive and impressive infrastructure to bring together the gambling capital of the world, a top three world financial centre and the Chinese tech capital, all of which are in the most densely populated area in the world, which also happens to have three of the top ten busiest container ports in the world and numerous world-class airports, seems very bold. Not only is it bold, but also ambitious and, were it to succeed, could transform the Pearl River Delta into the “Greater Bay Area”, increasing its role as one of China’s economic powerhouses, rivalling Beijing, Shanghai and beyond.

 

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However not everything is absolutely perfect for the “Greater Bay Area” as it faced numerous obstacles whilst building its new grand infrastructure. Obviously, if you’re going to build the longest sea bridge in the world through one of the world’s busiest maritime routes and which links three different territories, you’re going to meet a few obstacles along the way. Needless to say that this is what actually happened to China, Hong Kong and Macau during the construction of the HZM Bridge. The long-in-the-making project was originally supposed to be completed in 2016 but is finally supposed to open later on this month after numerous engineering issues that caused important delays and an increase in budget of approximately $1.5bn. [5] Human rights activists have criticized the project for its poor safety conditions with a high number of casualties and injuries having been reported on the Hong Kong side of the project, with working conditions suspected of being worse on the Chinese side but numbers of injuries and casualties are still unknown. [6] The Bridge has also raised environmental concerns as numerous environmentalists have criticized the bridge as causing irreversible damage to the habitat of numerous species living in the Pearl River Delta such as the Chinese White dolphin and which could soon be considered as endangered as a result. [5]

Finally, an increasing number of people have deemed China’s grand infrastructure projects as unnecessary given cost and considering viable alternatives already existed. It is very easy to get from Hong Kong to Macau by ferry across the delta or to get an MTR train (Hong Kong’s subway system) to the border with Shenzhen. This resulted in people considering these projects as “White Elephants” and simply as a symbol of a growing Chinese political ambition over its SARs. [7]

 But, whilst the economic motives behind these projects are constantly being put forward, is China doing this to feed its political ambitions?

 The hypothesis of China using grand infrastructure to further integrate Macau and especially Hong Kong into the local economy as part of Beijing’s growing political ambition is very plausible. It is undeniable that China has economic interests in building these projects but these also take place in a context of high political tension between China and the people of its SARs. Indeed, the completion of both the HZM Bridge and the XRL is happening just four years after the pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution paralyzed the heart of Hong Kong in an attempt to pressure the Beijing government into respecting its promise of giving Hong Kong free and democratic elections for the 2017 election. The movement that lasted eighty days did not change Beijing’s mind and resulted in Carry Lam, a pro-Beijing candidate, being elected as chief executive of the HKSAR. [7]

Since then, China has intervened a numerous number of times in Hong Kong, such as the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers in 2016 after the publishing of books criticizing the Communist regime. [8] And more recently the banning of a pro-independence fringe political party and refusal to allow entry to a British Financial Times journalist who moderated a debate which included the head of that party are seen in some circles as either directly influenced by Beijing or done to impress the Beijing government. [9]

Many people fear that China is fairly rapidly weakening the “One country, two systems” principle which emanated from the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 that stated that Hong Kong would be able to keep a high degree of autonomy and hence, most of its human rights after the 1997 handover and at least until 2047. [6]

Macau, on the other hand, did not have a pro-democracy movement like Hong Kong did, but still suffered a crackdown on money laundering by the Chinese government during the 2018 summer which reduced profits made by local casinos, Macau’s primary source of revenue. The HZM Bridge and XRL are seen by some in Hong Kong as a means by Beijing to tighten its grip on the SARs before 2050. [10]

Whilst the bridge is an impressive marvel of engineering, many people consider it as just a part of Beijing’s process of “Mainlandization” for slowly integrating Hong Kong and Macau into the Chinese territory and transforming them into just two of the eleven cities of the PRD, instead of the current situation which would be nine Chinese cities and two SARs. [8] As Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy Hongkong legislator, said to CNN, the bridge “links Hong Kong to China almost like an umbilical cord. You see it, and you know you’re linked up to the motherland.”[4] So much ink has been used to write about the bridge that the XRL has received much less attention worldwide but it might just be as much of a tool to slowly incorporate Hong Kong into China. The presence of security personnel from mainland China and, more importantly, the application of mainland law at the Hong Kong XRL station (which is treated as sovereign PRC territory) is the first time that anything of this sort has happened in the former British colony. [8] Mainland law being applied in the very heart of the city could be considered a symbol of the current trend of “Mainlandization” of the SARs as it violates Hong Kong’s legislation and was only made possible after an intervention by the Beijing government.

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  Christopher Balding, a former British university professor in China, resumed the situation in an interview for The Financial Times: “The battle Beijing is fighting is that if they want more access to Hong Kong’s markets and capital, they have to open up but the movement over the past few years has been in the opposite direction,” [1] Whilst Hong Kong and Macau’s slow integration into the Chinese territory seem inevitable due to the 2047-2049 deadlines and China’s growing political ambition, the way that Beijing is accelerating this process, partly by spending vast amounts of money to build mega-infrastructure, remains fascinating. Not only do the HZM Bridge and XRL show China’s wealth and might, it could also symbolize the making of one of the world’s greatest economic areas rivalling San Francisco, New York and Tokyo.

The fate of Hong Kong as a bastion of freedom of speech and (relative) democracy in Communist China remains uncertain, however, greater integration with the other cities of the Pearl River Delta could also possibly be its best chance of economic “survival”.

If the construction of mega-infrastructures does end up playing a major role in “Mainlandizing” Hong Kong and Macau, this could be a milestone for China’s future expansions such as the South China Sea, where artificial islands have already been constructed to incorporate them in the Chinese territory, but also Taiwan, which has been watching developments with the SARs closely. Hence, this is how the longest sea bridge in the world and a high-speed railway could shape the future of the most dynamic region on earth.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Bland, B, “Greater Bay Area: Xi Jinping’s other grand plan”, Financial Times, 2018

https://www.ft.com/content/fe5976d8-ab81-11e8-94bd-cba20d67390c

[2] Qu, H, “The rise of China’s supercities”, HSBC News & Insight, 2018 https://www.hsbc.com/news-and-insight/insight-archive/2018/the-rise-of-chinas-supercities

[3] Follain, J, “China’s Silicon Valley Threatens to Swallow Up Hong Kong”, Bloomberg New Economy Forum, 2018

 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-08-28/bridge-to-china-s-silicon-valley-may-swallow-up-hong-kong-

[4] Lazarus, S, “The $20 billion ‘umbilical cord’: China unveils the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge”, CNN, 2018

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/05/04/asia/hong-kong-zhuhai-macau-bridge/index.html

[5] Blackledge, B, “The HK-Zhuhai-Macau bridge: An economic excuse for a political gamble?”, Hong Kong Free Press, 2016

https://www.hongkongfp.com/2016/12/06/the-hk-zhuhai-macau-bridge-an-economic-excuse-for-a-political-gamble/

[6] Yip, H, “ Beijing Is Foisting a White Elephant on Hong Kong”, Foreign Policy, 2018 https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/14/beijing-is-foisting-a-white-elephant-on-hong-kong/

[7] Hale, E, “An Impressive, Unnecessary, Multi-City Bridge”, Citylab, 2018 https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/08/an-impressive-unnecessary-multi-city-bridge/567284/

[8] Kong, T, “Mainlandization: An overview of Communist Party attempts to control and assimilate Hong Kong”, Medium, 2017 https://medium.com/@KongTsungGan/mainlandization-an-overview-of-communist-party-attempts-to-control-and-assimilate-hong-kong-93df16cbfe1e

[9] Bland, B, “Financial Times journalist’s visa renewal denied by Hong Kong”, Financial Times, 2018

https://www.ft.com/content/5240ecda-c870-11e8-ba8f-ee390057b8c9

[10] Fraser, N, “Macau money chiefs order UnionPay clampdown over illicit mainland China cash fears”, South China Morning Post, 2018

https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/hong-kong-law-and-crime/article/2149746/macau-money-chiefs-order-unionpay-clampdown

 

Image sources:

1)      Bland, B, “Greater Bay Area: Xi Jinping’s other grand plan”, Financial Times, 2018

https://www.ft.com/content/fe5976d8-ab81-11e8-94bd-cba20d67390c

2)      Fung Business Intelligence, “Fast facts of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Bay Area”, Business Policy and City Clusters in China, 2017

https://www.fbicgroup.com/sites/default/files/IG_12_GDP.pdf

3)      Kaiman, J, “Hong Kong’s umbrella revolution – the Guardian briefing”, The Guardian, 2014

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/30/-sp-hong-kong-umbrella-revolution-pro-democracy-protests

 

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The end of ‘Rajoyismo’: the downfall of non-ideological technocracy in Spain

Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 12.24.46Excma. Sra. Da. Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría takes her oath as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for the Presidency and Territorial Administrations before H.M. King Felipe VI, November 4th 2016.

Alfonso Goizueta Alfaro is a 2nd year student of History and International Relations at King’s College London and also the author of Limitando el poder, 1871-1939 and of Los últimos gobernantes de Castilla, with an interest in diplomacy and government.

June 1st 2018: Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister since 2011, is ousted from power by a no-confidence motion put forward by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE); a few days later he announces his withdrawal from the leadership of the conservative Popular Party and from politics. July 21st 2018: the PP has a new leader, Pablo Casado, 37. This young and exciting party leader with no experience in government wins against Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, 47, Rajoy’s deputy prime minister and natural heiress. September 10th 2018: Mrs Sáenz de Santamaría withdraws from politics and abandons the Popular Party.

Since November 2011, when Mr Rajoy won the general election with an absolute majority, Spanish political analysts and media have coined the term ‘Rajoyismo’ referring to the set of policies and attitudes of Mr Rajoy and his government. It is an ambiguous term many in Spain have been using in the last eight years with different significations. For example, the online newspaper Libertad Digital, wrote in early July 2018 that the Popular Party had to choose between ‘Liberal renovation or more Rajoyismo’, thus defining Rajoyismo as a form of political immobilism which supports government interventionism. The Spanish extreme left, represented by pseudo-Communist parties such as Unidos Podemos or Izquierda Unida, identify Rajoyismo’with economic austerity, corruption scandals and support for large corporations and fortunes.

It is difficult to define what ‘Rajoyismo’ has really been. Mariano Rajoy hasn’t been a traditional conservative leader in Spain. He hasn’t appealed to nationalistic feelings of ‘the grand Spain” or to the traditional values of conservatism and thus has been considered weak by many when confronting nationalistic problems such as the Catalan secessionist crisis of 2017. He has simply been an administrator of the state, a technocrat. As such he managed to put Spain through the most terrifying economic panorama of its recent history without having to resort to a financial rescue from the European Union. He had, nevertheless, to increase taxation and cut government spending, a sacrilege for centre-right governments. Rajoyismo, therefore, could be described as a form of government based on the rule of necessity, not on the rule of ideology. Rajoyismo is a form of technocracy which leaves traditional political ideology in the background.

Rajoyismo was practiced by what became the core of all of Rajoy’s governments from 2011 to 2018: the Deputy Prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, the Minister of Employment, Fátima Báñez, and the Minister for the Treasury, Cristóbal Montoro. Although these statesmen are part of the centre-right PP, they have been carrying out a liberal technocratic agenda which in several occasions confronted the more Christian Democrat wing of the council of ministers and the Party. Their detractors have accused core members of Rajoyismo of being ‘social democrats’ because of their economic policies and their ambiguous posture towards the demands of the different Autonomous communities the Spanish territory is divided into. Those who argue that the core of Rajoyismo sympathised with social democratic methods fail to understand that Rajoyismo, as Mr Rajoy, Mrs Sáenz de Santamaría and Mr Montoro practised it, is a form of government which is based on doing what needs to be done, not what one would desire to do. A critical member of the Popular Party of Catalonia argued that in the last years the PP had fallen into the hands of technocrats with no ideology at all. Yet, at the end of the day, technocracy is the ideology of what is right, of what is correct. Fiscal pressure was imperative for a country which was on the verge of being financially rescued by the European Union. The European Economic Adjustment program, which Spain was advocated to, was averted; it was replaced, nevertheless, with harsh austerity measures which were, nonetheless, necessary, for by 2014, after five years of economic depression, Spain’s GDP rose again.

As Rajoy left power in June 2017, the PP began the search for a new leader. Sáenz de Santamaría was the natural successor and many thought she would indeed succeeded her political father after the Party’s XIX Congress. Yet Santamaría’s non-ideological technocracy had earned her several opponents within the Party, opponents which, despite being loyal to Rajoy, did not hesitate to support a “non-natural heir”. She lost to Pablo Casado, a young member of the Party’s Executive Committee who won the hearts and minds of the members of the XIX Congress by appealing to the ideology which had been forsaken during the period of Rajoyismo . Mr Casado has gone back to a period in which the PP could be identified with the values of life, family, morals, territorial unity and expansionary fiscal policy. It isn’t that Rajoyismo relinquished these values, on the contrary. Rajoyismo was always based on the values of the PP but yet wasn’t over dependent on them and it didn’t consent party dogmas to influence the governing of Spain. Ideology makes politics; technocracy makes government.

Over this summer, Spain has been speculating about Santamaría’s future after her defeat in the XIX Congress: would she integrate Mr Casado’s team in a reformed party? Or would she leave? She finally put an end to the incognita: yesterday, she left her seat in the Congress of Deputies and the Party. Indeed it was difficult to imagine Santamaría continuing her political career as a mere MP after having been Spain’s most powerful stateswoman in recent history. Her withdrawal from politics signals the end of Rajoyismo. The PP will no relive a period of its history in which it aimed to represent the solidity of conservative thought. Let’s see if it manages to do so. In the last elections, the PP has been losing votes from its “left wing”, to the centrist Liberal party Ciudadanos (C’s). It would therefore need a more liberal, moderate approximation to the Centre rather than to the Right, where the right-wing party VOX barely constitutes a threat to its electorate.

Rajoyismo will never come back for it was very dependent on Mr Rajoy’s persona. Sáenz de Santamaría was the only realist heir of Rajoy. This form of right-wing governing has been unprecedented in Spanish history. In the History of the Spanish Right-wing Rajoyismo has certainly been extremely important for it has been an attempt to serenely reconfigure the Right in times of global political exaltation. The renouncement of Sáenz de Santamaría is sad news for Spanish politics, for the Spanish Right and for all of us who sympathised with the principles of Rajoyismo. She was an extremely prepared and hard-working politician who represented the continuation of a political movement which separated itself from the embryo of the party ideology in order to achieve its goal: the technocratic, and hence correct, administration of the state.

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

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

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

The events

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

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

Novichok Nerve Agent

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

Military personnel suiting up to contain the exposed areas.

The Fallout

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

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

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Expelled Russian ambassador board their plane bound for Russia.

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

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

 The ‘Russian way of warfare’

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

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

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

f

Possible Image of a Russian Social Media bot.

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

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

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

Implications

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

  1. Losing control

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

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

  1. Hubris

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

  1. ‘Useful idiots’

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

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

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

  1. Escalation?

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

 

 Bibliography: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[17] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[24] Ibid

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

syrua

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

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

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

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

Picture1

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

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

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

Picture2

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

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

Picture3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Opinion | The Importance of Diplomacy in the Era of Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bibliography:

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Ibid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract:

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

Introduction:

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

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

The Lega Nord’s political project:

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

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

 

The origins of the North-South divide:

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

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

Conclusion:

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

 

Bibliography:

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

[2] IBID

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

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

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

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

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

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Catalonia: “Chronicle of a Coup Foretold

catalonia

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

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

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

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

The coup: the laws of Referendum and Political Transience

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

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

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

The referendum and beyond: Article 155

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

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

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

 

 

 

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