Tag Archives: security

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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The Justice and Development Party (AKP): where Justice and Development have found new definitions

by Diana Ecaterina Borcea, a Romanian native who is also an incoming first year undergraduate at King’s College London. Diana will start pursuing a BA in War Studies this September. Her main interests in the research of international relations cover subjects like security and conflict in Eastern Europe, history of diplomacy & conflicts, military strategy and war in international order.


15 Jul 10:30 pm: the seizure of the key locations in Ankara (and the Bosphorus bridges) takes place

15 Jul 11:00 pm: guns are fired in Ankara and tanks start sieging close to the parliament

16 Jul 12:30 am: President Erdoğan’s call for people’s public rally is aired

16 Jul 2:30 am: the parliament is under attack and a coup members’ helicopter is shot down

16 Jul 9:30 am: the main stage of the coup is declared to be over and soldiers start surrendering

16 Jul 3:00 pm: eight coup participants fly to Greece to seek asylum.


AKP emblem



Bottom line? Over 270 people killed and almost 1500 wounded. This tragic outcome is deeply overwhelming even for a country where there have been no fewer than five major coups in the past six decades, with the latest one included. With Turkey’s bleeding stability, few days after the failed coup, questions started rising and the importance of the political leadership became a major element in understanding what really happened in Turkey. Identifying both the causes and the potential long-term consequences of the plotter’s overthrow basically means looking into the state’s leading party, which has been holding not only the majority of seats in the Parliament for thirteen years, but also the enthusiasm and support of the Turkish people.


Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Turkish), internationally known as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has become the strongest Turkish political association in the past decade and presents itself as a conservative right-wing, democratic party, which does not resemble any components of the Islamic agenda, according to its spokesperson, Hüseyin Çelik. Holding the reins of power in Turkey since 2002, AKP, whose leader was the actual President of the Republic (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) has, however, consolidated a system leaning towards authoritarianism, facing accusations of having a secret agenda, which does not bear a resemblance to the democratic ideology at all. Moreover, the Western press and important Turkish media insiders have repeatedly underlined that Erdoğan’s party is responsible for acts against Turkish secularism and for the support of the Muslim Brotherhood. Under these controversial circumstances, in its thirteen years of power, AKP has faced numerous closing dates, one of which happened in 2008, when the party confronted dissolution by the Constitutional Court for violating article 86 from the Political Parties Law, because it attempted to change the secularism of the state. These tense moments did not, however, prevent AKP from tightening regulations regarding the usage of internet, abortion and alcohol consumption in 2013. The measures taken in the night between 15th of 16th of July – blocking access to social media (Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter) are identical to the ones imposed in 2014, which demonstrates the authoritarian operational mode of AKP.  So, is Erdoğan’s AKP actually protecting Atatürk’s Republic and its people?


The answer could be heard from the voices of the thousands gathered in the Taksim Square (Istanbul), who chanted for democracy and the Republic, but not as they once did for the President. The concerns for the Turkish democracy became stronger, as it is already noted that the first major consequence of the coup is giving the government both the justification and the power to tighten its control over the state, declaring, in the process of finding and eliminating the plotters, a three-month long state of emergency. Despite the waves of Western accusations for being an Islamist-influenced party and for its anti-democratic measures, AKP still has its mass supporters, who have also made their voice heard after the coup. The President’s lasting popularity is based on genuine facts, which include Turkey’s economic revival since 2003, the religious pervasiveness of the party and the very fact that Erdoğan is a man of people. As a result, by representing a conservative, religious lower-class, the President has assured his major support, shadowing the worrying fact that immediately after the coup, his government started a massive purge of soldiers, policemen, judges, prosecutors and even teachers in order to secure the post-coup safety of his governance.


What is more, the Turkish leader has publicly refused to eliminate the execution of the coup plotters, stirring EU reactions, which have clearly stated that in such case, Turkey will no longer be able to adhere to the Union. This adds up to the radical constitutional package presented earlier this week, which has also caught the international focus by being denominated as “a constitutional reform package aimed at EU integration.” Following these considerations, AKP’s political strategy does not seem hard to unveil. A foreign isolationist policy combined with the massive media shutdown in Turkey might protect the government’s reputation from the objective, alarming western critique, by which the President himself has proved to be so affected (2014 media access block). Is that, in this case, a well-designed plan to cover the abuses and injustices committed with Ankara’s leadership consent?


The certainty illustrates that the aforementioned events are definitely not singular or non-repeatable. The deaths of hundreds of people seem to fade in comparison with Erdoğan’s policy and his party movements, which is why the aforementioned tragic bottom line might as well be a header. On the edge between authoritarianism and military dictatorship, Turkey’s faith is in the hands of the so-called “Justice” and “Development”. Regardless of the isolation-related uncertainties, the future of Ankara relies on the guidelines of the new definitions offered to these two terms, as seen and understood by Erdoğan’s long-lasting impenetrable party.

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U.S Missile Shield Dispute: Romania, a voiceless pawn on a foreign chessboard

Diana Borcea is a Romanian incoming first year undergraduate at King’s College London and will start pursuing a BA in War Studies this September. Her main interests in the research of international relations cover subjects like security and conflict in Eastern Europe, history of diplomacy & conflicts, military strategy and war in international order.


With Russia’s latest public threatening declarations against Romania and other eastern European states that have agreed to be involved in the US military defense shield, a clear, constantly strengthened message against NATO’s new allies has become the main coordinate of new tensions in Europe. The $800 million shield officially switched on in the Deveselu base (Romania) has proven to cause only the beginning of a whole new series of threats coming from the eastern superpower, making Romania a key element in the international dispute.[1]

The Russian concerns had their debut back in 2011, when the American plan to build a missile shield with defensive purposes against states like Iran came closer to reality, as Romania, Poland, Turkey and Spain have all agreed to join the strategic plan. [2] Five years later, major parts of the US military shield became operational, with the officially opened missile site (Deveselu, Romania) capable of shooting down enemy rockets which could reach areas of important European cities. The danger of having developed missile shield close to their borders has determined Russia’s latest reaction the a new addition to the NATO’s defense plan, in May 2016, when the Russian president Vladimir Putin has made a strong warning regarding Moscow’s retaliatory actions due to the threat of the missile shield, alerting Romania and Poland that they could become Kremlin’s enemies, as they are hosting hostile American military elements.[3]

The continuous dispute between the ex-Cold War enemies has, however, transformed Romania in a voiceless actor on the two superpowers’ stage and neither the Romanian leaders, nor the people proved to have acknowledged the very essence of the “play”.  It is explainable how, on the 12th of May, earlier this year, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, has not attended the official opening ceremony of the Deveselu missile site, in spite of the event’s indisputable historical importance and the very presence of NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg and US Deputy Secretary of Defense, Robert Work at the ceremony.[4] The absence of both the Romanian president and the SIE leader, Mihai Razvan-Ungureanu, was not clearly explained by the officials, but has stirred the critique of the public opinion, as it could have been misinterpreted by the American diplomats as a sign of uncertainty in the Romanian foreign policy. Consequently, the voice of Romania had barely proven its existence regardless of the crucial diplomatic occasion.

 Despite the official declarations coming from the NATO’s representatives, who have insisted on the fact that the military base is not directed against Russia, [5] Kremlin still sees in the SM-3 interceptors which are to be set up on the 430 acre-large Ballistic Missile Defense Site (near Deveselu Romanian Airbase) a serious threat. Thus, under the apparent absence of dialogue between Washington and Moscow, Romania is to face all the accusations and warnings of potential Russian military interventions across its borders. The Romanian response? A moderate, partially uncertain presidential declaration from Klaus Iohannis, stating that the future of Romanian security is unpredictable[6], considering the Russian reactions, which did not, however, prevent Romania from getting involved in the international Program “Security in the Black Sea Region. Shared Challenges, Sustainable Future”.[7]

Romania’s lack of voice – or better yet, alleged “silence” regarding its very own position and security in the missile dispute could also be explained by the fact that the country occupied only the 41st position in the 2016 GFP, whereas the two superpowers who seem to have been given vital rights to decide Bucharest’s faith are the world’s top two military forces.[8] Considering the real numbers, the danger truly comes from the East, and after the obvious American absence in the Crimean Crisis, a saving intervention for Romania in a potential conflict with Moscow seems quite unlikely. It must also be noted that, apart from Russia, Romania’s closest neighbour, Ukraine was ranked the 30th in the 2016 GFP, worsening the circumstances for the Carpathian country.

So, while the Romania’s relations with Russia keep deteriorating, the multi-purposed American plans are at a real risk of unwanted exposure, as an important voice from the U.S nuclear expertize highlighted the unnecessary need of American defensive missile base in Eastern Europe, because there is no probability of an Iranian nuclear war in the next two decades.[9] In this case, why is Romania half-passively eager to further involve in defensive plans which are to dramatically deteriorate crucial relations with the eastern superpower?

The answer which should have come from Cotroceni is still missing, whereas the dangerous threats from the east keep gathering and have managed to eclipse the importance of the missile host state itself. The only certain thing that remains, in conclusion, is the danger of a real conflict with Russia (who threatened to send Tu-22M3 supersonic bombers in Crimea as reaction to the missile shield[10]) and a few quarrels between Romanian politicians, who have not yet come up with a strategy to secure the faith of the country.



[1] Robin Emmot, “U.S. activates Romanian missile defense site, angering Russia”, Reuters, May 12, 2016. Accessed: June 10, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-nato-shield-idUSKCN0Y30JX

[2] Andrew Osborn, “Dmitry Medvedev threatens US over planned missile defense shield”, The Telegraph, November 23, 2011. Accessed: June 12, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/8910909/Dmitry-Medvedev-threatens-US-over-planned-missile-defence-shield.html

[3] Denis Dyomkin, “Putin says Romania, Poland may now be in Russia’s cross-hairs”, Reuters, May 27, 2016. Accessed: June 7, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-europe-shield-idUSKCN0YI2ER

[4] Dodo Romniceanu, Mircea Marian, Alexandra Chiric, “Iohannis a RATAT un MOMENT ISTORIC. Președintele ROMÂNIEI NU PARTICIPĂ la INAUGURAREA bazei americane de la Deveselu” [Iohannis has missed a historical moment. The President of Romania DOES NOT ATTEND the inauguration of the Deveselu American base], Evenimentul Zilei, May 12, 2016. Accessed: June 10, 2016. http://www.evz.ro/secretarul-general-al-nato-la-cotroceni.html


[5] Space Report, “Deveselu Base, Romania”, May 12, 2016. Accessed: June 7, 2016. http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/facility/deveselu.htm


[6] Mediafax, “Răspunsul lui Iohannis la ameninţările Rusiei împotriva României: Declaraţiile din partea Rusiei nu pot să ne intimideze, arată că abordarea noastră e corectă” [Iohannises answer to Russian threats: The Russian Declarations cannot intimidate us, they indicate our rightful approach], Ziarul Financiar, May 31, 2016. Accessed: June 10, 2016. http://www.zf.ro/politica/raspunsul-lui-iohannis-la-amenintarile-rusiei-impotriva-romaniei-declaratiile-din-partea-rusiei-nu-pot-sa-ne-intimideze-arata-ca-abordarea-noastra-e-corecta-15401757


[7] SRI Report, “Security in the Black Sea Region. Shared Challenges, Sustainable Future”, May 31, 2016. Accessed: June 7, 2016. https://www.sri.ro/academia-nationala-de-informatii-mihai-viteazul-si-universitatea-harvard-organizeaza-a-treia-editie-a-programului-securitate-in-regiunea-marii-negre-provocari-comune-viitor-sustenabil.html


[8] Global Firepower Ranking 2016, January 4, 2016. Accessed: June 12, 2016. http://www.globalfirepower.com/countries-listing.asp


[9] Robin Emmot, “U.S. activates Romanian missile defense site, angering Russia”, Reuters.


[10] Kuril Bora, “Russia May Send Tu-22M3 Supersonic Bombers to Crimea In Response To US Missile Buildup In Eastern Europe”, International Business Times, June 24, 2015. Accessed: June 10, 2016. http://www.ibtimes.com/russia-may-send-tu-22m3-supersonic-bombers-crimea-response-us-missile-buildup-eastern-2023159


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Part 3 | Russia & Europe

Adam Holub reads BA International Relations and happens to be IRT’s editor for Europe.


This little symposium looks at the perception of Russia as a threat across various regions. When discussing Europe, we have to face off an immediate issue: do we look at Europe as a region comprised of a large number of actors? Or is it perhaps, due to the large extent of EU integration, more useful to generalise when referring to the relations between Russia and European countries as those between Russia and the EU? Similarly, does it make sense to distinguish between the different perceptions of Russia as a threat of the individual European countries? To resolve this problem appropriately we would have to engage in a lengthy analysis of the EU’s foreign policy and look at how historical experience of European integration differed across the continent as well as how historical experience of the individual countries vis-à-vis Russia varied.

For the purpose of this article, it will be easier to look at the manifestations of the degree of perceptions of Russia as a threat. It makes sense to divide the answer into three parts: looking at the EU as a unified actor, looking at the more particular member states’ perception of Russia as a threat throughout Europe, and then finally zooming in even further to the Eastern European fringe where Russia notably oscillates between being perceived as a friend or as an existential threat. This question of how is Russia perceived in Europe is one that is absolutely crucial at the time of turbulent developments in the relations between Russia and the European countries which at times could be described as cold or unfortunate, if not yet openly hostile. The point of this bit is to show the other side of the coin as well, to point out to the opposition voices very present in some countries which doubt Russia’s dangerousness and try to peculiarly revise the mainstream opinion on Russia. Threat perceptions are in general hard if not impossible to adequately observe. Instead of trying to read the mind of people half a billion people we should look at some manifestations of perceptions of Russia in Europe and interpret them.

Whether the EU as a whole sees Russia as a threat or an enemy is not easy to assess. We could use the proclamations by senior EU representatives, such as the European council president Donald Tusk, to get a hint of a common stand. Tusk, the man who is responsible facilitating consensus in the EU, has described the policy of Vladimir Putin as “simply to have enemies, to be stronger than them, to destroy them and to be in conflict.”[1] Tusk, however, is not a spokesman for the EU member states on the matters of Foreign Policy. Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, was recently heard denying that there is a new Cold War between the West and Russia.[2] A new Cold War is a metaphor popping up every here and there in political discussions and commentaries in reference to both the Russian involvement in the conflict in Ukraine and in Syria. By ruling out a reference to a historical period which carries the connotation of arguably the largest possibility of a global nuclear face off, Mogherini’s attitude suggests that the European representative is trying to rule out Russia as an existential threat. A slight difference of accent and emphasis when it comes to Russia is not problematic per se but it shows plurality of opinion at the top political level.

Nevertheless, despite the difference in emphasis throughout the Union, Russia has been officially referred to a potential threat in the European Parliament resolution of 15 January 2015 on the situation in Ukraine.[3] The economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU countries, as well as non-EU countries like Norway for example, also show a common concern about Russia’s latest actions in Europe. The resolution talks both about the necessity of the sanctions and the Russian threat and is an example of how these two things are related topics in Europe. The assessment of the opinions on the EU level doesn’t do justice to the nuances between the rhetoric in the individual member states.

While the common imposition of the sanctions speaks of a common stance towards Russia, it is notable that according to some diplomats in Brussels, the Kremlin was trying to divide the EU on the issue of the extension of the sanctions. Among the countries that were perceived as likely to “see the sanctions relaxed or scrapped” were Italy, Greece, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic.[4] What is interesting in particular is the presence of three countries of the Visegrád Group. Reasons can be various, but what is evident, are pro Russian sympathies shown by some politicians of these countries. The Czech president Miloš Zeman, for example, has given an interview to the Russian First Channel in which he condemned the anti-Russian sanctions.[5]

In both The Czech Republic and Slovakia, it is the prime minister and not the president who has the largest executive power. While the Slovak president is critical of Russia, the prime minister Fico also condemned the sanctions and similarly to the Czech president did that while in Russia,[6] which has an extra symbolic value as it comes in handy for the Russian authorities and media. Finally, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is notoriously known for his pro Russian sympathies. In western Europe, France found itself in a position after the Paris attacks which has been associated with “signs of deepening collaboration” between the French and Russian armies in the war against Daesh.[7] Germany’s Angela Merkel sees her country’s potential to mediate between Russia and the West. At the same time, the German chancellor no longer trusts the Russian president as much as she used to. The UK’s prime minister David Cameron is more openly critical of Russia and in 2014 called for a stronger NATO presence on the borders with Russia to be able to respond to any “threat”.[8]

Finally, there is the question of countries in the nearest vicinity of Russian territory (among which it is useful to include Poland). Being Russia’s neighbour does not instantly mean being threatened by it. What seems to correlate with the perception of Russia as a threat is the political orientation of a country in combination with particular historical experience of Russian involvement. The Baltic states have had the experience of direct Soviet rule while they are establishing themselves as valuable EU and NATO members. Estonia’s president Toomas Hendrik Ilves described Russia as a threat not only to his country and the Baltic region but to the Post World War order.[9] Similar case are the Poles. Russian establishment, to be frank, is not improving its perception in the Baltics by intensifying its intrusions into the airspace of the Baltic countries.[10]

An example of a country that does not seem to be threatened by Russia and is in its nearest vicinity is Belarus. Ukraine, on the other hand, long perceived as crucially historically and culturally oriented towards Russia, similarly to Belarus, is an example of how political orientation affects the extent to which Russia is a threat. In the Ukrainian case it was a change of regime following civil unrests, which were a reaction to the choice of its former president Yanukovych to give precedence to an agreement with Russia rather than the EU, something that is hardly expectable from the authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko. The point made here is that Russia is not, in my opinion, an expansionist country per se but some countries and their populations do seem to perceive Russia as believing in a special claim for intervening in their matters in various ways, a perception very much enhanced by Russia itself.

Clearly, the perception of Russia as a threat varies across Europe. Despite that, certain basic approach towards Russia can be narrowed down to the perception of at least a potential threat, at least in the EU and more pro-West European countries.


[1] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/15/donald-tusk-putins-policy-enemies-conflict-european-council-sanctions-russia

[2] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-eu-idUSKCN0VO11C

[3] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2015-0011+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/15/donald-tusk-putins-policy-enemies-conflict-european-council-sanctions-russia

[5] https://www.1tv.ru/news/2014/11/16/29156-milosh_zeman_osuzhdaet_antirossiyskie_sanktsii_i_trebuet_prekratit_bombardirovki_donbassa#

[6] http://www.aktuality.sk/clanok/277055/fico-sa-dostal-na-titulne-strany-ruskych-novin-som-proti-sankciam/

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/23/francois-hollande-france-global-alliance-defeat-isis-russia-us-uk-germany

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/aug/02/david-cameron-west-stronger-russia-borders

[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/estonias-president-russia-is-threateningthe-entire-post-world-war-ii-order/2014/09/29/035ef686-45cd-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html

[10] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/full-list-of-incidents-involving-russian-military-and-nato-since-march-2014-9851309.html

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Part 2 | Scandinavia’s ‘big bad bully’: Russia & Scandinavia

Silje Undlien is a Norwegian first-year War Studies student at King’s College London.

Dmitry Medvedev

At a time when few Nordic governments are willing to concede Russia as an immediate military threat, Russian relations with the Scandinavian three – Sweden, Norway and Denmark – continue to grow cold. When it comes to being the ‘big bad bully’ of Europe, Russia has met little competition from its neighbouring countries. Thus far we have seen Russian aggression escalate profoundly in terms of espionage targeting Scandinavian countries – as both Norway and Sweden has identified their northern neighbour as their leading threat vis-à-vis intelligence operations, and Denmark is no exception from Russia’s extensive surveillance. [1] The apparent reluctance of Russia to leave Scandinavian airspace and territorial waters alone does little to improve their strained relations. Its vested interests in Arctic areas ought to arouse some reaction from the conflicting Nordic governments, as indeed it has. Yet for the countries in question, Russia is a rival of much greater military capacity and ought not to be further provoked if possibly avoided. To Scandinavians – Russia is currently highly unstable due to Putin’s leadership. Thus, according to the Norwegian Minister of Defence, Ine Eriksen Søreide, it is critical to avoid miscalculations, and, although the threat is not considered imminent, military reforms may prove vital to the security and defence of the countries on the Scandinavian Peninsula. [2]

In the Norwegian Intelligence Service’s 2016 threat assessment, Russia’s blatant will to pursue regional ambitions in the Arctic and the High North is identified as a substantial threat to Norwegian interests. [3] As the only Scandinavian country sharing a border with Russia – a border extending 196 kilometres – Norway is familiar with the possibility that Russian strategic interests in Norwegian vicinities could end in military conflict. Yet, the military capacity of the areas in Finnmark is exceptionally inferior to that of Western Russia. As of today, Norway would hardly be able to restrain an invading force for more than a maximum of two days. [4] The plan has, nonetheless, always been to hold back the enemy in blind hope of triggering NATO’s Article 5. Yet, it has been questioned whether Norway would in fact go to war against Russia in a situation where East-Finnmark is occupied by enemy forces, and, as Russia is assumed unlikely to advance West of the Tana River to avoid further conflict; would NATO be willing to trigger a Third World War in defence of East-Finnmark, only a small part of Norway? Such thinking can be traced back to declassified defence documents from the 1980s, in which the primary defence lines of Norway were identified and the sacrifice of Finnmark was suggested. [5] The Norwegian Armed Forces deny that such actions would be made in today’s situation. Earlier this April, however, the strategic plan of defence, unofficially named ‘Operation Glory Death’ was revealed: In order to secure a quick response from NATO, Norwegian soldiers have been commissioned to die ‘as sensationally as possible’. [6] But to what end? It might take several months until NATO is mobilised and ready to act on Norway’s behalf, by which time Finnmark would have long since fallen.

Yet for Norway, there appears to be a greater potential for conflict on Svalbard. Leading Norwegian experts on Military Defence believe that a future military confrontation would develop on the archipelago in the Arctic Ocean due to its strategic position. [7] The Russian threat continues to increase with Russia’s rising military sphere of influence in the nearby areas; the planned launch of a second Arctic brigade and the attempted establishment of an airbase on Franz Josef Land are particularly construed as aggressive actions. Although any foreign military activity in Svalbard would be a violation of the Svalbard Treaty and would undermine Norwegian Sovereignty, the archipelago’s demilitarised state would make it easy to secure. [8] As the threat is progressively perceived more relevant, the Norwegian Armed Forces appear incapable of defending Norwegian soil. In a scenario like this, in fact, the Norwegian Royal Navy would be no match for the modernised Northern Fleet.

Also Denmark, with overlapping claims to the North Pole, has experienced territorial tensions with Russia. The need for engagement in areas of common interest was made clear by the massive border exploration we witnessed in the Arctic – ‘Ali Baba’s cave’. When it in 2015 was revealed that Denmark was to establish an Arctic TF, a Danish process of Arctic militarisation and preparation for a future war against Russia was assumed. The Danish Defence, however, discarded this allegation. [9] For their part, the reforms were intended to reinforce and create a more flexible Danish Defence for general purposes.  It is reasonable, however, to assume that such actions may be a response to increased Russian aggression. As a response to NATO’s Missile Defence, for one, Russian Ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, made Russia’s plan of action, if Denmark was to participate in the system, explicit. In an article published in Jyllands-Posten in 2015 he wrote that Danish warships could, if his warning proved ineffective, become potential targets of nuclear missiles. [10] It has been popularly assumed in 2016, however, that the threat towards Denmark is in decline due to the decreased Russian activity in Danish airspace. The intelligence agencies of the Scandinavian countries have nonetheless dismissed such thinking by placing neighbouring aggression on the top of their security agendas. It is fundamental, too, to note that the decreased activity may be due to Russia’s role in the Syrian Civil War.

It is not surprising, moreover, to see the reported increase in Russian military activity in the Baltic Sea region. Although she does not recognise Russia as an imminent military threat, Sweden has also chosen to reinforce and invest in her military defence capabilities. The trouble is, however, issues of Swedish military recruitment. Like that of her Scandinavian neighbour Norway, the Swedish Armed Forces could not scare off a determined enemy if necessary. As of today, it would need to recruit another 100,000 soldiers to credibly be able to defend its country. [11] But despite the Swedish tendency to be favourably disposed to armed forces, their previous abolition of conscription has led to a decline in their ability to recruit soldiers – the Swedes, seemingly, do not want to join the Swedish Armed Forces. Many now believe that the reinstatement of mandatory military service is the only way to defend Sweden against a potential military attack in the future. Yet for such a development to happen, the Russian threat will probably have to increase even further.

As NATO members, as opposed to the non-aligned Sweden, Denmark and Norway are successfully displaying a clearly defined military policy. It is worth noting, as well, that while the current Secretary General is Norwegian the former was Danish, making both countries’ political character and commitment to NATO and the West evident to Russia. Although she is a non-member, Sweden’s great endeavour to remain a neutral country has to some extent failed: While not being entitled to military assistance from NATO by remaining non-aligned, Sweden’s close ties to the alliance still makes her a great threat to Russia.  For this reason, many appear to believe that a Swedish membership in NATO is an inevitable forthcoming development. Yet, the Prime Ministers of Sweden and Finland stated in early 2016 that the current situation serves them both well. [12]

Although Russian relations with the Scandinavian three continue to grow cold, Russia has not always been a ‘bully’ in the eyes of the Scandinavians. Au contraire – both Denmark and Norway have traditionally kept close bilateral ties with Russia. Fundamental to the preservation of Russian-Norwegian relations is the Norwegian Barents Secretariat. Daily cultural cooperation, the Secretariat believes, could rebuild the once good relations. With such opinions circulating, Scandinavian media has been accused of painting an overly negative picture of Russia. The great worry is that this vilification of Russia will create an excessively frightened and alienated public, and, ultimately, lead to the decline of all Scandinavian cooperation policies. In stark contrast – authorities have expressed concerns over a select few individuals in Finnmark, worrying that their close ties to Russia might make them loyal to the Russian government. [13] It has also come up that individuals of North-Norway deem the Southern perception of the Russian threat exaggerated. The residents of Northern Norway do, of course, have unique ties to the culture and language of their Russian neighbours. They are, furthermore, often deemed to have emotional connections to their 1944 liberators. Yet, the accusation of disloyalty is unreasonable: Residents of South-Norway will naturally have conflicting perceptions of the Russian threat from those of North-Norway.

Yet, militarily, the threat ought not to be ignored.  With dozens of spies on Swedish soil, military expansion in the Arctic, continual visits in Scandinavian airspace and territorial waters, and, excessive espionage – the Russian threat is obviously considered a great security challenge in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Furthermore, it led to the increased cooperation of the Nordic countries. Yet, the continued defence of the Scandinavian countries would, without assistance from NATO, be virtually impossible if they were to be attacked. Thus, seeing Russia is considered highly unpredictable, the threat is perceived even greater. If one is to believe the media’s narrative of Russia and its leadership – the Scandinavian three ought to seek immediate cover. Although many appear to believe that previous relations could be restored, Russia may already have reached the point of no return. Lest Russia alters its course, Russian relations with the countries on the Scandinavian Peninsula might be beyond repair.


[1] The Swedish Security Service, ‘Ryska olagliga underrättelseoperationer,’ Säkerhetspolisen  

[2] Mick Krever, ‘Norway: We are faced with a different Russia,’ BBC, February 26, 2015

[3] The Norwegian Intelligence Service, ‘Fokus 2016: Etterretningstjenestens vurdering av aktuelle sikkerhetsutfordringer,’ Forsvaret, March 21, 2016

[4] Kjetil Stormark, ‘Hæren holder bare ut noen dager,’ Aldrimer, April 05, 2016

[5] Kjetil Stormark, ‘Finnmark skal ofres,’ Aldrimer, April 08, 2016

[6] Kjetil Stormark, ‘Operasjon: Heltemodig Død,’ Aldrimer, April 05, 2016

[7] Kjetil Stormark, ‘Brennpunkt Svalbard,’ Aldrimer, April 08, 2016

[8] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Svalbardtraktaten,’ Lovdata

[9] Værnfælles Forsvarskommando, ‘Kommentar til Jyllands-Posten,’ Forsvaret, March 13, 2015

[10] Lars From, ‘Ruslands ambassadør: Danske skibe kan blive mål for russisk atomangrep,’ Jyllands-Posten, March 20, 2015

[11] Elisabeth Braw, ‘Sweden, Short-Handed,’ Foreign Affairs, April 13, 2016

[12] Juha Sipilä & Stefan Löfven, ‘Vår alliansefrihet bidrar till stabilitet i norra Europa,’ DN, January 10, 2016

[13] The Norwegian Barents Secretariat, ‘Samarbeidet med Russland er en villet politikk,’ Barents, March 02, 2016

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Part 1 | Too close for comfort: Russia & the ‘near abroad’

Lincoln Pigman studies war at King’s College London, and is still wondering what it’s good for. Tweet him at @LincolnPigman for incisive observations about all things Russia.



Any conversation about Russia’s threat to international security should begin at its borders, in the so-called ‘near abroad.’ A product of Russia’s post-Soviet identity crisis, the blizhnee zarubezhye technically refers to its neighbours, nothing more. Yet, as former members of the Soviet bloc, these countries are ‘nearer’ to Moscow and its interests than most, a distinct geopolitical dynamic comparable at times to the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’; at others to the hegemonic and occasionally forceful say in Eastern European and Central Asian affairs exercised by the Soviet Union. Russia’s insistence on influencing the policy decisions of historical subordinates varies from neighbour to neighbour, as does the extent to which it enforces its interests with violence. These differences bring about a diversity of threat perceptions along Russia’s western and southern borders that defy generalisations.


Ambivalence defines Ukraine’s threat perception of Russia. Despite the latter’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, the reality of Russo-Ukrainian relations is far too complex to accommodate a simplistic friend-or-foe dichotomy. For one, although talk of severing diplomatic relations with Moscow persists in Kyiv, [1] economically, Ukraine cannot afford to complete its ideologically driven divorce with Russia. Although a EU-brokered gas deal late last year struck observers as a Russian defeat—acceptance that Putin could not leverage gas exports amid economic crisis—it also underlines Ukraine’s inability to end energy dependence on Russia. The uncertain future of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, dealt a near-lethal blow by the Dutch referendum on 6 April, seems to confirm an unpleasant truth: Ukraine’s economy is as shackled to Russia as ever.

This is not the place to detail how and why; nor could I improve upon Nicolai Petro’s explanation in the Guardian. [2] However, it is important to keep in mind. While the Ukrainian government does its best to appear firm in the face of Russian aggression, liberally extending sanctions against the Kremlin [3] and even committing to building a $517 million ‘Great Wall’ along its easternmost border, [4] nothing short of a clean—but cataclysmic—break from Russia can achieve Ukrainian autarky.

Whatever their economic ties, Russia remains a veritable threat to Ukraine and its security. As argued in an earlier article, the Kremlin’s ultimate goal in supporting the eastern insurgency is destabilising Ukraine to the point where no Western organisation, be it NATO or the EU, will dare accept it into its ranks. [5] Russia’s economic decline has not kept its proxies from pursuing new offensives, with multiple reports of ceasefire violations over the past month. [6] Conventional military operations in eastern Ukraine—as well as increasingly dangerous cyberattacks [7]—cost lives and tie down government resources that could be put to use improving the welfare of Ukrainians, undermining national and human security.

Russia also poses a threat in its subtle influence on decision-makers in Kyiv: entrenched in their reluctance to devolve authority to eastern territories, a key part of the Minsk II agreement, many Ukrainian politicians play into the hands of Putin. [8] Non-compliance with Minsk II makes Ukraine’s integration into Europe, and the West more generally, less likely, and leaves Ukraine in a limbo. It can neither join the West nor effectively combat Russia, in part because of the withholding of arms by Washington and co. [9]

Russia maintains economic relations that are vital to Ukraine’s stability while undercutting that same stability through military operations and information warfare, a paradox of sorts. But it is a paradox around which threat perceptions of Russia in Kyiv revolve: recognition of both Russia’s importance to Ukraine and the near-irreconcilability of their respective interests. Cynical perspectives assure that Russian aggression will cease with Ukraine’s acquiescence to a Eurasian order dominated by Moscow. Others assert that Russia will always pose a threat to Ukrainian interests, driven by deep-rooted imperial ambitions. Neither side can deny that, for the time being, Ukraine is stuck in between two camps, with one foot in the West and one in Russia. It is a predicament that will moderate threat perceptions of Russia until fundamental changes in the Russo-Ukrainian dynamic take place.


Georgia, on the other hand, has committed itself to the West. In fact, European integration, says the Director of the Georgian Institute of Politics, is nothing short of Georgia’s main grand strategic objective. [10] Accordingly, Russia’s pursuit of regional hegemony and its threat to Georgian security—the impetus for Tbilisi’s pivot westward—bulk large in the minds of Georgian decision-makers.

Although Georgia’s attempts to join NATO began in 2002, long before the Russo-Georgian War, that conflict intensified the former Soviet republic’s efforts. Encouraged by the Bucharest NATO Communique of 2008, which promised Georgia (and Ukraine) eventual membership, Georgia has pulled out all the stops: contributing 12,000 soldiers to NATO’s operations in Afghanistan since 2010, meeting the 2% defence expenditure quota, and undergoing substantive democratisation. [11] Brussels and Washington have nonetheless done little to reciprocate Georgia’s gestures, and seem reluctant to expedite Georgian accession.

The most plausible reason why appears to be unwillingness to further provoke Russia, whom Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili recently called the ‘number one security threat’ to Georgia. [12] Yet, although the potential for Russian retaliation seems to preclude Georgian membership in NATO and the EU, beyond that blow to long-standing Georgian aspirations, Russia presents little in the way of a military threat. Since normalising Russo-Georgian relations in the wake of the 2008 war, Russia has actively sought the improvement of bilateral relations: a goal made difficult by widespread apprehension towards intimate ties with Russia.

Having foregone the hard power that turned so many Georgians away from Russia, Moscow has opted for the soft, funding groups like the pro-Eurasian Economic Union NGO Eurasian Choice and making accessible Russian television channels to reach a Georgian audience. [13] Along with the conservative Georgian church, these instruments of Russian influence strive to generate pro-Russian sentiment while eroding enthusiasm for European integration.

However, Tbilisi is not completely unfounded in its threat assessment of Russia. When unable to convey its interests to Georgia’s leadership through formal channels, Russia has returned to the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, undermining Georgia’s territorial claims by granting citizenship to South Ossetians, [14] building a road on the South Ossetian-Georgian border, [15] and tacitly approving a South Ossetian referendum on joining Russia. [16] That Russia has yet to fulfil its obligations under the Six-Point Cease-Fire Agreement does not help check Georgian concerns.

Georgia’s Russia dilemma implies a choice: between further integration, which may prompt hostility from Moscow, and scaling back integration, which may leave Georgia vulnerable to Russian incursion and subversion and cost it credibility. Were Georgia to enjoy the support of the West, whether political (via the EU) or military (via NATO), it may approach that decision with greater confidence. For the time being, it is likely to remain uncertain of its security from Russia and consequently apprehensive towards its northern neighbour, its fears of a resurgent Russian threat compounded by a lack of European support.



Faced with the dilemma of balancing between Russia and the West, Georgia and Ukraine failed to avert ‘hot’ confrontations with Russia. Belarus, on the other hand, is only now considering the merits of partnership with Europe, having spent the last two decades in Russia’s camp. Its glances westward have not gone unnoticed in Moscow, where Putin cautiously gages Belarus’ plans and their implications for Russian regional ambitions.

Until recently, there was no reason for ‘Europe’s last dictator,’ in the words of former U.S. President George W. Bush, to consider alternatives to Russia. With Putin’s Russia a reliable economic and political partner, Lukashenko’s Belarus violated human rights with impunity, insulated from sanctions imposed by the EU and the U.S. Notably, Russo-Belarusian cooperation extends into defence and security policy, with joint exercises still commonplace. [17] In fact, some allege that Russian troops trained for the occupation of eastern Ukraine in Belarus, [18] and that Belarus is involved in infiltrating Lithuania’s armed forces. [19]

A narrative of Belarusian neutrality is not new. Despite Belarusian recognition of Crimea as de facto Russian territory, [20] an important gesture for Moscow, Lukashenko has also set up Minsk as the site for East-West negotiations on Ukraine. [21] However, neutrality is gradually giving way to balancing.

The driver seems to have been the economic crisis produced by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. The Russian rouble’s devaluation triggered that of Belarus’, and a 3.7% fall in Russia’s GDP in 2015 precipitated a 3.9% drop in Belarus’. [22] Acceptance that Russia may no longer be the economic anchor it has always been has brought about political concessions to the West. These have ranged from direct, such as the release of political prisoners in August 2015, which resulted in the lifting of EU and U.S. sanctions, [23] to indirect, like resistance to problematic Russian initiatives.

For instance, take Putin’s failure to push through construction of a Russian military base in Belarus last fall. Before Ukraine, Lukashenko would have had little reason to reject increased military cooperation with Russia. Even today, the chances of Russian intervention, a la Ukraine or Georgia, are small. Instead, implications for EU/NATO-Belarus relations discourage Minsk from agreeing to increased Russian military presence inside Belarus’ borders. Lukashenko accordingly rejected Russia’s base, reasoning that it would exacerbate regional tensions. [24] He has taken a similar stance on Putin’s recent suggestion that Russian air defence systems be integrated with those of Belarus, but it remains to be seen whether Putin will take ‘no’ for an answer this time. [25]

To Putin’s credit, he has been restrained in his objections to increased cooperation between Belarus and the West, of an economic character thus far. The lifting of EU sanctions was met positively by the Kremlin, [26] and Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has noticeably avoided waging a war of rhetoric on Belarus’ pivot westward. But can it afford to? Perhaps Russia’s permissive stance on Belarus’ emerging partnership with Washington and Brussels (and even Ankara) [27] stems from recognition that an antagonistic relationship between Putin and Lukashenko is infeasible, that Russia needs Belarus: to bolster Russian security and to sustain trade amid international isolation. After creating a near-failed state in Ukraine and alienating, rather than subordinating, Georgia, it is not implausible that Russia has learned that interventionism, especially close to home, does not work.

Belarus’ perception of Russia is not that of a threat. Rather, Belarus surely views Russia as an important partner in economic, defence, and security affairs, but one to be held at a distance. The Ukraine crisis has provided Lukashenko with an excellent opportunity to build ties with the West without having to make substantive political reforms at home, maintaining some level of authoritarianism but enjoying the benefits of cooperation with the West. Russia’s embattled state means it is unlikely to begin a fourth military confrontation in a decade, certainly not while Belarus remains committed to maintaining strong relations with Moscow—even if they are no longer Belarus’ only relations. In the words of Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, Belarus ‘is not a ship that drifts one way or another.’ [28]


Eastern Ukraine burns, Georgia smolders, and Belarus welcomes a thaw between itself and the West. Each has its reasons to distrust Russia, but the threats it poses differ drastically. In Ukraine, Russia threatens destabilisation and an indefinite future of instability; in Georgia, the possibility of Russian retaliation keeps European integration at bay; and in Belarus, Russian interests necessitate a balancing act between Moscow and the West. Simplistic narratives of an encroaching, expansionist Russia overlook the nuances of its ties to neighbours in the ‘near abroad,’ and the unique dilemmas they face in dealings with Russia. Analyses should recognise these distinctions, foregoing generalisations and misreadings of history in favour of a perspective that can produce effective approaches to dialogue, détente, and deterrence with Russia.


1 ‘V Verhovnoi Rade Ukrainy mogut vnesti na golosovanie proekt zakona o razryve diplomaticheskih otnoshenii s Rossiei,’ Ekho Moskvy, April 11, 2016.

2 Nicolai Petro, ‘Why Ukraine needs Russia more than ever,’ The Guardian, March 9, 2016.

3 Alessandra Prentice, ‘Ukraine extends Russia sanctions over Savchenko case,’ Reuters, March 25, 2016.

4 Damien Sharkov, ‘Ukraine’s “Great Wall” with Russia to start building in weeks,’ Newsweek, March 15, 2016.

5 Lincoln Pigman, ‘All quiet on the eastern front: Ukraine’s uncertain future,’ KCL International Relations Today, February 23, 2016.

6 ‘Boeviki 87 raz za sutki otkryvali ogon’, strelyayut v osnovnom v tyomnoe vremya sutok,’ NEWSru.ua, April 13, 2016; Paul Quinn-Judge, ‘Ukraine’s meat grinder is back in business,’ Foreign Policy, April 12, 2016; ‘Russian fighters continue to flow into east Ukraine, U.S. official states,’ IHS Jane’s 360, March 17, 2016.

7 Andrea Peterson, ‘Hackers caused a blackout for the first time, researchers say,’ The Washington Post, January 5, 2016.

8 Gwendolyn Sasse, ‘To be or not to be? Ukraine’s Minsk process,’ Carnegie Europe, March 2, 2016.

9 Oleksandr Holubov, ‘Poroshenko empty-handed in Washington,’ Carnegie Moscow Center, April 4, 2016.

10  Kornely Kakachia, ‘Current security and foreign policy challenges of Georgia,’ Lecture at King’s College London, February 25, 2016.

11 Tornike Zurabashvili, ‘Let Georgia join NATO,’ Foreign Affairs, April 12, 2016.

12 Tamar Svanidze, ‘Georgia’s Prime Minister talks EU, Russia relations with CNN,’ Georgia Today, March 29, 2016.

13 Ibid. 10.

14 David J. Kramer, ‘Renewed confrontation in Georgia,’ Council on Foreign Relations Center for Preventive Action Contingency Planning Memorandum 28 (Mar. 2016), 1.

15 Tamar Svanidze, ‘Russian troops build new road on South Ossetia contact line,’ Georgia Today, March 14, 2016.

16 ‘Disputed South Ossetia will hold referendum on joining Russia,’ The Moscow Times, April 11, 2016.

17 ‘Russia-Belarus military drills begin in Russian central military district,’ TASS, March 29, 2016.

18 ‘Russia took trainings on Donbas occupation in Belarus, the intelligence says,’ Charter 97, February 23, 2016.

19 ‘Lithuania intelligence: Russia and Belarus may be interfering with armed forces,’ Eurowire, March 31, 2016.

20 Artyom Shraibman, ‘Europe’s last dictator comes in from the cold,’ Carnegie Moscow Center, April 6, 2016.

21 Keir Giles, ‘What does Putin have planned for Belarus?’ Newsweek, April 15, 2016.

22 Ibid. 20.

23 Andrew Wilson, ‘Belarus’ balancing act: Lukashenko looks West—and East,’ Foreign Affairs, October 29, 2015.

24 Katya Golubkova, ‘Belarus says Russian military base will worsen tensions: Kommersant,’ Reuters, October 28, 2015.

25 Ibid. 21.

26 ‘Russia welcomes EU decision to lift Belarus sanctions,’ RFE/RL, February 16, 2016.

27 Vladimir Mikheev, ‘Opportunistic Lukashenko seeks benefits by courting Erdogan,’ RBTH, April 18, 2016.

28 ‘Minsk to develop ties with EU without damaging relations with Moscow – foreign minister,’ TASS, April 8, 2016.

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Military might: France’s ultimate grandeur?

By Pierre Dugué a first-year BA War Studies coming from France. He is interested in Western (Europe and U.S.) grand strategy, intelligence and counter-insurgency operations.


French national ‘Bastille’ day’s military parade going down the Champs-Elysées

France and war is a rather long story

As we this year celebrate the centenary of the bravely-fought battles of Verdun and the Somme, France’s memoirs are nevertheless still overshadowed by the military humiliation of 1940 that led to the unconditional surrender of the power that had once ruled the world and made Britain tremble. Yet, France has been rebuilding its military might ever since the beginning of the Cold War – with De Gaulle securitizing a siege at the Security Council, the first nuclear weapons tested in the Pacific and Prime Minister De Villepin saying ‘non’ to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s intervention in Iraq. Although the days of Louis XIV and Napoleon have now passed, unlike what the media worldwide seem to infer [1], France is not done. Then what role should it be playing within the international system? Should it be a military one only?


A declining country?

‘Decline’ is a rather simple idea, it is however hardly effectively measurable on the long term. From 2007 onwards France’s economy has been shrinking leading to mass unemployment, restructuration and financial imbalance. Furthermore 2015, its anus oribilis, saw a huge decrease in France’s still fluctuating GDP (0.7%) [2]. Indeed, the two terrorist attacks and the state of emergency that ensued have had a considerable impact on tourism– one of the country’s main sources of income – and French commerce in general. Politically, the population is divided and utterly mistrusts Mr. Hollande – 75% unsatisfied [3]. Hence the fact that – with the 2017 presidential elections coming – the world fears the rise of the Front National, the far-right party. Actually, recent socio-political divisions – due to the rebirth of nationalism triggered by both terrorism and migration – have drawn the world’s attention to France and emphasized its blurred and diminishing influence within the EU [4]. In fact, the recent unsustainable situation in Calais coupled with migrant-related crimes such as the aggressions in Cologne have torn the French apart: half of the people’s position is now aligned on the FN’s, the other half has a strong anti-FN position. Consequently, Marine Le Pen demanded a referendum to be held à propos a potential ‘Franxit’ to ‘protect’ France against what it strived to create [5].

Considered unstable, weakened and dangerous due to economic, social and political factors at the national level (even more since the proclamation of the state of emergency that some relate to a new ‘martial law’ – establishing ‘no-go’ zones for instance [6]), au contraire France shines internationally in terms of foreign policy.


French soldier at the Louvres museum after the proclamation of the state of emergency


France and international interventionism: the case of Africa

Although reluctant at engaging the army in any sort of conflict for many years, Paris has followed the U.S.-led coalitions in 1991 and 2001. The country constitutes a key asset to the UN and NATO when it comes to peace-keeping and humanitarian missions around the globe [7]. Besides, France has had its own missions that have reinforced the country’s international presence and decision-making, particularly in Africa. Indeed, four major military operations have been launched since Mr. Sarkozy’s mandate (2007-2012) onwards [8].

‘Operation Harmattan’ in 2010-2011 whose aim was to bring down Colonel Gaddafi’s regime – following the Arab Spring and the civil war – by involving air and sea powers in a campaign of surgical strikes against Gaddafi and Islamist-held areas. This nonetheless led to Islamist groups fleeing the country to thrive in Africa, benefiting from the weakening of some States. Hence the UN-approved ‘Operation Serval’ launched in January 2013 by Mr. Hollande which ousted AQIM from Northern Mali and helped maintain the integrity of the regime that had asked for assistance (Resolution 2085). France has also deployed troops in the Central African Republic (Operation Sangaris) in 2013-2014 where a coup d’état had drastically destabilized the country; an ethnic-religious genocide between Muslims and Christians was feared by the UN which approved this intervention (Resolution 2127).

These successful operations were backed up by the international community for they were mainly counter-insurgency missions aimed at restoring/maintaining one’s sovereignty in accordance with international law and principles. France has also been joining coalitions and has exercised coercive diplomacy to influence political decisions in order to put an end to humanitarian crisis, especially in the Ivory Coast before 2011. The protection of sovereignty and populations – although contradictory in some cases – are priorities to Paris.


French soldiers deployed in the Central African Republic in 2013 (Operation Sangaris)


Grand strategy and military capabilities: the case of Syria

France’s grand strategy in the Middle East has been made clear: a governmental transition in Syria without Bashar al-Assad, the destruction of Daesh in Syria and Iraq and the support to the UAE and Saudi Arabia in their interventions in Yemen and the Middle-East in general [ç]. To fulfil this political purpose, France has mobilized and deployed its military might over the region.

Following the U.S. on its ‘war on terror’ for the sake of democracy, freedom from want and fear and international stability, France has now been fully engaged in Syria since September 2015 under the name ‘Operation Chammal’ [10]. At first hesitant at engaging its armed forces – going through an ‘identity crisis’ concerned with France’s international place in the future – Paris has launched a series of airstrikes against IS-held positions in Syria in September 2015 following its prevailing doctrine of protecting populations and sovereignty against insurgencies [11]. Ever since November 2015, France has intensified this military effort especially targeting Raqqa, and has actively participated to the withdrawal of Daesh troops from territories now in control of the rebels or the Kurds [12].

In order to effectively conduct these operations, France is endowed with military bases covering both the Mediterranean and the Middle East: the airbase of Calvi in Corsica and the military base in the UAE territory [13]. Furthermore, the deployment of nuclear submarines and the French ‘Charles de Gaulle’ nuclear aircraft-carrier enhances that capacity of deployment as well as it allows joint operations to be carried out especially with the RAF and the U.S. Air Force [14].

Cooperation is key and Paris is insisting on the need for a joint commandership to be established. François Hollande has demanded that intelligence be shared between agencies to maximise the effectiveness of the coalition. The DGSE (French intelligence agency) is most likely to be training rebel troops and gathering intelligence on the ground along with the CIA and the MI6 – although unofficial, special units are constantly being sent to the ground. Nevertheless, cooperation may be compromised. In fact, France has been trying to limit the involvement of Turkey in the conflict due to suspicions concerning the Erdogan regime financing Daesh and feeding their effort against the Kurds. Likewise, France appears to not be supporting Israel – it is on the verge of recognising Palestine a State [15]. Both policies heavily differ vis-à-vis the U.S. grand strategy in the region. It therefore weakens the coalition and slows down the resolution of the Syrian conflict, but affirms France’s independent authority within the international community as a powerful nation.


The ‘Charles de Gaulle’ sailing out of Toulon harbour to be deployed off the Turkish coast


The army to save the day?

What conclusions are we to draw from this obvious dichotomy of a country nationally divided and rather disregarded, but internationally brilliantly effective and therefore key to the community of States? Are the armed forces France’s raison d’être? It is clear the army and the nuclear arsenal have participated in its acknowledgement as a great nation in the international system. But that goes even further. Actually the influence of the military – usually abroad – blurs the traditional distinction made between the national and international spheres (state of emergency excluded). French scientific-military genius and warlike engineering skills have tremendously contributed to strengthening the economy in the long term [16]. Indeed, companies such as Airbus (combat helicopters), Thalès (military innovations), Safran (aeronautics), Dassault (military aviation) and Nexter (FAMAS rifle) are very influential in the stock market. As a matter of fact, the purchase of Dassault-crafted ‘Rafales’ by both the Qatar and Egypt has rectified France’s commercial balance in 2015 [17]. Besides, commemorations and military celebrations such as the Russian-style military parade held every year on national day gather the usually divided population to celebrate the country’s History and glorious days to come.

Paris should, in the future, play a more straightforward military role within supranational instances (UN, NATO), but also as a nation that is aware of its capacity of imposing its – and therefore the West’s – will. France’s military might is probably its ‘ultimate’ grandeur to the sense it is the greatest and most influential/decisive both nationally and internationally, nonetheless it is far from being its last.

Reducing the country to its army is missing out a lot. Paris is now expecting a 1.5% growth in its GDP for 2016 and the breath-taking waves of patriotism that ensued from both terrorist attacks are explicitly indicating that France is not a declining country. The troubled period it is facing is everything but new. For instance, remembering the presidential elections of 2002 when the FN ended up facing Jacques Chirac in the final round; France mobilized and voted Chirac at 81%. As divided and unstable as you want to see it, France still has this exceptional ability to rebound and to make the right decisions at the right time. Because obviously, France is not done and remains key to the international community of States.


The Eiffel Tower had been lightened in red-white-blue following November’s attacks



[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11171314/France-is-a-nation-in-decline-and-Britain-could-be-next.html

[2] http://www.insee.fr/fr/mobile/conjoncture/tableau-bord-conjoncture.asp (First graph)

[3] http://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2016/01/24/la-cote-de-popularite-de-hollande-en-baisse-celle-de-valls-en-legere-hausse_4852555_823448.html


[4] http://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/societe/2016/03/18/31003-20160318ARTFIG00359-crise-migratoire-la-rupture-historique-qui-pourrait-emporter-l-europe.php

[5] http://www.lefigaro.fr/politique/2016/02/20/01002-20160220ARTFIG00014-le-fn-promet-un-franxit-sur-le-modele-du-brexit.php


[6] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/12/paris-lawsuit-fox-news-reporting-no-go-zones-non-muslims


[7] http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/french-foreign-policy/defence-security/french-defence/france-and-nato/


[8] http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2011/04/07/01003-20110407ARTFIG00735-les-forces-francaises-engagees-sur-plusieurs-fronts.php


[9] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34372892


[10] http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2015/09/15/01003-20150915ARTFIG00403-frappes-contre-daech-en-syrie-comment-la-strategie-de-la-france-a-evolue.php


[11] http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/27/middleeast/syria-france-isis-bombing/


[12] http://edition.cnn.com/2015/11/15/middleeast/france-announces-raqqa-airstrikes-on-isis/


[13] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-23849386


[14] http://www.euronews.com/2016/01/22/charles-de-gaulle-aircraft-carrier-docks-in-uae/


[15] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/30/france-recognise-palestinian-state-if-peace-effort-fails-ultimatum


[16] http://www.lefigaro.fr/conjoncture/2014/08/07/20002-20140807ARTFIG00253-commerce-exterieur-aeronautique-spatial-etautomobile-en- pointe.php

[17] http://m.lesechos.fr/redirect_article.php?id=021575436493&fw=1



Photos credits:


1-Military parade: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18842638


2- French Soldier and the Louvres: http://www.smh.com.au/world/paris-attacks-day-four-world-leaders-step-up-fight-against-islamic-state-20151116-gl0h67.html


3- Operation Sangaris: http://www.huffingtonpost.fr/2013/12/07/operation-sangaris-recit-images-retablissement-paix-centrafrique_n_4404164.html


4- Charles de Gaulle : http://www.globalresearch.ca/frances-aircraft-carrier-group-charles-de-gaulle-to-leave-for-middle-east-to-fight-the-islamic-state/5489260


5- Eiffel Tower: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/paris-terror-attacks/eiffel-tower-glows-french-colors-honor-victims-n464286

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