“A Not So Secret Marriage of Convenience”: Israeli-Iranian Relations Before 1979

Is it relevant to know that Israeli-Iranian animosity is rooted in mutual respect?



[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t would surprise many to know that Iran was the second Muslim country, following Turkey, to recognise the state of Israel in 1948. It is an understatement to say Israeli-Iranian relations have gone a long way since the establishment of an Islamic Republic in Iran, from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s confrontation with Israeli troops in their 1982 invasion of Lebanon to the recent spat between the two countries regarding Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons. However, before 1979, Iran, under the leadership of the Pahlavi regime enjoyed fairly close relations with the state of Israel. This remains fairly understudied, perhaps indeed because of their current (non) relations, but nonetheless this period does warrant further investigation.

Early in its history, Israel was in need of allies in a predominantly hostile region. Iran itself was coming out of a rocky period in its history: it was occupied by Britain and the Soviet Union for most of the Second World War, it faced a communist threat, it was still very much under the influence of Britain, and was fast coming under the sway of the United States. Being a Muslim, but non-Arab country, Iran too had some difficulty in its relations with the Arab world. This was particularly true with Saudi Arabia: whenever there were any problems between the two countries, Saudi Arabia would reduce the quota for Hajj pilgrims from Iran. Furthermore, Israel’s friendship with Iran was essential to its defence policy: by establishing close relations with nations at the periphery of the Arab world, namely with Turkey and Iran, Israel was able to create a ring of defence around its hostile neighbours. Indeed, the writer Trita Parsi, who wrote about the three-way relationship between the United States, Israel and Iran, described the Israeli-Iranian alliance as “a not so secret marriage of convenience”.

They were not casual, or indeed, convenient allies. Over the years, Iran supplied both oil and even arms to the Israeli state. They were involved in joint military projects and strategic planning. After the 1953 coup, which saw CIA involvement in the overthrow of the popular Prime Minister Muhammad Mussadiq, Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi established the notorious secret police, SAVAK. In addition to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), he also turned to the Israelis and Mossad for their expertise in the secret service industry. Both SAVAK and Mossad in the mid 1970s held joint training operations for the Iraqi Kurdish separatist movement in order to undermine Saddam Hussain. In 1973 King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and other Arab leaders invaded Israel, starting the October War. This was soon followed by an all-Arab oil embargo on the United States and other nations who assisted Israel. Tellingly, Iran stayed out of the war and even continued to supply oil westwards.

However, even allies run into some problems. Muhammad Reza Shah signed an agreement with Saddam Hussain in order to settle Iran and Iraq’s dispute over the Shatt al-Arab, a strip of land bordering the two nations. In honouring the treaty, Muhammad Reza Shah abruptly halted SAVAK’s involvement with the Iraqi Kurds. The head of Mossad’s operations there saw the treaty as a betrayal against the Israelis. In addition to this, Iran played the important role of negotiator following the Yom Kippur war. In an interesting turn of events, Iran supported Egypt’s claims in calling for a return to the pre-1967 borders. Iran went on to vote in favour of the “Zionism equals racism” resolution at the United Nations (this was revoked in 1991). As such, despite their closeness, Muhammad Reza Shah and Israel did not always enjoy harmonious relations. The final blow came with the ascent of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Israel was now “Little Satan” (whereas the United States was “Great Satan”) and all diplomatic relations were severed.

Israel and Iran have indeed come a long way: from convenient allies to committed strategic partners to sworn enemies. It’s hard to say what their former relations could say about the present. Is it actually relevant to know that their mutual animosity is rooted in mutual respect? Or is it actually just reflective of the volatile world we live in and that your friend today may be your enemy tomorrow (but you do what you can in the meantime)? Regardless of this relevance, further study and consideration of Iran and Israel’s joint past may indeed shed some depth in our understanding of their current relations, and may even offer some insight into their future.

Negotiating With Terrorists

Under what conditions should governments negotiate with terrorists?
{Department of War Studies, King’s College London}



‘You’ve got to be strong, not weak. The only way to deal with these people is to bring them to justice. You can’t talk to them. You can’t negotiate with them.’

George W. Bush[1]

[dropcap]G[/dropcap]eorge Bush articulated the above statement as part of a response to a press conference question concerning Al-Qaeda in 2003. He had clearly summed up his administration’s position on the subject in question – that negotiating with terrorists is a sign of weakness and should thus be avoided, even suggesting that merely talking to them was out of the question. His rhetoric remained consistent throughout his presidency regardless of the actor in question; if they could be successfully labelled ‘terrorist’ then dialogue was instantly deemed unacceptable and counter-productive. For instance, in 2008 he made an address to the Israeli Knesset mocking negotiations with ‘terrorists and radicals’ as half-baked attempts to ‘persuade them that they have been wrong all along.’[2] It is easy to be swept away by the conviction of these words, yet the administration’s actions did not always reflect Bush’s uncompromising language. In Iraq for example, the U.S. military was authorised to negotiate extensively with insurgents who were known to use terrorist tactics against coalition troops and civilians.[3] This essay will examine how and why the conditions arise for negotiations with terrorists and will conclude by suggesting best practices.

Peter Neumann has identified ‘a number conditions [which] must be met in order for talks to even have a chance of success’ – these can be simplified as three questions: who, when and how.[4] ‘Who’ refers to the nature of specific terrorist groups i.e. a government needs to assess ideology, propensity to violence and internal cohesion before committing to a course of action. The IRA made suitable negotiating partners for the British Government because their leaders realised that violence had limited utility and were capable of controlling the rank and file of the organisation. ‘When’ refers to the timing of negotiations in terms of strategic juncture, perhaps when the terrorists have recently suffered an tactical or operational setback, or are otherwise ‘questioning the utility of violence’[5]. ‘How’ refers to the actual format of the negotiations – ideally a ‘broad, multiparty process [which] exposes the terrorists to democratic practices.’[6] In Northern Ireland this was achieved through encouraging the participation of Sinn Féin in the democratic process.

Particularly contentious is Neumann’s assertion that ‘…a government should begin formal negotiations only after the terrorist group has declared a permanent cessation of violence’[7] which is directly contradicted by Jonathan Powell’s declaration that ‘it is always an error to set a precondition to a negotiation.’[8] There is a long, well documented history of deceitful or capricious behaviour by non-state ‘terrorist’ negotiators and the setting of preconditions is intended to provide assurances (mainly) to the government. However, the very act of securing these assurances, such as agreeing upon mechanisms for implementing and monitoring a ceasefire, can derail the whole process. The Government of Colombia has repeatedly experienced these frustrations with FARC.[9]

Neumann does not consider the conditions imposed by the nature of the state actor. It is important, for instance, to contemplate the effects of the counter-terrorism model adopted by the state in question.  In broad terms there are two ways for states to deal with the threat posed by those sub-state actors labelled ‘terrorists’. One might be forgiven for deducing from the above statement alone that George Bush advocates the criminal justice model, which was internationally prevalent until he dramatically declared ‘war on terror’ in an address to congress nine days after the 9/11 attacks. The war model sees terrorism as an act of war (as opposed to a criminal act), leverages military rather than law enforcement assets to provide a maximum force response and proactively searches for terrorists wherever they seek sanctuary (as opposed to the reactive, minimum force employed by the criminal justice model).

The problem with the war model is its high economic and human cost. Currently U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan number 6,399[10], spending on the ‘9/11 wars’ is in excess of $1.3 trillion[11] and consequently the U.S. is growing weary of its open-ended commitment to ‘war on terror’. Hence, in direct contradiction of the above statement the U.S. sought after a negotiated settlement with terrorists in Iraq and similarly the search is now well underway for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and Haqqani network.[12] This turn of events should not have been unexpected. Indeed ‘since the 1990s the majority of armed conflicts have been ended through dialogue, negotiation and compromise’[13]. The war model thus makes negotiations more likely, given the difficulty of developing a plausible theory of victory for Afghanistan or the war on terror more generally. Additionally, terrorists are arguably raised to the international plane (alongside nation-states) by the very act of declaring war on them. This puts the state at a relative disadvantage, hence the war model should only be used where a rapid military victory is realistic and sustainable, a notable recent example of which is the Sri Lankan campaign against the Tamil Tigers 2006-2009.

Bush’s rhetoric therefore seems increasingly nonsensical. However, there is one possible explanation: secret negotiations. Browne and Dickson have examined the secret negotiation policies of other world leaders who have made hard-nosed declarations which condemn terrorists and apparently forgo the possibility of negotiations. In 1993, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel reneged on an earlier assertion that his government would never negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). In 1999 José Aznar of Spain entered into peace talks with Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA) despite his stated policy of no negotiation being ‘one of his party’s strongest weapons’.[14] Browne and Dickson go on to offer the plausible explanation that this behaviour is actually designed to reduce the state’s bargaining power, thus encouraging terrorists to come to the table. This is because engaging in secret negotiations while publicly decrying them increases the potential ‘audience cost’ for the state – i.e. ‘a leader who denounces a counterpart, but then negotiates with him anyway, and then fails to achieve an agreement may pay a particularly harsh price for appearing irresolute, incompetent, or both.’[15] Despite this risk, secret negotiations are preferable to public negotiations because they avoid conferring the same degree of legitimacy.

Avoiding the legitimisation of terrorism is a key aim of the criminal justice model. In contrast to the war model, terrorists are treated like regular criminals and denied any political recognition. However, this can also backfire, as was demonstrated by the hunger strikes of Bobby Sands and other IRA prisoners in 1981. The Government policy of avoiding public negotiations and offering only limited concessions behind the scenes (which were rejected) led to the death of ten prisoners and ultimately ‘growing polarisation between the two communities in Northern Ireland. In this context, the level of violence within the province climbed once more…’[16]

In summary, favourable conditions for negotiations exist when the government can easily activate existing, reliable channels of communication to negotiate secretly with a coherent and dominant terrorist leadership who have reached a strategic juncture in their campaign. Where possible, the government should use a criminal justice model over a war model, but should be open to the possibility of limited political concessions. Of course, these conditions are rare. However, they are more likely to manifest if dialogue is maintained. As Jonathan Powell puts it: ‘…we had to keep things moving forward like a bicycle…If we ever let the bicycle fall over, we would create a vacuum and that vacuum would be filled with violence.’[17] It therefore follows that to impose preconditions and risk stifling negotiations before they begin is bad practice: ‘It is best to leave the issue of weapons to the end of a peace process.’[18] At the time of writing, the government of Nigeria is struggling to open negotiations with the violent Islamic sect known as Boko Haram (BH). This has been a failure until now, but stands an increasing chance of success as the Nigerian government moves away from the war model towards the criminal justice model and attempts to open channels of communication without preconditions. However, the fractionalisation of BH and its lack of coherence, plus the absence of any apparent ‘strategic juncture’ do not bode well for the immediate future.


[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

[1] George W. Bush quoted in Harmonie Toros: ‘We Don’t Negotiate with Terrorists!’: Legitimacy and Complexity in Terrorist Conflicts, in Security Dialogue 39:407 (SAGE, 2008) p.407

[2] George W. Bush: Address to the Knesset, (15/05/08) available online: http://bit.ly/FR0QkY

[3] See Michael Rubin & Suzanne Gershowitz: Political Strategies to Counterterrorism, (12/07/06) available online: http://bit.ly/aLA8oG

[4] Peter Neumann: Negotiating with Terrorists, in Foreign Affairs 86:1 (CFR, 2007) p.128-138

[5] Ibid. p.132

[6] Ibid. p.135

[7] Ibid. p.133

[8] Jonathan Powell: Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland, (Random House, 2008) p.317

[9] Camilo González Posso: Negotiations with the FARC 1982-2002, in ACCORD: An International Review of Peace Initiatives, (Conciliation Resources in association with CINEP, 2004) p.46-51

[10] Coalition Casualty Count: http://icasualties.org/

[11] Amy Belasco: The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11, (CRS, 2011) available online: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf

[12] Jill Dougherty: U.S. met with Haqqani terrorists this summer, (CNN, 21/10/11) available online: http://bit.ly/nyFrUa

[13] Isabelle Duyvesteyn & Bart Schuurman: The Paradoxes of Negotiating with Terrorist and Insurgent Organisations, in The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 39:4 (Routledge, 2011) p.677

[14] Giles Tremlett quoted in Julie Brown & Eric Dickson: “We Don’t Talk to Terrorists”: On the Rhetoric and Practice of Secret Negotiations, in Journal of Conflict Resolution 54:3 (SAGE, 2010) p.398

[15] Julie Brown & Eric Dickson: “We Don’t Talk to Terrorists”: On the Rhetoric and Practice of Secret Negotiations, in Journal of Conflict Resolution 54:3 (SAGE, 2010) p.381

[16] John Bew, Martin Frampton & Inigo Gurruchaga: Talking to Terrorists, (Hurst & Co. 2009) p.92-93

[17] Jonathan Powell: Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland, (Random House, 2008) p.5

[18] Ibid. p.317



John Bew, Martin Frampton & Inigo Gurruchaga: Talking to Terrorists, (Hurst & Co. 2009)

Jonathan Powell: Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland, (Random House, 2008)


Research Papers:

Peter Neumann: Negotiating with Terrorists, in Foreign Affairs 86:1 (CFR, 2007)

Harmonie Toros: ‘We Don’t Negotiate with Terrorists!’: Legitimacy and Complexity in Terrorist Conflicts, in Security Dialogue 39:407 (SAGE, 2008)

Isabelle Duyvesteyn & Bart Schuurman: The Paradoxes of Negotiating with Terrorist and Insurgent Organisations, in The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 39:4 (Routledge, 2011)

Julie Brown & Eric Dickson: “We Don’t Talk to Terrorists”: On the Rhetoric and Practice of Secret Negotiations, in Journal of Conflict Resolution 54:3 (SAGE, 2010)

Camilo González Posso: Negotiations with the FARC 1982-2002, in ACCORD: An International Review of Peace Initiatives, (Conciliation Resources in association with CINEP, 2004)


Web Resources:

Amy Belasco: The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11, (CRS, 2011) available online: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf

Jill Dougherty: U.S. met with Haqqani terrorists this summer, (CNN, 21/10/11) available online: http://bit.ly/nyFrUa

George W. Bush: Address to the Knesset, (15/05/08) available online: http://bit.ly/FR0QkY

Michael Rubin & Suzanne Gershowitz: Political Strategies to Counterterrorism, (12/07/06) available online: http://bit.ly/aLA8oG

Coalition Casualty Count: http://icasualties.org/


China: Domestic Pitfalls & Incoherent Foreign Policy

China does not represent a danger to the international community over the next 10 years but its new leaders must combat the prospect of an economic downturn.



[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne of the most demanding tasks today is to provide a detailed depiction of China’s current social and political complexities, a mission that probably even George Kennan, the famous author of the X article about the sources of the Soviet conduct, would be able to accomplish systematically.

Indeed, despite the massive bulk of social, cultural and militarily analysis on China and its history, making precise predictions about the trajectory of China as a global actor can result in fragmented and scattered intellectual efforts without any general evidence or visible trends to compare with.

By approaching such a fascinating and hard question with the greatest humbleness, I will try to trace a general trend explaining the current situation of China.

Broadly summarizing, today China presents a couple of relevant problems: on the one hand a set of worrying domestic issues concerning the political and social plight of its ruling class and citizens; on the other hand, a series of contradicting steps in international politics that would scare even the most prudent and careful strategic thinker. As a result, to an external viewer, contemporary China seems to be a confusing giant in search for a new identity after 30 years of uninterrupted economic growth ended with the 2008 global economic meltdown.

After the death of Chairman Mao in 1976 and the reform package launched by Den Xiaoping soon after, the Chinese ruling party has assured a long period of economic rise and, in doing so, has strengthened its legitimacy as the only instrument capable of guaranteeing China’s stability, unity and security. In exchange for economic and physical protection, Chinese population has given up any claim about the liberalization of political and civil rights, by signing a sort of “gentle agreement” with its own rulers in order to achieve a common interest. After all, as China possesses neither a multiparty system nor a democracy, there was no need to be concerned with political representation, especially after decades of political weakness and the socially devastating effects of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Accordingly, the course of Chinese economic growth in the last years has deeply characterized its society and the nature of its foreign relationships.

On the domestic level, China is affected by an endless number of challenges, worsened further because of the scale of its population. First of all the environmental problem, caused by the massive industrial pollution and the process of desertification in the inland Chinese areas. Secondly, the relentless aging process of the Chinese population, as a result of the one-child policy promoted in 1978. According to recent estimates, by 2050 the largest part of the Chinese population will be formed by elderly, with significant impacts on productivity and social expenditures. This demographic decline is coupled with a growing regional disparity and imbalance between rich and poor areas, which compels massive migrations from the rural and less wealthy areas of the country to the seacoast, with increasing costs in terms of country-land’s de-urbanization. Lack of food safety, the bad quality of healthcare services, the Tibetan quest for self-determination and spreading corruption (not only among public officials but even among the common people – to such an extent that a six-year-old Chinese girl expressed the desire and the dream to become a corrupt agent in her future), provide for a very baffled, although not exhaustive, depiction of what Chinese society is today.

In addition, the logic of Chinese foreign policy is characterized by a substantial incoherence: on one hand their policy-makers clearly pursue politics of resource supplying through fertile-land purchases and investments in Africa, Latin America and Central Asia, for example; on the other hand, China purportedly doesn’t want to interfere in other countries’ affairs.

The ongoing international tensions in the South China Sea and the pressures by states such as Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines and South Korea to keep the US military umbrella in the region, are the best example to describe such a costly paradox, given the longstanding Chinese diplomatic effort to reassure and tighten good relationships with its neighbours, for instance by promoting the concept of “peaceful rise”.

As partial explanation to this incoherence, is the involvement of an extensive range of political players in shaping foreign policy, such as the pragmatic Communist party, the growing assertive PLA and the profit-seeker industrial complex: the final outcome is an uncertain and ambiguous approach to international politics.

For the next ten years, by virtue of its domestic issues, China will be not representing a real danger for the international community. Nonetheless, a decrease of the employment rate to 5-6% could prompt a large scale of mass mobilization and jeopardize the stability of the country. The problem of a Chinese economic downturn, largely underestimated in the West, should be promptly faced through incisive economic and political reforms by the new class of political leader that are going to be elected next October.

Tottenham Court Road Bomb Threats: The Trouble With Lone Wolves

A man is arrested after, it is believed, having threatened to detonate gasoline cylinders in an office building on Tottenham Court Road. Was this a lone wolf terrorist?



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]oday an unknown man held siege in an office block on Tottenham Court Road in Soho, London. It was confirmed at approximately 15.08 that he has been arrested and is in police custody whilst the offices are being secured.

Apparently alone and armed with devices of an indeterminate nature, he walked into the offices of Advantage HGV, a Transport Logistics firm and declared that he ‘doesn’t care about his life. Doesn’t care about anything [and] is going to blow up everybody’. The man identified himself to a member of staff as Michael Green, a former client of the firm, who had apparently failed a HGV course through the company. Eye witnesses who managed to escape the scene described what could have been gas canisters strapped to the man’s body. Upon entering the office he allegedly coerced office workers to throw computer equipment and office supplies out of the windows.

The talk on popular social media website Twitter, as well as other forums, is that this must be terrorism, the man is undoubtedly a Lone Wolf. Whilst his name still hasn’t been confirmed, his motivations have already been concluded without any due thought to his state of mind, exactly what he planned to do in the offices of transport logistics company, and more importantly, why them? This is ostensibly a clear cut case, a disenfranchised client seeks revenge on the company he blames for his failures. But the media, and as a consequence, the public, see terrorists around every corner.

A Lone Wolf is an individual who is ‘located within a broader network of extremists’ but [displays] some level of contact with operational extremists.’ [Pantucci, ICSR 2011, p9] Lone Wolves can, in some cases, operate under varying degrees of command and control. Additionally, ‘real’ Lone Wolves ‘are part of a virtual network’. [Sageman cited in Ibid. p5] There are different distinctions between different types of individual terrorist actors, some (loners) become operational through a ‘passive [ideological] consumption’ whilst Lone Wolves are more likely to participate in online forums ie. non-physical interaction with like-minded people.

We know nothing about this man at this stage. What we potentially know is that he may be called Michael Green, may have failed a driving test, and may be depressed, or perhaps mentally ill. None of these snippets of spurious information can help us determine exactly what happened in Central London today. There is as of this moment no clear political motivation that could connect this to terrorism. ‘He was throwing stuff out of the windows – it looked like someone with a grievance’. Whilst grievances can lead to violence, terrorists motivated by a particular ideology that they believe will repair this grievance seldom allow potential victims to leave because they are parents or because they are pregnant.

If we are to understand Lone Wolves and other types of terrorist actors, and more importantly, if we want a clear picture of what happened on Tottenham Court Road – British journalism should leave the terrorism investigation to the Metropolitan Police and try to view the events of today as they are – a serious security incident which thankfully avoided injuries and fatalities.

Obama & Nuclear Weapons

Obama put the nuclear issue on a pedestal three years ago, has he made any progress in his pledge to eradicate them from the world?



Three years ago this month in Prague Barack Obama outlined his vision for a world free of nuclear weapons. The US President, in his first major speech on the issue of nuclear security since being elected in November 2008, called for urgent action to reduce and eventually eradicate the role that such “catastrophic weapons” play in the security considerations of the world’s nation states, to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world within four years.

Obama was under no illusions as to the difficulties of making such a vision a reality, stating that “this goal will not be reached quickly, perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence” however went on to outline his determination to insist “Yes we can”. There was a marked difference between Obama’s lofty rhetoric during his campaign speech on the issue in 2008, and the concrete proposals for action he outlined in Prague.

So three years on from Prague, what can be said of the progress Obama has made? Firstly, on the issue of reducing the number of nuclear weapons, there are some grounds for optimism. A year after the Prague speech, Obama signed an arms treaty with Russia, known as the New START treaty, limiting both countries to 800 deployed nuclear warhead delivery systems, representing a reduction of approximately 50%, and 1550 warheads, 30% lower than both sides were meant to have under the predecessor to New START.

New START on its own is obviously not sufficient in moving the world decisively in the direction of zero (nuclear weapons) but it does send a clear message to the international community – that the world’s two biggest nuclear powers are serious in their commitment to getting rid of such weapons. Analysts were keen to stress in the aftermath of the treaty being ratified that although it only commits the US and Russia to modest reductions in their nuclear arsenals, it is a necessary step in showing countries such as Iran, who often accuse the major nuclear powers of not fulfilling their side of the NPT bargain (the NPT commits those states with nuclear weapons to take steps towards their eventual abolition and non-nuclear states to not obtaining them) that in reality they have stuck to their side of the NPT deal. So whilst new START represents only the first step towards a world without nuclear weapons, credit must be given to both Obama and outgoing Russian president Dmitry Medvedev for signalling their intention to lead the way.

Unfortunately though there are more than enough reasons to be pessimistic as to whether Obama can deliver on his Prague agenda. Efforts to secure the world’s loose and vulnerable nuclear materials by 2013 have been made, but it looks like this goal will be missed. The fact that since 2009 six countries have removed all highly enriched uranium (HEU) from their territories signals that a concerted effort by the US as well as those countries in possession of HEU can lead to progress, however getting Iran to return its HEU to the United States and North Korea to submit its plutonium stocks to international monitoring has so far proven impossible. Engaging these states in dialogue is the only peaceful way likely to lead to progress, but such dialogue has been rare in the last few years. Keeping the issue of nuclear security on the international agenda by persuading more countries that it is of vital importance to their own national security is a further obstacle that Obama will face should he secure re-election later this year. At present, too many see the threat of nuclear terrorism as being America’s problem.

Not only does Obama face considerable challenges on the international front, but the domestic opposition to his Prague agenda has also been hampering. His aspiration to seek US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has been hindered by opposition from Republicans in Congress, something which has damaged Obama’s international standing as the leader of the global push towards zero. To add to this a Carnegie report in 2010 noted that Obama and Vice President Biden “seem to be the only leaders in the US government personally animated by the vision of a world without nuclear weapons”. Reflecting these domestic concerns, Obama was forced in the Nuclear Posture Review in 2010 to water down his proposals to limit the role that nuclear weapons play in US security strategy, settling in the end for a “negative security assurance” applicable only to states that are party to and in compliance with the NPT (therefore excluding Iran and North Korea) and which could be reviewed if the threat of a biological attack grows. This conditional assurance states that the US will not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state even if that state were to use biological or chemical weapons against the US. Whilst this goes further than the Bush administration did in reducing the role of nuclear weapons in US security policy, it clearly doesn’t represent a major shift in US policy.

What cannot be denied is that with Obama’s leadership the nuclear issue has been given greater attention in the US as well as internationally. Notable progress has been made in reducing US and Russian stockpiles and in securing vast amounts of loose nuclear material. However should he win a second term, Obama will face numerous challenges, not least keeping the issue of nuclear security on the international agenda, and persuading Congress that it is in the US’s interest to ratify the CTBT. Firmer action to reduce the role nuclear weapons play in US security doctrines, more concrete commitments to strengthen the NPT and engaging in more dialogue with North Korea and Iran will be essential steps Obama will need to take if he is to move closer to the aspirations he outlined in Prague.

Relief Response Coordination: Independent NGOs vs The UN Umbrella

The nature of humanitarian assistance in disaster response almost always includes an international element. In turn this then calls for some sense of international organisation and co-ordination of the response.



An important aspect of the relief environment is that it is unregulated. Usually there is no single authority able to control the action of all actors participating in the relief response. Ideally this role would be taken on by the affected country’s government, but unfortunately, all too frequently the government involved is lacking in experience, funding and knowledge required to manage an emergency effectively and in areas where the emergency is conflict related it is not uncommon for the government structure to be dysfunctional. This has the potential to leave the best role of relief actors unclear.
The UN is the largest international relief organisation, under which many relief and humanitarian NGOs work. The Cluster System, implemented as part of the 2005 Humanitarian Response Review, aims to apply the regulation to their actors that is often missing from the whole picture, in order to coordinate a more effective response. The Cluster System divides any relief response into nine “clusters” each with a lead agency:

· Nutrition (UNICEF)

· Water and Hygiene (UNICEF)

· Health (WHO)

· Coordination and camp management for displaced people (UNHCRM/IOM)

· Emergency shelters (UNHCR/IFRC)


· Logistics (UNJLC/WFP)

· Means of communication (OCHA/UNICEF/WFP)

· Early Recovery (UNDP)

This system aims to fill the gaps found in previous relief responses such as the 2004 Indonesian Earthquake causing the well covered Boxing Day Tsunami. The official investigation of the response suggested the international relief mission did not effectively respond to the needs of the population and was driven more by politics and media. The cluster system aims to ensure that all humanitarian needs of the population are fulfilled by each of the nine clusters. This system has coordination and leadership at an international, national and cluster level aiding a spread of effective aid across the affected population.

The other aim of the 2005 Humanitarian Response Review was to improve the effectiveness of funding by increasing flexibility and timeliness. As NGOs main income is from donations, and the swiftness of their response is dependent on their income, an element of competition develops between organisations, for donations and then in time taken to enter an area in emergency. The supplies required for an effective response may also be limited and so NGOs can become competitive over this also. The 2005 review did effectively alter this for the organisations working under the UN umbrella providing more flexible and timely funding for operations and deployment.

However, despite the improvements made from the 2005 review, the UN system is still pretty far from perfect. MSF have famously denounced the UN system and refused to join it on the basis that they believe the reforms to not have been as effective as they could have seemed. They argue that the increased organisation and coordination may have further lengthened the time taken for relief response to commence, using example of their 2006 response to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The main reason MSF stubbornly maintains their independence is to ensure they do “not jeopardise the strictly humanitarian and impartial nature of [their] organisation”. This statement refers particularly to conflict situations in which MSF feel the UN continues to take a political stance which echoes into its humanitarian response. Previously it is clear to see where this is true, the exclusion of certain groups in Sierra Leone in 1997 when the UN withdrew staff and cut off military assistance to support the political arm of weakening the AFRC/RUF. This political decision led to unnecessarily and arguably deliberate suffering and starvation of the population. The UN Secretary General has repeatedly reaffirmed the importance of integrated missions meaning any UN presence should represent the priorities and contribute to the objective of the UN mission. In April 2006, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced the halving of the food rations of the Darfur area due to lack of finance. This arose because the donor countries to this programme decided to make assistance to populations conditional upon the signing of a peace agreement.

MSF is not the only NGO to be functioning independently in areas of relief work. Many others enter countries in need with no invitation and no need to report to any umbrella organisation or authority. This disorganisation can bring about the gaps and unbalance in relief response as it is hard to monitor in country who is receiving what aid, from whom and where. However, it may also be considered better to let organisations get on with what they do and remain flexible to the changing needs of an area in emergency.
I have a great deal of respect for Medicins Sans Frontieres and the incredible work they do which I consider unrivalled in providing unbiased help to everyone. They are a specialised NGO with health as their direct objective and have chosen to opt out of UN operations because they believe it the best decision to provide the best responses they possibly can. However, I see the benefits of joining an umbrella organisation such as the UN in providing better all-round relief for areas that need it. I think that the UN system, encompassing the cluster system, still has ground to cover in efficiency and response deliverance and in providing the best response for everyone effected but that the NGOs involved in their operations do extraordinary and altruistic work which is better organised and more effective for the work of OCHA, UNDAC, IASC and the UN which governs them all.

Racism In The NHS

Black and Minority Ethnic Doctors within the British National Health Service: What can History tell us?
{Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester}



[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n Britain, current estimates suggest that up to 33% of doctors practicing within the National Health Service (NHS) are from Black and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds (BME). This is contrasting to the number of BME individuals within the background population, which stands at just 7.9%. From 1948, when the NHS was first founded, to the 1980s the number of BME clinicians steadily increased.

Within British medical schools BME applicants are less likely than their white counter-parts to succeed in their applications despite equivalent qualifications. This has been shown since 1982 and persists into the most recent analysis in 2008. Once at medical school BME students are more likely to fare worse in both undergraduate and postgraduate examinations than their white counterparts.

The aim of this essay is to illustrate the integral role BME doctors have and continue to play within the NHS, from its inception, with the migration of thousands of doctors from the Indian subcontinent in the 1950s onwards, to the present application of British-educated BME applicants to medical school. It is only from learning from our past that we can progress towards the egalitarian ideal that current law would have us aspire to.


In Britain, current estimates suggest that up to 33% of doctors practicing within the National Health Service (NHS) are from Black and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds (BME). This is contrasting to the number of BME individuals within the background population, which stands at just 7.9%. From 1948, when the NHS was first founded, to the 1980s the number of BME clinicians steadily increased. The number of BME clinicians in managerial positions and positions of authority, did not, increase proportionately. Currently, less than 1% of NHS chief executives are from a BME background. (Esmail 2007, Snow 2010, BMA 2009)Within British medical schools BME applicants are less likely than their white counter-parts to succeed in their applications despite equivalent qualifications. This has been shown since 1982 and persists into the most recent analysis in 2008. Once at medical school BME students are more likely to fare worse in both undergraduate and postgraduate examinations than their white counterparts. (Collier & Burke 1986, BMA 2009)

These figures are of course disturbing as they indicate a failure of the NHS as an employer and British Medical Schools as Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to address the discrimination that the BME population of Britain faces. Regardless of a particular moral standpoint, in the light of the Race Relations Amendment Act (2000), a legal statutory right has been placed on the employer/HEI to promote equality within their institution. Failure to do so could result in a potential prosecution. However, indirect discrimination, which is the most likely mechanism of discrimination within these organisations, is diffuse and often intangible meaning it is a difficult concept to both identify and redress when it occurs. (BMA 2009, Esmail 2006)

The aim of this essay is to illustrate the integral role BME doctors have and continue to play within the NHS, from its inception, with the migration of thousands of doctors from the Indian subcontinent in the 1950s onwards, to the present application of British-educated BME applicants to medical school. It is only from learning from our past, and acceptance of some of the mistakes that may have been made, that we can progress towards the egalitarian ideal that current law would have us aspire to.

Post-War Britain; Labour Shortages & the Creation of the NHS

The Second World War ended in 1945 and with it came a host of challenges, the most relevant of which to this topic being the chronic labour shortage. The armed forces retained much of Britain’s male population and suffered much loss of life as a consequence. Many members of the population retired due to their age and the school leaving age was raised to 15. These and various other factors contributed to the labour shortage which post-war Britain faced. (Snow 2010).

Under the guidance of the Labour PM Clement Attlee and Minister of Health Aneurin Bevan the NHS was conceived and was by no means exempt from the labour shortage. Health care was being offered to those who had previously no access to such resources inevitably increasing demand. From 1949 – 1953 the number of hospital inpatients rose by 600,000. As a consequence of this increase in patient numbers, hospitals were required to increase the numbers of doctors and nurses. In its first decade the number of medical staff employed by the NHS rose by 30% in England and 50% in Scotland. The number of nursing and midwifery staff rose by 26% across Britain. Many of these new doctors and nurses came from overseas to face new challenges in their host country, however, this essay will primarily discuss the experiences of the former. (Kyriakides 2003, Snow 2010)

The Goodenough Committee, in 1944, had predicted the shortage of doctors within the medical profession at the time, recommending the expansion of all British medical schools to accommodate for the perceived shortfall. These recommendations were unfortunately superseded by recommendations put forward by the Willink Committee, who published in 1957. (Snow, 2010) The Willink Committee recommended a decrease in the intake of British medical schools by 10% to prevent overproduction. They failed to take into account the increasing demands of the growing British population upon the NHS and the idea that some British doctors may not wish to stay in Britain but themselves emigrate, an idea that may have undermined the NHS as; ‘a symbol of Britishness’ (Kyriakides 2003)

Due to the Willink Committee’s underestimation of the requirement of British-educated doctors medical recruiters were forced to search further afield to fulfill the demand placed on the NHS. Thankfully, due to the close relationship the British Empire had shared with India until it’s independence in 1947, doctors from the Indian subcontinent were willing and able to migrate to Britain. (Esmail 2007)

Why The Indian Subcontinent?

By 1960 the number of Junior doctors from the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) was between 30-40% of the total workforce. These are unprecedented numbers and the question as to why so many doctors from the Indian subcontinent chose to emigrate must be asked. (Snow 2010) Britain first colonised India over 400 years ago and along with the ‘creation’ of many other public services, spawned the Indian Medical Service (IMS). Upon it’s creation the IMS was exclusively available for Europeans only to enter, this exclusion criteria, was however, lifted in 1855 enabling Indian citizen’s to enter also. (Esmail 2007)

The IMS was not without controversy. During the 19th century there was much debate regarding Orientalist versus Anglicist views of how medicine should be practiced and taught. Orientalists maintained the indigenous culture of Indian medicine should remain intact whilst being simultaneously assimilated with that of western culture. Anglicists fought for the eradication of Indian culture and traditional medicine and its replacement with Western medical education and values. The anglicist perspective prevailed and by 1892 Indian medical degrees were recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC), tailored to the needs of the British. This was not, perhaps, the best outcome for a developing nation. The health service of India became reliant on doctors as opposed to non-medically trained health workers and assistants who were easier to train and more populous in number. (Esmail 2007)

England was held in high esteem by contemporary Indian society at the turn of the previous century. Esmail (2007) states that; ‘coming to England was like a badge of honour…in the 1800s’, whilst R. Madhok, Medical Director of NHS Manchester states;

‘From a very early age, two things were clear in my life. One, that i would become a surgeon and two, that i would go to England to train…My family had lived under the British Raj in what became Pakistan after the partition of the country. As refugees in India….they had fond memories under the ‘fair sahibs’…going to England was a given for me.’ (Snow 2010: Foreword XV)

These quotations illustrate the pedestal that England and English society was placed upon. They may go some way to understanding the desire of many doctors from the Indian sub-continent to train here and fulfil the shortage of doctors that the NHS was facing post-Willink committee. Unfortunately, the reception they received upon arrival was less than savoury. (Esmail 2007, Snow 2010)

Reception of Migrant Workers in Britain

The medical profession can not be viewed through an isolated lens when describing the reception given to overseas doctors. Attention must be paid to the treatment of all migrant workers as a whole, rather than within the medical community specifically, if a fair appraisal of the social and political climate of the time is to be sought.

Due to the labour shortages discussed above, 1948 saw the introduction of the Nationality Act which granted British citizenship to citizens of the British colonies and former colonies. Waves of thousands of migrants from the West Indies and South Asia settled in Britain. Prior to 1948 5% of the British population had been born overseas. The first waves of migrants to enter Britain faced considerable discrimination in all aspects of day to day life. Quotas were enforced by trade unionists, limiting the numbers of BME workers a given employer could hire. Housing allocations were unofficially biased in favour of white British people leaving black and Asian people to cluster in poor and often squalid conditions in inner city wards. (Snow 2010)

These tensions came to a head in the summer of 1958 when rioting broke out in Notting Hill, London and Nottingham. In a community that had been marginalised and unsupported: it was an era when the newly settled waves of Caribbean immigrants had had enough and responded to unacceptable racial bigotry.’ (Jan-Khan 2003)

These were not the first riots caused by a deep sense of discontent ingrained within a community that were in need of social and political representation. The storming of the Bastille in Paris, 1789, with the subsequent revolution that occurred is but one early example of the power of a mob. Unfortunately this outburst of both aggression and frustration from the Afro-Caribbean community only served to further perpetuate their alienation from British society, politicians in general and the governing Conservative party of the time. Kyriakides argues that it was not, in fact, the fault of the migrant population of Britain at the time but a consequence of the growing racism and discrimination that was apparent in British society. (Kyriakides, 2003, Jan-Khan 2003)

Four years after the first ‘race riots’ in Britain, as the media gleefully labelled them, 1962 saw the introduction of the first piece of legislation designed to halt the influx of migrants from the former British colonies. The Commonwealth Immigrants Bill was passed, restricting the entrance of citizens of the commonwealth to those who had been issued with employment vouchers. This, as Paul (1998) observes, created a change in dynamic from the right that a citizen of the new Commonwealth had to become a citizen of Britain, to one of a contract worker, employed by the state with the state holding an ability to terminate that contract of employment. (Paul 1998, Kyriakides, 2003)

Employment vouchers were issued in three categories; A – to workers that had already secured employment within Britain, B – to workers whose skills were required within Britain and C – for other migrants from the commonwealth that did not meet the criteria for either A or B vouchers. It was migrants who were coming to staff the British NHS that obtained working vouchers in the A & B categories. (Kyriakides 2003)

1968 saw the Labour government of the time, led by Harold Wilson, introduce another measure to combat the migration of people from the former colonies, the Commonwealth Immigration Act. The trigger for this was the expulsion of tens of thousands of Asian Kenyans from their home country by ‘africanisation’ policies forced to seek refuge in Britain, the country of which they were passport holders for. This mass of refugees did not ignite within British politicians a sense of injustice and of wrongdoing, but caused quite the opposite; the hastening of the Act through Parliament in an attempt to block refugee’s from arriving. (Kyriakides 2003)

The Commonwealth Act 1968 was to set in motion the institutionalisation of the concept of ‘patriality’; the idea that in order to avoid immigration controls an individual migrating from the commonwealth had to have either a parent or grandparent born in Britain. Kyriakides states “Only possession of ‘British Blood’ could guarantee entry into the UK.” A position that was starkly contrasting to that held by Britain 20 years prior, when the state required migrant labour to prevent the collapse of major industries. It was soon after the introduction of this policy that Enoch Powell made his, now infamous, ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.

Reception of Migrant Doctors

From the introduction of the Commonwealth Immigration Bill in 1962 – 1972 well over 16,000 migrants from the new Commonwealth (India and Pakistan in particular) came to work in Britain as doctors. This was by no means a co-incidence; the Ministry of Health worked in close contact with the Ministry of Labour throughout the duration of the 1960s to ensure a constant inflow of doctors, ready to staff, as juniors, the fledgling NHS. Within the British Medical Association (BMA), however, the attitude towards migrant doctors was that of antagonism and restriction of rights. A view somewhat influenced by the current social climate of the time but in opposition to the needs and requirements of the institution the BMA was serving. (Kyriakides 2003, Esmail 2007)

The dichotomous relationship which medical migrants faced was spoken of in a debate in the House of Lords in 1961. Lord Cohen of Birkenhead politely reminded the house that “the health service would have collapsed had it not been for the enormous influx of junior doctor’s from countries such as India and Pakistan” (Email 2007)

Whilst Lord Taylor of Harlow was less forgiving in his comments: “they are here to provide hands in the rottenest, worst hospitals in the country because there is no-one else to do it.” (Esmail 2007)

Despite the obvious need of migrant doctors, the reception given to them was not one of welcoming. Esmail (2007), demonstrated through a search of British Medical Journal (BMJ) articles from 1961-1975 what would now be construed as “offensive and racist” language used in numerous letters from British clinicians complaining in regards to the standards of their Indian colleagues medical training, their language abilities and difficulties in understanding the intonation of Indian speech. The reality, as demonstrated by Smith (1980) in an objective assessment of migrant doctors language skills, was that the vast majority of migrant doctors possessed a good grasp of the English language, along with good communications skills, not the inverse, as Esmail illustrated was thought by their British counter-parts. (Esmail 2007, Smith 1980)

The Saviour Pariah Construct

The migrant doctor as a ‘savior’ has already been illustrated by reference to the discussion that occurred in the House of Lords. The idea of the migrant doctor being a pariah has been alluded to and will be further discussed here.

Migrant doctors entering Britain were exempt from the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1968 but were not exempt from its legal ramifications. They were categorised, upon entry, as ‘non-patrials’ otherwise seen as ‘non-British’ a description based solely upon the colour of their skin, irrespective of the degree to which they were committed to their employment within the NHS, one of the ‘great British institutions.’ (Kyriakides 2003)

As reflected in the discussion of the social climate of the time with respect to migrants and employment, employment within the NHS was no different. There may not have been quotas introduced by hard line trade-unionists but there was a disproportionate number of overseas doctors working within the ‘Cinderella services’ of the NHS. (Esmail 2007)

Between 1968-1975 general practitioners (GPs) from overseas accounted for a 78% increase in the number of practicing GPs. The vast majority of these GPs were concentrated in deprived inner city areas or very remote areas, both of which white doctors chose not to work within. (Kyriakides 2003)

It was not exclusively GPs that were allocated less than first preference. Overseas doctors seeking to further their careers in their chosen subjects came across significant difficulties in accessing training opportunities such as rotations within teaching hospitals. This was due to the informal networks developed during training as a student in the locality, the development of an ‘old boys club’ to which entry was impossible without prior exposure, thus creating a vicious cycle of foregone opportunities. Because of this, one survey of hospital medical staff by grade and ethnicity in 1975 showed an incongruous proportion of doctor’s who had been born outside of Britain concentrated in the House Officer and Senior House Officer positions when compared to others. (Snow 2010, Esmail 1993, 1997, Kyriakides 2003)

Overseas doctors were also highly represented in what were seen as the ‘less desirable’ specialties or those which did not appeal to white British doctors such as the predominately social specialties; geriatrics, facilities for the mentally handicapped and mental illness. What have now become Old Age Medicine and Psychiatry. The strong tradition of Indian and Pakistani doctors entering these specialties persists to this day. Is it not an indictment upon British doctors that the most vulnerable individuals in British society were considered too inferior to be treated by Britains own doctors? Smith (1980) also demonstrated that over 60% of Asian doctors settled within a specialty that was not their first choice.

Esmail, controversially argues, that Asian doctors had become ‘indentured labourers’ of the NHS. Much in the same way that Indians were promised better lives by the ruling British powers during the 20th Century if they agreed to migrate to other British colonies, Asian doctors were promised the same. Although Asian doctors were paid adequate wages, unlike their ancestral counterparts, they were not given adequate opportunities for career progression or to obtain further medical qualifications. Smith (1980) illustrated that half of all overseas doctors were disappointed with the experiences they had gained whilst working and studying in Britain. They were ‘indentured labourers’, of a kind. (Esmail 2007, Smith 1980)

The Merrison Committee Report

The Merrison report (Siebert 1977) on the regulation of the medical profession was to end mass migration of Asian doctors. It gave authority to the GMC to remove the right of registration of all Indian graduates. The justification of the GMC for the removal was given as follows;

‘[it] was no longer able to effectively satisfy itself as to the standards of qualifications currently granted in India, although this did not reflect on the standards of earlier years’ (Parkhouse 1979: 92)

The Merrison Committee gave their justification to the GMC as follows;

‘The problem in relation to doctors educated overseas is the extent to which the GMC ought to accept the standards of educational institutions overseas…it must ensure that the overseas doctor has reached a standard of competence which is at least equivalent to that of the minimum standard required for the registration of a doctor trained in the UK’ (Parkhouse 1979: 72)

There was concern from the Merrison Committee as to the standards of overseas doctors and HEIs overseas. However, there was no withdrawal of recognition of European medical schools by the GMC, the withdrawal was solely focused on HEIs within the new Commonwealth; with non-white doctors. The inference that can be drawn from the Merrison Committee’s recommendations, and which Kyriakides makes very eloquently;

‘low standards were a danger to the public, low standards being synonymous with overseas doctors from the new commonwealth…Only those who  practiced in British or European standards would be accepted, all else would provide an inferior quality of service.’ (Kyriakides 2003)

From 1975 onwards all Indian graduates had to complete an assessment of professional and linguistic capacity in order to register temporarily with the GMC, to avoid the perpetuation of ‘low standards’ and ensuring a superior ‘quality of service.’ The justification for the treatment of overseas doctors was based on a report created by a panel on which not one was a member of an BME group, no member had experience in working with overseas doctors and there was no representation given to overseas doctors themselves. (Roy, 1975)

The discrimination that overseas doctors faced was not simply due to the perception that their home universities had ‘low standards’ as a report published by the Commission for Racial Equality in 1987 suggested that British trained doctors from ethnic minority groups had difficulties getting the best jobs. Esmail (1993) sought to confirm this with a prospective study analysing the shortlisting rates of applicants with both European and non-European surnames who had received education in British medical schools and had equivalent qualifications. This showed, at shortlisting there was a two fold bias towards those candidates that had European surnames over those that did not. (Commission for Racial Equality 1987)

What can be inferred from the results of this study and the report is that discrimination by surname took place during the 1980s and 1990s, regardless of the particular HEI you were educated within. ‘Low standards’ had become synonymous with non-white skin, with non-European surnames.

British Born Ethnic Minorities and their Application to Medical School

Without the influx of migrants from the commonwealth during the post war era BME would not be an abbreviation that we use today. Equally, without the establishment of initial migrant communities there would be no ‘second generation’ of which the remainder of this essay will focus on. Britain has been blessed with a multicultural and multi-ethnically diverse society, the latest 2001 Census figures (Office of National Statistics, Census 2001) are shown in the table below;

% of total population
White British
Asian/British Asian
Black/Black British
Mixed Ethnicity

Table 1. Percentage of population within each ethnic group as recorded by the National Census 2001 (Office of National Statistics, Census 2001)

Within both applicants to medical school and medical students there is an over-representation of BME students, the most recent 2008 figures show 36% of applicants and 28% of acceptances were non-white. Why there is such a strong tradition of medical education within BME communities can be observed by the; ‘high esteem for medical careers in particular minority ethnic groups, especially those from Asian backgrounds’ (BMA Equal Opportunities Committee, Equality and diversity in UK medical schools, 2009: 51)

However, this has not always been the case. In 1981, for example, BME applicants occupied 11.2% of the total number. BME applicants have since then steadily increased in number. Prior to 1989 the Universities Central Council on Admissions (UCCA) did not collect data from applications regarding their ethnicity and as such it is difficult to quantitatively analyse any data relevant to BME medical applicants prior to 1989. The collection of data regarding applicants ethnic identity was prompted by an investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality into the admissions procedure at St. George’s Hospital Medical School in 1987 where there was found to be discrimination occurring due to both race and gender. (BMA 2009, MacManus 1995)

The issue of ethnic diversity within medical schools is one that requires addressing as a recent American Medical Association (AMA) study has found that students who attended more ethnically diverse medical schools were better prepared to meet the needs of an ethnically diverse population. (Saha 2008)

The purpose of the latter section of this essay is to address the current treatment of BME applicants to medicine and their subsequent progression through medical school. Discrimination in regards to race is illegal and has been since 1976 saw the introduction of the Race Relations Act. This was extended in 2000, becoming the Race Relations Amendment Act which placed a statutory duty on all public service organisations to promote equality of opportunity and elimination of racial discrimination. The Act was introduced in the wake of the MacPherson Report (1999), highlighting institutional racism within the Metropolitan Police resulting in the failure to prosecute the killers of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager murdered in a racist attack. Institutional racism has no place in British society or the NHS. (Esmail 2006, Lea 2000)

Before an analysis of the application process to medicine is made in respect to BME students it is sensible to take a brief look at the selection criteria used to differentiate between candidates. There are 23 medical schools within the UK with an average ratio of 1:7 in terms of applicants to offers. As medicine is an oversubscribed course some measures have to be taken in order to reduce the pool of applicants. This occurs by two main mechanisms; short listing, usually by the appraisal of the UCAS (universities and central admissions service) application form for either academic or non-academic attributes or both, and via the interview process. (Parry 2006)

The academic attributes that are sought via the UCAS application are usually either obtained or predicted a-level results (or equivalent Scottish highers/ international baccalaureate). The non-academic criteria sought via the UCAS application in 21 of 23 schools are; evidence of motivation for the study of medicine, team working, leadership skills and evidence of extracurricular activities. These criteria are then used to short-list candidates. Short listing of candidates is perhaps the most brutal of decisions as this admissions tutor writes;

‘the problem was excluding people from interview…because they were all so good…it’s terribly difficult and quite unfair…people would joke we should throw them all up in the air and the first 40 you pick for interview, it would have been just as fair.’ (Parry 2006)

The short listing process is followed by interviews; usually by a panel of both academic and clinical members of staff of varying number but always between two and five. The panelists are usually trained in how to adequately appraise potential students and comprised of both male, female and ethnic minority panelists. Questions which are asked at interview are a combination of both predetermined (from a bank) and interviewer-led in the vast majority of schools. The duration of interviews varied between 15-45 minutes, the majority however, are 15-20 minutes long. (Parry 2006)

Selection of students is a controversial topic and therefore requires the utmost transparency. The first study into the selection of medical students was conducted by Collier and Burke in 1986. As has already been noted the UCCA did not collect statistics on the ethnicity of applicants to university prior to 1989 and as such the data used in the study was collated from the surnames of final year examinations students during the summer of 1982, 1983 and 1984. Judgement on the ethnicity of the candidate was based on the nature of their surname; either European or non-European. Below is an adaptation of the original tabled produced outlining the percentage of non-European candidates within each London medical school.

Medical School
June 1982 (%)
June 1983 (%)
June 1984 (%)
Mean (%)
Guy’s & St. Thomas
St Mary’s
University College
St. George’s
Royal Free

Table 2. Percentage of non-European students taking final exams in London medical schools.

As outlined in the table above Westminster medical school had a mean of 5% of non-European students taking final exams whilst The Royal Free had a mean of 16% across the three years studied. It is acceptable for there to be differences within each individual school as to the year on year percentage of non-European students but what is not acceptable and difficult to account for is the statistically significant difference between each medical school in the number of non-European students. Furthermore, the inter-school differences should not remain consistent year-on-year. The data collected by Collier and Burke was the first to illustrate racial discrimination within the admissions process to British medical schools. In their own words;

‘Our evidence suggests that the admissions arrangements at some of the London medical schools have failed to provide the equal opportunities defined by the race relations act.’

The first in-depth look at selection of BME applicants to medical school was facilitated by the release of data collected by the UCCA in regards to applicants ethnicity in 1989. It was conducted by McManus and analysed data from applicants to medical school in 1990. The results of this study showed that BME applicants were less likely to be accepted, partly due to lower educational qualifications and partly due to late application. However, even when these elements were controlled for BME applicants were still 1.46 times less likely than their white counter-parts to gain a place at medical school. The greatest cause of disadvantage itself was not ethnic origin but having a non-European surname. This implied that in the short listing process there was an inherent bias towards European surnames. (McManus 1995)

McManus undertook the same study in 1996/7 with a more detailed data set and was able to draw specific conclusions in regards to each university and the rates of acceptance of BME applicants. Below is an adaptation of the the data he produced. (McManus 1998)

As can be seen from the above table only 9 of all the medical schools within the uk were statistically shown not to have disadvantaged a BME applicant. The difference between discrimination (as an active consequence of racism) and disadvantage needs to be considered thoroughly, with a robust definition of racism in place. The definition given by the Commission for Racial Equality surrounds attitudes towards BME people with other definitions centring around racism as an ideology. McManus asks the question; can the obvious disadvantage experienced by BME applicants be due to racism?

To answer this question a global view of BME doctors history within the NHS has to be taken into account. McManus rightly concludes that from statistical analysis of the numbers of BME students entering the profession in ’96 and ’97 a link can not be drawn between disadvantage and discrimination. However, when other literature such as that which has been discussed in this essay is considered a more sinister picture may be drawn from the treatment of BME students by individual medical schools.

British Born Ethnic Minorites and their Performance in Undergraduate and Postgraduate Exams

In the summer of 1994 ten medical students at the University of Manchester failed the clinical but not the written element of their final exams. All were male and all had Asian surnames. This prompted various analysis into the performance of BME medical students both in undergraduate and postgraduate exams within the University of Manchester itself and across all medical schools in the UK.

Wass (2003) published one of the first in depth quantitative and qualitative studies into BME performance in undergraduate examinations. The study group was the cohort of a London medical school (n=179) sitting their final exams in 1999. The results of the study were perhaps the most interesting published so far due to the inclusion of a qualitative analysis in addition to the usual quantitative number crunching.

The study revealed differences in the mean performance of BME students in the communication stations of their observed structured clinical examinations (OSCE’s) when compared to their white colleagues. There were no overt breakdowns of communication or discriminatory comments as witnessed by video recording of each interaction, but there were two subtle differences between the communication styles of BME students and white students. (Wass 2003)

BME students were more likely to adopt a medical model of communication, distancing themselves from the patient, whereas the model of communication favoured by OSCE examiners is a social or patient centred one, in which the patient and student are required to ‘work together’ in order to come to a join conclusion. There are a variety of reasons why BME students may be more likely to adopt this method of communication. Primary socialisation naturally occurs differently in different communities and as such the communication styles of each community are assimilated by the student concerned. Communication styles also naturally differ between communities with what some consider to be impolite others considering to be normal discourse. The quote below illustrates this. (Wass 2003)

‘Our culture is different. In India we don’t use the words like ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ in our day-to-day language. They are formal words…In 1982, I was told by a senior nurse that I was rude, and I was shocked!’ Umesh Prabhu, Consultant Paediatrician Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust (Snow 2010: 77)

Socialisation within the medical school itself is also an important factor in the generation of an appropriate rapport with patients. Professional communication is quite different to the communication that is used day-to-day between friends and family therefore immersion within the professional environment is necessary to foster an appropriate dialogue between patients. (Wass 2003)

Due to the qualitative nature of the study Wass revealed an interesting nuance in the examiners marking styles when compared to that of the simulated patient (SP) in communication scenario’s. There were several instances where examiners awarded top marks but BME SPs awarded lower marks, with the students concerned tending to use a communication style in which explicit guidance was deferred; there was more ‘talk about talk.’ This observation fits with the use of the medical model of consultation employed more regularly by BME students, which is rated more highly by some SPs from ethnic minorities. (Wass 2003)

Other quantitative analysis of BME students performance in undergraduate exams have been conducted, all showing BME students performing less well than white peers. However, Wass conducted the only study that attempted to address the reasons why there was a deficit in the examination results of BME students. (Haq 2005, Woolf 2007, McManus 2008)


The post-war period of British history is one that can be looked upon with great shame in relation to the treatmement of BME communities. Despite victory over Nazi Germany and the anti-semitism associated with it British people entered into a dialouge of distain with the migrant workers that emmigrated to Britain due to the creation of the Nationality Act 1948. This very same law was created to save Britain from the drastic labour shortage threatening to engulf it, yet there was no compassion from the host community. (Snow, 2010)

Within the medical profession this is best surmised as the ‘savior/pariah construct.’ Without doctors with dark skin, with non-european surnames, to staff the ‘rottenest, worst hospitals in our country’ ‘the NHS would have collapsed.’ Yet in the same breath the BMA during the 1960s and 1970s was berrating doctors from the Indian subcontinent, accusing them of ‘low standards’ and poor communication skills, the later of which, was proved to be untrue in the vast majority. Eventually, the BMA through the GMC succeeded in withdrawing registration rights to all medical schools within the Indian-subcontinent to protect ‘members of the public’ against the ‘low standards’ that had now become associated not just with the country from which the doctor graduated but with the colour of thier skin and with thier surname. (Esmail 2007, 1993, 1997, 1996, Kyriakides 2003)

The Collier & Burke study confirmed that there was statistically significant discrimination due to ethnicity occuring within London medical schools during the early 1980s. The discrimination that overseas doctors had faced within the medical profession had been passed down a generation to those educated and most likely born within the UK; not only had ‘low standards’ been assimilated into the perception of a dark skinned doctor but the very same ‘low standards’ were preventing BME people from even entering the medical profession. (Collier & Burke 1986, Kyriakides 2003)

Despite current over-proportional representation of BME students in medical school cohorts white students with equivilent grades are still more likely to be accepted than thier BME counterparts. Studies have shown that this bias may be due to surname alone causing indirect discrimination during the short listing process but anonymisation of UCAS application forms has not been shown to be effective in eliminating this bias. (McManus 1998, BMA 2009)

Within medical school BME males in particular have been shown to under perform in clinical examinations. This may be due to intrisic inter-community differences in communication style as no obvious bias is present during OSCEs. (Wass 2003)

With the commissioning of the MacPherson report and the subsequent introduction of the Race Relations Ammendment Act 2000 it is clear in that no organisation whether public or private should be privy to institutionalised racism, nor should they allow the priority of equal opportunities to be lost. (Lea 2000)

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Haq, I et al (2005). Effect of ethnicity and gender on performance in undergraduate medical examinations. Medical Education; 39: 1126-1128
Jan-Khan, M (2003). The right to riot? Community Development Journal 2003; 38: 32-42
Kyriakides, C (2003). Migrant labour, racism and the British National Health Service. Ethnicity & Health; 8:4 283-305
Lea, J (2000). The Macpherson report and the question of institutional racism. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice; 39:3 219-233
McManus, I C et al (1984). Audit of admission to medical school: I – Acceptances and rejects. British Medical Journal; 289: 1201-4
McManus, I C (1995). Medical school applicants from ethnic minority groups: identifying if and when they are disadvantaged. British Medical Journal; 310: 496-500
McManus, I C (1998). Factors affecting likelihood of applicants being offered a place in medical schools in the United Kingdom in 1996 and 1997: retrospective study. British Medical Journal; 317: 1111–7
McManus, I C et al (2008). The educational background and qualifications of UK medical students from ethnic minorities. Bio Med Central Medical Education 2008; 8: 21
Office for National Statistics (2003) Census 2001
Parry, J et al (2006). Admissions processes for five year medical courses at English schools: review. British Medical Journal, doi:10.1136/bmj.38768.590174.55
Roy, S (1975). Merrison report and overseas doctors. British Medical Journal; 4(5996): 579-580
Saha, S et al (2008). Student body racial and ethnic compostion and diversity-related outcomes in US medical schools. Journal of the American Medical Association; 300: 1135-45
Siebert, S (1977). Occupational Licensing: The Merrsion Report on the regulation of the medical profession. British Journal of Industrial Relations; 15;1: 29-38
Simpson, J et al (2010). Writing migrants back into NHS history: addressing a ‘collective amnesia’ and its policy implications. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine; 103: 329-396
Smith, R (1987) Prejudice against doctors and students from ethnic minorities. British Medical Journal; 303: 297-99
Snow, S & Jones, E (2010). Against the odds: Black and Minority Ethnic Clinicians and Manchester, 1948 to 2009. Manchester: Manchester Primary Care Trust.
Wass, V et al (2003). Effect of ethnicity on performance in a final objective structured clinical examination; qualitative and quantitative study. British Medical Journal; 326: 800-3


Islamophobia & Anti-Semitism: Of The Same Ilk

Because there is a genuine fear of an Islamist attack we don’t admonish flippant Islamophobia. History should teach us that such views should not be blindly accepted.



[dropcap]M[/dropcap]uch has been written about the rise of the far right in Europe. However, this political backlash hasn’t come out of nowhere; like all ideologies it’s a product of timing and situations.

Anders Breivik’s massacre of 77 innocent people in Norway last July has been universally condemned. However, the politics of anti-immigration and Islamophobia behind it have not. Whether you read The Guardian, The Times or the Red Tops, the comments were the same; “I don’t agree with what he did but I can see where this guy’s coming from”, “We need to put a stop to all immigration from Muslim nations” etc. The last decade has seen the rise of what can almost be defined as flippant Islamophobia. Citizens don’t necessarily fear their friendly neighbour who happens to also be Muslim but the idea of a faceless other, a convenient scapegoat.

Terrorist attacks marred the early 00s. Then came economic turmoil. The current economic climate has destabilized what many had taken to be a given. In an era of uncertainty two seemingly separate ideas can quickly become merged. As such, the fear of the other taking what you feel was once yours has caused an entire population, religion, or creed to feel disenfranchised. Parties have been quick to harness this growing resentment; whether it be the True Finns party gaining power, Geert Wilders calling for the Quran to be banned or Nick Griffin changing the BNP stance from anti-black to anti-Muslim. It’s not only fringe politicians but mainstream politicians who have discussed the so-called incompatibility of Islamic values with those of Europe or the West and the failures of multiculturalism, be that Sarkozy pandering to the far-right vote in France or Cameron’s immigration policies. As such, we have seen a trickling of far-right Islamophobic policies into more central/central-right politics.

We rightly look back on the atrocities of the Nazi regime aghast, however we continue to forget that the racist agenda of the Nazi party was rooted in systemic anti-Semitic beliefs throughout Europe at the time.  These beliefs were used as a force to unify far-right parties across Europe, whether it be in the UK, Italy or France. Philosophers wrote extensively concerning the threat of Judaism and casual anti-Semitic remarks were not unheard of, especially with regard to increased immigration to the UK. The inflation and unemployment that followed the economic turmoil of the 1920s was blamed on a Jewish conspiracy. Then as now, citizens didn’t necessarily fear those they knew, but the idea of a faceless other.

The Home Office sees just as much a threat from Irish terrorism as it does from global or Islamist, and yet we don’t fear Irish citizens. Nor is there such casual racism towards the Irish as there was in the 60s. Allegations of racism towards young black men by the Met have caused outrage, whether that racism is endemic or not. Issues of racism towards those who have historically been victimized are now more likely to be called to account. But having a vocally anti-Islamic stance or anti-Immigration stance has become almost accepted. The mistake being made is that we tarnish all those who practice a certain religion with a minuscule minority of political Islamists. And because there is a genuine fear of a politically motivated Islamist attack we don’t admonish flippant Islamophobia. History should teach us that comments like those found on the articles in last week’s papers should be something we should question, not blindly accept.

Violence In Karachi

Ongoing violence in Karachi has its roots in numerous issues, the NATO presence in Afghanistan being one that is often disregarded.



[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ccording to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 300 people (more than this by now) have been killed already this year in the port city of Karachi, Pakistan’s economic hub and the provincial capital of Sindh. The organisation also states that more than 1,700 people were killed in similar violence that persisted over the course of last year. It’s hard to put a finger on where the original root of the turbulence lies. Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik has claimed, more than once, that these killings have been predominantly “personal enmity” cases, but that hardly needs great effort to refute: the statistics alone do that well enough. Pakistani journalist Mehreen Kasana describes the situation as a “a brutal amalgamation of factors”: a marriage of the violent rivalries of ethnolinguistic groups (like the Urdu-speaking muhajjir population and the Pashtuns) and the persistent contentions among the political parties representing them, and includes as well the powerful influences of corruption, extortion and gangs, many of whom have developed cosy relationships with politicians. Targeted killings are running unchecked, often, as Kasana pointed out, made worse by the deployment of Rangers, whom she calls “notorious for killing unarmed civilians.”

The persistent violence sometimes closes down the city, as it did for a period of six straight days a few weeks ago. Ateeq Bir, the head of the Karachi Markets Alliance, told AFP that those six days lost Karachi’s traders $220m and the industrialists $495m. Karachi is responsible for such an outsized share of the overall Pakistani economy – 42 percent of the GDP – that this is a serious problem for the whole country.

The political parties receive most of the blame from citizens over the current bloodshed. A recent poll carried out by Gallup Pakistan found that 46 percent of respondents blamed the parties for the targeted killings (followed by 30 percent who laid blame on intelligence agencies both foreign and domestic and 13 percent who pointed the finger at the land mafia).

This blame is reflected in public and media discussion of the violence. Recent statements made by President Zardari at a meeting of the allied parties called for them to come together in response to the multi-layered problems of violence, extortion and cyclical retribution in Karachi. In a more directly accusatory vein, an editorial in Pakistan’s Express Tribune on April 1st angrily challenged all parties over their actions:

“Partisans on all sides easily point to their opponents and blame them for the violence. But everyone is equally culpable. What started with the murder of one political worker, quickly spiralled out of control because the political parties decided that is the way they want to operate in Karachi. It is time we realised that the politics of revenge dominates in the city and we should deny our vote to all the political parties that have contributed to it.”

The parties, which rift across ethnic as well as partisan lines, trade barbs and challenges back and forth, and create a political atmosphere that lends itself well to retributions and escalations. Protest strikes called by the parties in anger over killings are part of what brings the city to a standstill, and what perpetuates retaliatory violence. Back in June Pakistani journalist Shaheryar Mirza wrote that “Politics in Karachi is a war of demographics, and ethnic capital is its most potent weapon”. The Awami National Party (ANP), which represents the Pashto-speaking population, claimed a set of fresh killings were all of ANP supporters and killings of activist members Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

These political parties, which also include the Pakistan People’s Party (most known outside of Pakistan for its association with the slain Benazir Bhutto), have also been blamed for the continuation of extortion in Sindh’s capital, for either using it to their own advantage or allowing it to continue unaddressed. The bhatta mafia, Karachi’s extortionists, who have been reported to demand anywhere from 25,000 to 200,000 Pakistani rupees (from roughly £175 to £1300) in bribes from shop owners on a monthly basis, have been another cause of market closures. In January, members of the bhatta mafia even opened fire on traders, contributing directly to the ongoing violence. This has been further cause for contention in party politics. In mid-March, inside the Sindh Assembly, MQM staged a loud protest over the fate of businesses and their owners at the hands of extortionists, making quite a scene and increasing tensions with their coalition partner, the Pakistan People’s Party., which represents the Urdu-speaking population known as the muhajjir population, have occurred in recent days as well. This is all a recipe for further retaliation.

We should not just look inside Pakistan for answers to why this violence continues. NATO’s Afghan war has its own role to play in the ongoing turbulence, one I talked about in an article for AlterNet this past fall. This is a role that is rarely openly identified as a culprit, but the foreign presence in Afghanistan and their efforts to effectively respond to dug-in insurgency and militancy has been a destabilizing element of Karachi’s political atmosphere since the eighties, when it was the Soviet tanks and not the NATO drones that were the enemy of the mujahideen. Now, the war pushes drugs and illicit weapons and even militants themselves downwards from eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan’s northwest, heightening both the sense of threat felt by the Urdu muhajjir group by a growing Pashtun population and the availability of weapons for gangs.

This ongoing violence, a violence that has been taking lives and stifling the economy of the biggest city in a country the West considers so important, receives small attention in the wider international press. It simply doesn’t fit the typical narratives about Pakistan – so geopolitically crucial and yet seen as so burdensome to NATO’s South Asian hopes. The discussion of internal corruption, gang violence, and the harmful ripple effects of the Afghan war on the lives of Karachi’s citizens is not a discussion that Western policy narratives want to include, because they don’t fit a less complicated image of a Pakistan in which militancy is the dominant destabilising force. Karachi isn’t the only evidence of this: regular violence in Pakistan’s rural areas, conflict between nationalists and the government as well as sectarian rifting in the province of Balochistan, and the crisis of flood victims left without aid have all been pushed to the edges of consideration. What is happening now in Karachi is only one of the missing pieces in an authentic narrative about Pakistan’s contemporary political dynamic.

Revolutionary Rappers

The time is now for more musicians, especially rappers, to create influential positive music.



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he riots last summer were organised on smart phones, whilst trainers and TVs were the priority of brigands. These people were not famished peasants fighting for emancipation; the majority were teenagers who are incessantly surrounded by a materialistic consumer culture telling them apple products are survival of the fittest’s greatest necessity. If anything, perhaps in some sense they can most ironically be linked with the bourgeoisie, who were associated with materialism and hedonism.

Media in this country is unquestionably detrimental and the riots were wholly symbolic of this. As an eighteen year old myself I can tell you that it is not just young peoples impressionability to direct commercialism, it is their obsession with a music culture that explicitly advertises a superficial lifestyle lined with Rolex watches and ‘bitches’.

The purpose here however is not to uphold the existing arguments that rap music is a cause of youth violence, but instead I argue it should be used to have a positive influence rather than heavily glamorising shallow livelihoods. It is about time lyrics about ‘bread’ were replaced by a new breed of artists work which has successfully brought to the table a revolutionary way for young minds to connect with real issues. Plan B, Lowkey and Murkage are just a few of British artists to have produced an accessible medium for young people to understand their important messages on current affairs and tyrannical politics. Lowkey’s song Revolution for instance embodies this argument in his lyrics:

If all you rap about is the hoes and the doe,
It’s already too late, you sold ’em your soul,
You jokers act like you know but you don’t,
‘Cause there’s little kids dying all over the globe.

After running a campaign called Where’s Our Vote? which focused on getting the voting age lowered to sixteen, the biggest challenge was combating the argument that it would be a wasted vote because young people simply are not interested in politics. Many youth are undeniably apathetic because of the lack of effective political education, or more often no political education at all.

Change however does not need to come from above, proven by Plan B who attended a pupil referral unit after being kicked out of school, but is now using his music to work towards helping individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. His most recent album Ill Manors explicitly demonstrates his will to improve the lives of these young people who are constantly subject to negative stereotypes, and through doing this Plan B has unquestionably become a chief example of how music should and can inspire change, admitting that ‘as an artist I’m trying to convey a message, really get under people’s skin’.  Artists such as these are ingenious because rap music is a popular music genre amongst young people, and their work therefore is an extremely effective way of educating youth on subjects they may typically dismiss.

So I would like to send a message to current or potential rappers: quit rapping about money, weed and ladies’ genitals, because all of those things simply feed the vicious hood life cycle that you may have worked hard to escape. You need to start using your musical talent and success to help young people learn about things that really matter in the world. It is about time your kin unsubscribed from the hood, so start spitting bars for the greater good.

The time is now for more musicians to create influential positive music, not just for the benefit of young people but for everybody. Like Lowkey and Plan B, use your music to help revolutionise the troubles of today because after all, YOLO!


Editor’s note: Check out Murkage, an up-and-coming politicized group of Manchester based MCs. Their EP, ‘Default Sovereign’, can be downloaded here.

The Effects Of A Nuclear Iran

With reference to Israel’s nuclear strategy, would a nuclear-armed Iran spur proliferation among Arab states, strengthen Hamas and Hezbollah and disrupt oil shipping?
{Department of War Studies, King’s College London}



[dropcap]H[/dropcap]aving deposed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from its throne, the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme currently occupies the prized position as the mainstay of Middle Eastern debate. Intransigence and fiery rhetoric has gained Iran few friends, numerous enemies, and left the international community playing a guessing game as to how the conflict will evolve. There are few moments of clarity within this subject area. One, however, is the indubitable fact that the regime is pursuing the development of a weaponized nuclear capability. The IAEA revealed in May of last year that Tehran has been working on the construction of a nuclear detonator, a project that has absolutely no civilian purpose; its only use is in the detonation of a nuclear warhead.1

Thus this paper will initially question why Iran wishes to develop a nuclear weapon (NW), proceeding to analyse Israeli nuclear strategy and pre-emptively assaulting the question by declaring its non-viability: I argue that Iran categorically will not acquire a NW in the foreseeable future. As such, all latter arguments come with the caveat that they are inherently speculative and capricious. I argue that should Iran ‘go nuclear’ proliferation in the region is preventable, that a nuclear-armed Iran would be unlikely to assail oil shipping and I provide various differing situations, policy-recommendations and predictions regarding a nuclear Iran’s relationships with regional non-state actors.

Iranian Nuclear Desire: Why?

This section will analyse Iranian nuclear desire through the prism of Sagan’s three theories of nuclear proliferation: security considerations, domestic considerations and international norms. Resultantly corroborating the view that “nuclear proliferation cannot be explained by a single causal model”.2

Security Considerations

Iranian desire for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) was born following the Iran-Iraq War, Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani explaining: “it was made very clear during the war that [WMDs] are decisive… . We should fully equip ourselves both in the offensive and defensive use of [these] weapons”.3 Fear of Iraq metamorphosed into a fear of the United States following its interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the declarations of intent for regime-change in Iran by the Bush administration augmenting “long-standing concerns about American intentions”.4

The view that “there is no way to deter the United States other than by having nuclear weapons” has been corroborated by the case of North Korea.5 The East Asian country has tested its NWs on more that one occasion and continues to provoke the powers that be;6 Iraq on the other hand did not have a nuclear ability and suffered the consequences. The lesson to be learned is apparent: the acquisition of nuclear weapons prevents American military intervention.7 Thus, given the plethora of American military forces in the region, when viewing Iran’s situation through a security prism desire for NWs is understandable.

Domestic Considerations

Irrespective of whether a NW serves the security of the state, such a programme is “likely to serve the parochial bureaucratic or political interests of at least some individual actors within the state”.8 Sagan outlines three groups that could stand to benefit from proliferation: (i) the nuclear energy establishment; (ii) the military (or an element within it), and; (iii) politicians presiding over a populace desiring nuclear capability.9

The evolution of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) into a “socio-military-political-economic force” with influence stretching far and wide within the Islamic Republic has, according to some analysts, afforded the entity greater control over Tehran than the Supreme Leader.10 With clout in the nuclear establishment, influence in the military and significant control over the political system (former Guard commanders hold positions in the Supreme National Council, the Expediency Council, and of course the current President),11 its desire for nuclear capability is undoubtedly a driving force within Iran. Additionally, polls suggest that 7 out of every 10 Iranians (both pro- and anti-government) support the nuclear programme, thus providing political incentives for politicians.12 Consequently domestic theory provides further answers to comprehending Iranian nuclear ambition.

International Norms

The last of Sagan’s theories argues that proliferation may not be determined by “leaders’ cold calculations about the national security interests [nor] their parochial bureaucratic interests, but rather by deeper norms and shared beliefs about what actions are legitimate and appropriate in international relations”.13 Examples given are the establishment of Air Malawi, Royal Nepal Airlines and Air Myanmar. None were founded to develop transport infrastructure within their respective countries, more because national leaders “believed that a national airline is something that modern states have to have to be modern states”.14

Iran is a proud country that often proffers its vision of itself as a regional power with aspirations to become a world leader. Due to the fact that the first five nuclear states hold positions of great power in international diplomacy (permanent seats in the United Nations Security Council), is it any wonder that a country with a vision such as Iran’s seeks to develop attributes that would allow it to achieve a status on par with its desires?

The Begin Doctrine

Menachem Begin’s famous words have long been adopted as the underlying doctrine behind Israeli policy towards neighbouring countries’ WMD manufacturing: “on no account shall we permit an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against the people of Israel”. The dictum has been altered by later Israeli statesmen, including Ariel Sharon: “Israel cannot afford the introduction of the nuclear weapon… . We shall therefore have to prevent such a threat at its inception”.15 Such iteration has given birth to common sentiment that Israel will assault any proximate nation that seeks to develop a NW, building on the Begin Doctrine which referred more generally to any form of WMD. A cursory glance at Middle Eastern nuclear proliferation attempts and Israeli reactions demonstrates that Israel has not always held true to such an axiom.

Shlomo Brom provides various instances showing the lack of Israeli action pursuant to the more general Begin Doctrine: Egyptian chemical and biological weapons development in the late 1950s; Syrian chemical weapons programmes after the Yom Kippur War, and; construction of an Iraqi chemical plant in the early 1980s.16 Brom proceeds to remind the reader that Baghdad restarted its nuclear program after the bombing of the Osirak reactor in 1982 inducing no further military action from Jerusalem. Similarly, after Operation Desert Storm and the revelation that Iraq was again attempting proliferation, Israel opted to coerce European countries into preventing the supply of materials necessary for such a program to reach realisation rather that performing additional strikes.17 The decision to utilize solely diplomatic overtures was most likely due to the difficulties involved in striking the post-Osirak Iraqi programmes. Saddam Hussein learned the lesson, one that Iran has clearly taken note of, that the dispersal of critical sites is imperative.18 By spreading his nuclear program thinly across Iraq, Hussein distinctly limited Israel’s ability to undertake pre-emptive aerial strikes against such facilities. The effortless destruction of Syria’s sole nuclear reactor at al-Kibar is a secondary case in point as to the importance of such a strategy.

This, however, does not lead to the extrapolation that Israel will not attempt to incapacitate Iran’s nuclear programme through military means should current diplomatic efforts fail. It is beneficial to allow diplomacy to see as much sunlight as possible before being shelved (owing to the difficulties in assailing Iran), but this route is only viable for Israel until Iran nears breakout capability. Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in which he evoked memories of the holocaust as reasoning to destroy Iranian nuclear ambition, is one of many examples of Israeli dictum stating the intention to prevent an Iranian bomb whatever the cost.19 President Obama’s speech at the event similarly reiterated that his policy is to “prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” and that he would “not hesitate to use force… to defend the United States and its interests”;20 the last three successive American presidents have vocalised similar ultimatums.21

We will not see an Iranian NW unless we see radical regime change (excuse the pun) in Tehran and the emergence of a government that is able to rebuild relations with Jerusalem. Even with such an implausible scenario manifesting, it remains highly unlikely that a Western-friendly Tehran would be permitted to construct this most dangerous of weapons. Thus, to all extents and purposes, the remainder of this paper deals with purely speculative analysis on issues that are unlikely to ever come to fruition. As Fiore notes, “given the security culture in the country, no Israeli decision-maker can risk allowing a bitter ideological enemy to acquire enemy weapons”.22 There will be no nuclear-armed Iran in the near future.

A Nuclear Iran and Proliferation

It has been argued that the Israeli fear of a nuclear Iran is more due to the resultant threat of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East than an Iranian NW per se.23 The revolutions that have swept across the region over the year or so will conceivably lead to greater control of Arab foreign policy by the Arab street, thus animosity towards Israel will appear in future decision-making. Israeli apprehension is born out of the theory that an Iranian NW will, by way of the security concept mentioned previously, lead to proliferation in the region. Combine greater regional acrimony toward the Jewish state with an Arab nuclear capability and Israeli fears are comprehensible.

As Kenneth Waltz has argued, history demonstrates that the cascade concept (a state will rapidly construct NWs to counter strategic imbalance created by a hostile neighbour’s nuclear arming) is flawed. His argument is further consolidated by virtue of the fact that the fear of rapid nuclear proliferation has been vociferously audible in Western media almost every year since the 1960s, yet the world possesses only nine nuclear powers.24 Leaving this convincing argument to one side, would a nuclear Iran provoke proliferation in the Middle East?

Sagan’s aforementioned three theories assume that a state has the ability and the opportunity to develop a weapon.25 By inserting such a caveat we can eliminate numerous states from this predictive analysis of proliferation in the region. Whilst existing nuclear powers (China and Pakistan for example) may be willing to suffer international condemnation for the provision of nuclear technology to a strong regional player (perhaps Saudi Arabia) in return for the “strategic prize of security ties”, they are highly unlikely to do so for minor actors (Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait etc.) – irrespective of the ability of such states to pay over-the-odds for the technology.26 It is highly unlikely that such states would be able to proceed with a NW program as a result of this. Furthermore, it is doubtful that these smaller states would risk alienating their American or Saudi security backers by developing a NW given that such powers “are the cornerstones for ensuring their autonomies from the larger states of Iraq and Iran”.27 Such stumbling blocks would likely lead to these states further cultivating their security relationships with the United States.28

Saudi Arabia, whilst currently lacking the technical infrastructure to develop a weapon,29 is the most likely to respond to an Iranian weapon with one of its own. Saudi fears of future American intervention and mistrust of Israel combined with the threat of an increasingly Iranian dominated Gulf region would likely result in the logic that a NW would offset such perils.30 The former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal iterated last December that “it is our duty towards our nation and people to consider all possible options, including possession of [nuclear] weapons”, a statement that goes some way to substantiating this argument.31 The ability and opportunity clauses are satisfied owing to Saudi financial reserves and the long-standing defence ties between the Kingdom and nuclear-armed Pakistan.32 But such an eventuality is containable through the prevention of Pakistani assistance, American guarantees of non-intervention in the Arab country, provision of conventional arms to mitigate increased Iranian influence and a guarantee of American nuclear deterrence against Tehran.33

Turkey is one of a handful of countries that have recently communicated their intention to commence a nuclear program, a progression that has been interpreted by some analysts as a “hedge against a nuclear-armed Iran”, presumably their first steps towards developing a weapon.34 Such an interpretation can be refuted not only due to Ankara’s warming relations with Tehran and disaffection with American and European sanctions against the Islamic Republic, but furthermore owing to Turkey’s long history of participation in non-proliferation efforts.35 The Anatolian country joined NATO within a few years of its creation and has hosted nuclear weapons under America’s umbrella for some time. Thus it seems improbable that Turkey would feel the need to proliferate following the advent of an Iranian weapon.

Predicting eventual political make-up and direction of both Egypt and Syria falls outside the scope of this paper, though such analysis is paramount to anticipating the potential for proliferation. It is widely assumed that Assad will eventually succumb to the opposition movement in Syria, though envisioning how the rebels will behave vis a vis Assad’s allies in Tehran or the United States is problematic (with evident repercussions as to their potential pursuit of NWs).36 What is clear, however, is that Israel would not permit a Syrian weapon. As the strike on al-Kibar in 2007 demonstrated, Israeli Air Force (IAF) action against Syria is not constrained by the impracticalities of an attack on Iran. Syrian anti-aircraft weaponry and its air force are military relics of eras gone by, and, unlike Iran, the distances involved in an aerial strike are easily surmountable. Furthermore, Syrian infrastructure relating to a nuclear program is negligible and “bar significant infusions of external assistance”, unlikely to be realised.37 It is doubtful that a future Syrian government’s cost-benefit analysis would negate to take account of such points.

With similar caveats for Egyptian predictions, whilst the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) retain influence within the Republic proliferation is unlikely. The United States could deduct the “estimated budget of any suspect research and development program” from American military and economic aid to Egypt.38 Such a development would reduce the SCAFs power given their use of the $1.3 billion p/a aid to shore up support for their political presence.39 Owing to current political dilemmas it is improbable that such an occurrence would be welcomed.

In summation, whilst nuclear proliferation in the region following Iranian nuclear attainment poses a real threat in the case of Saudi Arabia, the remaining major regional players are unlikely to initiate a NWs programme. Noticeably absent from this analysis is Iraq, owing to this author’s belief that given the current pro-Iranian government and continued American influence proliferation seems unlikely – though it is recognised that this may change in the future. An American nuclear umbrella, the provision of conventional arms and a strictly enforced prohibition on the transfer of nuclear technology would diminish prospects of proliferation dramatically throughout the region.

Non-State Actors

The effects of an Iranian bomb on non-state actors can be dichotomised as follows: (1a) Iran provides a terrorist organization with a nuclear weapon; (1b) an Iranian weapon is stolen by a militant group; (2a) an Iranian bomb would provoke unsanctioned aggression from Hamas and Hezbollah (the proxies as belligerents), and; (2b) Iran would sanction aggression by these proxies (Iran as the belligerent).

Nuclear Provision & Theft

At the recent AIPAC conference, President Obama aired the fear “that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization”.40 This could occur in two situations: either Iran provides a nuclear weapon to a militant group or such a group steals an Iranian weapon. The former is highly unlikely.41 Since 1979 Iran has, for the most part, employed a coherent, rational foreign policy;42 the provision of nuclear weapons to proxies that it does not possess full control over is not an action undertaken by any rational pragmatist. Iran would be held responsible for any resultant detonation and thus would be subject to the full retaliation of the United States and its allies.43

The latter, given that Tehran may not implement sufficient safeguards to prevent unintended detonation or theft,44 is of greater concern. However, in the eventuality of an Iranian weapon, would this not provide a suitable opportunity to reintegrate Iran into the international fold? If the West were to provide assistance in securitising the Iranian nuclear program, economic benefits aside, the construction of links between the pariah state and the West would be wholesome for all involved.

Hamas & Hezbollah

Fiore argues that Hamas and Hezbollah “might take the nuclear umbrella for granted and be more inclined to escalate minor conflicts with or without encouragement from Tehran”,45 an argument that is supported elsewhere.46 There have been conflicting messages originating from the Palestinian group regarding their response to a pre-emptive strike on Iran, but how would the two groups act should Iran cross the nuclear threshold?47

In the event that aggression was not sanctioned by Tehran, aggressive posturing by Hamas and Hezbollah would likely facilitate a destructive Israeli response. We can draw a parallel with the intifadas: Arab pacifism in the First Intifada limited the potency of the IDF; violence in the Second permitted the IDF to utilize its distinct military superiority. Iran would likely be reluctant to intervene in such a scenario as to do so would result in all-out war with Israel.48 That leads us to question whether Iran would galvanize the two organizations into action, a consideration that would ultimately prove or disprove Waltz’s theory that nuclear states act responsibly. It is unclear whether Iran would undertake such action, however it should be noted that if Assad were to fall the current supply-line would cease to exist,49 therefore the most feasible solution to supplying Hamas and Hezbollah would be through Iranian use of the Suez Canal (the precedent of which has been recently set).50 Whether Israel would allow such a transfer to take place is arguable, though the Jewish state has acted in the past (the Karine A affair) to stop similar actions in international waters.51 The Iranian backlash to Israeli action on this front is equally unpredictable.

To conclude this section, it is not only dubious to assert that Iran would provide a non-state actor with a nuclear weapon, but coequally to suggest that Iran would support Hamas or Hezbollah in the event of their non-sanctioned aggression against Israel. What is unclear is how Iran would weigh up the costs and benefits of stimulating proxy action against Israel. The threat of an Iranian weapon being stolen by another entity is preventable should the West seek to ingratiate itself with the Iranian regime.

The Oil Weapon

The Supreme Leader has emphasized Tehran’s willingness to “seriously jeopardize” energy supplies should the US attack or punish Iran, an assertion that has been repeated by various elements of the Iranian establishment.52 Such rhetoric is seized upon by neoconservatives to demonstrate the dangers that Iran poses and the need for conclusive military action to prevent Iran building a bomb and thus becoming ‘immune’ to retribution in the case of Iranian actions against shipping. But such logic is flawed as Iranian use of the oil weapon would be reactionary to intervention of some description.

The United States and the European Union have recently punished Iran through increased sanctions, an action that has not catalysed an Iranian response. Should Iran ‘go nuclear’ and thus achieve military immunity (if the N. Korea-Iraq paradigm of American non-intervention in nuclear-armed states holds true), America would not attack Iran and thus there would be no provocation to induce an Iranian reaction. The risk of Iran acting against the Strait of Hormuz emanates from a pre-emptive military strike that Tehran considers to be severely threatening and that fails to destroy Iranian military assets.53 Once Iran has crossed the nuclear threshold, America would not act against Tehran and therefore the reasoning behind an assault on oil shipping lacks foundation.

In Summation

Initially considering the reasons why Iran would desire a nuclear weapon, this paper proceeded to assert the improbability of Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon through an analysis of Israeli nuclear strategy and the Jewish state’s irrevocable attitude towards preventing any regional power challenging its military superiority. In the implausible circumstance that such an eventuality manifests, this paper has argued that of all the proximate states likely to view an Iranian weapon as a security threat, Saudi Arabia, with its financial reserves and strong links to Sunni Pakistan, is the most likely to attempt proliferation. This paper has posited that such a development is containable through the provision of a well-received and believed-in American nuclear umbrella, conventional arm sales to limit Iranian influence and stringent controls on the spread of existing nuclear technology. Syrian, Egyptian and Iraqi nuclear development is unlikely for a host of reasons, though inevitably such predictions rest on the ontogenesis of these states following recent upheavals.

Latterly, if the Iraq-N. Korea paradigm holds true, Tehran would have no reason to impact on oil shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, not least out of consideration for the detrimental effects on the Iranian economy. This paper further asserted the absurdity of the suggestion that the Islamic Republic would provide its proxies with a nuclear weapon. Whether a nuclear weapon would morph Iran into a regional aggressor, or whether its possession of such a bomb would provide the foundations for integration with the West has been left unanswered. Israeli nuclear capability allowed the Jewish state some semblance of security in a region of hostile Arab states. A Persian nuclear capability would serve the same purpose.

 [toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

1 Fiore (2011), p. 2
2 Bahgat (2006), p. 124
3 Bowen & Kidd (2004), p. 264
4 Ibid.
5 Sagan & Waltz (2007), p. 137
6 ‘North Korea conducts nuclear test’, BBC, 25 May 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8066615.stm
7 Bahgat (2006), p. 126
8 Sagan (1996), p. 63
9 Ibid., p. 64-65
10 ‘Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’, Council on Foreign Relations, 12 October 2011, http://www.cfr.org/iran/irans-revolutionary-guards/p14324
11 Ibid.
12 ‘Iran, Lebanon, Israelis and Palestinians: New IPI Opinion Polls’, International Peace Institute, 8 December 2010, http://www.ipacademy.org/index.php/events/details/256-Iran,%20Lebanon,%20Israelis%20and%20Palestinians-%20New%20IPI%20Opinion%20Polls.html
13 Sagan (1996), p. 73
14 Ibid., p. 74
15 Brom (2005), p. 137
16 Ibid., p. 136
17 Brom (2005), p. 136
18 Ibid., p. 142
19 ‘Netanyahu invokes horrors of Holocaust, declares Israel’s right to “defend itself, by itself”’, Reuters, 6 March 2012
20 ‘Transcript of Obama’s AIPAC speech’, Politico, 4 March 2012, http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0312/73588.html
21 Edelman et al. (2011), p. 76
22 Fiore (2011), p. 9
23 ‘An Iranian Nuke Is No Threat – An Arab Nuke Is’, theriskyshift, 22 February 2012 http://www.theriskyshift.com/2012/02/iranian-nuke-is-no-threat-arab-nuke-is.html
24 Gavin (2009), p. 17
25 Jo & Gartzke (2007), p. 169
26 Russell (2005), p. 34
27 Ibid.
28 Ibid., p. 44
29 Bowen & Kidd (2005), p. 53
30 Russell (2005), pp. 31-32
31 ‘Saudi may join nuclear arms race: ex-spy chief’, AFP, 5 December 2011, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hHglcDORk9Wk5WtM79nbDw8GC9yQ
32 Bowen & Kidd (2005), p. 53
33 Bowen & Kidd (2004), p. 273
34 Edelman et al. (2011), p. 69
35 Ulgen (2011), p. 138
36 ‘Obama: Syria’s Assad “will fall”, but no air strikes’, Reuters, 6 March 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/06/us-syria-idUSTRE8220CI20120306
37 Bowen & Kidd (2005), p. 71
38 Sagan (1996), p. 72
39 Russell (2005), p. 42
40 ‘Transcript of Obama’s AIPAC speech’, Politico, 4 March 2012, http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0312/73588.html
41 Fiore (2011), p. 4
42 See Rasmussen (2009)
43 See Gavin (2009) p. 16
44 Edelman et al. (2011), p. 72
45 Fiore (2011), p. 4
46 Edelman et al. (2011), p. 68
47 ‘Hamas sends conflicting message over support for Iran’, Trumpet, 8 March 2012, http://www.thetrumpet.com/9196.13.0.0/middle-east/iran/hamas-sends-conflicting-message-over-support-for-iran
48 Bahgat (2006), p. 129
49 Support for Assad from Hezbollah and Iran will likely mean that should the rebels defeat the Syrian leader future relations with the two entities would be poor.
50 ‘Iran warships sail via Suez Canal amid Israeli concern’, BBC, 22 February 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12533803
51 ‘Seizing of the Palestinian weapons ship Karine A’, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4 January 2002, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2002/1/Seizing%20of%20the%20Palestinian%20weapons%20ship%20Karine%20A-
52 Talmadge (2008), p. 88
53 Ibid., pp. 87-88

Abrahamian, E. (2005), ‘Neocons and Their Nemeses in Iran’, Boundary 2, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 95-115

Babaei, A.R. (2008), ‘Israel’s Concerns and Iran’s Nuclear Programme’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 43, No. 6, pp. 21-25

Bahgat, G. (2006), ‘Nuclear Proliferation: The Islamic Republic of Iran’, International Studies Perspectives, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 124-136

Bowen, W.Q. & Kidd, J. (2004), ‘The Iranian Nuclear Challenge’, International Affairs, Vol. 80, No. 2, pp. 257-276

Bowen, W.Q. & Kidd, J. (2005), ‘The Nuclear Capabilities and Ambitions of Iran’s Neighbours’, in Sokolski H. & Clawson, P., Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute), pp. 51-88

Braun, C. & Chyba, C.F. (2004), ‘Proliferation Rings: New Challenges to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime’, International Security, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 5-49

Brom, S. (2005), ‘Is the Begin Doctrine Still a Viable Option for Israel?’, in Sokolski H. & Clawson, P., Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute), pp. 133-158

Edelman, E.S., Krepinevich, A.F. & Montgomery, E.B. (2011), ‘The Dangers of a Nuclear Iran: The Limits of Containment’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 90, No. 1, pp. 66-81

Fiore, M. (2011), ‘Israel and Iran’s Nuclear Weapon Programme: Roll Back or Containment’, IAI Working Papers, Vol. 11, No. 18, pp. 1-16

Gavin, F.J. (2009), ‘Same As It Ever Was: Nuclear Alarmism, Proliferation, and the Cold War’, International Security, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 7-37

Jain, A. (2011), Nuclear Weapons and Iran’s Global Ambitions (Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

James, C.C. (2000), ‘Nuclear Arsenal Games: Coping with Proliferation in a World of Changing Rivalries’, Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 33, No. 4, pp. 723-746

Jo, D. & Gartzke, E. (2007), ‘Determinants of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation’, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 51, No. 1, pp. 167-194

Nye, J.S. (1992), ‘New Approaches to Nuclear Proliferation Policy’, Science, Vol. 256, No. 5061, pp. 1293-1297

Rasmussen, K.B. (2009), The Foreign Policy of Iran: Ideology and pragmatism in the Islamic Republic (Copenhagen: Danish Institute for International Studies)

Russell, R.L. (2005), ‘Arab Security Responses to a Nuclear-Ready Iran’, in Sokolski H. & Clawson, P., Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute), pp. 23-50

Sagan, S. (1996), ‘Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb’, International Security, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 54-86

Sagan, S. & Waltz, K. (2007), ‘A Nuclear Iran: Promoting Stability Or Courting Disaster’, Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 60, No. 2, pp. 135-150

Singh, S. & Way, C.R. (2004), ‘The Correlates of Nuclear Proliferation: A Quantitative Test’, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 48, No. 6, pp. 859-885

Shaikh, F. (2002), ‘Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb: Beyond the Non-Proliferation Regime’, International Affairs, Vol. 78, No. 1, pp. 29-48

Talmadge, C. (2008), ‘Closing Time: Assessing the Iranian Threat to the Strait of Hormuz’, International Security, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 82-117

Ulgen, S. (2011), ‘The Security Dimension of Turkey’s Nuclear Program: Nuclear Diplomacy and Non Proliferation Policies’, in Ulgen, S. (ed), The Turkish Model for Transition to Nuclear Power (Istanbul: Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies), pp. 142-181


The Contradiction Of Scottish Independence, The Disunited Kingdom

Secession would ignore the many triumphs these small isles have achieved in creating a world that is free of dangerous European dictators and ideologies.



[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n the 24th June 1314, the Scottish Army defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn, which is still heralded by nationalists today. The Scottish National Party (SNP) want to hold their referendum on independence on the anniversary of this event in 2014. Clearly then the SNP put their focus very much on history to back up both their desire for independence and their decisions. By doing this however, they have appeared to ignore hundreds of years of history in between. Even if the SNP look at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 as the last expression of Scottish Nationalism then 250 years of British history have passed since then. The shared history of the United Kingdom is completely ignored by the SNP, and is something that should be used by Pro-Union politicians to show regular Scots that we are united.

The point here is that by using events such as Bannockburn as significant events now, all the history between now and then that has brought the United Kingdom together seems to be ignored. Scots, Welsh, Irish and English have all fought against the tyranny of Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Hitler. Together these isles have fought off invasion after invasion from the most formidable enemies in history where other nations crumbled. The men and women who fought and died for the United Kingdom must be remembered, something the SNP appear to forget when they merely talk of Scottish victories from the 1300s. Where is D-Day in their rhetoric? Where is the Battle of Britain? Where is Waterloo? It appears Alex Sammond and his party are prepared to consign these brilliant representations of UK unity to the forgotten history books, when they are so happy to champion Bannockburn.

Of course, this is not to say Scotland should not have its own history. Scotland for example has a proud history of fighting the tyranny of English Kings and that should be remembered. However, this should all come under the banner of UK history rather than purely Scotland. A classic tactic of nationalists is to glorify history in the nations favour, which can be seen in the many African nationalist creations during decolonisation. However this would be unrepresentative of the wider history of the United Kingdom, which as described above, has achieved more together than it ever achieved apart.

More recently, Scottish and English men and women have fought and died for the United Kingdom in the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan to protect the freedom of these isles and its sovereignty. They fought not for their individual nations but for the collective union and freedom of our United Kingdom. Whilst Scottish autonomy is something to look towards in terms of devolution, independence seems to attack this shared heritage.

It would seem that Alex Sammond and the SNP need to take a lesson in history. Their one track, tunnel vision version of history, misses out huge swathes of shared history, disregards the lives of those who have fought and died for the United Kingdom and ignores the many achievements the UK has achieved in the past 250 years and beyond in defending liberty and freedom. Of course this defence of liberty should allow Scotland its right to self-determination, this is merely a plea to remember that the United Kingdom is just that, united, and not disunited. Secession would represent a sad end to a brilliant history of these isles, and ignore the many triumphs these small isles have achieved in creating a world that is free of dangerous European dictators and ideologies.

Extreme Anti-Abortionists: An Unwelcome Import

Anti-abortionist extremists are not backed by public opinion.



[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ustin Bieber is the latest high profile figure in the US to voice his disapproval of abortion, even if a woman has been raped (“everything hapapens for a reason”, he told Rolling Stone). He follows hot on the heels of failed contender for the Republican nomination for President, Rick Santorum, who described conception from rape as a “gift”.

Of course Santorum is not alone in the Republican camp, within which candidates are often found to be jostling for position on social issues to satisfy their sizable socially conservative electoral base. The US also has a reputation as the country with the most extreme, sometimes violent, anti-abortionists, with 41 bombings and 173 arsons of abortion providers in the US and Canada since 1977. Eight people have been killed, and a further 17 people have had death threats.

The so-called ‘pro-life’ brigade – a tag that seems somewhat misplaced given their treatment of pregnant women and others, so let’s call them anti-abortionists – have demonstrated an extreme fervour. In the UK their activities have tended to be limited to periodic pickets and protests. Whilst there is no apparent threat of the sort of violence perpetrated in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, there are worrying indications that anti-abortionists are upping the ante in the UK.

For the 40 days of Lent, anti-abortionists protested to pregnant women outside the central London clinic of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), leaving women feeling humiliated, embarrassed, harassed, and even violated, reports attribute to BPAS. Similar protests have been taking place in Brighton. Pickets of abortion clinics by evangelicals are not new, but there appears to be a momentum behind the latest rash of protests, and when allied to other militant tactics aimed at women, paint a concerning picture.

BPAS came under attack from a hacker who stole the personal details of 10,000 women from the confidential BPAS database, and threatened to make those names public. The judge who sentenced the hacker to 32 months in prison warned of “terrible consequences” had that threat been carried out. The hacker defaced the BPAS website with anti-abortion slogans, claiming to be part of the hacking group Anonymous.

Undoubtedly there are personal implications for the women concerned. Targeting pregnant women with graphic images of foetuses and preying on vulnerability seems about the most anti-life thing you can do, barring violence. But beyond the militant protests, there are other signs that anti-abortionists are influencing public debate and policy in a way that has profoundly political, as well as personal, implications. The government has indicated that it will press ahead with plans to allow anti-abortionists to counsel pregnant women on the NHS, despite the collapse of the backbench proposal in the House of Commons, a move which has been denounced by the shadow public health minister. The decision to exclude some long-standing providers like BPAS from the government’s advisory group on sexual health and include anti-abortionists was seen as a significant departure from the status quo and created a furore last year.

Darinka Aleksic of Abortion Rights told me that the “moral equivalence made by the media in many cases between the pro and anti-choice side is very damaging: we’re seen as two opposing sides of the same coin with the truth somewhere in between,” which is misleading. Pro-choice advocates are interested in ensuring that whether a woman decides to continue with a pregnancy or not, she has the ability, information and services to allow her to make a free choice. Aleksic says “Pro-choice advocates aren’t found outside maternity hospitals asking women if they had considered termination as an alternative to giving birth, whereas anti-choice activists are increasingly willing to approach women outside abortion clinics.”

I have been in favour of a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body for as long as I can remember. I am not alone in that view – between 70 and 83 per cent of the British public are reported to support a woman’s right to choose. The current British law allowing women the right to choose how to proceed with a pregnancy is well-supported by the weight of scientific evidence and by the medical establishment.

These anti-abortionist extremists are not backed by the public, experts or mainstream opinion for their reactionary and evangelic beliefs, much less for their bullying and intimidating tactics. Any politician tempted to pander to these obscure views should be very wary, and the media can avoid being their co-pilots in tacitly legitimising their views by leaving them in the “extremists” box where they belong.

Morality & Caring For Nature

Do the strongest moral and political grounds for caring for nature lie in our concern for future generations?
{School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh}



[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n facing up to the fact that we live in a world of finite resources and yet are driven by a seemingly infinite appetite for consumption, there has been a growing discourse in green political thought which regards a concern for future generations as the overriding moral and political grounds for caring for nature. With it increasingly recognised that, ‘human economic activity is exceeding the ‘carrying capacity’ of the biosphere, leading to degradation in its many forms’. [1] The discourse otherwise termed sustainable development has dominated discussions of environmental politics. It has become, to quote Dryzek, ‘arguably the dominant global discourse of ecological concern’ [2] over the last thirty years. However, while sustainable development with its emphasis on intergenerational justice has proven a popular justification for caring for nature, there have been some who dispute whether a concern for future generations is the strongest political and moral imperative. With radical critics taking offence at the prominence given to anthropocentric concerns coupled with the increasing popularisation of ecological modernisation, the supremacy of sustainable development and a concern for future generations is under threat. By looking at the paradigms of sustainable development and ecological modernization alongside a discussion of environmental ethics, this essay attempts to put forward the case that a concern for future generations is not the strongest political grounds for caring for nature. Despite seemingly satisfying the requirements for effective policy implementation it will be shown that it is not the most popular political validation for preserving nature and is in fact a rather narrow and one-sided moral justification.

In trying to elucidate that a concern for future generations is not the strongest political grounds for caring for nature, it makes sense to start by looking at the predominant political approaches advocating environmental preservation. Therefore we are led to a discussion of sustainable development and its chief interpretation, ecological modernization. As the well-known and oft-quoted definition from the Brundtland Report Our Common Future suggests, sustainable development is ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. [3] It is an ‘umbrella concept’ [4] that attempts to tie together concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with the social challenges facing humanity. By including an awareness of future generations or ‘futurity’ [5] in its definition, it posits a technologically optimistic account that encourages both intra and inter-generational equity and regards a concern for future generations as the paramount and overriding motivation for caring for nature. However, despite explicitly emphasising a concern for future generations and for checking the environmental impact of current generations, it can be argued that the idea of sustainable development is misleading. This is because the definition is extremely broad and seems to presuppose ‘the answer to a range of questions which arise at the intersection of the natural world, human well-being, intragenerational and intergenerational considerations’. [6] The problem with sustainable development is that it emphasises a concern for future generations as a justification for political actions in the present but doesn’t explain how to weigh the importance of the different principles that constitute it. In other words, it highlights the overall goal which is sustainability but doesn’t explain how to get there leaving itself open to interpretation.

One particular interpretation that has become extremely popular is ecological modernization, and yet this brings about serious repercussions for the thought that the strongest political ground for caring for nature lies in a concern for future generations. Positing a scenario in which advanced societies can have their cake and eat it, ‘ecological modernization, it is claimed, offers a ‘win-win’ scenario whereby economic growth and environmental protection can be reconciled.’ [7] It is an attempt by optimistic political theorists to show that, ‘economic development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive’ [8] and therefore that economic growth can be environmentally efficient. Nevertheless if this is the case, then it seems that the idea diverges from sustainable development. It challenges, ‘the fundamental assumption of the conventional wisdom, namely that there was a zero-sum trade off between economic prosperity and environmental concern’. [9] By decoupling the link between technocratic economic development and environmental degradation, it legitimises a continuation of the existing institutional order. Therefore it in effect, suggests that the strongest political grounds for caring for nature lie, not in a concern for future generations or a concern for the non-human world, but in the increased efficiency and profit that can be garnered from behaving environmentally.

While sustainable development in general attempts to incorporate the demands of intra-generational equity and intergenerational equity into a development framework, ecological modernisation does not and this is problematic. Considered to be the dominant interpretation of sustainable development and yet also an interpretation which overtly fails to place an obligation to future generations at the epicentre of its political thought. Ecological modernization appears to focus on intragenerational concerns at the expense of intergenerational concerns. It ‘ignores the core story-line of sustainable development, global ecological interdependence and ecological limits and neglects the linkages between global environmental problems and social justice.’ [10] Indeed rather than accept that we must emphasise the obligations of the future and are therefore obliged to change our patterns of behaviour to compensate. Ecological modernization stresses the importance, first and foremost, of our responsibility to the present and maintaining existing patterns of production. While an obligation to future generations is considered, it is not the primary political justification for caring for nature and correspondingly seems to echo a particularly contentious point from classical political theory which is that humans are naturally self-interested. [11] By placing the emphasis on pre-existing behaviour patterns, sustainable development and an obligation to future generations becomes analogous to an afterthought. Sustainability becomes the desirable but not imperative offshoot of a self interested political grounding. Therefore the popularisation of ecological modernization dictates that a concern for future generations is not the strongest political grounds for preserving nature. As Weiss poignantly articulates, ‘if rights cannot be attributed to an unborn child’, which conceivably they can’t because the child is non-existent, ‘can they [really] be attributed to unborn generations?’ [12] If we follow the thoughts of ecological modernization and consider it to be the dominant environmental political discourse, it seems not.

In considering the challenge set out by ecological modernization, it is clear that justifying a reorientation with nature on the grounds of ‘ecoefficiency’ [13] is contentious. By adopting principally anthropocentric or even technocentric concerns, ecological modernization suggests that technical and managerial approaches can solve the environmental crisis. [14] It proposes that there is no need to radically change the present patterns of development and for that reason, the theory is perfectly suited to the ‘limited opportunities available, desired or permitted by political leaders and the business community’. [15] With the realities of the environmental crisis becoming increasingly stark, ecological modernization has proven popular because it provides the perfect platform for politicians and companies to be seen to be doing something. As such, it has been lambasted as a strategy of political accommodation and ‘a rhetorical ploy that tries to reconcile the irreconcilable (environment and development) only to take the wind out of the sails of ‘real’ environmentalists’. [16] Whilst a concern for future generations may be morally superior and have more political integrity as a ground for caring for nature, the fact of the matter is that it unavoidably takes a backseat in the face of more immediate political and business interests. Although ecological modernization can include a concern for future generations in its justification for preserving nature, it is primarily interested in the present and so is utilised to erect a political smokescreen that legitimises the implementation of the bare minimum. It can perhaps best be described as a pseudo ‘environmental’ discourse which justifies maintaining the status quo.

After showing that the strongest political grounds for caring for nature are inevitably bound up in the present and as such do not lie in a concern for future generations. It comes the time to move furtively into a discussion of environmental ethics, in order to see whether a concern for future generations is a particularly cogent moral argument. In enunciating the political reasons for caring for nature, Connolly and Smith suggest that, ‘the obligation to present and future generations is complemented by a third obligation: to non-human nature’. [17] Their distinction highlights a most important division in environmental ethics, namely the juxtaposition of anthropocentric concerns and eco-centric concerns.  Whereas, ‘anthropocentrism is based exclusively on human-related values, and considers the welfare of mankind [to be] the ultimate drive for defining policies related to the environment.’ [18] Eco-centrism argues that there is an equality of intrinsic value across human and non-human nature and therefore that the ‘failure to extend moral considerability to nonhuman species is symptomatic of speciesism or human chauvinism – an unwarranted prejudice against nonhuman others just because they are not human’. [19] This debate termed environmental ethics, is the cornerstone of green poltical philosophy and has clear implications with regards to the claim that the strongest moral and political ground for preserving for nature lies in our concern for future generations.

In articulating the difference between political and moral grounds, Jacobs asserts that within sustainable development, there tends to be four separate types of value motivating a concern for environmental degradation:

‘Two are varieties of justice: intergenerational (concern for the impact on future generations), and intragenerational (concern for the impact that current patterns of economic activity, particularly consumption in industrialized countries, is already having on poor people, particularly in the South).The other two might loosely be described as ‘environmental ethics’ [and those who are appalled at environmental degradation]… For some, this is because the environment has ‘intrinsic’ value: it is wrong to destroy it. For others the value is more ‘cultural’: they believe that society and human nature are impoverished and diminished by the destruction of the non-human world.’ [20]

While a concern for future generations is essentially intergenerational and therefore fits with Jacobs’ political categories denoting varieties of justice, it can be stated that from an ethical standpoint it seems much harder to categorise. This is because, by claiming that a concern for future generations is the preeminent moral motivation for caring for nature, it acclaims the primacy of humans and consequently adopts a thoroughly one-sided ethical justification. It leans toward an anthropocentric viewpoint which regards humans as intrinsically valuable and nature as instrumental to achieving the aim of sustaining humanity. However by focusing on the value of humans, ecologists and radicals have critiqued what they see as the unwarranted ascendency of humanity over nature. As Barry emotes, ‘it is inappropriate – cosmically unfitting, in some sense – to regard nature as nothing more than something to be exploited for the benefit of human beings’. [21] If a concern for future generations is seen as the strongest moral ground for caring for nature, then nature becomes instrumental to the needs of humans. It treats nature as a means to an end and in turn relegates nature to the role of a tool, something which seems inherently unethical and wrong.

In conclusion, despite being prioritised within sustainable development discourse, a concern for future generations is not the strongest moral and political grounds for caring for nature for three reasons. Firstly from a political perspective, the rise and popularisation of ecological modernization, a particularly ‘weak expression of sustainable development’, [22] suggests that a concern for future generations development lacks cogency in that it is clear what the outcome is but is not at all clear how to get there. It is liable to be misinterpreted. Secondly, a concern for future generations manifested in sustainable development has been relatively ineffectual when compared to the success and implementation of the win-win scenario proffered by ecological modernization. The more immediately pressing political motives in the present influenced by self interest have unavoidably usurped the long term concerns of the future. Thirdly and finally from an ethical perspective, a concern for future generations is a distinctly anthropocentric concern and can consequently be considered to be a narrow and one-sided justification which falls someway short of being a particularly persuasive moral argument.

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

[1] Michael Jacobs. Sustainable Development as a Contested Concept. (Oxford University Press, 1999) p.39
[2] John Dryzek. The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses. (Oxford University Press,2005) p.146[3] WECD. Our Common Future. (Brundtland Report, 1987) p.8
[4]  James Connolly and Graham Smith. Politics and the Environment: From Theory to Practice (Routledge, 1999) p.6
[5] Dobson (1999)
[6] James Connolly and Graham Smith. Politics and the Environment: From Theory to Practice (Routledge, 1999) p.40
[7] James Connolly and Graham Smith. Politics and the Environment: From Theory to Practice (Routledge, 1999) p.66
[8] James Connolly and Graham Smith. Politics and the Environment: From Theory to Practice (Routledge, 1999) (1999) p.5
[9] Albert Weale. The New Politics of Pollution. (Manchester University Press, 1992) p.31
[10] Oluf Langhelle. Why ecological modernization and sustainable development should not be conflated. (Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, 2010) p.313
[11] Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. (Cambridge University Press, 2006)
[12] Edith Brown Weiss Environmental change and international law: New challenges and dimensions (1992)
[13] James Connolly and Graham Smith. Politics and the Environment: From Theory to Practice (Routledge, 1999) p.70
[14] Lucas Seghezzo. The five dimensions of sustainability. (Environmental Politics, 2009) p.541
[15] Maarten, Hajer. (Oxford University Press, 1995) p.33
[16] James Connolly and Graham Smith. Politics and the Environment: From Theory to Practice (Routledge, 1999) p.4
[17] Lucas Seghezzo. The five dimensions of sustainability. (Environmental Politics, 2005) p.541
[18] Robyn Eckersley. Ecocentric Discourses: Problems and Future Prospects for Nature Advocacy. (Oxford University Press, 2005) p.368
[19] Michael Jacobs. Sustainable Development as a Contested Concept. (Oxford University Press, 1999) p.38
[20] Brian Barry. Sustainability and Intergenerational Equity. (Oxford University Press, 1999) p.114
[21] Wilfred Beckerman. Sustainable Development and Our Obligations to Future Generations. (Oxford University Press, 1999) p.87
[22] Oluf Langhelle. Why ecological modernization and sustainable development should not be conflated. (Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, 2000) p.318

Barry, Brian. (1999) Sustainability and Intergenerational Equity. In: Dobson Andrew (ed.) Fairness and Futurity: Essays on Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice. (Oxford, Oxford University Press), pp.93-117

Beckerman, Wilfred. (1999) Sustainable Development and Our Obligations to Future Generations. In: Dobson Andrew (ed.)Fairness and Futurity: Essays on Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice. (Oxford, Oxford University Press), pp.71-92.

Connolly, James and Smith, Graham. (1999)Politics and the Environment: From Theory to Practice. (London, Routledge)

Dobson, Andrew, (ed.) (1999) Fairness and Futurity: Essays on Environmental Sustainability and Sustainable Development. (Oxford, Oxford University Press)

Dryzek, John, S. (2005) The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses. 2nd Edition (Oxford, Oxford University Press)

Eckersley, Robyn. (2005)Ecocentric Discourses: Problems and Future Prospects for Nature Advocacy. In: Dryzek, John, S and Schlosberg, David. (eds.) Debating the Earth: The Environmental Politics Reader (Oxford, Oxford University Press) pp.364-381

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