London Event- 14 Nov, 21st Century Peacebuilding from N Ireland to Syria

Monday November 14, 6pm War Studies Meeting Room, K6.07 Kings College London

According to the Global Peace Index, there are only 10 countries in the world in 2016 which can be considered free from conflict. The ongoing crisis in Gaza; worsening conflicts in the Middle East; the international stand-off  in Ukraine and the lack of a solution to the refugee crisis are some examples of the contributing factors that have made the world less peaceful in 2016 than it was in 2015.

Drawing on the lessons learnt in the Northern Ireland peace process, our speakers will assess 21st centruy peacebuilding strategies in the context of 21st century conflicts. Do we haev the tools to tackle some of these seemingly intractable situations? What have we learnt and what have we not learnt? Our speakers will look at conflict resolution and peace building strategies, contextualised in 21st century examples.


Dr Gordon Clubb is a Lecturer in International Security at the University of Leeds and is the director of the Terrorism and Political Violence Association. He has published on former combatants in Northern Ireland and the disengagement and de-radicalisation of terrorist movements.

Dr. Anastasia Voronkova is Research Fellow for Armed Conflict at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and Editor of the IISS’s new annual publication, the Armed Conflict Survey. Anastasia holds a PhD in comparative conflict studies from Queen Mary, University of London. She has extensive fieldwork experience in Northern Ireland and the South Caucasus. Her research interests include comparative conflict resolution, communication strategies and rhetoric of non-state armed groups, the political economy of armed conflicts, security and terrorism. Prior to joining IISS she held teaching positions at University College London and Queen Mary University of London.

Haid Haid is a Syrian columnist and researcher who focuses on security policies, conflict resolution, Kurdish and Islamist movements. Prior to that, he was a programme manager on Syria and Iraq at the Heinrich Böll Stiftung-Middle East Office in Beirut. He also worked as a senior community services-protection assistant at UNHCR- Damascus office. He has a BA in Sociology, a post graduate diploma in counseling, an MA in social development and has just completed another MA in conflict resolution at King’s College.

Moderator: Professor Joe Maiolo is the Deputy Head of the Department of War Studies, Director of the Sir Michael Howard Centre for the History of War, and Professor of International History. He is an editor of The Journal of Strategic Studies, and co-editor of The Strategy Reader, a member of the editorial board for Intelligence & National Security, and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He is currently a Visiting Research Professor at the Norwegian Defence Intelligence School, Oslo.

This event is being run in partnership with the Sir Michael Howard Centre for the History of War, at KCL.

Please sign up here.


The problem with outsourcing Europe’s migrant crisis


by Catherine Tilke. Catherine edits the PS21 website and can be reached at

The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID)- the government body responsible for the Britain’s  overseas aid budget  and major backer of development organisations including VSO and Tearfund- recently announced its plan to back a proposal to fund the creation of an industrial centre in Ethiopia which aims to create 100 000 jobs, some of will go to asylum seekers, in order to create incentives for people to stay in Ethiopia and stem the flow of migrants watering Europe’s ‘crisis’. 

Ethiopia currently hosts the highest number of refugees on the African continent, due to a combination of its unfortunate and unstable neighbours, its open-door asylum policy and it being an ideal stopover point for people migrating northwards to Europe from Eastern and Central Africa.

In Ethiopia, the majority of refugees are supposedly confined to camps and have no legal right to work in the country. At present, there are 23 such camps scattered across the country, the vast majority of which are situated in Ethiopia’s most deprived rural provinces. According to key proponents of the industrial centre- which was proposed by the Eastern African giant’s ruling party the EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) and is supported by major financial institutions including the World Bank and European Investment Bank- by granting employment rights to a number of refugees, opportunity will improve, adversity will decrease and asylum seekers will remain in Ethiopia until it is safe for them to return home. 

However, there are a number of obstacles to the plan’s objective which don’t appear to be accounted for. The project is designed to create 100, 000 new job vacancies through the building of the industrial hub, some of which will presumably be filled  by asylum seekers, given that the EPRDF has agreed to also grant employment rights to 30 000 Somali, Eritrean & South Sudanese refugees in the country.

While on the surface this appears to be a sensible step in the right direction, the project fails to acknowledge that Ethiopia is dealing with its own unemployment problems (conservative figures for unemployment rates in town and cities among the working-age population were around 17% last year). 100 000 new jobs are needed if the country is to continue its promising economic growth.

While still outstripping many Sub-Saharan neighbours- whose collective growth rate is forecast to slip to the lowest level in two decades this year, according to World Bank forecast- Ethiopia’s booming economy of recent years has seen something of a cooling-off. This is mirrored in unemployment figures, which despite having improved as a whole over the last 20 years, have been creeping over the last few years up in certain social groups, namely amongst women and under-25’s.

As such, the success of the plan comes down to ensuring that 1/3 of these jobs actually go to asylum seekers, and also how EPRDF manage to pull off the project as a piece of PR to avoid local perceptions viewing the plan as favouring refugees over Ethiopians- particularly in the most deprived areas of the country, where the majority of refugees are living at present.

On the global institutions’ part (i.e. the World Bank, DFID, and European Investment Bank), the issue is that while this kind of foresight is preferable to collectively burying heads in the sand over the so-called migration crisis, this particular brand of future-proofing doesn’t actually do very much to help the root cause of the problem and arguably just outsources it to somebody else.

This isn’t entirely surprising. So far, many of the policies that major world institutions have managed to agree on involve re-settlement of refugee populations to “emerging” countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe. This is not an entirely bad idea, but without taking more decisive responsibility in the UK & Western Europe, it looks a lot like passing the buck. 

In addition to this, although the project is marketed as a philanthropic developmental scheme, it is undeniably beneficial to the donor states who are able to use their collective financial clout to both shrug off responsibility for settling more migrants on home turf and simultaneously stipulate quotas of manufactured goods to be imported to the EU (if we are to assume that the Ethiopian plan will follow the Jordanian model of a similar plan implemented earlier this year). The centre piece to all of this is that the plan ultimately deepens Ethiopia’s aid dependency and economic inequality with developed nations, which is one of the country’s most difficult obstacles to long-term development. 

In principle, the project could be defended if there were any evidence that development actually reduced migration. However, as people become wealthier they are inclined to travel more, not less. Industry and trade in emerging economies should complement migration, but will not prevent it. Equally, a short-lived abundance of low-paid factory jobs on the outskirts of Addis will not change the demands for skilled and unskilled labour in Europe, nor quell the labour demands of its looming demographic crisis.

Besides this, Ethiopia (although stable) is politically implicated in some of the key source countries’ conflicts, which makes it a questionable choice for the industrial hub. If it is accepted that little that can be done to stem economic migration, then efforts should be focused on reducing “push factors”, such as armed conflict.  Given that the EPDRF has been accused of arming refugees on the Sudanese border and prolonging clan scuffles in the Somali region, it is debatable whether supporting the government lends itself to peace-building in the region.A serious attempt by the UK government or global financial institutions to reduce growing number of asylum seekers would involve more decisive efforts to combat high-level international corruption and reduce the number of arms flowing into affected regions. 

 Instead, the project in Ethiopia looks more like an attempt by Europe to outsource responsibilities a country that is no more impartial, and certainly no better equipped, than most European states. By offloading these responsibilities Europe also shies away from action to improve local tensions between its longstanding citizens and 100 000s of new arrivals. Without acting on broader social concerns such as a shortage of stable employment and affordable housing, countries like the UK will only see these tensions will continue to grow, with or without their involvement in Ethiopia’s industrial projects.

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation. All views expressed are the author’s own.

Italy and Libya: Why Libyan stability is vital to PM Renzi’s career


By Lorenzo Holt- Lorenzo is an Italian-American journalist based in London.

The Italian government is facing enough pressure to put its survival over the next few months into question. Depositors have withdrawn €78 billion from Italy’s central bank since May, while government attempts at bailing out Italy’s private banks have been met with little private-sector interest and inflexibility from the EU. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s main opponents, the anti-establishment party Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S), accuse him of being subservient to EU interests while ignoring those of Italians.

Italians are also increasingly frustrated at Renzi’s inability to secure EU support for the migrant crisis. Over 300,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the EU took control of Mediterranean border security in 2014, costing the Italian government over €3 billion a year, according to the Financial Times.

The migrants and their smugglers are facilitated by the chaos in Libya, where Italy has very large interests but little influence. There too, Italian popular opinion doesn’t always coincide with international politics. The way Renzi handles the volatile situation in Libya – exacerbated by a recent coup – may determine his career.

Italy and Libya have mutual business interests reinforced by time and proximity, and Italy enjoyed a privileged economic relationship with Libya under Berlusconi in the 2000s. Thousands of small and medium-sized Italian businesses were working in Italy before Libya’s civil war in 2011, and many left behind millions of dollars in suspended contracts and equipment. ENI, Italy’s national oil company, has been operating in Libya since 1959 and is responsible for much of the country’s energy infrastructure.

The Italo-Libyan chamber of commerce estimates that business revenue between the two countries in the years leading up to the war (excluding oil and gas) totaled €30-40 billion- and that initial reconstruction investments in Libya could total €400 billion. Access to suspended investments and new business opportunities in Libya would be a much-needed tonic for Italy’s consumptive economy.

Obviously, no progress can be made until Libya is stable – a prospect which looks increasingly unlikely. Libya is divided between the secular Tobruk government in the east, Tuareg rebels and smaller fractions in the southwest and the UN-sponsored Government of National Accord (GNA) in the west. The GNA was formed in December 2015 in an attempt to unite Libya’s rival governments. Widely regarded by Libyans as a foreign imposition, it was first rejected by the Tobruk government in September and more recently deprived of some of its municipal buildings in Tripoli during a coup on October 14.

Foreign nations have been ambiguous about which of the many Libyan factions they support. Although officially declaring exclusive support for the GNA, US, French and British special forces have been widely reported to be fighting alongside other factions including the GNA’s main opposition, the Tobruk government. The UAE has been reported to be providing weapons to Tobruk’s military commander, Khalifa Haftar, in violation of the UN arms embargo, while Egypt – eager for stability on its western border – has also been reported to have supplied Haftar with military helicopters and aeroplanes.

Italy’s role in such a high-stakes environment is limited by its military and political weakness. So far, it has faithfully aligned itself with the UN and the interests promoted by France, the US and the UK. In September, Italy deployed 300 soldiers to Misrata to staff and protect a newly built field hospital, making it the first nation to establish an official military presence in the country. It has allowed US drones and aeroplanes to operate from its airfields and has publicly expressed its willingness to lead a UN intervention in Libya. During Renzi’s stay in Washington on Tuesday October 18, Obama praised Italy’s role in forming the GNA and fighting ISIS.

Libyan oil facilities captured by Haftar in September are producing over half a million barrels per day and funding the GNA. This provides the country with much-needed revenue and a tentative sense of progress. It also benefits Italian oil importers. But the coup in Tripoli on October 14, although largely ignored by the media, signals deep, unresolved divisions and the potential for escalated conflict.

Libya’s status quo is bad enough for Renzi, but his sensitivity to UN interests could make things very difficult for him should the situation deteriorate. Accusations from his opponents of being a US or EU stooge and wasting government money while neglecting domestic problems would be particularly damaging. Renzi can only hope that his traditional western allies will find a tactful, non-military solution in Libya; given their track record over the last 15 years, the odds are not in his favour.

Libya represents a relatively detached geopolitical interest to the main international actors but it is Italy’s next door neighbour. The impact of a worsening situation in Libya would be immediately felt through increased migrant arrivals, rising energy costs and the further loss of business and energy assets. Stability, on the other hand, would help keep the Italian economy afloat while offering a viable, safer alternative for migrants.

The question for Renzi is whether or not his decision to follow the UN line in Libya, like that of following the EU line at home, is something the Italian people will find agreeable.

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation. All views expressed are the author’s own.

London Event Sep 21 – Migration, Politics and Security in Europe

Wednesday September 21 2016, 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM

Location to be confirmed to attendees.

Grabbing more of the political agenda year-by-year, migration is now perhaps the single hottest political topic in Europe. From Britain’s EU referendum to the rise of hard-line political parties and growing social divisions, what had been seen as an ever increasing drive to open borders looks increasingly under threat. PS21 looks at the drivers bringing people to Europe, the political impact on increasingly polarized electorates and the ever-growing policy questions.

Peter Apps [moderator] – Global Affairs Columnist, Reuters. Executive Director, PS21

Haid Haid – Syrian policy analyst and columnist

Keelin McCarthy – UK immigration, asylum and  human rights barrister, Lamb Building

David Lea – Western Europe political analyst, Control Risks

Julia Ebner – policy analyst specializing in European counterterrorism, Quillam Foundation

Ubah Ahmed – Somali-born Finnish student specializing in Nordic identity politics, Malmo University, Sweden

Sign up here.

SOLD OUT: London event – the changing face of counterterrorism

Photo 24.11. crowd whitehall

WHEN: Wednesday, August 17, 2016 from 17:30 – 19:00 

WHERE: Whitehall, London, United Kingdom – Exact location to be confirmed to attendees


From Paris to Brussels,, Nice, Orlando and beyond, Western states appear to be facing an almost unprecedented tempo of militant attacks – although they pale in comparison to those in truly front-line nations such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria. With a growing number of such incidents apparently involving single radicalized individuals, often with mental health problems, how can one really define “terrorism”? And with recent attacks in Europe and North America now helping drive domestic politics, what can be done to protect civilians while avoiding further polarizing communities and deepening divisions?

Peter Apps [moderator] – executive director, PS21. Reuters global affairs columnist

Nigel Inkster – former deputy chief, MI6, now head of transnational threats and political risk for international Institute for Strategic Studies

Omar Hamid – former Pakistani police officer, now head of Asia-Pacific risk at IHS

Julia Ebner – policy analyst specializing in European militant threats, Quilliam Foundation

Frederic Ischebeck-Baum – Sir Michael Howard Centre Fellow at King’s College London and PS21 fellow.


You can sign up here.


The PS21 Team.

Exploiting the Electorate: Lessons from Brexit

Caitlin Vito is a research Events Administrator at the International Institute
for Strategic Studies (IISS); Formerly at NATO, Political Affairs and Security Policy Division 


On June 16th British Member of Parliament Jo Cox was shot and killed by one of her own constituents. In the midst of outpourings of grief and cross-party condemnation, her death also allowed a moment of reflection. How had Britain reached this point?

To answer that, one couldn’t help but think of the heated debates on Brexit in the weeks prior to her death, with both the Remain and Leave camps hurling accusations at each other. Both accusing the other of whipping up hatred and fear among the British electorate. Sadiq Khan, the pro-Remain London mayor lambasted his predecessor, pro-Brexiter and former London mayor, Boris Johnson for unleashing ‘Project Hate’, of stirring up xenophobia and fears of immigrants flooding into the UK. In return, the pro-Brexit camp attacked the Remain side for running a ‘Project Fear’ campaign, which they argued exaggerated to the British public the costs of leaving the EU.

These catchy one-liners were quickly sucked up by the media and became the labels with which to hastily dismiss and discredit opposing arguments. ‘Project Fear’ and ‘Project Hate’ have exposed, and in many ways exacerbated, a visible and growing polarization of British politics and society. The referendum debate was framed in black and white, allowing little space for balanced discussion, and further breeding distrust and a corrosive contempt for the other side. Where arguments are boiled down into sound-bites, politics finds itself easily drifting towards the extremes.

Similarly, the Brexit campaign brought far-right anti-immigrant sentiment from the margins into public discourse. A leading Brexiter and head of the anti-immigration political party UKIP, Nigel Farage, even employed a campaign banner that depicted hordes of migrants and refugees crossing the EU border with the slogan of “BREAKING POINT: the EU has failed us all”. Immediately, many pundits pointed out similarities to propaganda used by the Nazis in the 1930’s. Jo Cox’s murderer also had longstanding neo-Nazi leanings. His decision to act at a time when politicians and the media were stoking divisions and polarizing discourse through extreme populist rhetoric was likely not a coincidence.

The trend seen in the UK, towards polarization and division, is shared across the Atlantic in the United States, where demonization has been seen throughout the US presidential election campaign. Donald Trump is a master of populist rhetoric, dividing voters with his early call for a temporary ban on Muslim migration and labeling all Mexicans crossing the US border ‘rapists’. The real life consequences of this are playing out across America, with a number of civil-rights organizations voicing serious concerns about the rise in hate speech and violent acts by far-right groups, many of whom coincidentally also openly support Trump.

The vote for Brexit and the rising popularity of Trump reflects a significant number of people on both sides of the Atlantic who are justifiably angry and frustrated with the status quo. Many of them feel that they have not been included in the economic and social benefits of globalization and closer integration. Instead of focusing efforts towards bringing these people into the fold of prosperity, many politicians and media figures have exploited the electorates’ frustrations for their own short term political and financial gain. The murder of Jo Cox and the rise in hate crimes are markers of the ripple effects these dynamics have as they play out across society. People now need politicians and a media which does not try to take opportunistic advantage in division, but seeks to build longstanding bridges.

Uncertainty lies ahead from the fallout of the British vote. Therefore, it is important that the forces polarizing the debate are now reined in. The inevitable calls for unity, urged by many politicians following the vote, must be followed by real action.



Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, nongovernmental, nonpartisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

The tragedy of Europe: Location, location, location

Syrian_refugees_strike_at_the_platform_of_Budapest_Keleti_railway_station._Refugee_crisis._Budapest,_Hungary,_Central_Europe,_4_September_2015._(3)A printer-friendly version is available here.

Peter Apps is Reuters global defence correspondent. He is currently on sabbatical as executive director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century (PS21).

For years, skeptics warned of multiple threats to the European project. The strains of the single currency, they said, would rip it apart. Excessive regulation was another concern, along with lack of democratic accountability. Some felt Europe’s different peoples were just too different.

The reality, of course, has turned out to be much less complex. As real estate brokers say, it’s all about location. Europe is, quite simply, in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the consequences may rip it apart.

If the escalating migration crisis of the last year has shown anything, it is that geography really, really matters. The Middle East — or more accurately, a handful of countries within it — is on fire. Many people who live there quite reasonably want to leave. And mainland Europe is the closest, richest and safest place for them to go.

At the same time, tens of thousands are also leaving often much more stable countries in Africa, heading north in the hope of better opportunity.

Some countries — particularly the United States, Australia and Canada, and to a lesser extent Britain — have the advantage of distance. Getting there is hard. America and Australia sit behind vast oceans that allow them to pick and choose who can legally cross their borders. Potential migrants can be made to wait 40 years if necessary, while their paperwork is processed. Even the English Channel — a mere 26 miles wide — is remarkably difficult to swim, as more than a few migrants have discovered. And small boats to help the journey — and the necessarily corrupt crews to man them — are much less available than in the Mediterranean.

Mainland Europe, though, is stuck. It cannot find a moral reason to stop people arriving because one does not exist. “Keeping Europe’s riches for Europe” is an understandable sentiment, but not particularly inspiring. Nor is it going to be easy or even possible to erect enough fences to stop migrants. And the speed with which new migrants arrive — particularly once spring comes to the Mediterranean — makes immediate integration impossible and politically divisive problems inevitable.

Largely as a result, it’s a toxic time to be a leader. For now, German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains the linchpin of the continent. Her position, though, now looks far more assailable; some analysts believe she could fall within the year. Today, in almost every country, political elites look much less capable of handling worsening problems — even if French elections showed far-right extremists making significantly fewer gains than many had feared.

Strains are inevitably building — with events such as the Paris attacks and New Year’s Eve assaults in Cologne adding fuel to the fire. Only a tiny minority of migrants might be militants or other troublemakers, but with such great numbers arriving, incidents are inevitable and so is the backlash.

Several countries have taken the once unthinkable step of effectively suspending the Schengen Agreement allowing borderless movement within Europe. Austria recently announced it was imposing unilateral limits on the number of asylum seekers it would take. Several other countries including Germany, Hungary and Sweden have also imposed additional controls.

For Mediterranean countries — particularly Greece and Italy — that means pulling people from the waves at considerable expense, and then nudging them on to wealthier northern countries more able to absorb them. For Germany, it means trying to take enough migrants to make the moral case for other countries to do their fair share. For Britain and the United States, it means sitting behind their coastlines, picking and choosing the refugees they want while condemning everyone else for not doing more — a somewhat hypocritical approach, however many refugees they ultimately allow in.

This year Britain faces a referendum on whether or not it will stay in the European Union. For now, the best argument for staying is that by doing so, Britain has a better chance of influencing events. The worse things get, however, the more likely a “no” vote will become.

Merkel’s decision last year to promise asylum to any Syrians who could reach Germany now looks like an error that might be encouraging some of the flood. By the same token, then, the more potential migrants believe Europe will shut its doors, the more sense it makes to for them to move now.

As more migrants arrive, it’s hardly surprising that some Europeans are asking what right they have to the welfare systems they did nothing to build. It’s a dangerous argument, though. Those arriving from Middle East conflict zones might equally complain that Western foreign policy helped create the wars they flee — although arguably, the mainland European countries bearing the brunt of the crisis are less to blame.

Stabilizing the Middle East, of course, would reduce the pressure on Europe. What is most striking about the current crisis, however, is that the conflict-affected countries providing the bulk of the migrants — Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in particular — are precisely those where Washington and its allies have exerted the greatest effort in recent years trying to create stability.

Europe is still, it’s worth remembering, one of the world’s best places to live when it comes to life expectancy, rights and access to benefits. Its institutions — particularly the EU and NATO — have kept the peace of a previously ludicrously violent continent for more than seven decades. As long as that remains the case, then, that stability will be part of the problem — the reason why so many people in the rest of the world want to get there.

That stability, however, is not guaranteed. The 1930s remind us of just how unpleasant the continent can become when populism and xenophobia run rampant. And even without that, the resurgence of Cold War-style strains with Russia mean state-on-state war in Eastern Europe is once again not entirely unthinkable.

One thing is for sure, though — history isn’t quite done with Europe yet. And the years to come may well be as tough as anything in recent memory.

This article first appeared in Reuters on January 25, 2016. 

Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, non-ideological, non-partisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

After Paris, Islamic State war enters deadly new stage

A welcome sign along the Beirut-Damascus highway (Paul Keller).
A welcome sign along the Beirut-Damascus highway (Paul Keller).

Peter Apps is Reuters global defence correspondent. He is currently on sabbatical as executive director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century (PS21).
In some ways, the fact Islamic State put such effort into attacking the European mainland is a perverse sign of weakness. At the same time, though, it shows the conflict entering a new phase that brings with it a much greater chance of attacks on the West.

Unlike the original Al Qaeda, IS and the precursor groups behind it had always been much more focused on the Middle East. While Osama bin Laden prioritised fighting the “far enemy” — the United States and its Western allies — Islamic State’s entire purpose for existence was to carve out territory to create its caliphate.

For my of last year, it appeared to be being remarkably successful in that goal, seizing towns and cities across swathes of Iraq and Syria. It was also remarkably effective in attracting and creating new affiliates, from pre-existing militant groups in Libya and Afghanistan to forging an alliance with Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

To maintain its momentum, though, it desperately needs to be able to maintain that “winning” narrative. Even when pushed back elsewhere, it has always been quick to throw resources into producing a high-profile victory — for example, the seizure of the historic town of Palmrya earlier this year — to distract attention from difficulties and defeats elsewhere.

Recent weeks have in fact been amongst the toughest for Islamic Stake in its short history.

High profile losses include UK-born Islamic State executioner Mohammed Emwasi — widely known as “Jihadi John” — whose own death in a US drone strike was announced by British and American officials only hours before the Paris attack. On Saturday, a Pentagon’s announcement that the group’s Libya chief had been killed in the strike was entirely overshadowed.

Also on Friday, Kurdish forces backed by US airstrikes ousted IS
from the northern Iraqi town of Sirjar. Isabel Coles, the excellent Reuters correspondent in the region, described it as “one of the most significant counter-attacks since the militants swept through… last year”.

No one, of course, noticed. By attacking France — and probably bringing down a Russian airliner over Egypt on October 31 — the group has reframed its story and ambitions..

As with Al Qaeda, it is always difficult to tell how much direct leadership is exercised from the centre of IS. But either by accident or design, IS has now made showcasing its ability to strike at the West and other external enemies an essential part of its image.

The Paris and possible Russian airliner attack were not the only attacks outside the immediate combat zone. Thursday saw a suicide bombing in the Lebanese capital Beirut that killed 43.

These attacks will almost certainly supercharge foreign military intervention in the region, most particularly from Russia and France but also the United States. There, though, it gets a lot more complicated.

Foreign military action alone is never going to be enough to defeat Islamic State. As I wrote earlier this year, many regional experts believe the group will only be pushed out of the areas it currently controls when the local populations — mostly Sunnis — feel safer and more secure under the currently Shi’ite governments in Baghdad and Damascus.

Any further uptick in fighting — particularly if it comes with further heightened ethnic tension — may only serve to increase the exodus of Syrians in particular fleeing to Europe.

The colossal majority of migrants, of course, have nothing at all to do with Islamic State — indeed, the dislike of them and life under their rule is one of the principal reasons people are fleeing.

The problem, of course, is that it is virtually impossible to detect the relative handful of potential Islamic State attackers who may be infiltrating as part of that group.

Even many of the hundreds or more European Muslims who have gone to fight for Islamic State and then quietly returned, some security experts suspect, are as sick of the war as everyone else and pose little use genuine threat. Indeed, some argue, their support and intelligence they provide may prove key in the battle to come.

The danger, though, is that the aftermath of the Paris attack in particular just serves to deepen the divide in Europe between Muslim populations — both established and new migrants — and everyone else.

So far, the signs are mixed at best, with the attack in Paris already prompting the Polish government to get back on its pledge to take Syrian migrants. On the other side of the political agenda, there are calls to somehow avoid discussing the attack and migrant issues together for fear of worsening divisions.

That doesn’t really work, I’d argue — the attack and much of the migrant crisis, after all, were birthed in the same conflict. The current conflagration in the Middle East now includes Europe, albeit with only sporadic attacks and much more limited casualties that within the primary war zone itself.

Stirring up sectarian divisions, after all — whether between Muslims and non-Muslims or Shi’ite and Sunni — is at the core of what Islamic State is all about.

Further attacks on the West — including potentially the United States — would certainly help the group maintained its narrative of success. But it also needs to avoid significant losses in Iraq and Syria and by its new affiliates in Libya, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Those trying to defeat IS need to craft their own narrative. That means winning real victories on the ground — both in Syria and Iraq — and stopping as many terror attacks as possible. It means highlighting victories and avoid letting the militants dictate the storyline as they have so far.

Most importantly, it means creating an inclusive enough environment in both Europe and the region that moderate and even not so moderate Sunnis do not find themselves utterly alienated.

That won’t be easy — not least because so far those supposedly fighting IS have often been more focused on a very real rivalries based on geopolitics or ideology. Neither Sunni Gulf states nor Shi’ite rulers in Iran and Syria dare lets the other dictate events . Russian and Western leaders have desperately entrenched opinions over the future of Assad that go to the heart of their different worldviews and much wider stand-off.

The more dangerous Islamic State appears, however, the more likely those differences can be at least temporarily overcome. With any luck, this weekend’s international conference on Syria in Vienna and G20 in Turkey will be the start of that process.

The last week has been the group’s most successful when it comes to grabbing the global agenda. They might also be its most devastating miscalculation.

This article was originally posted on on 14 November 2015.

Paris attack is Europe’s security nightmare

A makeshift memorial at the scene of one of the November 2015 Paris attacks/Wikipedia Commons

Peter Apps is  global defence correspondent at Reuters news and is currently on sabbatical as executive director the Project for Study of the 21st Century. This column first appeared on the Reuters website.

The series of coordinated attacks on multiple civilian locations in Paris on Friday night has long been the stuff of nightmares for European security officials.

Ever since the Mumbai attacks of 2008 — in which more than 175 people, including the militants, were killed in a series of coordinated strikes around the city — the fear has been of a similar attack in Europe by Islamist militants.

That assault showed that a relatively small number of dedicated, suicidal attackers with automatic weapons and sufficient ammunition could wreak havoc in a relatively confined urban area. In 2013, Islamist militants demonstrated the same thing again in Nairobi, Kenya, at theWestgate shopping mall — with a final death toll of 67.

Since Mumbai, where the hostage drama played out for three days, most security forces operate on a very simple doctrine — attempt to seize back buildings and kill the militants as quickly as possible, even with all the risks that entails.

Such attacks, of course, could theoretically take place anywhere. Indeed, the largest in Europe to date was the 2011 attack by lone Norwegian gunman Anders Breivik. He killed 69 people at a political youth camp on the island of Utoya after killing another eight with a bomb in the center of Oslo.

France, though — and Paris in particular — was already seen as a likely top target, particularly after the attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo less than a year ago.

Since major bombings such as the 2005 attacks on the London transport system and bombings in Madrid the previous year, law enforcement agencies have become more effective at detecting and blocking access to explosives. And since 9/11, attacks on aircraft have been much more difficult.

Despite avoiding the Iraq war and only playing a limited role in Afghanistan, France has taken a much greater role in recent conflicts such as the war in Libya and the fight against Islamic State and militant groups in its former colonies in West Africa.

Those actions — like the independence war in Algeria in the 1960s – were seen as pushing France dramatically up the militant target list. France has long also had issues with the integration of its Muslim population — something these attacks may exacerbate further.

The wider geopolitical fallout of the attacks is much harder to model.

If the attack does emerge to have been carried out by Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility, it will deliver the group a significant propaganda victory after a series of reverses including the apparent death in a drone strike of Mohammed Emwazi, the British-born Islamic State executioner dubbed “Jihadi John.”

The Paris assault has prompted France’s President Francois Hollande to promise a strengthened effort to destroy the group. Whether that will mean a shift away from removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power is another question, though. Russia — which lost a passenger plane carrying 224 passengers and crew to a suspected bomb on Oct. 31 — will almost certainly argue the need for solidarity in fighting the militants, rather than targeting Assad.

At the very least, it will further complicate Europe’s struggle to work out what to do with the ever-growing numbers of refugees from Middle East war zones.

Even if it wished to, the continent has little real option to stop the flow of the mostly Muslim migrants. Worries over a repeat of the Paris attack, however, could further intensified moves to shore up borders and act as the final nail in the coffin of the supposedly borderless nature of the European Union.

PS21 releases book on UK power by Daily Telegraph journalist Peter Foster



Facing Facts – Is Britain’s Power Diminishing? Frank New Book Exposes Britain’s Dwindling Global Power, Influence and Image

Having spent over a decade reporting overseas for the Daily Telegraph, Peter Foster has watched the UK’s clout being steadily challenged by a changing world – its influence and power forced down the “pecking order” of world affairs. In ‘Facing Facts – Is Britain’s Power Diminishing?’, Foster presents a series of compelling encounters and case studies that ask Brits to decide what they really want their country to be. With the EU referendum due to take place in 2016, it’s a book everyone from average Joes to top-level policy makers can’t pass up on.

Buy it here.


Peter Foster


Telephone:  +44 7920 266 532

Twitter: @pmdfoster

A ‘Culture of Migration’

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Caitlin Vito currently works at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and has also held positions with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Her research focuses on migration flows from the Horn of Africa.

The images are stark. Groups of people looking exhausted, anxious and moving with resolve towards the EU’s border thousands of miles away from their countries of origin in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Many of them are Syrians fleeing the four and a half year civil war: the IOM (International Organisation for Migration) estimates that Syrian refugees make up approximately 39 percent of those arriving to Europe. The plight of Syrian refugees dominates public discourse at the moment and is undoubtedly a critical component of the current migration situation; however, our focus here is on another group of migrants: economic migrants who take illegal and often highly dangerous migration routes. They migrate for a complex variety of reasons, facing their own hardships, but they are not considered refugees as defined by the Refugee Convention.

On the surface, it is relatively well known why economic migrants take such risks. They flee poverty and deteriorating security in countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and Pakistan, among others. However, this betrays precious little about the everyday worlds from which they come – their communities, villages and families. To understand why they migrate to places such as Europe – the most dangerous destination for irregular migration in the world according to the IOM – it is exactly to their home communities where one must look. An important motivating factor found at the local level is what some describe as the ‘culture of migration’ that exists within some communities in sending countries. Understanding this culture of migration and its role and influence in motivating irregular economic migration should be a part of any durable approach to the influx of people to the European Union.

This ‘culture of migration’ denotes an environment, both cultural and physical, in which migration is viewed as a highly favourable (if not the only) means out of unfavourable circumstances, such as unemployment and poverty. This environment has a high degree of influence and, over time, migration can become the norm, especially among youth. Critically, migration is often seen as an effective household or even community strategy to improve their situation. Frequently, those from the community who have successfully migrated are expected to support those back home by sending some of their income back.

This means that the act of migration reaches beyond the individual migrant. Families, and sometimes even whole communities, invest in the journey of those migrating with the hopes that a successful migration will lead to the improvement of their own conditions. This important element was highlighted by an Ethiopian villager discussing the local situation with the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS), an organisation focusing on mixed migration in the Horn of Africa and Yemen sub-region. The interviewee noted that “migration might be driven by the decision of the youth but it is mostly a parental venture involving selling of crops, cattle and leasing land by parents. Parents participate in the decision by raising money as well as by establishing communication links with the brokers”.

In certain instances, migration is so deeply rooted that young people expect to live and work abroad. Migrating allows them to live up to expectations and even to establish their social position within the local community. Of the potential migrants who were surveyed in the RMMS study, 87 percent of respondents reported that the ‘sense of responsibility’ was a leading migration driver for them. This sense of community expectation, family duty and social standing are all powerful driving factors. As pointed out in a study examining the cultures of migration in regions of Turkey, people do not  migrate because of “abstract concepts such as demographic transitions, declining fertility, ageing, population density, environmental degradation or factor productivity” but rather if they perceive better opportunities elsewhere and have the capabilities to move”. These perceptions, and the means with which to make the journey, are directly affected by families, communities and the environment from which they come.

Moreover, the same RMMS study highlighted the importance that potential migrants place on relatives and friends, including those already in transit and destination countries, as reliable sources for information about the migration process. This runs contrary to the belief that brokers and smugglers are the main sources of information at the local level. Although the so-called ‘misinformation campaigns’ by smugglers and brokers are a factor for some migrants, for many the real influence is exerted by those closest to them.

Just as migration goes beyond individual gain, reaching deep into home and community networks, an unsuccessful migration attempt is often accompanied by a sense of shame and failure. This was demonstrated in the case of a migrant who had returned home from Saudi Arabia after being expelled from the country. To pay for her journey, her family had borrowed money, despite their extreme poverty. After seven months, the migrant returned to home, having suffered abuse while abroad. However, the girl explained that she was afraid to see her family, asking how she could face her father after he had invested the family’s resources in her migration with the belief that she would support them.

This story is not unique. Of those returnees surveyed by the RMMS, 98% stated that they felt they were failures. In such a culture of migration, even choosing not to migrate can be associated with failure, especially when others in the immediate community are benefiting from having friends and family who have migrated and are sending back financial support. This pressure, while not easily quantifiable, should not be underestimated as a motivating factor driving migration and remigration.

This is a powerful factor driving migration, and one which the EU simply cannot afford to overlook as it grapples with an influx of migrants. The response of some Member-States – to look inwards, to build walls and to view the issue as one of national security – is misguided. History has demonstrated that walls do not work in the long term, especially when faced with immense human will motivated by a sense of duty and an entrenched belief that migration is the only way forward for them and their family. It is critical that the EU’s response look beyond the securitization of its borders and towards the local motivating factors, including the cultures of migration which exist.

In terms of action, one step would be to intensify the EU’s current efforts to promote awareness-raising programs at the grassroots level highlighting the dangers and misconceptions surrounding migration. However, this will bring its own challenges as potential migrants place greater trust on the information provided by those close to them, rather than external campaigns. Therefore, any such efforts must work closely with community members. Equally important would be to review the experiences of migrants who have returned to their countries of origin, and to find where gaps exist in supporting their reintegration.

With careful planning and action, this could help to limit the desire for remigration. These efforts must be long-term; countering the prevailing social norms in which migration is considered a good and necessary act is no easy task. Ultimately, however, such efforts to address the culture of migration must be part of a multi-pronged approach. It is critical that it be implemented in tandem with the opening of more legal channels for migration. This can help to limit the sense that irregular – and highly dangerous – routes are the only option.

However, cultures of migration are not relegated only to developing countries outside the EU. It is important to keep in mind that cultures of migration can be found within the European Union, as seen with the flows of people from east to west within the Union. Historically as well, a culture of migration has ebbed and flowed within Europe as people have faced times of critical hardship. As with all communities, a culture of migration can play a decisive role in the decision to migrate, with the sense of personal success, familial and community obligations, as well as the fear of failure all tied into the act of migration. This is a unique and powerful motivating factor. Any long-term and durable strategy to address irregular economic migration would do well to take into account this culture of migration and to start to develop an approach to address it at the local level.

PS21 is a nonpartisan, nonideological organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

James Bond: British intelligence’s real world secret weapon?


Peter Apps is executive director of PS21. 

In the 62 years since James Bond first appeared in print, there’s no doubt he has helped boost the reputations of his real-life counterparts in British intelligence.

Now, Daniel Craig — the truest to author Ian Fleming’s original vision since Sean Connery, if not ever — is back on screen in “Spectre.” The franchise is as strong as ever.

In reality, however, the decades since Fleming first penned “Casino Royale” have been distinctly mixed for the United Kingdom and its spies.

For sure, the Secret Intelligence Service — traditionally known to its members as SIS and to the rest of the world as MI6 — and its sister service MI5 retain a world-class reputation. They are in good company. The reach and skill set of those two agencies — responsible for foreign and domestic intelligence, respectively — are more than equaled by signals intelligence specialists Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Britain’s special forces — the Army’s Special Air Service (SAS) and Royal Marines’ Special Boat Service (SBS) are also legendary.

They have, however, been far from infallible. Even as Fleming wrote of their prowess in the early 1950s, some stellar embarrassments loomed.

Throughout the late 1950s and 60s, Whitehall (one-word shorthand for the UK’s version of the State Department, the Pentagon and CIA and FBI headquarters) was torn apart by slow-burning scandal as news emerged that some of Britain’s most trusted intelligence officials had in fact been spying for the Soviet Union. More recently, there have been controversies over officials’ complicity in torture and rendition, as well is the small matter of their intelligence-gathering related to Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Bond and his fellow fictional British operatives, however, allow UK intelligence to project an image that goes well beyond the niggling issues of reality.

It might have only the most tangential relationship to what really happens, but it still has real-world impact.

A couple of years ago at a drinks reception in Washington, a former CIA official told me he believed neither he nor anyone else in the U.S. government would ever turn down a briefing from British intelligence. It wasn’t just about the quality of the material, he said — good though it often was.

Even the phrase “British intelligence,” he said, had a mystique, glamour and style that was intrinsically fascinating. He suspected British officials were well aware of it, he added, and deliberately styled themselves accordingly.

Whether that is genuinely the case — at least more than subconsciously — I’ve never been able to confirm.

One thing is definitely true — British intelligence officials and agencies are much better than their transatlantic cousins at keeping secret what they actually do. And therefore — either by accident or design — their fictional alter egos end up filling the gap.

It’s not just Bond — he is just by far the most visible example. There is George Smiley and the other ever-depressed, dogged and morally compromised spies of John le Carré. Then there are the works of Frederick Forsyth, Erskine Childers and John Buchan — the latter going back well before Bond to the years before World War One.

Even some of the more obscure British spy fiction is unmistakably first-class. My personal pick would be the 1978-1980 ITV series “The Sandbaggers,” described by the New York Times a quarter of a century later as “the best spy series in television history.”

For anyone who has ever worked in any kind of bureaucracy — or, for that matter, been around conflict and violence — the show simply feels real.

The reason, of course, is that all of these books and shows were written by individuals either employed by or closely exposed to British intelligence. John le Carré spent decades claiming to have been former British Foreign Office before admitting he was SIS. Forsyth — author of “The Day of the Jackal” among others works — this year revealed he had performed tasks for SIS while working as a reporter behind the Iron Curtain. “The Sandbaggers” writer Ian Mackintosh was a former Royal Navy officer who worked in intelligence, and whose death in a plane crash has never been satisfactorily explained.

With the British government much more reluctant than the Americans to give former officials permission to write their memoirs, fiction by well-informed insiders has for years been almost the only available window.

But it is fiction — and that’s important to remember. Fictional narratives, the truism says, must make sense in a way that reality seldom does. Narratives also tend to feature heroes — or at the very least, compelling protagonists — in a way that real life doesn’t always echo, either.

That of course, is particularly true of Bond. His creator, Fleming, started life as a Reuters reporter before discovering that the job didn’t pay for the lifestyle he wanted. (Although crucially, he later conceded, it did teach him how to write.)

World War Two offered an escape from his second career in banking — but again, his time in naval intelligence (like Bond, he held the rank of commander) seems to have been less exciting than hoped.

What it did give him, however, was the material to create Bond and his world. He would later model his fictional secret service chief “M” on his wartime boss and Director of Naval Intelligence, Rear Admiral John Godfrey. (The real chief of SIS is always referred to as “C,” and has been since its first leader, Mansfield Smith-Cumming, who always initialed documents “C” in green ink.)

Fleming had worked with some of the more colorful characters at the heart of World War Two espionage, including Alan Turing, the technical genius who broke Germany’s Enigma codes, and William “Wild Bill” Donovan, a U.S. official who went on to start the CIA. Several well-bred (and quite possibly long-suffering) Whitehall secretaries helped provide the model for Miss Moneypenny.

Fleming’s time on the more glamorous side of life in London and overseas — including covering Stalin’s 1930s show trials in Moscow for Reuters — gave him the experience to inject other realistic details.

From the start, though, what really made the James Bond series work was the fantasy: the lone agent with the “license to kill,” the femme fatales, the over-the-top evil masterminds with unnecessarily complex plans. And, of course, the conceit that Britain’s top agent might repeatedly save the world. It was a reassuring — if not always plausible — pitch for an era in which Britain’s empire was disappearing, and with it much of its global influence.

In the corridors of power in Whitehall, such worries — particularly over the importance of Britain to the United States — are on the rise again. The end of the Afghan war, declining UK defense budgets and the 2013 vote to avoid entanglement in Syria — as well as an upcoming European Union membership referendum — all risk making the country appear irrelevant, officials and pundits warn.

Somewhere out there, though, I can’t help but suspect, at least a handful of SIS officers are gleefully exploiting their ongoing mystique to win sources, access and — maybe, just maybe–achieve something important.

Or alternatively, of course, seduction and sex.

This article originally appeared on on October 27, 2015.

PS21 is a nonideological, nonpartisan, non-national organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.