PS21 Event Writeup: ‘Changing Face of Conflict’ (Febuary 26)

By Qistina Tengku

Photo Credit: Janosch Siepen

In the latest collaborative event between Strife and PS21, part of the ‘Changing Faces of Conflict’ series, the discussion aimed to explore the lessons learned in the Iraq and Afghan wars. The panel was moderated by Reuters Global Affairs Columnist Peter Apps.

Emma Sky, Director of the Yale University World Fellows Program and senior advisor to US officials in Iraq, said the invasion of Iraq should not have happened – but that nothing that occurred in Iraq after 2003 was inevitable. Sky explained how US policies collapsed the state of Iraq, leading to Iraq’s descent into civil war and the rise of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. From 2007-2009, the US had the right strategy, leadership and resources – and the civil war ended. However, the failure to uphold the results of Iraq’s 2010 national elections, led to sectarian policies, an increase in the Iranian influence, and the rise of ISIS out of the ashes of al-Qaeda in Iraq – with a devastating impact on Syria during the Arab Spring. The unintended consequence of our interventions in the Middle East has been the refugee crisis, contributing to the rise of populism in the West.

Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb, former Director Special Forces and Commander Field Army, said indecisive and unrealistic decisions by politicians put huge pressure on operational commanders in both conflicts. He said modern fourth generation warfare showed state and non-state adversaries alike deliberately targeting the West’s willpower through using asymmetric tactics, a major shift from the force-on-force confrontations of previous eras. Examples of unexpected consequences included the damage to U.K. National Health Service systems from the North Korea-linked WannaCry cyberattack. Western states were increasing turning to new systems and structures such as the U.S. Cyber Command to address such threats, he said.


PS21 Event Writeup: ‘Changing Face of the Middle East’

By Rebecca Lille

Photo Credit: Ross Bradford

PS21 Chief of Staff, and chair for the event, Sam Genge, opened by welcoming everyone. He introduced the topic, explaining that discussions on the changing face of the Middle East are still very much needed. He stated that although people generally have a good working knowledge of the Middle East and related issues, the topic is complex, and in-depth, knowledgeable discussion is still important.

Henry Smith, Partner at Control Risks, highlighted emerging trends in the Middle East. He referenced the new Democratic House in the US, hoping to “clip the wings” of the Trump administration, and with it, the presence of the US in the Middle East. Smith suggested that we are unlikely to see consistent US policy regarding the Middle East. In response to the US de-prioritising of the Middle East, the regional powers are preparing to take more control, and looking to Asian powers for the future. A key focus for Smith, is the important role of climate change. He noted that there is increasing evidence to suggest that natural weather issues, such as drought, are linked to civil instability, pointing to the Syrian conflict as just one example. Smith concluded by highlighting some positives trends. He noted the recent successes against ISIS, the possibilities of peace or negotiated settlements in both Syria and Yemen and the economic boom taking place in Egypt.

Cinzia Bianco, Senior Analyst of the Arabian Peninsula at Gulf State Analytics, further outlined trends in the Middle East. Bianco suggested that the post-Arab Spring Middle East has seen a significant decline of the role and interest of global powers and lacking commitment of resources from the West. Global actors had hoped that regional powers would step in to establish a new and coordinated balance of power. However, instead, states have focused on individual growth and influence in a zero-sum game mentality. As a result, the centre of regional politics has shifted to the Arab Gulf, reflecting the financial might of assertive local actors such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. Bianco also analysed the Gulf players’ role vis-à-vis the resurgence of political Islam, discussing the transformative political role of the Muslim Brotherhood in both Egypt and Libya, and its continued presence as a significant player in Syria. Bianco said that, while the conflict between Islamists and anti-Islamists is catalysing attention the most, rising inequality is having a neglected but crucial effect on shaping the political landscape in the region. Bianco suggested that of all regional trends, this is the most important long-term, influencing the balance of power both at the regional and at the domestic level.

Niamh McBurney, consultant at Versik Maplecroft, warned that, contrary to a number of recent media suggestions, ISIS are still present in Iraq, although their capabilities are extremely limited in comparison to previous years. There are, however, other groups similar to ISIS around, and these too pose a threat. Since its invasion in 2003, the Iraqi environment and have completely changed. Politically, there appears to be a somewhat positive trend. The elections held in 2018 saw the most successful hand over of power since the invasion. However, McBurney also discussed the recent popular protests in South Iraq as a new feature of Iraqi politics, stating that these were caused by a multitude of drivers, but the cut off Iranian gas supplies were a great influence. In addition to this, climate change caused heightened tensions. The security forces have stepped in, providing resources such as water and power, but McBurney predicts similar issues and protests for summers to come.

Emad Mostaque, Iran and regional specialist, began by discussing the political theory of the social contract – suggesting that the Middle East, has seen a considerable redrawing of this contract in recent years. In collaboration with this shift, the politics of the region have seen a move towards personality politics. However, Mostaque said that this move is not confined to the Middle East, pointing at Trump’s success in the US as another symptom of this trend. the Middle East is also witnessing a shift towards more libertarian views. With these changes occurring, Mostaque questioned when the breaking point will occur, offering several possibilities; when water tables get too low; when Egypt’s economic boom ends; or when international pressures on Iran amount to foreign intervention. Mostaque concluded that the breaking point is of key concern, as are the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, with the latter posing a possible incoming humanitarian disaster. Mostaque remarked on the recent successes against ISIS, stating that although these look promising, he predicts an ‘Al Qaeda 3.0’ is likely to emerge soon.

PS21 Event Writeup: ‘Changing Face of Conflict’ (January 28)


By Isabela Betoret Garcia

Photo Credit: Andrea Varsori

Strife and PS21 joined forces once again to deliver the next installment of The Changing Face of Conflict series. Dr. Eleanor Beevor moderated, focusing on the challenges society faces with regard to information warfare and what we are doing — or not doing — to combat this threat.

Dr. Patrick Bury, lecturer in defence at the University of Bath and a former British Army Captain, opened the event by speaking about the “Fancy Bear” group, blamed for Russia-linked election hacks and other attacks. These highlight the changes to the way’s states use technology, as well as the increase in militaries’ technological capabilities. According to Dr. Bury, conflict is increasingly multi-domain; not just on just land, sea, and air, but also in cyber and space. New technologies will make the battlefield more networked and more lethal place, where combatants have a greater chance of being seen and hit. Because new technology will allow parties to detect combatants more easily, there will be a greater need for soldiers to go ‘off-grid, thus a greater need for dispersal,’ Dr. Bury explained.

He continued that the speed of information will lead to a compression of the scale of conflict, between logistical, strategic, and tactical. In the new space, a tactical decision can have an immediate strategic consequence. Militaries will go from a highly networked environment, to an older, pre-information era and back one moment to the next. This logistical austerity will affect soldiers’ training, equipment, and ability to take initiative. Chinese soldiers, for example, have gone back using compasses in training. Finally, Dr. Bury discussed the role of the nation-state and its possible decay. Much like the invention of the printing press, he said, the invention of the Internet was a watershed moment, and we will have to carefully examine its impact in the decades to come.

Harry Porteous,  Principal Consultant in Innovation at the PA Consulting Group and a former British Army Officer, emphasised the importance of the compression of the scale of conflict. According to Porteous, a single man can define where defence strategy will go next. As conflict becomes increasingly networked, it is not only occurring between states as we typically assume, but rather in he background of our everyday lives. As such, governments’ decisions are not based on on-going conflict but on the threat of conflict.

Though the character of war has remained the same — it is violent, interactive, and political — Porteous said will see a change in the nature of conflict. Wars are shaped by ethics, culture, organisation, technology, and society. And more people train to operate these war-shaping technologies than to fight. Information has been increasingly used as a weapon thanks to new technologies. A state is now able to shape a war to suit its capabilities. One way in which states can do this is through what Porteous called the ‘weaponisation of chaos’, which is what Russia does. Thus, the line between citizens’ everyday lives and defence strategy is blurred. Information warfare brings conflict inwards to divide a population. It seems that this new online battlefield will be covert, deniable, and masked. It is present not at state level, but it appears throughout society. Porteous said that we have not found a way to operate within this environment. He concluded by restating a haunting question posed by cyber experts: What are we prepared to give up to have the Internet? Increasingly, he said, the answer seems to be national security.

Alicia Wanless, a doctoral researcher at King’s College London specialising in propaganda and information warfare, reminded the audience that information has always played a role in war and conflict. What is new about the role of information in conflict is the speed, reach and connectivity of technology. Wanless questioned whether the use of information, particularly to divide societies, is actually a form of war at all, since legally war must be openly declared, coming with the legal rights and obligations that entails under international law.  Thus, for Wanless, there is a clear problem with terminology, not to mention hype, in both the claims of novelty around information being used on and by adversaries and that it is being called war.  This stems partly from the constricted view from which most of our understanding seems to be derived on this subject, explained Wanless, which is in conflict, and mostly from military. If this use of information to inflame or divide societies isn’t “warfare” then why should militaries be looking at it or caring, asks Wanless?  The answer is simple, information drives everything.

Yet, as Wanless notes, despite the role of information in shaping decision-making, Western militaries and governments only focus on outgoing efforts, their own attempts to shape the information environment, paying little attention to how information will be used by adversaries to affect our own reactions. At the same time, the current response to evidence of Russian efforts to shape the information environment is quite knee-jerk and reactionary, perhaps not leading to the best choices. What we have failed to do thus far, she explained, is keep calm enough to analyse the real effects of these attacks — if there are any. She said that the West has failed to genuinely understand this space, and we need a new framework to study these manipulative acts. The spread of awareness and information on these attacks is key to combatting them. Ultimately, she concluded that sometimes the best defence is knowledge.

PS21 Event Writeup: ‘New year, new thinking? Ideas to define 2019’

By Janosch Siepen

Photo Credit: Tristan Turner

The event on the 15th of January – New Year, new thinking? Ideas to define 2019 – took place at Juju’s Bar and Stage. It was  moderated by Peter Apps, Reuters Global Affairs Columnist, Founder and Executive Director of PS21.

Gwenn Lainé, Director of Production at ARK Group, former Naval Officer, said that there needed to be a extensive revision of social and political concepts for 2019 and beyond. That included reassessing the role of the state, as well as dealing with enormous challenges of demographics and migration. The centre of gravity in the world was shifting to Asia, he said, while the West was seeing an increasing mood of isolationism and non-interventionalism. This was visible in the military, humanitarian, and diplomatic spheres, he said, pointing to the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, forgotten war in Yemen, and broader U.S. government shutdown all as signs of this.

Very different norms were appearing in emerging economies in Africa and Asia, he said, while China had ist own very different world view and ambitions. Reconciling these would be key to surviving the coming decades.

Frances Hudson,  described a general aversion among people to complexity, while a need to believe that society exists in an ordered world. Hudson said people tended to see trends but are very bad at prediction and and probability assessment.

She expected a further rise in the importance of technology, data and Artificial Intelligence – trends that will become ever more important for industries like healthcare. Hudson said that the UK was ahead in this field, citing robotic advances in surgery. Hudson also predicted a change in social attitudes. Hudson said we need take responsibility for our own health and stop blaming what is perceived to be a flawed health system.

Other health advances might provide further reasons to be optimistic. Potential further breakthroughs included using bacterial „phages“ to use friendly bacteria to promote bodily health. Overall, she predicted a future in which humans could generally find themselves happier and healthier.

Nigel Inkster, former Deputy Chief of  the Secret Intelligence Service and Senior Advisor at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, spoke about China in 2019. Beijing was increasingly keen to reorganise the world in its own image and interests, he said, particularly in its own immediate neighborhood- but was also facing increasing international resistance to doing so.

Inkster compared the rise of nationalism within China now to that in Japan in the early 20th century. Japan’s fear of inferiority and shock of being open to the West ultimately fueled aggressive expansionism, and some regional powers worry the same may happen for China. Within China, for example, the widespread theft of intellectual property from the West was seen as largely justified due to the previous excesses of imperialism, such as the Opium Wars.

China was particularly keen to embrace technological change, he said, fearing it could not afford to miss the twenty-first century technological revolution in the way it missed the nineteenth.  Beijing had real worries about the impact of slowing growth, he added, with the trade war with the United States therefore a real and growing worry.

Jessica Toale, former chair of the Fabian Society International Group, said new thinking was needed to tackle a range of problems in 2019 and beyond, with a particular focus on boosting sustainability. She cited particular examples from her recent experience travelling the world, arguing tourists and business travelers alike would increasingly need to make much more educated choices to prevent environmental damage, particularly as globalisation massively increases numbers able to travel. As an example, she pointed to a beach in Thailand, featured in the Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Beach” ,which was now closed due to excessive numbers visiting.

Douglas Ollivant, former U.S. Army officer and Managing Partner at Mantid International, said Donald Trump would continue to disrupt the status quo in 2019 for good and ill. That would include continuing to question NATO, he predicted, as well as withdrawing from Syria and further increasing tensions with Iran. Some of these moved would be more justifiable than others, he said, with the long-term presence of U.S. troops in Syria particularly hard to justify legally or politically. While Trump would likely continue to be softer on Russia than his predecessors, he would continue to be harder on China, Ollivant said – an approach that might well have a legacy beyond his presidency.

While East and West coasts had largely recovered from the 2008 financial crash, other areas have not, he said. Political attention on migrants arriving from Central American and boyond would likely linger, he said, particularly as migration continued to be as broadly threatening. it was not clear if this would lead to greater U.S. attention on the problems migrants were often fleeing, particularly conflicts in Central and Latin America.

Felicity Morse, Journalist, Life Coach and social media specialist, said many of the problems of 2019 originated from politicians and others not being entirely honest. Citing her experiences as a life coach, she said deception- whether self deception or deliberate misleading of others- invariably produced drama. But whether populations were ready for politicians and other leaders to be entirely honest about policies and other options was an entirely different matter. Populations and individuals often reacted badly when confronted with uncomfortable truths, she said.

Social media also appeared to be focusing more popular attention that ever on negative facts and arguments over their positive and negative alternatives, she said. This appeared to be fueling further anger. People were more likely to share content they hated than that they liked, she said, let alone that which challenged them.

PS21 Event Writeup: ‘The Future of UK Grand Strategy’

Written in collaboration with Strife at King College London

By Harrison Brewer

Photo Credit: Kayla Goodson

Strife and PS21 joined forces to present a fascinating panel discussion on the future of the UK’s grand strategy. We live in an uncertain world that gets more uncertain by the minute, as the United Kingdom flails around Brexit, Trump’s America turns away from Europe, and Europe looks to redefine what it means to be in the Union. All the meanwhile, the UK avoids the aging imperialist elephant in the room: who are we, what are we doing, and how can we do it? PS21 brought in an expert, an academic, and a practitioner to help disentangle the UK’s approach to grand strategy in the 21st Century.

Dr. Charlie Laderman, a lecturer in International History at King’s College London, first explained his definition of grand strategy, believing it to be the intellectual architecture that forms foreign policy. It is a historically British concept — although Dr. Laderman questioned whether Britain ever got it right — and is predicated on balancing peacetime goals with war and using limited resources to achieve a state’s goals. Dr. Laderman suggested that British foreign policy experts have a ‘maddening pragmatism’ that is borne out of Britain’s historical pole position in global politics but argued that it is imperative for the UK to break out of this mould and to reassess.

  The UK has long been perceived as the facilitator and bridge between the US and Europe, but this relationship is at risk. Trump’s de-Europeanisation policy and Merkel’s and Macron’s attempts at firming the bonds of European fraternity leave the UK out of the loop post-Brexit; therefore, Dr. Laderman believes the UK must engage in the business of trade-offs. Britain must consider how it can use its limited yet still formidable capabilities in defenCe, soft power, and international development to continue to be a reliable partner, as well as a global player. Lastly, Dr. Laderman noted that the UK needs a stable EU in order to thrive. Therefore, despite leaving the union, the UK must look to fortify it relationships with EU states and support the EU as best as it can.

Cllr Peymana Assada defence and international development expert, as well as a local councillor in the London Borough of Harrow, discussed how the UK must address its relationship with its imperialist and colonialist past to improve its foreign policy. Assad underlined the need for the UK to champion equality in its foreign policy, acknowledging that the UK could use soft power to correct some of its mistakes made under colonialism. Assad referenced her work in Afghanistan and recalled a conversation she had with Afghan tribal leaders about the Durand Line, the internationally accepted border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Afghan people were absent in this international decision-making process, she noted, which showed a disregard for the people directly affected by this decision. She argued that the UK’s grand strategy needs to be founded on principles of equality for all actors, both international and local, and it needs to address Britain’s imperial history and the suffering it caused.

To summarise she stated the focus should be on:

1) The key to establishing ourselves in the world is seeing all as equals – in order to do this we must understand the real impact of colonisation and imperialism on the counties we left behind, and how some of those actions of the past haunt us today.

2) We need to consider and seek opportunities with non-western powers like China and India, but also continue to facilitate between European and other allies such as the United States – it’s too important not to do both. We should not solely focus on Europe.

3) Use our soft power and understand that the world has changed, we can command more influence through art, culture and education by way of exchange and scholarships. India currently leads through music, film and education for example in the South Asian region.

Finally, Assad stated that in order to achieve this, we need to bring the British public with us, on the ride and convince them, that engaging with Europe and the non-western world, brings us benefits and also stops us being swallowed up in a world of constant changing super powers.

Georgina Wright, a research associate in the Europe Programme at Chatham House, began by stating that British foreign policy must be separate from the Brexit process. Britain has a privileged position in global affairs — it is both one of the leaders in official development assistance and a strong partner of both the US and the EU — and the UK should not forgo this position as a consequence of Brexit. Rather than turning further inwards, the UK should take the opportunity to engage more meaningfully and extensively with its allies. This change, however, must be managed carefully and swiftly to prove the UK’s commitment to the international community.

Wright outlined three risks the country faces post-Brexit: a more inward-looking Britain that is fully consumed by Brexit; incoherent external policy that is driven commercially rather than politically; and a failure to grapple with the changing international context, evidenced by the rise of China and Russia, as well as rising levels of inequality and popular insurgency.  Wright then proposed five areas the foreign office should focus on to form its foreign policy. First, the foreign office needs to clearly articulate the vision for Global Britain. Second, the UK must figure out how to do more with less and avoid commitment without impact. Third, without the stage of European Union politics for alliance building, the UK must prioritise how it uses the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and where. Fourth, the government must mobilise the entire British population, not just London, behind any grand strategy to ensure its success. Finally, the foreign office needs to be consistent. Wright ended by pointing out that Brexit will only become more intense with trade negotiations on the horizon and a plethora of actors and interests that will need to be balanced at home and abroad. Above all, the UK needs to ensure that it builds a strong, deep partnership with the EU despite its departure.

PS21 Event Writeup: ‘Making Globalization Work’

By Siena Parrish

Photo Credit: Ross Bradford

The event on the 13th of November – Making Globalization Work, took place at Juju’s Bar and Stage. It was organised by Ross Bradford and moderated by Samuel Genge, Chief of Staff at PS21.

   Thomas Sampson, Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the London School of Economics, spoke about how the rise of globalization post Second World War, has resulted in a major backlash in the 21st century. This is because countries that trade more tend to win more – a problem when addressing the inherent tension present in countries who want to be global and yet preserve a strong sense of patriotism and or independence. In every major industrial change, there are those who gain market influence and those who lose it, creating both international and internal economic imbalance. For countries like the United States, this means that smart industries, such as software, are booming, while more traditional industries like steel, are stagnating and losing previously secure economic positions. While globalization has increased trade, the economic discontent caused by backsliding industries is the resulting main concern of policy makers. According to Sampson, the best policy responses involve the redistribution of resources, an understanding of the limits that a global society must have, and the spread of information to those who may not have easy access.  

Angela Chatzidimitriou, who works at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, spoke about blockchain in the wider economy. She defined blockchain as a distributed ledger that provides a way for information to be recorded and shared by a community. In this community, each member maintains his or her own copy of the information and all members must validate any updates collectively. The information could represent transactions, contracts, assets, identities, or practically anything else that can be described in digital form. Entries are permanent, transparent, and searchable, which makes it possible for community members to view transaction histories in their entirety. Each update is a new “block” added to the end of the “chain” and a protocol manages how new edits or entries are initiated, validated, recorded, and distributed. Most notably, Angela stressed that with blockchain, cryptology replaces third-party intermediaries as the keeper of trust. Why is that important? According to Angela, because trust is foundational to business; yet maintaining trust—particularly throughout a global economy—is expensive, time-consuming, and, in many cases, inefficient. However, blockchain is a system that helps create a trust economy – practically helps all actors involved in a transaction trust each other by default. And at the same time it can democratize the way business is done because of its transparency. Like the Internet reinvented communication, Angela supported that blockchain can similarly disrupt transactions, contracts, and trust—all of which are the underpinnings of business, government, and society.

  Ifeloluvwa Oguntokum, Journalist,  spoke about his Telegraph article on cashless societies. Oguntokum said that because online transactions are become more frequent worldwide, the need for paper money has been reduced, naturally moving societies towards cashless forms of financial transactions. One benefit is that it may lead to a reduction in crime, as it removes the anonymity that is provided through physical transactions, rendering illegal financial exchanges technically problematic. According to Oguntokum, the implementation would be slow and gradual, allowing for people to adapt to cashless methods. Oguntokum, predicts that the UK will be a cashless society by 2050.

 Carrie Osman, the CEO and founder of the tech company, CRUXY Co. spoke on what capitalism means in contemporary society and how she, as an entrepreneur, walks the line between businesswomen and business competitor. She explained that businesses can share information while concurrently maintaining a competitive edge. Learning how to navigate the line between sharing and competing, has allowed her company to both access the expertise of industry professionals, while also maintaining the company’s distinct identity. To finish the discussion, Osman and the panelists ended the night on a note of strong but cautious, hope.


PS21 Event Writeup: ‘Beijing, the US and the South China Sea’

By Oliver Yule-Smith

This event was co-chaired by PS21 executive director Peter Apps and PS21 Chief of Staff Sam Genge.

Dr Chris Weston, an international business consultant on risk management, began by drawing a broad picture of the nature of the regional dynamics, specifically related to the economic dimension. Dr Weston challenged the core tenets of the liberal peace theory by arguing that economic ties between the US and the China do not make conflict completely unimaginable. He drew on the specific example of the parallel between Britain and Germany before the start of World War 1. This helped to feed into narratives of a return to Great Power Politics. Dr Weston then pointed to US tariffs on China, the South China Seas and the unilateral withdrawal of the US from INF treaty and even the Postal Treaty of 1873 as a clear evocative of the skirmishes between Great Powers. The conclusion was optimistic that we are not destined for a war or even a Cold War. However, Dr Weston did suggest that the US are clearly signalling that they want a change in the nature of the relationship as current events show.

David Li, an Asia-Pacific analyst with the economics and risk team for HIS Markit, segued into the specific manifestation of the China-American relationship in the South China Sea. He outlined the current state of play in the South China Sea by arguing that China’s military build-up in the region is already complete and that this has helped to ensure China’s dominance in the region. However, Mr Li noted that there has been considerable reactionary build-up in this region, broadly supported by the US, that might help to challenge Chinese influence in the region. Mr Li then looked at the drivers for China’s aspirations for dominance in the South China Sea by looking at the internal dynamics of the CCP. He, thus, outlined two camps: the hard-line approach personified by the Chinese military that aspired to exert control in the region and the moderate approach led by diplomats who wanted a more conciliatory approach to China’s rise in this region. However, it was argued that the hard-line approach has largely won out but that this approach will cost it dearly with ASEAN and Indian Ocean countries.

Deepa Kumar, analyst at HIS Markit country risk team, picked up where Mr Li left off by stating that China’s dominance in the South China Sea has led to an increasing role for ASEAN and India in the region. Ms Kumar argued that China’s dominance necessitated a response from these countries given the South China Seas importance for trade in the region. Ms Kumar assessed that ASEAN countries are dependent on China FDI flows so will push for a more diplomatic response. This would be a more logical approach given that there is particularly diplomatic strength as an institutional bloc. Ms Kumar then turned her attention to India which she stated would form a cornerstone of any US strategy towards the South China Sea. Drawing on David’s analysis she argued that with Chinese military build-up in the South China Seas the Indian Ocean would become the next battleground. Ms Kumar concluded by stating that whilst ASEAN and/or India will not themselves escalate events if China escalates these countries will have no choice but to respond.

PS21 Event Writeup: ‘Imagining Crisis in 2030’


Peter Apps, Routers Global Affairs Columnist and Executive Director of PS21, opened the event by welcoming the audience and suggested the 21st Century had been defined by crises; 9/11, Leman Brothers and the global financial crash – as well as a broader crisis in global confidence and institutions.

John Basset, former senior GCHQ official and a co-founder of PS21, spoke first. Due to his connections to the UK intelligence services, he first stated that his views on contemporary crises in no way reflected that of the government or British institutions. He said that during his time at GCHQ, the organisation had an ‘unhealthy’ number of potential crises on its watch list. These included dangerous individuals, groups or volatile situations. Basset argued most crises included 3 common factors – fear, chaos and uncertainty.

He presented a model for crisis prediction that involves asking three questions, these being; ‘Who wants to create a crisis?’, ‘do they have the means to achieve their goals?’ and ‘how large of a crisis would their actions create?’. Basset argued that this methodology should help prevent terror and violence related crisis. Dealing with crises had essentially become the new normal for government, he said.

Mike Dolan, Investment Editor at Thomson Reuters said he vividly remembers covering his fair share of crises. He then spoke about crisis in the context of banking, explaining that it is a term used frequently in the financial world. Dolan argued that while crises were unpredictable by definition, the warning signs where often visible for years – often ignored, as with the 2008 financial crisis, because they do not fit the financial narrative of the era.

Financial crises often follow the old fashion definition ‘medial crises’, he said, being the turning point of a disease where a change takes place, either recovery or death. This was particularly true of the 2008 crisis, he said, when the global banking system came perilously close to collapse. The measures taken to avoid such collapse tended to themselves to create a new normal, he said – but that governments, companies and other institutions, would still often miss the next crisis brewing.

Abigail Watson, Senior Research Officer at Remote Warfare Programme, spoke third. Watson started by speaking about her time studying the phenomenon of ‘remote warfare’, a form of conflict that the west is engaging in places like Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. This type of engagement involves the West working alongside local and regional forces, deploying special forces, and relying on airpower instead of deploying large numbers of their own troops. She argued that this type of conflict, lacks parliamentary and public oversight and while such tactics had frequently proved effective – for example against ISIS – she warned they could also lead to the US and its allies sleepwalking into new crises, and conflicts.

Dr Colin Brown, Infectious disease specialist and consultant for Public Health England, followed. Dr Brown spoke about his experience with the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone in 2014. A largely unforeseen but deadly crisis. Dr Brown explained that the ferocity of the outbreak took experts by surprise. Ebola was previously considered too deadly to spread rapidly, as it often kills its host without providing many opportunities to infect others. Dr Brown pointed out that mass transport and interconnectivity has created an environment where Ebola could spread quickly, despite its lethality.

Dr Brown said political issues could prevent such epidemics from being quickly contained, and how during the Ebola outbreak Sierra Leone’s geopolitical situation with its neighbours prevented co-operation in solving the problem. A government’s bureaucratic nature can also delay immediate response to a medical crisis. Looking forward, Dr Brown predicted that a respiratory virus, such as flu, pose the biggest risk in the contemporary world. He also said that increasing immunity to antibiotics, was a pending crisis that needs to be addressed.

Samantha Asumadu, documentary filmmaker and founder of Media Diversified, spoke fifth. Asumadu started by highlighting the lack of panel conversation on a crisis which she believed was a amongst the world’s most pressing problem; the civil war in Yemen. Given the severity of the humanitarian situation (a crisis in which a reported 10 million Yemenis rist losing amenities such as food and water) Asumadu said the UK’s was heavily implicated in Saudi Arabia actions, which she stated has the goal of ‘turning Yemen into a carpark’. Samantha pointed to Western weapon sales to Yemen, trading which she claims is exacerbating the situation.

Asumadu then related her own experiences as a reporter covering conflict and atrocity in Africa, accusing mainstream Western media or minimising both crises and alternative voices. As well as reading from a memoir she was writing, she also talked of her broader experience pointed to a wider crisis of accountability and representation in the UK. She in particular sited her recent experience in working on a construction site, which highlighted a range of gender, race and class disparities.

Dr David Rubens MD of Deltar Training Services Ltd and expert in crisis management, spoke last. Rubens argued most crises were created by deficits in common amenities, such as food, housing and security. Rubens theorised that cities, due to complexity, are most susceptible to crisis – effectively only a few missed meals away from collapse. He continued by pointing out how the worlds largest cities are almost entirely costal, and as such are under direct threat from global warming and rising see levels – as well as infrastructure failing, such as water or power shortages.

Rubens then moved on to how one should manage crises in the contemporary world, as taken from his own experience. Rubens explained the difficultly of managing crises because of their unpredictable nature. Stating that as every crisis tends to be different, we do not have the luxury of leaning on past experiences. He also explored how communication failures are a hallmark of crises, explaining that there is no right answer for their management. Rubens concluded that bad management of crises are frequently because the managing party was ‘overwhelmed’ by the experience, a fault that Rubens placed on a ‘lack of imagination’ in crises management.

Photo Credit: Maja Schower

PS21 Event Writeup: ‘The Changing Face of Conflict’ (October 2)

The fourth installment of our Changing Face of Conflict series was hosted in the Cabinet Office and moderated by PS21 Director and Reuters Global Affairs Columnist Peter Apps. From urban violence in the world’s metropoles, the role of women in Daesh, to the clashing of International Humanitarian Law with the use of drones, our panel challenged the audience to think outside of classic response categories.

Dr Kieran Mitton, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the War Studies Department, King’s College London, reported insights from field studies in Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, Freetown and London. With the growth of megacities, human society is now dominated by urbanisation. In the convergence of urban and civil war, Mitton argued, we should pay more attention to cities as conflict grounds instead of thinking primarily of state actors. Threats will be increasingly urban, yet he warned of a counterproductive focus on insecurity and the dangers of the militarisation of policing. Mitton argued that any sustainable intervention in urban warfare needs to address the social root causes and understand that urban conflict is not a short-term violent spike, but a long-lasting harmful process.

Dr Joana Cook, Senior Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, King’s College London, discussed the role of women in Daesh and the responses we need to formulate when de-radicalising and reintegrating female returnees. The one-sided narratives of female victims in the former caliphate are essentially harmful for adequately countering extremism she said. Women have held diverse roles in Daesh: As combatants, fundraisers, propagandists and background supporters, they have contributed substantially and have provided inspiration to other female recruits. Any response to both returnees and women remaining within the organisation has to be a holistic, full-spectrum approach. For female returnees, community-level initiatives and judicial approaches need to take into account women who do not pose a threat and differentiate from those who do. Within Syria and Iraq, allied forces need to consider how women are engaged in long-term rebuilding efforts and can be transformed into valuable partners. Overall, Cook urged that we have to better at engaging, accounting for, and responding to women.

Dr Eleanor Beevor, Anthropologist, Journalist and Conflict, Security & Development Research Analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, spoke on the erosion of human rights and peace building institutions. Beevor argued that Western society has become far too comfortable with the idea that precision in warfare will provide solutions. In increasingly urban warfare, the use of drones cannot be precise enough to not harm civilians. As such, 9,000 civilian deaths in Syria alone were caused by coalition drone strikes. Beevor criticised the wide-spread persuasion that the only way to respond to non-state extremists is to exterminate them; according to her analyses, non-apocalyptic groups can certainly be engaged. Finally, Beevor urged the audience to not neglect civilians in conflict, to do everything one can to strengthen the institutions of International Humanitarian Law and the mechanisms that exist to minimise civilian deaths.

Photo credit: Maja Schower

For Global Economic Development, US Must Combat Financial Secrecy

Financial secrecy is a growing global challenge. Much more than criminals stashing cash on tropical islands, financial secrecy is a big business, with more than $20 trillion US dollars hidden away in secretive tax havens around the world. The staggering size of the illicit economy means that all countries are impacted, not just rich ones.

In a number of ways, financial secrecy keeps poor countries poor. With access to secretive financial markets, bad actors can steal state funds and stash them abroad, contributing to capital flight and decreasing the tax base. Financial secrecy also allows authoritarians to use public resources as bargaining chips to maintain power. In many countries, these are crippling challenges.

The United States is a notoriously opaque jurisdiction to stash and grow financial resources. As a result of lax regulations, the Treasury Department estimates that $300 billion is laundered through the United States each year. For perspective, $300 billion is more than the combined gross domestic product of Cambodia, Cameroon, Estonia, Jordan, Nepal, Paraguay, and Uganda. US financial opacity enables kleptocracy and authoritarianism, which stifle development progress. If the US remains committed to global development, it must address financial secrecy.


The Impact of Financial Secrecy

To better understand the economic impacts of financial secrecy, consider the fact that the African continent is on the whole a net creditor. A country is a net creditor when its overseas assets are greater than its overseas debts – in many cases, an enviable financial position. Africa finds itself in this somewhat surprising circumstance due, in large part, to capital flight and illicit financial activity, which includes resources acquired through corruption, bribery, or criminal activities.

Over $1 trillion US dollars have left Africa since 1970 and are currently heaped in tax havens protected by financial secrecy. These funds are not taxed, ridding the government of an essential source of revenue and forcing it to borrow. Publicly held debt on the African continent totals nearly $200 billion. Unless this imbalance is addressed, public services will remain poor in many African countries, financially broke governments will be ineffective, and increased growth is unlikely.

Beyond the financial impacts of secrecy, tax havens are an essential tool for authoritarians aiming to maintain power. Authoritarians rely on corruption for their survival; they use stolen resources to buy political support. By some estimates, developing countries have lost $16.3 trillion since 1980 to corruption and theft of state resources. Such illicit economic activity weighs on state budgets, incites political violence, and prevents effective service delivery.

As such, it is widely recognized that authoritarian governments are unlikely to produce long-term, broad-based economic development. By helping these rulers to stay in power, financial secrecy decreases the likelihood that equitable development will be realized.

Furthermore, authoritarians are notoriously bad economic planners. Consider Turkey, a state that is governed by the increasingly authoritarian Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan’s dictatorial control has created a fiscal and monetary policy making process that is dangerously lacking in alternative perspectives. As the New York Times reported, Erdogan does not subscribe to the consensus view in economics that raising interest rates helps combat inflation. As a result, his government has been slow to address the country’s rapidly expanding economic crisis. Economic development is a tight rope; countries that fail to incorporate diverse opinions are likely to fall off. Authoritarian states with a narrow ruling elite are unlikely to succeed.

Letting the Light In

Financial secrecy empowers authoritarians, enables corruption, and stifles development. As a major enabler of global financial secrecy, the US must act. Fortunately, there is cause for optimism. Earlier this summer, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin indicated that he intends to make beneficial ownership information available to law enforcement in the coming months. Such changes would allow law enforcement officials to see through the dense webs of anonymous shell companies that shield corrupt actors. With this information, law enforcement could work to prevent money laundering and hiding of illicit funds. Making this information available to the public would be the most effective means of rooting out corruption, but sharing with law enforcement would be an encouraging first step.

A successful global economic development agenda requires tackling corruption and authoritarianism. Addressing financial secrecy would be among the US government’s most significant recent contributions to global development. Secretary Mnuchin and the Trump administration should advance beneficial ownership regulations that shed light on financial secrecy and think creatively about how domestic and international economic policies can strip authoritarians and corrupt actors of opportunities for profit. By simply increasing financial market transparency, the US can give countries around the world a better shot at achieving their developmental goals.

By Greg Brown

Beyond Caliphates and Cosmopolitanism: An analysis of the sovereign state’s competitive advantage

After the Cold War, the massive means that had been deployed to stabilize existing states decreased. A break up of sovereign states into New Wars accelerated debates about the norms of the Westphalian system of sovereign states. With Yugoslavia as first trajectory, debates finally culminated in the Resolution 1674 and the commitment to the Responsibility to Protect. It seemed that human security was to dominate its state-centric counterparts. But can an individual-centric paradigm become dominant within an international society which is constituted by state sovereignty?

The doubtful compatibility led to a transition of the international society’s civil law system, enshrined in the UN Charter, to something that resembles common law. It became increasingly based on precedents like the 1999 NATO operation in Kosovo (pp. 1, 2), the 2003 Iraq War or the 2011 Crimea Crisis (pp. 17, 24, 30) with UN resolutions as court decisions towards future actions. A Westphalian effort to rescue itself?

Even if differently construed, the competing powers of the Cold War had the Westphalian system in common. It proved appropriate to settle their disputes. But was it appropriate for all societies within? The 1979 Revolution in Iran including its’ rejection of Westphalia gave the first explicit answer.

In Iraq, Ba’ath government’s social contract was constituted by its’ means. The army’s dissolving in 2003 became a trajectory for disorder. The new conditions of Iraq’s Sunnis had similarities with those of the Tutsi in Rwanda. During the colonial era, the “divide and rule” strategy became one trajectory of the 1994 genocide (pp. 74). Enforcing a state that was perceived by some of a – since 2003 – minor group as unreasonable Western system resulted in its’ rejection. Appearances that the conflict with ISIL focuses only on religion can be deceiving. Cultures generally tend to overlay new and less understood conflicts with traditional, cultural conflicts.

Western populism manages blurred borders and globalization with cultural conflicts, too. Charles Kupchan (DGAP lecture, Bonn, Feb 2018) mentioned that isolationism and protectionism were points already made by George Washington. George Lawson (LSE lecture, London, Aug 2017) mentioned that many people in UK still seem to perceive it to be an empire. Can a civil law-based European Union be superordinated to an empire of individualism? The German perception tends to link right-wing policy to national socialism. Populism debates focused around the de-legitimized gap in the far-right that to fill used to be informally proscribed (pp. 440). To illustrate, another cultural conflict overlay of the US and UK was identified by Johanna Polle in the drone warfare debate.

In the West, conflicts led to cultural alignment. Wars changed borders and forced migration. Conflicts within given borders had the same outcome as people settled down where they assumed the best quality of life, or supported the government which seemed to be the most advantageous. These inter-societal (pp. 307, 308) interactions aligned borders to contain only culturally related people, able to engage in common social contracts. Alignment with and between governments led to reciprocal legitimacy finally fixed in 1946. But reveal conflicts like the Catalonian independence referendum in 2017 that cultural alignment is ongoing?

Technology aligns cultures beyond geography. Globalized societies emerged in the internet and became manifested in systems like 4Chan. While 4Chan originated within the internet, it later left its virtual world: Anonymous emerged (pp. 15, 16) as one of the first phenomenons in which the real world imitated its virtual counterpart and not vice versa.

Compared to populism, no local conflict overlays appear in respective Anonymous manifestations. When people “become Anonymous”, they have common ideals (pp. 45) while sovereign states can be perceived as disadvantage: Its’ borders can separate such cultures. Furthermore, 4Chan proved to be powerful in the internet (ibid, p. 30). Sovereign states still have problems to manage law enforcement and legal certainty within.

But globalized societies can also rise from within Westphalia. Transnational networks are centered in and connected through the Silicon Valley: A common interface where reciprocal comparative advantage of different nations can be put in place to compete with each other.  Protectionism approaches in the US shall protect the traditional nation. But they are likely to divide societies and networks like those in the Silicon Valley. But are “Silicon societies” defenseless?

Mark Zuckerberg could impose his preferred format on the European Parliament’s testimony([1] [2] [3]). Further, the parliament could not impose any obligation. But judiciary power was still shifted onto social networks because no one else seems to be able to manage “Fake News”.

Powers rising from within Westphalia should be analyzed also from a revolutionary perspective. Further, the possibility that Cosmopolitanism becomes manifested not within but next to the contemporary system deserves to be further examined. If these global societies can be seen as revolutions, populism is maybe the related counter revolution.

It cannot be ruled out that new actors can become at least on par with the state. Even if a counter revolution dominates: The Westphalian system – still not established throughout the world – will have changed. Now it is to be questioned whether the state – in comparison – accelerates or hinders the one power that makes dominance: Trade.

By Christopher Klooz

PS21 Event Writeup: “Sex, Identity and Society in 2030”

On the 17th of July 2018, PS21 held a panel discussion on Sex, Identity and Society in 2030. After an introduction and welcome by PS21’s Executive Director – Peter Apps, the panel’s speakers began their individual analysis.

Joana Ramiro, freelance writer and commentator on the sexual and romantic experiences of women began by pointing out that almost one half of women between the age of 25 and 34 do not find intercourse with their male partners enjoyable, as statistically documented by Public Health England. Ramiro placed the blame for this on multiple facets, including the fact that many men do not take their female partners enjoyment into consideration and the fact that women are reluctant to tell their male partners what they desire in the bedroom.

Ramiro then argued that the problem is a collective one, caused by the status of women in society and societal inequalities that exist between the sexes. Ramiro argues that women are inherently taught to put up with bad sex. Looking into the future, she believes that reduced power imbalance between men and women through equality will encourage women to pursue more enjoyable sex.

Tom Whipple, Science Correspondent for The Times and author of ‘X and Why The rules of attraction: Why gender still matters‘ speculated two opposing predictions of sex in 2030; the first being that ‘sex will be the same’ and the second being ‘lack of inter-human sex, will destroy humanity’. To support the first prediction, Whipple argued that the behaviour and trends of sexual demographics do not change with time and technology. The evidence he provided where the results of a 1970’s experiment, which demonstrated that two thirds of male participants where open to casual sex with a stranger of the opposing sex while 100% of female participants where not. Whipple compared this to similar contemporary levels of male – female reciprocation found in analytical data sourced from dating apps.

Whipple forewarned of the rise of sex robots by presenting the popularity of sex aids with female consumers, suggesting that continuation of sex aid proliferation could mean future sex toys will provide a preferable alternative to human partners. Whipple quoted a study that found that two thirds of men and women would have intercourse with a sex robot if the option was available, a statistic that Whipple claims could be an understatement. Whipple concluded that humanity could face a slow and anti-climactic extinction if robotic partners become more favourable than human ones.

Jemimah Steinfeld, author of ‘Little Emperors and Material Girls: Sex and Youth in Modern China‘ focused on China’s one child policy and the generational/social implications is it has had on dating and sex in china. Due to the preference for male children during its enforcement, Steinfeld pointed out that there are currently 116 men to every 100 women in China, thus many men in China could go their entire lives without having a serious relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

Steinfeld also explained how this problem affects women. Women in China are labelled with derogatory terms if they are unmarried by the age of 27. Steinfeld ended by warning that with growing worries over falling fertility rates, China could well become very regressive in terms of limiting women’s choices as well as access to contraception and abortion. The LGBT community also felt increasingly pressurised, she said, even though it was hard to tell how this would play out in the future.

Jacqui Gavin, civil servant and advocate of transgender rights, spoke about the complex nature of the transgender space and, as a result, the issues around developing policy for the transgender demographic. Gavin, a transgender woman, explained that the main concern is that there are many numerous different identities within the community, each with its own varied characteristics. This means that the political needs of each gender are specific, making the development of objective policy that applies to the entire space problematic. To conclude, Gavin reasoned that a consensus must be met within the space as to what its’ members want, one such example could be continued integration into social norms.

Freelance writer Amna Saleem, author of ‘Why Interracial Relationships aren’t a magical cure to racism’ commented on the contemporary nature of interracial relationship in the UK, using her own relationship as an example of problems faced by interracial couples. Saleem opened by offering statistics on ethnicity in the UK, stating that in general, ethnic groups are becoming progressively more affluent and integrated with other societal groups, resulting in a growing number interracial relationship.

Saleem explained that problems faced by interracial couples did not frequently take the form of overt racism, instead it is frequently pre-conception and stigma that lead to incorrect assumptions about interracial relationships. A white man in a relationship with a non-white woman is sometimes seen to have ‘traded down’ and vice versa, she said, while even within ethnic communities, certain attributes such as skin colour and hair become the basis for judgments on beauty and worth.

Peter Apps, Reuters Global Affairs Columnist and PS21 Executive Director commented on his own personal experience of relationships and sex as a quadriplegic person. Apps said that modern mass-market dating apps appeared to increasingly marginalise many disabled people, with users making snap judgements that often excluded them. However, he also said society – and individuals – simultaneously appeared evermore open to a variety of relationships, speaking frankly of his own experience of being rejected, fetishised and everything in between.


The following discussion, moderated by Daily Telegraph Assistant Comment Editor Laurence Dodds, ranged widely in scope and topic. One audience member asked whether we should become much broader in our expectation of what sex robots might look like, with suggestions ranging from gelatinous sleeping bags to some kind of ‘sexy mist’. There was also discussion of the increased use of smaller sex toys, with little clarity on where the divide might be.

There was discussion on the potential for authoritarian states using dating apps for social control, as well as how changing technology had affected the dating scene over the last decade. Traditionally, women were seen as having the privilege of refusal, while men had the privilege of choice, but experience from the panel suggested that might, in some respects at least, be changing.

Asked what it would take for people to have significantly better sex by 2030, the panel highlighted communication, social openness and, perhaps most important of all, an effective, supportive broader society that provides the opportunity for its citizens to live and express themselves as they wish.

Photo credit: Larrissa Penny