Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Current Era

When placing my essays addressing issues of security and development into historical context I inevitably use the phrase 'the post-Cold War era'. It is important to do this, considering the fundamental changes that took place in almost every aspect of the lives of the human race following the end of the confrontation.

However, it has been twenty years since the end of the Cold War; almost half the age of the 'war' itself. Eventually, due the evolution and progression of humanity from the present to the future, defining the current era as 'post-Cold War' will no longer be analytically or historically useful--it will have moved from the present to the past. We will not be able to define our current era by juxtaposing it against a period of history that is no longer relevant. Though it may be some time before this occurs - a friend and I once worked out that it will be some time yet before the first American President (or indeed any other Western leader) is elected who was not brought up in the shadow of the Cold War.

So what other options are there? Post-modern has the same problem as post-Cold War.

One could possibly make the case for using post-9/11 or GWOT. However, that is a particularly US-centric perspective. And when reading academic analysis published in the late 1990s the 'threat of international terrorism' and various other keywords that are associated with 9/11 security issues pop-up with prescient frequency. So although a shock, it was hardly the foundation-shaking change of world order that the end of the Cold War was, and more a quarter-hour chime in the evolution of order in the post-Cold War era.

What about 'the twenty-first century'? This is the best bet as far as I can see, but suffers from the critical flaw that it is in essence an arbitrarily determined construct of time that bears no relation to actual events.

I don't have any answers - this is a topic that will probably be addressed by those who write the present when it has become the past.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

War and peace

 The concepts of war and peace, and the prevalence of armed conflict, has been a subject for discussion amongst various people on Twitter lately (See also, Thinking Strategically for an alternative view). One of my cousins has been following some of these discussions, and has this to add: (he refuses to get a Twitter account for fear of losing his thesis - a sensible move, I think!).

I would contend that you and your Twitter friends are too focussed on war. This is a video contending that it is the least violent time ever, as defined by a man dying at the hands of another man, whether that be in a war, a drive by shooting or a fight over the village goat. Which would seem to me to be as objective a measure as we can reach!

 I would like to take this further. These are issues that are not new, and I will probably be raising more questions than answers, as ever is the case when attempting to define 'war'. But I think it is important to bear these in mind, and chew on them as food for thought.

 David Keen has raised the of the difficulty in distinguishing between war and peace in his article 'War and Peace: What's the difference?' in volume 7 of the International Peacekeeping journal (also partially available on Google Books). In the article he explains the similarities in intra-state conflicts between the time of 'war' and the time of 'peace.'

 Part of our discussion on Twitter covered the concept of whether WikiLeaks and (al-Qa'ida) fall under the jurisdiction of war or peace. Do we treat WikiLeaks as an enemy organisation, with its members as enemy combatants? This is dodgy ground. War-time is often treated as an exceptional situation, with exceptional circumstances that will include the introduction of 'temporary' powers and legislation. This is acceptable in inter-state wars when there are clear-cut declarations of war, and subsequent surrenders.

But in conflicts where the combatants are 'irregular' - whether guerilla fighters such as the IRA or the Taliban, or individuals who are members of a transnational organisation such as al-Qa'ida and WikiLeaks - there is no clear-cut beginning or cessation of hostilities. Indeed, with the case of al-Qa'ida and WikiLeaks, I think it's wise to see them as part of the scenery - they are symptoms of our changing world and are here to stay (indeed, WikiLeaks is not the first whistle-blower organisation, just the loudest, see Cryptome). Laura Donohue completed a study of temporary powers in the United Kingdom between 1922 and 2000, in which she found that 'terminology notwithstanding, there is nothing temporary about temporary emergency legislation.' (Page 85, fn. page 102)

 Since the 1980s the definition of security has been expanding beyond 'military' security to include political, economic, societal and environmental security. Some have criticised this concept of security due to the militarised connotations of 'security'. However, a quick glance at the national security strategies of the United Kingdom (I assume that if the UK is doing it, the US did it first) in the past two decades demonstrate the broad interpretation of security. The 'military' aspects of security aside, considering WikiLeaks and al-Qa'ida with the same attitude one might have toward rising sea levels or an ageing population encourages a calmer long-term, low-key strategic outlook.

 As we embark on the second decade of the twenty-first century, clearly defined wars are becoming less and less common. Conflicts can seem to be very common (due to greater media coverage) and more protracted (to our impatient Western concepts of time). We could interpret this in a Fukuyaman or Kaplanite sense, in which we over-react and declare that the world is now anarchic and without order.

 Alternatively, I think we should see the evolution of security and threats to our security as a good thing, because life is gradually becoming more peaceable (for some more than others, admittedly). If we treat WikiLeaks and al-Qa'ida as part of the fabric of the current age - one dominated by 'peace' - rather than an exceptional circumstance, our response to these threats is likely to be less exaggerated, not over-reactive, and thus less damaging to our everyday lives.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

AQ, Afghanistan and National Security

I am posting this following a discussion among various people I follow on Twitter, in which they were discussing the association between AQ and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the continuing operations there to nullify the country as a safe haven.

This is an early version of a chapter of the dissertation I wrote in the third year of my Bachelor's degree. The dissertation was a discussion of what stance Britain should take vis-a-vis failed states. The excerpt linked to below argues that since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the threat from international jihadis is no longer associated with failed states, and that overseas intervention exacerbates the threat from jihadi terrorism.

Based on these conclusions, I believe that intervention in Afghanistan is not serving to reduce the threat from terrorism, and is indeed exacerbating it. However, as a side-note, I don't think we should leave based on the fact that we should start what we finished, and do our best to create a sustainably stable country in Afganistan.

Also, I realise this is a massive escalation from a Twitter debate. Haha.

Author's note: I do not claim to be an expert. My conclusions are based on the readings listed below (in other words, I reserve the right to be completely wrong). Comments would be greatly appreciated, even if it simply consists of "STFU you are totally wrong GTFO". Though supporting evidence would also be appreciated. Just to clarify, any comments made won't do anything toward affecting my marks - I graduated earlier this year.

  • Art, Robert J. and Richardson, Louise, Democracy and Counterterrorism: Lessons from the Past. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2007.
  • Atwan, Abdel Bari. The Secret History of al-Qa’ida. London: Abacus, 2006.
  • Burke, Jason. Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam. 3rd ed. London: Penguin, 2007.
  • English, Richard. Terrorism: How to Respond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Husain, Ed. The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw and Why I Left. London: Penguin, 2007.
  • Laqueur, Walter. The Age of Terrorism. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987.
  • Sayyid, S. A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the Emergence of Islamism. 2nd ed. London: Zed Books, 2007.
  • Simons, Anna and David Tucker. “The Misleading Problem of Failed States: a ‘socio-geography’ of terrorism in the post-9/11 era.” Third World Quarterly 28, no. 2 (2007): 387-401.
  • Wilkinson, Paul. Homeland Security in the UK: Future preparedness for terrorist attack since 9/11. London: Routledge, 2007.

Shortly after writing this passage I came across this work which confirmed my conclusions (but with far greater depth and eloquence), and I heartily recommend: John Mackinlay. The Insurgent Archipelago: From Mao to bin Laden. London: Hurst, 2009.

Monday, 29 November 2010

On the Popular Support for Wikileaks

"I want to start a riot."

These were the words of a friend as we headed home from a viewing of V for Vendetta. We were flushed with excitement from the climax of the film, where thousands of people dressed as the protagonist gathered to watch the Houses of Parliament explode into fireworks to the sound of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

All of us had been stirred by the monumental epicness of the moment, where the people had risen up and removed the despotic Norsefire government.

Many of us were forced to read Nineteen Eighty-Four at school. Those, such as myself, who were not forced to read it but were interested in politics made a point of reading it. We are all well versed in the concept of 'sticking it to the man,' of standing up and destroying the autocratic regime. It's a common theme in literature, film and elsewhere; Equilibrium, The Bourne Identity, Half-Life 2. The list is almost endless.

It's common because it's exciting. It makes good entertainment. People can step into the moment and escape the typically slow-moving and unspectacular process of change in the real world. Even history often focuses on the 'seminal' moments of history such as 9/11 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But it is easy to ignore the choices and events in the background of history. If something like Pearl Harbour is the clock striking the hour, it is only sounding because of the 3,600 ticks and tocks that preceded it that one hears the ringing at all.

Wikileaks provides a 'real life' example of sticking it to the man. In the words of one Tweep, the Dept of State has crashed on the highway and the whole internet is rubber-necking while justifying their voyeurism as anti-secrecy.

People naively quote "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." They ignore the fact that we live in the freest nations on the planet. They ignore the fact that the only reason Julian Assange et al are still alive is because they target one of the most open democracies on the planet.

The Cablegate dump has revealed little more than anyone endowed with the barest levels of common sense and knowledge already suspect and knew. It has probably set back the ability for America and other Western countries to work in our national interest.

So people applaud an organisation that remains secret and opaque in the name of openness and transparency, and congratulate its messianic, nihilistic, tyrannical leader as a moral crusader. Meanwhile, those elected and appointed to protect us and to work toward our collective comfort and security attempt to fathom the consequences of this event.

Our democracies are not perfect. But people are spoilt by it, and remain ignorant of what living in true despotism and true corruption is really like. And that sometimes secrets have to be kept, not because the government wants us like sheep, but because it's in the interest of our collective security. We don't yet know if the clock has struck twelve, or if it is merely sounding the quarter hour and the promise of larger things to come.

Friday, 19 November 2010

How Jackson, not Blunt, 'prevented WW3'

I'd just like to point something out.

In a recent interview the singer James Blunt apparently prevented World War III by denying a direct order from SACEUR General Wesley K. Clark.

However, the accounts of General Sir Mike Jackson, and General Wesley K. Clark differ markedly from that of Blunt's.

Clark's account of the confrontation starts four days before, on Thursday the 10th June 1999 when the Russians began to move out of Bosnia toward Pristina. Jackson, the commander of the British troops in Kosovo was made aware of the situation on Friday morning. He had lodged his first concerns by 1400 hrs the same day.

It wasn't until Sunday 13th that Jackson made the seminal statement to Clark: 'Sir, I'm not going to start World War Three for you.' (Clark 2001, 394; Jackson 2008, 272). This demonstrates a lead up of several days before Blunt's account of the event starts. Clark wanted Jackson to place, initially Apaches, and later armoured vehicles, on the runway of Pristina airport to prevent the Russians from landing.

In the time between Friday and Sunday morning, Jackson had expressed his increasing concern at this plan. Clark was aware that Jackon was 'really troubled. He says his mission is strictly humanitarian and peacekeeping; he doesn't have the legal authority in his order to do anything like this... He wants to stay with his approach, just to gain the Russians' confidence...' (Clark 2001, 393). According to Jackson, 'the feeling among my staff was that Clark was shooting from the hip.'  (Jackson 2008, 259). It wasn't until after Jackson had explained to Clark that if it came to it he would disobey the direct orders to block the runway at Pristina, that 4 Armoured Brigade was placed on readiness.

Both memoirs leave the buck stopping at Jackson, when he declared that he would not start WW3 on the morning of Sunday 13th. In the end the Russian planes never landed, and thus no orders sent, or disobeyed. At no point in their accounts do Clark or Jackson mention a Captain James Blount (Blunt is his stage name), or his apparent refusal of orders.

So it appears Blunt has an imperfect memory. Not only that, but the media apparently have an imperfect fact-checking system.

Clark, Wesley K. Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo and the Future of Combat. PublicAffairs, 2001.
Jackson, Mike. Soldier: The Autobiography. Corgi, 2008.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


My morning routine generally consists of  making tea and then logging on to Google Reader to see what new blog posts there are.

I am a parasite. All I do is consume; I don't add anything (largely because I believe I have nothing to add). I mentioned this to a friend, who responded with this quote: “Social media tools aren’t a spectator sport they are a contact sport.”

I have nothing to contribute at the moment, but I assume that as you clicked that link you are curious. This is my point of reference, my footprint, in cyberspace.

My academic interest is essentially war. 

More particularly, the areas of counterinsurgency, peacekeeping and the bridge between the two; conflict, security and development. I am presently studying a Masters in CSD as part of the renowned War Studies department at King's College London.

Oh yeah, and Twitter. Though I don't say much, of course.