Roundup: Our top posts so far

berlin skyline
A view of Berlin and its central television tower, the Fernsehturm

As the PS21 website approaches its 1st anniversary, we showcase some of our top contributions so far.

To kick things off are a few offerings from the Imagining 2030 series, where  writers describe the world as they imagine it in 14 years time….

Merkel’s Kinder: Caitlin Vito’s short piece imagines the reflections of a young university student, who arrived in Germany in 2016 as a child refugee.

The 1951 Refugee Convention now seems less like an international law for signatories and more like a light suggestion.

What we find in the region today is the partition of Syria into three territories: one built from the remnants of Assad’s Syria; a Kurdish state in the north; and a Sunni dominated territory, closely linked to the neighbouring caliphate…”

I leave the lecture hall and walk down the street and into one of the many Syrian-owned Shawarma shops in Berlin. Now there is something that wasn’t foreseen – the peaceful coexistence of Syrian Shawarma and Turkish doner kebab shops. At least on a culinary level, we can all agree on good food.

Taking the Trans-Siberian to Moscow:  Mark Galeotti describes shifting sands in a Russia which has abandoned imperial ambitions and turned its gaze inward.

It is telling that the new Trans-Siberian bypasses the old Russian imperial stronghold of Vladivostok. Instead the line from Beijing crosses the border at Zabaikalsk. There travellers from deeper in the Russian Far East who have taken the old Trans-Sib and then changed trains again, can finally relax into the new carriages which will whisk them to Moscow in just four days. The Russian flag flies over Zabaikalsk station, and Russian border guards walk down the train, scanning passports and fingerprints with their cloud-linked terminals, but the town outside is a monument to Chinese money and Chinese migration.

The liberal Preobrazhensky government that picked up the pieces after the collapse of Shuvalov’s self-serving regime has made a virtue of bowing to necessity. Moscow could afford neither to subsidise nor to neglect an under-capitalised, under-populated east. Free Economic Zones and Preferential Residence Zones have helped address both needs.

Looking back at President Trump: Peter Apps, Executive Director of PS21, relays the dysfunctional events of Trump’s 1st term in office and the return of Clinton to the White House.

Whether Trump himself ever expected to win is still hotly debated. Only after the election did he begin to show any serious efforts towards considering who would receive some of the top presidential appointments. Again, the ideological balance of his White House sometimes seemed to shift wildly unpredictably. Initially, there was widespread speculation he would appoint neoconservative John Bolton as his Secretary of State — indeed, the former Bush-era ambassador still clearly believes he had been offered the job.

Then, much to everyone’s surprise, came the announcement that Trump had asked John Kerry to remain for another two years. Kerry lasted barely 3 months, resigning in a hugely public spectacle after what he called the “most egregiously racist speech by the president so far.”

Machine Gunners
Burundian soldiers training for deployment to the African Union Mission in Somalia 2012

African-owned and driven strategies key in addressing terrorism: This is our first offering in the round-up from outside the Imagining.. series. Edward Wanyonyi looks at the need to update strategies for tackling terrorism across the continent of Africa.

While astronomical financial allocations are made to the modernisation of security services, these efforts although well intended are not coordinated with wider political and economic reforms in the society. It is one thing to establish national de-radicalisation programs but another to ensure that budgetary and development allocations aimed at addressing structural inequalities, marginalization and extreme disenfranchisement in the society are not politicised or end up excluding certain sections of the population. While the international community has established the coalition to militarily engage against groups like ISIL, African countries that are at risk of terror threat still lack proactive counter terrorism infrastructure and political agency to ensure that terrorism is not allowed to take root, win the hearts and minds of population, acquire military might and financial resources to the level like that of Boko Haram that leads to postponement of national elections.

Not with a bang, but a white paper: how British politics could fall apart this autumn: An anonymous NATO officer explores Britain’s changing role on the world stage.

Cameron has dismissed accusations of British strategic shrinkage as ‘nonsense’, while Fallon has insisted that Britain’s ‘global reach is as extensive as ever’ and that ‘no other country is Europe is playing such a strong global role’. Meanwhile, he emphasized niche capabilities which make Britain look unique and important, if not exactly powerful. The US has also helped Britain look good, with President Obama calling the UK America’s ‘best partner’ and US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter saying that the UK ‘has the ability to act independently, to be a force of its own in the world’.

Although some of these claims are factually true, the rhetoric is still dangerous, as the real, long run decline in British military capabilities is continuing unabated. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, ‘you can’t fool all of the people all of the time’. Even if Britain has achieved a politically acceptable force level that appeases its American allies despite its strategic and managerial deficits, the current British approach to international affairs is a plan for costly decline.

Winning the narrative in modern conflict: an interview with John Bassett: In this video interview, PS21 Fellow Gwenn Laine talks with the former GCHQ official about the centrality of narrative and ideology in modern conflicts.

“We can win the battles, but if we lose the political narrative, we lose the war.”

For some young Syrians, war brings unexpected freedoms: Rasha Elass uses interviews and personal experience to probe the ways in which Syria’s conflict has altered youth culture.

“Unlike previous generations, young Arabs are not beholden to a Western (colonial) model that is imposed upon them. And they have everything. A common language. Technology. Social platforms. But for some reason, they don’t own the narrative yet,” she said.

Ask a Frenchman what it means to be French, and he’ll say: “Equality. Liberty. Fraternity.”

Ask an American teenager what it means to be American, and she’ll invoke the Founding Fathers, separation of church and state, and the U.S. Constitution.

Ask Syrian school children, or Lebanese, or Iraqi, and each one will give a different answer depending on their politics, ethnicity, or religion.

Perhaps this explains why the Arab Spring has been a revolution without an idea, a movement devoid of an ideology. Or why, the instant the state falls apart, its inhabitants automatically fall back on their clan, sect, or religion.

“Syrian Woman” by Ruba Alash

On the front line of terror: the Kurdistan region of Iraq and the Arab Spring: Lara Fatah’s describes the implications of the Arab Spring for the Kurdish region of Iraq.

Suffice to say that the two biggest impacts that the Arab spring has had on Kurdistan is firstly, that it is now home to over 1.5 million refugees and IDPs, which has increased the KRI’s population by approximately 25 per cent, placing a huge strain on the local economy and the available resources. Moreover, some politicians have expressed fear about the possible future impact on the region’s demographics.

Secondly and more ominously, Iraq’s Kurds are now the frontline of the global fight against the terror of ISIL. With the Iraqi Army all but collapsing on the northern fronts, the Kurdish Peshmerga and Counter Terrorism forces have been left to hold the line and stop further cities falling into ISIL’s grasp.

The Arab Spring and the limits of American power: Last but not least, Ari Ratner takes an in-depth look at the possibilities and limitations of American diplomacy in the Middle East.

In today’s Washington, there is often money for military action. But advancing American interests through aid has become an affront to fiscal responsibility— even if it is often far more cost-effective.

America’s military might, meanwhile, has been proven difficult to utilize in a sustained manner. In Libya, the American-led air campaign against Qaddafi was successful. Yet, ensuring stability has proved far more difficult. Libya has turned into an example of the powerlessness of American power— with military means that we are unwilling or unable to bring to bear to solve underlying challenges— a lesson of critical importance as we ramp up the conflict with ISIS.

Syria, for its own part, has become the perfect storm of the Arab Spring— combining (indeed exceeding) the worst aspects of each uprising: the kleptocracy of Egypt, the sectarianism of Bahrain, the chaos of Libya, the poverty of Yemen, all rolled into a brutal proxy war involving major regional and global powers.

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