PS21 Event Writeup “Changing Face of Conflict 1”

Monday, March 19, 2018

At the inaugural event of the ‘Changing Face of Conflict’ series, kindly hosted by Bob Seely MP, PS21 assembled a panel of experts with diverse backgrounds and experiences. The discussion considered the growth of hybrid warfare, the effect of changing technology, as well as artificial intelligence and changing norms.

Bob Seely MP opened by sketching out how Russia had embraced a variety of forms of non-traditional warfare to pressure the West, noting that a similar degree of innovation might now be required to combat it.

Veerle Nouwens, Asia Studies Researcher at RUSI pointed to the implementation of information operations, which includes “legal warfare” through the challenging of international law, particularly by China in the South China Sea. Nouwens outlined how the EU was experiencing a fracturing of unity over China, akin to that of ASEAN, as a result of increased strategic influence operations. As an example of China’s successful use of unconventional tactics, Nouwens noted the increased militarisation of Chinese activity in the South China Sea, evidenced by the installation of weapons on newly built artificial islands.

King’s College London lecturer Samir Puri said that the world was going through an era of major reconfiguration of power, although that was in itself not new. Puri said the US was moving from being the undisputed champion of the world to one that was very much disputed. Pointing to Russia, China and Iran in particular, he said US adversaries were working very deliberately to identify the thresholds for US military reaction and to take all action they could short of that level. Puri advocated for a need to be diplomatically smart, with new responses needed for actions he described as “accepted but not tolerated.”

Adam Maisel, US Army reservist and co-founder of the Dagr Group, said the US and its allies had been left asking themselves if they understood what modern war and peace really looked like. After several decades of technical dominance, he said, US forces would likely need to learn to deal with much more capable enemies who could largely deny powerful US platforms, such as aircraft carriers, access to strategic regions such as the South China Sea. To win, it would need to lose old lazy assumptions, such as over US aerial dominance, and recruit and train people who could fight in dynamic environments.

Major Kitty McKendrick, British Army Fellow at Chatham House researching the implications of Artificial Intelligence for defence and security, said that US superiority has been traditionally linked to their technological advantage. In terms of AI, McKendrick saw two big risks: the strategic overmatch by a competitor with less control and fewer ethical considerations and the marginalisation of the human in the battlefield. The impact of AI, according to McKendrick, could also change how states conduct foreign policy.

PS21 Event Writeup – ‘What to watch in Russia’

PS21 kicked off this year’s event schedule with a panel discussion on ‘What to watch in Russia’ on the 23rd January. As panellist Mathieu Boulègue put it; ‘Russia is everywhere’. PS21 invited the panel to share their predictions of the world’s largest country. With the forthcoming presidential elections in March, the FIFA World Cup and Russia’s growing taste of information warfare, there was plenty to talk about.

Alex Kokcharov, Russia Analyst at IHS Markit, foretold a predictable Putin election victory, despite the potential for growing protest and civil unrest. In Human Rights terms, his forecast was for increased repression, as well as the use of targeted fear as a political tool. He also expects increased international isolation, with a potential exit from the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights -. The latter move could open the door for Russia to reintroduce the death penalty for certain crimes, as neighbouring Belarus has already done.

While Putin remains firmly ensconced in power aged 65, growing numbers within the Russian establishment and elsewhere are beginning to look beyond his rule. This is driving increasing rivalry within Russia’s political, economic and government elites. That may make Russian politics gradually more unpredictable in the years and decades to come.

If Putin’s power does begin to slip, it is possible – although not inevitable – that Moscow might become increasingly aggressive in its foreign policy. In the last 5 years, Putin has shifted his political focus from the middle class to poorer working class demographics in the regions who have generally responded positively to his now more nationalistic, socially conservative approach.

Mathieu Boulègue, Research Fellow at Chatham House, categorised Russia in the following terms: a ‘spoiler’ of the international system, a ‘meddler’ in elections and at worst, a ‘warmonger’. He identified key trends in Russian foreign policy, which he based his predictions on. These depict Russia as a more assertive force that is no longer hesitant to make use of its military power. From a social perspective, he stressed that should we see a revolution in Russia, it would come from the periphery, and not originate from the centre.

Western states were still far from clear on how to manage the new dynamics of relations with Russia, he added.

“Imagining war in 2030” PS21 event writeup

The future of warfare may be coming faster than we think.

That, at least, felt like the conclusion of Tuesday’s panel on “Imagining War in 2030”, organized by the Project for the Study of the 21st Century and the British Army Intrapreneurs’ Network [BrAIN]. With dozens of military and civilian attendees packed into a relatively airless conference room in Whitehall, a panel of leading experts sketched out what looks to be a period of massive technical, geopolitical and deeply unpredictable change.

Royal United Services Institute Futures and Technology fellow Elizabeth Quintana sketched out some of the technical breakthroughs coming down the line as nations invest in new cyber, electromagnetic and growing technologies as well as hypersonic and other weaponry. Russia, she told the audience, already had a semi-autonomous humanoid robot that could fire a gun and which they intend to send to space.

Former Director Special Forces and Commander Field Army Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb outlined how the pace of change was now proceeding much faster than anyone had anticipated. The year 2030 might be only 13 years away, but breakthroughs in quantum computing, artificial intelligence and other fields were all producing breakthroughs at considerable speed. They would produce potentially massive societal and other changes, and government and military institutions were not currently keeping pace.

Kings College London lecturer and former Foreign and Commonwealth Office official Samir Puri outlined how he had seen some of these changes in action as an OSCE observer in Ukraine. Different nations would demonstrate their geopolitical ambitions in different ways in the years to come, he suggested, pointing out that while a host of states including Britain, Iran, Russia and others have their own imperial memories, they were of very different empires and shaped very different regional and global aspirations.

But not everything would change, he cautioned – it was entirely possible the US and its allies would still be embroiled in the Afghanistan war at the end of the next decade.

Balancing technology, structures, career paths

Unsurprisingly, there were a range of different views on how the military and other institutions should and could adapt to such an unpredictable future. Some questioned to what extent traditional military “pyramid” shaped hierarchies could possibly adapt [although Lieutenant General Lamb argued that while flatter hierarchies have their strengths, outright conflict required much greater resilience than they could offer].

While traditional Western militaries concentrated on traditional war fighting [phase 1 operations and upwards, in UK military terminology], many of the West’s adversaries were becoming much more adept at operating below that threshold, within “phase zero” operations. That trend was only likely to intensify in the years to come, he argued.

Most attendees felt that keeping pace with current changes in cyber and other domains was proving challenging enough, but relatively near-future breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and machine learning was felt set to provide even greater changes. While current drone warfare has actually proved very “human intensive” given the number of intelligence and other individuals involved in targeting and assessment, there will be inevitable moves towards artificial intelligence performing some if not many of those tasks. Where lines are drawn – particularly on the decisions to take human life – will be highly contested, and non-Western potential foes may be much more willing than ourselves to take such steps. [”The Russians tend to trust machines more than they trust people,” said Elizabeth Quintana, pointing to a trend she traced back to Soviet times].

Integration and flexibility would be key to handling these new trends. Lamb said he expected a special forces team of the near future would also be integrated with robotic/artificial intelligence capabilities – although what exactly that would look like was another matter.

Some attendees questioned whether the modern British Military was truly flexible enough to keep track of such new trends – although there was clearly plenty of enthusiasm for doing so.

Building the systems and processes for that would be key. As US military historian Thomas Ricks [himself paraphrasing US General Omar Bradley] once said, while might talks tactics, professionals talk logistics, real insiders focus on career structures to determine what really gets done.

Taking the debate forward

This event was the first of several planned by PS21 to explore the world of 2030 [you can read a range of pieces exploring that world on the PS21 website here]. We will also be holding further events with BrAIN later this year and into 2018.

Check out upcoming PS21 events here.

FURTHER READING interviews US analyst Peter Singer on the future of warfare

Peter Apps is Reuters global affairs columnist and executive Director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century. He is also a reservist in the British Army and member of the UK Labour Party. You can follow him on Twitter here

PS21 Report: The Dark Web


  • The Dark Web is not fundamentally evil, though it can be used in ways that are morally reprehensible
  • Our privacy has been largely compromised in the age of the Internet, but the Dark Web offers confidentiality to both good and bad people
  • In light of the need to protect civil liberties, there are actually many legitimate uses of the dark web
  • At the same time, we have seen no end to the horrendous crimes facilitated by the Dark Web
  • Law enforcement faces immense difficulties in keeping up with the complexity of the crimes committed on the Dark Web, especially in terms of the ambiguity of jurisdiction
  • We might hope to differentiate between good and bad uses of the Dark Web with advances in psychological analyses and the modernization of existing legislation

On Monday 21st September, Project for the Study of the 21st Century hosted a panel discussion on the dark web.

Please feel free to quote from the report below citing PS21. Contact if you wish to reach any of the participants.

Metsa Rahimi (Moderator): Regional head of intelligence, Deutsche Bank

John Bassett: Former GCHQ official, now at Oxford Univeristy

Tim Hardy: Technical writer, commentator and activist

Mike Gillespie: Director of cyber research and strategy, The Security Institute

The Dark Web is essentially an underlying level of the Internet that enables anonymous access to users. While the Dark Web may be employed in complex capacities to thwart authorities and potentially manipulate national security, this is simply a technology that offers concealed operation of the Internet.

Tim Hardy: Most Internet traffic is “dark” because it is not indexed. That’s what [the Dark Web] really means. It’s the unindexed web and anyone above a certain age remembers in the days before Google, most of the Internet was dark. If you didn’t know the address of a website, you weren’t going to find it. But the term Dark Web or Dark Internet is used in a very casual way by journalists.

John Bassett: I think you’ve got, in simplistic terms, an evolutionary chain. At the bottom of that chain, there are ordinary, decent criminals (as we used to call them) doing ordinary, decent criminal things on the Internet not very well. At the next stage up we have Law Enforcement who are generally stopping these ordinary criminals but are completely thrown by what I call the Dark Ones, the much more sophisticated people who think they can master the Dark Internet. The fourth level is national security, which at the moment is vastly ahead of the most advanced hacktivists but are very, very busy with other stuff. I think the size of the relative gaps between the ordinary criminals, law enforcement, the Dark Net people, and the national security apparatus gives you a sense of the pace of evolution in cyber security

The Internet has deeply eroded our sense of privacy. The Dark Web actually provides a channel through which to conduct your affairs without fear of scrutiny.

Mike Gillespie: The challenge here is that the Internet has opened up a huge amount of opportunities for communications, for doing business, for global problems, and all sorts of things. It’s also completely eroded the privacy that we used to enjoy. You know, maybe we have crossed the point of no return when it comes to privacy because we now live in an era where Apple and Google and the Android Foundation and organizations like this implicitly believe that they have a right to your privacy.

So we have, “the dark net.” Yeah, it sounds really evil, “the dark net.” It’s basically just an underlying level of the Internet, allowing secure, anonymous use of Internet. It actually allows Google and Apple not to see what you’re doing, if you configure it right.

The technology, in and of itself, is not fundamentally evil. Rather, certain individuals use the Dark Web maliciously.

Hardy: There is evil material out there and there are evil people in the world. I think we’ve got to be careful not to conflate the technology with the way some people are using it. There are many legitimate uses of these kinds of uses. I mean Tor comes out of American military research…it was developed and continues to be funded by government US sources because it has a legitimate function; there is a legitimate role for privacy.

Gillespie: Technology is just technology. And it will always be used by both good people and bad people. But what the dark net does do is it give us a secure and anonymous way of using the Internet for communications, and business and research and it allows a whole load of people in parts of the world where they would not be able to use these technologies to get their message out to the world. So, let’s not demonize it because of a small number of people.

You could have argued back in the 1800s that because there was slavery, we should’ve stopped people from using cargo ships. Actually, it’s not the technology, it’s not the communication method, it’s not the trade process that is the problem. It’s understanding, actually what’s the underlying reason why this crime is happening? And fixing that. Because, otherwise, everything else is just sticking plasters. And what we’re actually doing is putting a sticking plaster on a gangrene sore.

We must be careful to differentiate between legitimate uses of the Dark Web, and those that may not be morally acceptable.

Gillespie: Fundamentally, actually a vast number of users on the dark net are not pedophiles and criminals and terrorists. They’re people in oppressed regimes, they are using it as a means of getting their blogs out, getting their messaging out. It’s used by academics and researchers. It’s used by R&D organizations. It’s used by the public. It’s used by parents in many cases to protect their children from the evil that is corporate foundations that are looking to steal their identity and use their information. So actually, there’s a huge amount of legitimate usage on the dark net.

Hardy: Hardy: There’s a dual function here. It enables people to push beyond what is acceptable and that can be a terrible thing but it’s also healthy for societies. I think the more we communicate, the more people talk about things, the better – even in cases of extremism. We’re not going to stop extremist political narratives by denying people a voice. It is better to draw people out and get them talking and to start challenging their ideas. If we drive people into isolation and close off all channels, then it becomes self-fulfilling.

The danger of saying we are going to outlaw a tool that could be used for terrible things is that it also suggests that we have reached the end of history and we are not going to change any more. There are arguments about drugs. Another notorious thing about the Dark Web was the website Silk Road, which was basically an eBay for drugs – some would argue that is the end game for the War on Drugs – but it is only if we have already decided that drugs are a bad thing – that the world is fixed, that we have reached the end of history and know what is morally correct – it’s only if that is the case that we don’t need spaces where people can experiment and take risks and do things that are currently illegal or on the edge.

The Internet has actually empowered individuals operating against oppressive regimes. Yet, the Dark Web has in turn strengthened the capacity of the state to identify and penalize dissidents operating undercover.

Bassett: 25 years ago, we sat there at the end of the Cold War and wondered, what is going to happen next? How is it going to play out? One of the themes was the possible diminishing roles of the state. On the contrary, I now fear that one of the things the Internet will become is something that very much strengthens the power of authoritarian states at the expense of individual.

In a liberal democracy, we should always be cautious about the power of the state and the degree of oversight of that. And that’s where most of us here today are. But this bleak future is a global one especially in those states that aren’t particularly democratic, or aren’t at all democratic. This future looks really good for authoritarians, and there’s a small example of this just in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, in which protesters made extensive use of social media which in the aftermath was immensely useful to secret policemen who were soon busy with their pliers and knives. An authoritarian regime can find out who the trouble-makers are and too often are doing and have taken them all away.

Law enforcement officials face many obstacles when targeting cyber criminals on the Dark Net.

Bassett: One of the problems we have at the moment, perhaps the one that the Dark Net brings most immediately to mind, is the challenge for law enforcement organizations to really get a grip on technically sophisticated cyber criminals. That’s quite a wide gap and it’s problematic. That has both impact on the individuals, but particularly on the business sector. If a bad guy really gets to the level to be a threat to national security then the game is over very quickly.

Gillespie: Jurisdiction is a massive issue, you know? Actually, the police are behind the curve when it comes to prosecuting basic cybercrime on the Internet, let alone managing the issue of criminality on the dark net. We know that here in the UK we are massively behind the curve, and we struggle to understand, we can’t even join it up across different counties, let alone across different countries. When you get mugged in the street, the location of the crime, the victim, and the perpetrator is where? It’s a street, yeah? When you get mugged online, where are you? Where are you when you’re online? Is it where you sat physically, or is it where you were working electronically? Where is the criminal? Where is the actual crime taking place, and whose jurisdiction does all of that fall upon? Actually, that’s the biggest problem. We have no strategic approach to deal with this holistically and globally.

Developments in psychological analyses and the modernization of existing legislation can help to identify good versus evil on the Dark Web.

Bassett: We look at Breivik, the mass murderer, and see what other characteristics such a person has on the Internet. How can we spot this behaviour before it ends up resulting in mass murder? And people are likely to identify such trends either using behavioural psychology or just using sheer quantative analysis of previous behaviour. Depending on the acceptability of false negatives and false positives, it’s not hard to imagine having a system that scans the data to identify people that have characteristics, whether quantative or psychological, of someone who may become a mass murderer.

There’s a body of legislation from the 1990s which was written and debated by people who barely used the Internet, and which is now antiquated… The Anderson position is, crudely speaking as I understand it, that there is neither too much nor too little interception going on, but that the legislation for it is scattered all over the place. I think if it is purely a modernizing bill, I would think that should claim support across the House, frankly… The idea of a bill, which is purely a modernizing bill, and keeps essentially the same capabilities, recognizing we are now in 2015 and not in 1995, I think is a good thing, something we should welcome whatever our position on civil liberties and so on.

Report by Amanda Blair. Transcript by Amanda Blair and Yaseen Lotfi.

PS21 Report: Lessons from recent humanitarian disasters

2015-09-10 04.28.00

    • The 2015 Nepal Earthquake was not the earthquake that authorities and aid agencies were preparing for
    • Increased urbanisation in developing states is posing new challenges to humanitarian organisations generally, but the extremely rural Nepalese villages and difficult terrain posed the biggest challenge to relief efforts
    • The influx of foreign aid workers in the immediate aftermath of a disaster can be counterproductive to relief efforts
    • Political alliances and rivalries continue to play out in disaster response actions
    • Aid agencies each carry their own agenda, which can get in the way of efficiency
    • Cash distribution is becoming a preferred form of relief and development

    On September 10, 2015, Project for the Study of the 21st Century, in conjunction with the European Interagency Security Forum, held a panel discussion on lessons from recent humanitarian disasters.

    Please feel free to quote from the report below citing PS21. Contact if you wish to reach any of the participants

    Chair: Tom Beazley: PS21 Company Secretary

    David Sanderson: Professor, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

    Dan Cooke: Operations Director, Serve On

    Kate Gray: Senior Programme Manager, Options Consultancy Service

    Barnaby Willitts-King: Research Fellow, Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute

    The last earthquake in Nepal was outside living memory for most of the population, which hindered earthquake preparedness.

    Sanderson: This is a place where there is a lot of preparedness, a lot of clever people have worked for a long time and at the same time this earthquake took people by surprise.

    Gray: I think part of the reason Nepal hadn’t got the housing stock that it should have and the buildings weren’t in the state they should have been despite risks is exactly because of the gap in time from the last massive earthquake to this one, that’s more than a lifetime’s and past living memory, so the fear is abstract.

    Chile, for example, has been very effective and has very forcefully policed implementation of laws around housing and construction, and as a result it’s much better prepared than Nepal was… [The] frequency of earthquakes in Chile has meant that fear, imperative, and pressure from civil society remains quite high, whereas in Nepal actually you had an entire generation of people who never experienced a big earthquake so the social pressure doesn’t build up to force action in the same way.

    Willetts-King:  I lived over there for a few years and (an earthquake) was what they were planning for and preparing for. And yet, despite that, the initial response was chaotic, uncoordinated.

    You have to look at the institutions that you have, the building codes, and more importantly the culture around that in terms of people realising it’s important, and that’s partly enforcement and partly changing the way people are educated, and that’s to do with getting people into schools.

    The difficult terrain posed one of the biggest problems to relief efforts. The impact on rural communities was unexpected, as most preparations were based on the assumption that an earthquake would hit Kathmandu.

    Cooke: It became apparent quite early that it wasn’t as bad as the terrible one that unfortunately we were expecting – the structure was slightly different.

    So it’s an extremely complex place to work because the roads have all slipped off the side of the mountain and there weren’t helicopters early enough and I’d say that more than any other place we’ve been we were expecting chaos but it could have been worse.

    Sanderson: This earthquake happened in Gorkha districts in the North West about 80km, something like that, throughout the valley, so this was not a disaster than anybody was getting ready for.

    What’s apparent is that the earthquake’s damage is particularly visible in rural areas, and of course many of those are far flung, they’re hard to get to, it may take days hiking to find many of these places. And not yet all have been reached by aid agencies. So there’s a complexity of the terrain, a difficulty in terms of access, the monsoon season is upon us and winter is coming and other climate issues of course with snow, so there’s a real need right now to address and to look at those issues.

    In Nepal it’s been really hard because of the terrain, you double the costs of material just by trying to get it somewhere, with transportation you just double that cost.

    The huge influx of foreign aid workers can pose issues for relief efforts. The differing agendas of each group create competition between relief organisations that can be counterproductive. This was identified as a central issue in most disaster response efforts.

    Cooke: We were about the fourth team to formerly arrive. Obviously everyone thinks that British and American forces are the first to respond, but also Indian troops were right in there, China, and by the time our team had returned from the rural areas that we went to, there wasn’t a country that didn’t seem to have a team there and a set of aeroplanes lined up and all sorts of things filling the space.

    Teams were queuing up to try and find jobs. The best way to describe is these people want to help, they want to make a difference, they’ve got a big team, there’s a big hotel there, lots of cameras and that’s why we do our things.

    There are a lot of egos, there’s a lot of people in fighting, there’s a lot of people who need to justify either representing their country, or their sponsor organisation, or whatever.

    Willitts-King: The way the system works is very much stuff gets sent and so you do end up with lots of really great motivated hard working people who want to help but it doesn’t necessarily add up to what you would design if you started from scratch and you end up with lots of people and inflated rents because you’ve got so many foreigners coming, you end up with the airport being rammed full. I think the key to it goes back to being better prepared and the government and local authorities being in charge.

    Sanderson: There is a tension for agencies on the one hand, and there is a need for branding and marketing and that’s understood, that’s part of the media age we’re in where we can take photographs and stream movies and that’s understood, and of course at the same time there’s the collective effort of the coordination.

    Gray: The donor response, like the NGO and relief agency response, was very immediate.  Each donor government brings its own agenda and desire to help in a particular way; its own modus operandi.

    There is a lot of competition between agencies to work in some areas. To take one particular example from the health sector,  a huge amount of damage was done to health infrastructure. Building a hospital or a health facility is a visually very impactful thing to do, and it’s very important as well.  As a result construction work is quite an attractive are of work for lots of agencies and organisations and there is competition to provide this supprot.

    International organisations need to learn to recognise and accept when they are not needed, or when they are interfering with the recovery process rather than assisting.

    Willitts-King I think that Nepal had the same experience as Haiyan and the Philippines and countries affected by the tsunami in 2004 where coordinating the international response was as overwhelming as the actual natural disaster. Certainly, if you look at the Philippines, the typhoon that happened a year after Haiyan, the government of the Philippines said “actually we don’t want any international help because you’re distracting us from the response because we’re having to manage all of you.” That’s a pretty bad indictment.

    Gray: So in some cases I think that withdrawal is what’s needed, by doing jobs that people can do themselves you’re not actually helping things in the long term.  However, there does need to be that sudden influx of support in very particular areas. I welcome that move out after that initial phase of emergency relief is complete.

    Cooke:  If a government has got a UN coordination system and has said no more of these please, a responsible organisation should be able to do it, whereas the amount of diplomatic twisting and turning and the reasons why we couldn’t carry on for a little bit, with people still arriving 24, 48 hours after it happened – exactly what was asked not to happen – is a bit unfair and selfish.

    While the Nepalese Government’s response has been widely criticised, it is nonetheless crucial to relief and rebuilding efforts.

    Gray: I think the government has come under a fair amount of criticism following the earthquake and the talk of an earthquake has always been there, that’s been a constant background to the country’s and government’s thinking as a whole so I think there was a conference on earthquake preparedness two weeks before the earthquake hit and the findings were not so prepared, was the conclusion, and I think that’s more enactive in their experience in the following months.

    Sanderson: The Nepalese government enacted NEOC (National Emergency Operation Centre) within 4 hours of the disaster. There’s an awful lot of preparedness on that level and it “worked” in terms of immediacy of getting together and organising and starting to do things.

    The government is in the driving seat, certainly in the early stages, it’s very clearly on the record that the government made some decisions then reversed those decisions and changed some decisions. And so agencies seeking to work in that context were dealt an extra level of complexity when it relates to how to work in those areas.

    The actions of local governments and local organisations in affected areas are essential to the response.

    Gray: The local governments in individual affected districts, those coordinating groups, are essential as well as the centrally managed government.  That is the level at which the reality of coordination is realised.

    Willetts-King: The role of local organisations is very important. Communities are the first responders, local organisations, there’s been a real change in Nepal in terms of the solidarity between communities which has been really notable but again how do you get all these different moving parts, the local, the national, the regional, the international, together?

    I think the role of the international community is to share best practice and customise it to the local situation and fund it. I think with Nepal there was a lot of work with institutional change, funding things, but it could only go so far because of the politics of the country.

    The post-war context of Nepal has also distracted from earthquake preparedness. The lack of constitution and weak political structures prevent the implementation of proactive policies.

    Willetts-King:  It’s really important to remember where Nepal has come from in terms of having had 10 years of civil war, there’s still a very weak government, very contested politics, no constitution, which just had all these ramifications and structures which we take for granted in more stable countries in terms of the ability to deal with preparedness as a community level because the bodies to do this really aren’t in place as a result of the constitution.

    When you’ve got a country that’s emerging from civil war it’s still very conflicts politics, [which makes it difficult] to get politicians to really focus on something that is a far off abstract concept.

    Humanitarian disasters are not immune to international political rivalries. However, states are generally able to put aside political differences for humanitarian reasons.

    Willetts King: The humanitarian landscape is getting more complicated. China is particularly as an enabler but is taking a really big new role in India, and a hugely important one in Nepal.

    Those bilateral relationships are really important and an interesting comparison with Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, where China was really heavily criticised for pledging half a million dollars for that response in the region. And came under a lot of criticism for playing politics because of the political disputes they were having in the region with the Philippines. I think what you see in Nepal, and there’s been different takes on it, but the rivalry between India and China plays out in Nepal in all sorts of different ways in terms of vying for influence.

    Cooke: I’d say though in terms of teams talking to each other and being civil and productive and helpful was better than any other disasters that I’ve been in that situation and I did see China, Russia, USA, India, Israeli Defence Force, the Gulf states, Polish Turkish all around the big table and all in a big meeting almost as easy as this is at the moment.

    Willetts-King: Natural disasters are, for governments wanting to show support and solidarity, are a very straightforward way to demonstrate support, at a human level, but also politically. And so compared to engaging in Syria or the complex politics of conflict, responding to natural disasters is politically more straightforward.

    Increased urbanisation in developing countries is changing the function of aid agencies. However, in Nepal, the mix of urban centres and extremely remote villages poses a unique challenge to recovery and rebuilding systems design.

    Sanderson: Cities are growing around the world by a million people a week, and it’s almost unbelievable. If the UN habitats are right it’s around 180,000 people a day and it’s a throw of the dice actually whether you think that’s good or bad.

    There are thousands [of cities], tens of thousands probably, at risk of climate and flood, earthquake, and there will be more cities growing a week and we need to rethink how we do this and take it seriously.

    Aid agencies talk about “field work”… but it’s not field work, its neighbourhood work, and that’s the difference and the shift. It’s learning about new tools and especially since the Haiti earthquake that was a big wakeup call. It is a new landscape, it’s the cityscape.

    Gray: Urbanisation does require a big shift in the way that services are delivered.  Often primary healthcare is structured around the idea that you have these clinics that people travel to from afar and there’s only one and you make sure that it can provide one service. When working in an urban environment actually you’ve got a mix of public providers, public providers, the competition is a lot more real and it requires very different systems, delivery, design and approach.

    In Nepal I think there’s a very particular balance whereby there’s urbanisation to a huge extent, but you’ve also at the same time got incredibly remote communities, remote in a way that remote communities aren’t remote in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa or Asia, they’re up a mountain, four days walk over Everest, somewhere else.

    The process of rebuilding has improved dramatically through lessons from previous disasters and technological developments.

    Gray: The transition phase now is about “building back better”.  That is the government’s catchphrase – which captures how they’re trying to ensure so that the humanitarian response, and the reconstruction isn’t just about replacing what was there before or a quick cut to what’s needed in the immediate aftermath, but to actually ensuring that what is returning is better than what was there in the first place.

    Sanderson: There’s been less transitional shelter and more a delivery of goods, especially CGI (corrugated iron) and that’s good and bad. It’s good because it’s cheap and durable, you can deliver it stacked up and distribute it and that’s the bulk response. The problem is its hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and it rusts, and doesn’t last very long, but then people are clever to reuse it.

    Mobile smart phones are a powerful thing, the use of smart phone technology for assessments where we could quickly send information back very quickly that’s very powerful.

    Cash transfers are increasingly becoming the preferred method of post-disaster development.

    Sanderson: The real game changer was cash. Giving people money, cash transfers, it sounds obvious, give people money. It’s very powerful because the transaction costs are super low, you can be super-efficient, you can give people more autonomy to do things… I bet in five years’ time will be the one where cash was even more mainstream and even higher.

    You know Typhoon Haiyan, the World Food Programme was number one way of doing this now – donating people food, donating people cash, that’s the way things are done now. Cash is as important as food and water.

    Disasters such as the 2015 Nepal Earthquake should be grasped as opportunities for building policies as well as rebuilding physical structures.

    Sanderson: There’s no Natural Disaster Management Act that’s been discussed since 2007. So there is an opportunity there, given these terrible events that have happened, to actually come out with a world class Disasters Management Act. Why shouldn’t that be an outcome of this terrible event?

    Report by Claire Connellan. Transcript by Fiona Slater.

PS21 Report: Managing Tensions in Asia

President of China Xi Jinping meets with Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte.
President of China Xi Jinping meets with Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte.

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  • Despite rising tensions in South China Sea, conflict is unlikely
  • But having a presence there allows China to project military power and enhance its claim to sovereignty
  • Rest of region is wary of Beijing’s activity but reluctant to jeopardize relationships with China
  • Domestic concerns and economic conditions may cause China to back down, but not a guarantee

On August 6, 2015, Project for the Study of the 21st Century held a discussion on regional tensions and avoiding conflict in Asia.

Please feel free to quote from the report below citing PS21. Contact if you wish to reach any of the participants.

Chair: Milena Rodban: independent geopolitical risk consultant

Harry Kazianis: Executive Editor, The National Interest. Senior Fellow for Defense Policy, Center for the National Interest.

Scott Cheney-Peters: Chairman, Centre for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC).

Shannon Tiezzi: Managing Editor, The Diplomat.

While conflict in the South China Sea is unlikely in the near future, tensions will remain high as China becomes an increasingly dominant force in those waters.

Kazianis: Do I think that there is going to be some sort of conflict or war between the U.S. and China over the South China Sea? No, not really. Do I think that there will be conflict between some of the major parties like, say, China and the Philippines, or China and Vietnam? No, but there probably will be skirmishes. There probably will be tensions. I think that’s pretty clear. I think, as you sort of watch the progression of events in the South China Sea, it’s very clear that within the next five years, if trend lines continue the way they are, China will be the de facto master of the South China Sea.

As China continues to make gains in the South China Sea, Beijing’s behavior will become ever more confrontational.

Cheney-Peters: If China has de facto control of the South China Sea or wants to start exerting that control, there is a lot of things it can do that are much more aggressive. Fisheries enforcement as it starts to get that capability. We just had a South China Sea war game with the think tank that I help run and one of the more interesting ideas that come out of that was if China wants to also then subvert instead of just force all of the other foreign nationals and their fishing vessels and keep them away from exploitation, it could subvert that instead and say, “You are welcome to fish here, but you need to have license by us and it’s free so here you go.”

China’s activity in the South China Sea will enhance its capacity to project military power and provide the muscle needed to back Beijing’s claims to sovereignty in the region.

Tiezzi: China is using their fishermen’s presence to sort of establish that they have a presence here and that they send their coastguard ships to back that up. So the Chinese I’m sure would say that’s not military, but when you have a standoff like the Scarborough Shoal, it sure seems from the Philippines point of view like a military threat is being brought to bear.

Kazianis: China is building deep harbors, helipads, barracks, and lookout posts on all these different islands. This allows to them to not only to project military power, but to create the conditions of sovereignty over that 9-dash line. Now…the last couple days, I’ve checked in on my friends in Beijing. Some of them are retired PLA. I won’t get into branches or specifics, but in their opinion, this is not government policy but their own personal opinion, is that by 2018, China will have the capability to at least declare an Air Defense Identification Zone in the South China Sea. Now, it is very to declare it than it is to actually implement it. So, from what people have told me, again retired PLA officials, is that sometime by 2025, they would then the capability to actually enforce it.

Tensions in the South China Sea have evidenced clear contradictions between Beijing’s behavior and its stated policy goals. Such discrepancies may actually have a positive effect on China’s approach, potentially pushing the PRC towards greater cooperation.

Tiezzi: I think China was hoping that it could use the maritime Silk Road as its carrot to get the other countries to accept was it was doing in the security realm. That hasn’t happened. These countries are more concerned about China’s actions than Beijing was hoping. You’re seeing more movement towards the beginnings of unity, where ASEAN begins to say, “No. We really do need a code of conduct. We need some guidelines for this.”

There is a little bit of tension between the military / strategic side and the more diplomacy-minded foreign policy side. We’re starting to see a little bit of pushback from the foreign policy wonks in China who are saying, “You are jeopardizing your own major foreign policy initiative. The maritime Silk Road is not getting anywhere because of these tensions. We need to reevaluate our approach to the South China Sea.”

Kazianis: I think it is very natural for China, being the second largest economic power on the planet in terms of GDP, to want to start to offer some sort of public goods…But, I think at the same time, a lot of these different measures are looked at through the prism of all these different confrontational problems, whether we’re talking about the South China Sea, whether we’re talking about the East China Sea, whether we’re talking about China’s military buildup or its anti-access, area denial, or all these things that we talk about.

Deteriorating economic conditions may alter China’s attitude towards the South China Sea; domestic concerns may override Beijing’s desire to project its influence externally, rather than prompt an exacerbation of tensions.

Tiezzi: There is the theory of economic trauma — that global leaders like to stir up nationalism to take people’s minds off it. I’m more of the theory that as China’s economic and domestic situation gets worse, they are going to want a more stable external environment. We’re probably not going to see a major olive branch immediately, but they might just say, “Okay. We’re not going to focus on the South China Sea right now. We need to get our economic house in order.” That’s always going to be their priority number one.

On the other hand, a worsening internal situation does not guarantee a change in the course of China’s behavior.

Kazianis: What if China keeps meddling through? What happens if they make changes around the edges in terms of their economic policy and don’t make a tremendous push towards domestic consumption…? What if they just decide to muddle through? For me…I think their foreign policy decisions will muddle through. I think they will use in different formats and domains to sort of let the population have some victories and say, “Ah ha! We are doing something in the South China Sea and the East China Sea,” and let some of that domestic steam get boiled over a little bit.

Interpretations of international law often vary widely amongst the different stakeholders.

Tiezzi: The U.S. is interested in seeing international law upheld. They’re very concerned that China, by insisting on international plus historical rights, is putting those two on equal par which means international law can be subverted when you feel that you have a historical claim to the region.

While the DPP candidate has promised to uphold the constitution which is code for uphold the One-China policy and the ROCs territorial claims, there has been talk of rethinking the 9 dash line, or the 10 dash line from Taiwan’s point of view, to make it in accordance with international law because, I think, Taiwan is more willing to admit than Beijing is that it is not currently in accordance with international law.

Cheney-Peters: The Philippines took a case to the permanent court of arbitration at The Hague… They’re now analyzing it and they’re expected to rule first on the jurisdiction: whether they have the ability to rule on the merits of the case. It’s kind of a dual track approach that they’re taking. What I’ve heard at least is that they’re at least likely to rule in favor that they have jurisdiction and are also likely to take the Philippines case which is not that the Philippines have sovereignty necessarily to a bunch of these islands, but that China’s 9-dash line is not a valid construct within the international law community.

Many of China’s neighbors are hesitant to confront Beijing’s aggression, especially due to a strong dependence on economic relations with China.

Cheney-Peters: Singapore and Malaysia…are claimants, but they are likely to be not as confrontational as some of the other claimant states. Those often try to make sure that their relationship with China is not endangered by tensions in the South China Sea.

ASEAN, as an organization, can play a role, but it’s mostly been a very minimal role as of late, in part because you have other countries within ASEAN such a Laos and Cambodia, who are seen as aligned with the Chinese point of view and aren’t claimant states so they really prioritize their relationship with China.

Kazianis: Keep in mind, China is the biggest trading partner with basically all the countries around it. That ties these countries to China. At the same time, with all these different security problems, a lot of these countries are very concerned about if they start joining all these different Chinese-backed organizations, does that lock them into some sort of Chinese-led order in the long term?

Other countries in the region are more wary of Beijing’s initiatives in the South China Sea, and have been more vocal about their concerns. Several states have turned to joint initiatives as a response to the growing threat of a more assertive China.

Tiezzi: I think Japan has similar concerns as does India. They both also have this attention and rivalry with China in general, but they are concerned about issues closer to home. India is concerned about what China is doing in the Indian Ocean. Japan is obviously concerned about the East China Sea. They project those fears onto the South China Sea and they see this as a way where they can work together as an international community to teach China where the limits are.

Despite recent militarization of the region, an arms race in the South China Sea is not inevitable.

Kazianis: Is it an arms race? Are these countries arming missile for missile, gun for gun, ship for ship? No. because they can’t compete with China, I mean Japan maybe but that would be sort of tough at this point. I think what we’re really facing is a security dilemma. It’s a classic security dilemma.

Tiezzi: You’re definitely seeing these countries scrambling to not match China, but find ways to deter China. The Philippines is partnering with the U.S. and Japan to try and bulk up its military capabilities. Vietnam is getting submarines from Russia, now potentially looking at getting military supplies from the U.S. as well. And I think a lot of these countries are seeing now how militarily powerful China has grown and they’re starting to see what China might be willing to do in the South China Sea and they’re concerned. So they’re bulking up their own militaries. I don’t know if anyone thinks that conflict is inevitable. But when you have all of these countries equipping their militaries it certainly makes possible skirmishes, confrontations, possibly a repeat of the incident where you have a collision between the surveillance planes and the fighter jets.

Extra-regional actors, including the United States, advocate “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea. Intentions for doing so are not purely commercial, but are also mindful of the military advantages of maintaining the freedom of the seas.

Cheney-Peters: “Freedom of navigation” is…not usually the literal navigation of commercial vessels going through. It tends more to be about what are the rights of military vessels. That’s typically what is actually at stake. That being said, in the event of a conflict, it certainly helps if you have your military and your bases a lot closer to where the commercial navigation traffic could go through. So, even though it’s not necessarily that navigation, in the event of a conflict that could lead to something. The extra-regional power’s interests mostly lie with making sure they have that commercial traffic, freedom of navigation, that aspect. But what’s typically at stake has more to do with the military activities in the region.

Washington may draw from a number of policy approaches to hold China accountable for its actions.

Kazianis: I think the first thing you need to do, for any administration, is you have to show up. And I think a lot of our allies and partners, they’re very aware when we miss an East Asia summit or an important meeting.

The second thing you do, in combination to this, is you have to really button down and strengthen our alliances. That means working as much as possible with Japan, the Philippines, almost a de facto ally in Vietnam, working with India as much as possible, I think we have to work a lot closer with Australia.

If those things don’t work, there is one last card you can play. It’s a little dangerous, it’s a little risky, but when we think about China and the discussions we have about China, there’s two conversations: the security conversation and there’s the economic conversation. And the economic conversation is, by and large, very positive: $570 billion bilateral trade relationship with China, both countries by and large have gotten very rich. Specifically China has gotten very rich. Then we have the security situation which is not very good… Maybe it’s time these conversations become a little more closely linked.

Cheney-Peters: I do think that there could be greater use of and following through on establishing a maritime domain awareness, architecturally. And a lot of people like Patrick Crohn at CNS talk about casting position strategies, showing “okay, here’s an actual cost that is going to be imposed upon you for militarizing or taking these actions.” And not necessarily a linkage, because I’m not sure that a linkage is necessarily a good thing that the U.S. should do in terms of tying it into other issues, another economic realm or cyber-security realm, just because that could be something that China then reverts to as well. So it’s kind of a double-edged sword but I think that the U.S. has a lot of things that it could do that it hasn’t yet done.

Whatever the incoming administration, policy towards China is not altogether decided, especially because campaign rhetoric does not often match reality.

Kazianis: I haven’t heard a lot of Asia-talk out of the candidates… But I think it’s safe to say, I think all their rhetoric, once it comes out, will be a lot tougher on China, what actually happened when they go to the Oval Office in 2017 is a very different question. I think we can all agree that the rhetoric is different when that person has to get in that chair and start making all those life or death decisions. So I think the jury is still out.

Tiezzi: When [the candidates] talk about China, they’re not talking about China, they’re talking about America. Our economy is going down, we’re losing all global influence, our military is getting weaker relative to the rest of the world. I’m not convinced any of these candidates really understand the factors that are at play, particularly in the South China Sea or with the US-China relationship, with the obvious exception of Hillary Clinton since she served as Secretary of State and dealt with this on a daily basis.

The United States is not pursuing an explicit policy of containment towards China, but should be careful not to aggravate Beijing by constricting China’s growth in an effort to maximize Washington’s own influence in the region.

Tiezzi: For obvious reasons, the U.S. right now has more power than China, has more influence, they don’t want to give that up. And so that is a fundamental tension in the relationship. And I think that the Chinese have valid concerns there about how the U.S. is saying “we welcome your rise,” but then they’re not supporting China having a greater role in the IMF and these other financial institutions. I don’t like the word containment, but there is a fundamental problem there.

Cheney-Peters: The U.S. could take a greater effort in highlighting the cases where the non-Chinese claimant states are doing things that it disagrees with. Where non-Chinese claimant states are maybe making excessive claims or otherwise taking provocative action. But that could be buoyed so that the U.S. could show that we’re trying to be even handed.

Report by Amanda Blair. Transcript by Claire Connellan and Christopher Stephens.

PS21 Report: A Conversation with Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer

Ian Bremmer discusses the future of American foreign relations at a PS21 discussion in July.
Ian Bremmer discusses the future of American foreign relations at a PS21 discussion in July.

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  • American foreign policy too cautious and without a clear strategy
  • US overreaction to 9/11 means it will overreact to other events, but with a different global standing
  • Ultimately, foreign policy leaders must choose a path and stick to it
  • An independent America that is diplomatic but realistic seems the most logical option

On July 14, Project for Study of the 21st Century held a discussion with Ian Bremmer on the future of American foreign policy. Ian Bremmer is the president of political risk firm Eurasia Group and the author of Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World.

Please feel free to quote from this report citing PS21. You can watch a video of the discussion here.

The United States has lacked a clear foreign policy strategy since the fall of the Soviet Union. Instead, risk aversion and overreaction have dominated American attitudes towards overseas threats.

Bremmer: I still don’t think [the current administration] has a strategy. And I don’t blame just Obama for that. I think it’s really been since the end of the Cold War. I think we’ve been both risk averse, and then over-reactive. And if we had a strategy, it’s those two things. And I would argue that the single biggest damage that’s been done to the United States in terms of our opposition in the world, since the Soviet Union collapsed, has been our massive overreaction to 9/11. So it was self-inflicted.

When I travel around the world and I meet with the foreign ministers of all our allies, they all say, “we don’t know what you guys want. We don’t know if you’re committed to us, we don’t know if you’re engaged.” And that obviously is going to lead to an awful lot of hedging strategies.

Especially in the context of a changing international environment, the self-inflicted harm of massive overreaction may jeopardize U.S. global standing.

Bremmer: At least after 9/11, that massive overreaction which cost so many lives–our own and of course so many more outside the United States–it cost so much money, it was so counterproductive in so many ways, at least that happened in an environment where the United States was very strong, and where the transatlantic relationship was very strong, and Europe was pretty coherent, and the Russians were somewhat oriented to support us, and the Chinese were pretty small. And, most of those things don’t hold as much now. So, I’m very worried about the next thing that we massively overreact to.

And I’m not saying terrorism, it could be cyber, it could be climate, it could be anything, it could be MRSA, I mean who knows? But there will be something and we’ll massively overreact to it, but we’ll overreact to it in a radically different geopolitical position. And I worry that in the absence, in the continued absence of coherent foreign policy strategy, that that’s going to hurt. And it’s not just going to hurt for like a year. That could fundamentally damage the long-term position that we have in the world.

So it’s clear that U.S. strategy has to change. Bremmer offers three distinct foreign policy outlooks that the United States might adopt in an effort to improve its position on the world stage.

Bremmer: The first choice, Indispensable America, is the one that we’re most used to. It’s the idea that America may not want to be the world’s policeman, but if we do not lead, no one else will… Furthermore, it’s not just about that. It’s about assertively supporting American-led global institutions, American-led alliances, and promoting our values internationally.

The idea behind Moneyball is that…instead of focusing on American values, run America more like a corporation. Look at the value that you’re going to get for the American voter on the basis of what you extend internationally. So the U.S. will have a very assertive international policy, but it’s going to really spend the vast majority of its effort in the places where we’re going to get the biggest return.

And Independent America basically says, look. Those first two strategies sound great. But if you are not prepared to actually live up to them, don’t say them. In other words, don’t tell the Ukrainians you’re going to support them when you’re not. Don’t say that Assad must go when you have no actual policy to make it happen. Do not say that ISIS must be destroyed when all you plan on doing is containing it, because you’re going to lose a lot of credibility and you’re going to hurt your alliances. Instead, recognize that you’re going to use 21st century levers of coercive diplomacy, which are much more unilateral in their application.

Although he encourages readers (and politicians) to draw their own conclusions, Bremmer himself chooses Independent America, albeit reluctantly, as the most logical approach for U.S. foreign policy.

Bremmer: If I wanted to be really cute and cheap, and something I don’t say in the book because it’s too cute and too cheap, I would say sort of Indispensable America really appeals to your heart, Moneyball America really appeals to your wallet, and Independent America really appeals to your brain.

Ultimately, I chose Independent America, which I hate. It does not feel in any way attractive to me… [But] if you have to pick a strategy you’re really going to implement over the long-term, not just for two years or four years, Independent looks more feasible to work. Because you can’t just say that you like it, you have to say you’re actually going to adhere to it over time.

The other reason I picked it is a challenge to the people running, and to their advisors, to say “look guys, this is the best I think that you guys can do, please convince me you’re wrong.” And, at the very least, have conversations like this around the country and with the media and the rest, and say, this is our country. Please talk about this, debate. I don’t care which one you pick, I really don’t. I just want us to not refuse to have the conversation, as we have for a long time.

Independent America is not Isolationism.

Bremmer: It’s clear that millennials in this country have been turned off by and disgusted by the [political] process because they’re skeptical when a corporation tells them what to believe. But they don’t believe in a corporation. It’s a transactional thing–you buy a product, you don’t expect anything. But from America, millennials expect more. They believe that we’re citizens of this country and we want our politicians to do more than just sell us a product. We want our politicians to have a level of authenticity and we feel like they’re failing us. That’s the thing I think Independent America would really try to stand up for, and that’s one thing that makes Independent so different from Isolationism, frankly.

The relationship between Washington and Beijing will not have very much to do at all with U.S. policy, and the best we can hope for is that Chinese markets will become so deeply vested in the success of the American economy that alignment is inevitable.

Bremmer: No matter what the U.S. does over the next 10 years, the extent to which the Chinese succeed or fail, and the extent to which we have a problematic or more positive trajectory to the relationship, is overwhelmingly going to be determined on the basis of domestic dynamics in China, not by what we do.

When we say that we want the Chinese to play by our rules, we’re not saying we want them to play by our rules domestically in China because we don’t feel that we can really affect that. Here we go to Hillary Clinton in a classic Moneyball statement, which is, “It’s really hard to lecture your banker on human rights.” I thought when she said that as Secretary of State, that was immensely powerful. I can’t remember the last time a Secretary of State said something that I so intrinsically agree with.

The best way in that context to get the Chinese to really align would be to recognize that you really want the Chinese to be so freaking invested up to their necks in the U.S. that they desperately want us to succeed and like them. And that’s a really important thing, I mean it’s the age old economic–it’s not really new, it’s just an application–that if someone owes you a dollar, it’s their problem. If they owe you a billion dollars, it’s your problem. We really would like China to have it be their problem, that we want them so much at stake with the United States succeeding.

On Russia and Ukraine, Independent America would shoulder the heavy-lifting onto countries closer to the problem.

Bremmer: I think what an Independent view on Russia/Ukraine would be, this kind of sucks, but: it’s Ukraine. And ultimately, we are living in a world where we’re going to have to convince countries that are closer to these issues to do a lot more… Independent America would say, “your problem guys,” and we’ll still do unilateral stuff. If we find someone we can drone, our Special Forces will get rid of them, but ultimately if you want to destroy it, you’re going to have to deliver. The only way you’re going to convince them to really do it, if at all, is when they recognize the Americans aren’t going to do the heavy-lift here.

Despite the mistakes of the current administration, it is important to remember that foreign policy isn’t easy.

Bremmer: I always check myself when I find that people are doing a bad job because it’s really easy to just criticize. And I mean, I’ve got to tell you, when Kerry first came in, he wasn’t the first choice of Obama for Secretary of State. He thought he should be President himself, he did Israel-Palestine because he wanted to do something huge, not because it was doable. He wanted a Nobel for himself…

A lot of people who heard me as I was annoyed at mistakes he made on Egypt and on Syria, and in lack of communication with the administration around Russia and Ukraine, were really surprised when I came out and gave him as much credit as I have on Iran. And it’s because yeah, try to put yourself in this guy’s position. How many weeks was he spending in Vienna trying to get this done? He actually had an Omani minister working backchannel to get him with the Supreme Leader in Iran, which very few people could do. And I mean, at the end of the day, yeah I would’ve liked a few extra things for the Americans on the nuclear side. But, when you really try to put yourself in his shoes, and that’s incredibly hard for any of us to do–myself included–I have to say it seems a good deal done. It’s a win multilaterally, it’s useful geopolitically. And I have to applaud Kerry for doing it.

The absence of one huge-looming enemy could be what is responsible for some foreign policy failings that the U.S. has experienced.

Bremmer: You know, tremendous feeling of safety, and then suddenly having that shaken. The incredibly short time-horizon that we have, both as very individualist entrepreneurial Americans in the market cycle driven by capitalism—every quarter we want our returns, we never relax, right? Take it easy, more sustainable, more balanced, right? That’s got to be part of it. Part of it is an electoral cycle, as well, that makes it just more difficult in the absence of one huge-looming enemy, which we had the Soviet period. The Brits have much healthier response to how one deals with a terrorist threat. They have other problems. They have a panopticon that’s developed in their country and that’s an issue too. We’re getting there, but that’s technology, not just the U.S.

Bremmer also talks about his role as an American in highlighting political situations around the world.

Bremmer: I own, I don’t run it thankfully, the largest political risk outlet, right? And I think that being an American in that position is actually an active problem. It’s a challenge in that I’m trying to talk about the world, and I’m highly cognizant of the fact that that puts me in a cultural context of exceptionalism. It makes people around the world not trust that I’m actually saying things that are sort of politically “objective” analysis. Another Westerner that is going to tell us the way we should be running ourselves. So, I’m highly aware of that. And then I write this jingoistic claptrap… And I’m writing it because I’m concerned about the position that American foreign policy has.

Report by Rhea Menon. Transcript by Amanda Blair and Christopher Stephens.

PS21 Report: Beyond the SDSR


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  • Process likely to become rapidly politicised, tied to procurement decisions already made.
  • UK still fundamentally uncertain what role it wants to take in the world.
  • Confusion over balancing great power threat from Russia and broader priorities such as terrorism.
  • Challenges in adapting to changing nature of warfare, globalised/technology-rich world.
  • Retention, career structure a major challenge.

On July 29, 2015, the Project for Study of the 21st Century (PS21) held a discussion on the UK Strategic Defence and Security Review to be published this autumn.

Please feel free to quote from the report below citing PS21. Contact if you wish to reach any of the participants.

London: 29 July 2015

Chair: Peter Apps: executive director, PS21

Patrick Bury: former Captain, British Army Royal Irish Regiment, now PhD candidate at the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute

Philip Thicknesse: former head of futures, UK Defence Concepts and Doctrines Centre

Tom Bruxner: former British Army officer, Defence Concepts and Doctrine Centre

Josh Arnold-Forster: former special advisor to John Reid MP, defence secretary 2005-2006, now strategic advisor at Hanover

Bob Judson: retired Air Vice-Marshal, Royal Air Force, previously Director Joint Warfare and Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operations)

By its nature, the SDSR will suffer from both high- and low-level political interference both from the individual services and top of government. Already, Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments on spending more money on drones and special forces risks prejudging the process. The level of resources available for the offence has already been set in stone by the Treasury. None of these problems are new.

Thicknesse: My first Defence Review was 1981 when I was in HMS Fearless. [That ship] was deleted by the review and yet we found ourselves fighting in the south Atlantic some three months later. One is scarred by that experience.

For me, you can always get really good guidance from [Prof Lord] Peter Hennessy, who produced 10 rules for defence reviews. I won’t produce all 10 but here are a couple: they are quickly overturned by events; governments find it difficult to sustain the logic of their own reviews; they are inevitably underfunded; they happen when the balance between commitment, capabilities and resources are lost; and they are constrained by capability decisions taken immediately beforehand — in this case, carriers, maritime patrol aircraft, F35 etc. This has set the scene for what is going to be a deeply frustrating and absolutely un-strategic defence review. Fasten your seatbelts.

Bruxner: I worked as part of the DCDC Futures Program until the early part of this year, specifically on paper on the Future Operating Environment in 2035 which was in theory one of Defence’s context for the SDSR. What struck me very quickly is how politicised the process was, even down to the lowest level.

Because the review included Security and Defence, its remit is now so wide that it includes most Whitehall departments. This makes it harder to come to any meaningful conclusion and increases the intra-governmental politics of the product because government departments wish to defend their own pots of cash. This is mirrored within Defence where inter-service rivalry is stronger than ever, despite the Levene Reforms.

For those in the MOD contributing work for the SDSR, there is really very little room for any freethinking because you get told very clearly by the chain of command what you are required to say and if you don’t provide that, it gets discarded.

At the end of the day, the politicians making the decisions are often driven by the relatively local political concerns which often trump genuine strategic imperatives.

Arnold-Forster: Politics is about the art of the possible and all defence reviews always have to take into account the fact that there are actual jobs that politicians take a close personal interest in. The great thing about the defence budget is that it doesn’t have to follow EU competition legislation and so national governments can hand out contracts however they want — and Ministers will take advantage of this.

Still, I’m prepared to defend politicians to this extent — they are trying to react to the way in which they think the world has changed. Some will have the best of intentions and some will have the worst.

For more than a decade, the UK military has seen the world almost entirely through the prism of Iraq and Afghanistan. In terms of logistics and some of the technical capabilities, it now stands well behind developments in the private sector.

Bury: Just sitting there as a civilian, you find yourself going: “hmm, I’m not sure if this were DHL we’d be doing things in the same way”. The cross-organisational knowledge can be very limited. You get the sense that they don’t have the deep specialised, more professional knowledge base.

To address these, the UK military establishment needs to look at some of its preconceived systems, particularly the rank structure, pay at the speed with which personnel particularly officers are rotated through jobs.

Bury: Do we need to rotate people every two years? This debate has been going on for ages — but it is knowledge destroying. You need experts to be rapidly deployable. Officers get posted for 18 months and as soon as they get to actually know what they’re doing they get moved on.

The speed of military decision-making — primarily using the OODA (observe, orientate, decide and act) loop — is now much slower than many of those used by adversaries. The military has simply not moved at the speed of technology.

Bury: We are still teaching officers in Sandhurst to go through their “seven questions” and come up with a plan. The point is that if you’re an insurgent group you can do this on Whatsapp. This process can be very, very slow in comparison to what our adversaries are using.

They need to change the mentality. Just throwing it out there, you could have a personal display unit on your wrist that really speeds things up.

Fundamentally, many of the strategic decisions facing Britain go well beyond that which can be tackled by the MoD alone.

Judson:  Fundamentally, the challenge we face is the government-level rhetoric about U.K.’s aspirations of the world. We have dramatically shrunk our presence but not our mission. That generates the tensions that have been described. I don’t think that’s going to go away. Fundamentally, we have to square that circle, though, cutting our cloth according to our means. We’re not being honest about what our means are allowing us to do.

Thicknesse: It’s a national choice. The number one question is about our membership of the permanent five in the Security Council. There are costs and benefits to belonging but can you imagine any prime minister saying they no longer want to be a part of it?

The broader implications of the 2013 parliamentary vote against military action in Syria are not yet clear.

Bruxner: It seems to be a bit of a game changer. Whether or not it’s permanent is to tell. Whilst in theory the PM can still exercise Royal Prerogative, it does seem to have become a norm that Parliament is consulted before we deploy anywhere. That creates a very strange dynamic, which is very difficult for Defence planners.

The modern media environment can generate demands to act — for example, over the #bringbackourgirls campaign in Nigeria or the hunt for missing Malaysia airliner MH373. The world, however, remains a large place and getting out and doing things at that distance can be expensive and challenging.

Fundamentally, the UK still does not believe it faces any existential threats. As such, it is in a very different position to countries such as Japan or Sweden which identify one overwhelming threat such as China or Russia.

With Russian submarines and aircraft challenging UK territorial airspace and waters, there is a range of opinions as to how seriously the UK should take Moscow compared to other potential threats.

Arnold-Faster: It’s very interesting. It’s worth looking at the Treasury documents because the Treasury is saying that Russia is potentially a much bigger risk for our prosperity than global terrorism. They are looking at the potential for energy supply disruption, loss of investment in Eastern Europe etc.

Russian submarines have continued to probe the waters off Scotland, home to the U.K.’s nuclear deterrent submarines. More broadly, Ukraine complex has showcased both the levels of conventional firepower Moscow is willing to use as well as its less conventional capabilities.

Thicknesse: While we lazily took the peace dividend, the Russians didn’t. They have retained a small cadre of extremely professional nuclear submariners whose job is to probe and to see just how close they can get.

Arnold-Forster: They also have a whole contingent of various special capabilities and they are using them all the time. You look at eastern Ukraine and you see people for whom this is their second or third conflict on behalf of their Russian masters. These people don’t see the distinction between wartime and peacetime. It is a continual struggle.

The conflict in Ukraine has involved the use of heavy artillery — 120 mm, 155 mm, thermobaric. We don’t know whether our infantry can withstand that kind of bombardment now

While both the Ukraine and ISIS wars show the growing importance of social media, PSYOPS and “indirect approach” to warfare, they have also showed the importance of fighting on the ground.

Bruxner: At the lower level, it is still pretty conventional. The black arts/black ops informational message is going on at the operational and strategic level. I’m worried generally about the UK taking the message from recent years that actually all we need to do is put up the right message on Twitter and we won’t need to fight at all. I think this is a fantasy similar to Liddle Hart’s ‘indirect approach’ which thought there was always a way around the flank. I think war will always involve fighting and much of it will still be attritional.

Actually, what Russia is doing is demonstrating that there is real benefit to being actually there on the ground and digging trenches. Informations operations are supporting this.

The war with ISIS has also demonstrated the limits of British capability — something which so far has barely entered the political discussion.

Bury: To my mind, you have a 30 year war in the Middle East and the question is whether you want to get involved in that the problem. Can we really control the second or third order events if we get involved? What can we shape? Are we better just containing certain areas?

With more capable adversaries, the UK is simply not used to facing that kind of conflict against significantly well trained and equipped nations.

Judson: Russia is one of those, North Korea is one of those and Iran might become one of those. We do not have current practice or skills and capability against really capable enemies. We’ve been very good for a long period of time now at engaging in conflicts where there is a relatively benign environment where we could operate with air supremacy very quickly. You don’t face a high attrition rate against you.

We have a government rhetoric that says we can go in and do anything we want, whatever we want. That’s just misplaced. Against a high end opponent, to suggest that we could do it even in coalition is questionable.

Indeed, the whole way in which the UK views its strategic approach to the rest of the world is open to question.

Arnold-Forster: I’m sure Cameron wakes up and thinks: “what am I going to do about North Korea?” But he doesn’t seem to have the machinery to think about that in a particularly coherent way. There is no Imperial General Staff examing in depth and detail what’s going on in the world.

This, in some respects, is little different to the days of the British Empire — which was itself described as being “acquired in a fit of absence of mind”. What is different now is that Whitehall often believes it has a role to play in events that the rest of the world simply does not see.

Still, the long-term future is unknowable and therefore no British government — for now at least — is likely to seriously be willing to abandon the nuclear deterrent.

Thicknesse: It’s a very political thing… which Prime Minister is going to cite this thing off and go down in history as the man or woman who opens us up to some ghastly threat in 30, 40 or 50 years.

The total cost of the Trident successor through its life is something like £97 billion. The budget for the NHS this year is 114 billion. HS2 (the high-speed London-Birmingham rail link) is something like 50 billion. In those terms, Trident costs nothing.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, there is a growing challenge of retaining good quality personnel, both officers and enlisted.

Thicknesse: I think there are enough people seduced by the idea of adventure to join the services so recruitment is probably not that big a problem. Retention is.

The services are hampered by highly centralised pay policies so all of them have found it impossible to retain certain skills. In the Navy’s case, nuclear engineers haemorrhage into the civil nuclear program. The Royal Navy is the only organisation training: nuclear engineers in the country. I don’t see how these services can break the dead hand of the Treasury to get the freedom to pay people what it takes — we have always been hampered by this relationship between rank and pay.

And yet it can work: sometimes the highest-paid officer in many military units is the doctor and people understand that.

Bury: The military has some innovative leaders now, certainly General Houghton (CDS) and General Carter (CGS). They’ve picked up in terms of getting a higher number of females, they’ve picked up that that’s one of the issues they need to address if they’re going to recruit and retain. They are looking at flexible hours. If you’re battering away on a keyboard, do you really need to be in barracks?

I think we also need to look at some kind of GI Bill (mimicking the US legislation which entitles those who serve as enlisted men for several years with financial support to go to university).

In some fields — cyber, transport, health services — the “sponsored reserve” model whereby personnel become military during times of conflict or crisis may work. In others, it may struggle.

Report by Peter Apps. Transcript by Claire Connellan and Rhea Menon.

PS21 Report: Making it in DC and beyond


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  • Overseas experience is incredibly important for foreign policy careers
  • You will always be competing, so you need to set yourself apart
  • No task is too small at your first job or internship
  • It’s not always necessary to be in DC
  • There’s no one path to a successful foreign policy career

On Tuesday, July 14, 2015, PS21 held a discussion on “making it” in DC and elsewhere.

A full transcript can be found here and video here.

Participants were speaking as individuals, not representatives of organisations.

Negar Razavi (moderator): social anthropologist and PS21 global fellow

Sarah Arkin: senior policy advisor to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Ali Wyne: member of adjunct staff, RAND Corporation, and PS21 global fellow

Darya Pilram: field anthropologist and social scientist with the US military and lecturer at the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies, Fort Leavenworth

Kathryn Floyd: visiting lecturer, Department of Government, College of William & Mary

Key Takeaways

With rising tuition rates and no guarantee of a job for those with advanced degrees, many young people are questioning the value of a postgraduate education.

But graduate school can lead to a lot of opportunities that otherwise aren’t available, and can be really valuable if you know what you want from it.

Arkin: My senior year of college, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. I decided that applying to the Master’s Program was the best solution and I put all this time, I got all these recommendations, and I went to the interview. During the interview, she asked me a very simple question, “What do you want to do and why is this degree going to help you?” I came up with something on the spot but I came out of the interview like, “I don’t know!” I didn’t get in and it was great because it was the same sort of thing where I shouldn’t have gotten in and I didn’t know what I was going to get out of that and it made me refocus.

Floyd: …I suppose one of the most honest answers…about why I initially, and I’m going to say initially, chose to pursue a PhD is they offered me a full ride and said that you get live in Singapore but it afforded me the opportunity to stay very involved in my studies and academic interests and it opened the door. To teaching at a top university like the College of William and Mary, which really wasn’t part of the plan at 21 or 22. I did not fancy myself to be an academic but it’s been phenomenal because I can keep a hand in consulting, because public education doesn’t pay that well, and continue with my research interests and try to figure out what is going to happen…

But there’s really no substitute for work experience in your field, and you don’t need to be in DC to get good foreign policy experience.

Arkin: So the first thing I always tell people who want to get into foreign policy who are coming right out of undergraduate is that there is nothing that can substitute field experience… Having substantive experience abroad is something you cannot replicate anywhere else…

Being in the Civil Service at the State Department, you don’t have the opportunity to go abroad and get different postings like Foreign Service does… Even now in my job where I’m not directly in the foreign policy community in the same way, even just the two instances that I have living in the Middle East set me apart from a lot of people who work in the space that I do. It’s really insightful and really helpful when I do engage with the policy heavy community that really now doesn’t look at me as someone very policy oriented. I do have that experience abroad and I do come with a little more gravitas when I’m talking about these issues. There are a lot of different ways you can do that; starting to teach English abroad and working for something from that…

Pilram: …You know, I did my rotation through DC and thought that I wanted to do anything I could to come back to DC. But I’m from California and I got my start in defense at the Naval Postgraduate School completely by accident. I found out that by being out at NPS, anyone from DC interested who wanted to work with us would come to Monterey (because they wanted to get out of DC and some loved the opportunity to golf out at Pebble Beach). I learned that I didn’t need to be in DC, in fact I climbed much quicker being outside of the bubble of DC because I wasn’t competing with anyone and I could find and pursue opportunities. I was the only one who looked like me, who was doing what I was doing, who was enthusiastic about learning new skills and experiencing new environments. Although I’m now based in Kansas City working at Fort Leavenworth, I still find ways to connect to DC by teaching at the Pentagon or by engaging with leaders who come through here. I’m still in without having to be in DC. Being outside of that competition frees me up to continue finding interesting opportunities, broaden my skills, and bring fresh skills and perspectives back into the government from outside the beltway.

The best way to stand out in such a competitive field is to make yourself truly valuable to those above you.

Arkin: No task is too small and do it with a smile. It’s no fun to make the coffees and to go run the errands, but if you need to make yourself valuable, and a lot of times the staff that you’re working for and with are overburdened and they have a lot going on and you being there helping with the tasks with a smile and doing it graciously means so much because it really shows. And most of the time, and if you’re working for someone who’s respectful and understands what the value you bring is, they know and they’ll acknowledge that what you’re doing is way above your non-pay grade.

And even so, no task is too small, and you never know how that’s going to play out in a longer term. It’s just so important to do every task graciously. And just don’t be an asshole. You are in competition, to a certain extent, with everyone you’re around with, but don’t be a jerk because that person who you’re sitting next to for your internship today, could get a job at a place that you want to work tomorrow. And that person could be your next ticket. That person could introduce you to someone else who might hire you for another job. So be respectfully competitive, but acknowledge that you do have to be competitive but you don’t want to do it in a way that’s going to paint you in a bad light in the future.

Wyne: I think one [necessary skill] is the ability to synthesize information quickly and I think I learned this particular skill because I spent two and a half, three years, at the Development Center for International Affairs… I came with certain topics that I knew about–such as China-US relations in particular–but a big part of the job was becoming an expert, so to speak… A very typical assignment would be, and I imagine we all had this experience in different capacities, but the assignment was you get a phone call from the boss that goes “Ali, I need you to put together a memo in light of today’s deal, a timeline on nuclear diplomacy with Iran, what are the pitfalls, what are the major achievements.” So you have to get up to speed very quickly.

Ultimately, there’s no one formula for success. Perhaps the best advice for graduates is to do what you want and seize opportunity wherever you find it.

Floyd: [One] thing that I find sets people apart on their applications is to have something really kind of unique and quirky that is genuine. So I enrolled in Thai classes after learning I needed to speak it. And I got a lot of call backs in the immediate years after graduation because that was something weird and different, but legitimate… I have a lot of students coming to me and saying, “I’m going to learn Mandarin to help me get a job.” And I say to them, “Are you interested in taking that?”, because otherwise it’s really not going to materialise, in my opinion, the way that you think it will.

Pilram: I rely heavily on personal relationships, because that’s where my passion is. I love people. My advice is to join a club, form a trivia team, volunteer, go to meet-ups, book clubs and events. Find your tribe and connect with people who like what they’re doing—it is a more authentic and fun way to network.

I was a surfer, and then a sailor, so I joined a yacht club while I was at NPS and in DC I volunteered with the Surfrider Foundation on the weekends where I met really cool people. I’ve always met people outside of the traditional DC happy hours because I was doing stuff I love doing… Everyone on the Hill has a hobby. You’ll meet people at the gym, you’ll meet people through your spin class, you’ll meet people at yoga, you’ll meet people surfing: do what you love and you’ll meet really interesting people doing it too…Find your tribe.

Also, being a connector is just as important as being connected. Introducing new people to each other from seemingly disparate circles and helping others connect the dots to identify and solve problems is an invaluable skill. Rely on your network to help others succeed and you will build your understanding of how things really work, who’s who, and how to get deeper into The System to improve it.

Wyne: …When you look at someone’s resume, there isn’t a section about your failures. You should remember when you look at people’s resumes, when you look at their biographies, omitted from those are many detours, many wrong turns, or many instances when things didn’t go right.

Also, increasingly, peoples’ paths are not linear. People go from one sector to another, they go from one profession to another. So again, there is certainly something to recommend in having a general sense in where you want to go but you can also get too rigid and say, “I have to get this position or I have to get this internship.”

Report by Carrie Cuno. Transcript by Yaseen Lotfi, Gabrielle Redelinghuys and Claire Connellan.

PS21 Report: Social Media and Politics


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  • Social media can generate the momentum to change minds, policy and even governments.
  • It is, however, no longer the “Wild West” it was five years ago.
  • Successful (sometimes) for single issue campaigns, less clarity on its use for swaying elections.
  • Can lead users and media to an “echo chamber” that reinforces views rather than informs.
  • Campaigns can produce a wide range of unintended consequences.
  • Can prove a useful tool to boost voter turnout.
  • Little clarity on how space will evolve. Some platforms — including Twitter — might simply vanish.

On Monday, 18 May 2015, the Project for Study of the 21st Century (PS21) held a discussion on ‘Social Media and Politics’.

A full transcript can be found here.

The panelists were as follows:

Peter Apps (Chair): PS21 Executive Director.

Tim Hardy: technical writer, commentator and activist: beyondclicktivism.

Sandy Schumann: Wiener-Anspach Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Social Psychology at the University of Oxford.

Jonn Elledge: Journalist at the New Statesman and Editor of City Metric.

Please feel free to quote from this report, referencing PS21. If you wish to get in touch with any of the panelists, please email

Over the last decade, social media platforms have redrawn both politics and business on the Internet. How exactly they have done so — and how sustainable that might be — still remain extremely poorly understood, however. Question marks remain over the sustainability of some of the most popular social media channels, particularly Twitter. In some cases, the political effect of social media campaigns can be transitory at best.

What is clear is that it has represented a major challenge to more conventional “top-down” media, information and political structures. It has also proved relatively difficult to control.

Sandy: Institutions, formal leadership, and hierarchical structures have become less important. People just act on personal interpretations and rationales, find each other, and can co-ordinate… actions.

There’s evidence from Spain (the Indignados) and from the Arab world (Tahrir Square)… [We] know that Facebook played a role — in addition to word of mouth — in getting people out on the street.  #kony2012 [raised] millions and millions of dollars and… awareness for Africans and [a] conflict in Africa that probably no-one had ever heard of.

Tim: … It makes me think of that description of the revolutionary mob: that you try and ride the tiger. You can’t really control it because it is, on some levels, a genuinely spontaneous outpouring of individuals and, as such, there is no way that you can guarantee that you can steer the outcome of anything…

If you decide it’s not going the way you want there’s no way of saying: “Let’s drop this campaign and try something different.” You can try a second campaign but you never go viral twice.

The space is now much more crowded by governments and corporations that it was only a handful of years ago. That may have a somewhat stifling effect on debate, innovation and political activity, particularly on the fringes.

Tim: Social media, particularly five years ago when it was still relatively new, felt very much like everything was up for grabs. There was very little commercial engagement with platforms like Twitter. Businesses didn’t really know how to manage it. Media companies didn’t really know how to engage. Obviously, they’ve moved in and filled that vacuum.

Media coverage of the UK election shows some of the risks in being too focused on social media. For all users, it risks becoming an “echo chamber” in which they simply receive the views of those with whom they already have a great deal in common.

As users become increasingly aware they are in the public eye, they may also become less honest about the views and image they present. Social media can encourage ‘groupthink’.

Jonn: There is a great tendency within the media… for [a] kind of echo chamber effect… Until the exit poll came out, basically the entire country had convinced itself that a hung parliament was inevitable… And we were all massively wrong. And I think one reason for that is that we’d been repeatedly reinforcing that impression, not just through newspapers but minute-by-minute on Twitter and Facebook… It’s very easy for something to harden into a received wisdom.

Sandy: On Facebook people are usually quite aware of who their audience is. So if your friends believe that most of their friends are leftwing they will perform an identity that their friends appreciate and may not be expressing their political views.

Tim: At the moment social media has this extraordinary role… in many people’s lives, in that it is a performance space… We are creating a public persona which is something historically very few people ever had to do, whereas now an ordinary person… [has] one eye on… future employment prospects… They are curating their relationships with one another, they are self-censoring and they are saying things they don’t necessarily believe…

Social media is at its most effective in one-off, quick-burning campaigns. For all the talk of “slacktivsm”, those who joined such campaigns are often highly motivated and willing to do more to make a difference.

Sandy: I’d like not to use [the term “slacktivism”] anymore… because it refers to a notion of being unmotivated to act, and my own research showed that people who do engage in those quick and easy actions like signing a petition or liking a Facebook page are actually motivated to make a difference.

In 2010-11, UK protest group UKuncut successfully grabbed attention with multiple flash mob occupations of stores run by companies they accused of evading British tax. While the protests themselves eventually died out — in part due to more aggressive policing and a series of arrests — they had successfully influenced the overall political climate

Tim: From nothing, people would self-organize, and find one another, and could then go and close down Boots, or TopShop, by demonstrating in a very non-aggressive, playful kind of way that always played well with the media… In the run-up to the election, in particular, we saw both Labour and the Conservatives accepting that there was money to be found from the [tax-evasion] schemes and that the public was against them.

It is difficult to repress information, whether through censorship or legal means such as libel threats or court-based “superinjunctions” designed to criminalise certain information on privacy grounds.

Jonn: One of the best uses of Twitter… was three to four years ago when the Guardian ran a story that basically said: “There is something we are not allowed to tell you. It is in the parliamentary records but there are reporting restrictions…”.  Twitter managed to take this piece of information and find out the exact details of who had taken an injunction out and why in the space of about 45 minutes.

The evidence of social media’s effect on elections themselves is equivocal at best. Not everybody wants a colossal onslaught of political comment and information.

Tim: … If the last elections show anything, it’s that the ability of social media to win an election is very much up for question. Twitter is for whatever reason left-leaning and Labour-supporting, while Facebook is far more conservative, and the Conservative party invested very heavily in ad campaigns on Facebook, which obviously had some influence as well, but we don’t know what that influence was.

Sandy: … We know from the US at least that people in general don’t appreciate political commentary on Facebook, and they don’t want to be convinced or persuaded on Facebook.

Still, it can have an effect — not least in encouraging larger numbers to vote and highlighting any perceived or actual attempts to rig the process.

Sandy: We… know that particular cost-benefit analyses are involved in voting or any other form of political behaviour… so definitely having access to information is much easier and quicker and has changed those calculations. [An experiment on Facebook showed] that in 2010, during the congressional elections in the US, there were about 40,000 additional votes being raised just by adding an “I Voted” icon on Facebook.

Jonn: … In the US presidential election in 2012 there were reports in social media about much longer queues outside polling stations in predominantly African-American areas than there were in white areas. I have no idea whether anything sinister was going on, but just the suspicion that something might have been meant that the people sort of pushed back really hard and were wiling to stand in that queue for a very long time just to make sure that their vote was not taken from them…

Some campaigns have had second-order effects which no university student in the Midwest tweeting #bringbackourgirls or #kony2012 could imagine.

Emmanuel Akinwotu (audience): In Nigeria [the #bringbackourgirls campaign] played out as a political agent… An insecure government was really spooked by it… To the wider world it was a huge thing… Protests took place in London and Washington and all over the world…

There were a number of things [the former Nigerian government] failed on but [the security situation] played the biggest role in discrediting its legitimacy and I think a lot of that was down to the way the #bringbackourgirls campaign galvanised public opinion.

Peter: #kony2012 had almost the opposite effect: it increased international support for the anti-LRA campaign, which meant that it secured Museveni’s position and strengthened his hand in domestic politics.

There is such a thing as too much information.

Sandy: Having a lot of information about how your government is doing and comparing that to governments around the world can actually discourage people from getting engaged in politics and voting because they feel like they can’t change much…

Tim:  One thing that a lot of people complain about is this kind of information fatigue… Which is why… Facebook has algorithms that have an inherent bias… they want you to be entertained and amused to keep you there, so anything nasty, like a riot, they just won’t talk about…

Users only get part of the story.

Jonn: If you are… responsive to stories that are more liberal or left-wing, then Facebook will give you those stories and it will give you the comments, and it will promote material that matches your beliefs.

It’s easy to look at something like Twitter and think it’s democracy, but it’s not… There will be campaigns that kind of got lucky, where… [a person with clout] spotted it at an early stage and put rocket boosters on it… There will be dozens of equally worthy… causes that just never manage to get that far, that we therefore don’t have the faintest idea [about].

Tim: … It’s very hard to keep up with all of it… It’s stories that are quick and easy… [that] will spread… Anything that requires a greater degree of engagement, that will challenge your ideas and is more complicated, is less likely to get a hearing…

Whilst also leaving individuals exposed.

Sandy: It is possible to reverse engineer people’s behaviour on Facebook.

Jonn: I think a significant birth… is Snapchat… Where there’s no record of anything. So a lot of teenagers… [who] don’t really want anyone to be able to look at the kind of things they are sending each other… prefer that to something like Facebook or Twitter, where there is a paper trail.

Tim: Maybe we could see a massive kind of Balkanization, whereby people move into very strong filter bubbles, where they only want to hang out with people that they know… I can imagine a social media platform that’s completely encrypted: that BuzzFeed can’t look at to see what’s trending but neither can GCHQ or NSA…

There is no single established definition of what “social media” actually means. Different elements work in very different ways. Twitter is heavily used by journalists but its user base is highly unrepresentative and its business model unproven. Facebook has by far the deepest penetration, used by left and right wing and young and old alike albeit in very different ways.

Tim: The two big beasts [are] Twitter and Facebook… but obviously there’s a whole world of different platforms out there… The way that the media has adapted to the environment means even things like comments on websites have aspects of social media these days…

We’ve been here before. We’ve had dominant platforms and they vanish: such is the nature of the Internet…

Jonn: Facebook… [is] profitable… I think we have to consider the possibility that [Twitter] is just not going to be there in five years’ time because it couldn’t make any money.

What remains to be seen is whether the social media trend will last — or in what form. In such a fluid environment, further rapid change is inevitable.

Tim: Anything that is self-organising like this… can run out of momentum very quickly…

Sandy: I know computer scientists who are basically working on… putting together [the formula for the perfect tweet] and I don’t think they are too far off…

Jonn: I wonder… If you ever work out what the perfect tweet is, does the perfect tweet change?

Report by Crisa Cox. Transcript by Carrie Cuno, Rhea Menon and Vanessa Pooudomsak.

PS21 Report: The Future of Drones

MQ-1 Predator

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• Despite massive growth in drones, will never replace piloted military aircraft entirely
• Massive potential for commercial sector growth
• US domestic regulatory environment lags behind other countries
• Clarity slowly emerging amid furious lobbying
• Multiple privacy, safety, confidence and other issues
• US lagging behind some other countries

On Thursday, June 11, 2015, the Project for Study of the 21st Century (PS21) held a discussion on ‘The Future of Drones’.

A full transcript can be found here and video here:

The panelists were as follows:

Ryan Hagemann (Moderator): Civil Liberties Policy Analyst at the Niskanen Center and adjunct fellow at TechFreedom, specializing in robotics and automation.

Erik Lin-Greenberg: Former US Air Force Officer and PhD candidate at Columbia University.

Lisa Ellman: Counsel for McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. Member of the firm’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Practice Group and Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs practice. Former senior roles at the White House and Department of Justice.

Participants were speaking as individuals rather than as representatives of institutions.

Please feel free to quote from this report, referencing PS21. If you wish to get in touch with any of the panelists, please email:

Drones are not a new phenomenon but have become more useful with advances in technology.

Lisa: Drones can represent anything from a toy, a model aircraft that you fly at the park, to a tool of industry… Now, as we’re seeing, to even a tool of war. Over the last several years, these consumer toys have gotten a lot more sophisticated, a lot smaller, more mobile, and able to do sophisticated things… They’re also cheaper. The technology has moved forward at a very rapid pace.

Military use has grown exponentially.

Ryan: … 25% of the total aircraft fleet wielded by the U.S. Air Force is now drones as of 2012 as opposed to 2001 where it was something like… 2-3%.

Erik: I think you’re going to see an increase in the number of states operating Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). Currently, I think the number right now is something like 72 states operate some type of RPA.

Still, for now drones remain one of the least glamorous corners of the US Air Force. For a variety of reasons, they are unlikely to replace manned military aircraft entirely. They are insufficiently survivable in complex war zones against sophisticated adversaries — and even growing suspicion within conventional military aviation poses its own problems.

Erik: Policy makers need to pick the right tool for [a] particular policy objective… Drones are great for certain things, but they really don’t have the payload of a manned bomber.

Right now it’s not cool to be a drone pilot. There are these attempts to make slight changes in the cultural perception in the military about RPA versus manned aircraft, but…there is political resistance to having a majority unmanned fleet.

The greatest immediate opportunity for growth remains within the commercial sector.

Lisa: Real estate agents want to be able to take pictures of the homes that they’re selling. Oil and gas companies want to be able to use drones to inspect infrastructure… their power plants, power line inspections – tasks that are dirty or dangerous or dreary… Farmers want to use drones to inspect their crops and crop dust [and to] spray pesticides and water on their crops. Facebook and Google want to be able to provide wireless Internet all around the world… Amazon wants to use drones to deliver packages.

News gatherers and film producers are…excited about the use of drones…because helicopters are so dangerous.

But the technology in the U.S. has moved more quickly than the policy-making.

Lisa: You have this very strong demand to be able to use drones commercially, but it’s actually illegal right now in our country to use drones commercially, unless you have special permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Drone flights are still regulated as if they were manned aircraft

Lisa: There are a few different categories…Hobbyist use, commercial use, and public use…The idea is that law enforcement and public agencies will use them in very particular circumstances.

Right now the law is structured so that hobbyists can, for the most part, do whatever they want…I can fly my drones and take photos of myself and put those photos on Facebook. That is a totally legal flight. If…[I] sell these photos for $10 a piece…that is an illegal flight and not allowed by the FAA. It’s not a safety or risk-based question. It’s the exact same flight. It’s the intent-based question.

That comes from the aviation world…There are a lot of questions in the public policy community about whether that makes sense in this area.

Erik: There really hasn’t been any kind of specific drone law… As weapons systems evolve, we try to figure out how we interpret existing [international] law in the best way possible for military operations.

This has led to confusion and is inevitably limiting the growth of the industry.

Lisa: Because people don’t understand why they can do something in one set of circumstances, but if they intend to sell things or make money in any way or do something to promote a business, then they actually have to get a permit from the FAA, which is quite a process. They’re kind of straddling that line and that’s been difficult for a lot of folks.

With the legislation still being drawn up, frantic lobbying is underway from multiple interested stakeholders.

Lisa: There have been a lot of public policy efforts on behalf of certain groups of folks. Everyone wants a carve-out for their own industry. Everyone wants to be able to do whatever they want.

With technology still charging forward, there has been inevitable growth in illegal activity.

Lisa: There will be aerial photographers who will come take pictures of your wedding with a drone and I guarantee that they don’t have a 333 exemption to do that. The FAA does not have the resources to police all the illegal activity that is out there, but if for some reason something was to go wrong, if the flight recklessly endangered the public…then there could be real big problems for that person.

The U.S. has not kept up with countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and Japan.

Ryan: [The Open Technology Institute] have this great map online where you can click on various countries and it gives you a breakdown of the regulations in different countries surrounding commercial drones…Based on what I see in terms of the market breakdown, it seems like the U.S. is falling very far behind.

This is for a number of reasons.

Lisa: Usually if you’re regulating in healthcare…in energy or [the] environment or food and drugs, you have studies. You have data. You have numbers. You’re able to analyse those numbers and come to a public policy decision. One thing that’s been very different here is that we don’t have the data and some other countries have been ahead of us in terms of collecting data and doing studies…

The other thing is that we have the most complex airspace in the world.

However, the U.S. is catching up.

Lisa: The federal government…really started to pay attention in 2012 when Congress mandated that the federal government integrate drones into our national airspace…

The FAA was given very limited resources to implement what it was asked to do and that is now improving…There have been many tangible steps in the last few months… that will lead to a more open airspace for people who are interested in flying drones…

By the end of next year, I’d be surprised if there is not a final rule broadly authorizing commercial drone operations across the U.S.

Certain restrictions will continue to apply.

Lisa: You can’t fly at night. You have to remain within visual line of sight…You can’t fly in urban locations…

The FAA just announced this pathfinder program where it’s working with specific areas and industries. There is a lot of study and research and development that is going on there…I think we will see beyond line of sight operations. We will see night-time operations. It’s just not going to be right away.

There are still a number of issues to tackle, including privacy.

Lisa: A presidential memorandum on privacy, transparency, accountability and civil liberties… was released the same day as the [proposed FAA rule to authorize the commercial use of drones]. It outlined limits on the federal government’s own use of drones and put together a multi-stakeholder process…

It’s an ongoing conversation…Most states in our union have proposed some kind of rule that would limit drone use because of privacy concerns.

Technology may be able to provide a solution to some public policy issues.

Erik: There is actually a new website called It’s not relevant in D.C. since this is restricted airspace, but if I live out in Maryland and have a property and I put my address in, the idea is that participating manufacturers would use geo-fencing technology that boxes out that address in particular.

There are questions that need to be considered in a military context too.

Erik: Is targeting someone else’s drones an act of war? What’s the threshold for actual conflict?

There are, of course, Department of Defense properties here in the U.S. What if someone tries to fly over their facilities? It’s a balance though…You don’t want to consider everything sensitive because news gatherers, for example, would say they don’t want to be censored out of gathering news from perfectly legitimate locations. Where do you draw the line?

And calls for the U.S., as the primary user of RPA, to set a precedent for how RPA are used in military environments.

Erik: One of the things the State Department did a few months ago was relax regulations on armed drones and a lot of analysts said this was a good move because it allowed the U.S. to start exporting RPA to some of its allies and friends and partners. If we export, that limits the audience that will potentially buy China’s drones or Russia’s drones…You’re able to shape the mindset, and, hopefully, it’s a mindset in accordance with international law.

Drones may put a cap on military escalation.

Erik: The use of drones and the presence of drones might make a state more likely to initiate a conflict, but if a drone gets shot down, and we’ve seen this before…our response was fairly minimal. If that had been a manned aircraft, the response would have been very different.

We’re on a learning curve.

Lisa: We don’t know what all the capabilities of drones are. We don’t know all the different harms that they can inflict on us and all of the different benefits that they can provide. We are still at that learning stage where they are just now getting integrated into society in a way that benefits the public in certain ways and also provides certain risks. A lot of that fact-finding will have to be happening over the next several years.

But every industry has a need for drones and, if they haven’t identified that need, they soon will do.

Lisa: We’re going to see…drones increasingly take the place of helicopters…increasingly take the place…of people.

I do think there will be safety incidents. There are going to be privacy incidents…But I think that will all inform the policy making.

And ultimately, the dilemmas posed by drones are no different to those posed by any new technology.

Lisa: Taking a step back, I think that any technology can be used for good and be used for bad. This isn’t the first time that we’ve had new technology where, all of a sudden, we’re worried about what some of the ramifications are if they’re used or overused.

The key is getting that right.

Report by Crisa Cox. Transcript by Christopher Stevens.

PS21 Report: Countering Violent Extremism


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  • “Countering Violent Extremism” programs are ballooning. Many do not work.
  • Rationale behind them often oversimplistic, discriminatory.
  • Can produce heightened sense of grievance in Muslim communities.
  • West still  “fishing” for counterterrorism strategy 14 years after 9/11.
  • With ISIS, Al Qaeda, primary problems in the Middle East. But focus largely on domestic risk.
  • Much greater effort should be devoted to  wider social issues.
  • Different narratives, messenger is needed for different target audiences.
  • CVE programs often ignore wider politics, genuine frustration at Western policies.
  • Individuals join groups for much more personal reasons, however.
  • Little solid data. Very low number of terror attacks makes analysis hard.

On Friday, May 29, 2015, the Project for Study of the 21st Century (PS21) held its first event in New York in conjunction with New York University’s Just Security blog.

A full transcript can be found here and video here.

The panelists were as follows:

Ryan Goodman (Moderator): NYU professor of law and co-editor, Just Security

Richard Barrett: Former British diplomat and intelligence officer who headed the United Nations monitoring team covering Al Qaeda and the Taliban for nearly a decade. Now Vice President at the Soufan Group and an International Advisor at PS21.

Faiza Patel: Founding editor of Just Security, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU.

Please feel free to quote from this report referencing both PS21 and NYU/Just Security. If you wish to get in touch with any of the panellists, please e-mail

Ever since 9/11, there has been a tendency to try and find clear-cut programs to identify the emergence of militant/terrorist tendencies. They have almost invariably been over-simplistic.

Patel: There’s such an urge to do something about the problem that we are using models that are simply not based on empirical science and still using them to build programs which have very real impacts on communities.

Barrett: Measuring effectiveness is a real, real problem. Because the instance of terrorism is so small, you can’t really relate that back to any of the actions you have taken.

If you look at violent extremism — and you look at the cases that we know of and plot — you get a collection of individual stories. From those individual stories, of course, you can make generalisations. The danger with that is they cover a huge population, far greater than those who have gone off to join the Islamic State.

The most serious issues and consequences around groups such as Islamic State are in the Middle East. But there is a tendency to view the problem primarily through the prism of homeland terror attack risk.

Barrett: Clearly, the main policy response has to lie with the region… (But) people are worried not because they worry about Iraq and Syria or the future of the Middle East or North Africa — which are the areas most affected — but because they are worried about what might happen at some convention they go to in Texas. They worry about what might happen when they go to the local Wal-Mart store.

In total, some 5-6000 Europeans and North Americans appear to have travelled to join militant groups. More research is needed on why — as well as why they in many cases choose to return.

Of that number, however, many probably represent little or no risk on their return.

Barrett: The great majority of people who go I don’t think are much of a threat. But there is a real concern — and this is the nature of terrorism, of course. To make the public concerned, that’s the whole point.

Almost 15 years after 9/11, the West is still struggling in its approach to terrorism.

Barrett: The development of counterterrorism over the years I’ve been involved has been remarkable. Immediately after 9/11 the idea was that you could essentially eradicate terrorism by killing everybody. And of course that became ridiculous pretty quickly.

Almost 14 years after 9/11, we’re still fishing around in the dark to find an understanding of terrorism, let alone effective countermeasures. But there has been a remarkable change in attitude. It’s not just about a military response. It is also about understanding why people from our societies would want to be terrorists. And law enforcement definitely has a role.

Traditional CVE programs such as those of the FBI and NYPD have been based on the concept that studying previous militants can show a path, allowing detection and intervention in future cases. Initially, this focused on signs of increased religiousness such as growing a beard and stopping smoking. More recent emphasis has been on psychological factors, looking for those alienated from society who might be seeking a new purpose.

The problem with both approaches is that they capture a vast number of young people, most of whom will not become militants. At worst, it can alienate them and to speed up the process.

Patel: I am a “CVE sceptic”. That’s how I define myself in this debate. I don’t see the kinds of things that have been put forward as predictors of radicalisation or violence or extremism as particularly useful. I look at my own kids who are 15 and 17 and I can assure you that if I went through the indicators of radicalisation put forward by Lisa Monaco from the White House about a year ago, my kids would probably meet about five of them.

The focus on counterterrorism misses the point that many of these problems are much more broadly societal.

Government can actually do harm by attempting to force its own “counter narrative”. In some cases, association with government-backed CVE programs has undermined previously effective local community projects such as those aimed at building local leadership.

Patel: You put that CVE tag on them and you are already turning off a large portion of your audience. Whatever you do in this space, your first principle I think must be to do no harm. What I see when the government intervenes in counter narrative, particularly on the domestic side, is a lot of harm.

Barrett: Those kind of objectives are important and can fall very broadly into a framework of a general social policy. But people like to feel they are engaged in countering terrorism. It’s a bit more attractive than saying: “I’m engaged in social work”. I would say that social work is probably more valuable.

Lower sentences for support for terrorism can, perversely, lead to higher detection rates because communities will co-operate more. Frequent raids, meanwhile, can stifle discussion within communities and raise discontent.

Modern Muslim groups are often criticised for failing to “fight” the Islamist narrative. This, again, is over-simplistic.

Patel: There is this false idea that moderate Muslim groups are going to be able to put forward messages that are going to be appealing to the people who are going to join ISIS. I think we really need to get away from that. It puts this kind of blame and responsibility on people where it really does not belong.

The most effective counter narratives are those that aren’t even meant to be counter narratives. These are things that are organic that come from the community and are really people’s individual responses to what they see as the distortion of their religion.

All too often, the CVE debate completely ignores the broader politics.

Patel: When we talk about countering violent extremism, we never talk about politics and what’s going on in the world. We assume this is some kind of poisonous ideology that we need to inoculate kids against.

Now you may not agree with their geopolitical view but if you don’t even acknowledge that there are factors other than ideology, other than mental health that are going on in this recruitment process, you’re not getting at the problem at all.

It is the general sense of this tension between the West and Islam but there are specific things which really capture people’s imagination. In particular, for example, the use of drones.

The narratives of the major militant groups are tightly focused on the Middle East. Al Qaeda and ISIS have different but overlapping approaches, particularly ideologically. Both are particularly critical of the West for supporting what they see as corrupt, illegitimate local dictatorships.

Barrett: One of the key differences is that Al Qaeda believes that the local (Middle Eastern) regimes are the secondary target and the first target is their supporters, the West, who really prop them up. Islamic State says: “no, we want to attack the local regimes and that is our primary target”.

What drives individuals to militant groups, however, can often be more personal.

“Counter narratives” will never be effective against the most hard-core militant supporters. They may be more effective against those who are simply sympathetic.

Barrett: This group is much more important. They are interested in things being put out by extremist groups and think maybe they make a bit of sense. They need access to other people who can give them the other side of the story.

Stories from similar people can be more effective than more moderate religious voices.

Barrett: There is a lot of attention on Imams talking about the “true meaning” of Islam. There isn’t a “true meaning”. You have the Koran, you have the Hadith and there is an interpretation of what they mean. You can be a literalist like the Islamic State or you can take a broader view.

My sense is that people are tempted to a radical violent extremist group because they want to belong to something; they want to have a stronger sense of identity.

A former militant could say: “Okay, I was exactly the same. I was exactly like you. I came from a very similar demographic and tried this. It didn’t work out. Now what I am doing is this.” You provide them with alternatives.

It is also important to reach out to “neutrals”, members of the community who would not themselves be tempted to become militants.

Barrett: If we are to manage and spot people who are going to join violent extremist groups, it is only their friends, relatives or family who can do that. It’s not going to be the local policemen. So these people have to be aware of the signs.

Then there are the people who are inclined to think terrorism is a bad thing. They are a useful audience to go to and say: “This is what you could do”. There are also those who are already doing something about it, they need to be given more ammunition and more support and more help.

You have these different audiences and for each of them you need a different message. You need a different messenger, whether or not it is a “former”, and you may need a different medium.

Law-enforcement agencies are not used to some of the problems of counterterrorism — not least that most police officers have never met and never will meet a terrorist.

It is also important to acknowledge the “pull factor” of groups like Islamic State. Part of combating that is finding other outlets for frustrated young people.

Barrett: They prey on these feelings and say: “You can come here, you can help build something, you can be part of something”.

Now for the vast majority of people, 99.99%, that isn’t enough. But for some it is. And it is unfortunate that the people who get up and go… are people who could do something rather more worthwhile.

Policymakers should be looking not just at how to prevent people becoming radicalised but alternative outlets for people who have the energy and determination that takes them out of their family and into the unknown.

Broader social initiatives are almost certainly a good idea. Some others with a narrower counter extremism focus may not be.

Patel: It’s important to look at different kinds of initiatives.

One set of initiatives are those which would be good for any community: building a community centre, building a highway that connects the suburbs of Paris more effectively or increasing digital literacy amongst populations. All these things are in the social services category and I think that if you took them out of the securitised space of counterterrorism they could be helpful. They are helpful on their own.

There is a second set of programs that are most problematic and those are the ones we’ve seen emerging in the United States, imported from Great Britain. I think these are a really bad idea.

These are programs that say: “We are going to identify vulnerable Muslims and then we are going to conduct interventions”. I have two fundamental problems with that.

Firstly, how are you going to identify vulnerable? This is very, very risky and an open-ended proposition, particularly when you are looking at minority populations who are not understood by, much less by public school teachers in Minnesota.

If I’m a schoolteacher and I’m worried that some Somali kid in my class is alienated or seems troubled, what am I going to do? Am I going to report him or her to the principal? Am I going to go to a police officer who has been designated as my CVE liaison and put this kid on a list for no good reason?

It may be worth narrowing the focus of some programs — for example, to focus solely on the risk of very small numbers going overseas to fight.

Patel: We have this risk and it’s very small, particularly in the United States. You’re looking at roughly around — according to law enforcement estimates — 100-130 people who have left.

So I can imagine something that says: let us educate parents about the kind of propaganda put forward and then they can think about the best ways to engage with their kids on that.

Gender roles are important when it comes to women joining ISIS in particular.

Barrett: A woman joining the Islamic State is much more likely to see her role as a wife and a mother rather than a fighter in the front line. There are many women who slightly fret that they are not being allowed to fight, particularly after they have been there some time. But the idea of going, particularly if you are relatively young, is often the idea of going to marry this heroic guy and become part of a sisterhood.

She thinks: “I’m going to belong to this really strong sisterhood. I’m not going to be discriminated against. I’m not going to be teased for wearing my hijab. I’m really going to be somebody who is going to contribute and I’m going to build the future of the state through my children and so on.” It’s a mixture of idealism and romanticism.

Most of them are in fact coming from the West because in Arab societies — and many other Muslim societies —  a woman getting up and leaving to a foreign country on her own or with her sister is much more difficult.

All too often, such actions — as well as the broader CVE narrative — simply fuel the sense of alienation in Muslim communities.

Patel: Asking some of these questions would simply be unacceptable with any group except Muslims.

Community leaders say: “in my mosque I don’t want to talk about foreign policy because if I talk about it the FBI is going to be at my door. Parents don’t want to talk to their children about these issues because they are afraid to do so. This is actually a real dynamic that you see in the community which is really detrimental to allowing the organic community institutions to push back against the ISIS narrative.

Report by Peter Apps. Transcript by Gabrielle Redelinghuys and Elyse Warren.