Tag Archives: security

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Cold Waters: The Return of North Sea Dangers

north sea 1

William Reynolds is a 3rd Year War Studies undergraduate. He is interested in maritime history and security and is currently researching a dissertation on the role of the Royal Navy for British policy in the 1970s. Will has worked for the Centre of Military Ethics as a Kings Research Fellow, is currently a researcher for the Kings Middle East North Africa Forum and is head of Operations for the Kings Crisis Team 2017/18.


It is safe to say that those working in defence and foreign policy have had much to concern themselves with when it comes to the actions of Russia. The resurgence of an assertive Russian foreign policy, both in Europe and the Middle East, has caught NATO officials scrambling and politicians worrying over future prospects. Both news outlets and pundits claim a second Cold War is on the horizon, yet despite all this focus on the Eastern ‘Front’ and the proxy warring in the Middle East, very few have focused upon the North Sea.

                 This radically changed, at least in the UK, in December of this year where the annual RUSI CDS (Chief of the Defence Staff) talk focused heavily upon these Northern waters.[1] With defence cuts on the horizon, whichever threat the CDS decided to focus on could reasonably be inferred to be the primary security concern of the UK for upcoming years. This was then further supplemented on Christmas and Boxing Day where British tabloid newspapers and the BBC itself focused on a ‘recent upsurge’ of Russian naval activity transiting through waters of interest to the UK.[2] It is with this in mind that this short piece hopes to layout the history of this area, the return of Russia and how this may factor into the security calculation of not only the United Kingdom but Europe as a whole.

The Cold War

For many, the Cold War inspires images of spies, the Berlin Wall and ICBMs sitting in their silos. However, popular culture, thanks very much in part to Tom Clancy’s Hunt for the Red October, has further given the role of submarines a place in Cold War History. To a degree, there is truth in this. Soviet submarine technology initially was superior to the Allies thanks to their patronage of ex-German engineers and the capture of much material alluding to the manufacturing of subsurface vehicles which, and as a result, were used to a large extent by both the Soviets and the West playing catch up.

                It is for this reason that the North Sea played such a crucial role for NATO. In order for Soviet submarines, of all types be it diesel hunter-killer to nuclear ballistic-missile submarines, to prosecute both their peacetime and possible war times objectives, they would have to get out into the open Atlantic. Thus NATO strategy focused on bottlenecking them in through a series of Chokepoints ranging from Japan to the Dardanelles and Gibraltar to the GIUK (Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom) Gap.

  noth sea

                                              The GIUK Gap

With this in mind, the North Sea, during the Cold War, became the domain of nuclear submarines, carrier battle groups and naval diplomacy in its sharpest form, that being literally chasing your opponent out of an area of interest.

The Return of Russia

This history lesson is all very well and good, but what is the point of it? Whilst much focus has been placed on the Baltics, Crimea, the Ukraine and Russian activity in Syria, the British public rarely looks at actions in the UKs own ‘back yard’, the North Sea. This could be for a variety of reasons; inherent British belief in maritime superiority, the concept of Russia being a cause for concern ‘over there’, and many others. This piece isn’t attempting to deduce that. What is clear, is that Russia is returning to its old playing field.

                First one must look at the politics of the navy. The Russian navy has never been the centre of its military policies. Even under Admiral Gorshkov, a pioneer in Soviet strategy and quite frankly the father of the powerful Soviet Navy of the 80’s, the Red Army remained the centre of attention. Yet, in the State Armaments Programme (Gosudarstvennnia Programma Vooruzheniia – GPV) of 2011 – 2020, the Navy received the largest share of the defence budget (25%).[3] What is more surprising is the political ‘affection’ for the surface fleet. Both Vladmir Putin and Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev have lauded the Navy consistently. However, the Russian Navy’s strength has always lied in its submarine force. Gorshkov tailor made the Soviet Navy of the 70’s and 80’s to directly counter the superior US Carrier Task Forces through asymmetric warfare. He did this through submarines, not vulnerable surface units.

 north sea 1

  The Pyotr Velikiy being escorted through the Channel by HMS Northumberland

However, surface units provide something which submarines do not. Visible power. As of mid-2017, the Russian Navy possesses six large surface vessels. The Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the nuclear-powered Battlecruisers Pyotr Velikiy and Admiral Nakhimov, and three Slava-class Cruisers.[4] These may be Soviet legacy vessels, but they are all still capable of projecting power in a blue-water environment. The deployment of the Admiral Kuznetsov to Syria was not a necessary requirement, yet it was done so anyway. The ship itself was a clear statement of Russian intent in Syria. After all, the US Nimitz-class Carriers and Arleigh-Burke-class Destroyers are products of the later Cold War also and yet they remain the backbone of the United States Navy.

The North Sea has indeed seen increased activity. As mentioned previously, the Royal Navy was forced to escort and keep tabs on four separate Russian ships, one a combatant and one an intelligence gathering vessel, within the space of two days.[5] Furthermore, it is not only the Russian surface fleet that is beginning to make more of an appearance. On the 22nd December US Navy Rear Admiral Andrew Lennon, commander of NATO’s submarine forces, stated We are now seeing Russian underwater activity in the vicinity of undersea cables that I don’t believe we have ever seen.”[6]. Indeed the activity has caused NATO to reopen a command centre to reinforce SACLANT (Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic) which further infers the amount of activity being witnessed. NATO would not simply reopen a station on a whim.

A New Threat?

So Russia has returned to the North Sea. Is it a credible threat? The CDS of the United Kingdom, Sir Stuart Peach, seems to believe so. In his RUSI speech not only did he bring up the threat of Russian maritime actions in the North Sea, but focused upon the idea of underwater cables. These cables control the flow of information. To use a piece of maritime strategic thought, these cables are the new ‘lines of communication’. Whereas this use to mean the travel routes of convoys and shipping, it now quite literally means lines of cables running through the seabed.

north sea 3

A map of submarine cables in Northen Europe

Just looking at the above map one can see that the majority of submarine cables run from the British Isles across the Atlantic. There is much said the of the UK being the ‘Trans-Atlantic bridge’ between Europe and the US. Politically that may be doubtful. But it is quite clear that for communication purposes, the British Isles is vital.

                Just one counterfactual secenario of a submarine ‘cutting’ one of these cables could throw the economy into jepordy. This would then have a knock on effect for the rest of the region, as the communications reliant London stock exchange, would inevidbly tank as a result. As Sir Peach put it,

“Can you imagine a scenario where those cables are cut or disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living if they were disrupted?”[7]

However, whilst this threat is indeed very real, one must holistically analyse the Russians capability. The increased funding of the Russian Navy may not see the advent of more Russian ships on the high-seas. Russia no longer has the workforce or facilities to construct vessels of higher tonnage than a Frigate. Much of that, during the Cold War, came from the Ukraine.[8] Thus the large Cruisers, Battlecruisers and Carrier of the Russian Navy will not see a replacement anytime soon.

Furthermore, whilst Russian shipbuilding capabilites has retained the full capacity to construct submarines of all types, cost is becoming an issue. Sanctions, falling oil princes and the like will increasingly put pressure on shipbuilding. There is a strong import dependance on EU and NATO states for items vital to this sort of work. One figure places machine tool parts at 88% imported from said states and that was only in the domestic sphere.[9] Thus NATO will not have to contend with a Gorshkov level of rearmament for the time being.


The Russians as of now do not posess the capabilites of their Soviet past. However, as we have seen in the Ukraine, Crimea and Syria, they are willing to forgo conventional means of warfare and adopt an asymetric style unique to their own needs. We will not see the large behmoths of the 80’s continuing to stalk the Northen passages. But if all it takes is a single submarine, cutting several cables to cause, NATO should heavily reconsider its policy of Anti-Submarine Warfare in the North Sea. This piece was not meant to gauge whether the Russians would actually commit such an attack, but rather highlight that despite seeming distance between the Western states and the Red Army, all it could take is a single maritime asset to critically injure the alliance and the EU.



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

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

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

[4] Ibid

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

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

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

[8]https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Julian_Cooper2/publication/299338379_Russia%27s_state_armament_programme_to_2020_a_quantitative_assessment_of_implementation_2011-2015_FOI_Report/links/56f11db508aecad0f31f235d/Russias-state-armament-programme-to-2020-a-quantitative-assessment-of-implementation-2011-2015-FOI-Report.pdf – Russia’s state armament programme to 2020: a quantitative assessment of implementation 2011–2015, Julian. S Cooper (FOI: March 2016), pp. 49 – 50.

[9] Ibid, p. 38.

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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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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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The anatomy of TERROR


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why ISIS will not succeed in Afghanistan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Picture credit: Link: https://southfront.org/vilayat-khorasan-isis-takes-over-afghanistan/

1 = Jones, Seth G. “Expanding the Caliphate: ISIS’ South Asia Strategy.” Foreign Affairs. 11 June 2015. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2015-06-11/expanding-caliphate

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

3 = Barr, Nathaniel and Bridget Moreng. “The Graveyard of Caliphates.” Foreign Affairs. 13 January 2016. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2016-01-13/graveyardcaliphates

4 = “ISIS increasing recruitment from Pakistan, Afghanistan: US.” Financial Express. 24 March 2017. http://www.financialexpress.com/world-news/isis-increasing-recruitment-from-pakistanafghanistan-us/600632/

5 = “IS in Afghanistan: How successful has the group been?” BBC. 25 February 2017. http:// http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39031000

6 = Gidda, Mirren. “Why ISIS is Failing to Build a Caliphate in Afghanistan.” Newsweek. 25 March 2017. http://www.newsweek.com/afghanistan-isis-taliban-caliphate-kabulbombing



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Are they MAD to deploy THAAD?


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

East Asia has seen a significant deployment of military hardware by the US and its allies in response to increasing military activity on the part of the Chinese. The deployment of Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) systems in South Korea and the planned deployment of the Japanese Izumo class Helicopter Destroyer in disputed regions have certainly raised the ire of the Chinese. Whilst one could speculate what the Chinese response to such activities will be, this piece will simply focus on why said deployments have taken place, and what about them has provoked the PRC.


THAAD is one of the most modern Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) systems available to the US in the short to intermediate ranges. The system operates by destroying an incoming missile via the kinetic energy of its own missile system. However, the drawback to the device is that it can only target the incoming weapon system once it is in its terminal phase of the flight. Essentially, the incoming missile is on its final approach when THAAD is finally able to identify, lock on and attempt to destroy the target.


Therefore, its deployment in South Korea (it should be operational by April according to PACOM sources) is clearly a result of North Korean missile testing. Assuming Mr Kim finally decided to watch the peninsula burn, THAAD would operate as South Korea’s very best hope of knocking out any incoming North Korean nukes.

So with THAAD only able to knock out intermediate missiles, and therefore unable to touch China’s ICBM’s, why does China view the deployment as a threat? There are two possible theories at this time. The X-band radar, which tracks targets for THAAD, is a powerful piece of kit. If it were to be turned westwards and pointed at Mainland China it could penetrate deep into Chinese territory. Naturally China is not particularly keen on US SIGINT monitoring Chinese airspace, where their own missile tests could be at risk. However, this assumes that the radar will be pointed that way. As the diagram highlights, pointing X-band westwards completely neutralises its primary task of watching North Korea for possible threats. It would be easier for USPACOM (United States Pacific Command) to deploy submarines or additional ISTAR (Information, Surveillance, Targeting Acquisition, and Reconnaissance) assets to watch the Chinese rather than waste expensive BMD systems on simple surveillance.


The second, and far more likely, possibility is Chinese fear of containment. China has always viewed the Korean peninsula a vital security interest and the threat of a US, RoK and Japanese integrated missile defence system is intolerable. Regional missile defence complicates much of China’s military planning and security interests as THAAD operates as an area denial system for much of China’s hardware. A common phrase in any military is ‘move to live’. Area denial weapons hamper and restrict options for the Chinese military if the region did indeed come to blows. Just as NATO worries about the A2/AD (Anti-Access/Area Denial) systems in Kaliningrad, so does China worry about such systems on the Korean Peninsula.

This fear of containment influences much of China’s actions in the region. If one were to stand in Beijing, they would see the RoK and Japan to the East, Taiwan to the south and an increasingly US friendly Vietnam to the southwest. Whilst none of these countries operate as one single unit, the real possibility that these states, with US backing, could act to prevent Chinese movement clearly permeates Chinese policy. THAAD, as of this time, cannot be deployed on such a regional scale under one system. However, technology improves and the Americans have become quite adept at innovation when it comes to war.

This is not to say that China is justified in its opposition. Unable or unwilling to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, China has little right to interfere in the sovereign security decisions of the RoK. Indeed, it was China’s own policies that brought THAAD closer to the RoK. One cannot also help but view said opposition to a Korean BMD as hypocritical. After all, China is developing its own BMD system.

The Izumo

The JS Izumo represented a significant maritime development for the JMSDF (Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force). In the same class as the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Invincible, the ‘helicopter destroyer’ Izumo allows Japan to project power with both its helicopter detachment and on-board marines. Indeed, the designation ‘helicopter destroyer’ (DDH) is a somewhat new concept. Most destroyers in fleets around the world have the capacity to house one or two helicopters in order to conduct anti-submarine warfare or stop and searches. However, no known destroyers have the capacity to house such a vast quantity of aircraft. It is simply safer to ditch the political narrative and refer to the Izumo as what it truly is: a light aircraft carrier.

It is this designation that concerns China. Aircraft carriers are the offensive weapons of the fleet. Able to deploy air assets over large areas, carriers can project the power of its nation right into your city. Even if they have no airbases nearby. Thus, the deployment of one into the South China Sea, where Japan has no stakes or claims, is a worrying turn of events for China. Officially, the deployment is to test the ship on long duration operations. But it’s list of visits: Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, infer a different story. One could argue that this is a statement from the Japanese. That they are willing to leave their own waters and interests in order to support other Asian states in their quarrels. With the Izumo, they now have the capacity to do so.



China’s concerns with recent military activity are indeed justifiable. The deployment of THAAD and the Izumo show a significant jump in the ‘West’ orientated states security policies and manoeuvring. However, what China fails to realise is that it was through its own actions that such policies were brought about. A muscular belligerence concerning the ‘Nine-Dash’ line and the Senkaku Islands has forced states to respond in kind. To many it may be viewed as the US asserting its hegemony in what should clearly be China’s region. However, China has failed to pick its fights well and has done more to unite the East-Asian states than anything the US could come up with. With President Trump we cannot be sure what US policy will continue to be. But Japan, and many other states in the region, has taken up the baton. We may very well see a more assertive collection of East Asian states on the horizon.





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A violent peace: El Salvador 25 years on


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

El Salvador, a state of little more than 6 million people, often falls below the radar in the 21st century. However, 25 years ago, El Salvador was ending a 12-year civil war that had ushered it into a violent Cold War paradigm and brought global media attention along with it. Today, El Salvador is the battleground for deadly gang warfare and a hardened state presence. While the peace deal of 1992 ensured an end to the conflict, Salvadorans have not been able to cultivate a peaceful society. In 2015, San Salvador hosted the third highest murder rate in the world: with its population hovering around 1.7 million, almost a third of all Salvadorans have been forced to make this a part of their daily lives. The peace deal failed to create a peaceful state due to an inability to remedy the conflict’s roots of inequality and injustice, failure to persecute military members following the deal, and a failure to address the trauma experienced by local communities. Along with a lack of political will, El Salvador has faced the same abject poverty as its neighbor states and extreme levels of emigration towards the United States (US), leading to an excess in crime rates.

The civil war was fought between the Government of El Salvador and Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), but its roots lay much further back in El Salvador’s history. Like most of Latin America, Spain dominated El Salvador for over 300 years until its full independence in 1838. This laid down a system built around natural goods such as indigo and sugarcane and the need for a peasant population to farm it. Following independence, as in the colonial period, a group of elites held almost all of the wealth in the country. In the 19th century, they amassed control of the economy through the farming of a new crop: coffee. Economic disparity grew and in the 20th century, peasant revolts became increasingly common, leading to brutal crackdowns by the government. As El Salvador swung from one military dictatorship to the next and social mobility stayed practically impossible, the growth of leftist guerrilla movements was expected. Like in neighboring states Nicaragua and Guatemala, the 1970s and 1980s became ground zero for revolutionary politics.

El Salvador’s civil war lasted from 1980 to 1992, leaving over 75,000 people dead and thousands more displaced from their homes. It was notorious for death squads, the use of child soldiers, and various other human rights violations. Thousands had fled to neighboring countries, chief among them the United States. The US, who had backed the Salvadoran government during the war, would play a key part in both the peace deal and its ensuing breakdown. Following the 1989 Jesuit massacre, and the US no longer supplying the government with weapons but rather calling for an end to the conflict, the government and FMLN brokered a peace deal. Although the peace deal succeeded in ending the violent civil war and incorporating FMLN into the political system, economic goals of the peace agreement were less successful. Along with this, a lack of funding for government programs reincorporating child soldiers or supporting communities most affected by the atrocities kept areas from healing.

Within the peace accord, several agreements have been breached or not followed closely— Chapter 1, Armed Forces, facing the most challenges. Point 5, End to Impunity, gave the Commission on the Truth power to end impunity for armed actors involved in human rights abuses. However, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly passed an amnesty law that protected all military and guerrilla forces from prosecution in 1993, undercutting the Commission on the Truth, leaving many victims without anyone to hold to account. To this end, the entrance of the FMLN into the president’s office in 2009 led to the removal of the blanket amnesty law, yet still few cases have been prosecuted. Now, at the 25th anniversary, prosecutions are becoming less and less likely, meaning the justice side of the conflict remains unfulfilled, keeping the country from experiencing total peace. With Point 6 of Chapter 1, Public Security Forces, the government has loosened the regulations set out in the peace accord. While the peace accord set about creating a police force controlled by civilian authorities, rather than allowing the military to conduct the policing within El Salvador, the government has instead militarized its police. Though the primary role of the national civil police was shaped around safeguarding peace, anti-gang policies have been more offensive than defensive in nature. In the first decade of the 2000s, El Salvador’s leadership developed the manu duro policy (iron fist). President Antonio Saca brought more force to the program and labeled it super mano duro. These policies led to increased police presence in El Salvador along with heavier weapons and the legal ability to take harsh methods against suspected gang members, therein beginning to blur the line carefully set out by the peace accords. In 2015, the government labeled street gangs as terrorist organization— a step that proponents said was fitting, given how the gangs terrorize the local population and seek to undermine the government. What this decision also does, however, is expand police rights to round up any person with a gang-related tattoo, as being a member of a gang is now illegal. Searches and raids rose and stories began to crop up of police abuse and overzealousness, but few arrests were made inside the police force. The government’s ability to seek justice as it sees fit is reminiscent of the civil war, making some civil society activists uncomfortable. As many gangs are most active in poor neighborhoods, it is those people who are most affected by gang violence and extortion and government abuse, rekindling the divide between the poor and the heavily armed police.

Point 11 called for the suspension of forcible recruitment: children disappeared throughout the conflict and many were coerced or forced into fighting, leaving a generation with few skills outside of war. While the government has taken steps to protect children, the gangs recruit boys as young as 10 to serve as lookouts and informants throughout the country. Recruitment into a street gang should be treated as a similar crime to that named in the peace accord since most of the gang members are young and die early. The government’s inability to protect its youth shows that the peace accord has not been implemented in its entire scope, made more acute due to a lack of finances.

The El Salvador peace deal, like many other peace deals, focused on resolving the conflict at hand and less with the structural issues going on inside El Salvador. Still, Chapter 5 sought to answer “the agrarian problem.” Land reform occurred to give workers more access to the wealth being gained from the earth they till and more peasants were able to buy land. Still, wages did not rise substantially, and an elite few continue to amass a critical amount of the wealth. The space left between peace accords and truth commissions following conflict leaves substantial room for economic structures to remain in place even while they are often a focal point of the conflict. The failure of the government to set significant reforms in place means that many Salvadorans face similar economic pressures as those prior to the civil war.

It would be incorrect to claim, however, that El Salvador is wholly responsible for its homicide rate or gang epidemic. The role of the US in Salvadoran politics was a main hindrance to peace within the state during the civil war, and its support of the original peace deal was mainly in pursuit of its own national interest. Now, as the international community looks to how El Salvador can lower its homicide rate, it should really be analyzing US immigration policy. The practices that gangs employ have their origins in Los Angeles, not in Soyapongo.

Thousands of Salvadorans escaped the country during the civil war, particularly young men avoiding being brought in to fight. Many fled to the US, albeit without the proper documentation, and settled in Los Angeles. The adolescents noticed the street culture already prevalent in the city at the time, particularly the gang rivalry between the Bloods and the Crips. This gave birth to la Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13, and one of the main gangs in El Salvador today. While the gang was formed in Los Angeles, it ended up back in El Salvador: the US government, cracking down on illegal immigration, deported thousands of Salvadorans back to El Salvador following the peace accord. Since the US prioritizes deporting those with criminal records, gang members were the perfect example of what the government wanted to get out of the country. So although the young men were raised in American streets, the US took no responsibility for their behavior, and gang culture was exported to El Salvador along with the people. Since most of these men had little connection to El Salvador, they were difficult to integrate, notwithstanding all of the other issues that the country was facing. US foreign policy towards El Salvador, laden with hypocrisy for decades, has only furthered the destabilization of the small country. By only understanding the civil war through the Cold War, it supported brutal government tactics and furthered the endless bloodshed. The deportation of young gang members and the separation of families across borders continue to put Salvadorans at risk. Furthermore, when the US saw an increase in unaccompanied minors entering the US in 2014, they were careful not to label them refugees, even though they were escaping the deadliest region outside of a warzone. As El Salvador continues to grapple with its rival gangs, the US continues its deadly deportation policy.

What does this all mean, in the context of a 25 year-old peace deal? Small states do not have full agency in their policymaking if they are not afforded it by larger states, such as in the US-El Salvador relationship. The violence in El Salvador should also serve as a reminder of the importance of financial power to put in place post-conflict programs that emphasize reintegration, community building, and job opportunities. Impunity serves no one but those who committed the crimes, even if it is being done in the name of healing and moving on. Furthermore, governments must conduct their own commissions to reform long-established obstacles: while truth commissions may bring victims’ voices to light, and peace accords disarm the opposition, there continues to be no exact model for addressing the long-term grievances of oppressed groups, especially in postcolonial states. The peace accord may have ended the civil war, but it was unable to provide stability or lead to civil society involvement that could have created a peace that meant more than simply the absence of war.


















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