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Opinion | The Importance of Diplomacy in the Era of Trump


Jack Lashendock is a Second Year student at Gettysburg College in America. He currently serves as the President of his school’s International Affairs Association and Model United Nations team (IAA/MUN) and a Senator in the Gettysburg College Student Senate. He is pursuing a double major in International Affairs and Political Science and a double minor in History and Middle East and Islamic Studies. His area of academic focus includes global diplomacy, international peacekeeping, Middle Eastern politics and history, and American government. He can be reached for discussion at 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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will marshall 1

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.….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.….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.5.368…0i13k1j0i13i5i30k1j0i8i13i30k1.0.qNsivIidhgA#imgrc=2hrtqBwLCvogQM:

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

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

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



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

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

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


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


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

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

The Lega Nord’s political project:

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

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


The origins of the North-South divide:

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

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


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



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


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

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

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


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

The coup: the laws of Referendum and Political Transience

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


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

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

The referendum and beyond: Article 155

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


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

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




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What does ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ mean for China and the world?


By Coline Traverson,  a second-year undergraduate student in War Studies interested in environmental security, human rights and international politics.

If you had tried to contact anyone in China from abroad last week, you might have realised that it was close to impossible due to a heightened Internet censorship. Surprisingly, this is not a worrying trend due to the increase in communications’ surveillance which is perhaps a regular occurrence. Every five years in October, the Chinese Internet goes on lockdown, highlighting the sensitivity of what is without a doubt the most important event in Chinese politics – the National Party Congress (NPC). Over this crucial week, the 2268 members of the Chinese Communist Party’s legislative assembly convene in Beijing to elect the new top leaders of the party, among which is the General Secretary. Though the Congress is the formalisation of decisions taken behind closed doors by the party’s leadership than the expression of the people’s will, the outcome is shaped by a set of informal norms that guarantee a smooth transfer of power. However, this year’s NPC, 19th of the sort, marks a rupture in the history of the CCP as Xi Jinping, renewed General Secretary for 5 years, seems determined to break the conventions.

 A National Party Congress that feels like a coronation

Decision-making at the top of the party has 3 characteristics: it stems from a ‘collective leadership’, it is made through consensus of the top leaders, and the top leaders are each specialised in a policy area. This collective leadership is what makes China an ‘inner-party democracy’ – ever since the beginning of the CCP, decisions for the country have been made by a small group of party officials and never by a single leader (except for the more authoritarian periods of Mao’s leadership). In today’s China, the top officials and decision-makers are the members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

 The Standing Committee is elected every five years during the National Party Congress, whose delegates represent China’s 31 provincial-level party administrations, alongside the Politburo, the Central Military Commission (CMC), the Central Committee, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) and the General Secretary. Though it is a bottom-up organisation in theory, it is very much the opposite in practice, the General Secretary being assured to govern for at least 2 mandates (10 years) and choosing the members of the Standing Committee for his 2nd mandate so as to place potential successors in his trusted circle of ‘co-leaders’. This process is totally informal – Chinese politics are currently going through an institutionalisation of all these rules – but it has nonetheless given us a way to interpret and predict Chinese elections in the past.

 Thus, in the midst of all these unwritten conventions, we have to keep in mind a few primordial rules: the General Secretary stays on for 2 mandates; the retirement age for party’s officials is 68; officials are promoted according to their seniority; and during his 2nd mandate, the General Secretary will promote two relatively young officials to the Standing Committee, giving them increasing responsibilities so as to train them to the succession.

Using this reading grid, what happened during this year’s National Party Congress?

 The Standing Committee for Xi’s first mandate was constituted by General Secretary Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and five other members among whom was Wang Qishan, Xi’s key ally in the government’s anti-corruption purge. Many suspected that Xi, 64, would keep Wang, 69, to break the retirement rule and open the possibility to run for a 3rd mandate in 2022 despite his own age – however, Wang Qishan was indeed forced to retire. Xi and his Premier are the only ones remaining on the committee, the 5 new members having been promoted according to their seniority, as they should be, and representing both Xi’s faction and Xi’s ‘opposition’ (the Communist Youth League, more liberal). However, they are all from the 5th generation of party officials born in the 50s – upholding the succession tradition would have required the promotion of a duo from the 6th generation to the committee. Among the new members, only 3 of them would be young enough to become General Secretary in 2022, but they would not be able to stay on for 2 mandates. Neither Hu Chunhua or Chen Min’er, serious candidates to succeed Xi, were promoted.

Then, the question of 2022’s elections is open: will Xi Jinping stay for a 3rd mandate at the top of the party, thus breaking the retirement rule, while leaving the Presidency (limited to 2 mandates) to another man? Since Tiananmen’s protests in 1989, the General Secretary also occupies the positions of President (top of the government) and Chairman of the CMC (top of the military); Xi could then decide to keep one of the positions while nominating one of his allies as President, the Presidency being subordinated to the party’s Secretary anyway.

However, the most notable and significant particularity of this year’s NPC is the definition of ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ in the party’s charter. As trivial as it might sound from a Western perspective, the fact that his ideas are added with his name has just made Xi the most powerful party leader since Mao Zedong: though most leaders have contributed to the party’s charters with their ideas, Mao and Deng were the only two leaders so far whose thoughts had been embedded in the constitution with their names– and Deng Xiaoping Theory was added after his death. Xi Jinping Thought is not just words on paper: as the new dogma of the Communist party, it is now to be taught in Chinese universities, while ‘study groups’ are being organised in the country to spread the news of this ‘New Era’.[1]

 Xi Jinping Thought shines through his 5 years’ exercise of power

What is Socialism with Chinese Characteristics?

‘We must keep on strengthening the party’s ability to lead politically, to guide through theory, to organise the people, and to inspire society, thus ensuring that the party’s great vitality and strong ability are forever maintained.’[2]

 Among the 14 elements that constitute the Thought, the supremacy of the CCP over every aspect of Chinese society and politics is primordial – a major change from Deng Thought that advocated for a greater separation between the party and the state. During his first term, Xi’s belief in the one-party rule motivated him to strengthen the party’s administration, notably by reactivating 77,000 weak party branches in villages, schools and small communities across China.[3] Strict rules concerning NGOs, religious practices and Internet were enforced, leading to the detainment of human rights lawyers and activists. He also launched an aggressive anti-corruption campaign to purge the party, instil discipline and loyalty in the ranks, and inspire respect from the population. This strengthening in control will be pursued and extended during his second term, notably with the creation of a National Supervision Commission, a state anti-graft body that will be coupled to the party’s infamous anti-graft institution, the CCDI.

 ‘China’s economy has been transitioning from a phase of rapid growth to a stage of high-quality development.’ 2,

 Faced with social and economic challenges that resulted in an ‘unbalanced and inadequate development’, China’s poverty rates have gone down but the wealth gap has widened in the recent years. Xi Jinping is faced with two objectives for his economic policy: the ‘first centennial goal’ is to build a ‘moderately prosperous society’ by 2021, the ‘second centennial goal’ is to become a ‘fully developed nation’ by 2049. Xi seems to be on track to realise the first centennial goal, but according to Louis Kuijs from Oxford Economics, his preference for politics over economics has been detrimental to the efficiency of the system (a very Chinese problem).[4] The General Secretary has thus renewed his commitment to fighting inequality in China; however, the path that Xi will use to achieve this objective is still unclear as he seems committed to both continue to open up the Chinese economy to foreign companies while increasing government’s intervention.

 ‘Openness brings progress for ourselves, seclusions leaves one behind. China will not close its doors to the world, we will only become more and more open.’ 2

 Finally, as a major turn from Deng’s foreign policy, the Xi Jinping Thought stresses the fact that China should become an active actor and leader in international affairs. Xi had already distinguished himself with an aggressive policy concerning the territorial disputes China entertains with most of its neighbors while restructuring the military. The importance given to the military is highlighted by 11th point of Xi’s Thought, which proclaims the ‘absolute leadership’ of the CCP over the PLA – also, at this year’s NPC, an impressive 90% of the military delegates will be first-time delegates, the largest turnover of the military elite in the history of the party.[5] However, a specificity of this year’s Politburo points to Xi’s preference for diplomacy rather than military coercion: for the first time since 2003, a diplomat, Yang Jiechi, head of China’s foreign policy establishment, has been promoted to the Politburo. Commenting on this leadership shuffle, Ma Zhengang, a former Chinese ambassador to Britain, stated that ‘we are seeing an unprecedented transition of China’s role, which will not be confined to domestic interests but demonstrate more interest in having a greater say on global issues.’[6] The One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative that should facilitate trade between the Asia-Pacific, Europe and Africa which costs an estimated $26 trillion -, the country’s first foreign military base in Djibouti and the strong Chinese commitment to the Paris’ climate agreement are all examples of Xi’s strategy to weigh more in international affairs through soft power, development aids and the definition of a global ‘common destiny’.

 What implications for China and the World?

 The CCP’s Third Era is likely to make China a – if not The – superpower, directly competing with the U.S. for hegemony. In domestic affairs, ‘China Dream’ is a nationalist appeal to restore the country’s greatness and will be achieved at the cost of less tolerance for diverging views. Xi has renewed his belief in the strength of the one-party rule that is a real asset on the international scene as it portrays a certain form of political stability. To be expected: an increase in the repression of the civil society and in censorship while the grip of the party tightens over every aspect of Chineses’ lives, as well as a continuation of the anti-graft purges and a concentration of powers on Core Leader Xi Jinping.[7] The way the government succeeds in handling the demographic and economic transition will also be decisive for the country.

 In international affairs, China has grand ambitions as explained in ‘China and its superpower diplomacy’, a documentary screened in every school of the country last September under the direct order of the CCP.[8] As China does not benefit from the same aura the US does with its American way of life, its soft power relies primarily on innovation, the promotion of a South-South cooperation and development aids. Xi Jinping has massively increased investments in technology during his first term, and the number of Chinese tech unicorns (start-ups valued at more than $1 billion) has gone from 10 three years ago to more than 50 today. 3 On its way to become the world’s leader in futuristic technology, the country also seems to have understood, unlike President Trump’s climate change deniers, that environmental responsibility is likely to become a powerful lever of influence in the international community, especially in regards to developing countries in South East-Asia who are directly suffering from climate change. Xi’s intentions in that regard were clear as he announced in 2015 that he would establish an RMB 20 billion South-South Climate Cooperation Fund.[9] Though China’s record on the matter is not bright, the health issues resulting from the over-pollution has led to protests from the population and the need to work for ‘energy conservation and environmental protection’ constituted the 9th point of Xi’s Thought.

 Still pursuing its South-South cooperation strategy, China’s dedication to foreign aid has been growing quickly ever since the beginning of the century, averaging a growth of 29.4% from 2004 to 2009.[10] According to AidData, Beijing has spent a total of $354.3 billion in 140 countries between 2000 to 2014 against $394.6 billion for the US, the world’s biggest contributor. China’s foreign policy is very different from the American one in that regard: when Official Development Assistance (ODA), constituted of concessional loans and intended for welfare, accounts for more than 90% of the US foreign aid budget, it only represents about 20% of the Chinese funding. The remaining China’s finance is constituted of Other Official Flows (OOF) which are non-concessional loans primarily intended for commercial purposes.[11] China’s foreign policy is therefore based on reciprocity – the aids provided go largely to infrastructure and transport building so as to secure trading partners and energy supplies. Another big difference is that, unlike the Americans, the Chinese government does not distribute aids on governance criteria, upholding its non-interference policy: 13 out of the 20 top borrowers from China ranked ‘bad’ on the World Bank’s indicator for rule of law.[12]

 OBOR, the ‘One Belt One Road’ Initiative described by Xi as a contemporary Silk Road, is the very embodiment of the new Chinese leadership’s conception of active international initiative. It would consist of a huge infrastructure network from the Asia-Pacific to Western Europe and Africa. In theory, the project could concern 65% of the world’s population and three-quarters of global energy resources.[13] Facilitating China’s trade with the rest of the world, it would also contribute to the development of regions with a very heavy infrastructure deficit, thus placing China as the world’s major provider of economic development assistance. Still blurry as Beijing invites anyone who wishes to hop on, the plans of itineraries, pictured on the map below, show the extent of Xi’s ambition.


However, though China’s South East-Asian neighbours will be direct beneficiaries from this initiative, the project also appears as threatening to most of them as it overlaps on disputed areas in the Chinese Sea and feeds suspicions over China’s real motives.

 Indeed, Asian countries have faced an increasingly emboldened China ever since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, especially when it comes to territorial expansion in the South China Sea. Though territorial disputes in that area are nothing new, the country has become particularly aggressive in its foreign policy and has multiplied provocative military actions in the region such as this July when Chinese warships circumnavigated Japan, its long-time rival.[1] Recent Reuters images show China building surface-to-air missile launcher facilities on the disputed Paracel Islands, claimed by Vietnam. The country also had its tensest 72-days-stand-off with India this year because of another territorial dispute with Bhutan (India’s ally) over the Doklam Plateau, at the tri junction point between China, Bhutan and India. While Indian and Chinese troops were jostling for control over this highly strategic location, Chinese officials showed a high level of aggressiveness and confidence in their statements, barely hiding the threat behind them as they reminded India to ‘not push [its] luck and cling to any fantasies’.[2]

 In that tense context, the adoption of Xi Jinping Thought as the party’s dogma comes as a confirmation of regional fears: the ‘Chinese dream’, defined as a ‘national rejuvenation’ by the President, is a direct appeal to the Chinese Imperial tradition in a contemporary setting. We can expect from Xi Jinping second-term a large emphasis put on the PLA, which is now under absolute control of the CCP. The army will surely be reduced to focus on professionalism and skills, China’s adventurism in the South China Sea will continue as OBOR infrastructures secure energy supply routes and the number of foreign military bases like the one in Djibouti is likely to increase, under the guise of humanitarian efforts. In reaction, alliances are forming to try and counter China’s regional hegemony: the announcement on October 30th of Japan’s $9 billion aid to Philippine President Duterte, who will chair the upcoming ASEAN meetings in November, is not a coincidence. As Japan feels threatened and thinks about amending the pacifist Article 9 of its Constitution, the way China and the US deals with North Korea will be decisive in the power struggle that is East-Asian politics.


[1] Howard French, ‘China’s Dangerous Game’, The Atlantic, November 2014

[2] Wu Qian, statement on August 4th 2017

[1] Tom Philips, ‘Xi Jinping Thought to be taught in China’s universities’, South China Morning Post, October 27th 2017

[2] ‘The road ahead for China – in Xi Jinping’s words’, South China Morning Post, October 18th 2017

[3] Viola Zhou, Sidney Leng, ‘What has Xi Jinping achieved in his first years as China’s leader ?’, South China Morning Post, October 17th 2017

[4] ‘Being Xi Jinping : the difficult art of juggling growth and control after China’s Communist Party congress’, South China Morning Post, October 10th 2017

[5] Cheng Li, ‘Forecasting China’s largest ever turnover of military elite at the 19th Party Congress’, Brookings, September 18th 2017

[6] Shi Jiangtao, ‘It’s a good day for China’s diplomats as foreign policy chief lands seat on Politburo’, South China Morning Post, October 25th 2017

[7] Nectar Gan, ‘Xi Jinping Thought – the Communist Party’s tighter grip on China in 16 characters’, South China Morning Post, October 25th 2017

[8] Alain Frachon, ‘La Chine redevient une superpuissance globale’, Le Monde, October 21st 2017

[9] Shrey Das, ‘Climate Change and China’s Mission’, Modern Diplomacy, October 10th 2017

[10] ‘China’s Foreign Aid’, UNICEF, 2011

[11] ‘China’s Global Development Footprint’, AidData, 2017

[12] Nyshka Chandran, ‘5 charts that show how China is spending billions in foreign aid’, CNBC, October 13th 2017

[13] Charlie Campbell, ‘China Says It’s Building The New Silk Road’, TIME, May 12th 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Can we really stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So is the Iran deal really one-sided?

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

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

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


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

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

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



[1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/03/31/world/middleeast/simple-guide-nuclear-talks-iran-us.html

[2] http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/Israeli-MK-calls-on-US-to-scrap-sunset-clauses-of-Iran-deal-500097

[3] International Atomic Energy Agency

[4] Non Proliferation Treaty

[5] https://www.iaea.org/topics/additional-protocol

[6] http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/03/politics/mattis-iran-nuclear-deal-national-security/index.html

[7] http://nypost.com/2017/06/10/iranian-airline-finalizes-deal-to-purchase-60-boeing-planes/

[8] https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-co-says-it-signed-new-3b-deal-with-iranian-airline/

[9] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/feb/3/iran-claims-100-billion-windfall-from-sanctions-re/

[10] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/8996819/Iran-threatens-new-war-games-in-the-oil-lanes-of-the-Gulf.html



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Relieving the Disaster: Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean



Airport in the British Virgin Islands trashed – Taken by 70sqd offloading Royal Marines

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


 With Hurricane Irma now departing the Caribbean and making landfall at Florida, it is time to take stock of the situation and analyse the responses. At least in the UK the news cycles continue to be dominated by the topic and a tale of two narratives are developing. On the one hand, a tale of a rapid and effective response by the UK government in dealing with the situation. On the other, of an ineffective and uncaring Britain leaving it to the last minute before mustering any sort of response.

 This article hopes to put much of this debate to rest and deliver an analysis of the situation, resources and response of the UK government to the disaster. Furthermore, this case offers an excellent example of explaining more on how disaster relief, the government and the military works in the UK- otherwise known as ‘Military Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Response’ (HADR). Apologies if this article is rather UK-centric. My knowledge of the French and Dutch response is limited and this is not meant to be seen in anyway as an ‘us vs them’ argument.

 The last vestiges of Empire

 Currently the UK response is being compared mainly alongside France and the Netherlands. On face value this comparison makes sense. All three states still have territories in the area, they all possess somewhat similar capabilities and they all are of a similar distance away from the region.

 However, the logic stops there. For France and the Netherlands, these territories form an integral part of their ‘homeland’. Politically these territories enjoy entirely different relationships with their European capitals than those possessed by the British. They have parliamentary representation, or at the least equivalent of, and are enshrined in their separate constitutions. By contrast, the UK governs their islands via defence and external affairs with some bespoke differences between the islands and varying degrees of assistance (for example, some islands rely on the UK for legal assistance). Other than that, most affairs are governed by local administrations.

 The key difference however is in geography and populations. The Dutch Antilles has a population of 300,000 spread over a small number of islands in close proximity to each other and the French West Indies has a population of around 850,000 on 7 islands, again in close proximity. By contrast, the UK governs 5 island groups; the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Montserrat – all of which are spread out across the entire Caribbean and housing a population of around 100,000 between them. This is very much a product of Empire and de-colonisation. Whilst France and the Netherlands pursued integration, the UK eventually opted for granting independence. Many of these islands in fact separated from their established ‘colonial administrations’ in order to remain affiliated to the UK rather than follow their administrations into independence (such as Anguilla). This is a very simplified explanation, but it shall suffice for the context of explaining the HADR response.


An example of just jaw spreads out the islands are. Compared Turks & Caicos + British Virgin Islands with the French West Indies.

 The UK response – too slow?

 The initial response to the incoming Hurricane Irma was already on station. RFA (Royal Fleet Auxillary – a separate organisation from the Royal Navy) Mount Bays was in the vicinity for Hurricane season. As an auxiliary landing ship dock (LSD(A)), she is fully kitted out for working from the sea onto land. Rather than carrying the equipment necessary for an amphibious landing, this bay-class LSD(A) has been fitted out for humanitarian relief, carrying a Wildcat helicopter (capable of underslung loads), 40 Royal Marines and a contingent from the Royal Logistics Corps (RLC).

RFA Mount Bay in the Caribbean

 This singular ship is currently being compared to the French and Dutch response by the media. The French have an infantry regiment based in Martinique, coupled with a small contingent of corvette (and possibly one frigate) sized ships in a small naval facility. The Dutch maintain a support ship and escort in the region with a further detachment (of around 1,000) personnel at an airfield which doubles up as a US Air Force forward operating base. Naturally, all of these resources were available instantly during the hurricane. Yet, it is also worth noting that they were also exposed to said hurricane.


It is natural therefore to state that the British initial effort is poor in comparison. A singular ship vs the low thousands deployment of French and Dutch. However, this does not accurately reflect the defence posture of either group. The British islands, as mentioned, are spread out across the entire theatre. Some islands only number in the low thousands unlike the heavily concentrated, both geographically and population wise, French and Dutch groupings. There is no point in the UK having a military garrison in the region for security purposes. Thus, the deployment of a specialised vessel by the UK made sense. It could sit in the middle of the British islands and prioritise the most heavily affected regions.

 Following the initial devastation, HMS Ocean a Landing Platform Helicopter amphibious assault ship (LPH), was re-tasked from acting NATO flagship in the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. This became the crux of the next false accusation levelled at the UK government, that the response was too slow. Ocean will arrive in the disaster zone in roughly two weeks. Many have called this unacceptably too slow. Unfortunately, the Mercator projection (a nautical cylinder like map highlighting distances and courses) is revealed bare for all to see here. The Atlantic is huge. Any relief effort via ship will take a while.

 So why not focus by air? The Caribbean has very few airfields, and even fewer rated for the larger aircraft the size of C-17’s, and many of these will have been wrecked by the hurricane that transited through. Even then, with the islands spread out so far, this forces the relief effort on singular islands with little capacity to airlift it to the smaller islands, something that would require helicopters. The Turks & Caicos islands for example have 8 main islands and 299 smaller ones housing 31,500 people. Thus, a maritime response is the most efficient in this area of the world

There is an issue, at least in this commentator’s mind, of instant gratification here. With 24hr news, instant messaging and Hollywood many believe that responses, especially military ones, are rapid and fast (just look at the Game of Thrones cast teleporting around Westeros). One newspaper ran with the headline of a British couple complaining they were stranded for 72hrs before a rescue came. Even the military suffers from this portrayal. Both Gulf Wars were conducted at a rapid pace with the media witnessing action and reaction in a matter of hours. There was little to convey that it took half a year to get all of these assets in the region. Thus, when a response takes more than a couple of days to a major natural disaster, it is criticised and ridiculed. This goes without even mentioning that there was only a 48hr window between the first warning of an incoming major hurricane and it making landfall.

 A case study in disaster Response

 Now for some positivity. Little has been said on just how amazing the response has been from the UK. Let’s be honest we’re not a major power anymore. Yet in little under 3 days the UK has gone from identifying a ‘bad hurricane’, identified the relief on sight is not enough and then airlifted hundreds of personnel, their equipment and supplies into a devastated region half way across the globe. It’s incredibly hard to explain how impressive, purely from a logistical and planning sense, this is.

 The military, an organisation whose modus operandi is not disaster relief, has conducted a truly joint effort enterprise. Again, this is hard to put into words how impressive it is. The ability for separate organisations (the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Royal Air Force) to work together in such a joint enterprise takes much professionalism and training to conduct. Just for an example, RAF chinooks will deploy army RLC personnel from a Royal Navy platform to conduct disaster relief. Furthermore, this occurs whilst continuing to coordinate British forces in Eastern Europe, the Black Sea, patrolling the Med, conducting operations over Iraq and Syria, working across the Middle East, delivering support from Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT) in Afghanistan and continuing to garrison sites across the world. This is truly a joined-up collaboration and is not the mark of a minor military power.


RLC deploy via amphibious barge from RFA Mount Bay to Anguilla

 The UK government should also get a pat on the back for their response. Between last weekend (written on 10/09/17) and Wednesday, a significant amount of planning, preparation and getting folks up to the line of departure occurred. This may be a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, but it’s a remarkable example of joined up government. The government was able to get the Cabinet Office, FCO, DFID, Home Office and the MOD to all work together to conduct the planning and implementation of disaster response. Not only do all of these organisations have their own quirks and rank structure, but they also all vie for funding from the Treasury on a regular basis and thus it would be understandable if teamwork was not in their nature. Yet these military and civil offices worked rapidly and efficiently to oversee the Operation. One great example was from DFID. “It had to work with charities to identify what emergency response was needed, to pull coherent asks together and get the supplies ready to move and sort out a £32 million shopping list of items required to get moving…[all of this] happened in 72 hours.”[1] Even the 72hr waiting couple, mentioned previously, were found and rescued in 72 hours. The FCO were able to realise there were British citizens there, track them down, notify a local responder and rescue them from a country which has essentially been damaged by something with the strength of a nuclear bomb, in 72 hours.

 Whilst not a perfect case study by any stretch of the imagination, the initial preparation and response is a great example on how effective disaster response is done. For those of us interested in the relationship between the military and civil government, it further provides a clear example of how impressive a well oiled civil service at work is.


 There should always be analysis of the response of a government to an out-of-the-blue situation such as a natural disaster. Holding such actions to account is equally important and is clearly in the purview of the media. However, these recent news cycles highlight that sometimes the media does get it wrong. Judgements are given without context and headlines are formulated in a ‘click-bait’ish manner (such as the 72hr couple). This is somewhat excusable as they’re not expected to generate military, political and civil experts on the matter. But it can still be avoided. What is not excusable is the politicisation of such things. Many an MP has already taken to Twitter and question PM’s time to deliver a ‘stinging rebuke’ to the ‘inadequacy’ of the government’s handling of the situation. This is truly inexcusable. It offers further fuel to the media fire and galvanises and misinforms their followers on twitter, deepening divides along party lines or ideology. More importantly, it begins to offer confirmation bias to misinformed pundits.

 It was with this in mind that I hoped to at least offer the facts, the context and then my own opinion on the topic. Even if my opinion is wrong, I hope that my offering of the facts and context allows you to develop your own opinions which you can at least claim are informed by evidence.


[1] https://thinpinstripedline.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/is-uk-still-failing-in-west-indies-part.html – Thin Pinstriped line – ‘Is the UK still failing in the West Indies (Part Two) – summarised perfectly.

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What Interventionists get wrong about Venezuela

Venezuela IR Today Photo

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

The ongoing crisis in Venezuela has received mass media attention across the West, particularly in the United States (US). The crisis began following a Supreme Court attempt in March to dissolve the legislative branch and the subsequent protests against this decision. This event is seen as the origin of the crisis, with the death toll for the following five months amounting to around 130 people. The death toll, human rights violations, and lack of access to basic commodities has caused outcry from countries in the Americas and Europe and supranational organizations like the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN). Some human rights advocates have even gone so far as to call for humanitarian intervention, or for the UN to invoke Responsibility to Protect (R2P). US President Donald Trump, in particular, has not shied away from the possibility of military intervention, even while others in the administration show a level of caution. This brash language shows a misunderstanding of R2P, a misunderstanding of the crisis and of the political landscape in Venezuela.


R2P relies on three pillars, the first being that the state holds the primary responsibility to protect its population from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. For pillars two or three to be fulfilled, one of these crimes would have to be occurring. Analyzing these four atrocities, it is clear that the violence in Venezuela has not reached the threshold to move past the first pillar. War crimes require the state to be in a time of war, which Venezuela is not. Acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing both require the targeting of a specific population, with ethnic cleansing specifically requiring the targeting of an ethnic or religious group, which has not been documented in Venezuela. While some may argue that a particular political group is under threat, political affiliation or orientation is not a ‘protected’ status under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The only crime which R2P advocates may utilize as evidence of a breach of Pillar One, then, is crimes against humanity, but crimes against humanity have a less established definition than the three other crimes. To prove that crimes against humanity should not be the defining term used for the violence in the Venezuelan crisis, it is important to understand the cases where it already has been used.

Officials have been prosecuted for crimes against humanity in multiple trials, starting with the infamous Nuremburg Trials. The definition of the crimes has shifted over time, particularly following the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and has therein reached a broad definition under customary international law. Crimes against humanity span murder, rape, enslavement, imprisonment, disappearance, persecution, and other heinous crimes. The requirement that has been repeated across all three trials was that the crimes were systematic and widespread. This is the main problem with defining the violence, specifically state-led violence, as crimes against humanity. While murder, disappearance, and imprisonment have all been utilized by the Venezuelan government, these crimes have not occurred in the past five months at a widespread level. The 130 deaths include pro-government protesters and police officers, not only counter protesters killed by their government. Although the majority of the deaths are citizens, it does not constitute a level that could be conceived as widespread. Given the bulk of killings committed yearly by government forces across the globe, particularly in this region, it seems odd for Venezuela to be such an outstanding case of crimes that it merits intervention. While this should not be a case of what-about-ism, finite resources should bring into question which countries are worth intervening in and where the largest human rights abuses are occurring. Is Venezuela the worst current global humanitarian crisis?

It is important to note that the lack of existence of crimes against humanity does not make these deaths any more bearable by the deads’ loved ones or by the citizens of Venezuela. Criticism and protest of this government should be expected when governmental use of force is excessive and violence fills the streets. What it does show, instead, is that these murders do not constitute any crime that R2P is based upon. Intervention based on R2P, therefore, seems a moot point.

Some sources have seen evidence of widespread and systematic violations of human rights. For instance, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein lambasted the Maduro regime with accusations of torture, arbitrary detention, and the responsibility of at least 70 murders during the crisis.

Yet even if the international community were to decide that there is proof of crimes against humanity in Venezuela, collective use of force would be unlikely to succeed—the general crime rate, separate from the government’s crackdown, has skyrocketed over the last two years, making it difficult for forces to adequately enforce a peace between the government and its citizens. Indeed, Caracas was named the most violent city in the world outside of a warzone in both 2015 and 2016. The inability to predict a successful intervention should cause pause for those advocating intervention as a stoppage to the violence.

US Intervention in Latin America

While the US is unlikely to intervene in Venezuela unilaterally, the history of US intervention in Latin America does not bode well for a positive response to intervention by the Venezuelan public or by other countries in the region. Since the US sits on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as one of the permanent five (P5) members, the US would explicitly vote in favor or against military action in Venezuela, most likely voting in favor. This would send a clear message to US allies and non-allies alike in the region that the US is not done meddling in regional affairs. For context: the US has supported, financially, militarily, and with clandestine intelligence, paramilitary groups and governments that have been accused and, in specific cases, convicted of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial murders, massacres, and political persecution. This includes, but is not limited to, the Dirty Wars under Argentina’s military regime, the murderous Pinochet regime in Chile, the genocidal military counterinsurgency mission in the Guatemalan Civil War, and countless other exposed covert operations. This pattern has made Latin American governments, particularly Leftist ones, hostile to US involvement in their countries.

On the 13th of August US Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the region to meet with Latin American leaders. President Trump’s commentary on intervention in Venezuela loomed large. The response could not be clearer. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a regional ally, candidly said:

“Since friends have to tell them the truth, I’ve told Vice President Pence the possibility of military intervention shouldn’t even be considered. The Latin American continent, every country in Latin America, would not favor any form of military intervention and that is why we are saying we are intent on looking into other measures some of which are already underway and others to be implemented in the future.”

A US-associated intervention would begin at a deficit in popularity with the local population and regional governments, making the future for peace even more arduous. The current administration’s stance on the crisis is unlikely to create any real change, either.

Divisive Venezuelan Society

One of the main barriers to understanding the crisis is the current narrative, which propagates a bifurcated choice between the Maduro regime and the innocent population. The Maduro regime has made steps to consolidate power socially and politically. It has shut down independent press organizations, most recently two Colombian news channels, and with its newly founded Constituent Assembly has begun stripping the Opposition-controlled legislature of its powers. Earlier this month, Mercosur suspended Venezuela indefinitely on charges of breaching democratic norms and the deepening crisis. The ongoing food and medicine shortages have caused crises within hospitals and multi-hour queues at state-run grocery stores. Basic commodities, like bread, are difficult to find. Corruption charges continue. Neighboring countries Colombia and Brazil have seen large migration flows, Colombia seeing hundreds of thousands in the last two years.

And yet three million people still voted in the constituent assembly election for pro-regime candidates. A lack of support for Maduro is not a lack of support for socialism, nor a condemnation of Chavismo. This is the main sticking point. Much like young Cubans fleeing Cuba in search of opportunities in the US, the majority of Venezuelans are not fleeing oppression but rather fleeing hunger. The lack of food and the radical levels of inflation, leaving the bolivar worthless, are the primary reasons for migration and discontent. As Opposition lawmaker Gaby Arrellano has recognized, missteps by the political class, both Left and Right, has not given the Venezuelan population much choice.

While the Opposition gained a majority in the legislative branch in 2016, the first time in 16 years, it was swept in on anti-regime sentiments, not necessarily pro-Opposition ones. This distinction means that an intervention that would replace the Maduro regime with an Opposition controlled regime would not be inherently more popular. The Opposition has not stayed fully unified throughout the crisis, either: the group fractured over whether to take part in the constituent assembly. In the end, they held their own unofficial plebiscite, but still did not take part in the Constituent Assembly. The ongoing political crisis is not simply a difference between the Maduro regime and the Opposition’s governing decisions.


The crisis in Venezuela has not bettered through the battering of the Venezuelan economy. The Maduro regime has only further dug in its heels, making cries of US imperialism and threats to Venezuela’s sovereignty to the public. An intervention that seems almost inherently based in regime change would not be welcome by the Venezuelan population nor by countries in the region. The focus should be on mitigating widespread suffering, primarily on medical cases and cases of starvation.

The Venezuelan-Colombian border is already very porous. While the Maduro regime will not accept aid from the United States nor make any major economic shifts, regional leaders and the UN could assist by creating food banks on the Colombian side of the border so that Venezuelans could have access to necessary goods without paying for them. Furthermore, medical camps in neighboring countries could also begin to help the sick. Concerns of the expanding crisis could be further mitigated by financially supporting neighboring states so they are better able to handle the influx of Venezuelans looking to temporarily migrate or access the market.

The upcoming October election should also be a focal point: the UN and regional leaders should look to negotiate with the Venezuelan government so as to support a free and open election that could see the possibility of peaceful and democratic regime change. There is much more that can be done to support those suffering from the crisis without the cost of intervention.


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Is Trump’s Afghan strategy going to work?: Evaluating its perks and pitfalls


by Derek Eggleston, a third year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London, focusing on US. Foreign Policy

With the Mueller investigation and outrage over the lackluster response to Charlottesville hanging over the President’s approval ratings like the sword of Damocles, last Monday, Trump decided to try something new: behaving like a President. Around 9 PM E.D.T the President rolled out a guiding path (dare I say strategy?) for how his Administration will be dealing with the nearly 16-year ongoing American military presence in Afghanistan.

The speech Trump gave represented a new thing for the President, the prioritization of the opinion of experts above his gut instinct. This was apparent, implicitly, with his meetings at Camp David the previous weekend as well as explicitly mentioned in the speech. His campaign rhetoric of pulling out as quickly as possible is no longer a legitimate reality for Trump who is operating under a continued U.S. strategy that maintains leaving a void for extremism and terrorism to breed is an unacceptable outcome. But as to the specifics of his strategy, what do they represent? Will they work? This article will take a cursory glance at some key elements of the Trump Administration’s South Asian strategy and conclude with the implications of these findings and how they should be engaged.

A first facet of Trump’s strategy is that “Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on”. From a military perspective, this is a sound statement. Time and time again, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) progress on the ground has been stifled due to the unpopularity of conflict at home. A good case study of this is the Moshtarak Campaign, whose efficacy amongst the British-led incursion into Nad-e-Ali was blocked due to domestic uproar over the disproportionately televised coverage of the failures of the American-led incursion into Marjah. American domestic opinion (fresh with memories of failed conflagrations in the Middle East) is a concrete barrier to tactical advancement on the ground, so Trump’s willingness to not allow it to dictate terms has the potential for success. However, this success is not guaranteed. Despite indicating the U.S. will use its economic, diplomatic, and military apparatus to have a cohesive focus on achieving strategic outcomes in South Asia, he also indicated we are there to ‘kill terrorists’ and not nation-build. The question which naturally follows is how Trump defines nation-building. Does he make the common mistake of conflating nation and state building or will the two be differentiated? This is an important question to ask, does this include development of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) as well as domestic services such as the Afghan National Police (ANP)? Whilst their advancement has not gone perfectly and significant issues such as desertion and drug abuse remain, ISAF’s willingness to work towards their development and build the state security apparatus has been one of the few things essential to a successful future. Trump wants the U.S. to stay the course and not leave a vacuum, to do so requires necessary state building and development which one would hope is certainly present in Trump’s strategy despite a desire to not involve the United States in nation building. These concerns only deal with the military side as well. It is safe to say using these conditions rather than public opinion deciding foreign policy will certainly mean heavy opposition to Trump domestically who will see prolonged presence, regardless of situations on the ground, as nothing more than the bellicose markings of a hawkish President. He will have to address these concerns domestically.

A second key pillar made very apparent in his speech was ambiguity. The days of America announcing dates and numbers are no more under his Administration. Whilst the number argument could go either way, as one could argue releasing the numbers can be used to intimidate the enemy, his refusal to announce dates does represent an improvement upon existing U.S. actions in the area. Obama infamously announced the U.S. surge in Afghanistan, but in doing so added time constraints, indicating the U.S. would begin their withdrawal in 18 months. Although the withdrawal was eventually slowed down towards the end of his second term, such a statute of limitations handed a clear strategy to the enemy: leave the country, go hide in the FATA or Balochistan, then return in 18 months once troop presence has gone down. Obama made a conscious choice to please his Democratic base with a promise of a specified pull out, ultimately to the detriment of tactical success. He would later have to reverse his position, which left his game of balancing domestic support and tactical success a house of cards in which he could sustain neither. The ambiguity of American presence is one of the more legitimate aspects of Trump’s new strategy.

A final key point in the speech was how Afghanistan played into a broader South Asian strategy, particularly how the role of Pakistan and India would be innately linked with America’s goals in Afghanistan. As for Pakistan, Trump’s strategy leaves a lot to be desired. Despite being an official partner of the U.S., Pakistan’s complacency in a strong terrorist presence in both its own country and Afghanistan has put it at odds with the West. Trump has thrown out the carrot and sharpened the stick to coerce Pakistan into falling in line. However, this is nothing more than asking Pakistan to work against its own strategic interest. Instability breeds anti-Western and Indian terrorism, both of which the Pakistani Government (dominated heavily by the security apparatus) has long tacitly supported. The stabilization of Afghanistan into a stronger state integrated into South Asia both politically and economically has long been India’s goal. The realization of such a state, which would likely be more sympathetic to India who is fostering such an end, would place Pakistan in a pincer grip between India and a state sympathetic towards India. It does not take expertise to realize this is not a strategic end Pakistan will support. Furthermore, Trump does not have expendable amounts of leverage in coercing Pakistan to accept such an undesirable outcome. Pakistani reliance on American aid has reduced significantly in recent years, and Chinese investment provides a crutch for Pakistan to fall on should the demands of the U.S. become unbearable. In Pakistan, Trump is pushing for the government to work against its own interest, and he has reduced leverage to force them to do so. It will certainly take a deal-maker as good as Trump thinks he is in order to sort out the complications of this request.

All in all, the President’s speech left a lot to be desired. Many of the particulars need to be worked out, and the strategy remains unclear and its success remains dubious. In the end, he will probably make similar mistakes to his two predecessors, who made the mistake of straddling between commitment to tactical success on the ground, and maintaining enough distance to placate Americans. Without a clear end goal, military presence will continue with neither enough will to fully withdraw nor enough to truly commit the massive resources that would truly be required to effectively eliminate the Taliban from the region. However, an attempt at a coherent foreign policy strategy is a remarkable improvement from equivocating neo-Nazis and people who do not like neo-Nazis. But then again, Trump is the President of the United States and should not be given kudos or points just simply for acting like a President and doing the bare minimum. There is also an onus on civil society to proactively engage with his strategy. Rather than being weighed down in analysis discussing whether or not the strategy is a distraction tool to shift focus from domestic failures, there is a necessity to engage the strategy critically and examine its efficacy in such a hostile region. As an American, I hope for the best, but in the end there is still a long list of people I would rather handle our geostrategic conflicts and interests in South Asia than Donald Trump.

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Equality – irrespective of sexual orientation. A privilege of the developed world?


By Lukas Jansen, a second year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London.

On the 29th July 2017, 43 men were arrested and charged for homosexuality in Lagos, Nigeria. This is one of the latest events which shows the institutionalized anti-gay resentment in Africa. This is the continent where most countries criminalize homosexuality [1]. In 2014, Uganda signed into law the ‘Anti-Homosexuality Act’, which condemns homosexuals to life in prison if caught for ‘aggravated homosexuality. [2]’ However, there are exceptions such as South Africa, which has legalized it. Uganda is ranked 151st on the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International[3] and one of the poorest economies in the world, while South Africa is 64th[4] on the index and was ranked as an upper-middle income economy by the World Bank.[5] One may wonder if there is a relation between economic development and the acceptance of gay rights. Interestingly, it has been found that there is indeed such a relation. Different school of thoughts have been debating how that causality can exist. And this brings us to the question, whether gay rights should be at the forefront of national agendas or if, in the first place, political and financial elements should be considered in order to bring about change.

The two schools of thoughts, this article will be inspired by, are the post-materialistic values approach and the human capita approach, which contrast in their view of minority rights.[6]

The former states that political and financial development leads to a long term increase of minority rights as the economy. Having guaranteed survival of its individuals with the help of its economic development one can focus on other matters such as minority rights and the expression of individuality

The example of South Africa may be summoned as the expression of this theory. The Apartheid government used a sexual discrimination policy in order to further ground its racial discrimination so that the ‘white nation’ be ‘sexually and morally pure’. [7]  Thus some lesbian and gays group also joined the fight against Apartheid and lobbied the African National Congress (ANC) in order to include rights for gays in the newly established constitution. Consequently, in 1992, the ANC officially recognized gay and lesbian rights.[8] Thus this may be a clear example of minority rights being attained through the development of political rights leading to the post-apartheid period.

While South Africa may be summoned as a successful expression of Inglehart’s theory, it may also be argued that the Apartheid movement was quite unique for its time and was made into a world problem through the internationalization of the issue. Certainly, some ANC leaders who were critical of the gay rights movement, met protest from the international anti-Apartheid movement, which may also have contributed to the acceptance of the gay right movement within the ANC[9].  Thus it may be argued that the international involvement in the rights issue led to its acceptance rather than the sole political development of the country.

In contrast, the “human capital theory” states that human capital (a collection of traits of an individual which gives its economic value) gains from adopting minority rights first[10]. Thus, an individual which will feel completely at ease within society will expand his opportunity to broaden his human capital through increased access to health or education. Meanwhile, the individual will be more productive as a labor force as it will work in an environment where he will not fear any discrimination. When considering all  individuals who will gain from the institution of gay rights its cumulated aggregate of human capital will be a pushing force for the economy and will lead to an increase of the economy on the macro-level. [11]

In 2016, businesses all around the world came together to make a stance for LGBT inclusion, making the case that LGBT rights were better for the economic growth of the state[12]. While the study is business-biased, it still shows how the institutionalization of gay rights may lead to an increase in trust from major companies, which will have less hesitation to invest in a gay friendly country, boosting the respective country’s economy.

However, the interest of major groups may go against the collective sentiment of the respecting society. Developing societies are faced with a large part of the population having religious faith. Most developing Islamic countries condemn homosexuality with heavy sentences and sometimes death penalties such as Nigeria or Mauritania[13], while local Imams may not often accept of gay rights. Meanwhile Christian missionaries in Africa, such as the American activist Scott Lively[14], who is outspokenly anti-LGBT, also try to shift the balance on the continent to be critical of gay rights. Religious faith having a major influence, unpopular measures may lead to a further decrease in state authority, which developing countries, who do not have the same power of centralization and fiscalisation as their European counterparts, already try to get to grips with.

Adding to the religious element of developing societies, the belief that giving in to gay rights is a form of new colonialism coming from the West. A speech by president Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe in 2000 may be considered an expression of this: ‘We have our own culture, and we must re-dedicate ourselves to our traditional values that make us human beings. … What we are being persuaded to accept is sub-animal behavior and we will never allow it here’[15]. The belief that accepting homosexuality is giving in to the West may also lead to a difficult acceptance of gay rights by people, and comes as an addition to the religious factor.

Consequently, one can argue that in the case of Africa, political and financial measures should be taken first in order to boost economic growth, which in turn will lead to a higher acceptance of gay rights. While major businesses may be interested in investing in gay friendly countries, the backlash for policymakers may not be worth the cost as they are faced with an increasing religious population which does not trust government and gets under influences. Indeed, accepting gay rights may be a positive sign for the economic wealth of a country in the long run but the political short term might be destructive for the power in place. Furthermore, Africa being faced with a very unstable political climate, the institutionalization of gay rights may be used against its nations’ leaders by other political groups.



[1] http://ilga.org/downloads/07_THE_ILGA_RIWI_2016_GLOBAL_ATTITUDES_SURVEY_ON_LGBTI_PEOPLE.pdf

[2] http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/24/world/africa/uganda-anti-gay-bill

[3] https://www.transparency.org/country/UGA#

[4] https://www.transparency.org/country/ZAF

[5] http://data.worldbank.org/country/south-africa

[6] M.V. Lee Badgett, Sheila Nezhad, Kees Waaldijk, Yana van der Meulen Rodgers; The Relationship between LGBT Inclusion and Economic Development: An Analysis of Emerging Economies (Los Angeles: The William Institute, UCLA School of Law)

[7] Gustavo Gomes da Costa Santos, Decriminalising homosexuality in Africa: lessons from the South African experience Chapter 11, pp. 313–37 of Corinne Lennox & Matthew Waites (eds.) (2013) Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in The Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change (London: School of Advanced Study, University of London).

[8] Gustavo Gomes da Costa Santos, ibid

[9] Gustavo Gomes da Costa Santos, ibid

[10] M.V. Lee Badgett, ibid

[11] M.V. Lee Badgett, ibid

[12] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lgbt-rights-open-for-business-coalition_us_56d07514e4b0871f60eb199d

[13] https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/gay-rights/

[14] https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/scott-lively

[15] https://southernafrican.news/2014/03/20/africa-rejects-cultural-imperialism/












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