Tag Archives: security

The Perils of Security Policy Making in the 21st Century

security-perils-blog

If I were to chose an epigraph for a book on the topic of challenges faced by security sector today, this quote from the recent book of Wilhelm Agrell and Gregory Treverton would say it all: ‘We are living in a social environment transcended by growing security and intelligence challenges, while at the same time the traditional narrow intelligence concept is becoming increasingly insufficient for coping with diffuse, complex, and transforming threats.’ [1]

Below is my take on the issue, on the example of UK’s anti-terrorism and anti-extremism strategies. This post aims at sharing opinion on certain themes and generating a cross-disciplinary discussion (ideally with the involvement of both practitioners and scholars), without pretending to present any comprehensive, all-encompassing analysis of the intelligence. [2] It serves as an introduction to a series of episode studies/essays I am writing on security policy (employing, to extent possible, the knowledge from various social sciences), namely on the UK Government’s strategies to counter the threats posed by militant Islamists. [3]

Rethinking Security, Realistically

A few month ago, a group of British charitable organisations and think-tanks, The Ammerdown Group, has published a discussion paper on the UK’s security doctrine and strategy. Written by academics and practitioners having first-hand experience working with communities affected by conflict all over the world, Rethinking Security offers valuable insights into the present state of affairs in the field of preventing crises, responding to threats, and building peace. The paper points to a number of factors impeding a change from ‘heavily militarised’ approach towards civilian instruments of peace building, such as influence of powerful social elites and business interests on the policy-making, institutional inertia and politicisation, and preference for values associated with dominance.

In conclusion, it recommends a new strategic approach where instead of interventions based on military power the UK ‘would develop non-military response capabilities, such as early resort to state and civil capacities for violence prevention, conflict transformation, diplomacy and peacemaking, as well as cooperatively devised, civilian-based violence reduction interventions’.

Welcoming the publication of this well-thought-out and timely discussion paper and agreeing with the analysis findings and general direction of recommendations therein, I still have certain reservations with regards to abandoning intelligence and military altogether in favour of soft measures, such as passionately building community cohesion through shared responsibility and common action. I am convinced that the change is necessary, even imperative, but with security sector in the equation (and not only in the US and UK, but in many other countries across the globe which need more effective and more democratically controlled security forces) – a new security sector, adapted to realities of the day and capable of effectively fighting security risks that have resulted from globalisation, such as global terrorism, cyber threats, cross-border human trafficking, and organised transnational crime.

Four features, three themes

Security sector in the twenty-first century faces a number of unprecedented challenges, both by their scope and complexity. One set of contributing factors relates to globalisation. The nature and pace of technological advancements, and especially the revolution called Web 2.0, have exerted enormous influence on all aspects of life. Security environment being by definition dominated by uncertainty, nowadays becomes increasingly volatile—it is multifaceted, nuanced, filled with potentially large-impact surprises, and is very dynamic and rapidly changing. This makes planning, collecting and processing intelligence, and making decisions immensely difficult.

On the top of it, militant Islam has evolved over the last three-and-half decades into a kind of security threat that the world has not encountered before; it keeps evolving through the mutually reinforcing relations between its political and religious causes and economic, political and social contexts as within certain countries, so regionally and globally. By the way things are developing it is clear that at present neither states nor societies are prepared to deal effectively with such a threat.

Western liberal democracies, in particular, are ill-prepared to counter modern extremism, due to certain limitations inherent to them as a governance system; moreover, they are showing reluctance to reform the established practices and procedures and to introduce more flexibility into security policy making. Societies, in turn, are undergoing a painful generational process which is characterised by declining trust towards governments but also deepening divisions between various social, cultural and religious communities.

[*I am particularly interested in exploring social and cultural adaptation of migrants (and possibly newly arriving refugees) from the conflict-torn countries: (unmet) expectations, stereotypes on both sides (hosts and incomers), group identities – all this creates a fertile ground for misunderstanding, isolation, animosity, radicalisation, hate and violence.]

There have been various explanations offered in the literature, to democratic governments’ weakness in handling security sector issues. Four features of the present day decision making, which relate to the national security policy, deserve a close look. First is the sensitivity of issues dealt with by intelligence. Second feature is the urgency of the action required by citizens, from the state. These correlate and I will consider them in tandem, under the ‘pressing circumstances’ below. The third feature is an inherently political nature of the policy making, which in the case of security policy turns to be quite problematic (briefly addressed under the ‘political constraints’). And the fourth is the policy’s reactive rather than proactive positioning against the extremists, especially with regards to their very aggressive propaganda campaign (under ‘communication: a reactive stance’).

Under pressing circumstances

It is well known that in a daily life some people are ready to pay more for a quick gain instead of waiting a bit for getting it at a nominal cost. However, things change when we as individuals, communities, society feel endangered.  If there is a perceived threat to our lives and well-being or that of our beloved ones, we react sharply and our immediate gratification mood spirals with an enormous magnitude. At this moment of collective anxiety we are ready to overpay significantly (actually, no one even thinks about costs) and tend to put a massive pressure on the decision makers to act promptly and effectively.

The state’s reaction to public pressure in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015 can serve as a textbook case: Initial shock gave place to the public outrage, then intensive media reporting took off and this followed by a panic that we were the next target of militant Islamists—all in all, for the officials finding themselves under huge pressure to make last minute amendments to the Strategic Defence and Intelligence Review, pledging significant additional human, technological and financial resources committed to the security strategy (additional investment of £2.5 billion and employment of 1,900 more staff) and then to hastily pass a decision on joining the airstrikes of the ISIL’s targets in Syria.

In this case, the Government’s actions did not seem rational but rather emotionally charged, under the intensity of public outrage. Such decisions tend to result in immediate gains at the expense of long-term priorities. They are also costly. A few days after the publication of the Defence Review and the reports on first airstrikes by RAF planes in Syria, there was no panic anymore. No one thought about the cost of the response.  Obviously, those funds will be taken from some other budgetary items, if not borrowed, and the society will bear the cost of it in the years to come.

Political constraints

Key features of intelligence, such as fragmented knowledge and lack of timely and complete information, as well as difficulty gauging the progress make decision making in security sector notoriously complicated. The uncertainty of the environment where security policy operates partly explains one known weakness of democratic governments—that is, their indecisiveness in taking difficult decisions, also known as the ‘lack of political will’ to act on complex and sensitive problems. At the same time, there are situations when governments tend to act on security issues swiftly and with minimal hesitation. At least two political factors can be distinguished as contributing to this phenomenon.

Decision making in democracies is in many ways defined by electoral cycle, what limits politicians to implementing only those policies that can produce visible results in short time. Taking bold decisions is always difficult, as the cost of risk taking might be prohibitive, and hence, the time must be ripe. For example, the decision to launch the military campaign against al-Qaeda and their hosts, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, was only possible because of conducive environment created by September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and the declaration of the ‘war on terror’.

Similarly, the UK Government’s decision to join airstrikes in Syria was long on the agenda of the Prime Minister, but got the real chance to pass through the Parliament (without damaging his and the Conservative party’s image by the humiliation of possible defeat) in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, when the emotional tension was high and thus, conditions were favourable to overcome the opposition.

By its nature the policy making inevitably brings about change which affects the interests of various stakeholders. In foreign, defence and security policy domain, along with domestic interest groups (such as government ministries and agencies, and state and private contractors and providers of products and services) there are international (governmental, inter-governmental, international public and private) actors who have vested interests in the government taking this or another course of action under external obligations.

Government ministries/agencies elsewhere are constantly competing for funding, in a bid driven by the consideration of the scope and quality of work and, partly, by their political ambition to grow strong and exert more influence. For example, the Government’s reaction to Paris attacks, along with airstrikes, resulted in significant additional public funds pledged by the Prime Minister. This being a precedent, right after the terrorist attacks in Jakarta in January 2016, Scotland Yard went ahead announcing quite considerable increase in the number of trained marksmen (by more than 27 percent) in a move that cost £2.5 million of taxpayers’ money.

On the other hand, international allies put additional pressure on decision makers, either supporting or discouraging them, and not necessarily in the best interest of the nation but rather for the sake of the common good (NATO and European Union related policies stand as an example). Today, Syria and Iraq are not merely a battlefield where the war with ISIL, al-Qaeda, and other militants is fought. It is also the place where local actors (national governments vs. diverse opposition groups in Syria and Sunni tribes and former Ba’athists in Iraq), backed on either side by key regional players (Saudi Arabia vs. Iran) and global powers (US and allies vs. Russia)—all collide in their contest over exerting larger influence in the Middle East theatre, in a dramatic, complicated geopolitical stand-off.

Therefore, statements by some British pundits and politicians in justifying the airstrikes, that ‘we must show our solidarity with France’ or ‘we must go out there and prevent this threat from coming and hitting us next’ sound at the very least as naive (or misleading). Britain must join the fight because, first, that is what her allies demand of her; and two, that is the place to be, if you want to be regarded as an influential global player.

In their turn, the policy makers attempt at putting political pressure, or unduly intervening, in the intelligence process (which is there to provide an impartial specialist advice in support of the policy making).  This politicisation of intelligence may take various forms, from ‘soft’ framing to ‘hard’ manipulation of evidence and/or simply imposition of pre-formulated constructs, disregarding the intelligence advice. To these I would add another type, when policy makers simply reject the intelligence offered to them and rely on other information or their own reasoning. Given the degree of secrecy in decision making on the national security issues, we never actually know for sure how certain decisions were made and which type of politicisation was applied (if any at all).

Strategic communications: A reactive stance

The Government counter-terrorism strategy’s protective function is implemented by specialised forces quite effectively: the fact that there has been no successful attack by militant Islamists on the British soil in more than ten years stands as a proof. However, the responsive stance taken by the state enables militants dictate the pace, location and even the format of engagement. It is obvious when it comes to the terrorist propaganda: the state, the society, and the media are not doing well in countering it as could have been expected. This gives the Islamist extremists a possibility to manipulate individual perceptions and public opinion, media coverage, and eventually the decision making.

Aggressive propaganda undertaken by militants, first of all, targets the young Muslims and serves to justify violence. Traditional themes exploited are jihad (interpreted strictly as ‘just war’) and the protection of the Muslim lands from ‘infidel’ invaders. Their interpretation allows for preemptive attacks and killing civilians—to silence the critics among the Muslim community, of the methods they use. The propaganda also aims at glorification of the images of Islamist fighters (take, for example, Mohammed Emwazi aka ‘Jihadi John’), to promote the case of martyrdom and afterlife heaven. As for non-Muslims, through various video footages, particularly those with execution of hostages, militants intend at inflicting mayhem, so that to put additional pressure and diminish the resistance of targeted states/societies.

One of communication techniques used by militant Islamists is about imposing certain messages and symbols to influence the target audiences’ associations and perceptions. For example, the organisation which has its formal name as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, instead of being called by its acronym ISIL is frequently referred to in public discourse and in the official documents as Islamic State. No one seems to pay attention to this fact, but that is exactly what they want—to be seen as the state. And the attributes of the state, as known from classical definition, include an ‘exclusive authority to use violence for establishing law and order within its borders.’

Consider this (for conclusion)

You have already noticed that I used the case of the British Government’s hastily taking decision on amending the strategy and joining the airstrikes over Syria, under different thematic parts of this post. In one part, the decisions are explained by the desire to calm down the public anxiety (‘availability cascade’), in another it suggests that the decisions might be the result of political maneuvering of the Prime Minister, or the successful lobbying of political elites and military and intelligence agencies. It is also implied that this might have been the result of pressures from the allies, in the geopolitical struggle over the Middle East.

All these explanations seem equally plausible, and I believe that more than one (if not all, to various degree though) have contributed to the decision in question. Think about it. And think about other similar instances (in any country) and their consequences. I will try to elaborate in the future posts, too. Especially from the point of what could be done to minimize the politicisation of intelligence and to increase the transparency and accountability in the defence and security policy domain.

Notes

[1] Wilhelm Argell and Gregory F. Treverton, National Intelligence and Science:Beyond the Great Divide in Analysis and Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 196

[2] I owe my understanding of the sector’s present-day developments and challenges to a number of excellent works produced recently by the leading authors in this field, such as: Loch K. Johnson (ed.), Handbook of Intelligence Studies (Abingdon: Routledge, 2007); Loch K. Johnson (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of National Security Intelligence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); Mark M. Lowenthal, Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy, 3rd ed. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2006); Peter Gill and Mark Phythian, Intelligence in an Insecure World, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012); and Wilhelm Argell and Gregory F. Treverton,National Intelligence and Science: Beyond the Great Divide in Analysis and Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015)

[3] There is no globally agreed terminology, but depending on the context (whether related to terrorism or to extremism) the most recent UK Government strategies and policy documents employ the ‘Islamist terrorism’ and ‘Islamist extremism’ phrases. I will use the ‘militant Islam’ alongside these two, as an overarching phrase. See: David Anderson Q.C., The Terrorism Acts 2014, Report of the Independent Reviewer on the Operation of the Terrorism Act 2000 and Part 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006, September 2015; and Counter-Extremism Strategy, October 2015, Cm9148

 

Building Peace and Democracy in Myanmar, Brick by Brick

A series of posts on Democracy and Conflict: Real-life Solutions vs Models:

“Locally owned democratic reforms and peace building processes may not look as logical and attractive as externally promoted/imposed models, but they are effective — not the least because they derive from and are built in local culture, contexts, institutions.”

myanmar-conference-2016

21st Century Panglong Conference in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar 31 August, 2016. REUTERS

In this commentary on Myanmar’s recent progress toward establishing democratic governance and ending decades-long civil war, I will try to look beyond the known facts into the background of Burmese politics that frames, directs and conditions the course of developments, but is also continuously influenced by them. That is why this environment is neither static nor monolithic or heterogeneous. I will pick up some pieces of this dynamic puzzle to better understand what is happening in Myanmar and, more importantly, why it happens as it does.

Another milestone

In the course of four days, from 31 August to 4 September 2016, the government and military of Myanmar held a peace conference with rebel groups over the country’s future political and administrative set-up. The conference in the capital Nay Pyi Taw was the first broad based, inclusive of (almost) all stakeholders event dedicated to this issue in nearly seventy years, since gaining the independence in 1948.

The importance of this event is difficult to overestimate. It was the largest and most representative forum bringing together government officials, members of parliament, political party representatives, military officers, and representatives of ethnic armed groups in decades. Its significance is twofold, given that it demonstrated the legitimacy and credibility of the first democratically elected government and set the course toward the implementation of the negotiated peace that shall result in a new, federal political and administrative organisation of the Burmese State.

It was not perfect (what is in political realm?), for it did not live up to (rather elevated) expectations of achieving tangible outcomes except for demonstrating commitment, formally launching the process, and offering all the sides an opportunity to share their opinion. But that is already a firm step forward, in a manner that appears to be characteristic of political processes in Myanmar—testing ground and moving from one milestone to the next as conditions allow.

Conditions must be ripe for making a move to another milestone toward peace and democracy in Myanmar, and they grew so gradually over a number of recent years of painstakingly building momentum, to be ready by this point in time.

This kind of decision making based on ecological rationality (that is when inferences are made through exploiting the structure of information and the environment to arrive at adaptively useful outcomes) shows itself in many instances in Myanmar, including the timing of holding the conference. Many external observes grew impatient over the prolonged negotiations and the delay with holding this landmark event; they missed the point, I am afraid. The conditions must be ripe for making the move toward another milestone, and they grew so gradually over a number of recent years of painstakingly building momentum, to be ready by this point in time:

— The military have made another step on their ‘roadmap’, by allowing the democratically elected government to take public office; in so doing they retained their power and control of certain decision-making domains (such as defence, police and border control where they continue appointing the ministers and their deputies).

— The government is fresh and its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi commands respect internally and internationally and enjoys credibility with majority of population; thus hopes and willingness to cooperate are high for the time being (this is not going to be always like that, because there will be unavoidable delays and failures in addressing the mounting problems that will eventually lead to certain frustration and disillusionment).

— The rebels are exhausted and they realise that they have achieved maximum of what they could have secured through the armed conflict. It is not a secret to either side that violence leads to more violence which only aggravates the situation but does not bring any result in and by itself. Since the signing of National Ceasefire Agreement in October 2015 all but three rebel groups in the north have put the arms down.

— This explains why all the rebel groups (even those who did not sign the agreement) agreed to its text last year. And in fact accepting the peace agreement is being kept firmly by the government and military, as a precondition for participating in the follow-up peace- and state-building process. On the other hand, the negotiation process was long enough (it took four years) for all the parties to hold internal consultations and to weigh all the pros and cons. In turn, the military’s powerful commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and his deputy signing the agreement in person had demonstrated their commitment.

— And finally, the process has got high level of attention and support from the international community. At the moment it is at its pick, which means strong political backing but also availability of financial and technical aid which are much needed to revitalise the economy and to address Myanmar’s numerous social problems (this should be taken with caution though, first, because of ever important to Myanmar strategic goal of balancing its relations with China, and second, recalling the waste in supply and spending when the country first opened for the external assistance in 2011, after the sanctions imposed back in the 1990s).

The fact that the agreement signing ceremony last year was attended by ambassadors of forty-five countries, the UN and World Bank in presence and co-signed by six international witnesses (among them the most important politically and economically neighbours China and India, along with Japan, Thailand, UN and the European Union) already speaks for itself. This year, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the conference, while the former SG Kofi Annan will head a commission for examining the situation with Rohingya Muslims and offering recommendations.

Recognizing the complexity of Burmese society

Any society represents a complex system due to broad variety of societal groups which constitute it and the diversity of their interests and intra-group and inter-group interactions (as stakeholders in an array of issues). Complex systems, as a rule, are characterized by the interaction of their components and therefore the resulting ‘emergent’ properties of the system as a whole cannot be derived from generalized quality of its components but reflect the properties of those numerous and multidimensional interactions between its constituent parts. Those interactions, in turn, tend to constantly change in their dynamics, directions, forms and magnitude. That is why it is so difficult to categorize any society, even when assessed against the criteria of one given category (for example, using political rights and civil liberties for judging the degree of democratic freedom).

Now imagine how complex is society where one-third of population is comprised of ethnic minorities. Moreover, there are more than a hundred of those minorities living together in these territories literally for ages. Add seven decades of most recent violent confrontation between them and the government led by military junta (of ethnic majority)—a civil war resulting in further erosion of social fabric and deeply running mistrust, physical destruction, economic backwardness, poverty, massive scale human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of refugees abroad and displaced people in-country, and more than one hundred thousand of fighters belonging to a dozen-and-half of armed rebel groups spread across the land (which are linked to each other but do not form a single cohesive entity, thus may act independently).

Democracy and Peacemaking. It is impossible to meaningfully achieve one goal without attaining the other: there cannot be a democracy without equality and fundamental human rights and rights of minorities respected, and democracy seems to be the only system that can guarantee those rights to the Burmese society’s diverse populations. 

There are two processes running simultaneously in Myanmar, since its independence day. One is the process of political transformation (presumably toward democratic governance, but in a localised fashion). Another is civil war between the ethnic majority and minorities. In the shadows of it is taking place another localised violent conflict, driven by religious divides. These processes are intertwined, although may vary independently, and what happens is that only a solution (or rather, a set of solutions) that addresses core issues at the heart of them has a chance to be effective and sustainable. It is impossible to meaningfully achieve one goal without attaining the other: there cannot be a democracy without equality and fundamental human rights and rights of minorities respected, and democracy seems to be the only system that cannot guarantee those rights to the Burmese society’s diverse populations.

A REBEL SHAN SOLDIER GUARDS A MOBILE CAMP OF THE REBEL SHAN STATE ARMY IN NORTHEASTERN MYANMAR.

A rebel Shan soldier guards the heights of a hill outside a mobile camp of the Rebel Shan State Army (SSA) in north eastern Myanmar. PDN/TAN/JDP

Understanding the local contexts and institutions

This is a sketchy present-day portrait of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, set within the country’s unique contextual features and underlying institutions. Take just some of them, most prominent ones, and you will see the random events, individuals and groups as parts and parcels of political processes occurring in their natural environment.

The country has a long history of statehood—existed as an independent kingdom, at times strongly centralised, for centuries (since the mid of 11th century until British colonization in the end of 19th century). Therefore, sense of nationalism and pride of own history and traditions, in each ethnic group and nation-wide, runs very deep. Perhaps this is one reason that in spite of violent infighting, almost all the rebel ethnicity centred groups do not seek to secede but strive to have equal rights and autonomy thorough building a federal state within the present borders. They take pride of the fact that Burma did not join the Commonwealth because they ‘refused to accept the British sovereign as head of state’.

On the other hand, the colonial rule not only disrupted the continuity of sovereign rule but also exacerbated and exposed the country’s major social vulnerability by stressing its inter-communal ethnicity based differences. This was recognised at the time of gaining the independence, and political equality was reflected in an agreement of domestic forces. Unfortunately this agreement was not implemented, thus effectively leading to armed conflict between the ruling majority and ethnic minorities.

Religion (Buddhism) has been one of distinctive building blocks of identity in Burma over the course of its long history, and has greatly influenced the individual, group, and inter-community behaviour and relations. However, group identity is not a permanent ‘solid enduring fact’ but rather a ‘situational construct’ which, first, has many layers and, second, evolves as part of the advancement strategy in response to changing circumstances (for example, by changing the hierarchy of its ingredient parts/layers). Therefore the Buddhist identity has not always played a dominant or unifying role in inter-communal relations, especially in the framework of the civil war unfolding.

In addition to ethnic diversity, there is a religious minority of Muslim population living in compact pockets; they are seen as aliens and discriminated against by nationalist Buddhists, at times brutally. In the western state of Rakhine, about hundred and twenty thousand Rohingya Muslims are living in displacement camps after being driven from their communities four years ago (it is also indicative that no one represented them at the peace conference).

Economic inequality has been another driver of the conflict, since the minorities live in most remote and underdeveloped areas but also have been neglected by the central government for long. Decades of civil war have devastated the country’s resources and destroyed its economy’s productive infrastructure while creating the opportunities for illicit economic activities, especially drug related, thus contributing to the conflict’s sustainability.

The change from within

Myanmar has demonstrated that by following its own path it slowly by surely progresses toward the end goal. The goal itself is broadly defined; it is shaped and reshaped along the journey, with multiple intermediary milestones determining the pace, the direction and the current and possible future settlement formats. Its smooth transition from military rule to democratically elected government (even though with the power and special position of military constitutionally guaranteed) took too long in the eyes of many observers, but what is important is that it worked out and already started delivering its first results. Another process, of ending the civil war, has too, entered its maturity phase after many attempts, iterations, and prolonged negotiations.

It well may be that, after decades of dominating mostly grim news Myanmar is about presenting to the world a lesson on how internal differences could be overcome. Whatever comes in the end (both in terms of governance and peace), is going to be a Burmese product, a local model that may not (and most probably because of that won’t) fit into Western or any other models of democratic government and peacemaking or work as a model for replication elsewhere.

Revitalisation of a troubled society must come from within if there is to be a meaningful fulfilment of its various communities’ needs and aspirations and a workable mechanism to accommodate their diverse relationships.

I am convinced that the Burmese (and similar) experiences of dealing with their problems deserve to be closely studied and learnt from. I see the success factors of this approach in its domestically-driven energy and localised solutions, built with recognition of political culture, traditions and institutions, with adjustments made to local contexts and, through this interaction, influencing those contexts to allow the change occurring and taking root. The revitalisation of a troubled society must come from within if there is to be a meaningful fulfilment of its various communities’ needs and aspirations and a workable mechanism for their diverse relationships.

The country makes cautious steps in progression and there is a long way to go. But one thing is clear today is that they do it their own way in Myanmar, and even if it does not match everyone’s expectations or standards abroad, it may work well for their people. And that’s what matters in the end.

This article originally appeared as a blog on PolicyLabs under the headline ‘Myanmar: Building Peace and Democracy Brick by Brick’

About the Author: Dr. Elbay Alibayov is an international development professional specialising in state-building and political processes in post-conflict countries. He has worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Azerbaijan. Being posted in the field (such as office in Srebrenica) and headquarters of international projects and missions, he has designed, implemented and overseen a broad range of strategies and local and nation-wide initiatives, and have chaired and participated in the work of civil-military groups, political coordination boards at all levels.

SCID Panel of Experts – Online Guest Lecture – Steven Smith MBE – The Global Humanitarian Harm from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)

This is the 14th Online Guest Lecture by members of the SCID Panel of Experts. Steven Smith MBE presents a lecture entitled The Global Humanitarian Harm from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

steven smithSteven Smith is the Chief Executive of Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), a UK-based, international NGO. In this role, he has overseen a broad range of activities, including agricultural training for former combatants in Liberia, landmine clearance in Western Sahara, arms control measures in Sierra Leone, and armed violence reduction programmes in Burundi.

In this Lecture, Steve talks about the role of his organisation, AOAV, in mine action and the global threat posed by IEDs. Steve discusses the number of casualties and how casualty rates compare over time, in different countries, and according to the type of weapon used. The Lecture also considers the different users and primary target locations, as well as detonation methods (for example, suicide attack or victim-activated). The Lecture refers to various incidents (such as the Moon Market bombings in Lahore and suicide bombings in Nigeria).

Steve’s analysis shows that IEDs are the weapon of choice for non-state actors, civilians are casualties more often than armed actors, and that the worst attacks happen in populated areas. Steve also underscores that behind each statistic is a person killed or injured. Steve also draws attention to the fact that harm is not just physical: commerce, infrastructure, education, and families all suffer from the use of IEDs.

Steve draws the Lecture to a close by analysing what can be done to address the threat posed by IEDs, concluding that key preventative measures include stigmatisation, control of precursor materials, and security of military stockpiles.

Click below to access Steve’s Lecture. NB Should the presentation not run automatically or the audio not work, please click ‘Save As’ (and then open once you have saved on your computer) rather than ‘Open’. Alternatively try a different browser (Firefox rather than Internet Explorer).

The Global Humanitarian Harm from Improvised Explosive Devices – SCID Lecture Apr 2016 – Steven Smith MBE – Show

Please submit any questions or comments within the next two weeks for Steve’s attention and/or discussion by other SCID Panel members, students and staff.

Studying and Working in the Field

Iain Blackwood and Conor FoleyWith kind permission of Iain Blackwood (SCID student March 15 intake) and Conor Foley (member of the SCID Panel of Experts), here is an excellent photo of both of them when they recently met a couple of months ago in Kabul, Afghanistan. Coincidentally, they have met a couple of times while they were both working in Afghanistan, and spoke about the SCID Course and SCID-related topics. It is also credit to Conor that Iain decided to choose the SCID MSc course, after talking to Conor about which Master’s course to pursue when they met early last year. It’s a small world and great to hear how often the paths cross of those affiliated to the SCID Course. Thank you very much for sending the photo, Iain, and for advocating on behalf of the SCID Course, Conor.

It’s great to hear such stories and also see photos of SCID students, alumni and Panel members in the field or meeting together – so please do continue to send and I’ll upload them to the SCID Blog as I’m sure others are equally delighted to see them.

Thanks again and best wishes, Eleanor

Building Security and Justice After Conflict – Student Position Papers

At the end of the SCID Course, students are asked to reflect upon the whole Course and write a position paper (of about 750 words). The paper should be on an issue related to building security and justice in post-conflict environments that they feel most passionate about which requires attention by, at least an element of, the international community. The postscript to the paper summarises reasons why effective action has not been taken to date. Students are asked to draw on their own experience and knowledge as well as academic material, with the aim of persuading the reader to agree with the position put forward and, if necessary, to act, while displaying academic writing and analytical skills.

Those papers that secured a Merit or Distinction (i.e. above 60%) are reproduced on this Blog (below and on a new page entitled Building Security and Justice after Conflict – Student Position Papers). Congratulations to all students who did so well and to everyone in the September 2014 intake for completing the whole course – and all the very best with your dissertations.

Best wishes, Eleanor

Dividing the Threat Multiplier: An Argument for Effective International Prosecution Against Grand Corruption and Kleptocratic Regimes – Maren Moon

The release of the Panama Papers by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has fuelled spectacular revelations regarding the scale of grand corruption and the wider system which enables it (ICIJ, 2016: np).  The scandal is exposing involvement by the very people and institutions who should feel morally and legally compelled to act with the highest integrity but who instead participate in a system all too frequently perpetrating wholesale crime, undue privilege, and the global erosion of security.  (Wolf, 2014: 3). They are doing so with impunity, and they are doing so while the world’s watchdogs cannot help but possess full knowledge that ‘the link between grand corruption and mass human rights violations is undeniable’ (Freedom House, 2014, and also Woodrow Wilson Center, 2016: np., and Transparency International: 2008, ).

No less than heads of states and global financial institutions linked to London, New York and Switzerland have now been connected to an enormous shadow economy responsible for: hiding assets; exercising bribery; facilitating tax evasion; practicing financial fraud; enabling drug trafficking; and participating in sexploitation. (See ICIJ, 2016 and Huffington Post a, 2016, Huffington Post b, 2016: np, and BBCb, 2016: np ). And no fewer than 11 million documents have laid bare the global elite’s participation in a system purposefully rigged to increase the gap between the absurdly wealthy and the tragically poor.  The international community would do well to note too that this is a system which facilitates crime in desperate and conflict-vulnerable settings while arming the insurgents and terrorists who operate from within such settings (Patrick, 2009 and Napoleoni, 2003). We should also recall the system intentionally erodes democratic principles of transparency, fair taxation, the right to peaceful protest, and the exercise of free speech (Woodrow Wilson Center, 2016: np and Wolf, 2014: 5-8).  In short, this is a system wherein leaders and criminals alike actively undermines everything to which the international community aspires, and for which it ultimately endeavours; sometimes selflessly and in conditions of great hardship.

It should not go unrecognised that the responses of those who have been unveiled as both witting and unwitting participants in the darker aspects of this economy, all too consistently reiterate a mantra which should give each of us a moment’s pause for reflection – that lawyers and financial experts alike still possess the legal means of perpetrating unfair, corrupt, and increasingly unfair and corrupting practices. Vested interests in lofty positions have suggested big businesses, and their high-flying personnel, need to work in the shadow economy even when it lowers opportunities for smaller businesses and honest entrepreneurs.  They argue further that legislation against bribery ‘puts British companies at a competitive disadvantage’ (Barrington, 2016: 4). And yet still too, others have intoned that society needs to tacitly accommodate unethical practices in the financial sector on the grounds that businesses in their countries are too big to fail, or too important to risk having relocate to another country. But in making these accommodations we will be enabling the capture of entire governments by organisations whose interests do not include the common citizens who eke by and sustain the infrastructure enjoyed by those who have rigged the system against them (Johnson, 2009: np).  Such accommodation could only serve to entrench profit for the few at the cost of the many. We are, in effect, now experiencing parallel attacks on democracy by the licit and illicit economies alike – both of whom are seemingly melding into a deeper, more committed relationship in an increasingly shady capacity and whose political-economy will forever thwart the international community’s efforts in bringing peace and security.

Those who evade tax legally are allowed to escape criminality by conveniently structured legal technicalities. This phenomena is relatively easy to rectify. But the Big King Kleptocrats who knowingly act outside the law, do so understanding that successful prosecution against their acts is nearly unheard of. History and statistics remain firmly on their side. This is occurring regardless of corruption’s increasingly evident role in destabilising entire continents such as Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Central and South America (Carnegie, 2015).  These actors smile comfortably while insinuating that exposure of their misdeeds might expose a larger, darker reality in which too many purportedly clean-skinned actors may also be complicit.

And while they may not be kind, they most certainly are proving wise.

Indeed, these same kleptocrats, and their advisors, will have followed closely the freedom and riches once more enjoyed by Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak who has now escaped charges of corruption and murder on a mere technicality (Reuters, 2015: np). Mubarak was a kleptocratic despot whose legacy includes death, blood, fear, and a deeply troubled country. He did not operate in a vacuum, and he was aided by the most powerful regimes in the world. But that does not excuse the outcome – nor does it justify the continuance of such behaviour. Those choosing to play in the dirty sandbox of blood and money in today’s shadow economy will have either dismissed the importance of the Arab Spring’s impact on security and human rights or cynically regarded the situation as yet another opportunity from which to leverage additional millions.  I argue that humanity can no longer afford such cynicism.

I further assert these same actors will have understood President Goodluck Jonathan’s dismissal of his bank governor following the well-intended public servant’s disclosure to the ‘Nigerian Senate that the treasury was missing billions of dollars in expected oil revenue’ (Wolf, 2014: 5). Indeed, Jonathan and his cronies seemed content to turn a blind eye to the networks which channelled money and arms to Boko Haram while leaving security forces ill equipped to quell an uprising which has now left more than 10,000 civilians and security personnel dead at the hands of Islamist savagery (Foreign Policy, 2015: np).

The kleptocrats will have further monitored the toppling of corrupt regimes in Tunisia and the Ukraine and reacted like narcissistic sociopaths unable to emotionally register the gravity of their actions, while concurrently making plans to fly to safety while maintaining access to their ill-gotten gains if the same danger knocks on their door.

The impunity enjoyed by this cohort, and structured into our globalised economy, has paved the way for much of the harm we see unfolding on the world’s stage. It has also provided resonant and compelling reasons from which the so called Islamic State, Boko Haram, and the Taliban find a seemingly endless supply of recruits (Chayes, 2007: 22, and Woodrow Wilson Center, 2016: np, and Schirch as cited in Mertus and Helsing, 2009: 68).

Whether knowingly or not, every last player in the shadow economy has contributed to an encroaching threat against humanity and which serves as nothing short of a security threat multiplier. It is of epic and global proportions.

The 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa provides an immediate example of how easily corruption might impact security on a global scale. UN donor contributions topping $5.2bn were dispersed to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.  Almost all of it vanished, and only a fraction of the disbursement was ever audited. ‘In all three countries, no individual has been tried, much less convicted, for their role in the mismanagement of money meant to save the lives of the dying’ (Al Jazeera, 2016: np.).  These funds were also intended to contain the outbreak and prevent its spread.  The UN’s Global Ebola Response data refers to the outbreak’s nature as having been of ‘widespread and intense transmission’ (UN, 2014: np). But to date, the myriad pages and resources on their website speak only of a level of need and the current status of the situation.  Their silence of the flagrant misappropriation of funds perpetuates impunity.  And such complicit behaviour could very well facilitate a new pandemic of Ebola or some other virus, which experts warn could be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to halt if not contained early, and with the utmost care; care which could never result in the face of another round of missing but badly needs funds (Oxford Martin School, 2012: np).

Grand Corruption further impacts security by destabilising regions in concussive shock waves. As migrants flee corrupt regimes and insurgencies (again, simultaneously fostered by the shadow economy), we see communities decimated, resentments grow, borders close, and trust diminish. (BBCa 2015: np,). Actions originating thousands of miles away from Europe’s shores are now threatening the cohesiveness of European states and the long architected interdependence of the EU.   The Schengen Agreement is further threatened as once ceded sovereignty is being repossessed by politicians seeking to erect borders and control the influx of desperate people fleeing the regimes which grand corruption has enabled.

Finally, kleptocracy feeds the thickening of the crime-conflict nexus as human traffickers, arms dealers, and smugglers share mutually beneficial relationships with terrorists, insurgents and the ruling elite. The nexus will continue to thicken so long as the chaotic conditions and lack of governance resulting from unabated kleptocracy ensures the conditions favourable to its growth.  (see Patrick, 2009,  and Lacher, 2012, and McMullin, 2009, and Jesperson, 2015 and Sloan and Cockayne, 2011).

And it is for these reasons, and so many more, that we must strive to end impunity for grand corruption – and the shadow economy in which it thrives.   Such a task will require concerted, relentless multilateral efforts and incredible political will.  But it can, and must be done.

We can begin by seizing opportunity from the momentum gathering in the wake of the Panama Papers and the associated Unaoil scandals in current headlines.  We can further reach out across the international community and form inter-organisational working teams to apply pressure on host-countries, the Bretton Woods institutions, and home governments.   We can institute training programs which dispel the activities which remain shrouded in mystery but whose reality can be unpacked in simple terms.  But most of all, we must challenge the sovereignty of those countries who refuse to participate in fair trade and good governance – and we must have an international court with both the will and capacity to challenge the problem.  And that court must somehow operate separately from the arbitrary and political interests of the United Nations Permanent 5.

But it has to start. Impunity has to end. And accountability must follow. And never has there been a more pressing time.

Postscript

As a post-script to my previous position piece, I would like to gently assert that the International Community has understandably tolerated grand corruption in the theatres of peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations. The conditions in many of these theatres have necessitated that our precious resources be used first to protect lives and second to institute the ground-level security needed to maintain sufficient equilibrium from which to begin the long, hard institutionalisation of security sector reform, transitional justice, and micro-development projects.  But this too provides another reason why the solution to grand corruption requires an international effort outside the influence of the P5 (whose own members might be guilty of grand corruption or geopolitics).  We must seek a solution which can pre-empt the looting of banks and act independently of outside political agendas which might situate a vulnerable country between winning and losing scenarios as powerful countries battle for control by proxy. We need a solution which sends a clear signal to corrupt elites across the entire world, and not simply those situated in areas of conflict, that corruption will no longer be tolerated, nor paid for by blood of innocent people.  But we, the donor countries, must see to our own houses first.  We must ensure our hands are clean and that any authority we exercise is comprised of substance and never hollow in its nature. We must lead from the front, and from genuine experience.  But we simply cannot afford to turn away from this issue – at home or abroad.  People are dying by guns and by starvation; and they are dying by torture when taking action to stop the atrocity at hand while having inadequate support behind and beside them.  We must be that support.

References

Al Jazeera Media (2016) The plunder of west Africa Ebola funds. Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/01/plunder-west-africa-ebola-funds-160125140155872.html (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

BBC (2016) Migration and citizenship, start the week – BBC radio 4. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06ybg7h (Accessed: 3 April 2016).

BBC (2016) Panama papers: What the documents reveal. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-35956055 (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

Barrington, R. (2016) ‘Spot the Difference: Corruption Research, Academies and NGOs’, British Academy: British Academy. pp. 1–7.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (2014) Corruption: The Unrecognized Threat to International Security. Available at: http://carnegieendowment.org/files/corruption_and_security.pdf (Accessed: 14 March 2015).

Chayes, S. (2007) ‘Days of Lies and Roses: Selling Out Afghanistan’, Boston Review, , pp. 21–23.

Foreign Policy (2015) In Nigeria, $2 Billion in Stolen Funds is Just a Drop in the Corruption Bucket. Available at: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/11/18/in-nigeria-2-billion-in-stolen-funds-is-just-a-drop-in-the-corruption-bucket/ (Accessed: 20 November 2015).

Freedom House (2014) ‘Combating Impunity: Transnational Justice and Anti-Corruption’, Washington, DC: Freedom House. pp. 1–10.

Huffington Post (2016) Big Banks Aided Firm at Center of International Bribery Scandal. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/unaoil-citibank-hsbc_us_56feba02e4b0daf53aefa1da (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

Huffington Post (2016) There’s A huge new corporate corruption scandal. Here’s why everyone should care. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/unaoil-bribery-scandal-corruption_us_56fa2b06e4b014d3fe2408b9 (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

ICIJ (2016) Giant leak of offshore financial records exposes global array of crime and corruption. Available at: https://panamapapers.icij.org/20160403-panama-papers-global-overview.html (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

ICIJ (2016) The Panama papers. Available at: https://panamapapers.icij.org/ (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

Jesperson, S. (2015) ‘Development Engagement with Organized Crime: a Necessary Shift or Further Securitisation?’, Conflict, Security, & Development, 15(1), pp. 23–50.

Johnson, S. (2009) The Quiet Coup. Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/05/the-quiet-coup/307364/ (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

Lacher, W. (2012) Organized Crime and Conflict in the Sahel-Sahara Region.

McMullin, J. (2009) ‘Organised Criminal Groups and Conflicts: The Nature and Consequences of Interdependence’, Civil Wars, 11(1), pp. 75–102.

Napoleoni, L. (2003) Modern Jihad: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks. London: Pluto Press.

Oxfam International (2015) Richest 1% will own more than all the rest by 2016. Available at: https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2015-01-19/richest-1-will-own-more-all-rest-2016 (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

Oxford Martin School (2012) Pandemics – can we eliminate major worldwide epidemics? | videos. Available at: http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/videos/view/208 (Accessed: 4 April 2016).

Patrick, S. (2011) Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Reuters (2015) Egypt’s high court overturns last conviction against Mubarak. Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-egypt-mubarak-idUSKBN0KM0O620150113 (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

Schirch, L. (2006) Human Rights & Conflict: Exploring the Links between Rights, Law, and Peacebuilding. Edited by Julie A Mertus and Jeffrey W Helsing. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.

Sloan, B. and Cockayne, J. (2011) ‘Terrorism, Crime, and Conflict: Exploiting the Differences Among Transnational Threats?’, Policy Brief, , pp. 1–11.

Transparency International (2008) ‘Human Rights and Corruption’, Working Paper, 05, pp. 1–6.

United Nations (2014) Global Ebola crisis response | data. Available at: http://www.un.org/ebolaresponse/data.shtml (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

Wolf, M.L. (2014) ‘The Case for an International Anti-Corruption Court’, Governance Studies at Brookings, July, pp. 1–15.

Woodrow Wilson Center (2016) Combatting grand corruption internationally. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GN6HDEgiSc8 (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

Small Arms Control – Jonathan Bradbeer

One of the great challenges facing the world today is the widespread availability of small arms. Deaths related to Small Arms account for large proportion of the average of 52,000 battle deaths per year, along with the average of 500,000 non combat violent deaths per year (Krause 2010 p.4).

The destruction of Small Arms often occurs during a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process at the end of conflict, a process that aims to ensure that combatants return to civilian life and do not return to armed conflict. Whilst human combatants can have alternate occupations, weapons do not, as they are designed and built to kill people. Destruction of weapons guarantees they will not kill again.

Whilst the production of Small Arms is unlikely to cease, the destruction of exisiting surplus firearms should remain a priority for the international community, for the simple reason that it is a way to reduce violence: it is more difficult to raise and arm a violent group if there are no guns available.

Vast stockpiles of weapons exist in the world today, often insecurely stored and vulnerable to theft. A large majority of these weapons are still potentially lethal, but are outmoded in terms of design or calibre, and are thus unlikely to be carried by frontline troops in modern armies. Many of these weapons are Soviet designs from the 1950’s and 1960’s, and are of extremely robust construction, meaning that once they find their way into a conflict zone, they are liable to remain in circulation for at least half a century. These weapons, typically assault rifles and sometimes smaller calibre sub-machine guns, have a high rate of fire and a very high destructive capability, but are relatively cheap, owing to their obselescence and large numbers (Collier 2009).

Many armed groups today consist of ill-trained recruits under the age of eighteen who cannot expect to be paid a wage, but instead rely on rentseeking activities from populations that live in areas that have seen a breakdown in state authority (Kaldor 2012). Africa, and the Great Lakes Region in particular, have suffered from the curse of a surplus of small arms in widespread circulation, exacerbating conflict and adding to civilian deaths. Ownership or use of an automatic weapon itself often holds appeal, as it can be used endow the owner with a sense of power and threat (Munkler 2006).

Central to any policy in reducing Small arms needs to be the tracing of the movements of small arms and tighter regulation of all small arms transfers internationally. Progress has been made at the international level in reaching agreements for the creation of linked databases to aid in the tracing of weapons, along with innovations in the marking of weapons to assist in tracing (McDonald 2015). Some progress has also been made in reducing government stockpiles in Eastern Europe, a positive development as surpluses such as these can end up being sold to third world governments.

However, the pysical destruction of weapons must remain a central focus, and it is worth considering whether this process could be streamlined and be made more efficient. On the ground, methods of disposal of weapons often remain very basic, with ritualised burnings of weapons in ceremonies, crushing of weapons with heavy vehicles and the manual destruction of weapons on lathes. This destruction process is lengthy and difficult and time consuming, as is the procedure of collecting weapons and storing them until actual destruction occurs.

One proposed solution to this could be the creation of mobile crushing units, consisting of a crushing machine that can shred steel, set on the back of a middle-weight truck, with the shredded material being conveyed on a slide to a neighbouring dump-truck type vehicle. Systems such as this could speed up one aspect of the DDR process and thus contribute to a peacebuilding process, for example meaning that once the details of a weapon are recorded, it can be destroyed immediately, without the need to collect, store and guard weapons until such time as the destruction process is begun. This does not mean that a ceremony cannot be held with select weapons at a given time, only that immediate disposal options are available. Although there are no easy ways to dispose of ammunition other than traditional demolition methods, the instantaneous destruction of small arms could already be a first step in speeding up a disarmament process.

The case for an accelerated pace in the collection and destruction of Small Arms has notably been made by events in Libya in recent years, where rebels captured huge stockpiles of weapons amassed by the Qaddafi regime and these weapons have begun to be disperesed accross Africa. These weapons have already been shown to have helped fuel the ongoing conflict in Mali (Anders 2015), and will no doubt continue to be found in Africa and beyond for years to come.

Postscript

The UN has made slow but steady progress in helping to coordinate international policies regarding Small Arms and the latest Biennial Meeting of States produced a document in the form of BMS5, which features important recommendations on stockpile management, weapons marking, record keeping as well as tracing, with the progress in the latter category being a useful step forward (McDonald 2015).

However, little discussion was devoted to  weapons disposal, and possible ways forward here needs to be discussed more widely, to see what can be done to raise awareness and thus funding for projects that involve DDR. The physical destruction of weapons component of the DDR is perhaps the easiest to address and is easy to enact, and makes a simple platform to appeal from during fundraising activities, either at the regional or international level. Until this time, it seems that insufficient press has been given to DDR activities, and weapons disposal in particular, a situation which should be remedied as soon as possible since raising awareness of DDR can also raise awareness of conflict and the political choices wich can affect conflict.

References

Anders, H. (2015) ‘Expanding Arsenal: Insurgent Arms in Northern Mali’ in Small Arms Survey 2015, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Collier, P. (2009) Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places. Vintage:London

Kaldor, M.(2012) New and Old Wars: Organised Violence in a Global Era (3rd Ed.). Polity Press: Stanford

Krause,K.(ed.)(2010) Armed Groups and Contemporary Conflict: Challenging the Weberian State. Oxford: Routledge

McDonald, G. (2015) ‘One Meeting After Another: UN process Update’ in Small Arms Survey 2015, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Munkler, H.(2005) The New Wars. Polity Press:Cambridge.