The New IRA: A Legitimate Threat?

While the new Irish Republican Army (IRA) will have the capability to conduct small scale operations, and likely pose a threat to the security services and police officers, they will not be able to muster a campaign comparable to those of the historical IRA.


Graffiti in Derry


[dropcap]S[/dropcap]everal Republican dissident groups in Northern Ireland announced recently that they would be merging to present a unified face of Republicanism and intensify attacks on British security forces and targets. The primary components of this new group are the Real Irish Republican Army, and the Republican Action Against Drugs vigilante movement. There are also several smaller Republican groups involved in the merger, but many of them are unnamed or are not noteworthy. They are to merge under the constitution of the IRA, and believe unity will promote greater cooperation and increase their strength. While the premise of a renewed IRA is excellent at grabbing attention in newspaper headlines, what capabilities and support will this new group actually have?

This merger could potentially result in a new force of several hundred members, but that does not necessarily equate to great strength or capability. In fact, police say the threat posed by Republican groups has not changed since the announcement. This implies that the prospect of a united front for Republican dissidents has not been successful as a ‘call to arms’ for the new IRA. Security journalist Brian Rowan said that the relationship between these groups is not particularly steady, and that calls for unity and cooperation can quickly be replaced by fragmentation and disagreement. Beyond that Rowan said that the new group will lack the support to run a terrorist campaign. This does not mean that the groups are not dangerous, but rather that they lack the capacity to conduct large scale attacks.

Historically both of these groups have had a propensity for violence, but their attacks have been small in scale. The Republican Action Against Drugs group has murdered one man and shot more than forty others, as well as threatened to shoot dozens of others unless they moved out of town since 2008. These attacks were primarily aimed at alleged drug dealers and head shops, but in June they claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) has repeatedly threatened to attack police officers and soldiers, but has not been very effective in recent years.  Some of the people involved in the smaller groups are believed to be responsible for the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr in 2011. In January of 2008 Michael Campbell, a member of the RIRA, was apprehended during a weapons buying sting operation by MI5 in Lithuania. This shows that the RIRA was trying to procure weapons, presumably for an attack, but does not indicate the degree to which they have been successful doing so.

It takes more than weapons to run a successful terrorist campaign. Support is an important element of any terrorist campaign, and can often make the difference between a group achieving its political ends or meeting its demise. Both the RIRA and the Republican Action Against Drugs group lack widespread support. Opportunity Youth, an organization in Northern Ireland that provides drug and alcohol support to young people, has criticized the Republican Action Against Drugs group and urged them to bring an end to their violence. They believe that violent punishment will not help solve drug issues, and that those who are dependent on drugs need to be helped through supportive methods. The Real Irish Republican Army has also been the target of much criticism as a result of killing three young children in an attack aimed at police forces in 2010. Additionally, both unionist and nationalist politicians have publicly expressed their opposition to the founding of a new violent group.

Ultimately the new incarnation of the Irish Republican Army will have the capability to conduct small scale operations, and likely pose a threat to the security services and police officers, they will not be able to conduct the kind of maintained intense campaigns the IRA has historically be known for. More than anything this announcement seems to be a cry for attention, a group trying to grab a few headlines for their cause at a time when concern over the threat of terrorism is already elevated due to the Olympic Games in London.

The US & The South China Sea

While Europe is battling the Eurozone crisis, Asian nations are engaged in a territorial showdown over the sovereign rights for the South China Sea. US involvement in the recent South China Sea issue is a way to reaffirm its status as a regional power, but would its involvement guarantee harmony in the region?


USS Essex near East Timor


The South China Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean with small islands. It is situated between China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. South China Sea has rich deposits of oil and gas reserves and fishery. The area has been a long disputed zone and it has been a source of tension between regional nations.

What is the role of the US?

Since the Second World War, the US has been a major player in Asia-Pacific politics, participating in regional forums such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), the Shangri-La Dialogue and East Asia Summit. During the Cold War US policies were driven by the Truman Doctrine to contain communism. The US concentrated its effort to establish and maintain support for states such as South Korea, Japan and ASEAN members to have stronger leverage in Asia-Pacific.

It is now the post Cold-War era but the US believes there is an outstanding issue that could thwart US influence in the region; the rise of China. China’s rise to power has alarmed other Asian nations, compelling them to turn to the US for support. China has the second largest economy in the world and throughout the history of Asia it has been the prominent leading power and it could reprise this role. As China has always been assertive in its claims for the South China Sea, the US perceives China wanting to expand its territory and influence in the region. Therefore, the US acts as an overseer to ensure Chinese territorial expansion does not happen.

A good example to show US intentions to limit Chinese expansion is supporting Taiwan. The US deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups to protect Taiwan from Chinese aggression in the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis. During the Bush Administration, it perceived China as a greater threat than the previous Administration had done. Former President George W Bush announced he would “do whatever it takes” to protect Taiwan; former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice labeling China as a “strategic competitor”. Further, in 2010, the US made a US$6.4 million dollar arms deal with Taiwan.

In May 2011, the South China Sea dispute reignited when Chinese patrol boats severed the cables of a Vietnamese ship, stating that Vietnam’s operations in the area threatened Chinese sovereignty. Subsequently, the South China Sea debate was taken up at the Shangri-La Dialogue, the US urging China not to behave in a hostile manner that would threaten regional stability.

As of last year, China, Vietnam and the Philippines are the most assertive competitors for the South China Sea. Simultaneously, the US became more involved in assisting the smaller Asian states in joint naval programs. In July 2011, the US and Vietnam held joint naval exchanges which included noncombat training and China quickly questioned the nature of the activity. Further, in October 2011 the US held an assault exercise program with the Philippines navy near the Spratly Islands.

On December 2011, during the East Asia conference, the US supported ASEAN countries to argue absolute control over the disputed zone. This clearly indicates that the US intends to restrain China’s regional influence and interest. During the 2012 ASEAN Forum in Phnom Penh, the meeting has been unable to resolve the conflict. At the moment, ASEAN cannot concoct a united plan to maintain regional stability while the US is trying to implement its pivotal policy in the region. Prior to the meeting, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said China’s behaviour is a “recipe for confrontation”.

Dangerous Game?

While the US strongly justifies their involvement in Asia-Pacific as a defendant of stability, their actions towards China could spell disaster. From China’s perspective, they believe the US is instilling ASEAN nations to antagonise China’s position and role in the region. Given the past diplomatic strains that have happened between US and China, it is unlikely that China will relax its intentions in the South China Sea. The aim of the ASEAN Forum is to settle the dispute, and while it is almost impossible for this issue to be resolved in a regional discussion, US involvement is perhaps only adding fuel to the already tense moments. If the US wants to achieve its goal in regional peace, it is essential that it forms a more active working relationship with the other regional powers like China and Australia, rather than causing tension.

Closed Cities & Nuclear Entrepreneurship In Russia

Faced with a dearth of opportunity, the aged nuclear scientist would not need much imagination, nor would he have to look far, to find a buyer interested in an exchange that would provide him with a hefty retirement package with which to live out his remaining years.

Checkpoint in the closed nuclear city of Zheleznogorsk


The collapse of communism resulted in economic stagnation, unpaid wages and layoffs amongst Soviet nuclear workers and security forces, precipitating a widespread fear of nuclear entrepreneurship – the sale of skills, know-how and materials to the highest bidder. Rogue states, terrorist groups, disaffected individuals. The fear was palpable in the climate of a post-Cold War world. The disarray of 1990s political and economic chaos made it difficult for the Russian government to secure its secretive closed nuclear cities and, more critically, the favour and tacit knowledge of these scientists made the fear that nuclear materials and technologies would fall into the wrong hands well-placed.

Russia’s ten nuclear cities contain the former Soviet Union’s principal nuclear weapons research, design and production facilities, and to the ordinary citizen, they weren’t really there. Nuclear cities were not officially recognised as existing until 1992 as they were amongst the Soviet unions many “closed cities” that were involved in certain sensitive activities. Located in remote regions around the country, closed cities were not labelled on any publicly-available map and were isolated from the world.

Surrounded by double fences, troops, and security checkpoints, access was tightly controlled by the KGB. While some closed cities were freely accessible to regular Soviet citizens (but never to foreigners), the nuclear cities were off limits to all but nuclear workers, their families, and support staff, who were not allowed to leave their isolation unless on official business. Mail was intercepted before delivery. External telephone calls were restricted. Even access to the nuclear facilities themselves required one to pass additional checkpoints and military cordons. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, 42 of these closed cities have been acknowledged by the Russian government; but a further 15 or so are believed to not exist today.

Breaching a Soviet nuclear city was thus a difficult task for any Western intelligence service, and the residents that incurred the hardships necessary to confer this strategic advantage were handsomely compensated. Higher wages and improved access to better quality food, healthcare and consumer goods than other Soviet citizens guaranteed the loyalty of the men and women regarded as elite. Up to 150,000 people were employed in weapons-related work at the peak of nuclear productivity, and even as the cities began to shift away from weapons labour during the late 1980s, when strategic reductions and ageing plutonium reactors convinced the Soviet leadership to scale back production, the cities instead filled domestic orders for power-related activities and spent fuel management. This all changed with the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

In line with the collapse of the Russian economy in the mid 1990s, weapons work was temporarily suspended in 1993 and 1995. Wage arrears, strikes and protests were a recurring theme at several nuclear labs and layoffs and reductions in spending (up to 50% in some cases) left the workers with diminished incomes and few alternatives. Restrictions on investment and access to closed cities made starting new businesses an impossibility. Despite improvements in salaries in the early 2000s, thousands of jobs were lost through the restructuring of the Russian nuclear industry, mandated by continual shifts in defence policy. The reduction from 150,000 to 67,000 nuclear workers between 1994 and 2004 involved mostly the younger scientists leaving voluntarily, to seek employment in the private sector. But the next round of cuts, ending this year, is anticipated to be much harder to accommodate.

Older workers leaving today risk being considered untenable by potential employers in the nuclear private sector, especially as its ranks bulge from previous cuts. Additionally, ageing workers are viewed as having fewer years left in them, regardless of the jobs they take, meaning that any company hiring them would see fewer returns on new training. Faced with a dearth of opportunity, the aged nuclear scientist would not need much imagination, nor would he have to look far, to find a buyer interested in an exchange that would provide him with a hefty retirement package with which to live out his remaining years. This then, is the major security concern and it is curious that it has rarely been discussed in international affairs.

The announcement last year that Russia is to leave the International Science and Technology Centre (ISTC), a multilateral research institute employing former Soviet scientists in basic and commercially relevant nuclear research, creates concerns for the future. Aimed at combating the general threat of nuclear entrepreneurship in Russia since the early stages of its return to more ordinary governance, the ISTC has really had only moderate success. With almost two decades of criticism behind it, largely focused on a lack of funding and a bias towards research that benefits the US over Russia, some have commented that the ISTC is being left behind by the Putin government in a move thought to reflect Russian nuclear ambitions and a desire to offset the threat of NATO’s missile shield. While these recent developments greatly undermine the progress that has been made through this key instrument of regional nuclear security, there is however some potential that Russia’s “nuclear pensioners” can rest easy knowing that their expertise might be in demand from state programmes for a little while longer.

London Olympics: Every Dog Must Have His Day

George, the beagle with a penchant for the provocative, brings you his thoughts on the London 2012 Olympics ceremony.




Aside from the utterly terrifying fireworks, I thought the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games was a complete triumph. It had everything… almost. There was one element of British history and culture missing: dogs.

Yes, there were some corgis yapping about when the Queen ran off into Heir Force One with my old drinking buddy James. But they were treated like women were for the first few decades of the Games: a pretty distraction alongside the real event. This was a missed opportunity, Mr Soon-to-be-Sir Boyle. This is what you could have had.

Dogs are Britain. We make symbolism easy and adorable. What’s more patriotic than a bulldog called Winston chewing a cigar? More noble than a drill-sergeant collie straightening out his bovine troops? More middle-class than televising Crufts?

If it wasn’t for us, you’d be struggling to cram your national self-image into a single animal. Foxes are, counterintuitively, too dumb (take my word for it, I have some in the family tree). Cocks are too French, sheep too Welsh, cats too Pharaonic.

You rely on us for emotional exposition in your films, too. Rudyard Kipling couldn’t get enough of us. Sherlock Holmes experimented on poor old Gladstone, when he wasn’t solving mysteries about hounds. Tolkien – a massive omission in the opening ceremony – turned Rover into a toy, and dispatched him to the moon and sea. More recently, Cruella de Vil was responsible for the introduction of dog licenses, there were more curious night-time incidents, and even the Doctor had a metal-plated canine sidekick. The less said about Fenton, the better.

We’re not immune to the cuts to the public services that keep us fed & watered, either. A retired beagle on a pension like me is protected – all I need is two walks a day and a bath a month. (Weekly? If you insist. Oh. You do insist. Right now?)

Anyway. There’s no union for working police, army or guide dogs – even those who have played a massive role in sniffing out risks to Olympic security. They just have to hope for a good home after their tours in Iraq, Afghanistan or Northern Ireland, and it’s been that way since the trench dogs of Ypres, the battle dogs of the Pacific Front, and the canine shoulder to cry on in Dambusters. These pooches have never dared to think of carrying the torch, and they would have done it with grace (though they then might have buried it on Glastonbury Tor and pissed on Kenneth Branagh).

In all seriousness, man’s best friend has made an undeniable contribution to the making of this country – its history, defense and culture. A nod to this would have made the day of the 10.5m four-legged Britons who were watching on Friday.

But what do I know, I’m a dog.

Maternity To Modernity

We all have to make sacrifices in life, so the compromises we make should not be judged by whether we make them as a man or a woman.


Anne-Marie Slaughter


Upon reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It AllI was struck particularly by these lines:

Just about all of the women in that room planned to combine careers and family in some way. But almost all assumed and accepted that they would have to make compromises that the men in their lives were far less likely to have to make.

My subsequent frustration and annoyance stemmed from realisation that one parent should not be expected by society to sacrifice more than the other when raising a child. Disregarding the fact that babies are nurtured in the body of the mother, why have men never been just as at the centre of this debate as women? Why are women penalised for their priority to balance work and family whilst men are rarely subject to the question of whether they can have or do it all? This is not a feminist dispute, but a cry for equal socialisation.

The gender equality gap is sustained by traditional but often ignorant concepts that have evolved as social assumptions. The only way to achieve modernity, therefore, is to accept that this is an issue for both the mother and father of a child, because only with this approach can a true solution be found in which it is the responsibility of both parents to find a balance.

Where gender roles have been established through the mere fact that the baby grows within the woman, we have seemingly failed to acknowledge that once the baby leaves the mother’s body it becomes an individual and bares no physical attachment to either parent. Thus, child-rearing should in no way be accepted as a duty of only the mother.

Breadwinning has historically been a male dominated role, tying into historical notions of men as the hunter-gatherers providing for the tribe. But today women are ever increasingly a part of the labour market, attain better grades at school and consist of over half of graduates from university. Indeed, many young women of my generation find that in the early years of their career they are in more successful positions than their male peers. Yet this generation of women is still too often subject to the patronizing question of whether they “can they do it all” in a way men are not.

We all have to make sacrifices in life, so the compromises we make should not be judged by whether we make them as a man or a woman.

US Presidential Election Roundup: 22/7 – 28/7

Right up until the 3rd November 2012, will be posting a weekly roundup of the happenings in the US presidential election campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.


Romney focuses on economy after shooting [Reuters] Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney spoke about the economy in the wake of the shooting in Colorado, saying that his remarks would ‘not be as partisan as normal.’


Axelrod resumes negative tweeting [Politico] David Axelrod, an adviser to the Obama campaign, tweeted the first negative attack against Mitt Romney since the shooting in Colorado last week.


Campaigns on the offensive over foreign policy [Washington Post] President Obama has questioned his rival’s foreign policy experience, while Mitt Romney has hit back over negative campaigning.


Government supported ‘These Hands’ business [ABC] A business featured in a new Romney campaign ad that attacks President Obama over the role of the government in business has been found to have received millions of dollars in government support.


Blame attributed in economy poll [The Hill] A poll this week has surveyed likely voters about what they think is responsible for the state of the US economy.


Obama campaign defends lack of presidential Israel visits [Huffington Post] The Obama campaign has hit back at Mitt Romney’s campaign for criticising the President’s lack of visits to Israel in his first term.


Romney sceptical over gun control [Reuters] Mitt Romney has expressed doubt over whether more stringent gun laws would ‘make a difference’ to US gun crime.


Obama responds to business attacks [ABC] The Obama campaign has spoken out against Republican attacks over remarks made by the President about the role of government in supporting businesses.


Attacks on Romney impact polls [Reuters] A Reuters poll suggests that over a third of registered voters now have a ‘less favorable impression’ of Mitt Romney in light of recent criticisms he has faced over his taxes and business affairs.


Obama administration leaks criticised [New York Times] Mitt Romney has said that the leaking of security information by the White House constitutes a ‘national security crisis’.


Romney advisers claims ‘Anglo-Saxon’ advantage [Telegraph] Advisers to the Romney campaign have suggested that their candidate would benefit the relationship between the US and Britain more than President Obama because of the Republican contender’s greater appreciation of ‘shared history’.


Speculation over third party candidate [Fox News] The former governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson could influence the outcome of the presidential election.


Romney adviser calls for entitlement cuts [National Journal] An adviser to the Romney campaign has said that budget cuts should focus on entitlement programmes father than defence spending.


Debate dates revealed [MediaBistro] The details of the presidential debates have been announced by the Commission on Presidential Debates.


Biden addresses fire-fighters in Philadelphia [CNN] Vice-President Joe Biden has spoken about Mitt Romney’s economic policies at the 51st convention of the International Association of Fire Fighters.


Romney campaign distances itself from ‘heritage’ comments [ABC] The Romney campaign has attempted to distance itself from comments made by anonymous advisers about the Republican candidate’s ‘Anglo-Saxon heritage’.


Obama calls for bi-partisan ‘consensus’ on guns [Guardian] President Obama has said that he will ‘continue to work with members of both parties and with religious groups and with civic organisations to arrive at a consensus around violence reduction.’


Democrats take advantage of ‘Romneyshambles’ [Telegraph] The Democratic National Committee (DNC) have produced a video that draws attention Mitt Romney’s criticisms of London 2012.


Romney to court Jewish voters [Wall Street Journal] Mitt Romney will make an attempt to appeal to Jewish voters in a trip to Israel.


Compiled by Patrick McGhee.

A Strait Explanation For Russia’s Interest In Tartus (Part 2)

Why is Russia so interested in preventing Western intervention in Syria? The second of a two part feature examining the reasons behind Russia’s support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. 


Syria protestor


Read the first half here.

In recent years, Russia has spent considerable sums ensuring adequate naval infrastructure on the Black Sea. In 2010, the Ukrainian and Russian parliaments ratified a treaty extending the Russian lease on the naval base at Sevastopol, Ukraine to 2042. In exchange, Russia promised $100 million annually plus a 30% reduction in the price of natural gas it sells to Ukraine for the next 25 years, a significant and costly concession.[9] The base is clearly of vital importance to Moscow. In addition, Russia has invested in a base for 100 vessels at Novorossiysk.[10] Intended as a replacement for Sevastopol, the base will still be used despite the deal reached in 2010. This new base will allow for expansion of the Black Sea Fleet. Fifteen new vessels are intended to enter the fleet over the next decade and the recapitalisation of naval forces is a key development priority for the Russian military.[11]

In addition to developing infrastructure, Russia has helped develop a joint naval force,  BLACKSEAFOR, with the other littoral states. This organization is intended to increase cooperation amongst regional navies in combatting terrorism and drug smuggling, two key domestic security issues for Russia. This cooperation also increases trust and decreases the likelihood that any other Black Sea nation would attempt to deny Russian access to the sea. Furthermore, BLACKSEAFOR operations allow the Russian Navy to monitor developments in these other navies, increasing the ability of the Black Sea Fleet to defeat them in the admittedly unlikely case of a war.

Finally, a spate of recent manoeuvres – both in the Black Sea and worldwide – have been designed to demonstrate Russian naval capacity. Beginning in 2008, a sharp spike in naval exercises began.[12] That same year saw ships deployed as far away as Venezuela and South Africa for the first time in years. In January 2009, more Russian vessels were simultaneously at sea than at any time since 1991. The trend has continued with numerous exercises planned and conducted in 2010, 2011 and 2012, including an annual exercise in the eastern Black Sea.[13] The 2008 Russo-Georgian War also served as a demonstration of Russian naval capabilities.[14] Forces from the Black Sea Fleet rapidly defeated the Georgian Navy and landed marines on the Georgian coast. Given the geography and scope of the war, it was an unnecessary operation and could only have complicated planning efforts.[15] It is likely that it was meant to signal Russian naval power to other littoral states.

In conjunction with Russian attempts to directly signal its dominance of the Black Sea, the strategic logic of its support for the Syrian regime is clear. By supporting Syria, Russia gains another front in its efforts to keep Turkey amenable to its influence and maintain control of the straits.[16] In any crisis with Russia – no matter how unlikely given improved bilateral relations – Turkey would have to consider the fact that it is in a sense surrounded. It faces Russian naval forces in two seas as well as Syrian ground forces along its longest shared border. Furthermore, with the ability to operate naval forces on both sides of the straits, Russia has increased its direct influence on them.

If ever the straits were closed, Moscow could use forces simultaneously from two directions to attempt to reopen them. Or, were any state to threaten its control of the Black Sea, Russia would be able to use its Mediterranean forces to keep the fight as far from Russia’s shores as possible, just as during the Cold War. In August 2010, RIA Novosti, a state-owned news agency, announced that Russia planned to develop Tartus sufficiently to host ‘guided-missile cruisers and even aircraft carriers’.[17] Tartus is not much of a base now, having only a ‘a floating pier, a floating machine shop said to need repairs and barracks’, but its location and potential make it valuable.[18] Development has proceeded slowly, but it is clear that Russia sees strategic value in its base at Tartus.

Now, strategic logic may necessitate Russian involvement in Syria, but it does not explain Moscow’s support for Assad specifically. Why not just deal with the next regime? The answer is simple: it is safer for the Russians to stick with the partner they already know.[19] It is possible, given the denouement in Turkish-Syrian relations in the years leading up to the Syrian civil war, that any new Syrian regime would seek better relations with Turkey, lessening Russian influence over the straits. Furthermore, at this stage, should Assad fall, any new Syrian regime will likely be hostile to Russia for its actions to date in the crisis. Moscow is willing to risk supporting Assad on the assumption that if he survives he will be extremely open to Russian influence. Such an outcome would guarantee the Russian position on both of Turkey’s flanks.

This all may seem terribly Cold War-esque, but looking again at the 2009 Russian national security strategy it all fits into place. Russia helps secure one of its chief national security goals by maintaining naval forces in the Mediterranean and keeping Turkey distracted. The only cost is a few million dollars a year and the opprobrium of those who think the Assad regime is evil. For a Russian government that is concerned about making Russia a powerful player on the international stage, the investment makes sense.[20] Anger at Russian actions is temporary and relatively cost-free; the strategic advantage of controlling access to the Black Sea is permanent and invaluable.

When viewed from a historical and strategic perspective, Russian actions regarding Syria are easily understood. Direct interests in Syria obviously play a role in guiding Russian policy in the crisis, but its actions also fit into a broader scheme. Russia has always been concerned about controlling access to the Black Sea and securing its ability to transit the straits at will. By controlling this key maritime chokepoint, Russia can easily protect its southern coast and reduce foreign influence on neighbouring states. Moscow’s support for the Assad regime is part of a broader strategic concern, and in addressing Russian actions policymakers should remember that there are critical Russian national interests at stake.

[toggle title=”Citations”]

[8] See paragraph 41 and paragraphs 12 and 13 (accessed 16 July 2012).

[9] RIA Novosti, 21 July 2011 (accessed 16 July 2012); Ivan Watson and Maxim Tkachenko, ‘Russia, Ukraine agree on naval-base-for-gas deal’, (accessed 16 July 2012).

[10] IISS, The Military Balance 2008, p. 208

[11] IISS, The Military Balance 2012, p. 187; The Military Balance 2011, p. 180

[12] See Gorenburg (2009), ‘Russian Naval Deployments: A Return to Global Power Projection or a Temporary Blip?’, (accessed 16 July 2012).

[13] See RIA Novosti coverage for details:,,,,, (all accessed 16 July 2012).

[14] See Gorenburg (2008), ‘The Russian Black Sea Fleet after the Georgia War’, pp. 1-3, available at (accessed 16 July 2012).

[15] Ibid, p. 4

[16] It must be noted that Russo-Turkish relations have improved over recent years. Russian policy towards Turkey appears twofold. Economic cooperation is designed to reward Turkey for good behaviour while increasing military capacity and developing influence along Turkish borders demonstrates the capacity to punish Turkey for bad behaviour. It must also be noted that is not passive. It has its own

[17] RIA Novosti, ‘Russian Navy to base warships at Syrian port after 2012, 2 August 2010, (accessed 16 July 2012); see also IISS The Military Balance 2009, p. 207.

[18] Boston Herald Editorial Staff, ‘Russia’s Syrian gambit’,, (accessed 16 July 2012).

[19] Steve Gutterman, ‘Russia out to maintain clout, improve image on Syria’, 21 March 2012, (accessed 16 July 2012).

[20] Vladimir Putin, ‘Being Strong’, (accessed 16 July 2012).


Sexual Health & The Need For Secularism

Despite the absence of a codified constitution in the UK that explicitly separates religion from the state, it would nonetheless be heartening to see the Education Secretary take a more objective and inclusive approach to education, especially when the sexual health of young people hangs in the balance.



As the International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. draws to a close, it is worth keeping in mind not only the efforts being made in the struggle against the disease but also the obstacles that have attempted to undermine these efforts. In a sense, little has changed since 2003 when the Catholic Church was discouraging people across the world from using condoms as a means of protection against HIV, with patent disregard for the scientific evidence against their claim that the infection could pass through the contraceptives.

In 2010, the Vatican was forced to vociferously reemphasise the Church’s opposition to contraception after the Pope suggested that condoms may be of benefit to male prostitutes, an offer of compromise hardly worthy of the serious conversation being had by medical professionals, scientists and coordinators about how best to tackle the epidemic. This case, in addition to Catholic opposition to the Affordable Care Act in the United States, suggests that healthcare would benefit from a secular outlook that prioritises wellbeing and safety over theological interests. It could be argued, however, that education is in need of a similar non-religious framework in order for these priorities to be realised.

Last week, it emerged that some schools in England have been not only discouraging but also actively preventing students from receiving important cervical cancer vaccinations as a direct consequence of religious belief. Explaining its decision to withhold vaccines from its students, one school said that its ‘pupils follow strict Christian principles, marry within their own community and do not practice sex outside marriage’. The news prompted criticism from numerous commentators, as well as calls for calm from others, but the debate itself should be seen as a symptom of a wider conflict inherent in the relationship between religion and education.

This conflict is perhaps best illustrated by the establishment of the Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) Council in May this year. The Council seeks to ‘promote the best possible sex and relationship education both at home and at school’ and is comprised of seven founding organisations, all of which have been found to support positions associated with the Christian right-wing and several of which have declared religious intent outright. Last week, one of the Council’s member organisations, Lovewise, was found to have given presentations containing misinformation to schoolchildren in order to discourage abortion, prompting condemnation from Labour MP Dianne Abbott.

The values of the Council in general and the actions of Lovewise in particular demonstrate the irreconcilable differences between elements of religious tradition and education, especially as it relates to sexual health. It may be true that, as the director of Lovewise Dr Chris Richards has said in defence of his organisation, young people ‘have a right to hear and discuss what might be positive about keeping sex for marriage and keeping their unborn child’, but schools have a more important obligation to deliver evidence and fact-based education to their students.

This can often mean dialogue and debate, but only in a secular environment can credible and objective conclusions be reached without the risk of unfairly promoting the beliefs of one faith above human wellbeing. Young people deserve to be educated in an environment that promotes multiple voices and a variety of ideas, but they also deserve a structure of learning that values the search for truth above all else. It would be a mistake to forgo that structure in order to facilitate the interests of particular religious traditions.

It is worth noting that the SRE Council has received the personal support of the Education Secretary Michael Gove, who has said, ‘I look forward to working with you all in ensuring that the interests of families are put at the heart of our policies’. Despite the absence of a codified constitution in the UK that explicitly separates religion from the state, it would nonetheless be heartening to see the Education Secretary take a more objective and inclusive approach to education, especially when the sexual health of young people hangs in the balance.

A Strait Explanation For Russia’s Interest In Tartus (Part 1)

Why is Russia so interested in preventing Western intervention in Syria? The first of a two part feature examining the reasons behind Russia’s support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. 


Syria protestor


To the West, Russian actions towards Syria can seem inexplicable, untrustworthy and trapped in the era of great power politics. In October 1939 Winston Churchill famously quipped ‘I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…’. It seems things have not changed. Churchill offered a potential solution to his own concerns, however. ‘But perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interests’.[1] It is apparent that in the last 73 years nothing has changed.

Russian national interests motivate Moscow’s support of Bashar al-Assad, and they are numerous. They include the prospect of future arms sales to the regime and Syrian debt to the Russian state and businesses, debt which might not be honoured if Assad falls. They also include Russian influence in the Middle East and in the wider world, influence that may be bolstered by Russia’s ability to prevent Western intervention at will in the Middle East. Finally, Moscow has an interest in maintaining the international norm of non-intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states, an already weakened norm that would be further degraded by Western intervention in Syria.[2] One major interest – an enduring one for Russia – has nevertheless been ignored in media coverage of Russian involvement in the Syrian crisis.[3]

That interest is in maintaining control over the Black Sea. For as long as Russia has existed, it has had an interest in the Black Sea and the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits which control access to it. By extension, it has always had an interest in Anatolia, which straddles this maritime chokepoint. Russia and the Ottoman Empire fought thirteen separate wars from 1568 to 1918, many over control of the Black Sea, as Russia sought to assert its dominance over its southern neighbour. In 1695, Peter the Great used his newly created fleet to attack Ottoman positions and establish his dominance of the Sea of Azov on the northern coast of the Black Sea. Catherine the Great conducted several wars against the Ottomans in the 18th century, securing the Crimea and gaining a further foothold on the Black Sea. In 1827, a combined Anglo-French-Russian fleet decimated the Ottoman fleet at Navarino and in 1828-29 Nicholas I went to war against the Ottoman Empire after it closed the Dardanelles to Russian traffic.

In 1833 he again intervened in Ottoman affairs, this time to protect the Sultan’s government against internal rebellion and thereby secured the Treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi, which provided for closure of the straits in the event of a European war. This secured the Russian coastline in the event of a war against the British and their allies. From 1853-1857, the Crimean War was fought in part because of Nicholas I’s attempts to secure influence over the Ottoman Empire, at expense of the British and French, by becoming the guarantor of all its Orthodox Christian residents. Another war occurred in 1877-1878 as Russia sought to reclaim its access to the Black Sea, severely limited by the treaty ending the Crimean War.  Finally, the First World War saw the last war between the two states, but not the end of Russian interest in Anatolia.

When Turkey joined NATO in 1952, however, the ability of Russia to directly manipulate it by force diminished.  Russia turned to other methods to guarantee its access through the Bosporus and Dardanelles. It found the means to influence Turkey via Syria.[4] Syria and Turkey had strained relations for much of the 20th century resulting from such things as water rights, Syrian support for Kurdish rebels and the secular nature of the Turkish government, and the USSR sought to exploit this for its own benefit. Aid to Syria, already an associate of Moscow, increased significantly in the mid- to late-1950s.[5] Significant aid flows continued for the duration of the Cold War, even as regimes in Syria changed.

In 1971, the same year of Hafez al-Assad’s first visit to Moscow, the Soviet Union concluded a deal with Syria to establish a naval base at Tartus, in direct challenge to the U.S. Sixth Fleet’s dominance of the Mediterranean. By establishing a presence in the Mediterranean, the Soviet Union pushed a potential battlefield with the United States further from its borders. With the end of the Cold War, the naval rivalry which prompted such manoeuvres disappeared, but Russia’s attempts to influence its neighbours did not; Syrian aid continued to flow unabated.[6]

In 2009, by decree of then President Medvedev, Russia established its National Security Strategy to 2020.  The main objectives of this strategy are the ‘sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, and likewise the preservation of civil peace, political and social stability’.[7] To achieve these objectives Russia must guarantee the security of its borders, which requires a degree of influence over its neighbours, either through cooperative measures or otherwise.[8] In that vein, arms sales and economic assistance to Syria have continued to this day. These provide Russia some influence over the Assad regime and, it is hoped, some indirectly over Turkey.  This influence, and the control it helps give Russia over the Black Sea, is a key factor explaining Russia’s actions in the Syrian crisis. Its actions regarding Syria fit into a broader pattern of manoeuvres designed to secure Russian control over the Black Sea, and thereby guarantee the security of Russia’s borders.

Read the second part here.

[toggle title=”Citations”]

[1] Robert Heinl (1966), Dictionary of Military and Naval Quotations, (U.S. Naval Institute), p. 283.

[2] Andrej Kreutz (2007), ‘Russia and the Mediterranean Countries of the Arab East’, In Russia in the Middle East: Friend or Foe?, (Praeger Security International), (accessed 16 July 2012); Dmitri Trenin, ‘Why Russia Supports Assad’, (accessed 16 July 2012).

[3] Mark Katz mentions the relationship between the Tartus base and the Dardanelles and Bosporus, but argues that the base is designed to facilitate Russian power projection, rather than secure control of the Straits as an end in and of itself. See (accessed 16 July 2012).

[4] Kreutz (2007).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] See paragraph 35 (accessed 16 July 2012)

Iran & The Bomb: When Theory Is Not Enough

If the Cold War peace was only an exceptional case, thus allowing Iran to build its own nuclear capabilities would not be the best option for the United States and Israel, which kind of theoretical contribution is useful for policymakers today?


nuclear missile launch


During the past months a great deal of attention has been paid to Iranian nuclear activities, especially with regard to the best measures for the United States and Israel to adopt in order to tackle the threat of the theocratic regime acquiring nuclear weapons.

Although the United States and the European Union have applied diplomatic and economic sanctions with growing harshness in order to oblige Iran to withdraw, or at least to negotiate, its nuclear purposes, no decisive step towards a peaceful solution has been achieved. While on the political level the situation is stagnant, the theoretical debate, centred upon the so-called theory of nuclear deterrence, could provide useful hints and strategic suggestions for policy-makers.

First and foremost, it is worth remembering that the debate over the possibility of nuclear proliferation and the related threat to regional stability has already been discussed by Kenneth Waltz and Scott Sagan in 1981, and renewed in 2002 by the same scholars.

Waltz has always welcomed and sustained the idea that nuclear proliferation should guarantee peace and stability, basing this assumption on the historical record of the Cold War confrontation and the following nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan. As a result, in the last article published by Waltz in Foreign Affairs, nuclear asymmetry is conceived of as destabilizing given the objective gap in military power and capabilities between Iran and Israel. In addition, such a strategic shortcoming is worsened by the pre-existing ideological rivalry, an irrational aspect that could be worked out only by the logic of deterrence, deemed by Waltz as the most suitable option for assuring stability in the Middle East. In fact, following this reasoning, once Iran obtains its own nuclear weapons, itself and Israel shall be strategically balanced, and no other country in the region should have the incentive to acquire further nuclear capability, leaving the region more stable than today.

If a first sight the rational logic suggested by Waltz seems to be correct and attractive, it is worth considering that the realm of international politics is quite complex and security concerns are not the only characteristic that states are affected by. As Sagan pointed out as early as 1981, states pursue nuclear weapons building because of three major considerations: security, domestic dynamics and international norms.

Aside from the security concerns already discussed, domestic considerations such as the existence of parochial but powerful political groups or individuals (the nuclear energy establishment, the military complex and populist politicians) and the concurrent influence of international norms and shared beliefs on national leaders (such as the Iranian establishment pretension to be a regional power with global aspirations), are not elements of the Waltzian equation and as such alter the balance, perhaps bringing unpredictable consequences.

Indeed, as Sagan himself recalled, Cold War’s “nuclear peace” should not be deduced as the general rule or as an excuse for inaction with either arms control or non-proliferation; instead it remains an exception to celebrate and wonder about.

By the same token, Colin Kahl posits that Waltz ignores other crucial findings, such as the Iranian sponsorship of terrorist groups and militants throughout the Middle East. In addition, given Iran is a revolutionary and by definition revisionist regime, its leadership is not only concerned about its own survival and security, but it is also committed in spreading anti-systemic support through offensive tools in order to expand Iran’s influence and advance its revisionist agenda and ideology in the Islamic world.

Furthermore, critiques against Waltz’s argument are strengthened when Stephen Walt, a neo-realist scholar labelled as “defensive” (as Waltz is), doubts the contemporary validity and workability of the logic deterrence. As a matter of fact, such a strategy could work well once both sides are endowed with survivable forces – second strike capability – that make each of them unwilling to launch the first attack for strategic calculations.

If the Cold War peace was only an exceptional case, thus allowing Iran to build its own nuclear capabilities would not be the best option for the United States and Israel, which kind of theoretical contribution is useful for policymakers today?

Ironically, a partial answer could lie in history. By considering the current situation like a Cuban missile crisis in “slow motion”: Graham Allison has prefigured an inexorable showdown in which the US president will be forced to choose between ordering a military attack or acquiescing to a nuclearized Iran, as happened to Kennedy in the final Saturday. Then, the US President chose for a third way, namely a secret promise to withdraw US missiles from Turkey within six months after the crisis was resolved. Today the situation is much more complicated given the presence of a third nuclear party, Israel, and its domestic perception of threat. According to Allison, only in the case of the domestic situation in Israel reducing the likelihood of a unilateral Israeli attack will American policymakers plan a more reasoned strategy.

In conclusion, even international relations theory admits that the best way to prevent Iranian nuclear weapon is diplomacy, by diminishing Tehran’s need for a deterrent and offering a diplomatic deal that allow Iranians to keep their right for nuclear energy and removes their perception of threat.

Corruption & Justice Reform In Uganda

There is little to no effort to educate the Ugandan people about their constitutional rights and what is contained in the many good laws that have been enacted by parliament. The end result is that many people continue to suffer silently.


justice reform uganda


[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ince the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government led by President Yoweri Museveni took power in Uganda, significant inroads have been made in putting the country on a constitutional path. It is imperative therefore to examine how the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) – a sector wide approach that brings together 17 institutions responsible for administering justice, maintaining law and order and promoting the observance of human rights – has performed in the last 10 years.

Following the 5 year war and the accession of the NRM to power in 1986, the revolutionary body immediately suspended the existing constitution as is the case in most revolutions, and, among other things, vested the National Resistance Council (NRC) with the supreme authority of the government and the legislative powers of Parliament.

Legal Notice No. 1 – the document that established the legality of the NRM government – stipulated what kind of leadership the NRM wanted to implement. Since constitutionalism was one of the grievances that led Museveni and his fighters to the bush to wage a protracted war against what was perceived to be a dictatorial government led by the late President Milton Obote, it was planned that the country would employ a national constitution where the views of the people would be considered.

And in 1995 Ugandans came up with this constitution which effectively ended the operation of the NRM Legal Notice I. By any standards the 1995 constitution, which was promulgated after country wide consultations and fierce debate in the Constituent Assembly, was a good document. It provided for fundamental human rights, the separation of powers between the judiciary, legislature and the executive and more significantly provided for presidential term limits.

Once the constitution was in place, the government, through parliament, went ahead to enact many good laws to fight corruption, ensure public accountability and transparency, protect the environment and natural resources, ensure public order, security of persons and property and uphold the rule of law generally.

More still, the 10 ten last years have seen government implement two Strategic Investment Plans (SIP) and it’s now rolling out SIP III for the next five years 2012/13-2017, to ensure the rule of law and justice for all Ugandans irrespective of their gender, age and social status.

New innovations, some of which have won international awards, have been brought on board such as the Chain Linked Initiative to fast track justice, and community policing to prevent crime. On the whole it can be argued that great strides have been made in the realization of the rule of law and administration of justice. This is evidenced through the creation of specialised divisions of the High Court, including commercial, land, family, criminal, anti-corruption and others.

While the justice sector remains under-funded, the number of magistrates and judges on the bench has more than doubled and judicial facilities have been renovated and new ones constructed. But although government has made tremendous effort in ensuring a functioning and fair justice system in the country, there many inherent weakness and in some cases outright violations of the spirit of our national constitution: some of the subsidiary laws enacted have tended to take away some of the rights protected under the constitution .

The constitution itself has since been amended to remove term limits a decision that has been widely criticized. Since 1999 the Constitution has been amended 48 times setting a new record. Although, among other amendments to the constitution, was the establishment of a multi-party democracy. But on many occasions the presidential and local elections held under the pluralism system have been disputed for alleged lack of democratic political space, violence and voter bribery.

The government also seems weak in implementation of the many laws that have been enacted and once it has come out to apply the law it has been in many cases selectively done so.

The Inspector General of Government (IGG) report produced together with the Economic Policy Research Center of Makerere University in 2010 noted the poor implementation of laws that are supposed to ensure justice for all. It was reported that Uganda had almost 90% weak implementation of laws, especially anti-corruption legislation. There’s also poor facilitation of agencies that are supposed to provide justice and law. The police is poorly facilitated thus being ranked as one of the most corrupt institutions. In the process justice is defeated and hence denied.

The judiciary too has lamented over poor pay. The Chief Justice recently advocated an increase in the salary of judicial officers. This has affected the justice system in the country.

Last year the IGG’s report mentioned the judiciary as one of those agencies that have been hit by corruption. With poor pay of judicial officers corruption related cases have been reported against some judicial officers and yet they are supposed to be custodians of our laws. Justice cannot be delivered where the judiciary is perforated with corruption.

The IGG office was established to ensure accountability among public officials and fight the corruption vice. But the office started off on the wrong premise as it was placed under the President’s Office hence its independence was questioned. It is now a constitutional office. The Leadership Code is among the tools the IGG is meant to enforce against public servants so that none has ill gotten wealth.

It is still an uphill task to implement. Article 235A of the Constitution establishes the Leadership Code Tribunal to handle cases involving politicians that violate the Code, however 7 years later it has not been constituted. The Office of the Auditor General is now independently able to regulate its funds and recruit staff in order to monitor government expenditure. The office is still thin on the ground.

Proposals to amend the Constitution to deny the right of bail have gone a long away in threatening the justice doctrine enshrined in our constitution that a person is presumed innocent until proved guilt. Further still, there is little or no effort at all to educate the Ugandan people about their constitutional rights and what is contained in the many good laws that have been enacted by parliament. The end result is that many people continue to suffer silently.

Implementation of the enacted laws should be adhered to otherwise they cease to address the purpose for which they were enacted and end up being rendered redundant. Performance contracts should strictly be implemented and adequate funding towards JLOS institutions and their over site agencies should be revised upwards. Justice must be seen to be done.

What Do You Think Of David Cameron?

Artist Annemarie Wright is creating a unique piece of artwork based on public opinion and she needs you to contribute your opinion of David Cameron to make it happen!


Amy Winehouse and close up text


[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nnemarie Wright is a text based artist specialising in the production of handwritten artwork. She is most well known for a piece of Tony Blair – “Their families have been told” – created using the handwritten names of fallen British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She has now turned her eye to our current Prime Minister and is calling for the thoughts and opinions of the public to create a life-sized image of David Cameron. This piece is to remain objective and we are encouraging contributors to be constructive with their comments.

Comments will be collected until the 10th August 2012 to allow Annemarie sufficient time to finish the piece before the Conservative Party Conference in October. There are several ways to contribute, the preferred being Twitter, though if your opinion needs more than 140 characters then you can get in touch via Facebook, email or the comments section below.

I am going to create a piece of work that will bring people together and allow them to get involved in something. This will not only make it more special for me, but will allow people to actually voice their opinions in an illustrative way.”


Web: // Twitter: @WDYTODC

Email: [email protected] // Facebook: 

Malaysia Wishes to Add You as a Friend

Though not a global player, Malaysia’s somewhat pragmatic attitude towards its international position means that it has avoided becoming a global doormat.




[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ike that one Facebook user that (more or less) approves everyone as a friend, Malaysia adopts a similar approach to international relations, at least on the surface. It has 105 missions in 83 countries and has diplomatic and trading ties with the United States and Europe, as well as China, India, Japan and Iran. This diverse array of diplomatic relations is very reflective of Malaysia’s pragmatic attitude towards foreign policy.

With a population of around 28 million, Malaysia is a diverse nation with three main races sharing demographics and political power: Malays, Chinese and Indians. Situated in South-East Asia, Malaysia has prided itself as being the crossroads between East and West ever since its 15th century heyday under the leaders of the Malacca Sultanate. Besides spices and other trading goods, Islam arrived through the Straits of Malacca, Islamising the previously Hindu Malays. With the subsequent Portuguese, Dutch, British and Japanese invasions and settlements over the centuries, Malaysia has had its fair-share of foreign influence, domination and heritage – whether in its official language, its political and judicial structure, or in its landscape.

In other words, Malaysia is not altogether unfamiliar with interaction with the wider world. Not exactly a global player, Malaysia has had to maintain a working balance between East and West. Since independence from the British in 1957, Malaysia has had to reinvent its foreign policy to suit changing times, attitudes, and visions. Although initially a keen opponent of Communism (Malaysia was under Emergency laws for over a decade while it fought a Communist insurgency within its borders), it was the first country in South-East Asia to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

During the premiership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister, he put forth a policy of ‘West is Best but East is Better’. His vision was to place Malaysia at the head of the Developing World. He shunned the United States, Britain and Europe and instead, fostered relations with African and Arab nations. He spoke openly and aggressively against Israel and internationalised the Palestinian cause, at times, overtaking the Arab leaders themselves. During this period, this aggressiveness towards Israel trickled down to society and the Arab-Israeli conflict was viewed as a religious conflict between Muslims and Jews. The complication of this implication continues to this day with the unfortunate presence of anti-Semitism within Malaysia, which includes the belief in Jewish-led conspiracies.

However, the current Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak has opted for a more global approach to foreign relations. This includes a more open attitude towards the West, which can be seen with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent visit to Malaysia. Najib has also tried to play the role of a typical international leader by paying a visit to the Pope.

In many ways, Malaysia’s foreign relations go beyond diplomacy. In recent years, it has become a popular choice for higher education among those from the Islamic world, particularly from Iran. There is an estimate of 70,000 Iranians in Malaysia today. After the 2009 elections, the ensuing demonstrations and the crackdown, many Iranians fled the country. Those who could went westwards. Many however, came to Malaysia – some arrived to pursue degrees, jobs, and many others came to retire under the country’s Second-Home Programme. Additionally, Malaysia has welcomed students from African countries such as Ghana. Malaysians themselves are very well-travelled and many have pursued their higher education in countries such as Britain, Australia, the United Stats, Russia, and Egypt.

Malaysia has also been active as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. It has sent peacekeeping forces all over the world, and most recently dispatched an army company out to Lebanon. Malaysia has avoided many major conflicts and though it has had some skirmishes with Indonesia in the past, it has been able to maintain stability in its foreign relations. Though not a global player, Malaysia’s somewhat pragmatic attitude towards its international position means that it has avoided becoming a global doormat.

George On The Higgs: Can Politics Learn A Lesson From Science?

Introducing George, the opinionated beagle with a penchant for the provocative. He will be penning a weekly column on TRS bringing you a little light reading for your Sunday mornings.


Higgs Boson


[dropcap]P[/dropcap]olitics is overcrowded with problems of unimaginable scale – environmental degradation, the pensions timebomb, social care, corruption in Africa and revolution in the Middle East. In each case, timescales are measured in the decades and half-centuries – yet politicians rarely look beyond the next election.

Science, however, seems to work inexorably and cooperatively towards the solutions to the biggest questions of the age. The Higgs Boson was proposed before David Cameron was born, and proven to exist over two years after he became Prime Minister; yet he can’t even predict with confidence what his own legislative agenda will be in three short months.

Can politics learn from science about setting & achieving far-reaching goals, and ignoring the siren calls of short-termism?

The search for the Higgs boson is a saga surpassing that of a simple scientific discovery. It is a story of science, power, money, and politics. If even one of these was missing, we’d still be looking.

First, the science. No one tribe of scientists gave us the Higgs; it was instead a multitude of disciplines all converging with a common goal – a conductorless symphony of physicists, mathematicians, engineers, programmers, experimenters, theoreticians, and more. Even competing teams of scientists worked together to build a hoard of data which, when combined, proved the existence of the final particle to a near-bulletproof level of confidence.

Fundamental science seems to be lagging behind in the money game, and this is demonstrated in the Research Excellence Framework which puts a great deal of emphasis on “Impact” and “Applicability”. Considering that the last useful particle to be discovered was the neutron in 1920, fundamental science has taken quite a blow on the money front. But somehow, dedicated scientists pushed to ensure there was enough funding to last the whole journey.

The team was not based purely at CERN, but was a global collaboration, where scientists and engineers were required to plan 20 years into the future, even guessing at times, what new technology would exist. I am not sure about you, but I can hardly see past lunch time, so I am deeply impressed by the foresight demonstrated.

Next there’s the pure commitment and patience that has gone into the project. The search for the Higgs has literally outlived governments, unlike most government policies. Scientists planned into the future and were able to prepare for it, if only we could say the same for politics.

If there is indeed a lesson to be learned from the scientific method, and in particular the discovery of the Higgs, it is that only collaboration, foresight and planning will solve the world’s most pressing problems.

But what do I know, I’m a dog.