Case Study: Richard Reid

The Shoe Bomber Richard Reid: contextualizing theory and ‘bridging the gap’
{War Studies Department, King’s College London}



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his paper presents an exploration into the concept of homegrown Islamist terrorism, examining the features, processes, and environments which facilitate violent radicalisation. Particular reference will be given to those frameworks and theories which have sought to shed light on the socialisation processes behind mobilisation, as well as exploring the strains and world-views often argued to be preconditions for radicalisation. In order to ground sometimes conceptually abstract discourses, this paper will examine the specific case of Richard Reid aka ‘The Shoe Bomber’. Contextualising analytic theories in this manner not only generates important debates within terrorism studies; establishing, revising, and advancing the discipline, but also has direct practical value by helping to develop effective counter-terrorism strategy. This paper shall focus on three specific areas of analysis: after briefly outlining the timeline of events which took Reid from small-time crook to would-be suicide bomber of Paris to Miami Flight 63, a summary of some relevant theories potentially illuminating or pertinent to his radicalisation will be presented. The essay will conclude with a synopsis of his particular case and a review of the potential implications for theoretically informed counter-terrorism policy in this sphere.

Given this remit, at a preliminary stage it is essential to acknowledge the limitations of this paper[1]. Attempts have been made to avoid in-depth definitional discussions as abstract tangents debating contentious terms will likely detract from this papers focus. Thus, when approaching particularly controversial terminology within such wide-ranging, multi-disciplinary literature, it is necessary to assume practical working definitions: This paper takes Hoffman’s[2] definition of ‘terrorism’ as “the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence, or the threat of violence, in the pursuit of political change”. The term ‘homegrown’ is taken from Precht’s[3] analysis as one who experiences their “formative phase, upbringing and cultural influence….in the Western world” and, where used, the phrase ‘violent extremism’ refers to the use of violent methods to achieve “political ideologies that are opposed to a society’s core (constitutional) values and principles”[4]. The term ‘Islamist’ is taken to be the “strict, literalist practice of Islam with a revolutionary political ideology…. [seeking] to be liberated and/or united under Islamic rule” [5] and distinct from ‘Islam’ as a world religion. Where the expression ‘violent radicalisation’ is utilised it describes “a process in which radical ideas are accompanied by the development of a willingness to directly support or engage in violent acts”[6]. As such, theories summarised here should be viewed as more akin to Weberian concepts of ideal typical discourses than indisputable conclusions, or static social truths[7].

Richard Colvin Reid was born in Bromley, South London, in 1973. His mother was a librarian of white British decent and his father, a railway worker and career criminal, was from Jamaica. At the time of Reid’s birth his father was serving a sentence for vehicle theft and spent the majority of Reid’s childhood in prison. By Reid’s third birthday his parents had separated and he was to have little further contact with father[8]. As a child Reid was described as a reclusive, introverted and socially inept individual who found it particularly difficult to form relationships and make friends. At school he was considered of below-average ability and displayed little academic prowess, failing his 11+ and regularly playing truant. At sixteen he left school and began to follow in his father’s footsteps as a petty thief, a career he proved equally incompetent at, and was jailed for robbery within a year[9].

Reid was in and out of prison regularly throughout his teens, eventually accumulating over 10 convictions for personal and property crimes[10]. Upon release, a chance encounter with his father saw Reid profess how desperately depressed and disillusioned he had become. Unemployed and unpopular, Reid claimed to have suffered severe racism in prison and expressed feeling his life was worthless and empty. His father, who had converted to Islam, spoke warmly of the egalitarian nature of Muslim communities, the better quality of halal meat in prison, and the personal peace he had found from his faith[11]. When Reid was next imprisoned for theft in 1995 he converted and on his release in 1996, aged 22, he began attending Brixton Mosque and the Islamic Cultural Centre in South London, well-known for assisting ex-offenders reintegrate into society. Quiet but anxious to learn, Reid initially became a model convert, actively familiarising himself with the workings of the mosque, reading the Koran daily, and enthusiastically learning Arabic – even adopting the name Abdel Rahim[12]. The Mosque’s Imam, Abdul Haqq Baker, first recalls notable changes in Reid shortly after he met Zacarias Moussaoui, a French Moroccan and outspoken radical who would eventually go on to be convicted of conspiracy over 9/11[13]. Reid began to observe the orthodox, literalist, and, arguably, puritanical Salafist Islam, spending the majority of his time with Moussaoui and attending his externally run classes. Baker, who described Reid as eager and willing but also gullible and impressionable, remembers how Reid started to grow his beard and dress in traditional shalwar kameez clothing combined with army fatigues[14]. The once quiet Reid became increasingly confrontational and argumentative, questioning the moderate teachings of the Imam and regularly quarrelling with him over religious justifications for violence[15].

When Moussaoui and his associates were expelled from Brixton Mosque, for attempting to impose extremist views on younger members, Reid left also. They began to attend Finsbury Park Mosque in North London, notorious for both the extreme ideological message it endorsed and the number of subsequently convicted terrorists that have worshiped there. At this particular time the Imam in charge was Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was eventually jailed for inciting murder and racial hatred, and is currently fighting deportation to the US to face further terrorism charges[16]. According to Reda Hussaine, an Algerian journalist and MI5 informant, Reid, Moussaoui and Spanish al-Qaeda member Barakat Yarkas attended prayers together[17]. It is believed that through his affiliation with Finsbury Park Mosque, Reid first met Nizar Trabelsi, who would later be convicted of plotting to attack a Belgium NATO base, and Saajid Badat, who would become Reid’s accomplice[18]. It is further believed that these introductions were facilitated by Djamel Beghal, an Algerian Islamist described as an al-Qaeda middleman and ‘talent spotter’. Beghal is understood to have established numerous domestic and international terrorist connections. Whilst Reid’s movements during this time remain obscure, it is believed with Beghal’s assistance, Reid sought an audience with Abu-Qatada al-Filistini[19]. Regarded as the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda in Europe and a member of their ‘Fatwa Committee’, Abu-Qatada is currently detained pending deportation to Jordan on terrorism charges[20]. [Editor’s note: this paper was written before the latest developments in Abu-Qatada’s case].

Shortly after this meeting, between 1998 and 2000, Reid embarked on an extensive period of travel visiting Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Pakistan. He was purportedly testing the security of different airlines and casing potential targets[21]. It is believed that whilst in Pakistan, Reid crossed into Afghanistan where he was identified by terrorist-turned-informant Yacine Akhnouche who claimed Reid, Badat, Moussaoui and Ahmed Ressam, who was later convicted of the attempted Los Angeles Airport ‘Millennium Plot’, were all graduates of Khalden training camp[22]. Returning to Europe in 2001, Reid briefly stayed with Trabelsi in Belgium before finally heading to Paris[23]. Moussaoui, Beghal and Trabelsi were all subsequently arrested in relation to various terrorist plots and Badat pulled out of his own mission to simultaneously blow up a second transatlantic American flight[24].

On the 21st December 2001 Reid attempted to board a flight to Miami but his dishevelled appearance, lack of luggage and $1800 cash payment for a ticket raised suspicions and security checks eventually caused him to miss his flight. The following day Reid successfully boarded Flight 63 bound for Miami but failed to ignite the explosives hidden in his shoe and was subdued by flight attendants and passengers[25]. It is believed that being forced to wear the explosive shoes for an extra 24 hours in the rainy Parisian weather caused the fuse to become sodden[26]. Reid was taken into custody, charged, and tried in Boston. Defiant and unrepentant, in 2003 Reid was sentenced to serve three life sentences consecutively plus an additional 110 years for a string of related offences. Today Reid resides at Florence supermax penitentiary in Colorado[27].

Individual psycho-pathological explanations for violent extremism are widely contested and one should be careful of assuming innate mental imbalances and ‘fundamental attribution error’[28]. Therefore psycho-social contributions and group dynamics may provide greater insights into understanding radicalisation, allowing us to see beyond public stereotypes and the ‘insane terrorist’ myth[29]. Indeed terrorists are striking by their normality and are often more mentally stable than comparable violent criminals and on par with society at large – even suicide bombers display few suicidal tendencies and are often strategically logical[30]. One way to consider Reid is within the classicist paradigm; as a hedonistic, free thinking actor, cognitively choosing to self-radicalise and pursue terrorist activity after a “rational calculation which balance[s] the benefits against the cost”[31]. Certainly, Reid’s actions appear logical and calculated: Whether through engagement with radicals, seeking out extreme locales, or the choice to attend a terrorist training camp, Reid seems to have made apparently reasoned decisions motivated by utilitarian principles[32]. However, any explanation reduced to purely psycho-pathology or self-gratification is over simplistic and fails to account for environmental influences. Whilst Reid’s hedonist motivations are crucial, of equal significance are the relationships, loyalties, and social processes associated with interactionist philosophy combined with external factors associated with sociological positivism[33].

Although Reid should be considered a ‘footsoldier’ rather than a ‘leader’, his socio-economic origins distinguish him from the majority of terrorists in that he was not highly educated, nor was he from a privileged background[34]. Reid hailed from a deprived council-estate and realised low educational attainment, his social ineptitude and resultant marginalisation was reinforced further by his imprisonment. He suffered racism as a result of being mixed race, yet had almost no contact with his absentee father or his Jamaican heritage. His isolation, discrimination and cultural ambiguity, or “double sense of non-belonging”[35], may have led Reid to seek out an identity, meaning, and community – something alluded to during his chance encounter with his father[36]. If one takes the quantifiable social exclusion and inequality indicators used by the Rowntree Foundation[37] as an index for social deprivation, Reid was a heavily disadvantaged individual who resided on society’s periphery for most, if not all, of his life. Interestingly, many of the social exclusion markers he displayed are also notable within the British Muslim population more generally. Perhaps then it is unsurprising that Reid gravitated towards a religion he was able to relate to in his search for dignity, respect and identity[38]. His evolution into violent Islamism potentially provided a fixed value system which allowed him to externalise his own discrimination and failures as the consequence of a hostile Western world[39]. Through Miller’s frustration-aggression paradigm, Reid’s aggression can be viewed as consequence of his frustration with society, whilst concurrently his real, and perceived, social deficit and alienation created solidarity with the Ummah (Muslim nation) through a sense of mutual grievance[40].

However, socio-economic explanations of radicalisation create a number of issues, primarily as the vast majority of Muslims, and indeed disadvantaged minorities in general, do not adopt extremist viewpoints and even fewer pursue acts of terrorism. Therefore rather than asking ‘why do some people radicalise?’ perhaps one should ask ‘why doesn’t everyone radicalise?’. This is the fundamental principle of sociological control theories, and specifically Hirschi’s[41] social bond theory, which starts from this starkly different premise and asks what prevents or ‘insulates’ individuals from adopting deviant and/or extreme behaviours. Reckless[42] explains how internal controls are self imposed, learnt through the process of socialisation from parents, relatives and peers. Whereas external constraints arise from ‘institutions of informal social control’, such as schools and religious establishments, and provide secondary insulation should internal constraints fail. In this sense, Reid displayed very weak societal bonds and held almost no ‘stakes in conformity’ which may have buffered him against radicalisation. Indeed, as we shall see, the absence of internal social controls and perversion of external societal institutions can be seen to have actually bolstered and aided his radicalisation.

Taken in isolation then structural strains cannot adequately explain Reid’s case and no direct linear relationship between underlying socio-economic conditions and terrorism exists[43]. However, relative deprivation theory, or the ‘anomie’ created between societal goals and an individual’s inability to achieve these may be of relevance here[44]. A dynamic perspective is articulated in framing theory, a branch of social movement theory, in which Wiktorowicz[45] contends that the indirect consequences of root causes combined with social relationships are of most significance. Reid’s grievances allowed for a ‘cognitive opening’ where radical narratives resonated with his experiences, and he became more receptive to the diagnosis presented by extremist world-views. Noticing his enthusiasm for seeking prognostic religious answers, individuals like Moussaoui and later Beghal were able to appeal to a pre-existing ‘sentiment pool’ which, in turn, eventually led to ‘frame alignment’ or congruence between Reid’s own beliefs and the ideology and rhetoric of al-Qaeda. Reid’s full socialisation and internalisation of extremist dogma occurred after his transition to Finsbury Park Mosque, where these views were strengthened and reinforced by the guidance of Abu Hamza and later Abu-Qatada.

By this stage, Reid’s disenchantment with wider society was matched only by his isolation from it, associating almost entirely with a very small, introverted group of extremists. Here, the influential importance and the inter-group dynamics of his immediate peer group become increasingly clear, and contributions by social network theorists become invaluable in assessing Reid’s journey[46]. Sageman[47] highlights the centrality of personal bonds and interaction within small ‘cliques’ during the radicalisation process, suggesting al-Qaeda no longer need to actively recruit in a top-down fashion, but rather that previously socialised Islamists seek out terrorist networks once they have already decided upon violent extremism as a course of action. Similar observations by Kirby[48] certainly seem to correlate with Reid, who appears to only have proactively sought direct communicative links with al-Qaeda after he had already become an activist. Reid’s progression to this point can be understood as having progressed from a sense of anger at the perceived discrimination of the Ummah and the framing of his own grievances and disappointments as reflective of an overarching theme of Western intolerance and aggression towards Islam. The isolated and insular nature of his polarised peer group saw moderation shunned and jihadist rhetoric promoted, perpetuated, and allowed to escalate to the point this ‘bunch of guys’ decided to pursue terrorist acts[49].

Commonality can be found here with Sutherland’s[50] criminological concept of ‘differential association’, where deviant attitudes and values can be learnt, adopted, and reproduced by social environments favourable to the commission of such outlooks. The pressure to conform, the censorship of dissent, the collective rationalisation and the neutralisation of amoral views, and the arrival at a skewed consensus also feature in Janis’[51] concept of ‘groupthink’, where the unquestionable acceptance and conformity to the majority view bypasses alternative ideas, critical evaluation, or possible consequences. Within this group dynamic, Reid can be seen as having undergone a ‘risky shift’, gradually adopting more extreme positions and advocating progressively violent action, observable by his increasingly recurrent arguments with Abdul Haqq Baker[52].

If one considers Reid’s fatherless childhood, and his struggle to form lasting relationships, the importance of this tight-knit group and the solidarity he felt with his likeminded comrades should not be underestimated. This was comprehensibly articulated by Reid’s aunt who explained that “he was so lonely, his life was so empty….[and] he found solace with his Muslim brothers. With him, it became much more than a religion, they became his family….he believed he owed them loyalty”[53]. Indeed suicide bombing itself can be viewed as a “murderous form of what Durkheim calls altruistic suicide”[54]. The sense of belonging, community, mission and the social bonds Reid formed, depict radicalisation as a far more horizontal and acephalous process than a transcendent recruitment drive by al-Qaeda[55].

However, whilst self-starters may be more reflective of contemporary homegrown terrorism, it is undeniable that at this time certain ‘safe havens’ for extremism did exist and had become hubs for the fund raising, recruitment, and logistical planning of al-Qaeda related terrorist plots[56]. The most notable example is the very Finsbury Park Mosque that Reid attended, at the time considered the heart of extreme Islamist culture in Britain[57]. Nonetheless, sensationalist media reporting has created an image in the public consciousness of al-Qaeda operatives lurking in the shadows of mosques and brainwashing innocent victims. As we have seen, the radicalisation process is far more complex, associated with social malaise combined with a particular counter-culture milieu and facilitative networks operating within ‘enabling environments’[58].

Finsbury Park Mosque acted as magnet to an already radicalised Reid who switched his place of worship to follow his peers and establish ‘links to the jihad’, in this sense it was a gateway to terrorism[59]. Recognition must also be given here to the role Brixton Mosque played in this process. Although it promoted a peaceful philosophy, due to its active contribution to the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders, it advocated a ‘no questions asked’ policy which provided the setting, albeit unwittingly, for the initial genesis of an extremist milieu. Parallels can be found here with criminological routine-activity theories which view deviant behaviour as relating to everyday patterns and opportunism[60]. However, whilst radical mosques may have lost influence in the recruitment of Islamist militants, as Snow[61] point’s out, radical ideologues often affiliated with religious institutions can still play vital roles as propagandists and religious authorities in the radicalisation process – often acting as both important frame articulators and ‘central nodal points’ for seeking activists. Reid’s self-recruitment was enabled by the guidance of Abu Hamza and Abu-Qatada who acted as gate-keepers to the networks’ resources, demonstrating that the disposition, charisma, and credibility of Imams can still be significant[62].

If one were to describe Reid within the personality typologies put forward by Nesser[63] he would best be expressed as a vulnerable, disadvantaged, easily manipulated ‘misfit’, whose troubled past and societal disenchantment culminated in a search for a prescriptive identity as a means to frame his real and perceived grievances. These motivations made him more receptive to the radical narratives of an extreme counterculture and were conducive to his slow immersion and socialisation into an introverted, self-affirming, clique. This group was in turn influenced and eventually mobilised into a ‘guided cell’ by credible and convincing frame articulators, operating within enabling environments and a facilitative network[64]. Despite remaining an under researched field, the synthesis of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factor analysis is essential in the formation of effective counter initiatives aimed at both preventing initial involvement and promoting disengagement. The real-world application and scrutiny of theories through empirical case studies allow us realise this relationship and may help us ‘bridge the gap’ between academia and policy[65].

In an operational, strategic, sense there is little that can be done to instantaneously relieve the structural conditions that produce alienation. Nonetheless, Left Realist calls for wider social justice, the acknowledgement of discrimination, and greater societal equality remain important and should be encouraged[66]. Additionally, there must be proactive policies to ensure no form of violent extremism is allowed to flourish in communities or environments that may place vulnerable people at risk. This being said, it is also imperative to avoid Draconian knee-jerk reactions that criminalise and alienate entire minority demographics. One positive step towards education and community focused initiatives, which attempts to avoid stigmatising whilst challenging extremism is ‘Project Safe Space’ of The British Youth Parliament. This scheme encourages vigorous debate between young people, academics, religious figures, politicians and practitioners on controversial topics like ‘racial hatred’ and ‘suicide attacks’, but within appropriately controlled forums[67]. Nevertheless, the plurality of homegrown terrorism must be better appreciated, and such programmes should not be seen as universal blueprints but as elements of wider, phase-specific, locally grounded, counter-terrorism strategies. Therefore de-radicalisation policies must recognise the mediums that will credibly communicate counter narratives, and in this sense those communities and institutions disproportionately affected by violent extremism will be the long-term solution[68]. However it is vital that communities be empowered to “grow into this role organically” or risk further societal divisions, and even being viewed as agents of the state themselves[69]. However, in the wake of the London Riots and following the latest series of spending cuts, one cannot help but question how genuinely effective policies discouraging deviant behaviour and encouraging social development are likely to be.

In summary, given the restrictive parameters of this analysis it is important to recognise that violent extremism is not the inevitable end product of an inescapable sequence termed ‘radicalisation’. Holding radical or fundamentalist views no more automatically equates to terrorist acts than risk factors identify every terrorist. One should be as careful of sweeping pejorative labels as of false positives, which criminalise minority groups, and have potentially negative consequences for social cohesion[70]. Policy makers must be mindful that ill conceived counter-terrorist strategy may reinforce the image of an anti-Islamic West painted by extremists, and could unintentionally catalyse further radicalisation[71] . Furthermore, a general critique of terrorism studies can also be made of this paper in that, despite careful screening to ensure credibility and reliability of sources, primary data is limited and/or some intelligence regarding Reid is not in the public domain, resulting in a reliance on secondary or open source information[72]. Given the very specific case of Reid, this paper makes no claims towards the conclusive nor does it purport to be representative of all homegrown terrorism. Rather it should be viewed as an exercise into the utility of theoretical tools within one particular context.

One can see then that the nexus and interplay between psychological, sociological, and ideological factors is central to a sophisticated understanding of Reid’s radicalisation and mobilisation[73]. An appreciation of the socio-economic strains and alienation he experienced also allow for an understanding of the drivers behind his search for identity and inclusion, suggesting their potential worth as indicators for radicalisation[74]. The analytic tools considered here, whilst by no means an exhaustive list, represent the real-world application of academic frameworks. This offers valuable empirical insights into the relationships, loyalties, and environments which nurture and reinforce radicalisation, and may contribute to a contextualised understanding of these themes in policy attempts to effectively predict, recognise and, ultimately, combat homegrown radicalisation.

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

[1] Shipman,.(1997)
[2] Hoffman,.(2006:40)
[3] Precht,.(2007:15)
[4] Neumann &.Rogers,.(2007:12-13)
[5] ibid.
[6] Dalgard &.Neilson,.(2010:178)
[7] Poggi,.(2006)
[8] Elliot,.(2002)
[9] Craig,.(2001)
[10] CNN,.(2001)
[11] Elliot,.(2002)
[12] Gibson,.(2002);.BBC,.(2001)
[13] Steele,.(2001)
[14] Craig,.(2001)
[15] BBC,.(2001)
[16] O’Neill &.McGrory,.(2006:133 )
[17] Dovkants,.(2005)
[18] O’Neill &.McGrory,.(2006:225)
[19] ibid; BBC(2007);.Dovkants,.(2005)
[20] Rabasa et al.(2006:27)
[21] Elliot,.(2002)
[22] Ibid
[23] O’Neill &.McGrory,.(2006:228-233)
[24] Ibid.
[25] ibid.
[26] Elliot,.(2002)
[27] Parkinson,.(2003);.CNN.(2003)
[28] Sabini,.(1995:3-15)
[29] Heghammer,.(2006:50);.Silke,.(2008:118-119)
[30] Ibid.; Pape,.(2005:179)
[31] Jones,.(2006:104)
[32] Adams,.(1976)
[33] Downes,.(2003)
[34] Khosrokhavar,.(2005:25)
[35] ibid..(pg185); Roy,.(2004:193)
[36] Kepel,.(2004);.Slootman &.Tillie,.(2006)
[37] JRF,.(1997;1999;2010)
[38] Ziauddin Sardar, cited in Elliot,.(2002);.Rousseau,.(2005)
[39] Dalgard &.Neilson,.(2010:810)
[40] Miller,.(1941); Smelser,.(1962)
[41] Hirchi,.(1969:16-24)
[42] Reckless,.(1961:19-27)
[43] Krueger &.Malečková,.(2002;2003)
[44] Merton,.(1938)
[45] Wiktorowcz,.(2005)
[46] Porta,.(1996:23–28)
[47] Sageman,.(2004;2007)
[48] Kirby,.(2007)
[49] Sageman,.(2004;2007
[50] Sutherland,.(1947)
[51] Janis,.(1972)
[52] Silke,.(2008:111)
[53] Madeline Reid, cited in Craig,.(2001)
[54] Pape,.(2005:179)
[55] Neumann &.Rogers,.(2007:63)
[56] AIVD,.(2004:12-14)
[57] Gibson,.(2010:para1)
[58] Richardson,.(2006b:21-36)
[59] AIVD,.(2004:13)
[60] Clarke &.Felson,.(1993)
[61] Benford &.Snow,.(2000:611-639)
[62] Sageman,.(2004:ch3)
[63] Nesser,.(2004:10)
[64] Neumann &.Rogers,.(2007:24-26)
[65] George,.(1993)
[66] Horgan,.(2008:92-93)
[67] Thomas,.(2010)
[68] Nawaz,.(2011)
[69] Briggs,.(2010:981)
[70] Scraton,.(2007:63)
[71] Sageman &.Hoffman,.(2008); Change Institute,.(2008);.Bakker,.(2006: 36-53)
[72] Schmid &.Jongman,.(1988);.Silke,.(2001)
[73] Neumann &.Rogers,.(2007)
[74] Richardson,.(2006:2)


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An Introduction To International Relations Theory

International relations: an introduction to realism, liberalism, constructivism and the English School.



[dropcap]O[/dropcap]fficially established in Aberystwyth after World War I with the ambitious aim of eradicating future conflicts, the discipline of International Relations (IR) is currently one of the youngest academic fields despite the occurrence of war between nations having existed for centuries. The effort of understanding how world politics works and which tenets shape its most visible outcomes – such as war, international crises, and revolutions – has underpinned several attempts in elaborating and debating interpretative frameworks capable of providing policy-makers, practitioners and Joe Bloggs with a useful and detailed set of theoretical and explanatory tools. In this article I will be presenting the main four theories of IR: realism, liberalism, constructivism and the English school.


The first assumptions on realism as a way of conducting state foreign policy were detailed by a series of writers who belonged to the group of classical thinkers of political realism. Political actions, historical and technical accounts provided by Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and E. H. Carr, to name but a few, are usually referred to as the most significant contributions to the development of a well-defined philosophical pattern connected with realism. As for its academic tradition, realism presents the international realm as an anarchic political arena characterized by a struggle for power among self-interested states: it is generally pessimistic about the prospects for eliminating conflict and war. Having been the dominant theory throughout the Cold War, its intellectual straightforwardness and logical linearity provide simple but powerful explanations for war, alliances, imperialism, and the many obstacles to cooperation between states, especially within the normative environment of international organizations. Against this backdrop, currently realism can rely on the work of a wide spectrum of insightful scholars such as Kenneth Waltz, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, William Wholforth, Robert Jervis, Joseph Grieco and Marco Cesa, each of them depicting the different theoretical strands of realism (neo-classical realism, structural realism, offensive and defensive realism, and the theory of alliances).


Liberalism is as close to it gets as the complete opposite to realism. Frequently associated with the Kantian perspective of world politics and rooted in European Enlightenment thought, liberalism is firmly convinced about the possibility of achieving durable international peace through cooperation between states. At the core of this theory is the importance of rules and the formal and informal institutions in which such regulations are embedded. Liberalism is also differentiated in various theoretical strands. The first is concerned with the relevance of economic interdependence and prosperity as major tools for discouraging states from using force against each other (complex interdependence theory). The second approach (usually attributed to Woodrow Wilson – the American President of League of Nations fame) regards the spread of democracy – considered more peaceful than other forms of government – as the best antidote to the war (democratic peace theory). Finally, institutional theory, according to which the anarchy that affects the international arena can be successfully overcome thanks to the promotion of long-term state interests (such as security) in a shorter period of time through the use of international institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the United Nations (UN) (the so-called systems of collective security). Among its scholars, the most notable academic figures in liberalism are Robert Keohane, John Ikenberry, Michael Doyle, Bruce Russett, Inis Claude and Robert Axelrod.


Recently developed by the seminal work of Alexander Wendt, constructivism takes beliefs and values as crucial elements in determining a reality that is socially constructed – as supposed to liberalism and realism which take such things for granted. Thus, social practice, discourse and interaction among the participants of the international realm (both state and non-state actors) are the fundamental drivers of this ongoing and maieutic process in which the emerging norms and values shape their own interests and identities. Without offering any predictions, but focusing on an attempt to explain the reasons for political change, the constructivist perspective looks at power not as an irrelevancy but as a subjective product of ideas and identities. The definition of “power” – according to the constructivist interpretative framework – is influenced by the cultural and the historical context in which it is analysed. Similarly, Wendt argues that the realist conception of anarchy does not adequately explain why conflict occurs between states. The real issue, in fact, is how anarchy is perceived in Wendt’s words, “anarchy is what states make of it”.

The English School

“The English School” is a term coined in the 1970s to describe a group of British and British-inspired writers for whom international society is the primary object of analysis. According to this theoretical view, sovereign states form an international society, although framed within an anarchic context. The state of insecurity and violence which features this kind of “anarchical society” is to some extent mitigated by the role of international law and morality. As a matter of fact, English School’s members describe their theoretical membership as rationalist and related to the Grotian tradition: this approach concurrently considers elements of realism, such as power politics, balance of power and the state of anarchy, and liberalism (international institutions, morality and cooperation) as well. As a result, the English School maintains that the international political system is more civil and orderly than realists suggest. However, its vision, supported by the fact that violence is an inescapable characteristic of the international society, is largely differentiated from the utopian one, firmly rooted in the possibility of perpetual peace. Some of the most important scholars who developed and are currently embedded in this fourth and original IR thought include Hedley Bull, Martin Wight, Tim Dunne, Barry Buzan and Andrew Linklater.

The Importance of Being Eclectic

Going beyond this brief description and considering the wider spectrum of contemporary IR theories, it’s worth noticing how each of them gives an interpretative key for unlocking the issues of world politics. In order to thoroughly understand the complex and variegated field under question, it is important to take into account and debate all the aforementioned theoretical approaches. Each of them offers detailed and thoughtful contributions about the role of power, domestic forces, political change and thus the possibility for improving our current international society.

American Aid To Israel Is A Good Thing

If you want a peace process, you want American aid to Israel.



[dropcap]D[/dropcap]aniel Vanello’s piece on the Obama administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East threw up a point worthy of further discussion: why, given Netanyahu’s poor track record of seeking a settlement with the Palestinians, does the US continue to provide Israel with such copious quantities of military aid?

For Israel is undoubtedly the foremost military power in the region. She possesses the latest military technology – courtesy of our cousins across the pond – weapons that the rest of the region would do far more than kill to get their hands on. Her secret service, Mossad, an organisation world-renowned for its ruthlessness and efficacy, is employed regularly to remove threats to Israeli security on an ‘under the radar’ basis, thus negating the need to resort to more conventional methods of debilitating enemies. And of course, should the worst come to the worst, the Jewish-majority state is the only Middle Eastern country to possess nuclear weapons, an option that has been considered in the past – 1973 Yom Kippur War. Surely therefore, continued American military aid to Israel is not only unnecessary – she is more than capable of defending herself – but, given the current economic climate and popular world opinion being racked up against the ‘only democratic state in the Middle East’, concurrently politically inadvisable?

Ron Paul, the septuagenarian libertarian currently running for the Republican presidential nomination, has had his remarks on the matter turned into something of a political hailstorm. His opinion follows that of above: firstly, that US aid to Israel is illogical given the tremors rocking the American economy, and secondly, that Israel no longer needs the hardware that America is able to provide – Israel would profit far greater from intelligence sharing and a curtailment of arms sales to neighbouring states. So why exactly does this father/spoilt-daughter relationship continue?

The $3 billion worth of military aid provided annually to the Jewish-majority state was brought about following the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Our starting point, however, lies with the 6 Day War of 1967. The war (annihilation may be a more accurate description) saw Israel wrest control of the Sinai peninsula from Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser’s troops, proceeding to take up positions just east of the Suez Canal. Nasser thankfully/unfortunately (delete as appropriate) died in 1970 and was replaced by Anwar Sadat, an unassuming man that most – initially – had little time for. He was regarded as a toothless tiger: the military leadership were considered to be the main movers in the Egyptian establishment. However Sadat proved to be quite the strategist. Within two years of assuming power he had attempted to bring about some form of settlement with Israel, his objective being to regain control of the Sinai. Golda Meir (the feisty then Prime Minister of Israel) refused to partake in diplomacy with the Egyptian, her supposition being that no Arab leader could or should be trusted. Having had his overtures rejected, Sadat, along with his Syrian allies, invaded Israel in order to bring Meir to the negotiating table (the esteemed Ahron Bregman argues that Sadat had been encouraged by Henry Kissinger, the Machiavellian US National Security Advisor of the time, to initiate the war).

Whilst the 1973 war is quite possibly the most exciting and enthralling (and bloodiest) of all the Arab-Israeli sparring contests, I should probably get back on topic. Thus, to summarise ’73 in one sentence: initial Arab successes were countered by Israel, and following the implementation of a ceasefire the positions that had been initially held by both sides at the Suez Canal were retaken. The ’73 war was an Arab political victory and did much to shake the Israeli military command – they had been taken completely unaware. This provided the foundations for an initial peace settlement, for the Disengagement Treaties of 1974 were the start of the peace process, not the Camp David Accords of 1978 as is often asserted. The Disengagement Treaties mark the point at which American military aid to Israel was engaged. Should Israel arrive at a settlement with Egypt, and thus return control of the Sinai, she would be afforded the following:

1. $3 billion per annum of military aid;
2. an affirmation that no US peace plan would be put forth to international opinion without prior Israeli approval;
3. a promise that the United States would protect the Jewish-majority state against the USSR (having been threatened in the 1967 war), and;
4. a commitment that the US would ensure that the military aid supplied would maintain Israeli military superiority in the region.

Needless to say the deal was accepted and thus the peace process was born. 1974 marked the point at which America changed her tack when dealing with Israel: instead of trying to pressure the country into doing something she would rather not do, the US would shower her with gifts.

So, to conclude, next time you read about how stupid it is that America gives Israel so much money when it appears that Israel is doing nothing to warrant receiving such generous donations, remember that without such American overtures the Middle East would most probably be a far more unstable region that it is today. Of course, I might be completely wrong, maybe the peace process is a bad thing?

What The Military Justice System Gets Right

What can we learn from U.S. Court Martials?



There was an exceptionally informative post on on Saturday that detailed the specifics of how a U.S. military court martial is carried out, in anticipation of this instrument being used to determine the future of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier charged with disclosing American secrets to WikiLeaks. The inclination that I think most people have is that a court martial is fundamentally less fair than a civilian criminal trial, that the accused have fewer rights, that the culture of the military, with a low tolerance for dissent, would mean decisions are rendered with more prejudice towards the defendant. I know this was my own view. Upon reading the article I found myself pleasantly surprised that the military justice system affords those accused with rights and procedures, identical, if not slightly more favorable than a U.S. civilian trial. I began thinking, what are some of the inadequacies in our civilian justice system that a military court martial identifies and corrects? Below I have outlined what I think are some good ideas and while they may be difficult or even impossible to adopt from the military, at the very least they can encourage discussion on where we can do better.

Jury Selection

The jurors are not chosen randomly from voter registration rolls, like they are in the civilian world, they are chosen because they are known to be educated, experienced, and have a developed ‘judicial temperament’.  If my future was on the line I would want critical thinkers who wouldn’t be swayed by a prosecutor’s parlor tricks and those who could understand and make sense of complex arguments. I would want civically engaged and community minded people rendering a decision impacting the rest of my life. I would want the most educated and balanced group of my peers listening to both sides of the arguments presented.

Who are Your Peers?

The military anticipates the problems that can arise from prejudices in social standing influencing decisions. In the case of Manning, because he is enlisted, 1/3 of the jury has to be enlisted. Imagine if this quality and equity was applied in the civilian world. What if in a civilian trial there was a mandate that your income, ethnicity, religion, occupation, education, and other social factors had to be represented in the jury? This is accomplished to some degree by the attorneys collaborating on jury selection before the trial, but what if it was codified and quantified? The military jury that Manning will face will likely be a closer sample of his peers than a random selection of fellow citizens chosen for a civilian jury.


In a court martial sentencing is also carried out by the jury, not by the judge, who generally determines the punishment in a civilian court. More severe sentences require a larger percentage of jurors voting in favor, and in the case of a capital punishment, a jury comprised of twelve people and a unanimous vote is needed. Looking at the civilian world, in some parts of the U.S., judges are elected, not appointed. This means they have the proclivity to give out harsher sentences because they can then use that record in a campaign as an example of how they are ‘tough on crime’. Manning’s sentence will be decided by a group of people with different emotions, experiences, and interpretations of the facts, not politicians looking for an easy campaign slogan.

There are of course elements of a court martial that are inherently less fair. The fact that Manning effectively put fellow members of the armed forces at risk through his actions will likely not sit well with a jury comprised of members of the armed forces who probably have very developed and hostile opinions on the matter. However, we should consider what these proceedings will do well, how they will give someone who will probably spend the rest of his life in prison and is charged with a crime in a time of war, all the protections and rights that any of us would want. Manning will be able to defend himself in a public forum (U.S. court martials are open to the public) before a jury that is comprised of educated people who will evaluate both sides of his case with an even temper and a critical eye. If any of us are ever unfortunately on trial for our lives I think we would want the same.

The Obama Administration’s Foreign Policy In The Middle East

Obama: the promise-breaker.



[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n his “Cairo speech”, Barack Obama expounded a set of issues threatening the relations between the US and the Islamic world. Specifically to the Middle East, Obama singled out three crucial issues and made respective promises. Firstly, he addressed the issue of the Iraqi War expressing his disagreement with it and emphasising the need for diplomacy. He promised the withdrawal of all troops by 2012 and help in achieving a stable future. Secondly, he addressed the problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He made it clear that America would not deny Palestine’s right for statehood and explicitly denounced Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank underlying its role as a hindrance to peace. In other words, Obama promised a radical departure from the position the various US administrations had held before him. Thirdly, he addressed the issue of Iran’s aspirations to attain nuclear weapons. He expressed the fear that it would lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and thus that his administration was ‘willing to move forward without preconditions’ towards a reconciliation.

Although the last US combat troops left Iraq in December, thus fulfilling Obama’s first half of the promise, they left behind a country on the brink of civil war. Sectarian strife looms large and the government seems ineffective in providing any kind of security to its citizens. In fact, slightly ironically, it is reported that governmental security forces are applying the same methods used by the Saddam Hussein regime on Iraqi citizens. Whilst the natural resources of the country are being exploited by international corporations and there have been many doubts about the fairness of the 2010 Iraqi elections, Obama, in his Fort Bragg speech, called the ‘stable’ progress in Iraq an ‘extraordinary achievement’. Although Iraq is one of the biggest recipients of US foreign aid, the Obama administration should have devised a more specific and committed plan of reconstruction. None of this seems in sight: the future of Iraq is more uncertain every day.

The Obama administration has not repeated the common position held by former administrations in taking Israel’s side unconditionally in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In actuality it has vehemently increased US support for the Jewish-majority state. In terms of settlement construction (illegal under international law), the Obama administration never really posed a threat to the Netanyahu government. The only concession it achieved was a ten month freeze (excluding East Jerusalem) in exchange for giving Israel nearly $3 billion worth of military aid on top of the annual $3 billion in grants (despite the financial turmoil of the US economy). Just to make it clear where the Obama administration stands on the issue, it promised to veto the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations. So much for his earlier promises.

At first sight, Obama’s only virtue seems to be the use of sanctions rather than force in dealing with Iran’s nuclear project. But if we consider the amount of military support the Obama administration gives Israel and the continued belligerent messages the Netanyahu government conveys to Iran, then we are justified in claiming US responsibility in any attack Israel might be planning against the Islamic Republic. Furthermore, if Obama is truly concerned about a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and if he is truly committed to stopping it through diplomacy, then perhaps he should show impartiality by beginning with Israel’s disarmament, the only country which actually possesses weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East (and which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; Iran has). But the administration’s double standards are well known.

When Obama was delivering his speech in Cairo, few could have guessed that in just a year and a half’s time the Arab world would have experienced a wave of revolutions toppling dictator after dictator. The Obama administration’s reaction was carefully calculated. At first, especially in the case of Egypt, the administration did not express itself in favour of the protesters. Only once the public abuses became undeniable did the administration pronounce its opposition to Mubarak’s rule, hypocritically to say the least since Mubarak’s dictatorship had been supported by the US from its inception. Perhaps Obama’s best bet so far has been not to get too involved in Libya during the recent intervention, but the UK and France had already fulfilled that role. The opposition to Syria’s Assad regime is just but not for the right reasons. While the right reasons should be a genuine valuing of democracy and of human rights, the administration’s opposition to Syria is in part due to the latter’s financial and military support of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia party-cum-militia which opposes Israel.

Although Obama has broken most of his promises it is imperative to hope that, in case of his re-election, something might change. Because the administration will not depend anymore on the pro-Israeli vote, and thus will not need the heavy support of the various pro-Israeli lobbies, perhaps it will place its own priorities first in dealing with the Middle East. The same can be said about the other lobbies’ influences. To be sure in its first three years the administration showed a lack of autonomy in its decision making.

Case Study: Ulrike Meinhof

Ulrike Meinhof: West Germany’s homegrown terrorist
{War Studies Department, King’s College London}



[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n 9 May 1976 Ulrike Meinhof was found dead in her prison cell in Stammhein, West Germany. After four years of imprisonment, Meinhof’s final act of political propaganda incited controversy among the West Germany population. As one of the founders of the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction, (RAF)), her writings are responsible for inspiring two generations of West German students to take an interest in politics, some to the point of joining the underground violent movements. Ulrike Meinhof’s radicalisation process is unique when compared with other terrorist profiles. She is the rare example of a female terrorist in leadership positions; the RAF had a higher percentage of female participation than the average terrorist organisation.[1] Dükop argued that the male-dominated structure of politics left little opportunity for a female journalist such as Meinhof to have any possibility of legally creating change. Whether or not Meinhof’s complaints are interpreted as legitimate, Dükop’s argument allows further understanding of Meinhof’s motives to abandon her children and career for the isolation and danger of a clandestine organisation.[2] Another interesting aspect of the RAF is the high level of cultural resonance of their ideology. In 1971, public opinion polls identified that 18% of the population thought that the RAF was acting out of legitimate political conviction. 10% admitted that they would shelter a member of the RAF, if asked.[3] Kellen states that 5% (what he considers significant) of the population thought that the RAF’s activity was bred by downfalls in German society.[4]

Radicalisation is defined as “the process of adopting an extremist belief system, including a willingness to use, support, or facilitate violence”.[6] This paper aims to detail the radicalisation process of Ulrike Meinhof, from the beginning of her career as a journalist, to her actions on 14 May 1970, when she abandoned her life completely in order to create the Rote Armee Fraction.

Ulrike Meinhof was born in 1934 in Oldenburg, Germany. Her father passed away when Ulrike was five years old. Her mother continued her education in order to support Ulrike and her sister, shortly thereafter beginning a romantic relationship with fellow student Renate Riemeck, who soon moved into the household and began to help raise Ulrike. In 1945 both women joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany, and were teachers at the local elementary school. In 1949, her mother died of cancer, from which point Riemeck became the foster mother for Ulrike. The two moved to Weilburg, where Ulrike excelled in school, becoming the editor of the school magazine. In 1955 the Social Democratic Party voted for conscription, no longer opposing the rearmament of West Germany. Many left-wing thinkers, including Riemeck, were reminded of the similarly overarching control of the Nazi regime, and publicly disapproved of the decision. Ulrike mirrored her foster mother’s disapproval of the rearmament process, and in 1957 she joined the ‘anti-atomic death committee’, sponsored by Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund (German Socialist Student’s Union [SDS]), and was elected spokeswoman. Shortly thereafter Ulrike began publishing articles for their journal, where she began to gain notoriety within the left-wing circle.[6] It is vital to realise that Ulrike had had high level of commitment to the student political scene from a young age, which Della Porta states is a common denominator for radicalised terrorists.[7]

Meinhof’s radicalisation process can be tracked through the dramatic change in writing from her early career until she decided to leave journalism in 1969. In 1960 she was hired to work for konkret, a left-wing journal that was focused on the anti-nuclear movement. The editor of konkret, Klaus Rainer Röhl, would later become Meinhof’s husband and father of her two children. That same year, Renate Riemeck was asked to stand down as professor at Pädagogische Akademie in Wuppertal. The action was justified as an intention to protect her from public attack, but left-wing pacifists interpreted it differently. On 5 April 1957, West Germany’s first postwar chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, declared that West Germany would acquire nuclear capabilities. Riemeck’s history of rejecting the remilitarisation of West Germany inspired her to write a petition, signed by other West German academics, asking for trade unions to oppose the move by threatening to go on strike. These actions caused her to be a topic of controversy in political circles, therefore the request for her to step down could have been in her best interest. It is important to note the influence that foster mother Renate Riemeck had on her life. Ulrike idolised her foster mother, and her political opinions closely followed those of Riemeck.[8] Meinhof reacted to these actions with her article ‘Geschichten von Herrn Schütz’ (Tales of Herr Schütz), in which she stated that Riemeck’s resignation was the first time in the history of the Federal Republic that an academic has been removed from her post due to strictly ideological reasons. By subtly stating that this was the first instance in this government, Meinhof was eluding characteristics that were reminiscent of Germany’s past, Nazi totalitarianism. Meinhof drew on common fears of the return of an authoritarian government when she stated that “there is no saying where [Schütz’s] cleansing of German universities will end”.[9]

The mindset of Meinhof and her readers at this time was one of personal responsibility. She stressed importance of discussion between generations about political repression in order to prevent authoritarianism from returning. Controversially, Meinhof stated that the actions of Herr Franz Josef Strauß will be remembered similarly to those of Adolf Hitler, unless the government allowed freedom for political opponents, the separation of powers, the sovereignty of people, and peace instead of war. Ulrike Meinhof’s comparisons of West Germany to Nazi Germany continued with ‘Neue deutsche Ghetto-Schau’ (The New German Ghetto). Continuing with her previous argument regarding the repression of academia, she stated that, while there was new leadership, the repressive nature of the capitalist system still created an atmosphere of the dominators versus the dominated. Meinhof argues that the Jewish ghettoes of the Nazi regime have been replaced by the pacifist and leftist ghettoes of capitalist Germany.[10]

Della Porta and Diani list three elements that entail an ideological frame of thought. They define a frame as a “general, standardised, predefined structure which guides perceptions, builds exceptions, and helps one make sense of his or her identity”.[11] A framework guides one’s decision-making process, it encompasses cultural, political, and individual preconceptions. The first element is the diagnostic element, in which an individual recognises a social issue, and claims legitimacy to feel entitled to have an opinion on it. Norbert Elias argues that the student revolutions in the late 1960s and early 1970s are a product of ‘generational guilt’. The post-Nazi generation felt curious, bitterness, and enmity, due to “the unwillingness of West Germany’s leading strata to begin a dialogue about the country’s past”.[12] In looking for answers, many students turned to Marxist-Leninist or Maoism for answers as to how authoritarian regimes rise to power. Elias states that their thought process became: “We have taken on the guilt of our parents and grandparents that they did not want to or could not face because it was unbearable. We derive our pride from the knowledge of being the better Germans because we are ashamed of being German”.[13]

Meinhof’s early writings for konkret highlight her belief that the student population is responsible for preventing the emergence of another authoritarian regime, since previous generations have already allowed it to happen. Della Porta and Diani’s second element of a frame of thought is the prognostic element, where there is a consensus on the articulation of a solution.[14] The solution that is being sought by left-wing students at this time is one of public outreach, using methods such as investigative journalism to uncover incidences of repressive government actions, and public protests in order to raise awareness. [15]

Della Porta and Diani’s final element of a frame of thought is the motivational element, which is the symbolic element of the movement that causes individuals to be motivated to act.[16] This is often possible through a unifying element, which in the case of West German students was the “generational guilt” described previously.[17] The paranoia and fear of the post-Nazi generation created an element of solidarity for the students; they were motivated to meet, study, protest, and write together about the elevation of authoritarian elements in the capitalist system. When one compares these early writings to articles written after the escalation of police brutality in 1967 and 1968, one can better understand the radicalisation process of Ulrike Meinhof.

In June of 1967, the Shah of Iran planned a visit to Berlin. Before the trip, his wife Farah Pahlavi wrote an article about her daily life, comparing it to that of an average Iranian. The article was met with cynicism and pessimism from left-wing activists, who claimed that her lifestyle and wealth did not match that of the Iranian population. Meinhof wrote an open letter to the shah’s wife, expressing the apparent connection between the Shah’s visit and the West German government’s intentions:

“Are you surprised that the president of the Federal Republic invited you and your husband to this country I spite of all this horror?..Why don’t you ask him what he knows about planning and constructing concentration camps? That is his area of expertise”.[18]

The West German police offered the Shah security precautions that leftist protestors considered “reminiscent of the methods of a police state”, with the autobahn shut down for his safety.[19] A student demonstration had assembled outside of Berlin City Hall, where they were held back from the street by barriers which were guarded by police officers in riot gear, along with members of the Iranian secret service. When the Shah’s motorcade passed by the protestors, they began to throw bags of paint at the cars, until members of Shah’s security team stepped through the barriers and began to beat the protestors with wooden batons. As protestors retreated, German police officers joined the Persian officers in attacking the students. Skirmishes continued throughout the city all day, so did violent clashes between officers and students. University student Benno Ohnesorg was shot and killed by police officers that night, in an incident which they later explained as accidental.[20] Shortly afterward, Meinhof was interviewed for a television documentary on the events on the second of June. She referred to that day and the following media coverage as “police and press terrorism”, where the portrayal of the student protestors as the inciters of violence was completely falsified.[21] To Meinhof, the vilification of the student movement was a prime example of the overbearing power that the West German government had; they were even able to control the public’s image of the student movement through their influence on media.

From this event forward, Meinhof’s rhetoric, and the actions of student protestors became increasingly symbolic and violent in nature. Smelser’s ‘strain theory’ discusses how a population’s frustration over cultural, political, racial, or economic issues can lead to individual or group frustration, which may or may not lead to violent radicalisation.[22] This theory can be applied to West Germany in 1968, where an ideological split occurred within the leftist movement. Individuals like Meinhof decided to join underground movements, yet others, such as Meinhof’s husband Klaus Röhl (who she divorced in 1968) remained peaceful protestors. The decision of certain individuals to turn towards violence may be explained by examining cognitive openings. When susceptible, politically involved individuals experience something that causes a dramatic shift in their ideology, such as a personal or national crisis, it is a prime opportunity for radicalisation to occur.[23] Ulrike Meinhof’s timeframe for radicalisation was from 1968 to 1970, when tension increased between the state and the leftist movement. Her articles during this period evince a shift in the prognostic element of her frame of thought, and a justification of violence.

On April 2 1968, Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader set fire to a department store in Frankfurt, in what they justified as a symbolic attack on capitalism. The next week, a leader of the student movement, Rudi Dutschke, was shot outside of his home in West Berlin by Josef Bachman, a right-wing student who was shortly thereafter arrested with a newspaper clipping of an article from Nationalzeitung, a right-wing journal, entitled ‘Stoppt Dutschke jetzt’ (Stop Dutschke Now). Dutschke miraculously survived shots to the head and chest, yet terrified leftists who idolised Dutschke found blame in Springer Publishing Company, who printed Nationalzeitung. The student protestors became destructive after delivery trucks that were trying to drive out of warehouse grounds were flipped and destroyed. After the protests, which Meinhof reported on, she published “Vom Protest zum Widerstand” (From Protest to Resistance). She argued that, given the political climate in West Germany, protest was no longer enough to prevent the government from evolving into a corrupt state. The destruction of physical goods was not sufficient:

“The broken windows will be replaced by insurance companies; new trucks will be brought in for the ones that were burnt; the number of police water cannons will remain constant; and there will always be enough rubber truncheons”.[24]

Physical damage was not enough to stop publishers such as Springer from “carrying on with their hate campaign” that was directed by Klaus Schütz, and the capitalist system was aimed at causing reliant consumers to spend their earnings on products which the government forced them to believe were necessary.[25] She then alluded to a global conspiracy:

“Those who hold positions of power and who condemn stone-throwing and arson but say nothing about the hate campaigns of Springer publishers, or the bombs in Vietnam, or the terror in Persia, or the torture in South Africa, those who could actually expropriate Springer but engage in a grand coalition instead, those who could disseminate the truth…about students but would rather spread half-truths…are hypocritical proponents of nonviolence”.[26]

Meinhof found it evident that their protests and demonstrations do not effectively bring change in the corrupt, capitalist West German state, therefore “we can and must discuss violence and counter-violence”.[27] The article marks a dramatic shift in her prognosis for political change; it is the shift away from the possibility of change through the democratic process and a shift towards resistance, counter-violence, and class warfare. Meinhof adds a dimension of romanticism and heroism to the actions by labelling those who participate in counter-violence as “warrior-revolutionaries”.[28] Meinhof concludes with “The fun is over. Protest is when I say I don’t like this. Resistance is when I put an end to what I don’t like”.[29]

On 11 June 1968, sixty-thousand protestors gathered in Bonn to make a statement against notstandgesetze (emergency laws) that passed, which gave the West German government the authority to call in its Western European military allies in the event of a national crisis. Leftist protestors viewed this decision as yet another shift towards authoritarianism, as similar laws were enacted prior to the rise of authoritarian tendencies under Hitler’s regime.[30] Frustratingly, the protest failed to have any influence on policy, which inspired Meinhof to write “Notstand-Klassenkampf” (Emergency-Class War). She expressed doubt as to whether peaceful political protest is considered legitimate in a capitalist system, and stated that peaceful demonstrations are a “naïve waste of time”.[31] Given the repressive nature of capitalism, Meinhof argues that violence is necessary to create change in a system that is so inherently conflictual. She elaborated on her ideas on protest that she outlined in “Vom Protest zum Widerstand” (From Protest to Resistance) and stated that protest is toothless, while resistance is physical and effective. Violence is the only language that the capitalist system understands, because that is what the system relies on to maintain its legitimacy. She further romanticised violence by distinguishing aufklärerische Gewalt (enlightening violence), the open and public violence of protestors from the latent, hidden violence of the capitalist system, which attempts to justify its motives by enacting new laws and creating new wars.[32]

A shift in Meinhof’s opinions on the motivational process of social change can be witnessed when viewing her television movie Bambule (1969), and when reading her final article for konkret, “Kolumnismus” (Columnism). Bambule highlights the substandard, repressive conditions of children’s homes in West Germany, by following the stories of three young women’s attempts at individuality within a system of complete control. Colvin states that, when studying the radicalisation of Ulrike Meinhof, this film can be seen as a case-study in her beliefs on West German society as a whole, and an expression of her doubts on the legitimacy of journalism, as she attempts to convey her message through a new medium of communication.[33] Meinhof views the rigid and hierarchal leadership of the managers at these homes as oppressive, believing that they refuse any line of communication between themselves and the students, in order to prevent any feelings of unity. To Meinhof, this is a clear example of the political and class distinctions that exist within a capitalist society.[34] In spite of her doubts on the effectiveness of media, she did hope that the film would inspire resistance and action by the youth.[35] In the spring of 1969 Meinhof wrote “Kolumnismus” (Columnism), where she takes an offensive position against journalism, stating that it is illegitimate in a capitalist system. Journalists are a slave to the demands of their editors, who in turn are a slave to their readers, and the necessity of profits. By only writing what the readers are willing to pay for, journalism is the illegitimate slave of the capitalist system, and can be considered thought control. Journals and newspapers are the voice of one writer; there is no discourse, collectivity, or action that results from what is written. Meinhof believes that it keeps her voice as “eccentric and individual” and prevents the creation of solidarity.[36] To her, journalism was the cult of the individual, therefore useless. The necessity of group solidarity prevents her from seeing the legitimacy of continuing her career as a journalist, and on 26 April 1969, she ended her career at konkret, stating that the magazine was an instrument of counterrevolution.[37]

In 1970, Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin visited Meinhof while on the run from West German authorities after their attempted arson at a department store in Frankfurt in 1968. They met her once before when she interviewed Ensslin after their attempt. Meinhof was impressed with the ferocity of Ensslin’s beliefs, and three begin discussing the formation of an underground group that could properly undermine the capitalist system.[38] While these discussions were ongoing, Baader was arrested outside of Berlin in a stolen car for speeding. When he was unable to provide proper identification, he was brought to Berlin’s Tegel prison, where investigators soon discovered that they had finally found the elusive Andreas Baader. On 14 May 1970, Baader’s lawyer, Horst Mahler, requested that Baader be allowed to meet with Meinhof, who claimed she was writing a book on leaders of the left-wing movement. During their meeting, two masked females and one hooded male burst into the room, shooting one guard in the shoulder, and tear gas at the other two. Baader, Meinhof, Ensslin, and their other two accomplices left out the window and fled to the house of a friend.[39] The decision to free Baader marked their decision to create an underground movement. German historians refer to the decision to join such an organisation as “Der Sprung”, and while Ensslin and Baader were already wanted or imprisoned by the state, this was Meinhof’s moment to take the leap.[40] Fully radicalised, she sacrificed her life as a journalist and member of West German society for her fellow comrades in the newly formed Rote Armee Fraktion.

Marc Sageman describes the importance of a collective identity, or sense of solidarity, in an individual’s decision to embrace violent extremism. A culture that is embedded with a history of protest, and a population that supports certain aspects of an ideology, is more likely to breed violent extremists.[41] Della Porta argues that the strong counter-culture that existed in West Germany made it easier for those who wished to escalate their violence to connect with others and mobilise.[42] Meinhof radicalised her rhetoric as a reaction to the frustration she felt that resulted from the indifference of the government. Her decision to engage in terrorist actions and undertake the cause of a group coincides with her increased interactions with Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin. After Baader’s release, the RAF decided to release articles solely that were written in the collective form of ‘we’. Meinhof’s decision to join a collective and rescind her individual opinions reveals her complete dedication to the group, and her devotion to ridding West Germany of capitalism. Sageman’s “clique hypothesis” emphasises the importance of group dynamics in the radicalisation process. The opportunity for an individual who feels isolated by their opinions to talk with like-minded individuals, is unifying, and a sense of solidarity is created.[43] This at times can create an ‘Us versus Them’ mentality, which in the case of Baader, Ensslin, and Meinhof was a reaction against what Della Porta labels the “Old Left”, that is, leftists who are strictly against the escalation of violence that certain individuals in their group are undertaking. To the RAF, the “Old Left” was unrealistic and useless, and it was the responsibility of the “New Left” to unite and organise action in order to protect Germany from returning to an authoritarian regime.[44]

After Baader broke free from prison, he travelled with Meinhof, Ensslin, Mahler, and other members of the newly formed RAF to Beirut, where they practised urban warfare tactics at an Al Fatah training camp briefly. Upon their return to Berlin, they robbed banks for causes outlined in the RAF’s collectively written article, “Das Konzept Stadtguerilla”, in 1971. They stated that they decided to embrace the illegality of their actions, which they found justifiable due to the corrupt law system of the capitalist system.[45] Bank robberies and occasional shootouts continue, until eventually Meinhof, Baader, Ensslin, and Carl Raspe were arrested on 14 June 1972 and jointly charged with four counts of murder, fifty-four of attempted murder, and a single count of forming a criminal association.[46] After their imprisonment, the founding members of the RAF continue their propaganda to prove how violently repressive the state is; they began hungerstreikerklärung (hunger strike) in 1974 which resulted in the death of Holger Meins.[47] On 9 May 1976, Ulrike Meinhof was found dead in her prison cell, where she had hung herself with a towel as a final act of propaganda.

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

1 Aust (1987) p. xv
2 Dükorp (1978) pp. 275-276
3 Aust (1987) p. 119
4 Kellen (1998) p. 49
5 Rabasa, Pettyjohn, Ghez, Bouquet (2010) p. 1
6 Aust (1987) pp. 13-18
7 Della Porta (1995) p. 168
8 Ibid p.13
9 Colvin (2009) pp. 23-26
10 Ibid. Pp. 28-29
11 Della Porta and Diani, (2006) p. 74
12 Schiller (2003) pp. 27-30
13 Elias (1996) pp. 412-413
14 Della Porta and Diani (2006) p. 73
15 Ibid p. 73
16 Della Porta and Diani (2006) p. 79
17 Elias (1996) pp. 412-413
18 Bauer (2008) p. 177
19 Aust (1987) p. 25
20 Aust (1987) p. 27
21 Colvin (2009) p. 31
22 Smelser (2007) pp. 90-119
23 Wiktorowicz (2004) pp.
24 Bauer (2008) p. 239
25 Colvin (2009) p. 48
26 Ibid p. 240
27 Ibid p. 241
28 Colvin (2009) p. 34
29 Bauer (2008) p. 242
30 Colvin (2009) p. 26
31 Ibid p. 35
32 Colvin (2009) p. 38
33 Ibid p. 54
34 Ibid p. 55
35 Haynes (2000) p. 70
36 Bauer (2008) p. 238
37 Aust (1987) p. 54
38 Colvin (2009) p. 79
39 Aust (1987) p. 60
40 Post (1998) p.33
41 Sageman (2004) p. 147
42 Della Porta (1995) pp. 95-99
43 Sageman (2004) pp. 150-158
44 Della Porta (1995) p. 105
45 Colvin (2009) p. 108
46 Aust (1987) pp. 284-286
47 Colvin (2009) pp. 165-168


Stefan Aust, The Baader-Meinhof Complex. (London: The Bodley Head, 1987).

Karen Bauer, ed. Everybody Talks About the Weather…We Don’t: the Writings of Ulrike Meinhof. (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2008).

Tore Bjørgo, ed. Root Causes of Terrorism: Myths, reality and ways forward. (London and New York: Routledge, 2005).

Michael Burleigh, Blood and Rage: a Cultural History of Terrorism. (London, UK: Harper Perennial, 2008).

Sarah Colvin, Ulrike Meinhof and West German Terrorism. (Rochester NY: Camden House, 2009).

Sarah Colvin,“‘Wir Frauen haben kein Vaterland’: Ulrike Marie Meinhof, Emily Wilding Davison, and the ‘Homelessness’ of Women Revolutionaries”, German Life and Letters, 64(1) (January 2011), 108-121.

Donatella Della Porta, Social Movements, Political Violence, and the State: A Comparative Analysis of Italy and Germany. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

Donatella Della Porta and Mario Diani, Social Moments: an Introduction. 2nd Edition. (Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006).

Marlis Dürkop, “Frauen als Terroristinnen. Zur Besinnung auf das soziologische Paradigma”, Kriminologisches Journal, 10(4) (1978), 264–80.

Norbert Elias, The Germans. Power Struggles and the Development of Habitus in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996; original German version Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1992).

Michael W. Haynes, “Ulrike Marie Meinhof’s Bambule and the Censorship of Terrorism in the Arts”, Politics, 20(2) (2000) 69-76.

Jeffrey Herf, “An Age of Murder: Ideology and Terror in West Germany”, Telos, 144(3) (2008), pp. 8-37.

Konrad Kellen, “Ideology and Rebellion: Terrorism in West Germany” pp. 43-59 in Walter Reich, Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, and States of Mind (Washington DC: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).

Jerrold M. Post, “Terrorist Psycho-Logic: terrorist behaviour as a product of psychological forces” pp. 25-40 in Walter Reich, Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, and States of Mind (Washington DC: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).

Angel Rabasa, Stacie L. Pettyjohn, Jeremy J. Ghez, Christopher Bouquet, “Deradicalizing Islamist Extremists”, RAND Corporation, 2010.

Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

Kay Schiller, “Political Militancy and Generation Conflict in West Germany During the “Red Decade”, Debate, 11(1), (May 2003), 19-38.

Neil J. Smelser, The Faces of Terrorism: Social and Psychological Dimensions. (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007).

Quintan Wiktorowicz, Islamic Activism: A Social Movement Theory Approach (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004).

Gender & Human Rights Law

Assessing the gender implications of how the public/private dichotomy finds expression in international human rights law and its application.
{University College London}



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he concept of ‘universal’ human rights of which international human rights law is supposed to embody [1] is flawed due to the public/private divide. Human rights can never be universal if they only apply to some violations and, seen as they mostly apply to the circumstances men most wish to protect themselves from, it is false to even use the terms ‘universal’ or ‘human’.[2]

The expression of the public/private divide in law comes from the Western liberal view that the law should not interfere with private life. Clearly, however, this binary line is somewhat arbitrary and its applications differ throughout different areas of law. Within international human rights law, the public/private divide generally means that only sovereign states and therefore those who represent them, as the actors in international law, can breach international human rights standards. This has a number of effects including; which rights are given priority and enforcement, the way those rights are applied as well as affecting the overarching framework of international law. The public/private divide in international human rights law thus can be found in many different incarnations. All of these incarnations help towards creating a male system which supports male dominance.

In theory, ‘all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and related’.[3] This would suggest that they therefore all apply equally. This is not the case; whilst civil and political rights are absolute – with a few derogations allowed for special events such as a ‘public emergency’[4], economic, social and cultural rights state merely that the state ‘undertakes to take steps… by all appropriate means … to the maximum of its available resources to [achieve] progressively the full realization of the rights’.[5] This legal obligation is clearly far weaker for a number of reasons; only ‘steps’ need be shown to be taken with no minimum standard set, the rights need only be ‘progressively’ realised rather than absolutely enforced and states can rely on the argument that they could not enforce these right due to their lack of ‘available resources’. Due to the weaker obligation imposed on states in relation to second generation rights, they are often ignored and only extreme cases ever come to litigation. This contrasts directly with the application of civil and political rights which are regularly litigated and have, in modernity, become part of many mainstream discourses.

The reason that these rights have not been enforced as absolutely is because of the public/private divide. Conventions take those rights defined as ‘public’ more seriously which ultimately means that they promote and enforce, through this divide, ‘what empowered men think they must need against other empowered men – that is so called civil and political rights’.[6] It is thereby assumed that women will be equal to men once they participate equally within decision making bodies. However, it is clear that ‘this account of equality ignores the underlying structures and power relations that contribute to the oppression of women’.[7] Without economic and social rights, these civil and political rights are ‘virtually unexercisable’ by many but often by women most of all. This is due to women’s economically, socially and culturally unequal position globally. This unequal position makes it harder for women to participate in decision making processes at all and thus renders civil and political rights to have a limited effect for many, for example; if you are culturally refined to the home, your right to protest likely cannot ever truly be fulfilled. Under current configurations of rights however, the right to protest would still be present and active at law, if realistically unusable.

Despite it being clear that the equal enforcement of first and second generation rights would benefit women, the public/private divide can even be found within the second generation rights framework itself, also creating gender consequences. This divide states that these rights must be fulfilled by the state. For women, often this form of implementation will have little effect as these rights will ‘be mediated through direct subjugation to individual men or groups of men’.[8] Therefore, this state centred paradigm fails to really consider the reality in which many women live. The application of the right to work[9] is one example of this. The right to work ensures ‘just and favourable conditions of work’ for all, yet this only applies to public sphere work.[10] This definition fails to recognise that much of the work done by women, globally, is performed without pay and seen as being in the private, domestic sphere[11]. Therefore, even in application, second generation rights, through the public/private divide, ignore the context in which women live. The public/private divide in this manifestation consequently denies many women of many of their economic, social and cultural rights altogether.

It is clear that the public/private divide permeates many different aspects of international human rights law and that this affects women greatly; from creating distinctions between and within the enforcement of rights to limiting certain right to practical unenforceability. However, this distinction goes even further than these examples alone and serves to limit this already limited body of rights even more.

Civil and political rights also contain a public/private divide. This is because they also only apply to state acts. This is a particular issue in relation to violence against women which predominantly occurs within the private sphere. Private violence against women has been recognised as a global social problem, for example, ‘in America, battering of women occurs on average every 18 seconds in the private sphere’.[12] However, when we look at rights such as the right not to be tortured,[13] we see that this right does not cover these private acts of torture. Torture, as a human right, can only be inflicted by the state or those acting in ‘official capacity’.[14] The application of this right therefore, only applies to some acts of torture; usually the types that most concern men. Private violence against women in extreme cases can indeed be seen as torture and should be included in the definition if the effects and reality is what is to count rather than abstract legal definitions. The effects of domestic violence on women have been found to often be the same as those that legally defined torture victims suffer.[15] The public/private divide in relation to torture works, therefore, not only to ignore the reality of women’s lives and to deny them of their human status, but also to conceal this violence.

The concealment of violence against women by the international human rights framework also has a further impact. Violence against women effects structural power relations between men and women. International human rights law, through the public/private divide, thereby actively protects these power relations through the concealment of and inaction upon acts of violence against women. However, states are directly complicit in this also, not only as the creators of the international human rights framework but also more specifically through state policy. States are ‘typically deeply and actively complicit in the abuses mentioned, collaborating in and condoning them’.[16] This can be seen, for example by states denying battered woman’s syndrome as a defence to manslaughter.[17]
These are state actions yet the public/private divide does not include these direct state actions within its framework despite already denying rights within the private sphere completely. Thus, state actions through policy creation and implementation do not breach international human rights law.

This distinction is a manifestation of the public/private divide and the way it is defined to outline which rights can be enforced in which circumstances against the public sphere. The ludicracy of this distinction is apparent. This can be seen in relation to the above example of battered woman’s syndrome and manslaughter/murder. In UK law, because of the ‘cooling off’ period[18] often present between the woman being beaten and her killing her husband, thus creating the ‘malice aforethought’[19] it is suggested true self defence claims negate, battered woman’s syndrome is not enough to claim self defence in murder trials; ‘can you imagine a murder prosecution by a state against a torture victim who killed a torturer while escaping?’ It is state acts like the one described here which condone violence against women and dismiss it yet these acts are not covered by international human rights law despite them being state and thereby public acts.

International law has, however, made some steps towards breaking down this public/private binary in the aim of redressing the human rights breaches which women face, even if these steps are limited. The case of Velasquez Rodriguez v Honduras[20] states that, in relation to rights, if that state ‘knew or ought to have known’ about such violence and systematically tolerated it, then they may be liable. Whilst this case was not a about violence against women, these provisions have been used in this context. However, this is international human rights law within a regional system. Here, I have been discussing the overarching framework of international human rights law of which states globally are party to. These regional cases, do, however, have some standing within the broader international framework. This can be seen in Fatma Yildirim v Austria[21] where the victim suffered years of abuse and reported it to the police several times. The state failed to act. The state thus knew about the abuse and so was liable. However, it seems that, within global international human rights law, this provision is extremely limited and can only be used once the victim, as in this case, is already dead. This is because, until this happens, the victim’s aim it to gain domestic redress. It is only through the ultimate failure of this redress in the form of her death that the state can be found to be liable. Thus, whilst this provision goes some way towards breaking down the public/private divide, it clearly goes nowhere near far enough.

A provision which has been debated somewhat within the international legal sphere yet has yet to be implemented is the idea that states should be responsible and exercise ‘due diligence’ to protect women against violence.[22] This would help deal with the issues somewhat as it would ensure that the state could not enforce laws which may promote violence against women such as marital rape and thus would deal with the issue highlighted above in relation to some state actions not currently being breaches of rights. However, this idea does not go far enough. States should not only be diligent in preventing violence against women but they should also actively try to prevent this violence. If the state fails to tackle these issues then this should be seen as a breach of international human rights law. Otherwise, the state could practically ignore cases of violence against women up until the point of death (as above). Requiring positive action would be the best way to help break down the public/private divide and deal with its gendered affects in this area of the law without having to change the entire system upon which international law is based with state sovereignty as its basis (though I will come on later to discuss conceptions of this public/private divide and their relation to gender also).

States are fully aware that violence against women is a social problem. It happens systemically as well as systematically as highlighted above. If states fail to implement policy to try and tackle this, this is a clear breach of rights. Their only defence would be that law is in place to try and deal with these issues. However, merely having a law in place should not be enough alone. Many states have such laws yet the violence still is very much unaddressed. This is because, whilst these laws look good on paper, many states choose to ignore them and/or give them low priority and thus, again, actively condone violence against women. Therefore, not only must the laws be in place for a defence to be had but these laws must also be actively enforced otherwise this development, although seeming to deal with the issue, again would not really be doing anything in reality.[23] This idea could be extended, not only to domestic violence but also to help deal with violence against women as a broader issue, for example, the low conviction rates for rape in many countries compared to the rates for other crimes could thus be seen as a human rights breach as sanctioned impunity and require redress. Although we are a long way off a human rights system that fully recognises violence against women as a genuine human rights issue, this type of enforcement would truly help break down the public/private divide which helps condone and conceal this violence.

However, ultimately, the negative effects of this binary cannot be eliminated from international human rights law without also considering the binary application and affect throughout the international legal system.

All international law rests on the principle of state sovereignty. This means that states, as the public, are the only legal actors in international law. This sovereignty is seen as purely procedural, just a formality. However, there is no such thing as an empty procedure. ‘The way sovereignty works is that men respect other men’s control in their own domains … the domain being women and children, in the hope and expectation of reciprocity… otherwise known as the male bond’.[24] It is clear, when fully considering these principles, that this public/private divide, which forms the basis of all international law, is a male way of organising institutions. International human rights law allows us to clearly see this male structure at work. The structure allows men to conceal violence against women globally through helping other men to conceal their violence and expecting the same in return. This is because states are ‘imagined the primary violators of human rights as well as being the ones empowered to redress those violations. How convenient.’[25] It becomes clear that the reason states do not break ranks and start trying to extend the law when it comes to issues such as economic, social and cultural rights and global violence against women is because all states fail when it comes to women’s rights standards. States do not call others out so they do not get called out. ‘Sovereignty is the name of the principle in the name of which men respect this.’

The public/private divide within international human rights law is an arbitrary distinction drawn throughout different aspects of the law. Where this line should be drawn is questionable throughout all areas of law. It is clear, however, that where it has been used and drawn in international human rights law, it has always been done to the effect of limiting the human rights of women.

The very definition and enforcement of rights is affected by this arbitrary public/private divide. It defines which rights are enforceable and thus practically excludes economic, social and cultural rights from the framework. In doing so, international law prioritises male needs and excludes the needs of women almost entirely. This occurs even within the definitions of economic, social and cultural rights as well, however, with their public focus failing to recognise the reality of many women’s lives.

The public/private divide also ensures that civil and political rights are a male concept. These rights can only ever apply against the state under this distinction. Women are thus left powerless within the private sphere; the sphere where their rights are breached the most. MacKinnon states that ‘If, when women are tortured because we are women, the law recognized that a human being had had her human rights violated, the term “rights” would begin to have something of the content to which we might aspire’.[26] Within civil and political rights, women are not human. Human rights do not fully apply to them because they do not protect the rights women need most of all.

The public/private distinction is a male distinction; it benefits men and allows women to be ignored. It permeates every aspect of international human rights law including the basic international legal framework itself. Therefore, human rights, which are arguably the key international moral basis of modernity, are a false ideal in their current configuration. For human rights to really encompass the needs of all humans, international human rights law needs to drastically change, starting with the eradication of the public/private distinction. International law itself, however, and its foundational idea of sovereignty as its claim to legitimacy, is also part of the public/private framework. Hence, for real change to really occur and for women to truly become ‘human’, this basic framework would, itself, also need to be revised. To hide behind the supposedly neutral principle of the public/private divide is to deny women their humanity.

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

[1] UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December 1948, 217 A (III)) Article 2.

[2] Hilary Charlesworth and Christine Chinkin, The Boundaries of International law: A feminist Analysis (Manchester University Press, 2000) p. 17.

[3] UN General Assembly, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (12 July 1993, A/CONF.157/23) Article 5.

[4] UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (16 December 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 999) Article 4.

[5]The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1990) General Comment 3.

[6] Catherine MacKinnon, Women’s Status, Men’s states (LSE Space for Thought lecture series, 2008)

[7] Hilary Charlesworth and Christine Chinkin, The Boundaries of International law: A feminist Analysis (Manchester University Press, 2000) p. 231.

[8] Shelley Wright, ‘Economic Rights and Social justice: a feminist analysis of some international human rights conventions’, Australia Yearbook of International Law, 12 (1992) p. 249.

[9] UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (16 December 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 999) Article 7.

[10] Hilary Charlesworth and Christine Chinkin, The Boundaries of International law: A feminist Analysis (Manchester University Press, 2000) p. 238.

[11] M. Waring, Counting for Nothing: What men value and hat women are worth (Wellington, Allen & Uniwn, 1988); M. Waring, Three Masquerades: Essays on Equality, Work and Human Rights (Auckland, Auckland University press, 1996) Chapter 2.

[12] Andrea Dworkin, Testimony before the Attorney General on Pornography (1986)

[13] UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December 1948, 217 A (III)) Article 5.

[14] UN General Assembly, Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (10 December 1984, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1465) Article 1.

[15] Yakin Ertürk, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences (UN Human Rights Council, 5th feb 1996, UN Doc. E/CN4./1996/53)

[16] Catharine MacKinnon, Are Women human? (Harvard University Press, 2006) p. 23.

[17] Catharine MacKinnon, Are Women human? (Harvard University Press, 2006) p. 24.

[18] R v Ahluwalia (1992) 4 AER 889

[19] Sir Edward Coke, Institutes of the Laws of England (1797)

[20] Velasquez Rodriguez v. Honduras, Judgment (IACtHR, 17 Aug. 1990)

[21] Fatma Yildirim (deceased) v Austria (Communication No. 6/2005)

[22] Hilary Charlesworth and Christine Chinkin, The Boundaries of International law: A feminist Analysis (Manchester University Press, 2000) p. 235.

[23] Catharine MacKinnon, Creating International Law: Gender as New Paradigm (LSE Public Lecture, 2011)

[24] Catherine MacKinnon, Women’s Status, Men’s states (LSE Space for Thought lecture series, 2008)

[25] Catharine MacKinnon, Are Women human? (Harvard University Press, 2006) p. 39.

[26] Catharine MacKinnon, Are Women human? (Harvard University Press, 2006) p. 27.


R v Ahluwalia (1992) 4 AER 889

Charlesworth, Hillary and Chinkin, Christine, The Boundaries of International law: A feminist Analysis (Manchester University Press, 2000)

Coke, Sir Edward (Institutes of the Laws of England, 1797)

Dworkin, Andrea, Testimony before the Attorney General on Pornography (1986)

Ertürk , Yakin, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences (UN Human Rights Council, 5th feb 1996, UN Doc. E/CN4./1996/53)

Fatma Yildirim (deceased) v Austria (Communication No. 6/2005)

MacKinnon, Catharine, Are Women human? (Harvard University Press, 2006)

MacKinnon, Catharine, Women’s Status, Men’s states (LSE Space for Thought lecture series, 2008)

MacKinnon, Catharine, Creating International Law: Gender as New Paradigm (LSE Public Lecture, 2011)

UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December 1948, 217 A (III))

UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (16 December 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 999)

UN General Assembly, Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (10 December 1984, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1465)

United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1990) General Comment 3

UN General Assembly, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (12 July 1993, A/CONF.157/23)

Velasquez Rodriguez v. Honduras, Judgment (IACtHR, 17 Aug. 1990)

Waring, M., Counting for Nothing: What men value and hat women are worth (Wellington, Allen & Uniwn, 1988); M. Waring, Three Masquerades: Essays on Equality, Work and Human Rights (Auckland, Auckland University press, 1996)

Wright, Shelley, ‘Economic Rights and Social justice: a feminist analysis of some international human rights conventions’, Australia Yearbook of International Law, 12 (1992)


Before Occupy Was Cool

Occupation has been attempted before Occupy, and it can indeed be effective.



In the US, 2011 will likely be remembered as the year of the Occupy Movement. From Oakland, California to St. Paul’s Cathedral here in London, students, the unemployed, activists, and to be honest, a good amount of nutters took to the streets in locally organized, but globally inspired protests claiming to represent the voice of the ‘99%’ who were being ignored and exploited by corporate special interest. ‘Occupation’ is an interesting political strategy. It is a symbolic seizure, a claim, a hostile (even if non-violent) assertion of control. In the case of the Occupy movement this ‘control’ of the streets was a reaction to the perceived lack of control and marginalization in the democratic process. This strategy, while for the first time executed on a global scale, is not new and brings to mind an important but often forgotten incident from American history, the 19 month long occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay by American Indian civil rights activists.

The Occupation of Alcatraz

On November 20, 1969 about 80 activists peacefully took over the former prison island, until that point under the jurisdiction of the federal government. While this was the most effective attempt, the first occupation was in 1964 when five Sioux Indians made a claim to the island based on the 1868 Fort Laramie Sioux Treaty, which allowed Sioux Indians to take over surplus federal land. Alcatraz, no longer a functioning prison, in their view fit this criteria. The occupation was also part of a much larger American Indian Movement (AIM). The movement’s aims were to achieve tribal self-determination and to end the 1950s federal policy of ‘termination’, which was actually a series of policies that sought to assimilate Natives into American society and end the sovereign-to-sovereign relationship between tribes and the federal government. The 1969 occupiers were also fighting for local improvements, including the return of Alcatraz to American Indians and the funds to build a cultural center and university on the island. The group quickly elected a governing council for the island and established supply lines back to the mainland. The movement began to pick up steam and garnered wide-spread media attention.

The movement encountered many of the problems experienced by Occupy in 2011. Issues such as electricity, water, and safety became practical barriers to a continued occupation. A young girl, a step-daughter of one of the movement’s leaders fell on a concrete slab and died in January of 1970. Leadership and other occupiers began to leave Alcatraz. The movement also began to lose focus when members of the hippie and counter-culture communities from San Francisco began to join the Native American protesters. These factors signalled the end of the movement’s effectiveness, which officially ended on June 11, 1971 when FBI agents escorted the final 15 protesters off the island. They put up no resistance.

The occupation itself and the satisfaction of local demands could be regarded as a failure. As is evident from the current state of affairs, Alcatraz is a tourist destination in the Bay Area for it’s history as a notorious prison and it was never ceded to tribal control. What the occupation accomplished though was raising awareness about the AIM movement more broadly. In 1970 President Nixon officially ended the 20+ year policy of ‘termination’ and heralded a new era of tribal self-determination. For this reason, somewhat surprisingly, Richard Nixon is still held in high regard by Native Americans to this day.

In the words of Dr. LaNada Boyer, a leader of the occupation:

‘Alcatraz was symbolic in the rebirth of Indian people to be recognized as a people, as human beings, whereas before, we were not. We were not recognized, we were not legitimate… but we were able to raise not only the consciousness of other American people, but of own people as well, to reestablish our identity as Indian people, as a culture, as political entities.’

This legacy as tribes operating as ‘political entities’ is a powerful one. Tribes operate exceptionally effectively on Capitol Hill, pushing for broad reforms through organizations such as a the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) and even on specific issues such as education through the National Indian Education Association (NIEA).

It would be presumptuous to assume that the 2011 occupiers could learn from the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz. The issues and groups involved are indeed very different. It is also different occupying an uninhabited island than a populated urban center. What can be taken away though is that as a strategy, occupations can be effective. They can forge a common identity among protesters and raise awareness that would otherwise not be possible. In the case of Native Americans this is an identity that stood the test of decades and lead to increased economic and cultural prosperity.

Learning From Sun Tzu & Clausewitz

What enduring lessons about the conduct of war can we still learn from the work of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz?
{Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science}



[dropcap]H[/dropcap]istorically speaking, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu are the most influential thinkers on war and strategic issues. At the same time, their masterpieces, namely the unfinished On War by the former and The Art of War by the latter, represent two contrasting concepts of war. As far as Clausewitz’s concept is concerned, war is the continuation of politics by other means, while Sun Tzu treats war just as one of the many political instruments that political and national leaders can use in order to fulfill political aims. As McCready cleverly underscores, “while this distinction appears minimal, it translates into the difference between US [which applied a Clausewitzian approach] and North Vietnamese strategy [inspired by Sun Tzu] in the Vietnam war. It also explains why the United State lost that war.”[1]

In fact, according to Coker, it is possible to identify two principal differences between the thought of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, that are rooted in the Western and Chinese philosophical tradition respectively. First of all, war as a concept: for the Western tradition, which began with Aristotle, war is conceived as the mean for obtaining political ends, while the Chinese one, deeply influenced by Taoism, sees war as the product of necessity, calling it “a necessary evil”. Secondly, the use of force: on the one hand, the Western use of maximum force or the concept of decisive battle; on the other hand, the Chinese emphasis on the minimum use of force and the advice of deploying arms only when necessary.[2]

As a result, from these perspectives derive two different ideas of “the ideal victory”: for Sun Tzu, the ideal victory is winning without fighting but using extensive deception, in order to convince the enemy’s forces to yield; for Clausewitz, the greatest achievement is destructing the enemy’s forces in a major battle thanks to a massive concentration of forces at the decisive point of engagement.[3]

Currently, and despite very different approaches and theorizations, is it possible learning lessons about the conduct of war from the work of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu? Taking into account the example of fundamentalist terrorism and explaining its working mechanisms and the relative counter-strategy proposed, this essay aims to show how both Clausewitz and Sun Tzu are relevant authors worthwhile to be read and studied more deeply in order to face effectively current strategic issues involving one of the most urgent security concern.

The contribution of Clausewitz against terrorism and insurgency

What do Kaldor, Meilinger, Lind and Hammes have in common? They all belong to the “New Wars” thinking, a school of thought particularly committed in analyzing and understanding why the “old” strategic paradigm, based on conventional military superiority, doesn’t work in civil war, counterinsurgency or against terrorism. According to these scholars, contemporary conflicts are characterized by episodes of violent political mobilization promoted by “group[s] identified in terms of ethnicity, religion, or tribe”[4]. Furthermore, the obsolescence of the Clausewitzian approach is confirmed by the recent rise of the ‘fourth generation warfare’, where western armed forces are incapable of guaranteeing civil security against guerrilla warfare and terrorism because their military potential is constrained by “the outdated principles and doctrines of earlier generations of war that stressed maneuver warfare as exemplified by the concept of blitzkrieg”[5]. Lastly, Meilinger states that the influence and the legacy of the “old” paradigm, focused on “decisive battle and bloodshed”[6], explained the failure of the US military mission in Iraq by deploying a large invasion force.

Against this background, Schuurman has elaborated an original interpretative framework departing from the assumption that the real aim of On War was “exploring the philosophical notion of war’s ‘ideal’ type in the Platonic sense, as a phenomenon removed from the limitations of the real world”.[7] In this sense, war is always a combination of different elements and never dominated by a singular and unchangeable logic. In fact, Clausewitz wrote that war was shaped by the combination of three different principles: irrational (violence), non rational (chance) and rational (instrumental use of war) forces. Along with the so-called primary trinity, he defined the secondary one associating the first element, violence, with people; the second, chance, with the commander and his army; and the third, rational purpose, with the government.[8]

According to Schuurman, the primary trinity depicts the sociopolitical nature of war, in which “all three elements can be found” and “the relative prevalence of one or the other can strongly influence a particular conflict’s character”[9] while the secondary trinity provides a link between the nature of war and the real world and society. In this way, also wars waged for religion or ethnic reasons can be explained through Clausewitz: “Wars can therefore take on a multitude of forms, but all are shaped by the interaction between the eternal elements of violence, chance and rational purpose … Clausewitz asserts that the general character of an age can have influence on the goals pursued in war and the methods used to do so, without signifying a fundamental change in the nature of war.”[10]

As a matter of fact, this theoretical framework can be successful applied to analyze the war on terrorism. First of all, if war’s fundamental nature is not subject to change, it is possible doing a historical research within the primary trinity, in order to find parallels which can explain rational and instrumental reasons for terrorism. Regarding this interpretative context, an interesting attempt has been elaborated by Klinger, who looks at terrorism as the emergent substitute for war, “reflecting the logical extension of the processes of democratization and nationalism unleashed by the French Revolution”.[11] For Klinger, that depicts an innovative Clausewitzian trinity for terrorism dominated by enmity and hatred, there is an underlying logic connecting the terrorist target of violence and the focus on noncombatants. Such a logic was surprisingly foreseen by the same Clausewitz in 1809 as the tendency to replace “the traditional military forms” with “an artificial machine in which psychology is subordinated to mechanical forces that operate only on the surface, which seek to defeat the enemy, with mere forms”.[12] Similarly, the secondary trinity can be useful for identifying the sociopolitical relationships related to a particular terrorist group and the social environment on whom it depends for financial and ideological support, legitimacy, intelligence.[13] In conclusion, even terrorism, through an attentive and unbiased analysis, can be explained by the trinitarian framework, which gives a contribution to understand new forms of warfare.

Sun Tzu and terrorism: cyclical patterns and lessons to seize on

The Art of War has been described as a “revolutionary text” because it was the “first handbook that directly linked warmaking to the art of government”.[14] The different conception on the nature of war explained by Sun Tzu provides an approach which “emphasizes stratagem and manoeuvre over firepower [and] recognizes that the decisive battlefield … lies in the political will of the opponent, the hearts and minds of its citizens.”[15] In fact, Sun Tzu’s ideal victory doesn’t involve any military or epic battle but it is articulated in the main idea of neutralizing the enemy’s strategy and avoiding the use of military forces. Accordingly, Sun Tzu recommends to set this kind of strategy without any publicity, otherwise it would compel the enemy to respond. In this way, as McCready underlines, Sun Tzu “offers a way for weaker forces to defeat those more powerful”[16]: currently, international terrorist organizations are widely embedded in the concept of ‘weaker forces’ against powerful state actors as the US.

As a matter of fact, international terrorist association like Al-Qaeda employs three conceptual pillars which characterize the thought of warfare proposed by Sun Tzu: deception, psychological considerations and the role of intelligence. Deception and psychological factors are the heart of warfare because they allow to manipulate the enemy’s perceptions. In fact, Sun Tzu perfectly knew that enemies convinced of their superiority in terms of capabilities or military resources weren’t attentive to the possibility of being misled.[17] In the same way, Al-Qaeda might appear weak or not well-organized but being an international network with links in 55 countries and having training camps in many of them, its organizational structure is “such that deception, misdirection, secrecy and compartmentalization are heightened”[18] and exploited extensively and successfully. In addition, psychological warfare is the direct consequence of deception: attacking enemy soldiers and their related citizens through indirect methods is the best way to destroy their morale and create tension inside society. Al-Qaeda’s tactics are in line with Sun Tzu’s recommendation, its main objective is spreading fear striking target’s societies through bombing, hijacking, kidnapping, assassinations and suicide attacks. Doing so, Al-Qaeda aims to undermine the overall support for the war effort, the sense of security among citizens and, moreover, it is successful in avoiding an open and unbalanced combat with the US.

Finally, the role of intelligence. Hendel asserts that “Sun Tzu’s generals rely heavily on the work of spies and agents [in order to] secure victory with the least possible expenses and bloodshed”[19], suggesting that this aspect of warfare is one the most significant even for assuring an effective deception. As a matter of fact, Sun Tzu wrote an entire chapter about ‘Using Spies’, in which he listed five different kinds of them (local, inward, converted, doomed and surviving spies) and described their most important tasks and aims, such as gaining the deepest and the widest knowledge of the enemy.[20[ Similarly, Al-Qaeda has created “a highly sophisticated network of spies and human intelligence-gathering sources throughout the world”.[21] Such a system impressively resembles to the one suggested by Sun Tzu given that, as Gunaratna reports, it is comprised of three different levels of spies: “two tiers of agent[s] [who] manage agents outside Afghanistan and in the regional nodes. They also cultivate subagents whose primary responsibility is penetrating and infiltrating Muslim migrant communities to recruit, gather intelligence and conduct operations.”[22]

In conclusion, studying The Art of War can be a very efficient way to understand and face Al-Qaeda, which represents “a model of Sun Tzu’s principles on indirect warfare”.[23] However, as Coker realistically points out, the defeat of terrorism is not entirely possible. In order to comply with the so-called ‘second paradox of Sun Tzu’ (obtaining success by preserving the enemy from total destruction), Coker asserts that “the object of war cannot be total security” but “a better kind of insecurity”.[24] As for the case of Al-Qaeda it means living with Islamic countries without attempting to overthrow their political regimes, because the most dangerous peril would be to transform the war on terrorism into a war against Islam.


Despite the recent death of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda is not supposed to have been defeated, as the recurrent news about failed or successful terrorist attacks show us. As a new form of threat which requires a modern strategy to be faced, counter-terrorism can be the new security issue in which both Clausewitz and Sun Tzu’s masterpieces can find a pragmatic application. If the main aim of Clausewitz was to understand the nature of war, “just as Newton sought to understand the nature of mechanics”[25], his most significant contribution has been to “teaching us to look for functions and variables determining the nature of all warfare and every particular war”[26]: in this case he helps us to understand what is terrorism and how it works on tactical and operational levels. At the same time, the work of Sun Tzu analyzed “the same factors [treated by Clausewitz: uncertainty, friction and chance] in the context of the higher operational and strategic levels”[27], but focusing more on intelligence and deception as the core concepts of every war. By this token, both authors provide an enduring lesson about the conduct for war suitable even for fighting modern forms of war as terrorism, and beyond those distinctions between new and old ‘schools’: “On War and The Art of War instead complement and reinforce one another”[28].

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

[1] McCready, D. M., ‘Learning from Sun Tzu’, Parameters, May-June, 2003, p. 85.
[2] Coker, C, ‘What would Sun Tzu say about the war on terrorism?’, RUSI Journal, Vol. 148:1, February, 2003, p. 16.
[3] Handel, Michael (ed.), Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought, New York: Frank Cass, 1996, p. 22.
[4] Kaldor, Mary, “Elaborating the ‘New War’ Thesis”, in Duyvesteyn and Angstrom, eds., Rethinking the Nature of War New York: Frank Cass, 2005, p. 221.
[5] Schuurman, Bart, “Clausewitz and New War School”, Parameters, 40:1, Spring 2010. P. 91.
[6] Meilinger, Philip, “Busting the Icon: Restoring Balance to the Influence of Clausewitz”, Strategic Studies Quarterly, no. 1 (Fall 200), p. 130.
[7] Schuurman, Bart, p. 93.
[8] Edward J. Villacres and Christopher Bassford, “reclaiming the Clausewitzian Trinity”, Parameters, 25 (Autumn 1995), pp. 9 – 19.
[9] Ibidem, p. 96.
[10] Ibidem, pp. 96 – 97.
[11] Klinger, James, “The Social Science of Clausewitz”, Parameters, 36:1 Spring 2006, p. 87.
[12] Clausewitz cited in Klinger, p. 87.
[13] Schuurman, p. 98.
[14] Keegan, John, A History of Warfare, London, Pimlico, 2004, p. 353.
[15] McCready, D. M., p. 85.
[16] McCready, D. M., p. 86.
[17] Handel, Michael, p. 218.
[18] Bartley, C.M., “The Art of Terrorism: What Sun Tzu can teach us about International Terrorism”, Comparative Strategy, 24 (3), July-August, 2005, p. 242.
[19] Handel, Michael, p. 233.
[20] Sun Tzu, The Art of War, translated by L. Giles, USA, Inkstone Books, 2004, pp. 47 – 49.
[21] Bartley, C.M., p. 245.
[22] Gunaratna, Rohan, Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror, New York, Berkeley Books, 2002, p. 102.
[23] Bartley, C.M., p. 246.
[24] Coker, C., p. 19.
[25] Heuser, Beatrice, Reading Clausewitz, Blackwell, 2002, p. 193.
[26] Heuser, Beatrice, p. 194.
[27] Handel, Michael, p. 300.
[28] Handel, Michael, p. 301.

Bartley, C.M., “The Art of Terrorism: What Sun Tzu can teach us about International Terrorism”, Comparative Strategy, 24 (3), July-August, 2005.

Coker, C, ‘What would Sun Tzu say about the war on terrorism?’, RUSI Journal, Vol. 148:1, February, 2003.

Duyvesteyn and Angstrom, eds., Rethinking the Nature of War New York: Frank Cass, 2005.

Edward J. Villacres and Christopher Bassford, “Reclaiming the Clausewitzian Trinity”, Parameters, 25 (Autumn 1995).

Gunaratna, Rohan, Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror, New York, Berkeley Books, 2002.

Handel, Michael (ed.), Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought, New York: Frank Cass, 1996.

Heuser, Beatrice, Reading Clausewitz, Blackwell, 2002.

Keegan, John, A History of Warfare, London, Pimlico, 2004.

Klinger, James, “The Social Science of Clausewitz”, Parameters, 36:1 Spring 2006.

McCready, D. M., ‘Learning from Sun Tzu’, Parameters, May-June, 2003.

Meilinger, Philip, “Busting the Icon: Restoring Balance to the Influence of Clausewitz”, Strategic Studies Quarterly, no. 1 (Fall 200).

Schuurman, Bart, “Clausewitz and New War School”, Parameters, 40:1, Spring 2010.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War, translated by L. Giles, USA, Inkstone Books, 2004.



A Female Touch To The Arab Uprisings

She is the Muslim, the soldier, the protester, the journalist, the volunteer, the citizen.



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he strong theme of women’s participation in the Arab uprisings has been lauded throughout the world. However, in the year long tumult and deposing of dictators, the role and status of Arab women remains in flux. In one newspaper in Libya, the headline read, “The role of the female in Libya”. “She is the Muslim, the soldier, the protester, the journalist, the volunteer, the citizen”.

The same labels can be applied to women across North Africa, The Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. They have marched, chanting slogans for the end of repression and in the months of dissent, the number who took to the streets increased. Young female liberals, as well those covered in black garb from head to toe, to mothers and grandmothers, to the professionals and uneducated, all stood side by side. These striking images dismissed the view of women as deferential, subservient, and confined to a life indoors. They wanted the same thing as everyone else, as much as everyone else, if not more.

In Egypt, women were proactive in organising protests, setting up camps and shelter for demonstrators in Tahrir Square, providing food, blanket and amenities to support the demonstrations and their fellow citizens. In Bahrain, they the first wave of protestors to descend on Pearl Square, and in Libya, joined rebels in the war against Qaddafi’s forces. They are hailed as martyrs as many lost lives in their quest for greater freedom, for their people and the end of tyranny.

But we should not be lulled into thinking that the new dynamics posed by the uprisings and revolutions are irreversible. Nothing is guaranteed. Despite all their concerted efforts to sustain the Arab uprising, it still seems that women are not even a step closer towards the road to greater equality. They were and are still at the forefront of the uprisings, but their role in the aftermath has been limited, and seems to be gradually curtailed and disappearing from the public’s imagination.

While change is being implemented politically and ideologically, the status of women still remains in flux. In Tunisia women gained 25% of the seats in the Constituent Assembly and were active in administering the October elections. Women are still, however, excluded from political participation in Egypt – during the parliamentary elections, there was not one female candidate. In addition to exclusion from national politics, they are still subject to torture, violence and second class treatment. It seems that their political activism has been restricted to demonstrations.

We are tempted to draw grand conclusions that Arab women are freer than they were before and that perception of women has changed just because images of them marching with men, breaking away from the typical stereotype of a segregated society could pertain to a new era of gender dynamics. The reality tells a very different story.

As the revolutionary fervour started to die down and dictators started to fall, women’s rights were the first to be relegated. They were championed through the revolution but then female bloggers and journalists were detained, female protestors were sexually harassed and endured torture. The uprisings aimed to end tyranny and oppression. But we have to ask if it really has as the habitual and passive oppression Arab women continues to betray our empathetic sentiments.

Shocking reports about the Egyptian military’s unforgiveable and humiliating treatment of women after arresting a number of female protestors and forcing them to undergo virginity tests, along with videos of an Egyptian female protestor being beaten up, dragged through the crowd and carelessly stripped of her garments within an inch of her modesty revealed the sexual brutality that Egyptian women face in public life. Although an Egyptian court has ruled against virginity tests, their execution is a foreboding and a stark reminder of the perception of women prevalent in Arab societies and what they have to endure as a result of the tarrying traditional gender dynamics through the months of upheaval.

In addition to the human rights abuses against women carried out by the military, who are supposed to be protecting the citizens, the recent political developments in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco with the entry of Islamist parties into government breeds very little optimism about the rights of women under an Islamist government.

Plus, many Arab women’s decision to vote for Islamist parties and subsequently and, let’s not forget, democratically, assist in the creation of a religiously dominated government, whose ultimate aim is implementing Shari’a law, which dominantly favours men, could leave these women at quite a disadvantage. Their contribution to the uprisings is being given the back seat and as is historically and typically known of the Middle East, the men have started to dominate the political arena.

Quite surprisingly, though, the Islamist dominance has not voiced any significant changes to the social standing of Arab women as we would anxiously anticipate. The revolutions are being steered in the direction of democracy. Gradually they should grant women civil liberties, if the Middle East and North African nations are serious about implementing democratic reforms and cultivate civil society based on the principles of freedom and equality.

Women have definitely played a pivotal role in the uprising. Although their efforts are not being rewarded at home, internationally, they are gaining recognition. Yemeni activist, Tawakkul Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her part in leading the uprisings in Yemen. The award is a clear indication that the theme of women in the uprisings and revolutions will continue. It is also a door to uncovering the new polemic for Arab women to construct their identity according to their own understanding and not of that which has been superimposed by religious or political mechanisms. Slowly, and gradually they can take advantage a new democratic mechanism as a strong campaign for equal rights and greater representation, politically.

In the Arab world and the rest of the Middle East including Iran and Israel, women from all walks of life are ready to contribute to the creation of a progressive society that upholds values such as freedom, social equality and democracy. Currently, situation looks justifiably dismal for Arab women, but their interminable efforts and resistance against sexual harassment and violence by the military and police has successfully resulted in a continuing presence. Their courage and determination is outstanding and has set a new precedence for the female touch in the Arab uprisings.

They played a key role in successfully undermining 30 years of dictatorial rule through mass mobilisation and peaceful protests. Now, Arab women can continue to utilise the peaceful mechanism to chip away at the edifices of misogyny and their campaign against age old ideals, as they already have done for years with a new confidence and intellect during this transitional period.

How the situation for Arab women will develop, we can only wait and see. No one had ever predicted that we would see the fall of three major dictators. Therefore we can only wait and see how the popular revolution will transform the lives of its instigators.


Capitalism is by no means perfect, but what else is there?



[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y feelings about capitalism are profoundly mixed. On one hand I am aware that it is the chief perpetrator of all the evils in our society and on the other it gave me my macbook. Sure. Ok. I guess a macbook (pro) is not the best example to counter the countless millions that have suffered through poverty and strife because of oil and comfort but can you think of anything better? I didn’t think so.

But there you have the main problem with capitalism; no one can really think of anything better. Or rather no one wants to think of anything better. Despite the fact that those of us with personal computers, smartphones and the ability to get fat know people have worked under inhuman conditions died to bring us these things, not one person in the developed world has figured out a way of alleviating their suffering without increasing ours.

Of course I would love it if we lived in the kind of world where people just gave up their possessions for the needy en masse, and honestly, I would be right in their with them, but we do not and my living like a pauper will not impact on the welfare of the entire human race (I could even make the argument that my suffering would detract from the overall happiness of humanity, but that would be crass).

At the same time on the other hand, isn’t it profoundly unfair to detract from the work of others without doing any yourself? I mean we are told that copying in school is wrong and that stealing is also not the best thing, yet these things are exactly what the few instances of socialist in recent history have done. We know this because the USSR collapsed and embraced capitalism in name as quickly as they possibly could.

The confusion between communism and socialism (and the fact that my choice of career is supposed to demand rigid objectivity) is exactly the reason why I only identify myself as liberal and not left wing. Sure objecting to the acts of a government that they don’t feel is accurately representing them, but if they are going to be completely honest than it is not like they have many solutions to the worlds problems themselves.

All Britain’s left does when it organizes an action against this government cut or that capitalist hubris. No one ever really provides workable solutions to the problems in banking regulation or the inherent inequality of fiscal policy. They just complain and in that world capitalism is the best thing that we have got.

Stephen Lawrence: Parallels & Learning For Dalit Atrocity Cases In India

Connecting caste atrocities in India to the Stephen Lawrence case.



Killed for being born

When reading and hearing about the never-ending sequence of events that have surrounded the Stephen Lawrence case over the past 18 years, one cannot help but find parallels between his murder, (which of course is not an isolated incident of where a person is killed in Britain on account of their racial background), and the routine killing of Dalits in India on account of caste. This ultimate form of violence is perpetrated due to the deeply-entrenched belief of some individuals that the ‘other’ is an utterly inferior being  and constitutes some kind of a ‘blot’ on society. In both cases people are killed because they were born a certain way; Stephen was born black, Dalits were born ‘untouchable’.

Victims as perpetrators

It has become even more abundantly clear that the processes following Stephen’s murder have involved a systematic litany of failures. Dwayne Brooks, Stephen’s friend who was with him at the scene of the murder and who actually saw his killers, has explained how he himself was treated as a suspect when the police initially came to the murder scene on the night of 22nd April 1993. Subsequent accounts of some police people present at the scene have corroborated that Dwayne, far from being treated with the due care that can be expected for a victim of crime, was questioned as if he had been a perpetrator. All too often we hear from our partners and Dalit brothers and sisters in India that when a Dalit attempts to register an atrocity case, the police respond immediately by implicating the Dalit victim in the crime. In both cases, deeply-entrenched societal prejudices and the gross negative individual schemata of, for example, the police force, serve to set the context for inquiry. The consequences of this, especially in the early stages after a crime, can be critical. In the Lawrence case, in addition to the professional incompetency of the police, their internal prejudices led to the immediate failure to secure the scene of the murder; vital forensic evidence that would have constituted an outright basis for convictions to be made was lost. In the recent Dalit atrocity case in Mirchpur[1], police failures to collect evidence immediately after the looting of the village had taken place too had the effect of severely limiting the number of convictions that could take place. In the final verdict, the judge observed serious negligence of duties by the Haryana police, going on to say that ‘the manner in which the whole thing was handled was improper’[2].

Saying it how it is

It has been emphasised that in the early days of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, there was a tangible reluctance to use the ‘R’ word. Instead of labelling it as it was – extreme racial violence, immediate inquiries rested upon the premise that the murder had been the culmination of a fight between Stephen and Dwayne, and the gang of 6 white youths – not an unprovoked race hate crime. Similarly in India, time and time again are caste atrocity cases morphed into something else. The most poignant illustration of this is the fact that the Prevention of Atrocities Act (1989), which establishes criminal liability, contains compensation provisions for victims and establishes specific authorities to implement the Act, has in reality yielded convictions just once since its enactment. This was in October last year in the Mirchpur case[3].  Although we know that caste atrocities in India continue daily and unabated, this was the first time that caste has been recognised as the fuelling factor behind the brutal killing of Dalits. In all other cases, at very best there has been a luke-warm recourse to general criminal law. If race, then, has become the taboo word in Britain, caste is surely its synonym in India. In both instances, the reluctance to call the crime what it is early on seriously hampers the course of justice. If a crime is not explicitly called what it actually is, any supposed remedial measures can never be deemed just.

Here then, perhaps one of the most instructive consequences of the ordeal of the past 18 years has come from the findings of the Macpherson Inquiry  which concluded that the failings of British authorities in the Lawrence case was due to and symptomatic of a culture of institutional racism; The definition of this being:

The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.

Putting aside the much-needed conceptual clarity that the Macpherson report brought to not just the Lawrence case but cases of racial violence, Macpherson’s most significant achievement was his unapologetic willingness to say it how it is; Lawrence was murdered due to racial prejudices, and the quest for justice ensuing his murder too have been infected with these. On a brighter note, labeling these failures as emanating from institutional racism has however been a driving force for positive action. As Trevor Philips noted in a recent (2009) Parliamentary review of the Macpherson report ten years on, “the use of the term ‘institutional racism’…was absolutely critical in shaking police forces up and down the country out of their complacency. The consequence of that has been that police forces have paid a lot of attention; they have put a lot of resources in”[4] . Uncomfortable as though it may be, being explicit about the root causes of violence in these cases is necessary. In India, we see an awareness of the government, for example, in country national plans, of the systematic disadvantages experienced by Dalits in all arenas – health, education, employment, housing, etc. What is missing, however, is a systematic inquiry into the role played by government authorities in perpetuating these biases. What then, if there could be an official finding of ‘institutional casteism’ across the board in India? I believe that this would represent a true watershed in the struggle for equality in India. In the same way that Macpherson has spurned meaningful racial sensitisation training and measures for the police force in Britain, the implications of institutional casteism would add clout to existing calls by grassroots Dalit movements and national and international NGOs for training on caste sensitisation for the police and judicial authorities in India. Of course, this would represent just the start of a new phase in the Dalit struggle, but we shouldn’t under-estimate the potential significance of such a move. After all, institutions are made up of individuals. The collective culture of an institution merely mirrors the attitudes of the individuals that comprise it. Individuals can change; so too then can institutions. As anywhere in the world, legislation whose raison d’etre is to protect oppressed people will be no use unless those that are charged with implementing the law are free from the prejudices that it seeks to mitigate.

The uncertain promise of the law

Both the Stephen Lawrence case and Dalit atrocity cases more generally show at once the promise and perils of the law[5]. Although it is largely acknowledged that all forms of discrimination are essentially rooted in the hearts and minds of an individual, in both Britain and India the institutions of authority remain overwhelmingly dominated in Britain and in India. In the former case, one needs only to look at the demographic composition of the House of Commons, or even more so the House of Lords and the Supreme Court of Britain. In India, the same is largely true, albeit that Dalits have managed to come to power in some of the northern states[6]. The law then, however imperfect a solution it may offer, is important in offering the oppressed minorities, or the oppressed majorities (as is the situation for Dalits in India) formal protection. Needless to say though, the mere existence of a law does not mean that it will be applied and that justice will follow. The case of Stephen Lawrence shows us the limits of law[7], especially when the issues at stake involve a person or a set of people’s emotive beliefs – in this case around race. The same is true in India where the law has had a dubious record in addressing caste-based atrocities against Dalits, coming up time and time again against the internalised prejudices of the upper caste authorities. What then is the promise of the law in both cases?

Making the law work

The final verdict, albeit an imperfect one, gave a clear signal that the mass mobilisation of citizens and civil society organisations can be a strong antidote to a distinct lack of political will to implement the law to confer justice. Yes, it took 18 years to get even to this stage where three of Stephen Lawrence’s killers remain free. But let us consider the counterfactual scenario. It is highly probable that without the relentless struggle of Doreen and Neville Lawrence, and mass efforts at concerted campaigning and lobbying, all five men would be walking free today. Similarly, it is fair to say that without the mobilisation of the Valmiki community in Mirchpur, the carnage that took place would have remained yet another invisible Dalit atrocity. It was through the sustained and coordinated efforts of the community itself, supported by legal experts such as the Human Rights Law Network that brought about the convictions of 15 of the perpetrators. In both cases, nonetheless, the convictions leave a bittersweet taste. Without meaning to negate the significance of the convictions in each case, and notwithstanding the true heroism involved in both campaigns for justice, I can’t help but recall the phrase that ‘justice  delayed is justice denied’; the torpor experienced by victims and their families, the legal implications of delays, the prolonged human suffering and imperfect verdicts.

Waking up to uncomfortable truths

The uncomfortable truth in Britain remains that the goal of race equality is not ‘job done’. In India, too, though many of the middle-classes continue to hold dear to the myth of a casteless society, citing the revered constitution and affirmative action schemes as evidence. Caste in India has not been cast aside. In Britain, some cite the ascendency of certain migrant groups in Britain, for example, the East African Asians whose arrival in Britain had once invited Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, as proof of there being a level playing field for non-whites. This, however, tells only half of the story. It misses the bleak reality that some people in Britain are still killed due to the colour of their skin; the names Zahid Mubarek and, more recently still Anuj Bidve are but a few such cases that have caught media attention.  More subtle and covert expressions of systematic racial prejudices can be seen from looking at the profiles of people that the police stop and search. It still shocks me that my male cousins say that they have become used to being stopped routinely on a night out, especially when they are in a group of predominantly Asian men. Anyhow, the facts speak for themselves. According to statistics of the Ministry of Justice (2011), the number of Black and Asian people stopped and searched by the police has increased by 70% over the last five years[8]. In India, a 14 year-old Dalit boy is in Uttar Pradesh is murdered by an upper caste man for having the same name as his son[9]. Research has suggested that at least 21 Dalit women in India are raped per month[10]. The list of evidence showing that race in Britain and caste in India are alive and kicking is endless.

[toggle title=”Citations”]

[1] The Mirchpur case refers to an incident that took place in the Hisar district of Haryana in April 2010 where a Dalit father and his disabled daughter were burnt alive and the houses of Valmikis (deemed outside of the caste system) in the village looted. It involved a sequence of police and judicial failures in the early stages of the case, including the corruption of officials by some of the accused upper castes, the falsification of evidence and false charges against the victim communities. Following a period of litigation, the Indian Supreme Court verdict on 31st October 2011 convicted 15 of the 82 accused persons under the Prevention of Atrocities Act (1989).

[2] See:

[3] See:

[4] See:

[5] Upendra Baxi, 2009 – speaking about the uncertainty of judicial activism of the Supreme Court in India.

[6] See Jaffrelot, Christopher 2002. ‘India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India’.

[7] Allot, Antony 1980.

[8] See:

[9] See:

[10] See:


Why The Two-State ‘Solution’ Is A Farce & Not, A Solution

The two-state ‘solution’ is a farce and the ‘peace process’ an Israeli concept.



[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f you’ve ever had a discussion with a liberal, and by liberal I mean the Robert Frost definition of liberal, someone who is too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel, or the Theodore White definition, someone who believes that water can be made to run uphill. And the conservative as someone who believes everybody should pay for the water. I well am neither, I believe water should be free, and that water flows downhill – and in fact bottled water and insurance is the biggest shams to date (however I won’t be getting into that today).

First of all the ‘peace process’ is an Israeli concept. It is an Israeli ideology based on Zionist supremacy of ‘we will have peace in return that you be quiet and live under our rule, our policies and our boots and agree to our demands – which includes your inevitable exile’. That essentially is what the peace process stands for, and I’m certain there is nothing anyone could produce, including a Knesset member to prove otherwise. And to talk about a genuine peace process, the one understood to be settling the ‘conflict‘ as a liberal would describe, is like kicking a dead horse rather than acknowledging that its dead. And that its not a horse, it’s a unicorn. Doesn’t exist.

Today, the number of Israelis and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is approximately about 5 million each. But most demographers agree that in less than a decade, Palestinians will greatly outnumber Israelis. That means that Israel will no longer be a Jewish majority state (unless some demographic miracle happens, like say a massacre). This is quite frightening for the state of Israel who already implements extreme ‘security measures’ which come in the form of 500 watchtowers, 100 fixed checkpoints, 130 settlements (with several more settlement plans being approved every few months), 500,000 aggressive settlers, night raids, violent repression of Friday protests, Gaza’s F-16 war planes and drones, denial of medical access, administrative detentions, demolition notices, bulldozers at 6am, high velocity tear gas, skunk water, and it goes on.

The peace process – the two-state solution, is farce because, yes Israel doesn’t want two states. Israel has never in the course of history supported two states. When the current Likud party in power happens to be founded by the terrorist Menachem Begin in 1973 who was part of the Irgun terrorist group responsible for the King David Hotel bombing (of British Forces) as well as Dier Yassin Massacre, and miraculously becomes prime minister and then awarded the noble peace prize jointly with Anwar Sadat, there was never the intention of a two-state solution. Israel was founded based on one principle and one principle only. An established homeland for the Jews. And to this day, they still dream of the ‘Great Land of (all) Israel’. They believe they made the ‘desert bloom’, because Palestine was ‘a land without a people, for people without a land’. There is no West Bank, it is ‘Judea and Samaria’. There are no ‘Palestinians’, they are only Arabs and Arabs have 23 states.

Now when a country emerges and builds upon the history of another history written by peoples of different creed and colour in harmony, and declares it sacred for themselves, when a country emerges based on the ideology that they are superior to every other human being based not on a race, but scriptural belief, when a country establishes its existence on stolen geography, stolen history and undrying blood, the word peace is as invalid as US being in Afghanistan for a feminist cause. It is just beyond absurd.

Once we understand that Israel has never been a supporter of co-existing and sharing what they had came to claim for themselves and themselves only, it becomes clear as day that obviously the Palestinians do not want a two state solution. The Palestinians do not want a two state solution, just as you wouldn’t if you had your home ransacked by a foreign group, settling in your fields, in your houses, treated you like a 4th class citizen, shot your mother and cut her stomach open to kill your unborn sister leaving her skirt hoisted by her waist, dragged your father by the head to execute him with your brother against a wall, shot your grandmother in the chest, made you beg for your life, forced you to escape into a neighbouring land after half of your population was exiled and killed, and now you remain ousted for the remaining of your existence, because they have forbidden your return, whilst your people still inhabiting parts of the land undergo daily humiliation and degradation, imprisoning the men, beating the women, kidnapping the children, bombing sleeping families, uprooting your trees, building their homes, erasing your history, rebuilding your geography, swallowing your culture. You too, would not want two states. You would want it all – back.

Of course, whenever I engage in a discussion with a liberal of some kind, or someone who isn’t entirely informed on the issue but is an apologist, but do happen to accept the points made above they ask, “well realistically, the only solution is to have two states. You can’t drive the Jews into the sea or push the Arabs off the land, so it wouldn’t it make sense to have two states?”

The answer is yes, it would make sense.

It would make sense to have two states (if we’re talking about realistic terms), no settlements, no checkpoints, no military presence in Palestine, the right of return for Palestinians in exile, a formal apology by the state (just for the sake of it), Israel’s apartheid laws abolished, the physical and economic siege on Gaza lifted, the apartheid wall and settlements demolished, freeing of all prisoners, giving back land to uphold the UN partition, basically the terminating the concept of Zionism. But how is that possible when the entire existence of Israel is solely based on Zionism? To expect a Palestinian-Israeli confederation wherein the two peoples share joint political and economic institutions while maintaining a sense of semi-autonomy and preserving their cultural and religious distinctions based on the peace process, on Israeli terms, is far-fetched. The two state solution becomes a floating paradox. It is here where the dead horse or unicorn, becomes a cloud of dust.

However I must insert here, Palestine isn’t based on the 1947 partition plan issued by the UN (they were useless even then). Palestine is Haifa, Palestine is Yaffa, Palestine is Jerusalem. So I will want it all back. And if you were Hanifa al-Najjar that lost her husband after a settler that cracked open his skull, and an Israeli soldier paralysed her 5 year old daughter, and indefinitely imprisoned her brother, I believe you would too.

19th Century Balance Of Power

If the balance of power is the ‘constitution of international society’ (von Gentz) why has it generated such hostility?
{Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science}



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he original idea of a perfectly balanced system was introduced in the political debate by Ruccellai and Guicciardini, two Italian political writers, at the end of the 15th century. According to Haslam, “the situation which prompted the emergence of the Balance as a ruling principle of international relations was the period in Italy … from the peace of Lodi (1454) to the invasion of the French under Charles VIII (1494), during which five Powers maintained a balance on the peninsula: Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples”.[1] In 1713, the aim “to settle … an equal balance of power” between states involved in the War of the Spanish Succession was embedded in the Treaty of Utrecht.[2] After that, further developments of the concept followed, in particular those elaborated by Fénélon and Hume in the 18th century: the former referred to the balance of power as a natural tendency of states that shared common interest and were able to enjoy good relations and political stability (“a kind of society and general republic”).[3] Similarly, the latter saw the balance of power as the “aim of modern politics”.[4] Despite ambitious and peaceful political objectives, the balance of power was applied as a theoretical justification in the division of Poland between Austria, Prussia and Russia in 1772, 1793 and 1795 and finally was openly contested in Britain by the radical and pacifist MP Richard Cobden.

In the wake of the Smithian idea of free market, according to which trade required and created conditions for peace, the balance of power was rhetorically blamed for encouraging war and of being pro-aristocratic and anti-bourgeoisie: “[It] is a chimaera! It is not a fallacy, a mistake, an imposture – it is an undescribed, indescribable, incomprehensible nothing”.[5] Nonetheless, such an idea was suggested again by von Gentz and it became Metternich’s main driving concern in reorganizing the European state system soon after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. In the 19th century Europe was ruled by a Concert of Great Powers shaped as a balance-of-power system which was able to maintain peace and stability for a century. Why was this system so harshly contested by such contemporary thinkers as Cobden? What were the main causes which prompted him, and “liberalists” at the beginning of the next century, to blame the balance of power as a mean to preserve hegemonic interests and political status quo? Why did such a system fail and result in the bloodiest war man had seen at that time? Most importantly, could one truly speak about of balance of power during the 19th century? In this essay I argue that it was a different kind of politics to generate hostility, while a more comprehensive and systematic concept of balance of power was elaborated only in the Cold War period.

The idea of Balance of Power in the 19th Century

The main reason for hostility toward the balance of power in the 19th century laid down on its conservative and hegemonic implications. As a matter of fact, Metternich set up the creation of the Concert relying on the basic tenets of balance of power defined as “a guiding principle for decision-making on the part of governments”, with the unconcealed objective to re-establish the previous state system through restoration of monarchies throughout the Europe.[6] This kind of political aim married with the great concern to avoid future resurgences and revolutions, which had provoked the Napoleonic Wars and that put at risk independent sovereignty in Europe.

Preserving the balance and ensuring the European state-system was the primary interest of F. von Gentz (1764 – 1832), a former pupil of Kant, who worked as a Metternich’s adviser in Austria. The thoughts of von Gentz shaped policy outcomes of the Restoration, which looked at the balance of power as “an international institution vital to the preservation of the total institutional status quo”,[7] it allowed European states to co-exist and to develop a shared network of rules. In fact, according to a rationalist view, Gentz identified Europe “not as an anarchic arena but as a union or federation of states”,[8] each of them responsible to maintain a just equilibrium and the integrity of the system. However, this idea of balance of power ended up justifying the existence of strong counterforce and a concept of stability completely uninterested in the fate of weaker countries: peace was solely a priority for great powers and the partition of Poland was considered as an effective balancing policy because did not damage the European state-system and it represented a “degree of progress on the previous era”: in this way states avoided war at the expense of other subjects.[9] This pattern of action was pursued in the 1815 peace settlement where, as Schroeder shows, three major areas (Italy, Balkans and Poland) were identified as “intermediary” bodies among the winning empires: their later ineffectiveness in preserving peace and stability was brought about by willingness of empires to dominate them in the name of the status quo, triggering further changes in the structure that would undermined the entire system (calls for independence and the emergence of new states).[10]

Alternatively to the hierarchical structure of power, Holsti suggests the existence of an imperfect system of governance in the 19th century: polyarchy. Departing from a polycentric distribution of power between the five great state actors after 1815, Holsti identifies two common tasks on the ground of this multi-polar system: preventing hegemony on the continent and avoiding a pan-European war.[11] Such a system was the final result of the complementary nature of Concert and balance, where the first “could not work unless there was a balance, defined in territorial terms: employment of institutions (norms, consultation, common decisions), ideational consensus on tasks of governance and authority and legitimacy of collective outcomes were the three main criteria of that governance system until 1914.[12] The restricted nature of the Concert, which involved a balancing-mechanism limited to its participants, did not take into account states committed to fighting wars for different concerns such as nationalism in the Ottoman Empire and Balkans in the late 19th century.[13]

The growing presence of a number of nation-states in Europe generated further hostility for balance of power, seen as the ideological justification for the great powers to preserving the old distribution of power, defined in territorial terms, between its first advocates. This structural transformation challenged the concept above-mentioned, and showed how it was incapable to working also for a wider spectrum of states. Given the contradictions that such a definition of balance of power aroused, is it possible to speak about a straightforward definition of balance of power system between 1815 and 1914? An answer to this question could be helpful to understand better why the balance of power as conceived in the 19th century generated a great deal of hostility both during that period and in the aftermath of the Concert breakdown.

An attempt for conceptual clarification

So far the term of balance of power has been associated to the role of “stability, peace, rule of law, the mutual guarantee of rights and the supervision of all major changes in the system by the great powers”. However, in the 19th century the distribution of power was not balanced and the working definition for “balance” meant a “dominant coalition set up against a supposed aggressor”.[14] In addition, balance of power tenets were employed to justify the extinction of weak states, while no independence for all states was guaranteed. In such a system there was anarchy only for the weakest actors, while the members of the restricted circle of great powers lived within an international society with its rules and its own equilibrium.

Such an international system was not entirely shaped by a clear concept or practice of balance of power. In fact, as Schroeder underlines, “what Germans meant by equilibrium [was different from] the standard British conception throughout the century. These basic conceptions of the European balance have nothing in common but the name”.[15] Contradictions between core meanings and practices about the term reflected the basic confusion between an “equilibrium as stability and peace through the rule of law and great-power unity or equilibrium through balance of power”.[16] The need to clarify semantically this term was recognized by Haas, who identified in 1953 eight different meanings of balance of power and four different historical and political uses.[17] As a result, Schroeder explains that such term suffered from conceptual over-stretching and when European statesman referred to “European or political equilibrium”, they meant exactly that and not “balance of power”. Therefore, political equilibrium is a very different concept which requires “a balance of satisfactions, a balance of rights and obligations and a balance of performance and payoffs, rather than a balance of power”: states were not concerned in equal distribution of power between actors of international system, but in a kind of artificial harmony based on the acquisition of individual goals and interests through the institutions of war, alliances, diplomacy and international treaties.[18]

As Haas pointed out, the purpose of “Gentz’s theory of balance of power … was to give the Austrian and British governments an excuse for unleashing a new war on Napoleon”, in order to fulfil their own national interests.[19] Bismarck, most importantly, learned very fruitfully the political grammar and the working rules of the 19th century international society. When united Germany took part in it as a newborn great power in 1871, Bismarck harnessed diplomacy and took advantage of a highly-balanced system of alliances in order to preserve and to maintain the existing political equilibrium instrumental to the institutional strengthening and economic aggrandizement of his country.[20] Analyzing the 19th century through the lens of national interests and predominance of states’ power is useful for understanding its own collapse in 1914 and after the World War I, both due to the disappearance of political equilibrium in Europe (as a balance of rights and satisfactions between states) and Germany’s growth in power and ambition which broke down that mechanism in the early 20th century.[21]

Systematic definitions of balance of power were elaborated only after the Second World War, primarily by Waltz and Bull. Waltz sees the balance as an automatic consequence of the interactions of functionally similar units operating in an anarchy.[22] Bull, although not interested in the system’s mechanisms, means by balance of power “a state of affairs such that no one power is in a position where it is preponderant and can lay down the law to others”, irrespective of states’ size and encompassing both local and general balance of power.[23] Both approaches were reinforced with the introduction of nuclear weapons, which made possible identifying the Cold War period as the most suitable one for a balance of power theory (in terms of a balanced distribution of capabilities and nuclear peace as the final and the best possible outcomes).


Balance of power, although remaining a fundamental institution of international society, was not a pillar of it in the 19th century. As we have seen, what generated hostility was instead the achievement of the so-called policy of “political equilibrium” between great powers. This concerted purpose was inherently conservative and this was the reason for aversion. As a matter of fact, the necessity to sustain status quo and power relations resulting from the Restoration was perceived as instrumental to great powers objectives and their internal stability. In the late 19th century, this view of the world became progressively anachronistic because of the emergence of new states (especially Germany) which saw in this model of “equilibrium” a constrain to their further increasing national interests and ambition. As a result, the misuse or the overuse of the “balance of power” concept prompted suspicion until the end of the Second World War. At that time, the emergence of two superpowers, ideologically and militarily in competition, and the appearance of nuclear weapons, required an original re-elaboration of balance of power as conceived until then, focused on protection of national sovereignty, worldwide peaceful co-existence and nuclear deterrence between the American and the Soviet hegemonies.

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

[1] Haslam, Jonathan, No Virtue like Necessity: Realist Thought in International Relations since Machiavelli, New Haven, Yale University, 2002, p. 91.
[2] Treaty of Utrecht between Britain and Spain, 13 July 1713: The Consolidated Treaty Series, ed. C. Parry, Vol. 28 (new York 1969) pp. 325.
[3] Hutching, Kimberly. Class Lecture, The Nineteenth-Century System: The Theory and Practice of the Balance of Power, LSE, London, 10 October 2011.
[4] Haslam, p. 90.
[5] Ibid, pp. 119 – 120.
[6] Haas, Ernst B., ‘The Balance of Power: prescription, concept, or propaganda’, World Politics, 5 (4) 1953. P. 468.
[7] Ibid, p. 469.
[8] Little, Richard. “Friedrich Gentz, Rationalism and the Balance of Power”, in Ian Clark, Iver B. Neumann, Classical Theories of International Relations (eds.), Palgrave, New Yorl, 1996. P. 217. In addition, Gentz depicted the 1814-15 settlements as the starting point for the creation of a “great political family” in Europe, “in a federation under the direction of the major powers”, quoted in Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations (New York: Knopf, 1948), pp. 436 – 437.
[9] Ibid, p. 223.
[10] Schroeder, P. W. ‘The 19th century International System: Changes in the Structure’, World Politics, 39:1, 1986, pp. 22 – 25.
[11] Holsti, K. J., ‘Governance without Government: Polyarchy in Nineteenth-Century European International Politics,’ in J. N. Roseanu and E. O. Czempiel (eds.), Governance without Government: Order and Change in World Politics, Cambridge, Cambridge University, 1992, p. 38.
[12] Ibidem, p. 43.
[13] Ibidem, p. 52.
[14] Schroeder, P. W. ‘The Nineteenth Century System: balance of power or political equilibrium’, Review of International Studies 15:2 (1989). pp. 137 – 138.
[15] Ibid, p. 140.
[16] Ibid, p. 141.
[17] Haas, pp. 442 – 477.
[18] Schroeder, P. W., p. 143.
[19] Haas, p. 471.
[20] According to Schroeder, alliances are seen as “tools of management” for the stability of the international environment, in “Alliances, 1815-1945: Weapons of Power and Tools of Management” in Klaus Knorr, ed., Historical Problems of National Security, (Lawrence, Kansas: Univ. of Kansas Press, 1976), pp. 247–286.
[21] Schroeder, P. W., p. 146.
[22] Holsti, p. 32.
[23] Bull, Hedley, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (3edn), London, Palgrave, 2002, p.97.


Bull, Hedley, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (3 eds), London, Palgrave, 2002.

Haas, Ernst B., ‘The Balance of Power: prescription, concept, or propaganda’, World Politics, 5 (4) 1953.

Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations (New York: Knopf, 1948).

Haslam, Jonathan, No Virtue like Necessity: Realist Thought in International Relations since Machiavelli, New Haven, Yale University, 2002.

Holsti, K. J., ‘Governance without Government: Polyarchy in Nineteenth-Century European International Politics,’ in J. N. Roseanu and E. O. Czempiel (eds.), Governance without Government: Order and Change in World Politics, Cambridge, Cambridge University, 1992.

Hutchings, Kimberly. Class Lecture, The Nineteenth-Century System: The Theory and Practice of the Balance of Power, LSE, London, 10 October 2011.

Knorr, Klaus, Historical Problems of National Security, (Lawrence, Kansas: Univ. of Kansas Press, 1976)

Little, Richard. “Friedrich Gentz, Rationalism and the Balance of Power”, in Ian Clark, Iver B. Neumann, Classical Theories of International Relations (eds.), Palgrave, New Yorl, 1996.

Schroeder, P. W. ‘The 19th century International System: Changes in the Structure’, World Politics, 39:1, 1986.

Schroeder, P. W. ‘The Nineteenth Century System: balance of power or political equilibrium’, Review of International Studies 15:2 (1989).

Treaty of Utrecht between Britain and Spain, 13 July 1713: The Consolidated Treaty Series, ed. C. Parry, Vol. 28 (new York 1969)

Terrorism: Strategy Of The ‘Weak’?

Is terrorism a strategy of the ʻweakʼ?
{War Studies Department, King’s College London}



[dropcap]F[/dropcap]rom the supposition in the question, we can assume terrorism is primarily a strategy, suggesting a long-term political agenda. The term ʻweakʼ is subjective and must be considered within a contextual framework such as political representation, operational dynamics and psychological factors in the group strategy. The first aim of this analysis is to take an instrumental approach and review the tactical advantages and limitations in terrorist methodology which can show how the strategy works primarily for disadvantaged actors.

As an extension of the instrumental approach, the second part of this analysis hinges upon psychological factors in the terrorist strategy.[1] In the context of a long-term political agenda, this piece will demonstrate how terrorism is used as a form of communication for social influence which differentiates it from other forms of political violence.[2] In discerning several variables involved in the process of transmission, this analysis will highlight the parameters within which those using terrorism as a strategy can feasibly be described as ʻweakʼ. An analysis of the terrorist strategy requires an adequate definition of the phenomenon which has proved problematic[3]. This study is based on the definition offered by Hoffman:

Terrorism is specifically designed to have far-reaching psychological effects beyond the immediate victim(s) [or targets]. It is meant to instill [and exploit] fear within, and thereby intimidate a wider “target audience” [through violence or the threat of violence].

The crucial aspect of this definition for our purposes is:

Terrorism is designed to create power where there is none or to consolidate power where there is very little. Through the publicity generated by their violence, terrorists seek to obtain leverage, influence, and power they otherwise lack to effect political change.[4] ʻ[S]mall organizations resort to violence to compensate for what they lack in numbersʼ.[5] Some of the tactics that terrorists use in order to address this imbalance include assassination, targeted or indiscriminate bombing, kidnapping, hijacking and suicide terrorism.

Whilst terrorism is often ʻan unavoidable instrumentʼ when other routes of political coercion are depleted, terrorism can be an effective strategy for weak actors.[6] Terrorism extends the combat zone infinitely until populations hitherto unrelated to particular ideologies or groups, cannot escape their influence, conveying terrorists as more dangerous than a small, ʻweakʼ group. This is evident in the aftermath of 9/11 – the ʻWar on Terrorʼ. This pronouncement significantly impacted international security, creating a climate of fear and a constant ʻstate of warʼ. This target reaction, or overreaction, keeps terrorism, and al-Qaeda, at the forefront of public discourse.[7] Furthermore, the inability to win this ʻwarʼ creates a disconnect between a target regime and its population, either diminishing government support or increasing the ranks of terrorists. Concurrently, terrorists risk an ʻescalation trapʼ which alienates potential constituents through increased, indiscriminate violence.[8] Awareness and manipulation of this ʻrisky shiftʼ determines success. An example of this is the FLNʼs (Front de Libération Nationale) harrying of the French military, causing violent repression and highlighting the ʻbankruptcy of French ruleʼ.[9] Tactical provocation plays to the strengths of organizations ordinarily incapable of openly confronting the target.

Terrorism is economical for ʻweakʼ groups, requiring fewer participants, funds and resources. Despite the view of suicide terrorism as irrational, there is a “strategic logic”[10] in the perception that martyrdom is purposeful, and will confer status and remuneration to oneʼs family. Additionally, the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) hijacking of an El Al flight in 1968 as leverage for the release of Palestinian terrorists in Israel constituted an evolution in the terrorist strategy. This shows strategic adaptation and the manipulation of a conflict situation by comparatively ʻweakʼ actors.

Group structures reflect the compromise between efficiency and security which affect weak actors.[11] A top-down military structure can be operationally strong but rendered weak if ʻdecapitatedʼ.[12] Contrastingly, groupuscules within a network strengthen security but not efficiency. More recently, ʻacephalousʼ indoctrination and training is available on the internet, removing the need for contact but drastically increasing the chances of failure. Despite limitations, these factors highlight how the tactical and organizational advantages of terrorism can facilitate weak actors. This does not preclude that a strategy of pure terrorism can succeed. History has shown that installing a successor is more difficult than removing an enemy, requiring the mobilization of mass support and conventional participation. An example would be ETAʼs (Basque Homeland and Freedom) permanent cessation of armed activity in 2011 in favour of ʻdirect dialogueʼ.[13] As demonstrated, Crenshawʼs rationalist argument that terrorism constitutes an equalizer in an unequal struggle is accurate.[14]

Analyzing certain psychological factors can help explain perceived weaknesses of those that employ terrorism. Analytically viewed, terrorism is a form of communication designed to coerce change inflicting or threatening violence. This ʻpropaganda of the deedʼ constitutes an ʻindirect dialogueʼ. Although not mutually exclusive, terrorism differs from other forms of political violence because the ʻmessage functionʼ is the primary goal rather than territorial acquisition. Technological advances have assisted rapid information transmission to significantly larger audiences, rendering terrorism ʻrepugnantly voyeuristicʼ. [15] This can circumvent official channels to broadcast globally, allowing terrorists to set the conditions of the targetʼs response and blur the distinction between the (arbitrary) target of violence and the target of influence. This removes the targetʼs control of a situation and diminishes its capacity to protect its citizens.

However, ʻ[t]errorists and newspapermen share the naive assumption that those whose names make the headlines have powerʼ.[16] Audiences may be alerted to the terroristsʼ cause, but the subsequent stages in social influence campaigns present weaknesses. Terrorists cannot gain political transformation without attaining approval and retention of their message. Retention requires frequent and increasingly spectacular terrorists acts, stretching the capabilities of weak actors, and potentially causing feelings of rejection, anger and inurement, rather than fear and capitulation.[17]

Whilst the use of terrorism can provide short-term concessions and ʻinfamyʼ, it is not ideally suited to a long-term social influence campaign. Incumbent regimes have the power to publicly dismiss terrorists as ʻweakʼ and directionless, providing a counter-narrative to the terrorist rhetoric. In less liberal states, terrorist acts may receive no publicity whatsoever, halting them at the primary stage of exposure.

Whilst terrorism can occur as a response to perceived grievances and the loss – or fear of loss – of power, it can also occur in response to political concessions which Narodnaya Volya, for example, viewed as a sign of weakness. A more recent example is ETA whose group rationality, it can be argued, mutated to mere survival. Their ʻonly sense of significance [came] from being terrorists [and to cease violence] would be to lose their very reason for being.ʼ[18] This view indicates group psychological weakness through an absence of alternative identity and would concur with Postʼs supposition that terrorist violence constitutes the end itself, rather than a means to political change.

Terrorism is often viewed as a strategy of weak actors because its main purpose is to coerce political change through the psychological manipulation of fear. With rapid media available at any hour, terrorist acts can command the attention of billions. Terrorism comprises a strategic, military logic, designed for an operationally weaker side to engage a foe in combat without risking annihilation. In pure numbers, a terrorist group is without a doubt weaker as is always the case when sub- and non-state actors engage an enemy, but the methodology employed and the adaptability of organizational structures provide forms of tactical armour which help level the playing field and act as an ʻequalizerʼ.

Whilst these methods have often been successful in past (ethno-/nationalist) conflicts, it must be noted that this success depended on concessions. To reiterate, pure terrorism as a strategy does not often succeed because popular support cannot be achieved without the cessation of violence and the transition to conventional political participation. As is often the case when attempting to define typologies in terrorism studies, the strategy often depends on the specific context of a given conflict. However, we can conclude that terrorism constitutes a ʻstrong strategyʼ for ʻweak actorsʼ who wish to destabilize a more militarily capable target by removing its capacity to control a situation and fulfill its primary goal of protecting its citizens. Beyond this stage, the strategy of terrorism becomes a negative influence, often destroying the promise of political change.

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

[1] This piece will avoid the study of individual psychology. Despite attempts at profiling, there are no infallible determinants – social, political, economic or otherwise – that explain why some turn to terrorism. See Bognar et al (eds.) (2007).
[2] Gerwehr & Hubbard in Bognar et al (eds.) (2007) p. 87
[3] Schmid (2004)
[4] Hoffman (2006), pp. 40-41
[5] Crenshaw in Reich (ed.) (1998), p. 11
[6] Heinzen in Laqueur (ed.) (1979) p. 55
[7] Neumann & Smith (2005) p. 591
[8] ibid., p. 588
[9] Hoffman (2006) p. 61
[10] Pape (2005)
[11] Neumann (2011)
[12] Cronin (2011) p. 31
[13] The Guardian (20 Oct 2011)
[14] Summarized by Post in Reich (ed.) (1998) p. 35
[15] Cronin (2011) p. 4
[16] Laqueur (1979) p. 252
[17] Gerwehr & Hubbard in Bognar et al (eds.) (2007) p. 88-91
[18] Post in Reich (ed.) (1998) p. 38


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