An Interview with the Jordanian Ambassador to the UK: Mazen Hamoud talks to DU PolSoc

Following Mr. Hamoud’s address to the Durham Union Society on Tuesday the 7th of June, the Jordanian Ambassador spoke to your journal editor and elaborated on the situation in Jordan and the Middle East. The full transcript, which has been lightly edited for clarity, is available below.

Will Jordan be able to cope with the problems of the Palestinian refugee crisis in the long run? How do you think it will manage the related problems such as increased child marriages?

“I am not aware of any child marriages that have taken place in Jordan, and Palestinians in Jordan have been part of our community for the past few decades and have integrated into our society. Part of the final solution to the Palestinian Israeli problem is the right of return and the right of those people who are in Jordan to be able to go back to their newly established Palestinian state and live there, so this is how we plan things to be done, this is part of the peace process.”

In your opinion, has Pan-Arabism failed? Particularly after Sadat signed the Camp David Accords with Israel.

“Pan-Arabism is still very much alive in terms of the Arab League. All the Arab countries are part of the Arab League, every year there is a summit conference that takes place and brings all the leaders together. There is always hope that there are continued operations between the countries, but what I would like to say on this particular issue is that when talking about Pan Arabism as a union of Arab states, the word ‘union’ can mean many different contexts in many different shapes. Before, we used to talk about the [Arab] Union where every country comes under one banner and one leader. What is more important than that (when it comes to the Arab union), is what we can see happening in the EU and generally in Europe, which is a cooperation between countries. As a result, trade between the countries increases to allow freedom of movement within Arab countries. I think that recent history has shown that this is more important for Pan Arabism, so long as the [Arab] Union becomes more integrated and, cooperates on humanities, arts, culture and economically. This is what is really important and that is what the Arabs are working for.”

Apart from the coalition airstrikes, what else is Jordan doing to counter the influence of Daesh?

“We have one of the most prominent security agencies, I would say, in the world, and a very strong army. With the help of our friends and our allies, we protect our borders from any infiltration coming into the country, which is always under threat. We screen all the Syrian refugees coming into the country, making sure that there are no sleeping cells, but I think the most important thing we have to do and what we are trying to do, as I mentioned in the lecture is focusing on the economy, trying to draw in more investments and job opportunities for Jordanians, because by giving opportunities for people to work you give them a choice and they are less vulnerable to extremist ideology.”

Newspapers such as “The Economist” claim that Jordan is balancing its relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran. How does Jordan manage to balance its relationship between two countries that are clearly opposed to each other?

The way that Jordan historically has had a balanced relationship with everyone is that we have an open relationship with all the countries. Of course, Saudi Arabia is our neighbour, historically they are our friends and our brothers, they and the GCC countries and they remain our most important neighbours. I would never compare our relationship with Iran with that of Saudi Arabia or the GCC countries. They are totally at different levels, but I would like just to add on top of this that we have recently asked our Ambassador in Iran to come back to Jordan for consultations and he has not been back to Tehran. We took a very strong stance in retaliation to Iran’s continued interference in the affairs of its neighbouring states, so that’s how we have tackled that issue. We therefore have a balance, but we have to take a stance: we stand with our brethren.”

What is Jordan doing trying to do to become independent from Gulf States? As it is currently quite dependent on them for aid.

“As we said at the beginning, you asked me about Pan Arabism, Pan Arabism is about all of us working together, cooperating in difference places. Economically we are very proud of the support that Saudi Arabia has been giving Jordan. We have recently signed a very important agreement with them that is going to bring a lot of investments into the country, so Saudi Arabia are creating many jobs for Jordanians, as they realise the importance of a stable Jordan. At the same time, the cooperation is that we maintain a very strong and secure country because Jordan lies on the borders of Saudi Arabia, so it is in everybody’s interest that Jordan remains as stable as it has always been.

Josh Moss, Journal Editor of DU PolSoc

 

 

 

 

 

 

Event Review: Address to the Durham Union Society by the Jordanian Ambassador to the UK, Mr. Mazen Hamoud: Jordan and the Challenges facing the Middle East

On the 7th of June 2016, The Jordanian Ambassador to the UK, Mr. Mazen Hamoud gave an address to the Durham Union Society on the current situation in Jordan and the Middle East. This review covers his speech in six sections:

 

  1. The Palestinian and Syrian refugee crisis
  2. Jordan’s Economic issues:
  3. The Issue of Daesh:
  4. Religious Equality in Jordan
  5. Politics in Jordan
  6. Politics in the US

 

  1. Palestinian and Syrian refugee crisis:

 

According to Mr. Hamoud, “20% of Jordan’s population are Syrian refugees, equivalent to Belgium’s population joining the UK. 1.3 million Syrians are living in communities rather than camps, as camps cannot fit them.” However, the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) suggest that Mr. Hamoud’s figures are significantly overstated, arguing that the total number of refugees and asylum seekers in Jordan stands at roughly 690,000 in 2015.

 

Jordan’s issue with refugees for him “is the same as the refugee crisis in Europe: they are taking advantage of infrastructure without gaining citizenship.” This is especially the case in education, where according to the Huffington Post, Jordanian schools are now operating double shifts to accommodate the urban refugees, as “170,000 Syrians are in Jordanian schools”. Rising upkeep costs of schools has consequently increased the burden on the Jordanian government.

 

However, it is not only the Jordanian education system that is being impacted but also the Government’s tax receipts. According to the Syria Needs Analysis Project, 160,000 Syrians are working illegally in Jordan without paying any taxes, denying potential government revenue to Jordan.

 

These problems are not going to be short term. Hamoud reminded us that “according to the UN it takes 15-17 years after a war for people to go back to their own country. He explained that the resolution to the problem of lost tax receipts involves Jordan giving work permits to refugees, as long as they do not compete with Jordanian industries such as agriculture and construction.” However, according to the Law Library, the list of prohibited industries includes other major industries such as engineering, medical and education. Hamoud demonstrated how Jordan has honoured their commitment to this, by agreeing in the London Conference of 2016 that Syrian refugees will be able to remain and get a job in the country. In return, the international community provided a grant of $3bn just for the Jordanian education sector, hence helping to lift the burden on Jordan’s education sector. He asserted that if this works in Jordan it could be used as a model in other countries that have a refugee crisis.

 

However, the Jordanian ambassador also warned against the UN’s favouritism to refugees over local Jordanians, claiming that the UN pays more to refugees than Jordanian farmers, which leads to instability. Crimes that are “terrible and bloody have occurred due to this culture absorption.”

 

  1. Jordan’s Economic issues:

 

Apart from the economic issue caused by refugees, Hamoud made us aware of those caused by a lack of water. “Jordan’s the fourth poorest country in terms of water.” The World Health Organisation (WTO) also acknowledges the issue of a lack of water in Jordan, observing that ‘water scarcity will become an even greater problem over the next two decades as the population doubles and climate change occurs… Increasing overall water extraction to meet demand carries a high cost.

 

It is not only water that Jordan desperately needs. It is also a high importer of energy. Hamoud noted that Jordan imported 96% of energy from abroad and this has been very problematic: until 2003 Jordan got cheap oil from Iraq, however, this ended following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Egypt went on to become the main supplier of gas, however, this ended during the Arab Spring of 2011.

 

Apart from energy related issues, the Jordanian Ambassador reminded us of the impact of Palestinian and Syrian refugees with the fact that Jordan’s debt to GDP ratio is 92%, once again highlighting the burden they have had on Jordanian public finances.

 

A possible way of reducing such debt could be by increasing Jordanian exports. Hamoud pointed out that “if 65% of a product is made in Jordan it can enter the EU competitively” and acknowledged that EU trade regulation has become more lenient to Jordan through agreement amongst themselves.”

 

Despite improved trade relations with the EU, Jordan’s trade in tourism has fallen as a result of instability in the Middle East. Hamoud lamented that some hotels in Petra have already closed down and will not come back until the crisis is solved. According to the World Bank, the year before the Arab Spring erupted across the region, some 8.2 million people visited the country, but by 2013 the figure was down to 5.4 million.

 

  1. The Issue of Daesh:

 

Along with Jordan’s trade in tourism, their trade in general has been heavily hit by the rise of Daesh. Hamoud claimed that “65% of Jordan’s land trade goes through Syria and Iraq” parts of which have been taken by Daesh, bringing Jordanian trade to a halt. The ambassador emphasised Jordan’s message on Daesh having to be “a global war” and that it is a “Third World War as a result despite not being a traditional war” later on adding that “if we do not deal with it they will come in different forms.”

 

When asked about the type of war being fought against Daesh, Hamoud saw it as “ideological” however, Daesh was also “a vehicle to get what people want”, as some of them do not want to lead a normal or poor life, hence they are doing it to get paid.

 

Hamoud highlighted what Jordan has successfully done in order to destabilise Daesh, such as bringing African Chiefs of staff together encouraging them to stop fighting, cooperate and form a task force against extremists in the continent. However, he also pointed out changes that need to be made in order to defeat the terrorist organisation, using the Iraqi army as his case study. When Iraq fought Iran in the 1980s, their army was both Sunni and Shia, which helped to keep Iraq united. However, now that the Iraqi army is predominantly Shia, and supported by large militias, such as the Shia Militia, Iraq is getting divided setting one against the other, hence making a resolution more difficult.

 

 

  1. Religious equality in Jordan:

 

 

Jordan’s opposition is also deeply rooted in Daesh’s opposition to equality of religion, which is at complete odds with Jordanian values. Hamoud emphasised how “There is no difference between a Christian and a Muslim in the Arab World or in Jordan”, as it is home of the Amman Message of 2004 that was adopted by all Muslims in the world with its statement that Islam should be balanced and about equality, without there being a difference between Muslims, Christians and Jews. He drew upon examples of Jordan’s protection of the Amman Message such as the Hashemite Kingdom helping to preserve the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Hamoud also pointed out how in the area of high politics, Jordan has protected religious equality by taking a lead in the war against Daesh, which for Jordan, have not only undermined religious equality, but have tarnished the name of Islam. This can be seen by the fact that although there are 1.5 billion Muslims, the 0.01% (Daesh) gives a much larger image of Islam, as a result of the media.

 

 

  1. Politics in Jordan:

 

 

Apart from Daesh, Jordan has also managed to resist domestic political instability where other countries such as Egypt or Yemen have had less success. For Hamoud, this was because “it is important for Jordan to have continuity with history”, citing part of his speech with the Foreign Secretary: because Jordan was ruled by the Hashemites, particularly King Abdullah who was the 42nd descendent of the prophet Muhammad, there was less instability in Jordan, as Abdullah’s ancestor gave him a strong legitimacy amongst his people, unlike military leaders such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

 

Hamoud however did recognise threats to Jordanian political stability, such as The Muslim brotherhood, which has “always been able to operate in Jordan”. Despite this, Hamoud claimed that they had a “red blind” to prevent the causation of instability, suggesting that the power of the Brotherhood will is still limited.

 

When it came to Jordan’s domestic politics and its relation with the Arab Spring of 2011, the Ambassador reflected on it positively. For him, it “helped expedite the economic and political reforms in Jordan that conservative leaders were previously against, as they saw it as leading to instability.” According to the Centre for Mediterranean, Middle East and Islamic Studies, protestors in Jordan called for measures regarding corruption and the resignation of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The reaction of King Abdullah II was immediate, dismissing the cabinet and Prime Minister, forming a new government within a week. This was followed up by constitutional amendments and revisions such as the creation of a constitutional court and special independent bodies for election monitoring.

 

 

  1. Politics in the US:

 

For Hamoud, external politics seemed just as important as those of his own. This was observable in his analysis of Barack Obama, who he saw as wanting to “bring forces out of hot spots” and thinking that “if America can make peace with Iran, he will be able to focus on establishing trade with Asia and hence bring peace to the US”.

 

Interestingly enough, he blamed such policies for the rise of Donald Trump in the election polls, as the Republican nominee’s campaign is building on ideas that previously would never have been accepted just like those of Obama (despite a significant difference in their ideas). This is because since Obama has put drastic ideas into practice, such as negotiating peace with Iran and Cuba this has paved the way for the rise of other drastic ideas as a backlash, such as Trump’s advocacy of tighter security measures to be imposed on Muslims in the US, along with building a wall on the US Mexico border to reduce Mexican immigration.

 

Review: Should the UK Remain or Leave the European Union

On the 30th April 2016, Durham University Politics Society along with Team Global held an insightful debate arguing the pros and cons of Brexit. Apart from learning more about why we should or shouldn’t leave the EU, there was another function of the debate: to poll the audience’s view at the beginning of the debate and see whether this would change at the end of the debate.

 

To swing the audience’s opinion in their favour Jude Kirton Darling, a Labour MEP from the North East of England and Bob Hull, the former director of the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels took the stage to defend the UK’s EU membership. The pair were to meet opposition from a vocal Jonathan Arnott, a UKIP MEP for the North East of England along with ex-Durham law student Anna Firth, who’s currently the Chair of Women for Britain.

 

Supervising the four speakers, the Chairs of the debate, Laurence Smy, Chairman of Team Global and First Vote and Dr. Christian Schweiger, Senior Lecturer at Durham’s School of Government and International Affairs both initiated the debate by outlining the historical context of the EU and how it functions. In particular, Smy, explained how European integration was first initiated when the European Coal and Steel Community was created after the Second World War to maintain peace amongst European countries, especially France and Germany. Dr. Schweiger went on to emphasise how decision making in the EU is intergovernmental, despite the claims by eurosceptics that it is made by supranational bodies such as the European Commission. This is because all members of the Council of Ministers have to agree for legislation to be passed. He ended by observing that since the 1990s there has been more debate concerning the transparency of the EU as a result of Angela Merkel doing backroom deals with other EU countries, leading to fear of German hegemony within the EU.

 

In contrast to Dr. Schweiger’s analysis of the Germany’s hegemony within the EU on an international level, Jude Kirton Darling opened the debate on behalf of the Europhiles, by providing an inspiring story on a more local level. Her mother, who fought to ban toxic waste incinerators with the help of EU law, which she read about in Durham University’s Bill Bryson Library, managed to ban these toxic pollutants despite the opposition of corporate lawyers defending the firm in charge of the installation of incinerators. This, she felt, demonstrated how the EU has enabled people like her mother to protect locals from “the power of vested interests”.

 

She went on to create a feeling of personal solidarity and belonging with the countries of the EU by reminding us how “ERASMUS schemes have enabled us to learn about and from each other” and that our world is bigger because the EU exists. After all, “You can fall in love in Barcelona and stay there with your partner or come back to London and live with them” all thanks to the EU’s freedom of movement. Kirton Darling was clearly highlighting the sense of common identity that the EU has managed to create amongst its member states.

 

Other arguments included reiterating Barack Obama’s assertion that we are more likely to have a bad deal with the US if we leave the EU, then emphasising how the EU has improved labour rights, while at the same time, improving economic inequality, especially through the Labour and Socialist MEPs, which through the EU, have brought together programmes such as the youth employment initiative, involving investment of £50m to help young people get jobs. On a more local level, even the Lumiere festival in Durham received EU contributions.

 

To conclude, Jude Kirton-Darling warned that Russia continues to enxourage and support the far right, in order to further their strategic interests. The implication being that leaving the EU will prove a threat to the UK’s security, especially with regard to Vladimir Putin, now considered one of the world’s “most dangerous security threats”, a claim that many eurosceptics such as Jonathan Arnott disregarded as characterising euroscepticism as far right in order to “poison the well”.

 

Arnott began by insisting that the money we get from EU comes from our own money and that we could replace every single penny and, according to him, more of the UK’s EU contributions are redistributed throughout the EU. He immediately rebutted the Labour MEP’s claim that the EU improved worker’s rights by pointing out that the Equal Pay Act of 1970 existed before the UK joined the EU.

 

One of the most interesting moments of the debates for your correspondent was when instead of arguing that the EU was too lenient on immigration like most of the prominent UKIP figures, Arnott turned the tables, criticising the EU for being too harsh on immigration, particularly on immigrants from outside the EU, who face higher studying costs, more difficulty to obtain work and residence within the EU member states followed by the inability to obtain student loans. He therefore argued for an immigration system that treated all immigrants equally.

 

Arnott made it clear that EU reform was a “piped dream”, as it requires negotiation between all 28 member states for trade deals to be made or for EU treaties to be modified. He even had a humanitarian argument for leaving the EU, suggesting that we cannot help poor countries through trade because the tariffs that the EU puts on their exported goods reduces their demand within the EU.

 

The UKIP MEP reassured his audience that the UK will not be isolated if Brexit occurs, mentioning how the UK economy is bigger than those of non-EU countries such as Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein put together: if they can establish trade deals, the UK could get better ones through the sheer bargaining power of being the world’s 5th largest economy.

 

He argued that it is the EU that is making UK businesses go bust or sack staff, as a result of increases in VAT and finished his speech by accusing Cameron of “campaigning for the EU to keep his job”.

 

To counter Arnott’s economic arguments, Robert Hull used his expertise obtained in Brussels to make us aware of how the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) reported that each household benefits by £3000 due to EU membership and that average households could be £4000 a year worse off if we leave. He went on to insist that The US will not be as bothered about establishing a trade deal with the UK since its GDP is less than that of the EU.

 

After citing the common pro-EU argument that the UK would still have to contribute to the EU budget if it ‘Brexits’, he insightfully revealed how Norway pays more to the EU per capita than the UK despite not being a member state.

 

Hull concluded by making us aware of the inconvenience that Britain would have to renegotiate the EU legislation it signed up to if it leaves the EU, which will keep the UK’s civil service busy for the next two years and that they “could be doing better”.

 

However, the inconvenience of renegotiating EU membership was not a major issue for Anna Firth, as she was more concerned with the fact that the UK would not get a say in EU legislation, she illustrated this by pointing out that the UK was outvoted in the council of ministers more times than every other country, showing that the UK already has very little influence in the EU. However, it is not only the EU where the UK lacks influence as a result of its membership: the UK used to have a seat in the World Trade Organisation, but it has been replaced by one EU seat, which only represents “1/28th of  British interests”. But that is not where it ends: 500 MEPs voted for the UK to lose its seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and be replaced by an EU seat. For the Chair of Britain’s Eurosceptic women, it is clear that EU membership only seeks to undermine British influence both domestically and worldwide.

 

Firth drew upon an economic argument to counter that of Bob Hull illustrating how in a presentation from the director of The British Hovercraft Company, the biggest European exporter of leisure hovercrafts, she claimed that inside the EU they have massive problems with exporting because the EU imposes some of the highest tariffs in the world concerning the countries that don’t have deals with the EU. Tariffs increase the price of the £50,000 hovercrafts by 226% spoiling potential business deals.

 

 

On the matter of security, she made it clear that it was the US who defended Europe against the USSR and that intervened in Yugoslavia to preserve peace during the war in the 1990s, highlighting that the EU was a disaster when it came to peacekeeping in Yugoslavia. She went on to assert that the NATO community is 900 million people rather than 500 million and the US pays more into NATO than 11 EU budgets put together, hence it is more of a force to be reckoned with. This assertion is slightly inaccurate, as NATO’s website indicates that the US spent $649 billion on defence in 2015, while the EU’s budget for 2015 according to europa.eu, was €145 billion ($165.3 billion), but Firth still makes a valid point in arguing that NATO spends more on defence, hence it is more effective when maintaining peace and security.

 

She concluded by notifying us that the rest of the world is 6.5 billion customers, as opposed to 0.5 billion people in the EU, hence the world market has a lot more potential than the EU. Furthermore, Firth denied that being members of the EU will let us have trade deals with much larger global markets, even arguing that the EU is utterly useless at making trade deals, drawing upon examples of its failures to obtain them with the US, Japan, India, China, Australia, Canada.

 

After Firth’s conclusion that the choice was “between being in or out, but either being out or out and a little bit in”, the debate ended with a Q&A session. This got a bit heated when Firth was accused by the europhiles of mixing facts, which ended the conference in an entertaining manner. Everyone left the lecture room with a lot more knowledge and even a shift in opinion. This was reflected in the poll that took place at the end, where the percentage of those who were undecided rose by 8% from 9% up to 17% in the subsequent poll. The percentage of pro-leave votes increased by 14% from 14% at the start, to 28%. Finally, the pro-remain votes fell by 21% from the original 77% to 56%*.

 

Both votes didn’t seem reflective of recent opinion polls regarding EU membership: YouGov, observed figures from April 2016, which indicated that 42% of British people surveyed are pro-leave and 41% are pro-remain, but as we all know, pollsters have proven notoriously inaccurate of late.

 

*The percentages of the second vote added up to 101%, as they have been rounded to the nearest full number.

Josh Moss

 

 

 

Social Media, Free Speech and Global Terrorism: The Battle of Ideas.

How the power of social media is being harnessed by the world’s most feared terrorists. 

Technology has changed our lives. The growth of social media has brought in an era of mass communication and with it mass connection with millions of people around the world.  However with the rise of the internet has come instantaneous and almost untraceable propaganda for terrorist organisations.  In the internet domain governments are struggling to contain the spread of such radical ideologies. We are unprotected from the cyber poison of these groups. The use of globalised social media by IS is one current example of this. The growth of global information sharing has made it harder for dictatorships to keep their people in ignorance, but from events in the Middle East it’s clear to see that is not clear cut. Where states were liberated in the name of democracy and freedom their hope was replaced by instability, civil war and the rise of military factions such as IS, so in reality whole regions have been destabilised and technology and social media has paved the way.  Has the globalised technology sharing failed those in Syria, Iraq, etc? Yes, to some extent technology has provided a way for terrorist groups to profit and flourish.

IS has used the internet unlike any other group before them.  They aim their reach beyond the Arab world.  Only 3.7% of the world’s internet users come from the Middle East and only 40.2% of Middle Easterners have access to the Internet.  It is clear from these statistics that IS use of social media is aimed at Westerners that have greater access to social media rather than the relatively unconnected people of the Middle East. Furthermore, many of the Jihadis murdering for IS are illiterate and ‘educated’ in extremist Madrasas, so they cannot read the tweets or posts.  IS aims are clear – radicalise Western Muslims who feel alienated by the Western culture of equal rights for women, multiculturalism and democracy. It is easy pickings reaching out to kids growing up in the Muslim ghettos of France or Belgium or even the radicalised and illegal schools in Birmingham.  Despite the UK’s online measures against terrorist content that started in 2010 and the removal of 75,000 pieces of content from the internet by March 2015, the UK is the 2nd leading source of radicalised individuals traveling to fight for the Islamic State from Europe. The first is France.

IS are using a variety of highly encrypted apps to spread not just propaganda, but also training materials, advice on how to get weapons and build bombs and how to commit lone wolf style attacks of Jihad.  This covert information sharing is vital to the terrorist operation, but it is overshadowed by IS’s use of propaganda videos.  Only 2% of IS propaganda is brutality the rest is desperately trying to display an Islamic utopia that IS. Although, The 2% definitely makes an impact consisting of executions of women, homosexuals, foreigners, aid workers and journalists. The latest video of supposedly five British spys being executed point blank and with a young boy allegedly from Lewisham, London talking about killing infidels.  It hits hard. The boy embodies IS poison leaching into every pore of innocents. It makes us question of we can stop it.

Terrorist organisations are ahead of the law enforcement agencies and the only way to combat them would be to allow government access to encrypted communications.  Protecting our liberal democracies through illiberal means sacrifices our privacy and data security.  It also brings up questions of free speech on social media by non-sympathisers of IS. Islam unlike any other religion has waged a war on what ‘offends’ it which can be seen in the targeting of France a country that enjoys satire, the jihad on Salman Rushdie and other writers. Should we give up our free speech to try and appease extremists? No. We should tweet up louder.  “Ideologies are not defeated with guns. They are defeated with better ideas,” President Barack Obama said in July 2015. “This larger battle for hearts and minds is going to be a generational struggle.”  Global terrorism powered by social media is the age we live in, but we can share secular information and facts about human rights to minimalize IS’s exploitation of the ignorant and vulnerable on the internet.

By Vicki Lincoln

Image: http://www.wgow.com/

The Future of Relations Between Russia and Turkey

What are the implications of the Russian aircraft attack? 

On 24 November, a Russian Su-24 attack aircraft was shot down by Turkish forces around the Turkey-Syria border area. Inevitably, this sparked great tensions between the two nations and, to make things worse, just a few days later a Russian serviceman was spotted holding a surface-to-air missile launcher as his warship passed through the Bosphorus on 6 December. This has been considered an act of provocation by Turkey’s foreign minister. However, although mutual relations today are far from amicable, to what extent will these series of events affect future Russian-Turkish relations?

Chaos in Syria

The recent tensions between the two nations may well harm coalition efforts against ISIS in Syria. With Turkey’s apparent desire to secure the Azaz-Jarablus line along its southern border, Russia may well be inclined to become forcefully active in northern Syria in the near future, whilst simultaneously getting more vocal about Turkey’s murky relations with ISIS and more willing to support the Kurdish YPG in their expansion into Azaz-Jarablus. Russia’s relationship with the YPG has continuously been condemned by Turkey, who see the YPG as a terrorist organisation due to its ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Some media forces have even gone as far as to bring American policy makers into the equation. With increasing cooperation between Russia and the YPG in the Jarablus region, the events playing out are progressively regarded as a serious challenge by Western superpowers. Thus, the shooting down of the Russian aircraft may well have been the catalyst required in this development of potential political hostility.

Having said this, skirmishes between warplanes have not been a rare occurrence in recent months and so Putin’s remarks of being “stabbed in the back” have certainly given false impressions concerning the previous state of alliance between Russia and Syria. Tensions between the two countries have been present for a while, even if they have been underlying more mainstream issues. Maybe the events of 24 November have been used as a mere excuse to accelerate the already deteriorating relations.

The Politics of Energy

In spite of political tensions that have heightened conflict between Turkey and Russia, there are other avenues of approach that facilitate the potential for more harmonious relations between the two powers. The two nations hold a considerable partnership in the energy sector. Through Blue Stream and Trans-Balkan pipelines, Turkey imports around 70% of its annual natural gas consumption from Russia. Furthermore, Turkey is the second largest importer of Russian natural gas worldwide with twenty-seven billion cubic metres imported annually, placing Turkey only below Germany in the ranks. As if this was not enough, Turkey and Russia are in the process of constructing Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, due for completion in 2020. The cost of the construction will come to approximately $22 billion and will be financed entirely by Russia. It would constitute around 14% of the Turkish national electricity production and thus would provide fantastic return on investment for Russia. The mutual reliance that each country places on one another, with regards to energy, is extreme. From a financial standpoint, therefore, it surely seems unlikely that any political rift is going to develop in the near future.

A Frozen Conflict?

This leaves us in a precarious situation. After the initial imposition of sanctions and dramatic announcements, any quick withdrawal by either side would be perceived as a sign of weakness, and would thus be exploited by the opposition. However, each side is fully aware of the mutual dependency present within this scenario. What this leaves us with is a scene of “frozen conflict”. Neither side will gain by escalating conflict but neither can afford to back down quite yet. Should we let future run its course, it seems likely that a period of inactivity may predominate throughout the coming months.

By Chris Marshall

Air Strikes Signal a New Challenge for Labour

In the aftermath of the first air strikes against Syria, Vicki Lincoln explores the implications for the Labour party. 

The run up to the Commons vote on Air Strikes in Syria has exposed some ugly, bitter and deep divides in the Labour Party.  The vote on Wednesday has been tarred by turmoil as the Labour Party struggles to consolidate all parts of its political organisation.  This vote is not about whether Air Strikes are wrong or not it has become about whether Corbyn is a viable leader for the Labour Party. It is undeniable that after Labour’s defeat in May it left it needing reform and a refresh, yet this episode has set back Labour’s chances of clawing back support from the electorate.  The challenges awaiting Labour in the aftermath are varied and will be difficult to reconcile. The most obvious conflicts are the loss of faith in Corbyn, the unruly behaviour of the shadow cabinet and MPs, and the ability for the Labour Party to represent its electorate as an opposition party.

This is the biggest crisis in Leadership for the Labour Party in recent history, with rumours of Corbyn being ‘shouted down’ and losing the support of many of his MPs.  Jeremy Corbyn back tracked on whipping his MPs into voting in opposition to the strikes because of the backlash from not only his backbenchers but his shadow cabinet.  The free vote has revealed Corbyn’s weakness as a leader because it has exposed his lack of respect within the Labour ranks. Although Corbyn has allowed a free vote he insists that Labour Party policy is that of opposition.  The free vote came about in a 24 hour U-turn. Corbyn’s last minute and swift change to a free vote looks like desperation not to be embarrassed by a rebelling Labour Party.  The government motion was passed 397 to 223 after a 10-hour debate in the House of Commons of which 66 Labour MPs rebelled. Corbyn’s insistence on diplomacy have undermined the public’s opinion of him. Forming a credible government in Syria is highly optimistic and utopian even from a diehard lefty like Corbyn. It is clear he is not Prime Minister Material and furthermore is barely scrapping by as an Opposition leader.

One of the largest challenges that faces Labour is the lack of unification within the shadow cabinet. The shadow cabinet is vital in leading and shaping the Labour Party and recent fractions have shown the Labour party to be weak and divided.  Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn voted in favour undermining Corbyn completely. Shadow Cabinet meetings have been rumoured to be marred with child-like dissolution such as ministers refusing to leave unless Corbyn backed down.  High profile rebellion and threats of resignation undermine the legitimacy of The Labour Party as an opposition party. There have also been claims that Corbyn has banned Shadow Ministers from voicing views other than his own.  Moreover, there are claims the MPs who voted in favour will be deselected as candidates in the future. This breaks down the view that he champions democracy and free speech. This has shaken his core identity as a leader.  The public will have to reconsider Corbyn’s priorities and values as a leader. Moreover, this period has damaged the idea of ‘government in waiting’ and brought back debates as to why the Labour Party had such a humiliating defeat in May.  If the Labour Party remains divided and as some see it radical in its views it continues to damage its chances of re-election in 5 years’ time.

A Labour Party coup against Jeremy Corbyn is becoming an ever closer reality. This chaotic episode for the Labour Party has reaffirmed that Corbyn does not hold political views or values that encompass the majority of the Labour Party and their electorate.  There will undoubtedly be consequences for Labour because the negative impact seeps much deeper than revealing uneasiness in the Labour Party. It has undermined the principle of a competent opposition party because a Labour party with this level of internal dissent cannot govern.

By Vicki Lincoln 

Challenging Terrorism After Paris

Chris Marshall explores the changing face of British counter-terrorism after the attacks on Paris. 

On the evening of 13 November 2015, Paris and its northern suburb, Saint-Denis, fell victim to what was undoubtedly one of the worst terrorist attacks of recent times. Appropriately, worldwide tributes flooded global media in tribute to the French capital. However, President Hollande’s sudden decision to launch the biggest airstrike to date of Opération Chammal (France’s bombing campaign against ISIL) was widely considered to have been unnecessarily hurried and to have lacked long-term vision. This week, British politics is likely to produce a related decision on airstrikes. This article aims to determine whether long-term national defence can benefit by following in France’s footsteps.

Lessons from History

 Undoubtedly, the political situation surrounding terrorist activity has undergone key transformations since the events of 11 September 2001. However, one element that has not necessarily altered is politicians’ apparent need to display a hardened exterior through the utilisation of immediate, reactive bombing in the Middle East. In his article entitled The Endless Cycle of Terrorism, Ivan Eland condemns the frequency of such actions. He believes that the so-called disposition behind the “war of civilisations”, initiated after 9/11, has been unfortunately maintained and continues today. As a result, terrorism has simply taken the form of “a heinous Islamist reaction and retaliation to continued Western neo-colonial meddling” in Muslim territory. If Britain, amongst others, can suspend the mind set that future physical intervention in Iraq and Syria is necessary, then incentives to attack Western powers will surely decrease significantly. To showcase some potential evidence that drove the Paris attacks, France recently sent troops to Mali (February 2014) in an attempt to tackle Islamic extremists, who had obtained fighters and weapons from neighbouring Libya.

 

The aggressive mentality that developed from 2001 has led to a string of conflicts, all bearing partially negative consequences and all creating vast power vacuums in the subject nation as postcolonial regimes toppled and were not replaced with planned political strategies for the future. This is something that powers such as Britain should have foreseen and implemented. A case study that demonstrates this point brilliantly is the alternative response to the Mumbai attacks of 2008. In the aftermath of the events, the Indian government did not rush into frenzied war implementation. Instead, they opened up organised investigation and unravelling the plot and execution method first, stating that “patience is the order of the day.” Immediate airstrikes would probably have escalated the situation and drawn India and Pakistan into an insufferable war. Through indirect methods such as confronting the flow of economic resources from Saudi Arabian monarchies and putting pressure on Turkey’s rulers to put aside their domestic concerns, Britain and the West surely have a much greater chance of stemming terrorist development in the future.

 

Through this comparison with past counterterrorism strategy, I do not wish to criticise the proposed British airstrike policies or indeed the new developments in Opération Chammal. However, although emotional rage and immediate action is a perfectly natural and justifiable reaction to the recent events in Paris, it would seem foolish for Britain to implement a prolonged strategy based on this logic for the foreseeable future. Admittedly, and as David Cameron has stated in his foreword to the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, no government can predict the future based on history alone.However, no more than a brief glance at the past 14 years of counter-terrorist strategy reveals that something new needs to begin now. This is not to be found in missiles dangerous raining down upon localities saturated with both civilians and terrorists, even though this may be necessary as a short-term solution.

 Naivety in British Politics?

 This week will probably see a decision over one of the most important British political decisions concerning counter-terrorism we have seen in recent years. Should the decision go ahead to implement airstrikes in order to offset ISIL developments, there is the danger of repeating the mistakes of history. However, there is also great potential for a new, more successful, chapter in counterterrorist strategy. Shreds of evidence for this potential success are scattered throughout the media, such as Boris Johnson and his outlook that “bombing Syria is not the whole solution…but it’s a good start” and his confirmation that this would not be a “knee-jerk” reaction to the events in Paris, but rather a motion representing the sober judgment of the Prime Minister.The Mayor of London has assured the population that this situation is wholly different to that of 2003 because now nobody is thought to seriously doubt the immediate threat posed to British soil. As a result of this apparent change in attitude, politicians are calling for an idealised local form of “boots on the ground”, utilising the power of Presidents Assad and Putin. Such a strategy does not appear particularly promising, however, when Johnson has recently referred to dealing with these leaders as like a “writhing bag of snakes.” Although intentions may seem promising, practicality apparently lacks.

 

Of course, Jeremy Corbyn and his relatively niche collection of labour supporters (with regard to this specific topic) mark a different outlook altogether. Despite the fact that Corbyn claims to be “respectful of differences of opinion within the party” he has made quite clear that “it is the leader who decides”, seemingly set on opposing air strike methodology. Although maybe ethically noble, the idea of inaction in an issue that affects Britain so close to home appears implausible. By laying foundations through immediate, if rash, action, Britain simply slows terrorist activity in an attempt to develop more sophisticated alternative approaches. The House of Lords leader Baroness Stowell of Beeston has summed up this point accurately:

We cannot shed our responsibility here. We are under threat ourselves. We see the IS force as a direct threat to our way of life. How could we possibly hand over responsibility for that to other people?

In addition to conflict directly within the political sphere, the British government is increasingly facing cyber-based challenges. The role of the “hacktivist” group Anonymous claimed to have taken down 3,824 pro-ISIL Twitter accounts within 48 hours of the Paris attacks and were also able to reveal personal details about many online recruiters. If one makes the confident assumption that these figures represent a minimal portion of the total pro-ISIL social media constructs, then the enormity of online propaganda comes clearly into vision. In his extensive work on terrorist strategy and action, Bruce Hoffman has outlined the five key stages of terrorist development; attention, acknowledgement, recognition, authority, governance. The access to global marketing through the internet hands the first two steps in this five-step process to terrorists on a silver platter. The “recognition” element simply requires the capitalisation on this internet marketing process through violent acts, something that is becoming all two common. This technological facilitation of terrorist strategy may well be the dominant element that British policy will need to focus around in future counterterrorism actions.

Although brief, both the errors of the past and potential for the future have been framed within the current tense environment of British politics. Should we bravely stray from historical consistency in order to adapt and challenge the ever-changing, fluid movements of terrorist activity, we could experience like never before against extremism. The events in Paris, although horrific, cannot be simply compared to terrorist attacks ten, fifteen, maybe twenty years ago, and treated as thus. Even though airstrikes may be a necessary first step, they must not be implemented without secure plans for what will happen afterwards. If there is no sufficient follow-up, then we may fall into an unnecessary back-and-forth conflict once more. Having said this, maybe December 2015 will mark a new venture in British counter-terrorist policy, one that might utilise technology rather than weaponry.

By Chris Marshall