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

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


PS21 Event Writeup “Changing Face of Conflict”

The third instalment of our Changing Face of Conflict series brought together four experts who reflected on transformations in warfare globally, regionally, and locally. From the redistribution of global power and established ideologies under threat, to innovative solutions to hybrid group conflict, European regional defence autonomy and cooperation in the time of Brexit, as well as the changing use of force from Ukraine to the world, the discussion provided fundamental insights for grasping the future of conflict.

Nigel Inkster, former Assistant Chief and Director of Operations and Intelligence at the British Intelligence Service, started the discussion with a historical perspective on our current geopolitics. In the post-Cold War milieu, we have seen a redistribution of global power from West to East, the return of state on state warfare, a different kind of soldiering, and the rise of asymmetric warfare. Increasingly, Inkster confirmed, we sense a retreat of the United States, a global status challenged, and the strain of established ideologies under threat. Here, Inkster pointed to the renewed rise of the extreme right as well as the Chinese ideological model of Neo-Marxism. Inkster then focused on how game-changing increases in the power of information and communications technology are shaping the behaviour of states on a strategic level. He urged to consider the associated risks and concluded that conflicts today may no longer be about clear-cut victories, but about creating a shift in circumstance which allows for future manipulation.

Emily Winterbotham, Senior Research Fellow in the National Security and Resilience Programme at RUSI, discussed the interaction of insurgencies and terrorism, leading to a hybrid form of group conflict. According to Winterbotham, local grievances are a catalyst, but insurgent groups around the world have realised the transactional and economic advantage of aligning themselves with the ISIS brand.

In this context, Winterbotham shared her insights into the challenges for conflict resolution: Purely looking at these issues from a counter-terrorism perspective or addressing them only through military solutions is doomed for failure. And in a first instance, prosecution is often overwhelmed by the sheer number of cases whilst military operations can be the reason grievances exist in the first place. However, conventional reintegration options may be precluded due to counter-terrorist financing legislation.

Expanding on traditional DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reintegration), Winterbotham introduced the audience to the 4DR approach. Instead of focusing on mitigation after the fact, 4DR (Defections, Disarmaments, Disengagement, Deradicalisation and Reintegration) is a holistic approach designed to reflect the challenge hybrid conflicts present, including the need to inspire defection and arrange meaningful amnesty. Considering this approach, Winterbotham stressed disengagement over deradicalisation (so as not to ignore real structural problems and grievances); the importance of individualised exit strategies for insurgents and terrorist fighters; and also highlighted a role for transitional justice in the overall concept.

Alice Billon-Galland, Policy Fellow at the European Leadership Network, then led the discussion over to the question of current and future European strategic autonomy. 2016 marked a political turning point which has since sparked a steady increase in defence cooperation between the European Union and NATO. Currently, the EU’s global strategy decidedly does not strive for collective defence, but focuses on providing tools for capability development to each member state. While Billon-Galland highlighted PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation), the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence and the European Defence Fund, she also addressed continuous fears of competition and capability overlap between NATO and the EU.

Set against the political challenge of Brexit, the push to build a EU defence cluster with a weapons procurement independent from non-European allies may cause further political tension as it shifts from U.S. and UK arms industries to entirely intra-European Union defence spending. And similarly, the United Kingdom is faced with exclusion from other defence cooperation benefits such as the notorious example of Galileo, the EU project building an alternative to the US-controlled GPS.

Adam Coffey, British Army Officer and RUSI Visiting Fellow, concluded the discussion with his perceptions on changing approaches to the use of force, beyond the timeless nature of warfare. He argued that force is often no longer the last, but the first step in warfare; that winning a tactical fight by conventional measure has changed; and therefore asked what victory means today.

Drawing on insights from Crimea and Donbas, Coffey reflected on force as direct confrontation compared to an attention-grabbing means of messaging.  In winning the global information war, good performance in a fight may not matter if public perception is shunned.

Considering the pace of technological change, Coffey concluded that flexibility, adaptability, and using means beyond force will decide the next war.

PS21 Event Writeup “Changing Face of Conflict”

At the second instalment of our ‘Changing Face of Conflict’ series, a panel of experts considered the future of warfare. The discussion included cyber warfare, the limits of military force, policing in Karachi and the lack of long-term strategies.

Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb, former Director Special Forces and Commander Field Army, said that the recent past – while often presented as largely peaceful – had also seen the world at war just below the threshold of outright conflict. He said that amongst the most powerful tools were weapons of mass disorder, such as propaganda and information warfare, leading to a new kind of warfare. Recognising this shift, said Lamb, should bring changing tactics and strategy. Lamb acknowledged the limits of military capacity, stating that grand strategies must ultimately return to politics, as militaries can deal with the symptoms but are unable to tackle the causes of conflict – a political solution was needed.

Stefan Soesanto, Non-resident James A. Kelly Fellow, Pacific Forum CSIS, said that nation states were still working out where the thresholds of war and peace stood when it comes to conflict in cyberspace. Currently, ground rules for cyber warfare existed largely only in theory – in the form of the Tallinn manual, the UN GGE, and elsewhere – outlining how international law applies to cyberspace. Attributing responsibilities within the cyber domain was also challenging, he said, with private companies often being the victims of incidents while the role of the military remains frequently unclear.

Zoha Waseem, PhD candidate on Urban Security, Policing, Terrorism and Religious Extremism (King’s College London), shifted the conversation to policing in Karachi, Pakistan. The deterioration in law and order in the city in recent years had encouraged police to act above the law, said Waseem. This in turn weakened their legitimacy, leading many civilians to turn to other armed groups, such as militias, to rely on protection. The security dilemma worsens as the police then participate in volatile arms races. The police culture in Karachi, according to Waseem, had taken on ethnic dimensions with geopolitical impact. Citing an example, when a Pashtu youth was killed in Karachi, an ethno-nationalist movement was sparked, exacerbating the existing security dilemma.

Director of the Remote Warfare Programme, Emily Knowles, said that today’s world saw a large spectrum of threats and varieties of warfare – from machete wars to nuclear dangers. The UK political climate was risk-averse with a shift away from large-scale operations to a reliance on local allies and smaller UK training teams. Knowles saw an absence of strategy in this threat environment as a major problem going forwards, particularly the lack of a clear political vision of what the desired end state for conflicts that the UK is currently engaged in should be.


PS21 Event Writeup “Work in 2030”

 On May 15, the latest instalment of our ‘Imagining 2030’ series took place at Juju’s Bar and Stage, in conjunction with Wilton Park and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Reuters Global Affairs Columnist Peter Apps moderated the panel of experts on the world of work to take a look at how exactly the job market would change and how technological advances would impact our lives twelve years from now.

Kate Bell, Head of Economic and Social Policy from the Trade Union Congress, began by looking at the changes of the last twelve years: three million more people in work, but the worst pay stagnation in 200 years, falling productivity and the rise of so-called ‘false self-employment’. Those with power and responsibility, she said, were increasingly finding ways to dilute the social contract when it came to corporates paying tax, sick pay and other employee benefits.

Global Thematic Strategist Frances Hudson from Aberdeen Standard Life Investments was sceptical towards the change technology might bring, stating that even though robots might replace surgeons in the future, the element of care and empathy could not be replaced by technology. The kind of jobs most likely to see growth were often those at the bottom of the pay and social spectrum, she said, particularly care work – but this might lead to something of a reappraisal of what jobs society actually valued.

Joe Dromey, Senior Research Fellow at IPPR, called for three changes in the job market: the need for managed acceleration of automation, the transformation of skill systems and stronger unions. Comparing the present to past industrial revolutions, Dromey pointed out that the net demand for labour had always increased. This was the case now as well, given that automation created more jobs than it destroyed, however, these new jobs may not be accessible to those losing their jobs to greater mechanisation.

Artificial Intelligence specialist Luca Perletta said that AI allowed to identify patterns and trends much quicker than if carried out by humans and that in this case, technology replaced repetitive jobs. However, Perletta said, AI could not replace humans entirely. But they would create new industries and industrial dynamics that would change the job market forever.

Professional and personal coach Helen Gazzi said that despite technological change, many of the frustrations of the work environment – including boredom, lack of fulfilment and worries over career path – had always existed and were likely to continue. Tackling that required a rethinking of the paradigm of work, she said, and what individuals needed to feel fulfilled.

Alvin Carpio, Founder and Chief Executive of the Fourth Group, a global community established to respond to the challenges caused by the fourth industrial revolution, began by outlining the positive aspect of technology, such as the opportunity of emancipation through technology and the possibility to undertake online learning, as well as the formation of connections which can lead to new job opportunities through networks such as LinkedIn. Carpio also drew attention to the negative side of accelerated work environments, such as abysmal working conditions in factories, as well as the ‘blood iPhone’, assembled with parts that were mined by children in the DRC.

Many of the panellists expressed reservations on the concept of Universal Basic Income, questioning both the economic models behind it and whether it would genuinely leave people fulfilled. As with previous industrial revolutions, most believed new jobs would emerge to replace those lost with technological change, although the dramatic fall in productivity in recent years might be a sign that things could be somehow different this time around.

Photo credit: Thomas Hoare

PS21 Event Writeup “Power in 2030”

The latest instalment of our ‘Imagining 2030’ series took place at Juju’s Bar and Stage on April 10, 2018, on the future of political power.

John Raines, Head of Political Risk at IHS Markit, started by looking back 12 years to 2006, examining how much had changed and stayed the same. He pointed to the rise of populist leaders, new platforms, such as social media, as well as a growing economic shift away from the West. He expected cyber attacks to continue to rise, while US politics might increasingly oscillate from one extreme to another. This, he suggested, might be complimented by problems being solved ‘from the bottom up’, given examples of civil society movements, such as #metoo.

IHS Markit Russia Analyst Alex Kokcharov took the audience to Russia in 2030, where a ‘supreme arbiter’ Vladimir Putin could still be in power. Kokcharov spoke of a fundamental change in Putin’s core politics with a swing from the man of the middle classes to a more socially conservative agenda. Kokcharov voiced serious doubts over a possibility of Putin stepping down and suggested a change of the maximum of terms, as seen in Kazakhstan and Belarus, would be much more likely. The only way a handover of power would occur, so Kokcharov, was if Putin’s successor could guarantee he would not end up being tried for war crimes, corruption or anything else.

Professor Kerry Brown, Director of the Lau China Centre at King’s College London, noted that for the first time in modern history, the world was faced with a China that was strong rather than weak, and which had naval capacity which was now in terms of numbers at least rivalling the US. From a military perspective, however, it appeared difficult to project the country’s real fighting capabilities, given China’s last combat experience goes back to 1979 with Vietnam. According to Brown, the economic super power had been  effective instead in waging wars in the cyber sphere. Brown predicted that by 2021, China’s aim with the achievement of the first centenary goal (to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Communist Party’s foundation) would have won the battle of modernity on its own terms and would seek to act according to its own values, a hybrid mixture of traditional Chinese culture and signified Marxism Leninism. It was hard to predict how this would harmoniously co-exit with the enlightenment values still prevailing in the West. . His biggest worry was the exclusive  and excluding nature of Chinese values and the ways in which they did not seem fit for purpose in operating as a transferable world view that others could embrace, and see a space for themselves in.

Anthropologist Eleanor Beevor talked of a simultaneous desire for greater democracy coupled with a want for stronger leaders. The latter, said Beevor, stemmed from a desire to form personal bonds within politics and connect emotionally with leaders – even if that were often unrealistic. Politicians might increasingly be tempted to embrace overly simplistic messages, she said. Instead of single authoritarian figures emerging, she predicted it was also possible a range of such figures would come from a variety of local and globalised power structures.

Fiona Almond, Senior Lecturer at Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, stressed she was speaking as an individual rather than for her institution. She pointed to new communications technology creating new power structures as well as new ways of understanding people and communities. Harnessing this data was important to forming understanding, power, and the ability to influence people’s actions. Data, she said, was the new oil. As a result, it was important for people to gain a better understanding of the power they held through it.

Laurence Dodds, Assistant Comment Editor at the Daily Telegraph, said technology had changed the way power was felt, as well as the nature of truth and lies. Following on from Almond regarding the power of data, Dodds said the power of platforms such as Facebook could be nuanced: for example, Facebook marketing campaigns were more effective at increasing turnout rather than altering strongly held opinions. The companies themselves increasingly operated more like governments in their own right rather than firms – although this was open to a mounting challenge. At the same time, “algorithmic governance”, will offer a great deal of new power to repressive regimes, which we can already see being deployed against the Uighurs in western China. The same techniques would be used in the West in a more diffuse, subtle way – deployed by outsourcing companies on behalf of governments, or by platform-holders like Facebook. This will make power more opaque and diluted – held by systems more than people – while fuelling the desire and the ability for digitally-aided populists to rise.