The Psychological Implications Of Relief Work

Relief work often predisposes people to PTSD and other psychological illnesses, and in most cases preparation before departure is inadequate, as is support on return. 



[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter writing my last piece (“Security For Humanitarian Workers”), I started to think further about the psychological stress put on relief workers. A brief evidence search revealed increasing interest in this area, particularly in the last ten years. In 1997 there were roughly 136 000 relief workers assisting around the world, this rose to 290 000 in 2008. Worryingly with this increase came an increase in the rate of attack of humanitarian workers from 4 to 9 per 10 000. In 1998, for the first time ever more UN aid workers were killed than peace keeping soldiers and in 2000 the number of humanitarian deaths had risen to 375 of which 69% were violent.

This flurry of facts illustrates the increased call for humanitarian response around the world, but also that the kind of response provided is now more dangerous and more involved than ever before. An unavoidable characteristic of relief work is the experience of primary or secondary trauma, primary trauma being a personal experience and secondary being a vicarious experience, i.e. hearing it through the person it happened to. It is well documented that a personal experience of trauma or catastrophe is a risk factor for mental illness, in particular post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Evidence has also shown that secondary trauma increases the risk of developing PTSD. Mental health clinicians who work with traumatized or sexually assaulted patient have a significantly higher PTSD diagnosis rate compared with other clinicians.

There is a bundle of evidence which shows that relief workers suffer from considerably higher rates of mental illness than a general population. The prevalence of PTSD in a general population is around 3.5%, which increases to around 7.8% for lifetime prevalence. The prevalence of PTSD in relief workers has been witnessed to be as high as 17%. The largest study to date on mental illness in relief workers found 43% of the 267 subjects were suffering from one of the following: PTSD, Depression, Anxiety or Burnout. In the UK the Mental Health Foundation state that 25% of the general population will have a mental illness at any one time. This indicates the risk of mental illness while on or after deployment as a relief worker as much higher than in a general population. All this evidence is quite new, the first peer reviewed literature review taking place only last year. It made me ask two questions. Why is this happening, and how can it be reduced?

Obviously those involved in relief work are more likely to be exposed to psychologically damaging trauma. It is the nature of the job, but of course of those exposed to trauma only a small few develop PTSD and other psychological illnesses and still the rates of psychological illness have been shown to be higher in groups of relief workers than they are in the army. Before deployment soldiers tend to receive a great many more hours of psychological preparation compared with relief workers. In recent years awareness has been raised about the need for psychological assistance for returning troops, however the need for this for returning relief workers is just as strong and an area that is extremely under-examined. Other factors which predispose people to develop PTSD include their available support systems, attitudes towards help-seeking behavior and presence of additional stressors. These are all factors which are altered in a conflict or relief requiring setting. Support systems are much lower, particularly for relief workers in rural or remote settings, compared to what they would be at home or even in an army base camp. Health seeking behavior also tends to be altered for relief workers. It is not uncommon to find relief workers putting other people’s health and wellbeing above their own, meaning they may force themselves to cope with more than they can manage, potentially making them overwhelmed and causing long term psychological damage.

It is understandable that relief work predisposes people to PTSD and other psychological illnesses, and that in most cases preparation before departure is inadequate, as is support on return. The idea of debriefing after traumatic experiences and after deployment has been used to try to reduce the incidence of psychological illness. However there is evidence which suggests that debriefing can actually increase the risk of psychological illness post deployment.

While writing this, I’ve learned that the area of psychological illness in relief workers is an area of growing and important research. However, the research as yet has merely shown the existence of a continuing problem. Next steps need to evaluate current, and develop new ways of preventing the high incidence of PTSD and other psychological illness. Prevention requires intervention at every stage of a relief worker’s journey, before, during and after deployment. The psychological wellbeing of these philanthropic workers should be as important as their physical wellbeing. Commonly the people providing relief to those who need it are volunteering their time and skills to help in any way they can. It is a terrible thought that these generous people should suffer during and after deployment from psychological distress in order to give everything they can to those who need it.

Romney & Obama’s ‘Flexibility’

This latest microphone mishap has revealed more about Romney’s views on international affairs than about Obama’s post-election intentions.




[dropcap]D[/dropcap]uring talks on missile defence in Seoul, South Korea last week, United States President Barack Obama was picked up by a microphone telling the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he will have ‘more flexibility’ to negotiate the issue of missiles after the US presidential elections this November.

Opponents of the Obama administration were quick to express their concern over the remark. In an article for Foreign Policy magazine, Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney described the president’s remarks as ‘revealing’ and ‘alarming’, while fellow candidate Newt Gingrich asked in an interview with CNN: ‘how many other countries has the president promised that he will have a lot more flexibility the morning he doesn’t have to answer to the American people?’ However, while there may be genuine debate to be had over the extent to which Obama can expect more political freedom should he retain the presidency in November, these remarks are aimed more at generating a degree of anxiety and uncertainty.

While the White House maintained that progress on the issue of missile defence would be unlikely in an election year, the implications of Obama’s comments also sparked heated correspondence between Romney’s advisers and those of the Obama administration. In an open letter, foreign policy advisers to Romney suggested that Obama’s remarks were indicative of ‘weakness and inconstancy’, and asked the president to elaborate on what he had meant by the term ‘flexibility’. Despite this request, the letter appeared to rely on the ambiguity of the word in order to imply the president’s misleading policies and the uncertainty he would unleash were he to be re-elected. The letter provided numerous criticisms of the administration’s handling of various foreign policy issues, including Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Iran’s nuclear programme and the defence budget, applying the menacing and mysterious notion of post-election ‘flexibility’ to each instance. The following day, however, national security advisers within Obama’s re-election campaign wrote back, addressing Romney directly. In their response, the team addressed each of the issues raised by Romney’s advisers in detail, and posed a few critical questions of their own. They pointed out Romney’s lack of policy on Afghanistan, for example, and attacked his views on the United States’ relationship with Russia.

The latter criticism stems from Romney’s repeatedly hostile comments towards Russia, which he described as America’s ‘number one geopolitical foe’ in an interview with CNN. He reinforced this view in his article for Foreign Policy, stating that Moscow ‘has been a thorn in our side on questions vital to America’s national security.’ Romney has faced heat in this area not only from the Obama administration but also from Russia. President Medvedev has commented that this attitude ‘smells of Hollywood’, adding that ‘we are in 2012 and not the mid-1970s.’ While Romney’s historical interests appear to lie in the 1980s, as demonstrated by his recent enthusiasm for Ronald Reagan’s ‘peace through strength’ foreign policy, Medvedev’s assessment correctly identifies a considerable amount of animosity towards Russia expressed by Romney that has not characterised the Obama administration. In their letter, for example, Obama’s national security experts reiterated that ‘strategic cooperation with Russia is essential for countering the Iranian nuclear threat’, while the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has said that the US relationship with Russia allows differences to be discussed ‘candidly and openly’.

Both Romney’s campaign team and the Obama administration will undoubtedly continue to express their disagreement over this and other foreign policy issues as the presidential election draws closer. However, it appears that this latest microphone mishap has revealed more about Romney’s views on international affairs than about Obama’s post-election intentions.

Turkey: Hesitant Hero

Turkey’s role in bringing together the Syrian opposition has made progress but as Turkey gets drawn into its own internal politics as an extension of the Syrian violence, its current role as a hesitant hero is perhaps the safest place for it to remain.




[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s the violence in Syria continues it poses real humanitarian questions for the rest of the world. Intervention is becoming more and more likely, but as Richard Armstrong wrote, it’s isn’t as simple as that. But intervention is what some Syrians are asking for. Last week, leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood Mohammad Riad Shakfa declared that Syria needs outside protection and Turkey is the only nation he believes can offer it. This places Turkey in a compromising position. Turkey may have strived to be a regional player but now that the moment has arrived it finds itself playing the role of a hesitant hero.

Turkey was uneasy in the Libyan intervention before finally getting involved due to its role in NATO. The reality of the Syrian situation is far different from that in Libya, despite the recurring theme of massacre. Libya may have been easy for the rest of NATO to get involved in; there were significant gains to be made and Libya as an isolated state allowed for almost unanimous intervention. Nevertheless, Turkey was wary. Its economic desires and ‘zero problems’ ideology meant that it played a far less active role in the intervention and merely moderated involvement, rather than having troops on the ground.

Syria, however, poses an entirely different question, not only for Turkey but for the rest of the world. Syria is not an isolated nation in the region. Its background with Iran and Iraq add a security factor that cannot be ignored, never mind the support al-Assad is receiving from Russia and China. Turkey shares its longest border with Syria and has much to lose. Syria and Turkey’s history has been fraught with tension. Upon the election of the AKP, Erdoğan and al-Assad had cultivated a close friendship in order to mitigate the tension and threatened military action that plagued the 1990s. For this very reason Turkey has been cautious in intervening. Along with vainly trying not to antagonize any parties as it tries to fulfil the ‘zero problems’ fantasy.

Moreover, the question of Turkey’s Kurdish population adds a hidden dimension to the conflict. The Kurdish question is one that forever afflicts Turkish politics. As a marginalized minority the Kurds have exacerbated tensions throughout Turkey’s history, but this has heightened in the last couple of years of the AKP administration. Syria has often used this internal conflict to its advantage, harbouring Kurdish rebels to be used as a bargaining tool. It was not until the arrest of Öcalan, the founder and leader of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), in 1998 that Turkey and Syria began more diplomatic talks. It seems however that we may see history repeat itself with the more prominent use of the PKK in the Syrian uprising. As the al-Assad government draws the PKK further in, expanding its military front the more of a taunt it becomes for Turkey. Turkey might get dragged into military intervention – not due to humanitarian needs, but because of its own agenda. This can only worsen sectarian violence in both nations – the Kurds have already threatened military action if Turkey intervenes.

The AKP has done much in its decade in power to readdress Turkey’s position in the region and globally. Turkey’s reluctance as such is understandable; however, its vagueness is inexcusable. For example, Turkey’s initial refusal to declare Syrian refugees as asylum seekers but as guests displayed imprecision in Turkey’s tactic. Since then, Turkey has begun to take what appears to be a harder line, closing its Damascus embassy and stopping Turkish Airlines flights. Furthermore, talks between Syrian opposition parties held in Istanbul may help in ensuring unified political dialogue. Military intervention does not have the same guarantee in Syria as it did in Libya – thus political dialogue is the only option to warrant as little life lost as possible. Turkey’s role in bringing together the opposition has made progress on this front but as Turkey gets further drawn into its own internal politics as an extension of the Syrian violence, its current role as a hesitant hero is perhaps the safest place for it to remain.

Never A Right Time For Women’s Rights?

We can all agree that it is unprofessional to mix business and pleasure, so why not just leave sex out of politics.



[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t occurred to me for the first time the other day, how fortunate I am. Fortunate in the sense that I have grown up in an environment where being female has not been a barrier to any of my achievements. I have always preferred to be the one telling people what to do, as opposed to being told what to do and I work hard in order to gain that authority. But like is said, only recently did I realise that my sex has never been of relevance to my success. For many women, this has not been and still is not the case.

Throughout history, women have devoted their lives to gaining equal rights. So much time, passion, energy and determination has been restlessly channelled in to trying to gain basic rights that would allow them to follow their real passions. Imagine if women were treated equally from the beginning of “man”. Just imagine if women did not have to overcome so many obstacles just because they were women. Try to envision how much those women could have contributed to society, politics and the economy if their purpose did not have to be to try and break through the exhaustingly existent glass-ceiling. With fifty per cent of the population’s minds being unremittingly oppressed, no wonder the world is as it is.

Today most exemplary of cases is the struggle for women’s rights following the Arab Spring. The revolution entailed mass solidarity and so-called democracy was achieved, but the solidarity on behalf of women in the Middle East and North Africa continues as they fight to partake in this democracy. Although women’s crucial role in the revolution is not so much denied, their political engagement in politics certainly is. On all levels women can be seen to meet exclusion in this area, displayed particularly during the event of the first post-revolution referendum on the constitution in Egypt, in which no female governors were present. With a mere two per cent of the entire Egyptian Parliament being female and just one female minister, the women of Egypt struggle to voice their say when it comes to policy-making. Those who have raised their voice have met a variety of hostile and illegitimate consequences; women’s rights activists in Egypt did not just face criticism accusing them of being ‘agents of the West’, but were detained, tortured and sexually harassed – most infamous of cases being the virginity testing incident on March 9th last year.

It is just so tedious having to witness women’s demands being incessantly dismissed as not a political priority. This was demonstrated quite clearly in 2010 by the then Judge Mahmud al-Khodeiri, who said ‘the circumstances are currently unsuitable for women to be judges. It is a bad time for judges in general right now. Let us first fix that, and then we can look into the position of women’. It is 2012, the revolution was seemingly successful and yet women are still being told it is not the right time to deal with their rights. Has it never occurred to the patriarchs that perhaps by utilising these perfectly competent women as opposed to ignoring them, these priority political issues may actually be resolved?

In the words of Hilary Clinton, ‘Egypt’s revolution was won by men and women working together, and its democracy will only thrive by men and women working together’. Women make up fifty per cent of the population and so it is just as much their democracy as it is men’s. Quite frankly we can all agree that it is unprofessional to mix business and pleasure, so why not just leave sex out of politics.

Arab Uprisings, Ethnic Minorities & A New Jewish Diaspora?

In theory, the concept of diversifying and unifying Arab populations along religious and ethnic lines is a positive vision for a new Middle East.



[dropcap]A[/dropcap] recent picture article “The Arab World’s Dwindling Jewish Diaspora”, displayed images of former and existing Jewish communities in the Arab world and North Africa that poses a revelatory idea.  Political changes as a result of the uprisings could, eventually, present an opportunity for exiled Arab Jews to return to their former homes around the region or at least finally have the chance to pay a visit. This supposition comes at a time of the unfolding story of ethnic minorities in the uprisings.

Historically, the Arab world once had a thriving Jewish community, who, on many levels were well assimilated and integrated into Arab life and society. However, persecution and discrimination over the course of history initiated an exodus which continues into the 21stcentury. The formation of the State of Israel in 1948 underpinned a major mass exodus leaving only tiny scatters of Jewish communities behind in the Arab countries.Many were also driven out in the subsequent period after the 1967 Six Day War and the continuing Israel/Palestine conflict has served only to polarise Arab and Jewish communities.During their exodus, Arab Jews had to leave behind their homes, possessions and jobs. But they did not leave behind their identities and traditions. Many have become ordinary Israeli citizens or citizens of nations around the world. Yet they continue to relish in their heritage in spite of not being formally recognised as Arab Jews.

Exiled Arab Jews such as David Gerbi  – a Libyan by birth – believes that with a genuine desire to, the Arab uprisings has posed opportunities for Arab citizens to establish pluralistic environment to foster a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society with equal rights which is conducive for Arab Jews to return.

But putting the Jewish question aside, the revolutions and uprisings should be giving hope to religious and ethnic minorities for political, social and economic reforms to provide a new lease of life in a liberal democracy and releasing them from long endured persecution and institutional discrimination. Copts, for example, who make-up 10% of 80 million population in Egypt, have expressed how they now feel threatened by the Arab uprising with the tide of Islamism dominating the newly elected government in Egypt. Copts were once united with their Muslims counterparts in the popular movement to overthrow Hosni Mubarak but the relations between the two did not last. In the past year sectarian violence and violence against Copts by the military and police has heightened anxieties about the future that Copts and other minorities could be facing.Coming back to the Jewish debate, in addition to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Arab minorities, Gerbi’s experience of resistance from some Libyans in Tripoli reiterates that change for liberal democracies does not necessarily translate into changes in attitude towards Jews or minorities in general. This notion is evident through a study by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry in Israel which has revealed an increase in anti-Semitism during the uprisings.

The current reality in the Arab world fails to breed optimism for changes to the lives of existing religious and ethnic minorities. Therefore, a radical change as a re-emergence of a Jewish Diaspora, even as minority in Arab nations, is a bit far-fetched. However, this should not purport to undermine Gerbi’s romanticised desire to return to his rightful home or for that of any other Jew of Arab origin. In theory, the concept of diversifying and unifying Arab populations along religious and ethnic lines is a positive vision for a new Middle East. But practically this vision is only possible if existential anti-Semitic attitudes and subjugation of ethnic and religious minorities cease to exist. Evidently such changes are not going to diminish anytime soon.

That the uprisings have inspired new ideas such as those of Gerbi’s indicates how Arab populations could honour the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ with their new-found people power to make a genuine progress towards democracy and pluralism and open doors for fresh changes to the make-up of their society.

Romney & Iran: Continuity Or Change?

Symmetry exists between Romney and Obama on the issue of military involvement: both are committed potential military solutions within the Islamic Republic.



In the Washington Post earlier this month, former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerryweighed in on the Republican nomination race, responding to a foreign policy piece written by Mitt Romney a few days earlier. Kerry described Romney’s policy on Iran as both ‘inaccurate’ and ‘aggressive’, and accused him of imagining problems with the President Obama’s current policy that do not really exist in order to generate support from the Republican base.

Romney’s campaign trail rhetoric thus far confirms that he is making every effort to appeal to core Republican voters by distancing himself from the current President. The enthusiasm he expressed last year for an ‘American Century’, combined with his readiness to accuse Obama of ‘apologising for America’, suggests a considerable renascence of exceptionalist Republicanism. Indeed, in the article to which Kerry was responding, Romney compared himself to former Republican President Ronald Reagan, promising to revive a Cold War-style foreign policy of ‘peace through strength’.

More interestingly, the article reiterates a number of Romney’s core policy aims surrounding Iran. Romney says that he ‘will press for ever-tightening sanctions’ against Iran, supporting the statement on his website that he will implement ‘a fifth round of sanctions targeted at the financial resources that underpin the Iranian regime.’ As Kerry points out, this declaration seems to brush aside the previous four rounds of sanctions, which have restricted Iran’s finances and nuclear programme, banned its arms exports, implemented cargo inspections and prevented the country from buying heavy weaponry and military vehicles. All this, in addition to the European Union’s oil embargo on Iran announced in January this year, suggests that Romney’s sanction pledge represents an intensification of current US policy, rather than the kind of change Romney claims to want. Romney’s website goes so far as to praise the current President ‘for pushing for a fourth round of international sanctions on Iran early in his term’ despite the Republican frontrunner himself commenting early in March this year that Obama ‘has failed to put into place crippling sanctions against Iran.’ These conflicting statements suggest that Romney’s policies on Iran depend greatly on which crowd he is speaking to.

There are areas in which Romney is more consistent with his criticism of Obama’s policy, however. In a debate last year, Romney said that the President’s ‘greatest failing from a foreign policy stand point’ has been his failure to persuade Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions, adding: ‘If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.’ More specifically, Romney’s website says that Obama should have supported popular opposition within Iran in 2009, labelling his restraint as ‘a disgraceful abdication of American moral authority.’ The current President has remained reluctant over the issue of internal opposition to the regime in Iran, responding to renewed protest in early 2011 by saying: ‘Each country is different, each country has its own traditions, and America can’t dictate what happens in these societies.’ However, commentators, including as the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson, have suggested that this reluctance underpins Obama’s argument that the legitimacy of regime change relies on the independent, internal desire for change, rather than the external influences of the United States.

Romney has also accused Obama of failing ‘to communicate that military options are on the table,’ explaining in his Washington Post article that he ‘will buttress my diplomacy with a military option that will persuade the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions.’ However, in a recent interview for the Atlantic magazine, President Obama said that US policy in Iran includes political, economic and diplomatic elements, but also ‘a military component’, adding that ‘as President of the United States, I don’t bluff.’ These examples demonstrate a considerable degree of symmetry between Romney and Obama on the issue of military involvement, with both individuals committed to diplomatic and potential military solutions to the problems of Iran.

Given his commitment to sanctions and his fusion of diplomacy with military action, it appears that Mitt Romney is by no means advocating a shift away from the current administration’s policy, no matter how much distance he attempts to put between himself and the President.

The Problems With Intervening In Syria

Intervening to protect Syrian civilians is not as simple as some have made it out to be.



[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith calls continuing for the West to do something about the mounting bloodshed in Syria, it is important to consider what an intervention would look like. While it is all well and good to say that “something must be done” in Syria, relatively little attention has been given to what that would be. As we shall see, any intervention will be troublesome.

The Pentagon has signalled that intervention would be an expensive endeavor. A report by the influential Brooking’s Institution says that an invasion and subsequent occupation of Syria would require at least 200,000 troops and cost $20-30bn a year. This is a major commitment at a time when western militaries are having to cut back in order to reduce budget deficits. For the US, this would wipe out the ‘savings’ the United States is making from withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. The situation would also likely be similar to the invasion of Iraq, with foreign troops facing widespread hostility and insurgency.

While advocates may argue that they aren’t suggesting a full-scale invasion of the type outlined above, this is what an intervention in Syria would require. While Senator McCain among others has argued that NATO can accomplish its goals with a repeat of the air campaign against Libya, it is doubtful that this will have the same result. Syria has a bigger population and many more cities than Libya, which is mostly desert with a few cities on the Mediterranean coast. With only a handful of major population centers, the campaign in Libya had much fewer targets. Secondly, the Syrian military is much larger and better armed than that Gaddafi’s was, including Russian-made anti-aircraft weapons, which could be a major threat to foreign aircraft. While in Libya the military was always neglected by Ghadafi and thus became a major source of discontent, the Syrian military is loyal to Assad, and made up largely of Alawites, who will want Assad to stay in power.

The Syrian opposition is nowhere near as strong as the one in Libya, and doesn’t control territory in the way the Libyan opposition controlled Benghazi and the eastern provinces of Libya. The Syrian opposition only controlled Homs, and has since lost it. If the Free Syrian Army is to defeat Assad they will need to hold a good percentage of Syria, and at least threaten the capital of Damascus. So far this is a pipe-dream and the only efforts in the capital have been isolated attacks. For these reasons intervention in Syria would be completely different to last year’s success in Libya. But we now know that even that success was close-run.

One suggestion for limited intervention is the idea of setting up ‘safe havens’ across the border in Turkey. Former Obama administration official Anne-Marie Slaughter has been a vocal proponent of setting up these zones to allow civilians to flee terror and for the opposition to build up its strength. Though this is a well-intentioned idea, in reality it would likely make the situation even worse. To many, Syria would be justified in invading said safe areas if an opposition army is planning to launch attacks from there. This could lead to a regional war that would drag in neighbouring countries.  It would also be very hard to enforce. Would NATO troops have to protect the border to make sure Syrian troops don’t cross it?

Another idea has been to send in Special Forces units to help the opposition. This had some success in Libya, where Qatari Special Forces worked closely with rebels. The image of Special Forces is at an all-time high right now after the successful raid on Osama bin Laden last year and other recent operations. But as blogger Robert Caruso points out, they are not “magical” and would also require substantial support units and aircraft.

Advocates of intervention need to clarify what intervention in Syria is supposed to achieve, and what the strategy would be. In Libya, the United States, France and Britain pressured the passing of a UN Security Council resolution that allowed intervention to protect civilians. But this was interpreted to mean regime change, something other states (including Russia) said fell outside the mandate. Those countries are unlikely to support a similar resolution on Syria as they feel they were misled last year. As in Libya, a mandate to protect civilians would inevitably lead to the realization that the Assad regime must be forced out. However this would be much more difficult than last years intervention, and may even make things worse.

Weapons Of Mass Destruction & The Nuclear Weapons Taboo

Nuclear weapons are not feared simply because of the level of destruction they can cause but rather the efficacy and efficiency with which they can cause such destruction.



Taboo weapons, ‘non-conventional’ weapons, or weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are all terms used to describe those weapons which, whether by international convention or norm, are considered illegal and out of bounds for use in conflict of any character today due to their destructive capabilities. The weapons that fall under these terms are biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. All are subject to international conventions or treaties. The creation, proliferation and use of biological and chemical weapons is illegal under the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention, both of which entered into force in 1975 (the use of chemical weapons in war has however been prohibited since the 1925 Geneva Protocol). Nuclear weapons are not illegal per se. Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, those States party to the treaty agree not to acquire nuclear weapons and are obligated to pursue disarmament if they have a nuclear weapons stockpile, but a State may derogate or withdraw from the Treaty with little or no consequences for doing so. There is currently no international legal document which expressly states that the use of nuclear weapons is illegal.

However, the term ‘weapons of mass destruction’ is a misleading one. Categorising these diverse weapons under one moniker leads people to believe that all are equally destructive and of great cause for concern, when in reality there is a massive variance in the destructive potential of the kinds of weapon the term describes. Chemical weapons can hardly be described as causing massive destruction; whilst the effects of chemical weapons can certainly spread quickly and widely, they cannot be compared to nuclear weapons or even biological weapons in terms of destructive capability. Recovery from an attack by chemical weapon is often possible, and in a conflict situation in which the chemical attack was against well-protected soldiers, it wouldn’t be particularly effective- chemical weapons ‘are less deadly on average’ than a conventional explosive.

Biological weapons are much more dangerous than chemical weapons, but still not deserving of being termed a WMD. Despite this, in recent years bioweapons have become the WMD du jour. Statements such as the that saying that bioweapons could be created with ‘lamentable ease’ and a report from the US Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism stating that a biological attack by terrorists is likely to happen ‘somewhere in the world’ by 2013, caused bioweapons to become the new big threat to worry about. A convincing as many of these arguments may be, they are ultimately misleading: the threat from biological weapons has been greatly exaggerated.  It may be easier for a terrorist group to make a bioweapon relative to the ease with which they could develop a nuclear weapon, but successfully creating a bioweapon that could cause mass casualties requires at the very least a high level of expertise and sophisticated equipment to an extent that terrorist groups do not currently possess. The rapid spread of sometimes fatal diseases is not at all desirable, but to class bioweapons in the same category as nuclear weapons is ridiculous – a biological weapon will not decimate the infrastructure of a city or country, or cause the same massive level of human casualties in the way that a nuclear weapon would.

Nuclear weapons, on the other hand, can and have been used to devastating effect. They are the only category of weapon truly deserving of the term ‘weapon of mass destruction’. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 resulted in the deaths of an estimated 210,000 people and obliterated both cities, in each case with the use of a single bomb.

Nuclear weapons are not feared simply because of the level of destruction they can cause – conventional weapons, such as incendiary bombs, can be just as destructive – but rather the efficacy and efficiency with which they can cause this destruction. Yet at one point it was believed they could be ‘conventionalised’ and accepted for battlefield use alongside regular bombs. They are not unused merely because of mutual deterrence, but also because of the socially constructed taboo surrounding them; since the 1950s, a social norm has arisen that has made it almost unthinkable that a nuclear bomb could be used in any situation, apart from in cases where the very survival of a state was at stake.

The problem here is that there are those who argue that this norm is very much a Western social construct that is not held by all states and actors in the international system. Instead it is seen as a way for  the nuclear ‘haves’ to dictate to the nuclear ‘have-nots’- Western states are afraid that their superiority will be threatened by other states who could develop a bomb and be willing to use it. Currently, one of the issues generating the most concern in nuclear terms is that a terrorist group or other non-state actor could obtain nuclear materials and successfully create a nuclear weapon. Unlikely as this is – as non-state actors would find it exceedingly difficult to ever have the capability required – if one day it happens, we will have to rethink this taboo. Terrorists are not averse to killing the maximum number of civilians possible and are unlikely to care much for international norms banning a weapon that could be their most effective yet.

KONY 2012: You Must Watch This

KONY 2012: You Must Watch This.



Have you watched the Kony 2012 campaign video? If so you have played one of the 83 million views (and counting) this controversial short film has had in the last three weeks on You Tube. Created by US-based charity Invisible Children, the 30-minute video has sparked a massive international debate, allegedly precipitating the creator’s personal meltdown, and one of the fastest viral campaigns in internet history.

Whatever your view on the politics and ethics of the medium and the message, as a piece of filmmaking, it is compelling in its narrative. A complex story about Joseph Kony, a leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army operating primarily in Uganda accused of the abduction of children to become sex slaves and child soldiers, is told simply and emotively. It ends with a call to action that has ignited young people’s activism in the US, by demanding that Kony is held to account for his crimes and tried by the International Criminal Court.

Yet the simplicity has been part of the film’s undoing, which has come under heavy fire from criticsfor failing to reflect the nuances of the current situation, not least because Kony is said to have long fled Ugandaand that the LRA has been in retreat for years. All political campaigns have to simplify issues to transmit ideas to a mass audience – it is an intrinsic part of telling a story and one that can sit uncomfortably for those close to the reality. But the claims that the film is misleading and perpetuating a disempowering advocacy model are altogether more damaging.

Ugandan critics have been quick to point out that the video presents a negative and inaccurate image of their country, based on outdated interpretations of Uganda’s past. Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire reports former UN Prosecutor’s Dr. Payam Akhavan’s comments that the video reflects a lack of consultation with Ugandan communities – if they had been consulted, Akhavan says the money raised on the back of it would have been better directed to those who need it.

Whilst Invisible Children, in a detailed response to their critics, maintain that most of their staff in Uganda are Ugandan, the implication is that those staff work on their in-country programmes rather than in the driving seat of their political campaigns and messaging. Out of all the many criticisms being made of the film, the failure to locate the leadership of its policy decision-making within the communities most affected by Kony’s crimes repeats the same failures too many domestic and international charities fall foul of. The first act of liberation is to find one’s own voice, and that is incompatible with others, however well-meaning, taking the reins of advocacy.

But there is something awe-inspiring about 83 million views on You Tube for an international campaign, and the resulting activism and awareness that has followed. If you hold any hope for the political activism of a generation that isn’t occupying campuses and streets as the Vietnam protesters did, then the fact that millions of young people are choosing to watch a video and take a stand about international human rights has to be a cause of celebration.

There is an extraordinary shift taking place in people power and only to carp from the sidelines about the flaws of the campaign is to miss the significance of political engagement on this scale. It has become a mass platform to discuss not only Kony’s crimes and that of other international fugitives like Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, accused of genocide in Darfur, but to debate how to effectively campaign on international human rights issues.

Some expertsdoubt that the campaign to bring Kony to justice in 2012 will be effective via the International Criminal Court, although agree it would be a welcome move. It has been argued that failure and misinformation will dent activism, and whilst no-one should condone campaigns based on misinformation, it might be more de-motivating to a new activist to have their efforts met with scorn by commentators.

Kony 2012 should be scrutinised for its methods and means. But neither should the optimistic signals demonstrated by this film’s impact be overlooked in the critique.

Fossil Fuels The Next Generation

Could Shale Gas and Clean Coal be the New Cool?



Could wind and solar farms be a thing of the past? With the UK sitting on huge shale gas deposits and a history in coal mining could the promise of new cheap energy be the stimulus the economy so desperately needs?

Current predictions for the future of European energy suggest that it will rely on a mixture of new generation clean-coal plants and alternative energy sources. Already the International Energy Agency and Russia’s Ministry of Energy held a workshop on Energy Efficiency and Clean Coal Technologies. Similarly, Germany’s RWE established its Coal Innovation Centre and together with Russia’s Gazprom have announced a partnership to construct new gas and coal plants in Europe. The recent OECD report forecasts that by 2050, the OECD and BRIC countries will rely on renewable electricity for half its power needs, the other half will consist of nuclear and fossil fuel plants with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

The term clean coal means the carbon emissions would be captured and stored underground. Though this technology has been ‘demonstrated’, its reliability has not been proven, which raises the question does anyone know what actually happens to the trapped emissions underground and the potential risks involved? Many coal plants with the CCS system are also less efficient and cost more to operate, hence the commercial viability is questionable. Mr. Brinkman from McKinsey’s said to FT, ‘It’s the capture that requires the biggest breakthrough for the cost to come down.’

The case of the largest carbon capture from the natural gas streams is ExxonMobil at Shute Creek in Wyoming; it demonstrates that the only cost effective way to run these plants is to sell the CO2: ‘the captured carbon dioxide is sold to companies for enhanced oil recovery, helping to extend the productive lives of mature oil fields and producing more energy supplies’. The largest coal-fired carbon capture facility- KM CDR Process® capture technology- was jointly developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and The Kansai Electric Power. It claims to use significantly less energy compared with other CO2 capture technologies. However, in contrast to ExxonMobil, Mitsubishi does not sell its CO2- instead, it is ‘permanently stored underground in a deep saline geologic formation’. The question remains, whether Mitsubishi’s capture technology is sustainable both commercially and without risk to the environment. Its’ 2011 press publication on announcing this technology does not mention anything about the commercial viability of these plants; though back in 2009 its’report mentioned that the next step for coal fired boilers was to ‘operate the process at a scale large enough to ensure trouble- free operation at commercial scale’. Nevertheless, while CCS technologies used in natural gas plants look straightforward, the case for CCS in coal plants seems to be more complicated.

Eight of the UK’s coal plants are due to shut by 2015 to meet the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive, which has led to an temporary increased output of 75% capacity compared with the usual 25% just a year ago. Under the EU’s carbon trading scheme carbon prices fell more than 50 per cent in 2011. Due to the lower demand for coal since the Eurozone crisis, the price of burning it has come down. ‘Coal has become the preferred source of electricity generation in recent months’, according to Sylvia Pfeifer, energy editor at the FT.

There are also flaws in the EU emission trading system. The EU emissions trading scheme was expected to discourage coal-fired power generation responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, carbon permits and the impact of the Eurozone crisis have made emissions trading useless. ‘Companies can emit more than their allocation by buying allowances from the market and if they emit less, they can sell the surplus’, wrote the FT.

Regulation of shale gas in the UK seems to be left too much to the industry itself rather than being regulated proactively, as discussed Newsnight 20/03/12. The main worry is for two years health and safety officers have not been to inspect the concentration of chemicals in the water used for the extraction process. According to Nick Grealy, energy consultant, the extraction of shale gas in the UK would halve energy prices. However Caroline Lucas the Green Party’s only MP said that the UK is too densely populated for shale gas to lower the price of gas significantly. It is assumed that shale fracking may have triggered small earthquakes in Blackpool and Lancashire, however currently there is no clear evidence that fracking causes earthquakes or that it pollutes drinking water. There is some evidence that fracking induces minor quakes, but according to a Geo- mechanical study, the tremors in Blackpool and Lancashire were caused by an ‘unusual combination of factors’ and the conditions that caused the tremors are ‘unlikely to occur again’. The main regulator of shale gas drilling in the UK, Cuadrilla, promises to ensure the safety of operations through early seismic detection systems. One thing is clear- shale gas would ensure energy security and boost the UK economy for many years to come, but the side effects are controversial.

France and Bulgaria have banned shale gas drilling. The state owned energy companies Bulgarian Energy Holding and Bulgargaz said that ‘shale gas production does not pose greater environmental risks than the production of conventional energy and mineral resources’. The main opposition to shale gas drilling comes from the socialist party MP Antoni Kutev, who argues that shale gas will be unprofitable from a technological point of view and will cause damage to the environment. That said, according to the Polish Geological Institute study shale gas has been found to cause no environmental harm. The study found that ‘soil, air and water are all just fine if drilling is done according to regulations’.

The claims of shale gas being unprofitable is ungrounded as the situation in America shows; i.e. the shale gas boom in America has driven domestic natural gas prices so low that coal fired plants became uneconomical. According to energy expert Hristo Kazandzhiev, in Bulgaria the price of gas would decline by 8 to 25% due to the adoption of shale gas technology. He also believes that due to rival interest in Russian natural gas Gazprom has published documents against shale gas drilling.

Whatever the arguments for cheap clean fossil fuels, governments are notoriously bad at predicting winning technologies and industries. The recent rhetoric from Westminster has changed over the last few years from cutting emissions to energy security and calling for an energy mix. With the closure of many power stations in the coming decade it would be hard to believe that these shale gas and coal reserves sitting literally under our feet would go untapped. Green technologies are proving expensive but all sources of energy will prove welcome if they diminish the prospect of the lights going out.

Israel, Iran & Nuclear Double Standards

If Israel is worried about a nuclear arms race then it should initiate a Middle Eastern nuclear-free zone.



[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n a recent article, Tom Anderson argued that Israeli fears of a nuclear Iran are not, contrary to what I had previously written, based on the possible direct existential threat Iran poses but rather on the fact that it would trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. Although I disagree that the first factor plays no role in Israeli fears (simply check the Israeli rhetoric and the amount of times the Holocaust and Nazism are mentioned), I do concede that the second factor is prominent as well. But then I ask: why do we criticise one country’’s nuclear program and not another country’’s actual possession of nuclear weapons? And why do we think that one country’’s nuclear program will lead to a nuclear arms race and while another’s will not? I am of course referring to Israel’’s nuclear arsenal.

The double standards through which we judge Iran and Israel’’s respective cases take three distinct shapes. Firstly, Iran’’s nuclear program is judged illegal since it violates the International Atomic Energy Agency’’s (IAEA) treaty which enables inspectors to examine any premises deemed suspect. It is quickly forgotten that Israel also refused to open all of its facilities to such inspections. This resulted not only in the violation of IAEA regulations but also of US domestic law. According to the 1976 Symington clause of the Foreign Assistance Act, any US administration must cut off economic and military aid to any country which imports uranium enrichment technology or materials without accepting the safeguards of IAEA on its nuclear facilities. Needless to say, all the US administrations since the Act was passed have continued to support Israel. Furthermore, in 1985 an American was indicted by the Los Angeles court for transporting 800 high-speed electron switches (known as krytons) used in triggering mechanisms in atomic weapons to Israel. Perhaps the most famous case of illegal acquisition of nuclear material was “Operation Plumbat” where the Mossad, Israel’s secret service, hijacked a German ship directed to the Italian port of Genoa stealing 200 tons of yellowcake.

Secondly, Israel’’s nuclear program which ultimately led to the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal was undemocratic. Decisions were undertaken by selected ministers behind closed doors without the approval of the whole Knesset which was kept in the dark. In 1950, 310,000 Israelis, or 40% of the population at the time, signed the Stockholm Appeal initiated by the World Peace Council demanding the outlawing of nuclear weapons. Their appeal fell on deaf ears. More interestingly, when Ben Gurion was asked by the Eisenhower administration about the Dimona nuclear reactor, where the nuclear weapons program was secretly being carried out, he replied that it was a textile plant, effectively lying to the US President and the international community just like Ahmadinejad is suspected of doing now.

Thirdly, Israel is reportedly the only country in the Middle East to have ever officially considered using nuclear weapons against another country within the region, twice. In 1973, Golda Meir, the then Prime Minister, gave Moshe Dayan permission to activate nuclear weapons in case Egypt invaded Israel. Her command was tainted with religious talk since she expressed her fear that Egypt might have ended “The Third Temple”. Use of nuclear weapons justified through religious analogies: sounds like religious fundamentalism as defined by the contemporary Israeli administration and its supporters. The second time Israeli political leaders thought of using their nuclear arsenal against a country in the region was in 1982 when Sharon proposed to attack Syria using nuclear weapons.

Some argue that Israel is not violating any international agreement by detaining a nuclear arsenal because it did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This is an immoral and unjust argument since by the same standards we should also not be allowed to hold accountable governments committing crimes against humanity simply because they have not signed treatises where they explicitly promise not to do so. Let alone that the mere fact of not being a signatory of the NPT rouses serious questions about Israel’’s ethical credibility on international affairs.

The fact of the matter is that Western governments and anyone who is committed to their view of an imminent “Iranian threat” is judging Iran using double standards: Israel having a nuclear arsenal is legitimate while Iran trying to acquire one is not. More importantly, what this view fails to appreciate is that it is not Iran which is going to spark the desire for nuclear weapons within the Middle East. This desire has already been sparked by Israel’s acquisition of a nuclear arsenal, by its repeatedly manifested belligerence and by the warranted perception of Israel as a country above the law. Indeed, in a poll conducted in the first half of 2011 by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) where 16,731 individuals from 12 Arab countries were interviewed, 55% of the respondents stated that Israel’s possession of WMD justifies the possession of WMD by other countries in the region and 73% see Israel and the US as the biggest threats. If Israel is seriously worried about a nuclear arms race then it should initiate open negotiations with other Middle Eastern governments and aim for an agreement promising the dismantlement of its nuclear arsenal in return for nuclear non-proliferation.

Freedom Of The Flesh

Defining the body as private property.



[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ince the mid-2000s, there has been substantial growth in the number of strip or ‘gentleman’ clubs in the UK. Due to legislation passed in 2003, such institutions were allowed to open anywhere unless they posed led to an increase in crime or endangerment in the surrounding area. Thus, between 2004 and 2008, the number of such clubs has doubled. It is not uncommon now to see a Fantasy or Pussy Galore club on your high street next to Tesco. But this trend may now be in reverse. New legislation now allows local authorities to restrict thenumber of strip clubs in their local areas.

Why are local authorities turning against these clubs? One explanation is that local officials are bowing down to pressure from their local communities. For instance, an independent councillor from the Tower Hamlets in London, Rania Kahn, has been vocal on this issue, calling for these clubs to be banned because they are ‘unsuitable’.

But are these strip clubs unsuitable? Do they oppress and exploit women? There have been many arguments on either side of the debate supporting or opposing the presence of strip clubs, of which it is not required to repeat them here. But what if we consider the issue from a private property perspective? If we consider one’s body as their own private property, then surely one has the right to do with their body as they so wish? If a women, or man for that matter, voluntarily chooses to strip in exchange for money, as one would do when exchanging the use of their private property for cash, then it is of no consequence of what others think of it.

Viewing your body as your own private property is not a new idea. Indeed, the economist and political theorist Murray Rothbard saw the right to private property as central to every individual:

The central core of the Libertarian creed…is to establish the absolute right to right to private property of every man: first, in his own body, and second, in the previously unused natural resources which he transforms by his labour.

We are not concerned with private property gained from one’s labour. We are concerned with the defining the individual as private property. In regards to the issue of strip clubs, if we define one’s body as their own private property, then they should be free to do what they wish with it. Along, of course, that it does not interfere with the freedom or private property of another. Therefore, what right does anyone, such as a local authority, have in restricting such a voluntary contract? On what grounds can anyone arbitrarily restrict an industry on the grounds of suitability? Of course, if a woman was forced against her will to become a stripper, then this would be a violation of her private property, and such a contract would be wrong. But if she voluntarily consents, then no one has a right to void such a contract.

The purpose of this article is to defend the strip clubs as a respectable industry participated solely by private market actors who were satisfying demand. This article argues that strip clubs are legitimate because of their voluntary nature regarding one’s private property. That is, their own body. If one voluntarily consents to exposing their private property (body) in exchange for money, then what role does the government, or anyone, have in intervening in this contract?

However, by defining one’s own body as their own private property, other moral issues are also resolved. Critics may argue that a woman stripping may turn to prostitution. Possibly, but if so, if they voluntarily consent to doing so, why does it matter? If one consents to selling their body for sex in exchange for money, how is this criminal activity? If one consents to lending their other private property with consent to another, such as car, laptop etc., to another in exchange for another commodity or cash, this is not seen as a crime. But is it not clear that both examples are an exchange of property for money? Of course, if one was coerced against her will to have sex, this would be a violation of her private property, of which legal practices should be pursued. But if one consents to such an exchange, no crime would have been committed. Other issues this can be applied to include drugs, suicide or voluntary euthanasia. If one wishes to voluntarily modify their property (body) with drugs, as one would do with painting their house, then that is their business and not of any other actor. This is also true with suicide or voluntary euthanasia. If one wishes to die then they should be allowed to do so. For, as with any other form of private property, one is allowed to destroy their property as they so wish. One has the right to end their own life as much as they do when throwing away an old household appliance. Though one’s body and their household appliances are different, they share the characteristic of being one’s own property.

The idea of defining one’s body as private property is not a new concept, but it is one that is not largely accepted. Whilst many believe that one should have the right do as they wish, many only agree with this to an extent. One may believe that the individual can consume alcohol, but not drugs. One may believe in personal freedom, but not in the freedom of ending one’s own life. But, as this article has argued, if we see as one’s body as their own private property, then one should have the absolute freedom to do what they will with their private property. Meaning that no one has the right to intervene on what another does with their property, be it their body or home. The example of the growing numbers of strip clubs in Britain is evidence of private actors forming voluntary contracts of exchanging the use of private property for money. It may be difficult for some to accept one’s body as their own property, but when recognises such a fact, they will begin to see that any intrusion by another in human action, unless it harms or infringes the freedom of another, is foolish, unjustified, and obtrusive.

Ahmadinejad, Poster Boy, No Longer: Iran’s Internal Power Struggle

Unless there is a radial change, it would seem that ultimately, Khamenei, with the final say in just about everything, has beaten Ahmadinejad.



[dropcap]D[/dropcap]uring a trip to Tehran in October 2011, I was astonished to see only one banner displaying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s picture (in comparison, the image of Iran’s current head of state, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was displayed just about everywhere, more often than not, alongside Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran). This did not seem to reflect the coverage the current Iranian President receives in the international media.

It would seem that definitely in Iran, Ahmadinejad and Khamenei’s recent rivalry has been a very public affair. Their conflict sheds light on the visible split within the conservative coalition in Iran: between those who support the supremacy of the clerical elite and the neo-conservatives led by Ahmadinejad and his supporters, who question that supremacy.

Following the controversial 2009 elections, Ahmadinejad had initially received the backing of Khamenei. But now, no longer the clerical elite’s poster-boy, Ahmadinejad has just about become its Macbeth. However, unlike Shakespeare’s Duncan, Khamenei has put up a formidable fight.

Several reasons can explain the souring of the relationship between the two leaders. It has been suggested that at the heart of the conflict is a convergence over two different visions of the Islamic Republic: Khamenei wants to understandably maintain the theocracy, whereas Ahmadinejad seeks to marginalise clerical rule and establish his own brand of conservatism. What is clear is that both parties want to justify their raison d’être.

With his own blueprint for Iran, Ahmadinejad has sought different ways to legitimise his power. One of Ahmadinejad’s chief supporters is his Chief of Staff and brother-in-law, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei. In seeking new ways to remain relevant, Mashaei and Ahmadinejad have looked to the past by trying to become champions of Iran’s pre-Islamic heritage. This was seen through their extensive promotion of an exhibition of the Cyrus Cylinder, which dates back to the 6th Century BCE during the reign of Cyrus the Great. As an alternative source of legitimisation, Iran’s pre-Islamic heritage is a source of great pride to many Iranians. And as such, it is a potent challenge to the position of the jurists.

Make no mistake: Ahmadinejad is a nationalist. To say he is Iran’s present-day Muhammad Mussadiq – the Iranian Prime Minister who nationalised Iran’s oil in 1951 – is a step too far, although it could be claimed that nuclear power is Iran’s 21st Century national resource and therefore a symbol of its sovereignty. By claiming thus, a cynic could conclude that this is yet another way in which he seeks to remain relevant. Indeed, Khamenei has accused Ahmadinejad of making the nuclear issue a personal, rather than a national, crusade.

However, it should be noted that the rivalry between the offices of the Supreme Leader and the Presidency is not new. Indeed, it has already been suggested that Ahmadinejad has simply fallen into the all too familiar pattern of previous Iranian Presidents, who upon reaching their second (and final) term, realise that their position has been marginalised by the clerics. Indeed, Iran’s previous reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, experienced this: he faced opposition from the Supreme Leader and the more conservative factions within government. Although Khatami was willing for more engagement with Western nations, Khamenei always had the final say in foreign affairs. Ahmadinejad has found himself in a similar position.

The current struggle between the President and the Supreme Leader has played out over the appointment of ministers, accusations, undermining of the other’s power bases, and arrests of supporters. The struggle over ministers was a main symptom of the conflict. **In April 2011, Ahmadinejad made efforts to remove Khamenei’s intelligence minster, Heydar Moslehi but he was overruled. A month later, Ahmadinejad removed the ministers of oil, industry and mining, and social welfare; but when he sought to take on the oil ministry, the Guardian Council, Iran’s highest legislative body, regarded it as an illegal move.

In retaliation to Ahmadinejad’s disobedience, Khamenei’s supporters have branded Ahmadinejad and his followers as a “deviant movement”. The Supreme Leader has even gone so far as to suggest the abolishment of the office of the President. **Recently, the Iranian Parliament summoned Ahmadinejad where he was scrutinised over his policies, as well as his supposed confrontation with the Supreme Leader. As the first President in the Republic’s history to be questioned in such a manner, Ahmadinejad’s credibility continues to be attacked.

With the Presidential election coming up, Ahmadinejad continues to desperately seek ways in which he can legitimise his position and political legacy: it is rumoured that he is grooming Mashaei as his successor. Another possible candidate to the Presidency, Tehran’s current mayor, Mohammad Qalibaf, has openly sided with Khamenei. Indeed, one would have to in order to be considered as a possible candidate for the election. Unless there is a radial change, it would seem that ultimately, Khamenei, with the final say in just about everything, has won the conflict. Ahmadinejad, despite all his efforts, can only hope for the best for his political legacy.

The Future Of NATO

“An alliance in search of a mission”. Discuss with reference to NATO.
{Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science}



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he North Atlantic Treaty Organization, one of the most enduring inheritance of the end of the Second World War, has been depicted as the “most successful military alliance in history”[1], that has faced and overcome deep and momentous historical cleavages, such as the Cold War and the demise of the USSR. However, since the end of the Soviet threat, NATO has known several attempts to reformulate its commitment in the international politics’ arena by enlarging its membership to the former Warsaw Pact’s countries and, in order to readapt the alliance to the changing strategic environment, by elaborating three Strategic Concepts in 1991, 1999 and 2010. Despite these structural and ontological efforts, NATO has been seriously challenged by external events and the fading transatlantic bond between Europe and the US: divergences “over the war in Iraq, different perceptions of Russia, of missile defense, of terrorism and even over differing interpretations of relations with Georgia and Ukraine”[2] have underlined “a complete lack of strategic vision”[3] and, concurrently, undermined the efficiency of the most representative result of the transatlantic political community, originally shaped on the ground of common interests and shared values and ideas.

As a matter of fact, over the last years NATO’s evolution has been affected by the European governments’ increasing unwillingness to make sacrifice and take more risks than others in several military operations and, at the same time, the alliance has been characterized by a multi-tasked euphoria being “involved in everything from cyber-warfare to anti-piracy and missile defence, as well as a costly and complex campaign in Afghanistan”[4]: today, NATO as a military alliance “has lost its way”, its own telos and theological perspective and, as a result, it has no effective political clout anymore.

In this essay, I will be briefly analyzing the potential of NATO to be a tool of management not only between its own members, as it was during the Cold War and during the short period of the unipolar moment, but within the current international system, characterized both by a marked ideological shape and an increasing multipolar distribution of power. In order to accomplish this long-run strategic task, NATO’s members need to rediscover those ideal pillars and the common goods currently at stake and, most of all, they should reinforce and reformulate the transatlantic tie by thinking through their commitment into the alliance, especially in light of their national strategic interests.

NATO, not only a weapon of power

According to Ruiz Palmer, the distinctive difference of NATO with respect to the previous military alliances lies on the crucial importance of the “transatlantic compact” that could make possible the achievement of permanent cooperation between its members. For this reason, the purpose of overcoming the classical notion of alliance was at the core of the US Senate debates and hearings on the Treaty in 1949, when the US Secretary of State Dean Acheson launched the proposal made by the Truman administration.[5] Unlike classical alliances, historically conceived as instruments of power, the Treaty reflected the values of the emerging Atlanticist community, defined as an ethical community, characterized on the one hand by a shared sense among members of right conduct toward one another and, on the other hand, by its liberal-oriented content and the bourgeois respect for freedom and equality. As a matter of fact, the NATO alliance persisted after the Cold war because of “a deeply embedded community identity reinforcing democracy and free market economies”.[6] In addition, being NATO an institution whose members work closely for security common purposes, their own governments and people have broadened and deepened their reciprocal knowledge, by building confidence and reducing tensions, such as for the case of Greece and Turkey.[7]

Furthermore, NATO featured another different trait from the past organizations of collective security, which concerned its nature of being not only a defensive or anti-Soviet alliance: it was thought, and currently is, as a permanent peace treaty among its own members.[8] Such a reason offers a convincing explanation about its further enlargement soon after the end of the Cold war, especially with regards to the unified Germany. This argument is theoretically supported by Schroeder who, in 1976, criticized the common definition of alliances as weapons of power, sustaining instead their nature of tools of management between their members. By analyzing a broad set of alliances from 1815 to 1945, he stated that the supposed existence of an external threat is not always a powerful reason for building alliances; rather, alliances also work as pacta de contrahendo, by restricting and controlling the actions of the allies themselves in order to avoid and prevent future conflicts.[9] No better example could be Europe after the Second World War, when for the first time French and Germans were reluctantly involved into the same military alliance under the protection of the Anglo-American umbrella.[10]

In order to complement these two explanations, the endurance of NATO after the disappearance of the Soviet threat can be accounted for in terms of an institution which works as a “brokerage house through which members perceives opportunities to increase their individual autonomy, especially after their home territories are essentially secure from attack.”[11] According to this approach, the transatlantic bargain is based on NATO’s capacity to preserve security while providing asymmetric opportunities to the US and European states for greater autonomy to harness outside the stable Euro-Atlantic zone: “in the case of the United States [which possesses unparalleled military budgets and technology] marginal gains in autonomy come about through needed gains in legitimacy while European states [endowed with a greater measure of legitimacy and international approval] accrue autonomy by means of new force projection capabilities.”[12] That NATO’s potential is not primarily military is also sustained by Brzezinski, who recognizes how its real power derives from the combination between the United States’ military capability and economic power with the European’s collective political and economic weight, which make NATO globally significant.[13]

Despite different and sometimes conflicting perspectives of NATO members, for instance about the war in Iraq, the approach to the Russian question and the war on terrorism, since the end of the Cold war the alliance has acted strategically by shaping the external environment through cooperative security, by avoiding zero-sum and unilateral outcomes and by providing intra-Alliance reassurance and honoring collective defense commitments.[14]

Indeed, these three last accomplishments characterize the most recent Strategic Concept and they should be core drivers for rendering NATO not only an alliance capable of managing peacefully the Euro-Atlantic area and fulfilling with the national interests of its members, but also for securing the international system from the risks of terrorism, cyber attacks and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. However, is NATO, according to the current transatlantic bargain which underpins the alliance, really ripe and suitable for these new tasks?

NATO and the global disorder management

As previously seen, according to 2010 NATO Strategic Concept, the North Atlantic alliance need a conceptual redeployment. Given that its “fundamental purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by political and military means”, the document recognizes how “the Alliance remains an essential source of stability in an unpredictable world.”[15] Since the end of the Cold war and the removal of the Soviet counterpart, the perception of living in a different kind of international political community has increasingly raised, and the transatlantic alliance has been facing an historical moment dense of unprecedented risks to global security.[16] This new and destabilizing awareness has entailed NATO’s shift from a threat community to a risk community, in intents and purposes as well.[17] In fact, both the Strategic Concepts of 1991 and 1999 admitted the existence of undefined, unpredictable, multi-faced and multi-directional risks to allied security required a “radical change to [NATO] approach to security”, making the Alliance a “risk management agency in all but name”[18]. This trend has been confirmed in the last NATO’s strategic document, by stating that both crisis management and cooperative security outside the Alliance’s geographical borders, along with the founding aim of collective defence, are the operational pillars through which the challenges of the modern security environment can be contained without affecting territory and populations of NATO’s members.[19] However, as Coker remarks, rather than looking at a range of deeply different threats and vague potential risks, which have pushed NATO to speak and to act in the name of the international community rather than working with it, a twenty-first century alliance should adapt its functional core to the most contemporary compelling challenges, namely fundamentalism in all its forms (religious and nationalistic as well) and global crime, both of them included in the concept of global disorder.[20]

As a matter of fact, the global disorder which affects the international system has several causes: globalisation and the related uninterrupted movement of ideas, people, capital and information; a world increasingly intertwined and economically interdependent[21]; the end of the unipolar moment and the American model of hegemony called into question along with the principles of liberal international order[22]; the emergence of widespread terrorist networks and extremist religious movements, strictly connected with criminal phenomena, piracy and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.[23] Furthermore, rather than a strategic retrenchment or a downsizing of NATO’s role and forces, Europe and the US should focus on understanding the new challenges, such as the political and underestimated implications of the slowly emergence of a multipolar order “in which the US and Europe will soon compete with China as a center of military, political and economic power. Such a transformation will bring back policies of counterbalancing” by the West.[24]

By this token, a rethinking of the Alliance’s mission is unavoidable, by taking account of the fact that NATO can continue as a successful marriage only if “the partners know what they may now reasonably expect of one another.”[25]


One of the biggest obstacles to this necessary redefinition of the international role of the Alliance regards the different military cultures of its own members, just like the divisions on the Afghan and the Libyan cases have shown.[26] The clash between different political and strategic cultures represents a central problem of alliance management, because risk cultures are supported by  particular perceptions of risk, today largely different for the US and Europe.[27] In fact, as the US have announced a massive redeployment of military capabilities in East Asia, now perceived as  the geopolitical priority for American national security planning, the forthcoming troops and investment reductions in Europe should incentivize its NATO’s member “to assume new responsibilities in effective ways”[28], such as growing military expenditures.

If geopolitical change requires European to rethink their attitude towards hard power politics, on the other hand Americans are called to strengthen their efforts towards a rule-based international order for coping with the risks of the global disorder that affect national interests and security of their European allies.[29] Such a Grand Strategy, which implies a future twofold mission for NATO (committed in facing threats from a multipolar world and risks from a globalized context), underpins a new kind of transatlantic bargain in which the previous exchange between the American military superiority and the European international legitimacy should be enriched with a more ambitious and radical change of mindset.

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

[1] Kamp, Karl-Heinz, Volker D. Kurt, The Transatlantic Bargain, NATO Defense College Forum Paper, Rome, January 2012, p. 6.

[2] Kamp, Karl-Heinz, Volker D. Kurt, ibidem, p. 7.

[3] Coker, Christopher, Rebooting the West – The US, Europe and the Future of the Western Alliance, Whitehall Papers Series, RUSI, London, 2009, p. 19.

[4] Coker, Christopher, ibidem, p. 52-53.

[5] Ruiz Palmer, Diego, What has the Transatlantic Bargain Been and Evolved into Today?, The Transatlantic Bargain, NATO Defense College Forum Paper, Rome, January 2012, p. 47.

[6] Kay, Sean, “What went wrong with NATO?”, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 18 (1), April 2005, pp. 69-83.

[7] Lindberg, Tod, Beyond Paradise and Power – Europe, America and the Future of a Troubled Partnership, Routledge, London, 2005, pp. 221-228.

[8] Lindberg, Tod, ibidem, pp. 221.

[9] Schroeder, Paul W., “Alliances, 1815-1945: weapons of power and tools of management”, in Knorr, ed., Historical Dimensions of National Security Problems, Lawrence, Allen, pp. 227-262.

[10] Howard, Michael, “An Unhappy Successful Marriage – Security Means Knowing What to Expect”, Foreign Affairs, May/June 1999, pp. 165-166.

[11] Sireci, Jonathan; Coletta, Damon, “Enduring without an Enemy: NATO’s Realist Foundation”, Perspective. Review of International Affairs, Vol. 17, Issue 1, 2009, p. 58.

[12] Sireci, Jonathan; Coletta, Damon, ibidem, p. 67.

[13] Brzezinski, Zbigniew, “An Agenda for Nato – Toward a Global Security Web”, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2009, p. 10.

[14] Ruiz Palmer, Diego, ibidem, p. 56.

[15] NATO, “Strategic Concept For the Defence and Security of The Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation”, 2010, 2nd Point.

[16] Brzezinski, Zbigniew, ibidem, p. 10.

[17] Coker, Christopher, ibidem, p. 60.

[18] Coker, Christopher, ibidem, p. 61.

[19] NATO, “Strategic Concept For the Defence and Security of The Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation”, 2010, 4th Point.

[20] Coker, Christopher, ibidem, p. 75-76.

[21]Brzezinski, Zbigniew, ibidem.

[22]Ikenberry, John G., The Liberal Leviathan – The Origins, Crisis and Transformation of the American World Order, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2011, p. 334.

[23] Coker, Christopher, ibidem.

[24] De Wijk, Rob, What is NATO’s Role in a New Transatlantic Bargain?, The Transatlantic Bargain, NATO Defense College Forum Paper, Rome, January 2012, p. 143

[25] Howard, Michael, ibidem, p. 175.

[26] Coker, Christopher. Class Lecture. NATO and a post-Cold War world, LSE, London, 25 November 2011.

[27] Coker, Christopher, Rebooting the West – The US, Europe and the Future of the Western Alliance, Whitehall Papers Series, RUSI, London, 2009, p. 64.

[28] Kay, Sean, “A New Kind of NATO”,, 11 January, 2012.

[29] De Wijk, Rob, ibidem, p. 150-151


Brzezinski, Zbigniew, “An Agenda for Nato – Toward a Global Security Web”, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2009.

Coker, Christopher, Rebooting the West – The US, Europe and the Future of the Western Alliance, Whitehall Papers Series, RUSI, London, 2009.

Coker, Christopher. Class Lecture. NATO and a post-Cold War world, LSE, London, 25 November 2011.

Howard, Michael, “An Unhappy Successful Marriage – Security Means Knowing What to Expect”, Foreign Affairs, May/June 1999

Ikenberry, John G., The Liberal Leviathan – The Origins, Crisis and Transformation of the American World Order, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2011.

Kay, Sean, “A New Kind of NATO”,, 11 January, 2012.

Kay, Sean, “What went wrong with NATO?”, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 18 (1), April 2005, pp. 69-83.

Lindberg, Tod, Beyond Paradise and Power – Europe, America and the Future of a Troubled Partnership, Routledge, London, 2005.

NATO, “Strategic Concept For the Defence and Security of The Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation”, 2010.

Schroeder, Paul W., “Alliances, 1815-1945: weapons of power and tools of management”, in Knorr, ed., Historical Dimensions of National Security Problems, Lawrence, Allen, pp. 227-262.

Sireci, Jonathan; Coletta, Damon, “Enduring without an Enemy: NATO’s Realist Foundation”, Perspective. Review of International Affairs, Vol. 17, Issue 1, 2009.

The Transatlantic Bargain, NATO Defense College Forum Paper, Rome, January 2012.

A Balanced Negotiating Table: Israel’s Greatest Fear

If we really want to resolve the Middle Eastern crises, we need to recognize Israel’s privileged status and bring it kicking and screaming to the negotiation table.



[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ince the summer of 2011 the Israeli government has been steadily ratcheting its rhetoric on the Iranian nuclear issue. Led by the notoriously uncompromising Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu (affectionately known as Bibi), we have been told that the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon would bring a second Holocaust to the population of Israel. The Iranian regime, we are told, is led by extremist mullahs whose ultimate political aim is the destruction of Israel. Whilst the Israelis fear of extermination is undoubtedly understandable (and exacerbated by the Iranian government’s over-inflated political rhetoric), the main fear at the forefront of Bibi and his cabinet’s minds is the inevitable shift in the Middle Eastern balance of power that would challenge Israel’s de facto hegemony in the region.

This nuclear issue proves once again that the Arab-Israeli conflict lies at the heart of the Middle East’s continued instability. It is no coincidence that the very Israeli politicians advocating a military strike on Iran are the same who absolutely refuse to negotiate with the Palestinians on the issue of Palestinian self-determination. If we sanction an Israeli attack on Iran, we are supporting the previously establish precedent that Israel can do what it likes with tacit Western support. Once again, the Israeli spoilt-child is demanding another toy and we are happily giving it to them.

One of the great myths of the current age is that Israel is in a battle for its survival, surrounded by hostile Arab countries and the innocent victim of unrelenting Islamic terrorism. The truth is that Israel is, by far, the most powerful country in the Middle East and has not faced a credible threat to its existence since 1979. Israel’s peace agreement with Sadat effectively neutralized the most populous and most threatening of its Arab enemies, which reduced the threat of total war to negligible. Without Egypt, the other Arab states cannot undertake a major military campaign against Israel. Whilst the rocket and attacks and suicide bombings against Israeli civilians are deplorable and sickening, terrorism has never threatened the existence of any state – military force, however, does. Terrorism’s aim is political and by definition it is to further political, ideological or religious objectives by the use of force. Hamas’ attacks are harassment, but not an existential threat. Furthermore, Israel’s special relationship with the US has been a constant source of strength for the isolated nation. Had it not been for Operation Nickel Grass, in which the US supplied Israel with vital aid in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel would have been placed in a much weaker position.

If Iran’s nuclear programme is actually building nuclear weapons, the regime (and the country) is doing so for far more reasons than to boost its military capability. First, nuclear armament brings membership to an exclusive club of states – the US, UK, China, France, Russia, Pakistan, India and, of course, Israel. For this reason, the Iranian nuclear programme is a nationalist issue – not an Islamic one. The Iranian people believe that Iran should be recognized as a serious international and regional power. Historically, Persia has been a stable and powerful player at the crossroads between the Middle East and Asia. Indeed today, Iran is one of the most self-sufficient countries on the planet due to the economic sanctions constricting its ability to trade with the international community. The phrase ‘geography is destiny’ rings distinctly true for Iran.

Most importantly, nuclear armament would bring Iran to a relatively political equal status with Israel. As the two countries do not share a contiguous border, the strategic parity between the two countries’ conventional armed forces is less important than their nuclear armament parity (which would still be skewed in Israel’s favour, unofficially possessing up to 200 nuclear weapons). However, just a single nuclear-armed Shahab-3 rocket will mean that Israel is no longer the top dog in the Middle East.

Would this bring about an unacceptable change to the status quo in the Middle East? In the eyes of US and Israeli hawks, it would. However, in the greater geopolitical picture, a challenge to Israel is perhaps the catalyst needed to establish a lasting and comprehensive peace in the region. It would mean that the negotiation table would actually be somewhat balanced that would be a first step to addressing the pervading issues in the region. Israel would no longer be able to dictate the terms of negotiation, which it has been able to do throughout the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It would also mean that Israel would actually have to resort to diplomatic means to resolve conflict, rather than using military action to force its neighbours into submission.

The crux of the West’s public support is based on our own Islamophobia exacerbated by the previous 11 years of the War on Terrorism. We still believe that the Iranians hate us for who we are and are plotting to bring about our destruction. Despite the painful lessons we have learned from Iraq and Afghanistan regarding the necessity for a political solution over military action to bring an end to insurgency, we are being led to believe that a strike on Iran (or even a war) will somehow deal a deathblow to global terrorism. The uncomfortable truth is that Israeli policy has been a continued incitement for Islamic frustration and anger towards the West. Our ‘Israel – right or wrong’ policy has created unprecedented resentment within the Middle East and the rise of Islamic terrorism is a product of this 56-year policy.

We have yet to realize that the Israeli-Western relationship is very much the tail wagging the dog. The fact is that Israel depends upon the West for its survival, but is prone to throwing its teddy into the corner when the US and its Western allies do not do exactly as Israel says. If we really want to resolve the Middle Eastern crises, we need to recognize Israel’s privileged status and bring it kicking and screaming to the negotiation table. As a modern, stable and industrialized state, Israel must accept that it is a member of an international community rather than a lone cowboy in the Wild East.