Category Archives: International Affairs

Asia and the Rest: Lines, Circles and Triangles

In this brief reflection Marco Pellerey explains why the international political chessboard should be understood as a set of straight lines, circles and triangles: a place where different forms of thought and expression intersect to form an intricate web of actual interests and perceptions which are, to say the least, ambiguous.


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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the perpetual conflict between realists and the various schools of constructivism in international relations, the former are often accused by the latter of oversimplifying reality, cynically reducing and shaping every situation to strip political protagonists of every psychological dimension that is not rational, calculating and clearly self-serving. Here I would like to propose an extension of this reasoning, adopting a geometrical perspective in order to underline certain cultural aspects that I believe hold great relevance to the current international context.

I invite the reader to imagine the importance that the straight line (and the ideal of total inflexibility that it represents) have had in the development of the so-called “West”. Consider the Macedonian phalanx, with soldiers arranged in neat rows ready to confront the enemy standing directly before them. And so too it was in the trenches of the First World War and in the skies of the Second World War: courage, glory and victory only spring forth from head-on and decisive conflict. The game of chess embodies the epitome of the West in its binary arrangements: blacks and whites, ‘winning’ or ‘captured’ pieces, aristocracy and humble pawns. Nature’s metaphor would be that of the majesty of an oak, whose straight and unyielding trunk defies the elements, splitting rather than retreating.

The eastern equivalent could be represented by the bamboo. A flexible plant which, rather than resist with head held high, instead bends to the wind, adapting in order to then raise itself once more, tracing a wide circle in the air. The superlative quality transforms itself from rigidity to flexibility; a quality which is inherent to the Chinese strategy of war, as Sun Tzu stated in some of his most celebrated aphorisms:

The art of war lies in subduing the enemy without having to confront him;

In every conflict regular manoeuvres lead to confrontation, whilst unexpected manoeuvres lead to victory

This asymmetry is incompatible with linear European logic and has often been interpreted-especially by travellers in the 19th century-as a sign of unreliability, almost genetic ambiguity and therefore inferiority with respect to Europeans. On the battlefield it has been interpreted as cowardice typical of those wishing to avoid exposure to conflict.

The perceptual differences are primarily cultural and have deep implications for daily life. Whilst Asia seeks harmony between forms, always seeking to establish a cosmic equilibrium between the parts (Yin and Yang), avoiding verbal and physical conflicts as far as possible, on the contrary Westerners believe that from direct confrontation –above all in politics-new and innovative ideas arise, denouncing anything which does not proceed in a direct and unambiguous manner. Could we not term America the country of straight talk?

To these geometric metaphors, on which numerous scholars have commented at length, can be added a third, which is essential in order to better understand the political games in Asia: the triangle. How to resolve conflicts between individuals or nations without being too overt and therefore running the risk of causing offence, or worse, causing one ‘to lose face’ to the adversary? The solution is to delegate to third parties who act as intermediaries. It is a game which enables parties to lessen their exposure to risk but which allows greater efficiency and frankness. There is a need, however, to find a reliable interlocutor who enjoys the confidence of both sides.

The recent strengthening of regional agreements in East and South-East Asia should also be understood in this context. The ASEAN (The Association of South-East Asian Nations), for example, counts among its members nations who have gone to war with one another in the last thirty years. Vietnam’s invasion of Kampuchea in 1978 was particularly bloody; the centuries-old conflict between Thais and Burmese; border disputes which continue to this day between Thai and Cambodian control of a temple which lies on the border, or even the invasion of East Timor by the Indonesian Army from 1975-1999. Although it is perfectly normal that an air of reciprocal mutual mistrust still lingers, ASEAN serves an additional purpose for its members, as it is able to act as a lubricant on the area’s political tensions, offering an ideal forum in order to abate conflicts between governments and institutions.

Other similar regional forums have been created with the intent of promoting a multilateral solution to problems regarding rival countries. The Mekong River Commission and Sustainable Development (MRC), based in Vientiane, is another sub-regional body, used as a diplomatic support to heal conflicts by way of intermediaries.

It would not, therefore, be incorrect to depict the international political chessboard as a geometrical set of straight lines, circles and triangles, where different forms of thought and expression intersect to form an intricate web of actual interests and perceptions which are, to say the least, ambiguous.


Original Article: Asia and the Rest: Linee, Cerchi e Triangoli

Translated by Lois Bond

Photo Credit: Present&Correct

Egyptian Chaos: a European Problem

Europe’s role could be crucial to the stabilisation of Egypt. Adding political action to the provision of financial aid, the ‘Old Continent’ could help the country find the stability lost due to its serious economic drift.




[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hilst Europe attempts to define a role in the Mediterranean, Egypt again finds itself at the centre of international attention due to its political instability, resulting from the fall of Morsi. After the gains of the 2011 revolution were progressively mobilised by the Muslim Brotherhood, due to their victory in the presidential elections, the country’s internal situation progressively deteriorated. This resulted in a coup carried out by the military which seems to have found, for the moment, the support of the population. At this point its western neighbours are presented with a dilemma that is not easy to resolve. It is a matter of understanding which are the real demands of the Egyptian people and which is the correct approach to ‘communicate’ with an Egypt in continuous evolution.

The Egyptian uprising helps to challenge a paradigm rooted in the West, that of electoral infallibility, according to which electoral results are a fundamental-and therefore immutable-element of civic life. As seen in Gaza in 2006, however, in the political realities in which democracy begins to take root, elections often yield results which are opposite to those expected-or rather, hoped for. In a sense, what is happening today in the Middle East previously occurred in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. If on one hand this opens up legal dialogues, on the strength of which there is no reason to boycott a government which has legitimately come to power, on the other there are numerous voices which contest the electoral result due to hypothetical pressures or ‘financial patronage’ exerted by the Muslim Brotherhood. It seems clear, however, that room for reflection is very limited and that it is instead necessary to act as soon as possible in order to facilitate a process of transition with as little trauma as possible. It is in fact in the common interest that the region finds its own equilibrium.

In this sense Europe’s role could be crucial to the stabilisation of Egypt. Adding political action to the provision of financial aid, the ‘Old Continent’ could help the country find the stability lost due to its serious economic drift. An economy which, moreover, is characterised by structural elements which make internal change difficult. Among them, the importance of the tourist industry, which is now affected by political instability; a strong tradition of high public subsidies, which do not, however, generate positive outcomes in terms of employment; and an elevated degree of military control over the economy. These factors result in very limited opportunities for an imminent recovery. Europe, on the other hand, could have a more incisive role through the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), created in 2008 by the Barcelona Process and driven by the French, and which in recent years has been found to be a very effective card in relating to the Arab Spring. To find a greater influence in the region, however, the UfM requires renewed confidence and momentum in terms of its capacity for action.

Looking closely, in contrast, what one perceives is a sense of disorientation experienced by western governments, which appear unable to understand the path along which Egypt is directed. Of course, this understanding is far from easy to achieve, and the regional scenario certainly does not make the picture clearer. In fact, the situation in Syria is becoming progressively more explosive, and risks being the subject of a bitter clash between the West and Russia, which has seen Damascus as its only decisive partner in the Middle East since the late seventies.

Ultimately, signs of openness towards a more secular Egypt, which is crucially able to equip itself with a stable and credible democratic system, are coming from the West. To date, however, it is precisely this choice of mediation which seems to be the greatest challenge faced by Cairo. In such a scenario, marked by the fluidity and succession of events, the questions of Europeans are, perhaps, identical to those of Egyptians themselves.


Original Article: Il caos egiziano: un problema europeo

Translated by Lois Bond

The Syrian Conflict: Time to Start Thinking Outside the Box

As the conflict drags on, and as more people continue to suffer, it is time to start putting new ideas on the table, and partitioning Syria is certainly one of the suggestions that could work.




[dropcap]A[/dropcap]n end to the violence and conflict in Syria is not in sight, far from it. The UN estimates that around 100,000 have died in the conflict so far and the number is set to rise as both the Assad regime and the rebel movement refuse to end the bloodshed. Many suggestions have been put forward which aim to bring an end to what has been the bloodiest out of all the Arab Spring uprisings. Some believe that arming the rebels is the answer. The supporters of this claim are the UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the French President Francois Hollande and the USA. Russia, on the other hand, has put forward a diplomatic solution which aims to bring both sides of the Syrian conflict to the negotiating table. Britain, France and the USA favour a diplomatic solution as well, however they claim that Assad will never join the negotiations when he is winning on the ground, thus the need to arm the rebels to create a stale-mate.

However in this article I will argue that both of the above proposals are unlikely to reap any substantial results and therefore out of the box thinking is required.

An argument against arming the rebels

There seems to be a consensus among many, that if President Assad was removed from power, Syria would go back to normality and a start of a new and bright era could begin. However, such a view is obscured by a shallow thinking: Assad is bad, rebels are good. Over the last few months, such a view has suffered a great dent, due to the grotesque and vile actions by some of the rebels- atrocities against the Syrian minorities, such as Christians, inhumane treatment of enemy soldiers, harsh treatment of civilians in rebel held areas, among other despicable incidents. Some argue that these actions are only committed by an extremist minority who do not represent a more liberal faction fighting Assad.

Such a claim in itself provides two reasons for why arming the rebels would not work. Firstly the claim correctly points out the fact that the rebel movement is deeply fractured. There is a civil war, in the civil war. There have been many reports of rebel groups fighting each other and murdering fellow generals. Secondly, this leads to the natural conclusion that if Assad were to fall right now, the conflict in Syria would not end. It would simply shift from rebels fighting Assad and fighting each other, to rebels fighting each other to a greater extent. If weapons were provided to the opposition, these would eventually be used to kill fellow opposition groups, thus leading to more bloodshed. Even if the Arab Spring in Syria began with Syrians wanting more democracy and freedom, right now the conflict has become a sectarian and religious war, between Shias, Sunnis and hardened Islamists. Iraq should be the perfect example of how getting rid of a dictator for its own sake does not lead to positive results. Despite over 10 years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is still plagued by sectarian violence, almost on a daily basis. Syria is even more diverse than Iraq, therefore there is a grave possibility that the violence would be enhanced.

Further reason to doubt the appeal of arming the rebels are claims that the people living in rebel held areas are deeply dissatisfied with the opposition movement, mainly due to the implementation of strict Sharia laws, which the majority of Syrians are not in favour of. Furthermore, there is a strong possibility that, if these rebels were to win, they would initiate mass atrocities against Assad supporters as part of their revenge. This has happened in Libya after the fall of Qaddafi.

Diplomacy as an end in itself is unlikely to work

Undoubtedly supporting Assad in this conflict would also be unthinkable, given the scale of destruction and deaths that have endured over his watch. For this reason some suggested that negotiations ought to take place where both sides agree to a ceasefire and a transitional government, eventually leading to proper democratic elections where the Syrian people will be able to decide how and who should govern the country. In principle this is a viable idea, certainly more so than the plan to arm the rebels. In practise, diplomacy is unlikely to work, since the rebels and their Western backers have set a pre-condition that Assad should step down. Understandably Assad and his support will never agree to such a condition, firstly because he is winning on the ground, and secondly because the rebels and the West have no political legitimacy to ask him for such a move.  Only the Syrian people have the legitimacy to remove their current leader, yet, as well documented, many Syrians continue to support Assad. To have a legitimate transitional government and legitimate future elections, Assad has to be a part of them, to allow the people the chance to once and for all decide whether they want Assad in or out. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the opposition will agree to this move, therefore breaking down any prospective positive outcomes from negotiations

Partition Syria

Unless either the West or Russia decide to end the conflict with a comprehensive victory for their respective sides (a move which is unlikely to occur), the stalemate between Assad and the rebels looks to continue. There is a dangerous possibility that Syria may turn into a new Afghanistan and Iraq, with violence and bloodshed continuing for decades. To prevent such an outcome, Syria may have to be partitioned into some parts that will be governed by Assad, and other parts governed by certain factions of the opposition. For now, Assad will never agree to such a plan when he is winning on the ground, when Russia continues to show undisputed support and when the West is so indecisive. Even if Assad were to win the civil war (which is unlikely as it is hard to see the Western powers allowing this to happen), the extremist rebels would continue to cause a nuisance as they would continue to receive financial and military support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Partitioning Syria would look similar to the Russia and Chechnya situation, where technically Chechnya is part of Russia, but has a status of a republic and some limited independence, with their own leader.

Heavy negotiations would need to take place among the Syrian players to arrive at a common outcome and nobody is suggesting that this would be a simple procedure. However, as the conflict drags on, and as more people continue to suffer, it is time to start putting new ideas on the table, and partitioning Syria is certainly one of the suggestions that could work.


Photo Credit: World Shia Forum

Obama & Reagan: Foreign Policies in Comparison

Unlike Reagan’s prompt reaction to the events of 1983 in Beirut, the supposed passivity of the current American president, shown following the attack in Benghazi, is needed to orientate himself in a situation undergoing progressive, and above all, unpredictable change. In fact, preventative actions of a military nature would worsen the perception of the U.S. presence in conflict areas and in those which are most geopolitically sensitive.




[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter the attack on the American embassy in Benghazi and the killing of Ambassador Stevens, President Obama responded with a resolute but cautious approach, in line with the foreign policy choices of his first term: “The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack … No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”

The voluntary preference for the term “act of terror,” and not “terrorism,” shows to what extent the strategy in presidential foreign policy, specifically in the Middle East and North Africa, is focused towards a path which diverges from that of the previous Bush administration, with both linguistic and cultural discontinuities. Behind such language there also lies the undeniable need to put into perspective a constant, and often exploitable, reference to the “Islamic” matrix of the attacks. The will to not concede to the easy temptation of military intervention further confirms the overall tendency towards caution and reflection.

A different reason for this behaviour is to be found in the additional aim of reaching a stabilisation of the political situation in the Middle East and a complex re-evaluation of the image of the United States. The current U.S. president has acted in awareness of America’s political limits in such a context, and has favoured an approach which is more pragmatic than the traditional idealism typical of U.S. foreign policy. The American presence in Middle Eastern and North African affairs during the 20th century has resulted in increased tensions, particularly post-9/11and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ordered by Bush. Anti-American sentiment, demonstrated by terrorist actions against sensitive U.S. targets, has grown in the last decade: it is one of the greatest problems faced by Obama, who was also elected for his promise of comprehensive normalisation.

Even the recent trip to the Middle East, described by the press, unsurprisingly, as a “maintenance trip“, showed Obama’s approach to be particularly tentative, almost reflexive, and his reluctance to take more incisive action, by virtue of a high-profile repositioning away from typical frenzied American interventionism.

The title of Fawaz Gerges’ essay, which appeared in March in Limes, effectively sums up  widespread opinion on the so-called Obama doctrine: “Barack the Cautious.” Gerges’ words underline Obama’s pragmatism in the Middle Eastern context, focused on maintaining the status quo by avoiding ideological excesses and encouraging a calmer atmosphere. According to Gerges, this approach is the result of a deliberate American disengagement from the Middle East, in favour of the Pacific. Michele Basso, however, wonders just how realistic this outcome is, and alternatively to what degree a pivotal role in crisis contexts is still a determining factor for America, thus confirming Washington’s presence, albeit in a “softer” manner.

In many respects the same policy of re-evaluation and American outplacement came to be implemented, albeit with different strategies, by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The stated objective was to regain credibility among Middle Eastern countries as well as to encourage a process of pacification, however in a strategic framework strongly influenced by the 1982 Westminster Address. Reagan’s doctrine was based on the idea of facing the Soviets at a global level in low-level-intensity conflicts, that is, those not directly fought between the two superpowers, also supporting guerrilla groups and opponents of philosocialist or pro-communist regimes wherever necessary. This aspect of Reagan’s foreign policy, imbued with an anti-communism which was as superficial as it was simplistic, had a positive influence in the direct conflict with Moscow in the long term, but greatly tarnished the image of Americans in other contexts. The U.S. invasion, often maladroit in essentially local matters, such as conflict between Israel and Palestine, or between Iraq and Iran, led to a tightening of international relations, particularly in Lebanon, Iran, and Central America. The American intervention in Lebanon in support of Israel against the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which had exploited the civil war to undermine the Israelis, was considered an act of interference. The reaction to this “reintegration” in the area was very violent with a long series of attacks and abductions of hostages that characterised the entire Reagan presidency. The most shocking episode, which was in a certain sense similar to that of the embassy in Benghazi last year, was in October 1983 in Beirut, which saw the death of more than 200 Marines. The attack, then claimed by Hezbollah, led to a ramping up of American political choices at global level.

Reagan’s reaction was therefore quite different from that of today’s commander-in-chief. The then Republican president showed no reluctance to talk of “terrorism”, condemning the attack and planning a military response, which resulted in the Urgent Fury mission in Grenada. Despite the facade of a reasoning which concerned the defence of civilian and military Americans in the country, where there had been a resounding advance of the philosocialist regime, in so doing Reagan expressed the will for a muscular politics which would restabilise the predominant role of the United States.

Such a modus operandi seems to have been abandoned by Obama, who has always refused military involvement akin to that of the Reagan era. According to Del Pero’s reading, the re-elected president has initiated a policy of “low cost interventionism”, characterised by a general caution, “approaching passivity,” dictated by the pledges established by President Obama himself in electoral campaigns. Observers within the international community are currently reflecting on the validity of this approach with respect to issues in the Middle East and wonder about the need for the U.S. to play a more decisive and incisive role.

At the same time, one should not forget that the president has not completely abandoned the instrument of interventionism: for example, the uses of drones in war zones or in operations like the one that led to the killing of Bin Laden.

In its results, such behaviour does not appear far removed from Reagan’s more aggressive approach, as the escalation of anti-Americanism in the Middle East and in neighbouring regions does not appear at all diminished. At this time the greatest doubt is found in asking whether Obama’s current foreign policy is an almost obligatory and voluntarily considered choice to change the balance of power in ever-changing contexts, especially in light of the great political and cultural upheavals of recent years. It is highly likely that the American president’s supposed passivity is needed to orientate himself in a situation undergoing progressive, and above all, unpredictable change. In fact, preventative actions of a military nature would worsen the perception of the U.S. presence in conflict areas and in those which are most geopolitically sensitive.


Original Article: Obama e Reagan: visioni e scelte strategiche a confronto 

Translated by Lois Bond

Photo Credit: isriya


Cyprus, the Mediterranean Pivot

The declared objective of the government of Nicosia is to use the geo-strategic position of Cyprus, between Europe and the Middle East, to make the country a true energy hub, with a central role in commercial transit and in the provision of European energy.




[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n recent years the Eastern Mediterranean has increased its own strategic importance at an international level following significant discoveries of hydrocarbons. In this region the recent offshore findings of natural gas are radically changing its geostrategic and economic status. Before achieving the ambitious objective of becoming a net exporter of energy the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, and Cyprus in particular, must confront regional challenges and interests-be they of an economic, politico-strategic or, inevitably energy-infrastructure nature-of the major powers in the area.

Two years on from the great discoveries of the Leviathan and Tamar fields on the Israeli coast, December 2011 was the turn of Cyprus: the USA company Noble Energy reported an initial discovery of offshore gas in block 12 of Aphrodite, with an energy potential estimated at between 5-8 trillion cubic feet (140-230 billion cubic metres). Evidence suggests that this area is an extension of the Levante basin: it is still the subject of an initial exploratory phase and, therefore, these initial estimates are considered conservative, with the prospect of their rising in the coming years. There is therefore a potential wealth for the island of enormous proportions. According to some experts, in fact, Cyprus could potentially be sitting on a goldmine of at least 60 trillion cubic feet (1.7 trillion cubic meters) of gas, not considering the potential of the petroleum: it could generate revenue of up to $ 400 billion once commercially exploited.

The declared objective of the government of Nicosia is to use the geo-strategic position of Cyprus, between Europe and the Middle East, to make the country a true energy hub, with a central role in commercial transit and in the provision of European energy. A perspective, however, which does not consider the tensions and several unresolved questions that could hinder the energy development of the island, itself essential in reviving an economy in deep crisis.

Firstly, the strong political destabilisation resulting from the 1974 Turkish military invasion which produced a de facto division of the island, between the Turkish-Cypriot north and the Greek-Cypriot south. The discovery of energy resources in the southern part of Cyprus, as well as an absence of results from research conducted thus far into the offshore areas of the north, have added a new and relevant source of friction in relations between Nicosia and Ankara. The island’s peculiar political situation could therefore constitute a brake on the development of the country’s economy, capable of affecting decisions regarding investment by foreign companies, especially those who have strong interests in Turkey. The latter, in fact, threatened repercussions for those companies which intend to enter into agreements for the exploitation of resources with the Cypriot government. Such is the case for Eni S.p.A. which has seen the suspension of all projects undertaken with Turkey, due to its agreement to exploration signed with Nicosia in January. Ankara, in fact, maintains that such energy resources are located in international waters and that they should benefit all of the island’s inhabitants, and not only Greek-Cypriots. Turkish interests, profoundly connected to energy, therefore emerge. Furthermore, relations between Cyprus and Israel, in particular those relating to a possible project for the liquefaction of gas for export, feed the prospect of an energy partnership. Excluding Ankara, this could provide an alternative route for the transport of gas to Europe and Asia, obstructing the great Turkish mission to become a regional energy hub. According to several analysts, this prospect was one of the reasons behind the rapprochement between Turkey and Israel which, enabling the former to maintain its centrality as the country of transit, and the latter to have optimal conditions available for the export of its gas. Whilst in the long term, the economic advantages of cooperation between Nicosia, Tel Aviv, Athens and Ankara could be more convincing, in the short term, energy pressures feed tensions in an already established hotspot.

It is probable that Turkey’s firm stance on the Cyprus question is one of the reasons behind the Russian decision not to accept the bailout plan hastily proposed by Nicosia, in exchange for licenses for the exploitation of gas fields. To this must be added, among others, the European position and the special relationship between Berlin and Moscow, sealed by the agreement on the Nord Stream gas line, which might have suffered setbacks if Putin had decided to approve a bailout plan for a member country within the EU. Moscow’s position, then, is understandable when considering the multiplicity of interests that the country shares with other regional players, such as Germany, Greece and Turkey: these can be safeguarded only by a strategy of ambiguous realpolitik. Although the issue of the Cypriot bailout has put pressure on the relationship between Nicosia and Moscow, it is difficult to imagine a rupture of relations between the two countries, but rather a redefinition in the interests that still bind them. Moscow, in fact, has long-standing ties with the island of Aphrodite, ranging from banking and finance, to real estate and military strategy. There are strong suspicions, for example, regarding the role played by Cyprus in the trafficking of weapons from Russia to Damascus.

Brussels, for its part, seems determined to impose comprehensive change on the Cypriot business model and on its banking system, thus affecting its status as a tax haven for the offshore investments of Russian magnates. Discoveries of gas in the Cypriot Sea represent a great opportunity for Europe to diversify energy supplies, with respect to Russia’s dominant role. Cyprus’s economic problems, however, which have led to the forced levy on bank deposits, also herald strong domestic discontent:  the EU should not exacerbate the economic situation because, as the multiple demonstrations on the island show, anti-European sentiment is particularly widespread amongst the population and could become a source of political instability. This could obstruct a possible solution to the conflict with Turkey, a central obstacle in Ankara’s access to Brussels.

The framework outlined above seems far from optimistic given that, at least in the short to medium term, the European iron fist on bank accounts, the withdrawal of Russian support and Turkish pressure clamp the island in a vice which will only increase internal malaise and aggravate the downturn in the national economy. A situation which seems as if it will be unable to improve until exploitation of the energy resources of the Aphrodite gas field is at full capacity, something which may require several years.

On the contrary, within an extended timescale the need for cooperation between the main players involved can only increase, due to pressures deriving from the stabilisation of the Cypriot economy and the gradual exploitation of the rich intra-European gas fields. Turkey has already signalled to this effect: conscious of its role as transit towards international markets, Ankara has proposed to Nicosia its help in the development of gas, noting on the other hand that the benefits of such discoveries should be shared by all the inhabitants of the island. In conclusion, one aspect is more certain than others: without a resolution of the dispute over sovereignty of the island, an issue that has dragged on for 40 years now, eventual regional cooperation seems difficult to envisage.


Original Article: Cipro, il pivot del Mediterraneo

Translated by Lois Bond

Photo Credit: magisstra

Japan & Northeast Asia: Acknowledging History for Peaceful Relations

Japan’s acceptance of its history would be a beneficial start to demonstrate they are wholehearted in working with its neighbours towards a greater goal – striving for regional peace and prosperity.




[dropcap]O[/dropcap]saka’s Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s justification of Japan’s war crime in forcing women into sexual slavery during World War II, ignited outrage from its neighbours, particularly China and South Korea. This incident reminds us that although it has been almost 70 years since the war ended, there are still unhealed scars that will perpetuate mutual suspicion and disunity – particularly from its closest neighbours China and Korea who had suffered the most from Japanese military aggression.  Additionally, the Japanese government’s actions have continuously convinced China and South Korea they are not sorry for what they had done in World War II. However, if the Japanese government is willing to accept its history without attempting to downplay the atrocities that had happened, this will cement positive and healthy relations with the other two powers of Northeast Asia.

In May this year, Toru Hashimoto from the Japan Restoration Party (Nippon Ishin no Kai), claimed it was  necessary for the Imperial Japanese Army to have “comfort women” (ianfu) – a term used to euphemise sexual slavery during World War II. Hashimoto defended that “to maintain discipline in the military, it must have been necessary at that time”. It is estimated that approximately 200,000 women, many of whom originated from Korea, were trafficked into military brothels, where they suffered the most brutal forms of torture. As a result, enraged responses came from China and South Korea. Hong Lei, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson of China, condemned Hashimoto’s remarks: “We are appalled and indignant about the Japanese politician’s comments boldly challenging humanity and historical justice”. South Korea’s ambassador to Japan, Shin Kak Soo, commented: “I’m disappointed to know that a Japanese politician has such a poor understanding of history and women’s human rights”. On 16 May, Hashimoto offered to apologise to former sex slaves: “I think I have to apologise firmly for what Japan did as I talk to former comfort women”. However, in this statement, it appears that Hashimoto was attempting to soften Japan’s war crimes. He continued: “During World War II, neither the US nor the British militaries had comfort stations or comfort women, but it is an obvious fact that they made use of local women” and “Japan was not the only one doing so: everybody was doing bad things. I think Japanese people […] should offer objections if there is a misunderstanding of facts in the world”.

Although the Japanese government has apologised for its actions in World War II, they have lacked to convince both China and South Korea about their own bona fide. Contrarily, some Japanese deeds have strongly persuaded its neighbours they are refusing to acknowledge history. In 2001, the Japanese government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, permitted changes in history school textbooks that moderated Japanese war crime.  Such textbooks, called New History Textbook (Atarashii Rekishi Kyokasho), were written by a group of staunch nationalists, known as the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform (Atarashii Kyokasho o Tsukuru Kai). The book included content related to sex slaves as “comfort women”; in addition, it whitewashed the Nanjing Massacre, where 300,000 Chinese unarmed soldiers and civilians were killed by the Japanese army in 1937. This decision flared up its regional neighbours: they questioned Japan’s motives and their apologetic attitudes towards imperialisation and military aggression. Furthermore, the South Korean government underlined how the textbooks still included rationalising and glorifying Japan’s past wrongdoings based upon self-centred interpretation of history.

Another controversial issue is represented by the visits paid by Japanese Prime Ministers to the Yasukuni Shrine. In the shrine were buried high ranking military officers who had committed war crimes, and the Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo (1884-1948). These visits rile up neighbours, and despite repeated angry accusations about Japan’s refusal to accept its history, Tokyo has always been ready to defend its decision. For instance, between 2001 and 2006, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made visits each year. In April 2013, 168 members of the Japanese parliament paid a visit to the Shrine and offered their prayers. Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister and finance minister, Taro Aso, was also one of the attendants: as a result, South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se cancelled a meeting with his Japanese counterpart. A spokesperson from China’s Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying said “no matter in what capacity or form Japanese leaders visit Yasukuni Shrine, in essence it is an attempt to deny Japan’s history of aggression”. However, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga justified that “a visit to the Yasukuni is the matter of beliefs, and Japan ensures freedom of faith”.

Amidst the ire reactions over Hashimoto’s distasteful comments, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took a photograph with a military jet that was numbered 731. In the photograph, Abe was smiling and flashing a thumbs up. Unit 731 was a chemical and biological experiment unit division located in Harbin of China. Many victims, from various countries such as China, South East Asia and Russia were forcibly subjected to horrific and inhumane experiments. The photo received furious condemnations from Korean and Chinese media. South Korea’s largest news publication, Chosen IIbo, commented the picture with the caption “Abe’s endless provocation!”.

Hashimoto’s comment, along with past Japanese leaders’ actions, clearly reflect the deep-rooted tensions between Japan and its Northeast Asian neighbours. China, Japan and South Korea are the leading economies in Asia, therefore healthy diplomatic relations are essential to regional stability. As Hong Lei observed, “the way they treat the past will determine the way Japan walks toward the future. On what choice Japan will make, the Asian neighbours and the international community will wait and see.”

Northeast Asia is also riddled with other complex and thorny issues: the disunity and mutual suspicion between the two Koreas, the uncertainty of regional stability due to North Korea’s unpredictable regime and the looming possibilities of a nuclear attack. Still relevant is the Sino-Japanese fiery dispute over the uninhabited Diaoyu Islands (known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands), Japan and South Korea’s competing claims over the Dokdo Islands (also known as the Liancourt Rocks, and called Takeshima by Japan), and the unresolved relations between China and Taiwan. These obstacles have continuously barred members of this region from having consistent positive diplomatic relations and mutual trust. Hence, it is essential that all members of this region must be more proactive in setting up good relations for future generations to resolve all these tensions. While this article is not suggesting that Japan’s acceptance of its history will solve all of East Asia’s conflicts, that would be a beneficial start to demonstrate they are wholehearted in working with its neighbours towards a greater goal – striving for regional peace and prosperity.



CBRN Weapons and Non-State Actors

What type(s) of non-state actors, according to their characteristics and objectives, are most likely to use CBRN weapons?




[dropcap]E[/dropcap]ver since the 1995 sarin attack of the Tokyo Subway by the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo (“Aum Supreme Truth”), there has been a growing fear that non-state actors, especially terrorist groups, might decide to resort to Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear weapons (CBRN) on a large scale. Governments and counter-terrorism agencies have set up measures to minimize the threat, while academics and experts have tried to profile the groups interested in acquiring and using such weapons. First of all, it is important to explain why this paper will deliberately focus on terrorist groups, which are only one sub-category of non-state actors (other groups would include political lobbies, criminal organisations, separatist groups or even single individuals). When it comes to CBRN weapons, this paper argues that any group willing to use them could be defined as a terrorist organisation (but not automatically, insofar as “terrorist” remains a label that does not have a globally shared definition), whatever its personal objectives or characteristics. Indeed, although CBRN weapons can be very different from one another, they share some key aspects that make them all identifiable as “terror weapons” (their ability to provoke mass destruction and generate unprecedented fear among the population, to name a few). The few case studies of previous CBRN incidents have lead experts to identify key characteristics of terrorist groups that would potentially have an interest in CBRN weapons. Most of them agree that apocalyptic or religious extremist groups are the most likely to use CBRN weapons. However, although groups that present such characteristics might be the most dangerous ones regarding the subject matter, I think that the assumptions underlying these conclusions are misleading. To overcome these issues, this paper will attempt to follow the same analytic pattern, identifying shared characteristics of groups that have turned to CBRN terrorism through four case studies. It will then present the conclusions drawn by academics and experts in major research papers and discuss them, stressing the risk of misconceptions regarding CBRN weapons. Finally, this paper will argue that the type of a group is too reductive to determine effectively which group(s) are most likely to use CBRN weapons and is not as crucial as the combination of factors that might lead the group to this decision.

Four different case studies are usually discussed when experts want to determine the characteristics of potential users of CBRN weapons. Three of them are large-scale “successful” CBRN attacks, while the last one is a potential threat that seems to be a major concern for the US government and the international community as a whole. Chronologically, the first successful CBRN attack happened in 1984, when the Rajneeshee religious cult poisoned 751 people, spreading Salmonella typhimurium bacteria over ten salad bars. No fatality was reported. The aim of the attack was to influence a local vote in Oregon by limiting the voter turnout. Another deadly agent, Salmonella typhi, had been suggested to the leader of the group, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, but he reportedly refused, claiming that the attack was aiming at incapacitating people, not killing them.[1] The second case occurred in 1990 in Sri Lanka. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist militant organisation active in the north of the country, assaulted a military facility using chlorine gas. At least 60 soldiers got sick due to gas exposure, although no fatality was reported. The operation was a success, despite that members of the LTTE got exposed to chlorine when the wind shifted. The third case, previously mentioned, was the 1995 release of sarin gas in the Tokyo subway by the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo. The attack killed 12 people and injured 200, while up to 5,000 stormed in hospitals believing they had been exposed. Finally, the last case study is Al Qaeda’s reported attempt to acquire and intention to use a CBRN weapon. Extensive evidence can be found to support this statement: the declaration of bin Laden in 1998 that acquiring CBRN weapons ‘is a religious duty’[2] (remaining very vague regarding its actual possession of such weapons), the 2003 fatwa (a religious decree) condoning the killing of 4 Million of Americans, described as a legitimate act of vengeance, as well as numerous documents found in Afghanistan attesting of active researches and experiments in CBRN weapons. A whole volume of Al Qaeda’s “Encyclopaedia of Jihad” even details the construction of Chemical and Biological weapons.[3] Although it is not clear whether Al Qaeda remains at an early stage of development of CBRN weapons, there is no doubt regarding the organisation’s interest in such weapons.

Even though these case studies differ by many more aspects than they resemble each other, they share a few common points. In all four cases, a charismatic leader was involved: Prabakaran, leader of the LTTE, controlled the entire life of his followers up to their diet, bin Laden required that Al Qaeda’s members swore allegiance to him (bay’ah),[4] while Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and Shoko Asahara were the spiritual leaders of their cult. In the case of Asahara, he had a huge influence over his followers, predicting the end of the world and promising salvation to all members of Aum. Indeed, a charismatic leader is an important factor for a group that would turn to CBRN terrorism: the influence of the leader can be so important that his decisions are enough to suppress any moral constraint that a member would have, because he holds the truth and the justification of all the actions carried out by the group. Moreover, he is the only one bearing responsibility for them, the individual fading away in the group as a whole. An analogue argument regarding a divine justification of religious groups’ actions is also often put forward. In two cases, members of the group had a personal interest or obsession with CBRN weapons: Ma Anand Puja, the member of the Rajneeshees who suggested the use of Salmonella typhi, was suspected of being a ‘serial poisoner’,[5] while Aum Shinrikyo had a very hierarchical organisation with scientists as head of chemical and biological departments, not to mention Asahara personal fascination with unconventional weapons. He even wrote a song about sarin, titled ‘Song of Sarin, the Magician’.[6] Social alienation also played an important role in the Aum and Rajneeshee cults: after losing the 1990 elections, Aum decided that no one from outside of the group could be saved, drawing a clear line between “us” and “them”, while the Rajneeshees were living in a small community in Waso County, isolated from anyone else. The consequence of this alienation was that any exterior social constraint regarding violence would have no impact on the group’s decisions.[7] Finally, religion was a factor in three of these cases, or at least a major characteristic of the groups involved.

But that is as far as this comparison goes. The use of CBRN weapons was a rational choice that addressed very different needs and objectives in each case. While it played a central role in Aum’s prophesised apocalypse (although the 1995 sarin attack was a desperate action triggered by a planned operation of the Japanese police to close in on the group’s facilities), the LTTE only resorted to chemical weapons that one time because of a shortage of conventional weapons and has never used chlorine again. While Al Qaeda might be willing to use CBRN weapons for their psychological and symbolic impact, which requires visibility, the Rajneeshees’ attack went unnoticed for over a year. According to John Parachini, Director of the Intelligence Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, the role of religion has been played up, even in the cases of Aum and Al Qaeda.[8] Asahara had an egocentric personality and wanted to be the emperor of the post-Armageddon world, one of the few to actually survive the end of the world. Bin Laden’s divine justification of a holy war can be regarded as a personal vanguard against the United States and its allies.[9] The Rajneeshee was a religious cult but had a secular objective (winning a local election). Therefore, it seems that a simple profile of a group willing to use CBRN weapons cannot be deducted from these case studies only.

The literature on the subject reveals two different trends: one that mostly expends on the case studies mentioned above as well as minor CBRN incidents, using a qualitative approach to establish a typology of groups most likely susceptible to resort to CBRN weapons, and a second one using a quantitative approach, exploiting the CBRN terrorism database of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. It is worth noticing that the findings of both the approaches differ at some point. Regarding the qualitative approach, the different typologies are very similar in their content. I present here Drs. Charles Ferguson and Wiliam Potter’s typology of terrorist groups according to their potential interest in nuclear terrorism,[10] but it differs very little from Professor Robin Frost’s.[11] Ferguson and Potter focus their study on four types of groups: ‘apocalyptic groups’, ‘politico-religious groups’, ‘nationalist/separatist groups’ and ‘single-issue terrorists’. According to them, apocalyptic groups pose the greatest threat when it comes to nuclear terrorism, because some of them might want to bring about the Apocalypse they foresee, in which case the means becomes the end itself. The key characteristics of such groups are ‘charismatic leaders, isolation and alienation from the larger society, sense of paranoia and grandiosity’[12]. It is obvious that this category refers directly to Aum Shinrikyo, which is nonetheless a very specific religious cult that cannot be compared to any other existing terrorist group.

The second category they mention is ‘politico-religious groups’, cause and offspring of the 9/11 attacks. They call such groups ‘hybrids’ as an answer to those who claim that Al Qaeda’s objectives are not only religious, but also political (creation of a global caliphate, but also pushing the United States out of the Middle East). Ferguson and Potter contend that nuclear weapons might appeal to such groups, using the example of Al Qaeda that is willing to inflict mass casualties to the West. Whether the group would actually use a nuclear weapon if it managed to acquire one is not discussed by the authors, but that is a debatable point to which we will come back later.  Interestingly, Frost puts apocalyptic groups and politico-religious groups into one single category, ‘religious terrorism’, that encompasses altogether the Rajneeshee, Aum Shinrikyo and Al Qaeda.[13] He insists on the threat posed by a divine justification of an act presented as a religious imperative.

The third category of Ferguson and Potter’s typology, nationalist/separatist groups, also appears in Frost’s typology. The authors all agree on the disincentives such groups might be confronted with when it comes to using nuclear weapons. These groups, like the Irish Republican Army or Chechen rebels to name a few, are depending on their base constituency’s support and therefore cannot risk to alienate them by undertaking actions that they would not approve of. It was the case for the Real IRA, an offshoot of the IRA responsible for the bombing of a shopping centre in Omagh, Northern Ireland, which lost the support of the population after this operation, leading to its dismantlement.[14] These groups present themselves as “freedom fighters” in order to gain international support and claim to merely target military and governmental installations, although Frost mentions that their rhetoric does not deceive anyone: out of 1,800 victims of the IRA between 1969 and 1994, 600 were civilians.[15] Using a nuclear weapon would be counterproductive according to their strategy, although Ferguson and Potter claim that they ‘might benefit from appearing to have the capability’, an argument that they oppose themselves, mentioning the radicalisation of the government’s stance every time Chechens have mentioned resorting to CBRN weapons.[16] Finally, being geographically focused, they would risk a massive retaliation from the country they would attack, potentially leading to their annihilation.

The last category of Ferguson and Potter are single-issue terrorists (eco-terrorists, anti-nuclear activists, animal liberationists, anti-abortionists, etc…). According to them, these groups do not represent a threat insofar as they have very targeted goals that do not include mass casualties. In this category, Frost mentions an exception: ‘green anarchists’, terrorists who advocate a rebirth of the earth through the annihilation of the human race. This sub-category presents similarities with apocalyptic groups and might very well be willing to use a nuclear weapon to achieve its end, with very little moral constraint whatsoever.[17] Frost also adds ‘social-revolutionary’ and ‘right-wing’ groups in his typology, but argues that nuclear weapons would probably not appeal to them, as they present similarities with nationalist/separatist groups.

Other qualitative studies have also addressed the typology of groups that would be interested in using biological weapons, which is considered to be the most likely scenario of a CBRN attack by most articles in the literature.[18] According to Francisco Galamas, Islamic extremist groups are the most likely to use biological weapons, because they are set on killing non-believers in an indiscriminate manner. Biological weapons have the potential to kill thousands and could be effectively combined with suicide tactics to provoke mass casualties, such as using a contaminated terrorist to propagate a pathogen in a public area.[19] This argument would however be refuted by Adam Dolnik, who underlines the differences between a suicide bomb attack and a suicide CBRN attack, the latter lacking any of the incentives of the former.[20] According to Galamas’ typology, the second group that is most likely to use a biological weapon are religious cults. The author draws his argument from the examples of the Rajneeshee’s Salmonella poisoning and Aum’s numerous attempts to produce and use Botulinum toxin and anthrax between 1990 and 1993. It is worth noticing that religion remains the primary factor in biological weapons qualitative studies.

The main quantitative studies have been conducted by Kate Ivanova and Todd Sandler in 2006 and 2007, using data of hundreds of CBRN attacks indexed on the Monterey Institute’s CBRN terrorism database from 1988 to 2004. Their findings indicate that democracy, past CBRN incidents, corruption and transnationalism increase the risks of a CBRN attack. However, Ivanova and Sandler have also found that ‘religious fundamentalists and nationalists/separatists do not present (…) a CBRN concern’.[21] According to them, non-religious groups are five times more likely to use CBRN weapons than religious groups.[22] However, these results are not entirely at odds with qualitative studies, because Ivanova and Sandler found that religious groups that are also transnational – such as Al Qaeda – were the most likely to use CBRN weapons.  Nevertheless, it would seem that the factor “transnational” is of the uttermost importance and that religion alone does not support the use of a CBRN weapon.

All these studies attempt to profile groups that would be interested in using CBRN weapons. However, some of the assumptions they base their arguments on can be misleading. I will discuss three points that are often overlooked in the literature. First of all, I do not think like Frost that ‘the decision to “go nuclear” would necessarily involve the intention to do so’.[23] For example, in my opinion, Al Qaeda would probably benefit more from pretending to have a CBRN weapon than using one. The group is not insensitive to its followers’ opinion, otherwise the organisation would not have felt the need to justify the killings of 9/11. However, claiming to “potentially” have a CBRN weapon is a cost free psychological weapon in itself. Therefore, whether Al Qaeda would actually use a CBRN weapon is debatable. Another misconception is that CBRN weapons are necessarily weapons of mass destruction, and that terrorists would automatically use them to kill a lot of people and carry out an attack more spectacular than 9/11. Given its psychological impact, a CBRN attack does not need to make mass casualties to reach what Ivanova and Sandler call the ‘media bar’ of 9/11.[24] Moreover, to date, conventional attacks have proven far more lethal than CBRN attacks. Therefore, it appears that the “mass casualty” factor is not necessarily fundamental to explain the choice of a group to use a CBRN weapon.

This paper has attempted to show that the traditional approach consisting in determining the type of non-state actors most likely to use CBRN weapons through typologies and case studies might lead to false conclusions, when trying to fit all groups in one single model. CBRN weapons are very different from each other, and the motives explaining why one group would choose to develop and use one particular agent depends on its own objectives and characteristics. While these characteristics can be shared with other groups, they are not self-sufficient. Therefore, this paper argues that a correct approach to the issue would be to think of it as a threshold depending on a combination of all the characteristics mentioned above. Religion is not enough to resort to CBRN weapons, but if a religious group is also transnational, apocalyptic and lead by a charismatic figure, it becomes much more likely to use a CBRN weapon. This proposition would also explain why the Aum Shinrikyo case, symbol of CBRN terrorism, is unique and unlikely to be replicated: many positive factors have simultaneously converged to one very specific group.


Photo Credit: 

[toggle title= “Footnotes and Bibliography”]


[1] Parachini (2001), p. 390

[2] “Wrath of God: Osama bin Laden Lashes Out Against the West,” Time, 11 January 1999

[3] McCloud et al. (2003)

[4] Frost (2005), p. 44

[5] Parachini (2001), p. 390

[6] Brackett (1996), p. 119

[7] Parachini (2001), p. 397

[8] Ibid. p. 403

[9] Ibid. p. 403

[10] Ferguson and Potter (2004), p. 18

[11] Frost (2005), p. 46

[12] Ferguson and Potter (2004), p. 18

[13] Frost (2005), p. 51

[14] Ibid. p. 47

[15] Ibid. p. 48

[16] Ferguson and Potter (2004), pp. 19-20

[17] Frost (2005), p. 54

[18] Center for Counterproliferation Research (2002), p. 12

[19] Galamas (2011), p. 85

[20] Dolnik (2003), p. 32

[21] Ivanova & Sandler (2007), p. 292

[22] Ivanova & Sandler (2006), p. 436

[23] Frost (2005), p. 46

[24] Ivanova and Sandler (2007), p. 473



– Asal Victor H., Ackerman Gary A. & Rethemeyer R. Karl (2012), ‘Connections Can Be Toxic: Terrorist Organizational Factors and the Pursuit of CBRN Weapons’, Studies in Conflict &Terrorism, Vol. 35, No. 3, pp. 229-254

– Bale Jeffrey M. & Ackerman Gary A., ‘Recommendations on the Development of Methodologies and Attributes for Assessing Terrorist Threats of WMD Terrorism’, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, accessed online at:, on 24 November 2012.

– Brackett, D. W. (2006), Holy Terror : Armageddon in Tokyo, (Boston: Weatherhill).

– Center for Counterproliferation Research (2002), ‘Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Terrorism: The Threat According to the Current Unclassified Literature’, accessed online at:, on 24 November 2012.

– Cole, Benjamin (2011), The Changing Face of Terrorism: How real is the threat from biological, chemical and nuclear weapons? (London: I.B. Tauris& Co).

– Danzig Richard, Sageman Marc, Leighton Terrance, Hough Lioyd, Yuki Hidemi, Kotani Rui & Zachary Hosford M. (2011), ‘Aum Shinrikyo: Insights Into How Terrorists Develop Biological and Chemical Weapons’, Center for a New American Security, accessed online at, on 20 November 2012.

– Dolnik, Adam (2003), ‘Die and Let Die: Exploring Links between Suicide Terrorism and Terrorist Use of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Weapons’, Studies in Conflict &Terrorism, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 17-35.

– Ferguson, Charles D. and Potter, William C. (2005), The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism, (New York: Routledge).

– Frost, Robin M. (2005), ‘Terrorist psychology, motivation and strategy’, The Adelphi Papers, Vol. 45, No. 378, pp. 41-62.

– Galamas, Francisco (2011), ‘Profiling Bioterrorism: Present and Potential Threats’, Comparative Strategy, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 79–93.

– Ivanova Kate & Sandler Todd (2006), ‘CBRN Incidents: Political Regimes, Perpetrators and Targets’, Terrorism & Political Violence, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 423-448.

– Ivanova Kate & Sandler Todd (2007), ‘CBRN Attack Perpetrators: an Empirical Study’Foreign Policy Analysis, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 273-294.

– Kurth Cronin, Audrey (2004), ‘Terrorist motivations for chemical and biological weapons use: Placing the threat in context’, Defense & Security Analysis, Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 313-320.

– McCloud Kimberley, Ackerman Gary A. & Bale Jeffrey M. (2005), ‘Chart: Al-Qa’ida’s WMD Activities’, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, accessed online at:, on 24 November 2012

– Parachini, John V. (2001), ‘Comparing Motives and Outcomes of Mass Casualty Terrorism Involving Conventional and Unconventional Weapons’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Vol. 24, No. 5, pp. 389-406.


The Hard Promise of China’s Peaceful Rise

The analysis below confirms an on-going change in the distribution of power in the Asia-Pacific. This shift not only discourages any optimistic expectations on China’s peaceful rise but is helpful in explaining the new American Strategy for the area, based on a massive redeployment of both US military forces and financial resources in order to contain China’s rising assertiveness.

{Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science}





The debate over the Chinese economic and international rise in world politics in the last two decades has been characterized by growing concerns about the nature of its peaceful purposes. In particular, with the deepening of the world economic crisis since 2008, several military and diplomatic operations have been aiming at containing the rise of Chinese assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific area, such as the strengthening of the American commitment to Japan’s defense, formation of Japan-South Korea alignment, the redeployment of Japanese forces, naval cooperation between the United States and the Vietnamese and Philippines forces, and, finally, the Asia-Pacific Security Strategy announced by President Obama and the former Secretary of State Clinton in the last weeks of 2011.[1]

At first sight, these concerns could seem exaggerated, given that on the 9th of December 2003 Chinese premier Wen Jiabao reiterated the concept of a new phase in China’s approach toward its neighboring countries, pointing out the peaceful nature of Chinese rise and the developing status of its economy, adding that hegemony and expansion never would have been pursued in the area, even with the full development of the country.[2]  Despite the attempt of reassuring further their neighbors and the United States by substituting the term “rise” with the more neutral “development” only a year later, several questions about the new role of China in world politics have emerged in the political and academic debate. In fact, according to Zheng, both “rise” and “development”  “were attempts to counter the ‘China threat’ theories by emphasizing the peaceful way in which China could emerge as a world power[3]: however, the sole fact of the emergence of China as a world power has been sufficient to raise relevant points about its political effects.

From a theoretical point of view, international relations theory provides some helpful insights in order to understand whether the growing power of the Asian giant is able to affect the current international system and US interests in the Pacific region in the foreseeable future. Power transition theory, elaborated by AFK Organski in 1958, accounts for the existence of four different kinds of state-units, organized according to a hierarchal distribution of power: on the top stands the dominant nation, followed by great, middle and small powers. However, this distribution of power is not unchangeable and those states not completely satisfied with the status quo are willing to modify the hierarchy: “peace is threatened when challengers seek to establish a new place for themselves in the international order, a place to which they believe their increasing power entitles them.[4] In addition, Gilpin offers a more precise definition of revisionist and status quo orientations, by identifying some crucial components such as the distribution of power, the hierarchy of prestige and those “rights and rules that govern or at least influence the interactions among states[5]. Finally, according to Mearsheimer, all great powers are intrinsically revisionists because the anarchical system compels them to maximize their own power in order to achieve security.[6]

Within these conceptual frameworks, and in the light of the increase in international tension in the Asia-Pacific region in the last years, in this essay I will be presenting the two main academic positions about the evaluation of the Chinese role: can China be considered as a status quo power or, rather, as a major threat by virtue of being just a great power, and therefore revisionist, dissatisfied with the current American-dominated international system?

China as a status quo power: the importance of economic growth

In 2003, an article by Johnston clearly addressed the question about China’s role in the international system, stating its basic status quo character by underlying Chinese pro-globalisation attitude (given its priority in economic development and the growing economic interdependence) and by recalling Chinese increasing interest in joining regional institutions such as APEC, ARF, SCO, WTO through a comprehensive acceptation of their working rules.[7] Furthermore, China is more concerned about its domestic problems and, according to its own strategic plans, until 2050 its ruling class will be facing three big challenges on the road of state modernization, in order to become a medium-level developed country. Accordingly, the most compelling issues on the Chinese agenda are the shortage of natural resources, the environmental pollution and a lack of coordination between economic and social development.[8]

As a matter of fact, China’s primary objective is to avoid a confrontational foreign policy because it could threat its economic growth, the stability of the Communist Party and the country’s path to modernization: “China’s leadership appears rational, calculating, and conscious not only of China’s rise but also of its continued weakness”, finding more convenient a whole assimilation into the international system than being its worst challenger.[9] This wise and prudent behaviour is confirmed by the Chinese effort into developing friendly relations with the major states on its periphery (Russia, Japan, India, and the Central and Southeast Asian states) also for securing stable energy sources. In addition, Chinese leaders have become aware of the importance to promote China’s values and culture abroad in order to benefit from soft power’s advantages.[10]

Considering China as a status quo power contrasts with the theoretical frameworks previously mentioned. Those who apply power transition theory to evaluate contemporary China’s rise as a potential challenger to the US, rely on flawed historical analogies based on power relations between Germany and Britain in the early twentieth century.[11] According to Ikenberry, China will not “repeat the experience of post-Bismarck Germany” as it faces “a very different type of status quo international order than that faced by previous rising powers[12]: for such a reason, China will continue to work within the rules and multilateral institutions of the current international order. Along with the liberal idea on the Chinese role in international relations, Overholt and Shambaugh sustain that China does not represent a threat to their neighbours nor to the United States: on the contrary, it is the most supportive and helpful country for both of them, because China assures stability in the Asia-Pacific area and can represent a good ally for the US in facing the big regional political and economic issues.[13]

Against this backdrop, Kang, according to constructivist arguments, claims that a neo-structural perspective is too static and does not adequately depict the realities of Asia, where states do not seek hegemony or expansionist policies, even when they achieve great economic power and have the capabilities to expand. His main argument is that Chinese power created a degree of stability, and conflict has only resulted when China began losing power rather than when it was gaining power.[14]

To draw a first conclusion, the thesis that asserts future optimistic expectations on the Chinese peaceful rise lies to its economic growth, as Bijian bears out affirming that “China’s emergence has been driven by capital, technology and resources acquired by peaceful means[15]: but what if peaceful means are no longer sufficient to guarantee such resources? What could be the effects if the Chinese growth, so decisive in maintaining domestic and regional stability and cohesion and so interdependent with the international economic and political order now in crisis, comes to an unexpected slowdown after 30 years of uninterrupted rise?

The economic crisis and the role of Chinese nationalism

According to Buzan, the next 30 years of China’s peaceful rise have no likelihood to look like the past thirty, because the international order that China has joined so far has been deeply affected by the economic crisis in 2008. Such a crisis has been having a huge impact on Chinese strategy of export-led growth while the advanced capitalist economies are “no longer be able to sustain … their previous levels of imports from China”.[16] Chinese economic growth, so necessary to maintain its socio-political stability, commercial openness and the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party, has revealed to be little sustainable.[17] As a matter of fact, Yue underlines three major factors which have characterized China’s peaceful rise in the last ten years: accession to the WTO in November 2001 (thanks to which its international trade volume ranked the third and foreign exchange reserve overtook Japan’s to be the largest by the end of 2006); Chinese massive investments in resource-rich countries located in Central Asia, Latin America and Africa, where China’s political influence in those areas is rising as well; spillover effect in East Asia generated by China’s globalizing economy that drew China and ASEAN countries closer in geo-economic terms.[18] Having revealed the rhetoric on peaceful rise its dependence on the US-dominated international system and given that most of the resources imperative to China’s economic growth are distributed in areas under US domination[19], Yue does not deny that the competition for securing them could “heighten tensions and even increase the likelihood of conflicts between China and the developed world which would in turn be destabilizing to the international system.”[20] As a result, the new economic challenge has pushed China to turn toward a neo-mercantilist position: massive intervention in its economy through a deeper state control on critical industries, by building corporations like PetroChina[21] and increasing Chinese military expenditures in the last years to an impressive 1,97% of its GDP in 2009.[22]

Chinese more assertive approach to foreign policy, recently reiterated by warning the US to stay out of any disputes about the South China Sea, coincides with the emergence of the so-called geopolitik nationalism since 2008. Hughes, by analysing a number of popular Chinese texts all published in the last few years and after the deepening of the economic crisis in the US, such as Wolf Totem, Unhappy China, China’s Maritime Rights and China Dream, has discovered how concepts of lebensraum, ’maritime interests’, ‘sphere of influence’ underpin and foster Chinese domestic discourse on foreign policy.[23] As PLA Senior Colonel Liu Mingfu’s 2010 China Dream asserts, the Chinese national “grand goal” will be “to become number one in the world” by displacing the declining United States. Liu rejects the concept of a “peaceful rise” “arguing that China cannot rely solely on its traditional virtues of harmony to secure the new international order. Therefore, China needs a “military rise” in addition to its economic rise”.[24]

In substance, the rise of China is unquestionable and, as Buzan sustains, is necessarily transitional.[25] For such a reason, China can be at best defined as a reformist revisionist country[26]  whose major aim will be to continue its peaceful rise in the next thirty years, international economic restraints and the onset of nationalistic ideologies notwithstanding, reshaping the Asia-Pacific without provoking a Gilpinian hegemonic war in order to re-establish a new hierarchy of power and prestige.


The Chinese awareness of being militarily weaker than the US on the one hand, and the need to harness external threat and nationalistic ideologies in order to obtain domestic cohesion and reinforce the Party legitimacy undermined by the economic crisis on the other[27], have caused increasing concerns and serious doubts about the peacefulness of China’s rise. Indeed, as the 2011 Global Military Balance reported for the first time, the shift in economic power is already beginning to have a real military effect: while Western states’ defense budgets are under pressure and their military procurement is constrained, Asian Pacific nations and particularly China, are increasing defense spending by double digits annually. According to the report, “combined with its more muscular regional diplomacy, China’s increased defence budget has continued to provoke concern over the implications of its defence modernisation.[28] Furthermore, IISS Director General John Chipman echoes Mearsheimer’s temporal and theoretical predictions[29] when states that  “if current trends were continued it would still take 15-20 years for China to achieve military parity with the U.S.[30]

In conclusion, these data seem to confirm an on-going change of distribution of power in the Asia-Pacific and, accordingly, they not only discourage any optimistic expectations on China’s peaceful rise but are helpful in explaining the new American Strategy for the area, based on a massive redeployment of both US military forces and financial resources in order to contain China’s rising assertiveness.


Photo Credit: Pan-African News Wire File Photos

[toggle title= “Footnotes and Bibliography”]



[1] Hughes, Christopher. Class Lecture. East Asia: Primed for Rivalry?, LSE, London, 6 February 2012.

[2] Bijian, Zheng, “Globalization and The Emergence of China”, opening remarks at a conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., 13 November 2003.

[3] Zheng, Yongnian, “China’s ‘Peaceful Rise’: Concept and Practice”, China Discussion Paper – Issue 1, Nottingham: China Policy Institute, November 2005, p. 3.

[4] Kugler, Jacek, and A.F.K. Organski . 1993. “The Power Transition: A Retrospective and Prospective Evaluation.” In Handbook of War Studies, edited by Manus I. Midlarsky, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, p. 174.

[5] Gilpin, Robert, War and Change in World Politics, Cambridge, CUP, 1981, p. 34.

[6] Mearsheimer, John, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, New York, W.W. Norton, 2001, p. 29.

[7] Johnston, Alastair Ian, “Is China a Status Quo Power?”, International Security, 27/4, Spring 2003, pp. 5-56.

[8] Bijian, Zheng, China’s “Peaceful Rise” to Great-Power Status”, Foreign Affairs, Sep/Oct 2005, Vol. 84, Issue 5, pp. 18-24.

[9] Brzezinski, Zbigniew, “Make Money, Not War”, Foreign Policy, No. 146, Jan-Feb, 2005, p. 47.

[10] Tellis, Ashley J., “A Grand Chessboard”, Foreign Policy, No. 146, Jan-Feb, 2005, pp. 53-54.

[11] Jeffery, Renée, “Evaluating the ‘China threat’: power transition theory, the successor-state image and the dangers of historical analogies”, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 63:2, 2009, p. 314.

[12] Ikenberry, G. John, 2008, “The Rise of China: Power, Institutions, and the Western Order”, cited in Jeffery, ibidem, p. 316.

[13] Jeffery, Renée, ibidem, pp. 318-319.

[14] Kang, David C., China Rising – Peace, Power and Order in East Asia, New York, CUP, 2010, pp. 198-202.

[15] Bijian, Zheng, ibidem.

[16] Buzan, Barry, “China in International Society: Is ‘Peaceful Rise’ Possible?”, The Chinese Journal of International Politics, Vol. 3, 2010, pp. 19 – 21.

[17] As Cox predicted just two years ago: “The present Chinese model, with its severe inequalities, regional disparities, environmental problems and unsustainable growth, could itself easily become fairly unsustainable”, in Michael Cox, “Power Shift? Not Yet”, World Today, 66 (8/9) 2010, p. 22.

[18] Yue, Jianyong, “Peaceful Rise of China: Myth or Reality?”, International Politics, 2008, 45, p. 442.

[19] Yue, Jianyong, ibidem, p. 450.

[20] Yue, Jianyong, ibidem, p. 439.

[21] Kurlantzick, Joshua, “The Asian Century? Not Quite Yet”,  Current History, 110 (732) 2011, p. 27

[22] The Military Balance 2011, London, IISS, p. 198.

[23] Hughes, C., “Reclassifying Chinese Nationalism: the geopolitik turn”, Journal of Contemporary China, 20 (71) 2011, pp.601-620.

[24] Kissinger, Henry, On China, Penguin Books Ltd., London, 2011, p. 507.

[25] Buzan, Barry, ibidem, p. 32.

[26] Buzan, Barry, ibidem, p. 29.

[27] Levy, Jack S., “Domestic Politics and War”, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 18, No. 4, Spring, 1988, pp. 653-673.

[28] The Military Balance 2011, London, IISS, p. 195.

[29] Mearsheimer, John, “Showing the United States the Door”, Foreign Policy, No. 146, Jan-Feb, 2005, p. 49. The scholar, in responding to Brzezinski, asserts that “it is true that China does not have the military wherewithal to take on the United States. That’s absolutely correct – for now. But again, what we are talking about is the situation in 2025 or 2030, when China has the military muscle to take on the United States.”

[30] Apps, Peter, “East-West military gap rapidly shrinking: report”, Reuters, 8 March 2011,



– Apps, Peter, “East-West military gap rapidly shrinking: report”, Reuters, 8 March 2011,

– Bijian, Zheng, “Globalization and The Emergence of China”, opening remarks at a conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., 13 November 2003.

– Bijian, Zheng, China’s “Peaceful Rise” to Great-Power Status”, Foreign Affairs, Sep/Oct 2005, Vol. 84, Issue 5.

– Brzezinski, Zbigniew, “Make Money, Not War”, Foreign Policy, No. 146, Jan-Feb, 2005.

– Buzan, Barry, “China in International Society: Is ‘Peaceful Rise’ Possible?”, The Chinese Journal of International Politics, Vol. 3, 2010.

– Cox, Michael, “Power Shift? Not Yet”, World Today, 66 (8/9) 2010, p. 22.

– Gilpin, Robert, War and Change in World Politics, Cambridge, CUP, 1981.

– Hughes, Christopher., “Reclassifying Chinese Nationalism: the geopolitik turn”, Journal of Contemporary China, 20 (71) 2011.

– Hughes, Christopher. Class Lecture. East Asia: Primed for Rivalry?, LSE, London, 6 February 2012.

– Jeffery, Renée, “Evaluating the ‘China threat’: power transition theory, the successor-state image and the dangers of historical analogies”, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 63:2, 2009.

– Johnston, Alastair Ian, “Is China a Status Quo Power?”, International Security, 27/4, Spring 2003.

– Kang, David C., China Rising – Peace, Power and Order in East Asia, New York, CUP, 2010.

– Kissinger, Henry, On China, Penguin Books Ltd., London, 2011.

– Kugler, Jacek, and A.F.K. Organski . 1993. “The Power Transition: A Retrospective and Prospective Evaluation.” In Handbook of War Studies, edited by Manus I. Midlarsky, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

– Kurlantzick, Joshua, “The Asian Century? Not Quite Yet”,  Current History, 110 (732) 2011.

– Levy, Jack S., “Domestic Politics and War”, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 18, No. 4, Spring, 1988.

– Mearsheimer, John, “Showing the United States the Door”, Foreign Policy, No. 146, Jan-Feb, 2005.

– Mearsheimer, John, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, New York, W.W. Norton, 2001.

– Tellis, Ashley J., “A Grand Chessboard”, Foreign Policy, No. 146, Jan-Feb, 2005.

– The Military Balance 2011, London, IISS.

– Yue, Jianyong, “Peaceful Rise of China: Myth or Reality?”, International Politics, 2008, 45.

– Zheng, Yongnian, “China’s ‘Peaceful Rise’: Concept and Practice”, China Discussion Paper – Issue 1, Nottingham: China Policy Institute, November 2005.


A Realistic Assessment of Nuclear Disarmament

This essay focuses on three main criteria/assumptions in order to evaluate whether abolition is a desirable policy goal for the international community: the capacity of nuclear weapons to deter external threats, the possibility of nuclear terrorism, and the prospect of intensified worldwide proliferation.




[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith the nuclear disarmament agenda being increasingly brought to the fore of world politics, firmly supported, at least in rhetoric, by prominent individuals and states, it is essential that a consideration of the issue be based on the clarification of the theoretical ambiguities pertaining to the attributes nuclear weapons have been customarily ascribed with. This essay focuses on three main criteria/assumptions in order to evaluate whether abolition is a desirable policy goal for the international community: the capacity of nuclear weapons to deter external threats, the possibility of nuclear terrorism, and the prospect of intensified worldwide proliferation. It adopts a primarily logical and secondarily factual approach – since history does not provide us with an adequately solid ground for predictions – and argues that the risk involved in a highly nuclearised world outweighs the purported benefits of nuclear weapons.

Deterrent and stabilizing power

One of the main attributes of nuclear weapons is their perceived deterrent power, which minimises external threats to the state that possesses them, reduces the possibility of war, and thus contributes to international stability and security. The Cold War has been the primary historical precedent which seemingly supports this notion, demonstrating that it is highly unlikely for two nuclear-armed rivals with second-strike capabilities to be engaged in a nuclear war. The US and the Soviet Union were both well aware of the catastrophic consequences of a possible nuclear escalation, so they refrained from using them. The idea here is that the certainty of mutual annihilation which accompanies a nuclear war – in contrast to conventional ones, where uncertainty and misperceptions cloud all subjective considerations regarding military capabilities, strategies and potential outcomes – ensures that political leaders will refrain from initiating full-scale nuclear confrontations and bestows deterrence with a level of credibility which is absent in a conventional world.[1]

This credibility, however, is not necessarily unquestionable. As Michael Quinlan correctly points out, the argument that nuclear deterrence has contributed to post-WWII stability and peace may be valid, yet practically impossible to prove.[2] Other factors may have played an equally important role in preventing the Cold War from turning onto a ‘hot’ one. The real intentions of the Soviet leaders, for example, may never be revealed, and we cannot undoubtedly claim that they would have invaded Western Europe in the absence of the US nuclear umbrella. The hypothetical nature of all possible alternative scenarios to the actual historical experience does not allow us to contrast what happened to what could have happened in a meaningful and useful way, yet the fact remains that there can be multiple explanations as to why the US-USSR rivalry did not lead to another world war, and nuclear deterrence is just one among them. Rather than being a factor for peace, nuclear weapons may have actually created or aggravated tensions and crises during the Cold War by minimizing the role of alternative forms of state power such as diplomacy and economic strength, by elevating the appeal of preemption and first-strike capability in military considerations thus promoting more precarious strategies and policies, and by shifting the emphasis from pragmatic to psychological calculations, from balance of power to show of resolve, as risk taking and demonstration of commitment became the recipe for success in the nuclear age, increasing the possibility of miscalculation and escalation.[3]

What is more, nuclear deterrence seems to have no considerable effect on the possibility of nuclear states being drawn into limited, peripheral wars, as the Korea and Vietnam wars have shown. Between roughly equally powerful rivals, the mutually assured destruction concept can nullify their nuclear capabilities, and their conventional forces return to the fore, while ‘small’, often politically convenient wars where the stakes are not so high as to threaten their very survival remain in the repertoire of policy options of democratic and authoritarian regimes alike. India and Pakistan have engaged in several such confrontations – the last one in 1999, when they were both nuclearised – without the nuclear arsenal of one or the other practically posing any convincing obstacle to full-scale military escalation. Similarly, it is perhaps unrealistic to assert that Egypt was completely unaware of Israel’s nuclear capabilities when it launched its surprise attack in the 1973 war, no matter how limited the scope of the Egyptian military objectives may had been at the time. Furthermore, in the absence of nuclear parity, or even between a nuclear and a non-nuclear state, deterrence can be just as problematic when it comes to low-intensity crises or non-vital interests: Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982 apparently confident that the UK’s nuclear weapons would remain out of the military and political equation of the conflict, acknowledging the fact that they would represent, on the part of Britain, an overly disproportionate response to the invasion, even if they were invoked only in the context of a threat of use.

With the credibility of nuclear deterrence proving dubious in various cases, it is important to examine whether this is an indication that the deterrent power of nuclear weapons is generally decreasing, reinforcing the calls for their abolition.[4] Despite the aforementioned cases, a nuclear arsenal can still be seen as the most effective and efficient means of deterring external aggression, especially as a last-resort option in the face of imminent conquest by hostile armies. It is difficult to imagine an aggressor willing to push for total victory on the battlefield or complete occupation of another state when threatened by nuclear retaliation on its own troops concentrations or population centres. North Korea’s nuclear capability, for example, obviously decreases the possibility of the US undertaking large-scale military action against it, while an Iranian pursuit of the bomb would certainly be based primarily on a firm belief that the development of a nuclear deterrent can prevent the country from following the fate of its neighbouring Iraq. Especially democracies, with their traditionally low casualty tolerance, can be very effectively deterred by the prospect of even a single nuclear bomb hitting one of their cities. Furthermore, there seems to be no indication that we will be seeing a radically different international structure any time soon, one in which cooperation will have replaced competition and diplomacy will have eliminated the utility of war as a means to political ends. Rather, the system remains anarchical, states are still the primary actors, and survival and security are their main preoccupation. External threats to their existence or vital interests will continue to exist and any strategy or weapon that helps protect against those threats cannot be easily refrained from.

Nuclear terrorism and rogue states

Currently, the most frightening prospect associated with nuclear weapons is their potential acquisition by a terrorist organisation and their use against civilian populations. This danger has been customarily invoked to support the abolition of nuclear weapons, with the whole notion of a nuclear terrorist attack being based on a certain view of terrorists as irrational actors who would use any means in their disposal in order to achieve their goals with no consideration of the consequences. Against the multitude of political statements, scholarly studies and intelligence reports warning about the apocalyptic agenda of groups like Al Qaida – with the obvious expediency of the former and questionable credibility of the latter – one can juxtapose a logical evaluation of the problem which would be seeing terrorist aspirations as being governed by the same rational and pragmatic considerations and limits as those of state actors, in as much as there are clear and realistic political objectives behind any strategy or declaration. Given the US response to the 9/11 hit, i.e. the invasion and occupation of two sovereign states on the other side of the globe, it would perhaps seem unrealistic to assume that Al Qaida would be willing to provoke a much more furious reaction from the US, let alone a certainly more substantiated condemnation by and determined mobilisation of the international community against them, by detonating a nuclear device on American soil, in addition to actually giving unprecedented justification to the policies of its very enemy. Also, terrorists aspire to some widespread public support, or at least recognition for their cause, and it is doubtful if even the most fanatical among them seriously believe that the annihilation of hundreds of thousands of innocents would win them the hearts and minds of the masses, especially given the instinctive abhorrence of nuclear weapons people everywhere share. It should then come as no surprise that a 2008 study examining Al Qaida’s statements and internal debate over the possible use of unconventional means revealed that the organisation’s interest in them has been much lower than generally feared: in its deliberations of the issue during the 90’s, views were conflicting and even the proponents of acquiring a bomb mainly sought to prevent a US attack on their bases in Afghanistan; in any case, CBRN capabilities were apparently never central in Al Qaida’s strategy[5]

But even if we assume that there is real intent by terrorist groups to acquire a nuclear bomb, the practicalities of the whole project can seem to pose insurmountable challenges. There have been states, with all their technological, economic and logistical capacities, that have failed in this task after investing valuable time and resources, or struggled for decades before succeeding in their efforts. From a technical perspective, it would be extremely difficult and expensive for even the largest and wealthiest terrorist organisation to develop a nuclear weapon of its own, in terms of the required fissile material, technological know-how and laboratory infrastructure, while the acquisition of an already functional nuclear weapon is perhaps impossible, as the security measures protecting state arsenals are extremely sophisticated, and no nuclear state would seem prepared to sell one of its weapons to a largely uncontrolled terrorist group, given the possibility of facing severe reprisals if the weapon’s origin was traced.[6] Even if these obstacles were to be overcome, transporting and successfully detonating a bomb against a target in the US or elsewhere is a process highly prone to failure at every stage of the way, which can be made even more precarious for terrorists by effective security defences and precautions.[7]

When it comes to nuclear weapons, so-called rogue states, like North Korea and Iran, are often considered being as dangerous for international security as terrorist organisations. Irrationality is here, too, assumed, combined with the specifics of their political regimes, their purported sponsoring of terrorist groups, and their portrayal as inconsiderate of human rights and international law. These states are seen as unpredictable, irresponsible, lacking nuclear security safeguards and, in any case, as potentially capable and willing of either using nuclear weapons for their own aggrandizement or handing them over to terrorists. To begin with, the issue of what ‘rogue’ state means is highly controversial as it is ideologically charged. By today’s standards, both China and the Soviet Union during the Cold War were essentially ‘rogue’ states, following highly repressive, even murderous policies domestically, and aggressive internationally, yet they displayed rational self-restraint in their nuclear military posture and tensions in their foreign relations gradually eased.[8] In international affairs, tabs like ally, strategic partner, friend, enemy, rogue state and so on can replace each other very easily. Historical experience indicates that no state is likely to treat nuclear weapons lightly, let alone transferring nuclear technology or a functioning weapon to a group or organisation not operating under its direct command. Furthermore, the arsenals of such states would be quite small, and hence every single weapon would be too precious to be sold or not tightly protected from theft. Is it realistic to assume that the weapons even the existence of which the intelligence agencies of the most advanced states cannot confirm can be actually accessible to a terrorist group? In the case of the Iranian program, it is also evident that security concerns are the primary, perhaps the only motivation for the pursuit of the bomb, and not some notion of fundamentalist grandeur, as the country faces challenges coming from multiple directions, from nuclearised neighbours and potential proliferators, to the military presence of a hostile US right at its borders. Finally, regime type does not seem to have any practical effect in determining the maturity of a state’s nuclear posture, as democratic, dictatorial, totalitarian and even an apartheid state have all come to possess nuclear weapons, with seemingly no discernible difference in the degree to which this has affected the orientation of their external behaviour. An Iranian nuclear arsenal is bound to cause proliferation pressures and undermine international stability no more than a Japanese, a South Korean or a Brazilian one.

Systemic pressures

Besides the individual impact of each existing or potential nuclear arsenal on world politics, there is also a cumulative and compounding effect that stems from the characteristics of an international system facing widespread nuclear proliferation. According to Benjamin Frankel, the end of the bipolar, Cold War systemic structure and the potential shift towards multipolarity will intensify proliferation, as the diffusion of power to various centres will create a new and expanded set of security interactions and relationships, as well as challenges, which the weakened security guarantees of the superpower(s) will not be able to check effectively, reinforcing self-help tendencies; consequently, the increased complexity of the system in terms of possible rivalries and alliances translates into a greater probability of miscalculation, escalation and war.[9] As more and more states are considering or already moving towards nuclearization, the above systemic context will apparently be combined with growing arsenals, an abundance of available nuclear material and expertise that can be easily used for military purposes, new arms races and intensified competition in missile defence and high military technology, as well as the promotion of preemption and prevention in strategic thinking and planning, creating a setting in which even minor disputes or incidents could induce some form of nuclear response ranging from precautionary or symbolic deployment to actual weapons use.[10]

In evaluating these concerns, it is first essential to establish whether we are indeed moving towards a multipolar international system. The Cold War certainly ended with an undisputed winner, who could dictate policies and impose its will across the globe to a significant, perhaps unprecedented extent. Since then, however, we have seen the gradual revival of the Russian economic and political strength, the emergence of China as a potential superpower, and regional challenges to US’s political influence or military reach in South America, East Asia and the Middle East. It should be noted that in the case of Iran and North Korea this undermining of US predominance is actually linked to the issue of nuclear weapons, providing some confirmation that the relationship between systemic structure and state power can have two dimensions when it comes to nuclear capabilities: not only does the character of the international system affect a state’s nuclear choices based on the balancing options available, but the nuclearisation of one or more states might augment their own power while diminishing that of others to a degree that it can contribute to a considerably altered distribution of power and, ultimately, the creation of new poles. North Korea’s nuclear weapons, for example, have complicated the regional security status quo, increased South Korea’s and Japan’s motivation to emancipate themselves militarily from the US, limiting the latter’s strategic options and ability to control developments while enhancing the influence of China and Russia both bilaterally and in the context of the UN Security Council. Even if the current situation does not yet justify the term ‘multipolar’, the overall trend seems perhaps unambiguously set towards that direction.

What also requires examination is the effect that the possible break-up of the US’s global hegemony can have on nuclear proliferation and, hence, on the system’s stability. It is perhaps not so clear whether the proliferation pressures of the last 20 years have been indeed fuelled by the gradually declining American power. Strong security concerns have been central in the case of Pakistan, North Korea and in the initial deliberations in the Indian case, while security seems to be the principal consideration in Iran’s stance as well. Of course, it would be a valid assumption that an Iran, for example, that could enjoy the protection of a Russian extended deterrence would have no reason to seek nuclear weapons of its own, but this might not apply to a revisionist state like North Korea, who seeks not only to deter rivals but also to force upon them its political will and change the status quo. In any case, it does seem that the more dispersed power is in the international system, the more probable it gets that states, especially expansionist ones, will feel free to pursue self-aggrandizement through possession of nuclear weapons. Even if historical experience does not provide us with sufficient evidence that as the number of weapons increases so does the chance of their use, it can be logically argued that the risks imaginably associated with a potential plethora of nuclear states competing in a multipolar anarchical world are such that perhaps do not allow humanity the luxury of waiting for factual confirmation to its fears.


Overriding the natural apprehension of nuclear weapons in order to conduct a logical assessment of the desirability of nuclear disarmament is necessary if this goal is to be pursued successfully and for the right reasons. The three criteria analysed unfortunately provide conflicting suggestions regarding the issue at hand, which is already highly speculative, since it essentially involves the comparison of two hypothetical situations, on one hand a world with 20 or even more nuclear powers and on the other a global zero; pressures apparently point towards the two extremes and the current status is seemingly bound to change.[11] Firstly, nuclear deterrence, although occasionally problematic, does seem to minimise the possibility of a major war between nuclear states, providing a psychological barrier to escalation, and generally contributing to an effective and cost-efficient defence; in its absence, states would have to commit significant additional resources to achieve the same degree of security, and, thus, arms races are likely to intensify, while the prospect of conventional wars will possibly increase. Secondly, the danger of nuclear terrorism seems unrealistic at this point, as there are no clear indications that terrorists might be capable of acquiring a nuclear weapon, or willing to pursue such an objective in the first place; if we assume even a minimal level of rationality on their behalf (that is, excluding apocalyptic cults like Aum Shinrikyo), there seems to be no scenario in which terrorists would conceivably decide on a nuclear hit against civilians with a firm belief that this would actually work to their benefit. On the other hand, intensified proliferation would logically mean increased chances that something does go wrong, while the costs of such an eventuality can be as high as our complete extinction as a species. Weighing these three factors can be highly subjective, but I would argue, that with nuclear disarmament, we will not have really lost anything – as instability and conventional wars have accompanied us throughout the millennia – but we will have eliminated a literally mortal, even if remote, danger for humanity. A volatile nuclear weapons-free world is a much lesser evil than having no world at all.


Photo Credit: shadamai

[toggle title= “Citations and Bibliography”]



[1] Waltz (1990), pp. 733-7

[2] Quinlan (2009), pp. 159

[3] Gavin (2009-10), pp. 23-27

[4] Shultz et al (2007) claim that although deterrence is still a valid concept in relations between states, “reliance on nuclear weapons for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.”; Wilson (2008) questions even the military utility of city bombing, on the threat of which nuclear deterrence is based, claiming that “it is difficult to argue that a threat of a non-decisive action is likely to coerce.”, p. 435

[5] Gavin, p. 20-1

[6] Frost (2005), pp. 69-70

[7] Gavin, p. 20

[8] Gavin, pp. 15-6

[9] Frankel (1993), pp. 37, 40-44

[10] Sokolski (2009), pp. 207-8

[11] What testifies to this trend is the 2014 US federal budget recently proposed by the Obama administration, which involves a 9% increase in funding for the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons activities, and a parallel cut to non-proliferation programmes, including counter-nuclear terrorism projects. Guarino (2013); Schneidmiller (2013).



Frankel, Benjamin (1993), ‘The Brooding Shadow: Systemic Incentives and Nuclear Weapons Proliferation’, Security Studies, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 37-78

Frost, Robin M. (2005), ‘Nuclear Terrorism after 9/11’, IISS Adelphi Papers, Vol. 45, No. 378.

Gavin, Francis J. (2009-10). ‘Same As It Ever Was: Nuclear Alarmism, Proliferation, and the Cold War’, International Security, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 7-37.

Guarino, Douglas P. (2013). ‘Obama Seeks Boost in DOE Nuclear Weapons Spending, Cut to Nonproliferation’, Global Security Newswire, April 10, 2013.

Quinlan, Michael (2009), Thinking About Nuclear Weapons: Principles, Problems, Prospects (Oxford: Oxford University Press) Oxford Scholarship Online.

Schneidmiller, Chris (2013), ‘Obama Budget Cuts deeply from Threat Reduction Accounts’, Global Security Newswire, April 18, 2013.

Shultz, George P. Et al. (2007), ‘A World Free of Nuclear Weapons’, The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. A15

Sokolski, Henry (2009), ‘Nuclear Abolition and the Next Arms Race’, in Taylor Bolz, ed., In the Eyes of the Experts: Analysis and Comments on America’s Strategic Posture, (United States Institute of Peace) pp. 201-216.

Waltz, Kenneth N. (1990), ‘Nuclear Myths and Political Realities’, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 84, No. 3, pp. 731-745.

Wilson, Ward (2008), ‘The Myth of Nuclear Deterrence’, Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 421-439.


Germany’s Wind Power Losing Fans

As Angela Merkel’s plans to make Germany the greenest country in Europe progress, the unintended consequences of the efforts are diminishing public support.


German Windmill


Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ambition to make Germany the greenest country in Europe seemed to becoming reality when, in 2007, they surpassed the EU target for 12% of a countries energy production coming from renewable sources three years early. Instead of congratulating themselves Merkel and her cabinet vouched that by 2050 they would source a staggering 80% of their countries energy from purely renewable methods. Sounds ideal? Well maybe not.

In a seemingly bizarre twist Greenpeace are now at loggerheads with the Green party. The Greens are facing a dilemma; the majority of their policies are based around renewable energy, however some rather serious claims have come to light which might seriously impact Germany’s bid for so called ‘Green’ energy. As well as the well-known argument that European countries simply do not have the right conditions for successful energy productions through methods such as wind farming it has been claimed that by implementing these new methods of energy production there has been a detrimental impact on the environment.

Hesse, Germany, is home to an area of woodland named ‘The Bagpipe’. Once an area popular with hikers, Der Spiegel has revealed in an interview with Martin Kaiser,  that ancient oak trees have been felled to create room for this so called ‘clean’ energy production. It has been estimated that the clearing of this relatively small area of trees will have released more than 1,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In other areas farmland is being planted with thousands of acres of energy-producing corn. To fertilise this corn farmers use digestate, a by-product of biogas. Although thought of as a very environmentally friendly type of fertiliser, digestate actually poses quite a few problems. The farmers in Germany use the fertiliser after the harsh winter; however the precipitation at this time of year could in fact spread the fertiliser into local water sources causing contamination. Logistics are also an important factor; what would be the point of using so called ‘green’ methods if you have to transport them from a biogas plant to the fields using lorries? With this in mind biogas plants need to be constructed near to the fields, however in order to turn the digestate into a usable product it needs to go through a rigorous distillation process. If the water plant is situated away from the biogas plant yet more transportation is required. This transportation not only costs the environment, it also costs as much as €20 to carry one ton of liquid digestate. It has been estimated that a 3MW biogas plant could be charged 1.6 million Euros per annum. The theory behind the corn is that it will make Germany less reliant on oil import and reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas, however as the U.S has found Ethanol actually requires a lot of energy to produce yet it takes over 113.4 kilograms to fill a 25 gallon tank with ethanol. That’s enough to supply a person with their annual calorie intake.

I have already briefly covered some of the costs involved with renewable energy sources in the preliminary stages, however especially in the transitionary period Der Spiegel has revealed that there are even more costs which this time directly affect the consumer. Wind power can be irregular as it is obviously weather dependant and so intermittency is a problem. In times where there has been a lot of energy produced there has actually been surplus power produced. The fact is that Germany’s electricity grid just isn’t able to cope with these power surges causing the subsidy framework to become over-burdened which forces the cost of electricity to shoot up. The pricing and transition to renewable energy is also not consistent throughout Germany as each area has set their own targets which cause yet more problems for the national grid. This obviously makes the consumers less keen on renewable energy as so far it does not benefit them economically.

There are more problems for the public – due to these new technologies people in the traditional sector of mining and nuclear power plants are now being made redundant, as they are not qualified to work with the new forms of energy production. This global economy has also had a domino effect and although Germany is seen as economically strong compared to the rest of Europe this is still relative and people are concerned that the government are wasting money on this idealistic project.

I believe that one of the main issues with this project is the fact that the political undertones are too strong. As the election is in 6 months a cynic such as myself might suggest that the project is being rushed as Merkel and her government want to be seen as a successful party. As this is one of Merkel’s most publicised bills she needs to be seen to succeed. However, there have already been big cuts in the funding of the venture with Berlin planning to cancel some of the subsidy programs set up to support the project. I would argue that the only way to make such a big switch is to do it slowly and sensitively keeping an eye on the effect it will have upon all sectors instead of their own prerogatives.


Photo Credit: Mobilus in Mobili

The Cyber-Industrial-Complex

The dynamic and rapidly evolving cyber-threat landscape has resulted in extensive budgetary, military, and legislative provisions, entrenching deep-seated relations between government, armed services, and commercial actors. The Cyber-Industrial-Complex and quest for ‘fifth domain’ dominance has significant geostrategic consequences. 




This paper lays plain the growing pressure and increased enthusiasm of governments, armed services, and commercial actors to develop and operationalise military capabilities in cyberspace. The argument shall be made that the lines between these ostensibly distinct spheres have become increasingly muddied, and we are witnessing the emergence of a new cyber-industrial-complex. Furthermore, blind faith that the militarisation of the fifth domain will achieve effectual cyber security is misplaced and, ultimately, the top-down control of cyberspace — at odds with prevailing internet behaviour — is an expensive means to achieve relatively ineffectual security.

Reference will be made to relevant case studies and conceptual frameworks from the social sciences. Analysis is approached through five convergent lines of enquiry: To provide context, first the development of the internet from a ‘tool’ to a ‘territory’ shall be discussed; exploring the various technological, demographic, and social shifts this evolution has fostered. Next, the geostrategic impact of cyber threats shall be touched upon, describing the economic, legal and strategic affects profoundly influencing our perceptions of cyberspace. This will be followed by the ways in which governments have sought to securitise cyberspace, highlighting the various budgetary and operational considerations driving the militarisation of the ‘fifth domain’. Following on, a discussion of ‘threat inflation’ and ‘cyber-doom’ narratives shall be presented, critiquing parallels drawn between ‘cyber-war’ and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Finally, the amalgamation of political, military, and commercial interests within the ‘cyber-industrial-complex’ shall be examined. In concluding, many of the challenges facing policymakers will be considered, and the call for sober, research-driven policy prescriptions will again be reiterated.

Primarily however, the inherent limitations of exploring a relatively young, multidisciplinary field examining such a rapidly evolving subject must be acknowledged[1]. Themes discussed here are therefore more akin to Weberian concepts of ideal typical discourses than static social truths[2]. Despite this papers validity and current application, it is but a cursory examination of the cyber-industrial-complex, intended to stimulate further debate, and as such caution should be exercised when making wider generalisations, predications or forecasts[3]. Indeed, it is suggested that the hyperbolic status quo should be reflected upon, reconsidered, and replaced with a far more objective risk assessment of the threats posed.

In order to effectively address the question and avoid tangential theoretical debates, the utility of explicitly expressed working definitions is crucial — appreciating that more appropriate vernacular may very well develop[4]. Throughout, ‘the internet’ is taken as the “global computer network, providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected [network of] networks using standardised communication protocols”[5]. Here, Stevens'[6] definition of ‘cyberspace’ as the “total landscape of technology mediated communication” is utilised. It takes Cramer and Thrall’s depiction of ‘threat inflation’ as the creation of “concern for a threat that goes beyond the scope and urgency [a]… disinterested analysis would justify”[7].

The World Brain: from Tool to Territory

To contextualise changing attitudes and perceptions of cyberspace it is important historically ground this evolution. In 1937, futurist H.G. Wells hypothesised the future development of an international encyclopaedia or World Brain, encompassing the sum of human knowledge. In the 1960s Joseph Licklider, first head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), envisioned a ‘Galactic Network’ of globally connected computers through which anyone could access information. Advancements in packet switching, standardisation of Internet protocols, and the expanded connection of the original ARPANET to include research and education institutions in the 1970/80s, saw Wells’ vision being plausibly discussed for the first time. The commercialisation of the internet occurred in the 1990s, as final traffic restrictions were lifted[8].

Today cyberspace is almost unrecognisable from earlier manifestations, now fully entrenched in all facets of modern life, culture, and commerce. The astonishingly rapid growth of cyberspace, from a research tool used by a few, to the ubiquitous framework sustaining global societies is unparalleled[9]. Widely considered a catalyst for globalisation, the rise of the internet, concomitant to the ascension of the information based global economy, will doubtless come to epitomise this era of history as the enlightenment and industrial revolution has preceding centuries[10]. The internet has transformed and revolutionised: employment, trade, culture, innovation, politics, research, education, development, sociality, information access, and, most notably, the communications landscape. In 1993 1% of the world communicated through two-way telecommunications, by 2000 this had risen to 51%, in 2007 it was 97%[11]. Internet penetration exploded from 360 million in 2000, to 2.4 billion in 2012 – an extraordinary 556% rise[12]. The world population is on course to reach 7.3 billion by 2016, with mobile internet devices exceeding 10 billion[13]. The volume of SMS messages tripled between 2007 and 2010, topping 6.1 trillion, averaging 200,000 messages per second[14].

Beyond enormous technical enhancements[15], cyberspace is experiencing a demographical shift, as the pendulum of internet concentration swings from the global North to the South, challenging traditional Western hegemony[16]. While cyberspace may be indigenously American, countries such as China, India, and Brazil will come to outnumber the early ‘digital natives’ within our lifetime[17]. Asia constitutes 42% of the planet’s internet population (#1), but enjoys only 21.4% penetration (#6), illustrating the enormous potential for connectivity[18]. Of 5.3 billion mobile subscriptions in 2010, 3.8 billion were from the developing world, and 18/55 highest internet penetrating countries are some of the “poorest and weakest of the international community”[19].

Inevitably new demographics bring fresh cultural, social, political, and strategic priorities. Cyberspace is now widely acknowledged as a “commons” where people socialise, engage, and organise, but also an environment in its own right[20]. In keeping with the pioneering, post-territorial aspirations of the internet[21], Sanderson and Fortin[22] observe large-scale adoption of cyberspace as dissolving physical confines and redefining core societal precepts. Renninger and Shumar[23] view the internet as a tool and a territory, facilitating users to assemble in the virtual arena who would otherwise be unable. Amit[24] describes shifting anthropological appreciations of the social environment, from tangible social forms to emphasising the virtual. Cyberspace can no longer simply be viewed as simply a medium, or even a medley of mediums, but as a “continent, rich in resources”, possibilities, and challenges[25].

Geostrategic Influence

This shift towards perceiving cyberspace as a new environment transcending society, economics, and geopolitics, has attracted nefarious actors seeking to exploit vulnerabilities to reap enormous personal and collective rewards[26]. Inevitably, this has drawn the attention of nation states seeking to protect their interests, whilst staking claim and establishing control over this emergent terrain[27]. Governments have sought to delineate boundaries, through a myriad of legislation, whilst military and intelligence entities have scrambled to assert their own influence over this territory[28]. Minimal barriers and relative anonymity of malicious actors, combined with the emergence of Web 2.0 and “malware ecosystems” propagating hacking tool-kits and botnets, have allowed determined groups — whether criminals, freelancers, military or intelligence agencies — to make substantial gains beyond real world means[29].

Once the sole concern of an inner circle of technologists, internet control and security has become the preoccupation of nation states. The three primary cyber-threats concerning governments are: 1. Theft, corruption, manipulation or exploitation of information; 2. Disruption of accessibility to networks, data, or resources; 3. Destruction or degrading of networks, infrastructure, and communications[30]. Within a geostrategic paradigm, such threats have profoundly influenced the militarisation of cyberspace[31]:

Firstly, there is the economic burden. The UK government placed the 2012 national cost of cybercrime at £27 billion, £16.8 billion being industrial espionage[32]. US intellectual property theft purportedly amounts to $250 billion per annum[33], cybercrime a further $114 billion, or $388 billion factoring in downtime[34]. McAfee[35] estimates global annual remediation costs to be an incredible $1 trillion, a statistic often cited despite being disputed by the very researchers ostensibly quoted[36]. The pilfering of sensitive information cost Coca-Cola their attempted takeover of Huiyuan Juice Group in 2009, producing losses in the region of $2.4 billion[37]. Nortel, once the world leading telecommunications supplier valued at $250 billion, declared bankruptcy in 2009 following a nine year data exfiltration[38]. The “astonishing” number of “industrial scale”[39] cyber-attacks targeting UK companies, prompted MI5 Director General, Jonathan Evans, to issue warning letters to the top 300 British businesses stressing the threat of “electronic espionage”[40]. Although ascribing the true cost of cyber-attacks is extremely difficult, immeasurable even, it is clear the costs from intellectual property and R&D theft alone are enormous, rising, and potentially of the magnitude to influence global power relations[41].

Secondly, we see an obscurity of political liability by utilising proxy servers, ‘cyber-militias’, and freelance hackers to execute attacks [42]. Potentially creating the smoke and mirrors useful for implanting ‘logic bombs’ into critical infrastructure, but primarily affording states plausible deniability for actions likely at odds with their official political stance[43]. An interesting case is the oft-cited 2007 Estonian incident, where Russian ‘patriotic’ hackers launched a DDoS attack on banking and civil service systems. Russia inevitability denied responsibility, and attribution proved unsuccessful[44]. Nevertheless, Moscow achieved the same coercive ends without any serious diplomatic repercussions, essentially punishing Estonia whilst circumventing legal accountability for targeting civilian institutions[45]. In more pugnacious uses of cyber-militia by Russia during her conflict with Georgia, the sabotage of key Georgian communication systems synchronised with kinetic military operations, further demonstrated the efficacy of deniability[46]. Had the military been directly implicated, Russia would have violated legal armed conflict doctrines, as cyber attacks on third-party states were necessary to disrupt Georgian systems[47]. Again, Moscow successfully sabotaged Georgia’s communications whilst evading liability.

Thirdly, the rapidly transforming cyber-threat landscape, has redefined the strategic perspective of many governments. States now view cyberspace as a means to either augment or substitute their kinetic warfare capabilities. The 2007 Israeli bombing of the Syrian nuclear facility at Dayr az-Zawr provides an interesting case in point. By using UAVs similar to the ancillary US programme Senior Suter[48], Israel was able to hack air-defence systems and manipulate radar images to display a clear sky, allowing F15 fighter jets to carpet bomb the site and leave Syrian airspace without any resistance or retaliation[49]. Many governments are proactively seeking to develop their cyber-arsenals, creating numerous dedicated institutions and markets to this end.

Militarising the Fifth Domain

The four year, £650m British Cyber Security Strategy emphasises protective, defensive, and ‘pre-emptive’ action aimed at: tackling cyber crime to ensure a secure business environment; improving system and software resilience; encouraging stable social arenas; and improving knowledge and skill-sets necessary to achieve these stated goals[50]. It details numerous provisions seeking to raise public and commercial awareness, bolster law enforcement and cross-border collaboration, improve industry standards, and develop MoD and GCHQ capabilities[51]. Although emphasising target hardening and resilience — a necessary and welcomed development — the offensive stance throughout is arrant:

“Defence Cyber Operation Group [is] to bring together cyber capabilities from across defence. The group will include a Joint Cyber Unit hosted by GCHQ… [to] develop new tactics, techniques, and plans to deliver military effects”[52]

Notions of ‘pre-emptive defence’ are echoed in the NATO Strategic Concept, where the language of prevention, detection, and defence blends with notions of military capability, operational reach, and strategic dominance[53]. This doctrine is most explicit in the US, where the Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace: Priorities for 21st Century Defense are candid about intentions to boost military capabilities and operational effectiveness in all realms – land, air, maritime, space, and now the ‘fifth domain’, cyberspace[54]. This mission has fallen to US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), who established US Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) to synchronise operations across the military sphere, including Army Cyber Command10th Fleet Cyber Command,  24th Air Force, and Marine Corps Forces Cyber Command. An interesting directorial feature is USCYBERCOM’s dual locality within the NSA, and the unprecedented tri-hatting of Gen. Keith Alexander as Director of NSAChief of the Central Security Service, and Commander of USCYBERCOM.

In the 2013 US fiscal budget cyber capabilities are a priority; designating $3.4 billion for USCYBERCOM, with a total allocation of £18 billion through to 2017[55]. The Department for Homeland Security will spend: $345 million on the National Cybersecurity Protection System and EINSTEIN.3 – the intrusion detection and analytics system; $236 million will be spent on the Federal Network Security Branch to secure agency systems; $93 million on U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, the operational wing of the National Cyber Security Division; $64.5 million on cyber investigations and computer forensics conducted by the Secret Service; and $12.9 million on virtual training and cyber-war games[56].

Although the tendency for governments to view the cyber-domain through a military lens may be more acute than ever, it is certainly not a recent theme[57]. The history of militarising cyberspace has been a gradual process concomitant to the technological, demographic, and social shifts previously discussed. ARPANET was originally funded by the US Department of Defense (DoD), the term “cyber-deterrence” was coined in 1994, and ‘Eligible Receiver’, the first NSA cyber-war games were held in 1997[58]. The first public reference to “cyber-attack” and “information security risks” were made by former CIA Director George Tenet in 1998, the same year cyber operations were consolidated under the Computer Network Defense Joint Task Force[59]. In 2003, the National Cyber Security Division was established, tasked with protecting government systems, and in 2006 plans for USCYBERCOM were announced. Perhaps then, using tactical or warfare rhetoric to describe objectives in cyberspace is somewhat inevitable. Yet, despite a long military history in the fifth domain, the economic, political, and strategic affects of cyber-attacks, and the enormous budgets to further militarise cyberspace, no act of cyber-war has taken place. All known examples of politically inspired cyber-attacks amount to either sabotage, subversion, or espionage[60], and cannot be considered war by the Clausewitzian[61] definition, as all three rudiments are not present: violence and potential lethality of the act, instrumental imposition will over another, and perceptible and attributable political responsibility[62].

Cyber-Doom and Threat Inflation

Several high-profile cases are often referenced as evidence of impending cyber-war: the Estonian and Georgian DDoS incidents; The Operation Aurora case in which Google, Yahoo, Symantec, Northrop Grumman, and Morgan Stanley networks were compromised[63]; The Gh0stNet espionage network which leveraged Web 2.0 and cloud-based technologies to infect embassies, foreign ministries, NGOs, and government departments, implicating a Chinese military SIGINT base and organised crime[64]; The Stuxnet sabotage of Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz, seemingly with US and Israeli involvement; and the sophisticated espionage toolkit Flame[65].

The drumbeat of “cyber-doom”[66] scenarios, replayed in the media echo-chamber, has provided a steady and constant cadence for the oratory emanating from  Westminster and especially Washington[67]. Prophetical disaster rhetoric evoked by ‘expert’ commentators envisage a cataclysmic cyber event, in which the financial sector collapses, planes collide midair, trains derail, military defences disintegrate, industrial control systems fail, “lethal clouds of chlorine gas” leak from chemical plants, gas pipelines and refineries explode, dams breach, reactors meltdown, power blackouts engulf the country, satellites spin into the obis, and “thousands of people” die… but authorities are paralysed in the face of crumbling communications and digital devastation[68].

This tone continues elsewhere: Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta’s ominous forecast of a looming “cyber Pearl Harbour”, former head of the National Cyber Security Division, Amit Yoran’s claims “cyber-9/11 has happened”, Vanity Fair’s portrayal of Stuxnet as the “Hiroshima of cyber-war”, and Director of the International Telecommunications Union, Hamadoun Touré’s claims that “cyber-war will be worse than a tsunami”, are the most infamous, vacuous, and distasteful examples of this apocalyptic theme[69]. Although the most revealing doomsday framing[70] comes from former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Carl Levin, when he stated; “cyberweapons and cyberattacks… approach weapons of mass destruction in their effects”[71].

Yet, nothing remotely resembling ‘cyber-doom’ has come to pass, and no fatality nor building destruction has even been attributable to a cyber-attack[72]. Despite Estonian politicians claiming that DDoS attacks and “a nuclear explosion…[are] the same thing”[73], NATO’s Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence described the impact of the attacks as “minimal” or “nonexistent”[74] This solipsistic introjection — assigning imagined behaviours and character traits onto an invisible enemy[75] — combined with a technological malaise characteristic of late-modernity[76], has seen the development of societal pessimism, dystopian fears, and a sense of political impotence regarding the prevalence of modern technologies[77]. These fears are reminiscent of bygone anxieties regarding earlier communicative mediums and reflective of broader, tenuous concerns about societal fragility[78]. Previous 20th Century moral panics over increased radio, telegraph, and telephone use, ultimately proved unfounded and transient, soon to be surpassed by the latest technological trepidation[79]

The WMD parallel does, however, provide an illuminating comparison in one regard. In the run up the Iraq war the Bush administration described a “bullet-proof”[80] link between Sadaam Hussein and 9/11 – purportedly providing refuge and training to al-Qaeda[81]. Controlled Whitehouse leaks implied Iraq held WMDs, successfully conflating the very different threats and consequences of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons[82]. Although allegations — including the purchase of ‘yellowcake’ for uranium enrichment — were ultimately proved fallacious, 40% of Americans still believed Saddam Hussein was “personally involved” in 9/11 as late as 2006[83]. Although no evidence substantiated these alarmist claims, the media relayed the government line without scrutiny and the administration was essentially able to cite news articles written speculating upon their own fictitious leaks[84]. It is this amplification of risk, or ‘threat inflation’, that Cramer and Thrall[85] describe. Speculative commentary about Iranian or North Korean cyber capabilities, unsubstantiated suppositions of the Chinese “lac[ing] US infrastructure with logic bombs”[86], and unverifiable assertions from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that cyber threats represent “a strategic issue on par with weapons of mass destruction and global jihad!”[87], fuel cyber-doom advocacy, and conflate sabotage, espionage, and subversion, under the banner of ‘cyber-war’ in a manner eerily redolent of Iraq WMD threat inflation[88].

The Cyber-Industrial-Complex

President Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address warned of a “hostile ideology…global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose”[89]. He feared deepening monetary relationships between legislators, the military, and the industry providing defence services and supplies, would lead to skewed national, economic, and security priorities, in what he phrased the “military-industrial-complex”[90]. As during the Cold War, contemporary cyber-war rhetoric maintains pressure to keep up or fall behind in the neoteric digital arms race[91]. Despite technical and intelligence ambiguities as to how cyber-weapons would actually be deployed, the distinct absence of empirical evidence, and multifaceted ambiguities surrounding who, why, and what is under threat, and from whom[92], a thriving cyber-industrial-complex has emerged to save us from our cyber-doom.

In 2010, 1,931 private companies worked on intelligence and homeland security programmes in the US, 143 were contracted to “top secret” cyber operations[93]. In an era of austerity and defence cuts, US cyber-security expenditure is predicted to rise from $9.2 billion to $14 billion by 2016[94]. The global cyber-security market, currently worth $65.7 billion, will climb to $85 billion by 2016, growing by an extraordinary 9% in 3 years[95]. Upward budget trajectories have galvanised the cyber-security market, where the biggest beneficiaries will be traditional defence giants such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, ManTech, and Northrop Grumman, who are already repositioning themselves within the cyber-industrial-complex[96]. Leading technology companies like Symantec, IBM, Cisco, and McAfee will also prosper[97], as will smaller cyber-security start-ups like NopSec, whose revenue has rocketed by 600% since its recent launch[98].

“Those who profit from war in materiel and machinery will be supplanted in time by those who profit in war from digital goods.”  — Dan Geer, Chief Information Security Officer, for the CIA’s In-Q-Tel [99]

However, it is not public-private partnerships that Eisenhower feared, but rather the deep-seated relations between policymakers, the military, and commercial venture, particularly where companies place themselves as objective experts and/or seek political “opportunity to sustain themselves”[100]. In the US, these boundaries are now so porous and convoluted, that one cannot see the wood for the trees. Sen. John Rockefeller’s former Chief of Staff, turned Cisco Systems cyber-security lobbyist, Jim Gottlieb, donated $19,000 the Democrat candidate[101]. Rockefeller, who famously sought retroactive immunity for AT&T’s warrantless wire-tapping[102], proposed the 2010 Cybersecurity Act which directed billions into cyber-security programmes, prompting Sen. Ron Wyden to proclaim that the US is witnessing:

“The development of an industry that profits from fear … creat[ing] a cyber-industrial-complex that has an interest in preserving the problem to which it is the solution” [103]

This is indicative of the intensifying and intricate nexus of relationships developing. The election of Rep. Jim Langevin was funded primary by General Dynamics and Raytheon. Deloitte and BAE were amongst the top five contributors to Rep. Mike McCaul. Both men co-chair the CSIS panel, alongside Lt. Gen. (Ret) Harry Raduege, now IT executive for Deloitte, and Scott Charney, Corporate Security Vice President at Microsoft[104]. These conflicts of interest cast severe doubts over CSIS’ objectivity, as well as the agendas the policies they influence may serve[105]. Inveterate relationships have also seen the revolving-door culture of employment and opportunity develop. Former NSA Director, Vice Adm. (Ret) Michael McConnell, became Director of Defense at Booz Allen Hamilton, before being reinstated as Director of National Intelligence by the Bush administration. McConnell then later rejoined Booz Allen as Head of Cybersecurity Business, prior to Booz Allen securing a $71.5 million cyber-security contract, totalling $189.4 million if extended to 2016[106]. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and BAE have all hired ex-military or security officials in cyber-security operations[107]. In 2012 Lockheed Martin won a $400 million contract facilitating the Pentagon’s Cyber Crime Center and Northrop Grumman secured a three-year, $189 million cyber DoD resilience contract[108].

Too Fast to Tie Down

Cyberspace has evolved from the auxiliary and novel, to the essential and omnipresent. Technological advancements have seen the internet develop from a research tool, to a ubiquitous framework transcending, connecting, and underpinning every facet of modern society. The post-territorial, nature of the internet has dissolved geopolitical boundaries, creating a borderless, open, but ultimately ungoverned, virtual region. The exponential rise of cyberspace within an incredibly short time frame, has meant growth has accelerated faster than government ability to control this emerging terrain.

Demographical shifts and the ascension of the global South as cyberspace’s prospective new majority, have brought new cultural, social, political and strategic priorities, underscoring real-world challenges to Western hegemonic dominance. These changes have aided shifting perceptions of what ‘cyberspace’ entails and represents, to the point that cyberspace is viewed as a domain in its own right, comparable to land, sea, air, and space. In the past, information fluidity and system connectivity took precedence over authentication, identity, and security. Consequentially, networked systems and platforms in energy, finance, transport, and communication sectors, have seen industrial control systems, critical infrastructure, and national capabilities reliant upon networks intended to be open, collaborative, and malleable. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a dynamic, complex, and rapidly developing threat landscape, with a spectrum of attacks mounted against individuals, governments, businesses, and industries, as malicious actors seek to exploit system vulnerabilities to further their political, criminal, or nefarious ends.

Within a geostrategic paradigm, cyber-attacks have had profound effect on: economic competitiveness and the loss of national advantage; technical attribution, plausible deniability, and diplomatic accountability; and governmental attention and political oratory paid to control, and security. Collectively, these factors have successfully redefined national goals and ambitions to reflect a strategically offensive stance, with discourses now firmly framed within the language of ‘pre-emptive’ action to protect interests. Reinforced by government narratives, and dramatically reported by an often uninformed and sensationalist media, several high-profile incidents, of varying seriousness and sophistication, have also brought cyber-security to the forefront of public consciousness. ‘Cyber-doom’ scenarios and apocalyptic prophecies have become commonplace, resulting in inappropriate and inane analogies. Despite lacking empirical evidence, cyber-attacks have been placed as equivalent to humanitarian crises, natural disasters, and even nuclear war.

Threat inflation has heralded a flurry of top-down legislative and budgetary accommodations regarding cyber-security, and the establishment of many new government entities with the sole focus of achieving geostrategic ambitions. These are mainly facilitated by military and intelligence entities who have a longstanding history of operating in the cyber domain. Enormous cyber-centric budgets have resulted in a burgeoning global industry, in which companies compete for government contracts and practitioners enjoy a revolving-door of work opportunities between government, military, and private industry. Consequentially, the cyber-industrial-complex has deeply ingrained relationships, resulting in clear conflicts of interest, and the erosion of objectivity. Individuals, companies, and governments whose business interests and careers are served by the maintenance of anxiety concerning cyber-security, convolute and inflate threats presenting their services as the solution.

Future Direction

Whilst online threats — stolen state secrets, intellectual property, competitive advantage and personal data — pose very real and difficult challenges for governments and private industry. The alarmist knee-jerk reaction to those threats and the societal fragility, the aggressive lobbying pursued, and the conflation of interests, raise serious concerns over larger, more calculated, commercial strategies and demonstrate how the cyber-industrial-complex has fanned the flames of a neoteric digital arms race.

This could result in an expensive Cold War-esque stand-off between those nation states at the forefront of the race for cyber dominance, namely America, Israel, Russia, Iran and China, escalating tensions further and eroding diplomatic and trade relations. This also risks coalescing military activity with subversion and economic espionage, subsumed under the catch-all banner of ‘cyber-war’. Secondly, absorption of talent and technology within the war machine, alongside increased asymmetric tactics by malicious actors circumventing attribution, will likely spawn new white and black-hat electronic markets engaged in the pernicious trading of cyber-arms, exploits, and botnet services, as increased labour divisions result in a modular business module[109]. Moreover, the actual security benefits achieved by extensive cyber-weapon investment may prove misplaced, weighed up against astronomical development costs. Target information must be so detailed and precise, that powerful weapons will only be of use against a solitary target, and for a single assault, before exploits ‘burn-out’. Furthermore, the speed technology evolves, compared to the time required to research, develop, and deploy a sophisticated cyber-weapon, means the shelf-life of weaponised code is short lived, risking weapon redundancy before deployment.

HG Wells’ optimism, expressed in The World Brain, had been replaced by pessimism and scepticism by the time he published Mind at the End of its Tether. In a similar manner, fears of a dystopian dependence upon technology, as well as enduring but largely erroneous anxieties about the brittleness of contemporary society, have led to a cyber paranoia and the merging of diagnostic and motivational discourses. The top-down militarisation of the fifth domain is hyperbolic and ineffective, discordant to the founding principles of cyberspace and at odds with prevailing W3 trends. Deterrence and protection likely to be more successful by resilience building, thorough upgrading, repairing, and modernising of systems, alongside encouraging decentralised, user-generated, organisation and governance of social arenas.

Detailed technical analysis; gauging vulnerabilities, developing technical solutions, and reconsidering software and systems architecture is critical. Adopting multi-disciplinary approaches to include analytical perspectives from political science, military and technology history, disaster sociology, and security studies, can also offer important insights, vital objectivity, and contextual grounding. This paper seeks to add to the burgeoning body of literature within this rapidly evolving field, and attempts to promote empirically grounded, research driven, and analytically sober debate with the mind to inform more conversant and commensurate cyber-security policymaking.


Photo Credit: Cristi eXPV

[toggle title= “Citations and Bibliography”]



[1] Shipman, (1997)

[2] Poggi, (2006)

[3] NCIX, (2011:i-iii)

[4] Shipman, (1997:16)

[5] ODO, (2012); Gralla, (2007:7)

[6] Stevens & Neumann, (2009:10)

[7] Crammer & Thrall, (2009)

[8] Greene et al (2003)

[9] Deibert & Crete-Nishihata, (2012)

[10] Bauman, (2000); Severs-Millard, (2012ac)

[11] Hilbert & López, (2011)

[12] IWS,.(2012)

[13] Alexander,.(2012)

[14] Deibert-&-Rohozinski,.(2011:23)

[15] IWS,.(2012);-Knight,.(2003:15);-Ahlgren,.(2005);-Edensor,.(2001)

[16] Deibert,.(2011);-Deibert-&-Rohozinski,.(2011:23);-Deibert-&-Crete-Nishihata,.(2012)

[17] Brito-&-Watkins,.(2011);-Lawson,.(2011);-Deibert-&-Rohozinski,.(2011:26)

[18] IWS,.(2010a);-IWS,.(2012)

[19] ITU-(2010);-IWS,.(2010b);-UN-OHRLLS,.(2011)

[20] Deibert-&-Rohozinski,.(2011:24)

[21] Goldsmith.&-Wu,.(2006:16-25)

[22] Sanderson-&.Fortin,.(2001)

[23] Renninger-&.Shumar,.(2002)

[24] Amit,.(2002:3)

[25] Glenny,.(2010)


[27] ibid.

[28] Glenny,.(2010);-Deibert,.(2012);-Deibert-&-Crete-Nishihata,.(2012);-Lynn,.(2011)

[29] Villeneuve,.(2010);-Henderson,.(2008);-Andres,.(2013);-Alexander,.(2011)

[30] Lord-&-Sharp-etal.(2011:25-40;165-182)

[31] Andres,.(2013)

[32] Detica,.(2012)

[33] Symantec-Corp.,.(2012)

[34] Alexander,.(2012)

[35] McAffe-Inc.,.(2012)

[36] Maass-&.Rajagopalan,.(2011)

[37] Wong,.(2008);-Lambert,.(2012:8);-Severs-Millard,.(2012c)

[38] ibid.

[39] Evans,.(2012)

[40] Rawnsley,.(2011)

[41] Severs-Millard,.(2012);-Clarke,.(2010);-Ottis,.(2010)

[42] Andres,.(2013);-Henderson,.(2008)

[43] NCIX,.(2011:1)

[44] Czosseck,.(2011)

[45] Andres,.(2013)

[46] ibid.

[47] Czosseck,.(2011)

[48] Gasparre,.(2008ab)

[49] Severs-Millard,.(2012)

[50] Cabinet-Office,.(2011)

[51] Cabinet-Office,.(2012)

[52] Cabinet-Office,.(2012: 26[4.9])

[53] NATO,.(2010)

[54] Department-of-Defense,.(2012a)

[55] Rosenberg,.(2012);-DoD,.(2012b);-DoD,.(2012c)

[56] Roberts,.(2012)

[57] Rid,.(2012b:5-6)

[58] Clayton,.(2011)

[59] ibid.

[60] Rid,.(2012a)

[61] Clausewitz,.(1832)

[62] Rid,.(2012);-Severs-Millard,.(2012)

[63] Paul,.(2010);-Naraine,.(2010);-Severs-Millard,.(2012);.Clinton,.(2011)

[64] Glaister,.(2009);-Markoff,.(2009)

[65] Zetterer,.(2012)

[66] Dunn-Cavelty,.(2007);-Dunn-Cavelty,.(2008)

[67] Brito-&-Watkins,.(2011)

[68] Clarke,.(2010)

[69] Panetta,.(2012);.Gross,-(2011);-Schneier,.(2010);-Meyer,.(2010)

[70] Dunn-Cavelty,.(2007);-Dunn-Cavelty,.(2008)

[71] Levin,.(2010)

[72] Rid,.(2012)

[73] Poulsen,.(2007)

[74] Ottis,.(2010:720)

[75] Suler,.(2004)

[76] Bauman,.(2000)

[77] Marx,.(1997:984)

[78] Crowley-&-Heyer,.(2006)

[79] Cohen,.(1972);-Crowley-&-Heyer,.(2006)

[80] Scmitt,.(2002)

[81] Bush,.(2002)

[82] Brito-&-Watkins,.(2011)

[83] CNN,.(2006)

[84] Massing,.(2004)

[85] Crammer-&-Thrall,.(2009)

[86] Clarke,.(2010:99)

[87] CSIS,.(2008: 15)

[88] Brito-&-Watkins,.(2011)

[89] Digital-History,.(2012)

[90] ibid.

[91] Deibert,.(2011)

[92] Walt,.(2010);-Stohl,.(2007);-Greenwald,-(2010)

[93] Priest-etal.-(2010ab)


[95] Gartner-(2012)

[96] Deibert-&-Rohozinski,.(2011:34);-Romm-&-Martinez,.(2012);-Flamm,.(2013);-Cole.&-Gorman,.(2009)

[97] Ricdela,.(2010)

[98] ibid.


[100] John-Slye,-citedin-Romm-&-Martinez,.(2012)

[101] FEC,.(2013)

[102] EFF,.(2005)

[103] Webster,.(2012)

[104] Carney,.(2011)

[105] Brito-&-Watkins,.(2011)

[106] Mclean,.(2011)

[107] Carney,.(2011)

[108] Romm.&-Martinez,.(2012)

[109] Sagemanetal.(2008);-Rid-&-Mc-Burney,.(2012)



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Corruption Threatens Libya’s Democratic Gains

Nothing could indicate a stronger commitment to fighting corruption and illegal practices than a comprehensive reform of Libya’s oil sector. Not only promoting an image of ‘responsible governance’, but improving the trust of Libyans in their nascent democratic institutions.




This week, the Libyan Justice Minister Salah Margani urged the Attorney General to release the newspaper editor Amara Abdalla Al-Khatabi who had been arrested on the 19/12/2012 following the publication of a list containing the names of 84 allegedly corrupt judges.

Corruption is neither new phenomenon to Libya, nor unique to the country. However, comparing Libya to the rest of the world paints a grim picture. NATO estimated that Gaddafi and his associates had around $150 billion stashed abroad. In 2012, Libya ranked 160th amongst the 176 countries covered by Transparency International’s authoritative Corruption Perception Index. An improvement from the previous year (2011: 168/176), but still classifying Libya as a highly corrupt country.

The scourge of corruption has long been identified as a major problem by the new regime. As the leader of the National Transition Council (NTC), Mustapha Abdul Jalil had acknowledged in that it would take years to overcome the “heavy heritage’ of corruption in Libya. Yet, allegations of corruptions surfaced during the turbulent period of NTC rule.

Two scandals emerged in 2012, surrounding funds set up to compensate revolutionary fighters and their medical treatment abroad. Both funds were eventually halted due to widespread misuse and fraud.  Commenting on the  medical-fund scandal, former Interim Health Minister Fatima Hamroush clarified the prevailing attitudes succinctly when she said: “there was a fear from a dictator and that’s why order was kept without law basically. Law wasn’t applied, but there was order. Now there’s no order, everything’s a mess because there’s no fear”.

The scandals draw attention to two issues concerning corruption in Libya. Firstly, they point to the authorities’ ineptness in curtailing corruption. Secondly, they highlight the prevalence of a ‘culture of corruption’. The head of Libya’s Audit Bureau Ibrahim Belkheir acknowledged the widespread nature of the problem amongst Libyans:  As they are so used to it, it does not seem to be corruption to them.”

While it is worth noting that this was a turbulent time for the country, the issue of corruption and governmental will (or lack thereof) to tackle it remains in the headlines. On 18/01/2013 Prime Minister Ali Zeidan announced a number of measures taken by his administration to fight corruption. These included close cooperation with the Audit Bureau, the establishment of a central bidding committee to ensure transparency in contract awards, enlisting the help of the secret service in investigations, and new measures to prevent irregular recruitment of government employees. He also urged the Libyan people to play their part and to report those who violate the law.

Zeidan’s government appears committed to curbing corruption, at least on the surface. The Prime Minister’s 23/02/2013 surprise announcement about the sacking of a number of government officials allegedly involved in corruption. Details and names have yet to emerge, but Zeidan did stress that he “will not allow the misuse of public funds and I will take the strongest procedures against corruption”. Due to the lack of details or subsequent action, the statement should be seen as more than populist rhetoric. It should interpret as a warning addressed to all officials including those under investigations. Zeidan’s words have yet to turn to action as a recent whistle-blower case indicates.

The government seems unable or unwilling to address public accounts of alleged corruption. The deputy minister of Culture and Civil Society, Ms. Awatif al-Tushani, announced her resignation on 07/02/2013 citing alleged financial and administrative irregularities in the ministry. She claims to have raised such issues to the Prime Minister, but no action was taken. Furthermore, reports indicate that she was forced to resign and that her stand against dishonest practices at the ministry made her a target for personal harassment.

A more comprehensive approach needs to be taken by the Libyan Government. The International anti-corruption group Global Witness says that the new government should learn from the previous regime’s practices and implement reforms in Libya’s oil and gas sector. The strategic importance of the sector and the prevalence of shady practices in the industry make this the most important area for reform the new government.

Global Witness’ ‘blueprint for reforms’ (2012) should provide sufficient guidance to prevent large-scale corruption in the new Libya. Their recommendations include the promotion of transparency through the publication of all existing and future oil contracts, to work with international audit organisations to improve accounting and auditing practice within the National Oil Company so that revenues can be accurately measured and reported on. Furthermore, real commitment to transparency should be enshrined into Libya’s new constitution, and all current and future contracts should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

Nothing could indicate a stronger commitment to fighting corruption and illegal practices than a comprehensive reform in the oil sector. Such actions would not only promote an image of ‘responsible governance’, but would improve the trust of Libyans in their nascent democratic institutions. It would also facilitate a change in the entrenched attitudes about corruption at both the institutional and individual levels.


The European Union’s Short Legs

European defence ministers need to take a dispassionate look at what capabilities are duplicated by maintaining 26 separate national defence industries and consolidate appropriately.


EU flag


In a recent article in the Financial Times Philip Stephens argued that Europeans had discovered interventionism just as Americans were setting the idea aside. This came after the French air and ground campaign in Mali and the NATO air war in Libya. A similar line may be emerging on Syria, with the British and French leaders’ statements this week.

Aside from the Tigers and Typhoons, however, the most recent European interventions have had an Atlantic accent. In Mali the British provided a pair of C-17 transports; the Canadians lent another. But the majority of logistic support came from the United States.   The US Air Force used a wing of C-17s to transport most of the 3e Brigade Mécanisée to Bamako.  While US Africa Command spokesmen were publicly diplomatic, the Department of Defence privately intended to send the bill to Paris (the plans to charge the Élysée were quietly dropped). The US Air Force later agreed to a request to provide aerial tankers to support French combat aircraft.

In Libya, the Obama administration settled on the approach of “leading from behind“. At the outset of the war, US air power and precision strike destroyed Libyan air defences in short order. As later in Mali, US forces helped NATO allies carry out their campaign against ground targets mainly without direct combat contributions. But classing Libya as a model for European power projection would be incorrect. In its attempt to avoid civilian casualties, NATO used only precision-guided munitions. This caused severe problems for the contributing European air forces: Denmark ran out, and others ran low. The US had to resupply these allies from its stocks. The USAF and Navy continued to fly around a quarter of all missions, contributing the majority of surveillance, electronic warfare, and – as in Mali – refuelling.

These are not combat capabilities. But they are vital enablers of combat capabilities. In 2011, the US secretary of defence Robert Gates was caustic about the abilities of NATO members to sustain operations without the US.

The IISS Military Balance, updated this week, includes a section on comparative defence statistics. This presents the inventories of the UN Security Council permanent members and India for several categories of military equipment: force projection, manoeuvre, and so on. Aside from the unsubtle observation of the extent to which the US is quantitatively dominant, it is useful to look at how blocks of forces are distributed in each country. Table 1 presents some of these statistics for the UK and France combined and the US.

Table 1: Selected projection and ISTAR forces, UK/France and US

Heavy/medium transport

Tanker and multi- role  tanker/ transport


Combat aircraft †

UK & France










Source: IISS Military Balance 2013
† Includes both ground attack and air supremacy aircraft.US figure includes fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft.

In these logistics and support categories, the US maintains forces roughly ten times larger than the UK and France combined. The exception is in combat aircraft, where the UK and France have more than would be expected. The UK and France have a gap in the ratio of tankers to fighters compared to the US. The ratio for the US is just over six fighters per tanker, while just over ten British and French planes rely on each tanker.

That France in Mali and NATO in Libya had to rely on the US to support their air operations, both times in countries a handful of hours flight time away, is an indication of how far Europe as a continent is from being able to project force. If Mr Stephens in the FT was right and Libya and Mali are steps toward more joint European interventions, these gaps must be plugged. Given the continent’s sluggard economy, the idea that more money will be available to do so is unlikely. It would be better for European defence ministers to take a dispassionate look at what capabilities are duplicated by maintaining 26 separate national defence industries and consolidate appropriately. The collapse of the BAE and EADS merger in 2012 showed how difficult that will be.


Kosovo Talks: Progress Now, Problems Tomorrow?

Clearly, Kosovo still touches raw nerves and remains central to former Yugoslav states’ extraordinarily complex relations.


Prishtina wake up


As an unprecedented agreement on the status of Kosovo seems within reach, to the relief of many observers, the details of the settlement seem likely to close some chapters (at least for now) and open a series of others. Belgrade’s continued and dogmatic refusal to recognise Kosovo’s independence has not stopped considerable concessions being made on the Serbs’ part. Indeed, the acceptance of Kosovar border authorities exemplifies a gradual move towards de facto recognition of the state. Perhaps tired by diplomatic stalemate, instability, and lost political and economic opportunities, the Serbian Prime Minister, Ivica Dačić, has made distinct headway in negotiating an agreement for a working relationship between Belgrade and Pristina.

One of the most notable features of a likely agreement is the proposal for Serb “municipalities” with considerable degrees of autonomy in northern parts of Kosovo, where Serbs constitute a concentrated majority. In exchange for this, Dačić has conceded political control over Kosovar Serbs to Pristina, and the dismantling of Belgrade-sponsored “parallel state institutions”. This marks an important trend in reaffirming Serbia’s effective withdrawal of formal power in any part of Kosovo, even if its influence in the north shall remain pronounced. Despite the usual, strong rhetoric continuing, Dačić’s delegation seems to be softly moving Serbia firmly away from a territorially based stance on Kosovo (even going so far as to suggest that it was a “lie” that Kosovo had ever belonged to Serbs).

Thus it is quite possible that this pattern of de facto recognition shall become the basis for a working relationship between Belgrade and Pristina for the foreseeable future. As long as the question of Kosovo retains such sensitive and provocative political capital, both electorally and internationally, it seems implausible that official recognition of Kosovo’s independence shall come from Belgrade (and, by extension, from Moscow) any time soon. Yet if an agreement on the status of Serbs and the recognition of state authorities can provide a positive working environment for Kosovo and the region, this de facto status could enjoy relative success.

However, questions must be asked regarding medium-term and long-term implications of such an agreement, as well as the immediate ramifications for the region more generally. Firstly, for how long would Kosovars be satisfied with the status of informal recognition? As much of an improvement as it could offer, Kosovo would still be without the benefits of formal recognition from the United Nations, with only 98 member states recognising full independence. The European Union cannot unanimously give Kosovo its support, either; Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus have withheld full recognition for a variety of political reasons. Although the history of NATO action and sustained United Nations oversight gives a valuable level of security, it may not be sufficient to satiate Kosovars indefinitely. Although it is problematic to portray the EU membership as an irresistible attraction, it has proven to have considerable political impetus in the Balkans (not least in keeping dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina alive in previous years). Kosovo would surely be disadvantaged further if the majority of its neighbours were to ascend to membership (a foreseeable eventuality in the next decade), while Kosovo’s accession was hampered by lack of formal recognition.

Furthermore, following the probability of adopting the Serb municipalities model, minority groups in other states almost instantly raised demands for similar solutions in their own cases. Perhaps most problematically for Belgrade, ethnic Albanians in parts of southern Serbia have called for autonomous municipalities mirroring those in northern Kosovo. Some have even mooted the possibility of outright territory and population exchanges as a solution, although this does not seem to have been seriously considered at talks. It also comes at a time of unease in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the President of Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serb entity), Milorad Dodik, recently called for autonomous status for the municipalities where Serbs constitute a majority within the Bosnian Croat and Bosniak Federation. Although the corresponding authorities have rebuffed such claims, it would likely become increasingly difficult to mollify minority groups were such disparities in policy to be realised.

Clearly, Kosovo still touches raw nerves and remains central to former Yugoslav states’ extraordinarily complex relations. Thus, while any progress in mediating tensions and easing Kosovo’s political and economic worries should be welcomed (Kosovo still has amongst the lowest GDP-PPP in the region), any agreement that may be soon forthcoming is unlikely to settle the web of issues once and for all.

N.B. Since last update of the page relating to number of states recognising Kosovo, Dominica and Pakistan have added their recognition, bringing the total to 98.


Photo Credit: Agroni

Canada’s Shame

The treatment and conditions of living for Canadian Aboriginals has long been a source of embarrassment and discontent within a country that has been known for its human rights record.


Canada First Peoples


Canada has long been considered one of the best places to live on this planet due to the high standards of living, good quality education and health care, safe and secure society and an economy that is relatively strong compared to its developed peers. That is not to say Canada is without problems. The treatment and conditions of living for Canadian Aboriginals has long been a source of embarrassment and discontent within a country that has been known for its human rights record. From the residential school system of decades past to contemporary issues of teen suicide, housing, and water crises on native reserves it is clear that much more can and should be done in Canada.  These conditions are not only a black eye for Canadians within Canada but they have drawn international criticism from the United Nations and organizations like Amnesty International.

So the question becomes what can be done about it? There has long been an unspoken belief amongst Canadians and natives that if the First Nation peoples are simply left alone and are able to maintain their traditional cultures and beliefs it would result in a reconnection and reestablishment of their cultural pride and wellbeing that would allow them to overcome the socio-economic challenges that plague many reserves. The method to support this “solution” has for many years been to simply put more money towards a problem. Unfortunately this hasn’t solved the problems as issues of financial competence and accountability of some band leaders have resulted in millions of dollars disappearing whether through waste, inefficiencies, corruption or simply poor accounting. All of this has led to a situation where the status quo is far from ideal and the average Canadian blames all parties involved and they want some form of financial accountability from the native bands while an equitable solution is established.

There are two fundamental obstacles in my view preventing the rehabilitation of aboriginal communities. The first is simply geography. Canada is a massive country and some of the aboriginal communities that face the worst conditions are also some of the most remote. These remote northern communities suffer from a variety of additional challenges that are not faced by aboriginal lands further to the south. The isolation to these communities makes providing services to them very costly and difficult as some communities are only accessible by float plane or ice road. As a result, the cost of everyday goods are exorbitant ($38 Cranberry Juice, $28 Cheese Wiz)  as individuals face massive markup compared to their suggested shelf price found in southern communities. Although these prices do vary between communities, this isolation also results in difficulties attracting nurses, doctors, dentists, teachers, social workers and other role model citizens to provide basic services to the populace of these communities. Those who do decide to work in these communities often do so on short term contract basis for a year or two before moving on to a less demanding position in southern Canada. The resulting turnover means that there is little continuity for inhabitants of these northern aboriginal communities who require these services.

This isolation also breeds its own form of hopelessness. When individuals are raised in such small and isolated communities it creates a vision of the world that also seems equally small. As a result of no economic opportunities, few wholesome activities and a culture of dependency many youths turn to alcohol and substance abuse and these factors of course contribute to the aforementioned suicide issues. Although access to high speed internet has opened up connections to the outside world and allowed for a broadening of horizons and the voicing of issues for those who can/choose to leave the reserves for education, training and a chance at a better life they rarely return to their ancestral lands and as a result a brain drain of the most talented and skilled individuals, is occurring leaving those who are left with few skills and little hope in an ever shrinking community.

The only solution to this issue is of course a highly controversial relocation and resettlement program. With so many far-flung communities it is nearly impossible for the efficient allocation of resources, while economies of scale for local development and commerce see prices set at exorbitant levels. Now this resettlement doesn’t necessarily have to be to the South but just the merging of various far flung northern settlements to central locations where they can be more easily serviced from the South and infrastructure can be developed in a practical manor. Naturally this course of action will be opposed by many communities and portrayed as another attempt to destroy aboriginal culture and heritage but given the floundering conditions that exist in some communities this option is preferable to another day of living in third world conditions in a first world country.

The second issue emerges from a basic aspect of human nature: the idea that humans tend to maintain possessions that they own. When an individual owns something they are much more likely to properly maintain and take care of the possession.  Property on Canadian native reserves is held in commons and as a result, for the vast majority of these reserves, individual families do not own the house or the land that is built on. Aboriginal Canadian families are guaranteed housing under the Indian Act, with funding to build coming to the reserves from the federal government, but the property on these Canadian native reserves is held in commons. As a result, individual families do not own the houses they live in or the land those houses are built on. This lack of ownership is the root of many problems on Canadian reserves.

In many cases the housing issues that are faced on many remote reserves are a result of this lack of ownership. Houses are often poorly maintained with construction of new housing stopping and starting due to money and supply problems. According to Jonathan Kay, during a discussion for the Fraser Institute Student Seminar about aboriginal property issues, he stated that many of the new houses that are built on reserves already have mold problems before construction is complete and in some cases a house only lasts 10 years before requiring replacement.

Since the individual bands collect their money from the federal government and the lack of home ownership means no property taxes exist on the reserves it alters the dynamic of democratic responsibility and accountability of tribal leadership. Although elected by the members of the tribe, the band leadership can only effect change through their financial dependency on the federal government by garnering additional funds from Ottawa, and the most effective way to do this seems to be through highlighting the third world conditions on reserves, blocking road or rail lines in protest or staging hunger strikes. Since the tribal leadership is not financially tied to the members of the tribe this can result in poor accountability within the tribe, where your name and family relations can determine whether or not you receive new housing or not.

This lack of codified property rights compounds issues of economic development as numerous oil and mining companies have made millions if not billions of dollars in investment in and around reserve lands while offering job training, community development funds, and infrastructure, for example. Yet despite contracts being signed these companies find that they still face obstacles from a band or its members who become disgruntled and decide that they would want to squeeze a little more blood from the proverbial stone by blocking key (often only) roads to and from a project .

This lawlessness and disrespect for signed contracts ties back to the fact that these communities have no instilled rights of private property. In many cases these bands and individuals within them have not experienced the rights and responsibilities that come with property rights so it should come as little surprise that they then have little respect for contractual rights. As a result corporations are becoming hesitant in dealing with aboriginal groups thus limiting the ability for economic development to occur which of course feeds back into the cycles of isolation and poverty.

So what should be done? Well there is an unfortunate difference between what should be done and what is politically feasible to be done. What should be done of course is the implementation of private property rights across native reserves in Canada while simultaneously voluntarily relocating certain isolated communities to larger aboriginal population centers. This action would likely result in an aboriginal crisis the likes of which have not been since the Oka Crisis of 1990.

This past summer a more viable alternative was proposed by the federal government which would create a program under the Indian Act to allow tribes to opt out of the collective property management system and establish individual property rights on reserves. The hope would be that if a handful of pilot tribes found success and improving conditions on their reserve that other tribes would choose to opt-out themselves. The widespread adoption would not only be good for the aboriginal communities but Canada as whole.


Photo Credit:  BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives