Event July 10 London Event – “The Nuclear Peninsula: the Future of the Two Koreas”

Tuesday, July 10. 6.30 pm. K2.31 (Nash Lecture Theatre), Strand campus, King’s College London.

The situation on the Korean Peninsula is a complex and ever changing one. In the space of one year, the political context has shifted from impending conflict, characterised by insults and fiery rhetoric, to renewed friendship between North and South, temporarily cemented by the promise of Northern Nuclear disarmament.

Due to the unpredictable nature of the situation on the peninsula, analysis as to its future is a complex task. To shed light on this topic, the Project for the Study of the 21st Century has gathered a panel of experts to discuss the current situation and how the situation may change.

Join PS21 as hosted by Kings College London’s War Studies Department for an evening of discussion on the future of the Korean Peninsula.

Confirmed panellists include:


Jihyun Park – Outreach Director at Connect: North Korea refugee support group, recipricant of the Natwest Chairman’s Award and North Korean defector.

Alison Evans – Head of Open Source Analytics and Senior Asia-Pacific Analyst, IHS Markit.

Karl Dewey – CBRN Analyst, proliferation editor at Jane’s, IHS Markit.

Hamish Macdonald – Contributor to NK News, Chief Operations Officer of the Korea Risk Group.

Dr Chris Weston – PhD in North Korean institutional economics, international business consultant on risk management.

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The Westphalian system in crisis: The rise of neo-tribalism

By Linda Schlegel – Linda holds an MA in Terrorism, Security and Society from King’s College London

The relatively stable post-Cold War international order and the steady growth of internationalization and political, economic and social globalization have increasingly led to challenges in the last two decades. The terror attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 were the opening event to a new era in international politics challenging the foundation our global order rests upon: The Westphalian system. After the peace of Westphalia in 1648, previously unheard principles were developed to govern the relations between different territorial entities. The state became the only legitimate and primary actor in political affairs, defined by sovereignty within clear boundaries. The principle of legality – the belief that all states are equal and only winning war can put one above the other – became the basis of international cooperation and conflict. Based on the Westphalian principles, nations and nationalism became important guiding forces domestically as well as in relations to other states. Populations were perceived as belonging together naturally not only by language or culture, but by birth into a national community.

While states remained the primary actors in international affairs, the Westphalian system did not remain static since its first implementation. The Charter of the United Nations as well as the Charter of Human Rights limit the absolute sovereignty nation states had been granted with. Regional organizations, most notably the European Union, present a voluntary evolution from a focus on individual states only collaborating militarily towards a group of states joined by broader economic, social and ideological considerations. The nation state embedded in supranational entities is still the most important actor and reference point, but the system of global cooperation and internationalization of societies is increasingly challenged practically as well as conceptually by both domestic and international actors. Right-wing populist groups, separatist movements, Brexit, Trump’s ‘make America great again’ movement, the rise of transnational jihadist actors and the resentments against foreigners that became evident during the refugee crisis are symptoms of larger cognitive shifts in parts of the population.

One way to conceptualize the current turmoil within the global system is to see it as a move towards neo-tribalism. Before the rise of nationalism, humans were organized socially along tribal lines consisting of groups united by language, religion, blood and belief. The Westphalian system did not necessarily abolish tribal tendencies but expanded this tribal group to a whole national community. However, the main narrative was still largely one of people united by blood, language, culture and now, national heritage. Over time, however, global mass migration and the resulting multi-cultural societies, globalization of pop culture and shifts towards supra-national governing organizations such as the EU have eroded traditional differentiations between nation states and put traditional modes of identity construction based on us versus them dichotomies under scrutiny.  Migrants are now part of Western societies in large numbers and their children and grandchildren are legally members of the national community. As these developments are threatening traditional identities, some call for and work towards the resurrection of tribal ties, to blood or religion, as a counter force to the globalized world we live in. The tribe, with it’s clear boundaries of who belongs to it and who does not, is an increasingly attractive reference point for those lost in the globalized conglomerate of relations.

In his book Talking to the Enemy, Scott Atran postulates that “people don’t simply kill and die for a cause, they kill and die for each other. The growing number of extremists, whether they are motivated by right-wing or jihadist ideology, attest to this statement. Both religious fundamentalist and right-wing tendencies can be seen as a resurgence of tribalism and exaggerated love for an in-group based on traditional notions of belonging. The survival of the race or nation presents, in essence, a tribal mindset, although it needs to be noted that different right-wing groups are increasingly connected across national boundaries and collaborate with each other. Paradoxically, we increasingly witness a ‘globalized neo-tribalism’, which pays tribute to the modern root of the movement. ISIS, for example, presents a globalized notion of a tribe. The defining characteristic of membership is the Muslim faith, not the nationality, ethnicity, culture or language. It is solely defined by religious belief, which makes it possible to incorporate a diverse group of individuals in the in-group. Islamist neo-tribalism shifts the boundaries of belonging from blood to faith, thereby honoring the globalization that enabled its rise. ISIS is both a boundary-free tribe everyone is free to join and an entity strictly distinguishing itself from every out-group and is therefore a truly neo-tribal movement.

Neo-tribalism presents a systemic challenge to the forces that governed international relations for hundreds of years. It is a symptom of broader shifts in the social, economic and political connections and our increasingly individualized yet international societies devoid of traditional anchor points. The shifts we are currently experiencing are partially based on the human need for stability and clear conceptual boundaries of identity the current political situation is unable to provide. This systemic problem of our globalized community is not something that is likely to resolve itself. Counter-extremism measures aimed at contradicting ideologies and detecting already radicalized individuals will not be enough. Government and civil society actors alike need to not only reactively counter extremist tendencies, but tackle root causes of why these tendencies arise. Practically, we need to ask: How can the feeling of belonging humans crave be developed in diverse societies? How can we buffer the negative psychological effects of individualization? How can collective identities be formed? How can the negative impacts of globalization be lessened? Conceptually, we need to ask: How can we incorporate non-state actors into our understanding of international politics? Can democracy be tribalized? Can we create dual-identities based on the need for tribal security and internationalization? One thing is certain, if the Westphalian system is to survive, it needs to adapt to the current conditions and resist countering extreme and populist attempts with similar narratives.



Photo Credit: Pixabay – http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/Borders-Travel-Geography-Europe-Map-Land-Germany-945237

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.

Britain’s sorry return to imperial ignorance

By Tim Abington. Tim is currently pursuing an undegraduate degree in International Relations at the University of Birmingham. 

The partition of India is of one of Britain’s most monumental colonial blunders. It is an overwhelming testament to the horror that can be caused by a state’s lack of foresight; lack of knowledge and lack of understanding.

So it is somewhat ironic that in the same year as the atrocities’ 70th anniversary, one of Britain’s greatest assets in tackling ‘imperial ignorance’ is to lose yet another chunk of funding. 

Savings targets in one country, sectarian violence in another

The BBC Monitoring service seeks out, identifies and analyses information from foreign (and often obscure) news outlets across the globe with an aim of providing its beneficiaries (including both the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) with ‘a wider understanding of the world’.

Government funding for the service ended in 2013, a decision that at the time was criticised as woefully short sighted and ill-thought out. This year the service is to lose a further £4 million.

The results of Britain’s past ignorance have already left the globe with social scars and sectarian violence, it appears that there is a determination to add to them in a bid to meet savings targets.

It was on these pages a year ago that Cat Tully argued for long-term thinking in the face of uncertainty. It has been the more subtle signals acquired from a BBC Monitoring analysis of foreign local media, that have provided the knowledge that allowed the FCO to respond.

Despite providing this critical service, the financial pressure that has been piled on under the guise of ‘efficiency savings’ continues into a fifth year.

A steady, slow decline in UK influence abroad

The news that Britain had fallen in its position on the Soft Power index was unfortunately, unsurprising. Two years ago the UK led this particular index, it fell first to the United States and it has now been usurped by the French Republic.

HM Government appears to have an apparent determination to continue this trend of decline.

In 2016 the index publishers, Portland Communications, noted that the FCO had recorded funding losses of 41% in the department’s budget since 2010. The British Council, another vanguard of British influence across the globe recorded similar funding cuts, a loss of a quarter of its budget.

There have been convincing cases (indeed, several have been put forward by PS21 panelists) that have dismissed soft power as a purely academic pursuit. After all, it is machine guns and mortars that win wars, not foreign language television shows.

Yet, the face of conventional warfare has changed. Several years ago a missile fired across the airspace of a key American ally would most likely have justified retaliation beyond a strongly worded condemnation.

Moreover, the world (at the time of writing) has not yet descended into thermonuclear warfare, leaving media outlets and foreign services the main frontmen for a nation’s interests abroad.

Shots across the bows, gun boats and cannonfire are no longer what determines a nation’s influence. Gone are the days where an imperial empire could use a man-of-war to force a treaty upon a minor state.

In June the UK suffered an embarrassing and humiliating defeat at the United Nations.  By a margin of 94 to 15 countries, delegates supported a Mauritian-backed resolution to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legal status of the Chagos Islands. 22 EU member states, including France and Germany, abstained.

Although it was an impressive victory for the tiny nation, the outcome of the United Nations resolution is far from certain, given the UK’s opposition to the involvement of the ICJ. But it must act as a warning. An indication that Britain can no longer assume to be secure in its international standing abroad.

Today, any article touching on UK international relations can not fail to mention Brexit at least once. Prior to the Brexit vote, such a result would have been unprecedented. Mauritius’ total GDP is less than Birmingham, Bradford or even Brighton. The loss of the support of fellow Europeans in the debating chamber will inevitably create more embarrassment for Britain.

Never has it been more necessary to reinforce the image of the UK abroad.

It has been scorned by Europe, belittled by the BRICs and is now becoming irrelevant across much of the globe. Britain must re-envisage the way it operates abroad. As conventional ‘big gun’ warfare begins to decline, different forms of influence are required for the UK to remain at the top table. Soft power offers a way for Britain to continue to operate globally; it must not try and undermine it in the name of austerity.

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


Democracy in the UK – Why Theresa May’s comments on fighting extremism are exactly what the terrorists want

By Linda Schlegel. Linda is currently pursuing an MA in Terrorism, Security, and Society at King’s College London.

Following the recent terrorist attack in London that left seven dead and several wounded and in light of the previous two attacks on Westminster Bridge and in Manchester, British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to allow for more extensive law enforcement measures in fighting extremism. The Prime Minister stated that if human rights laws would prevent the government from pursuing their agenda against extremism, the government would “change the laws so we can do it”. UK intelligence services already possess a variety of intrusive powers to manage the threat that is perceived as especially challenging in Great Britain today, namely identifying, monitoring and countering ‘homegrown’ extremists and their supporters. The British counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST outlines not only how to pursue terrorists, but extensively elaborates on both violent and non-violent extremism and how both need to be addressed by the government. In giving this speech and even more when changing the laws, Theresa May does more than fuelling an already divisive discourse in the UK, she may unintentionally increase the support for terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

The debate of security versus freedom is arguably as old as state structures themselves. As Hobbes already theorized, we trade part of our personal freedom to be protected by a larger collective. Today’s understanding, however, limits the amount of freedom(s) a state entity is allowed to restrict, first and foremost the unalienable human rights laid out in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Prime Minister May’s comments suggest that she is willing to undermine decades of human rights protection in the UK in order to fight extremism and terrorism. It is hardly a proportional response to the threat terrorism poses to the citizens in the United Kingdom to put non-negotiable rights in jeopardy. In 2015, there were about 1,700 fatalities due to car accidents in the UK, a number more than 34 times higher than the death rate caused by terrorism in 2017 and almost five times as much as in the worst year of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. The disproportionality becomes even more evident when compared to the more than half a million death due to flu in the UK in 2015 alone.

Disproportionality and the possible deconstruction of long-standing progress on human rights protection in the UK are, however, not the only issue with May’s declared plan to limit human rights in the fight against terrorism. By putting human rights in jeopardy or even by simply stating the willingness to do so, May risks becoming an aid to the very forces she seeks to fight.

Social movement theory has long known the concept of political opportunity structure. Organizations seeking to change the status quo and to recruit supporters to their cause do not bring forward their propaganda in a vacuum. Social movements rely on a constant interplay between their own actions and the actions of the political elite and governments, that is, the political situation their potential supporters find themselves in. Governments can limit or increase the opportunity structures movements can use, for example by choosing between allowing protests to take place or to fight the protesters. Certain scholars even take this one step further, advocating for state constructivism theory. Building on Jeff Goodwin’s work No Other Way Out, scholars such as Tom Parker have argued that state actions ‘construct’ or help revolutionary movements by making it possible to associate pre-existing grievances with state actions against a certain group. Parker discusses how “democratic states unintentionally sustain the terrorist movements they oppose” whereas Jessica Wolfendale argues that many of the current counterterrorism practices pose a greater threat than terrorism itself.

Prime Minister May’s first duty is to protect British citizens, but the approach she seems to advocate for doing so may result in the exact opposite of what she seeks to achieve. Her speech and, if put into practice, the changes in laws will enlarge the political opportunity structure ISIS and other organizations already have to recruit young males, who feel isolated and misunderstood by the government and society at large. The British government could fall into the trap the terrorists set out for them by increasing the resonance of the terrorist’s narrative that Western governments are willing to perpetrate atrocities against Islam and the Muslim people even in their own countries and that therefore Western states need to be fought. ISIS, for example, brings forward the theme of ‘victimhood’ as one of the six key components researcher Charlie Winter identified in their propaganda output. Stating the intention to limit the human rights in the fight of extremism fuels the victimhood narrative certain jihadists employ to recruit Muslims in the West. The very government, whose job it is to build an inclusive society protecting minorities, can now be framed as willing to infringe upon fundamental rights of Muslims as they are the primary suspect group in today’s terrorism. As CONTEST, the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, has been shown to be disproportionately felt by Muslim communities anyways, this rhetoric will only fuel the possible susceptibility to radical world views.

The Prime Minister openly stating the willingness to infringe upon human rights, a fundamental pillar of Western liberal democracy, the chances of further alienating certain parts of society cannot be overestimated, which may increase the risk of susceptibility to radicalization. Terrorists and the extremist ideologies behind their actions need to be countered by governments and security measures are necessary, but the risk of increasing violence seems immense in this case. State repression can exacerbate grievances, especially if felt disproportionately by a certain group in society and the British state runs the risk of playing into the hands of terrorist ideologues.

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

An Unconventional Superpower

First edition of Abraham Ortelius‘ map of Asia (1572), displaying a vast network of waterways across East Asia, advocating his belief that a shipping route existed through China to the Northern Sea and thence, by way of the Northeast Passage, to Europe.


By Tim Abington. Tim is a 6th form student applying to study International Relations at the University of Birmingham in September.

Despite what would appear to be voters’ best attempts to say otherwise, there is still a case for multilateralism. Why? Because time and time again the physical world proves it can quickly overwhelm the human one when single states are simply not able to cope with a geography that ignores the human notions of sovereignty or national borders.

When talking about geography it’s hard not to use a map. Maps should be used more – they illustrate points in a direct manner that is hard to ignore.

So now, turning to your nearest atlas, flick to the relief map of the Middle East and glance at the contours. They show that anti-immigration arguments of misled compassion are missing a major point. Syrian refugees enter Europe partly because geography leaves little alternative. To the East are the Zagros and Elburz mountain ranges; to the South, the Syrian desert; neither are particularly hospitable or inviting to humans. To the West, the European plains, a flat relief, easily navigable and a moderate climate. It is ironic that one of the geographical factors that helped Europe conquer the world is now pushing it into a retreat.

Another geographical factor, climate change, goes well beyond that cliché image of a lonesome polar bear. It causes floods across Northern India whilst turning Southern Spain into a desert. Consequently, agriculture – always sensitive to its environment – is facing its biggest test in decades.

The Earth is getting warmer and crops are feeling its effects. Just as the English lawn turns yellow in summer, maize will wilt and die. Temperature rises will reduce growing seasons, increase heat stress and increase the range of various pests and disease vectors. There is no doubt that the ‘everyday staples’ will be affected by climate change. Last year, orange juice concentrate prices rose 21% as poor weather wreaked havoc with Brazilian harvests. Conditions are not going to get any more favourable, as the globe warms and air masses heat up, they hold a larger quantity of water vapour, resulting in greater precipitation. Quite simply, it rains more.

Across Northern Bangladesh the most common form of cultivated crop is Boro Rice, ideally suited to growing in shallow water. Yet all too easily, the entire crop is washed away by a rainfall that is just too much for paddy capacity. Rice forms the staple diet in South East Asia, so the issue is not limited in scope to just Bangladesh.

Staying in the region, South Asia is actually a perfect example of how international cooperation is required to overcome geographical barriers. The region is covered in rivers, wide and vast bodies of water, they ignore borders and flow as geography allows. The river sources are generally located in the Himalayan highlands of Nepal whilst the mouth flows out across the deltas of India. Any decisions made by Nepal, whether they be the building of dams or reservoirs, will have consequences all along the river basin, leaving rice paddies destroyed and populations displaced. Nepal imports $204 million of rice from India; it is in its interest to cooperate and minimise disruption to rice yields, humanitarian moralism aside, its own population needs feeding.

In September 2013 an article appeared in the ‘Financial Times’, “First Chinese cargo ship nears end of Northeast Passage transit”. 40 years beforehand, such a headline would only have been found in a science fiction novel. Yet a Chinese vessel, sailing from a port of Cold War enemy South Korea to the Netherlands – NATO and EU member – successfully completed a passage through Russian and Norwegian waters. The City saw it a testament to commercial enterprise and a sign of possible profits to come; multilateralists as proof of a need for international cooperation. International cooperation is required at all times, even more so than the current ‘hot spots’ of Suez and Panama, as ice, lack of infrastructure and a lack of civilisation in general make this a high risk (but arguably, a high reward) shipping route.

To maintain its pride of place as ‘the cheapest option’, container shipping operates to a ‘just-in-time principle’ – there is no place for petty disputes when it comes to arctic shipping. Information is needed and if that means cooperating with other less-desirable nations, then so be it.

These examples are but a tiny proportion of the multiplicity of cases where multilateral action is needed to respond to geographical hazards. The common theme across these responses is that it is in many nations’ best interests to act in concert, not so much due to ‘ideologies of cooperation’. Instead, multilateralism is required to counter geographical circumstances that overwhelm single nation states. Geography poses challenges, be it extreme weather, physical landforms or climate change. At the same time, international cooperation allows states to maintain their independence whilst overcoming these difficulties.

Geography remains a factor that will continue to determine domestic and foreign policy and any attempt to ignore it will, for the moment, remain futile.

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

Are lone wolves the future of terrorism?

The Promenade des Anglais on the morning after the 2016 Nice attack

By Linda Schlegel

In Munich a gunman shot nine people, in Würzburg a man attacked train passengers with a knife and an axe, in Ansbach a suicide bomber detonated his bomb at a music festival and in Nice a man purposefully ran over pedestrians in a truck. All these attacks took place in the last year and were executed by individuals not belonging to a terrorist organization. It is therefore not surprising that lone wolf terrorism is seen as an increasing problem.

Terrorist acts planned and perpetrated by individual actors are not a new phenomenon, but have recently come to the forefront of public awareness again with a perceived hike in attacks of this kind. The Guardian titled in June 2016 “Islamist terror has evolved toward lone actors- and it’s brutally effective” suggesting lone actors have become part of a deliberate strategy by Islamic terrorist organizations, which would imply that law enforcement and civil society alike must prepare for more of these types of attacks.

There are three questions to be answered in order to judge whether the Guardian’s concern is justified: a) What is lone wolf terrorism and how effective is it? b) Is this type of terrorism a deliberate strategy facilitated by violent armed groups? c) Is lone actor terrorism the future of attacks in the West?

The definitions of lone wolf actors vary considerably, sometimes including small cells as well as individuals. A basic definition by sociology of terrorism expert Ramon Spaaij describes the lone actor as someone, who “operates individually, does not belong to an organized terrorist group or network and whose modi operandi are conceived and directed by the individual without any direct outside command or hierarchy”. In other words, lone wolves are not part of a defined organization and do not take direct external orders.

This does not mean that lone actors need to be completely detached from features of group-based terrorism; for instance, lone actors often justify their actions through a particular ideology also espoused by organizations such as Salafi jihadism or right-wing extremism. An example of this is Anders Breivik, who was not formally a member of any violent political group and who executed every single step from the planning to the bomb making and the shooting by himself without support from the outside.

The 2016 RUSI report on lone actor terrorism showed that these types of attacks are generally not extremely effective with 1.22 fatalities per attack and 76% of attacks not causing any loss of life. In terms of effectiveness, Anders Breivik as well as the perpetrator in Nice, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, are outliers in the data set producing a lot more fatalities than other lone actors. In general, attacks perpetrated by actors that can be classified as lone wolves are less common than other types of attacks. However, as shown before, recent years have seen a considerable increase in individual attackers, which leads to the question of whether attacks of this nature are part of a change in strategy by leading terrorist organizations.

It is true that the so-called Islamic State endorsed self-starter terrorists in part of its propaganda. The more general schism between different violent jihadist organizations about whether the near enemy, that is regimes in the Middle East, or the far enemy, primarily Western democracies, seems to play a role in this. Whereas ISIS is very much focused on the establishment of a caliphate, in contrast to Al-Qaeda, it also underlines a determination to attack the far enemy. For this purpose, it is far easier to recruit people, who are already in these Western countries and who cannot be easily reached by a logistical support structure. Espousing lone wolf terrorism is a rational choice for ISIS. For instance, the ‘manual’ on how to use trucks for an attack has apparently inspired the attacks in Nice and Berlin.

There is also an increasing number of attacks being claimed by the Islamic State, which may or may not have been carried out with specific reference to its ideology. It is a strategic choice to accept responsibility for all kinds of violent acts and to exacerbate the fear that the organization can strike anywhere at any time. It may therefore appear that ISIS inspired lone actor attacks increased, but this does not mean that this is necessarily the case.

A call to arms for individuals as well as claiming responsibility for a variety of attacks may be part of a new strategy, but by itself it is not enough to explain the recent rise in individual actors engaging in terrorism. It is difficult for an organization to encourage lone actors without actively recruiting them and thereby making them part of the network rather than a lone wolf. A more general societal shift may help to explain why ISIS seems to succeed in this difficult undertaking.

Already in 2001, American writer Marc Prensky observed that the rise of digital technology fundamentally changed everything especially for the so-called digital natives; that is, the new generation growing up using this technology. In his opinion digital natives process information in a very different way than previous generations did and are networked in all aspects of life. The group-level factors used to explain terrorism, such as peer pressure, group-identity, a feeling of belonging and a radicalization through interaction were thought to require physical contact.

If Prensky is correct, the new generation of violent actors may not need this face-to-face interaction to radicalize and base its identity on the group. Because they are networked already, it is easier for them to construct a virtual community with the same effects on behavior as previous offline communities. Even though they may fulfill the criteria laid out in the definition of lone wolves, they themselves would refer to being a member of a group rather than a lone actor. It may therefore be necessary in the future to alter our definition and understanding of what constitutes a lone actor. In the case of Salafi jihadism, it may not be necessary to have a recruiter in a mosque, but online propaganda could inspire enough identification with the ummah, the global community of Muslims, to take up arms. To be sure, there is significant debate about whether radicalization can take place purely online and more research on this issue is necessary, but it is a possibility that ISIS utilizes the characteristics of digital natives to inspire more self-starter terrorists far away from the caliphate.

Does this mean that lone wolf actors are the future of terrorism? The assessment is difficult. Based on previously acquired knowledge on lone wolfs, these actors are more likely to have mental health problems and generally do not fit into group structures. These characteristics can generally only be found in a small amount of people, which means these actors cannot be the future of terrorism. However, the likelihood that exclusion and frustration lead certain individuals to be inspired by lone wolf attacks should not be underestimated. Grievances are a powerful motivational source, especially if coupled with propaganda glorifying self-starter terrorism. In addition, increasing travel restrictions and monitoring by state authorities may lead those, who would have preferred to travel to Syria to join ISIS or to join another terrorist organization, to seek a different way of engagement, possibly with a lone actor attack.

One of the key questions of terrorism research, why only some individuals employ violent means in response to grievances, is also unanswered for lone wolves and especially for the new generation of digitally networked yet lone actors. One also needs to note, however, that it is possible to engage in prevention and detection measures for lone wolves specifically to counter the new trend. HorganProfessor of Global Studies and Psychology at Georgia State University, and his colleagues found that lone wolves tend to ‘leak’ their plans to family, friends or on the internet, which makes detection possible. In addition, many communities have taken on the task to prevent radicalization in youth; a measure that is also able to help potential lone wolves if the community makes an effort to include these individuals. Lone wolf terrorism is unlikely to take precedent over group-based attacks, but it is very possible that the increase of attacks in 2016 was part of a general trend towards an increase in this phenomenon.

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

Taiwanese Independence: Identity and Diplomacy

By Gabrielle Falardeau

A year has passed since the election of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), an independence leaning party in Taiwan. At the time, these results were met with strong objections from the Chinese government because of the possible impact on the sovereignty of the island state. In Western media, coverage of the election strongly emphasised the importance of this issue in the decision to elect the DPP. Despite all of this, a year has gone by without any concrete movement towards independence.

Although a strong majority of Taiwanese agree that the country should be independent, there are varying responses when it comes to the question of whether or not this will really occur in the short or even long term. The Taiwanese recognize their nation’s small size and meagre capabilities when compared with their powerful neighbour. Many are therefore concerned that any movement towards independence would be devastating for the country’s economy and/or physical security. The previous inclination towards sovereignty for the island state in 1995 and 1996 was met by China with missile tests off the coast of Taiwan.

Concerns regarding the repercussions of a movement towards independence have certainly been a factor in discussions within the ruling party. While this issue currently stands as Article one of their charter, there have been discussions to adopt a status quo stance instead. This would however have strong consequences for the party as a whole as it has already been criticised for adopting similar stances to the opposition party, the Kuomitang (KMT), on key issues. The independence clause therefore constitutes a fundamental distinguishing element between the two main parties in Taiwan. Removing this clause could thus lead to a drop in support for the DPP in favour of smaller opposition parties.

Questions about steps towards independence inevitably lead to queries about the identity of the Taiwanese vis-à-vis the Chinese. Various polls have highlighted the sentiment of Taiwanese nationals towards the question of identity asking respondents whether they consider themselves Taiwanese, Chinese, or both. All of the polls leaned towards Taiwanese as the dominant identity (the proportion of people who chose a combination of Taiwanese and Chinese was however significant). Locals will stress their identity as Taiwanese, while recognising their shared cultural heritage with China. This acknowledgement is however followed by additional comments stressing their more “traditional” take on a shared culture and language. These differences are important for Taiwanese in asserting themselves as distinct. Such comments occur not only in everyday interactions with foreigners, but also in schools. Foreigners coming to Taiwan to learn Chinese are constantly reminded of how the Taiwanese version of Chinese with its use of traditional characters is considered more authentic. Under Mao, China underwent a simplification process of written language to enable more people to learn to read and write. In contrast, Taiwan’s retention of traditional characters is a big source of pride.

What effects would it have on Taiwan if it chose not to move towards formal independence? It is important first to highlight that Taiwan currently functions as a fully independent state and does not possess the same level of foreign interference by China as is witnessed in Hong Kong. Currently, Taiwan holds “quasi” diplomatic relations with foreign states, most of which do not officially recognize the island state. These countries conduct regular diplomatic functions in Taiwan through trade or culture offices. That being said, relations between Taiwan and foreign countries are plagued by the considerations foreign states must hold regarding any possible repercussions on their relations with China. Local offices are therefore very tight-lipped and refuse to discuss their relations with Taiwan. Within major international organisations, Taiwan is not represented, with the exception of the World Trade Organisation, where it is known as the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan. This is of course related to its lack of international status, but also to China’s adamant refusal to allow the island country to assert itself in the international space. Taiwan’s absence from international organisations remains a significant obstacle to its ability to contribute to discussions relating to issues that concern it, such as transnational crime or human trafficking.

The fact that Taiwan is not recognized internationally as an independent state also poses problems in other areas. Recently, the issue of deportation of Taiwanese citizens made headlines when 269 Taiwanese and Chinese nationals were arrested in Spain for running a telecom fraud. Despite months of negotiations, the Taiwanese nationals were deported not to Taiwan, but to China to face justice. This is not the first time that Taiwanese citizens were deported to China. In 2016, Armenia, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Kenya deported Taiwanese citizens to China.

Within China, schools actively teach that Taiwan is a part of the country and this represents the official position of the state. There has however been considerable change in recent years in the relationship between Taiwan and China. Only in 2008 did direct flights from Taiwan to China resume. In 2015, China also modified legislation to allow Taiwanese citizens to travel and even move permanently to China in what has been referred to as “quasi-citizen treatment”. That being said, Beijing has reiterated on many occasions that it will never accept any movement towards independence by Taiwan because of their shared history, as well as the island’s strategic position. Indeed, control over Taiwan is essential for China in the case of an open conflict because it would allow its military to extend its range and advance defences to protect the mainland.

Currently, China accounts for almost 30 percent of Taiwan’s trade, making it the island’s largest trading partner. A strong movement towards independence could be met by China with economic sanctions or even a blockade, producing crippling effects on Taiwan’s economy and its ability to import vital energy to power the country. In the wake of the last elections in Taiwan, many were quick to predict increasingly tense relations between China and Taiwan. Although it is important to plan for various contingencies in order to understand the possible outcomes, strong pushes towards sovereignty are not likely in the short term. The Taiwanese government, although displeased with the difficulties related with the absence of a recognised independent status, is currently benefiting from good trade relations with China. One thing is clear, China will not wait idly until Taiwanese sovereignty is a fait accompli, but rather intervene to halt burgeoning movements.


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

London event September 14th : 9/11 fifteen years on

treasury discussion

WHEN Wednesday, September 14, 2016 from 18:00 to 19:30 

WHERE  War Studies Meeting Room (K6.07 ) King’s College London – Strand, London, WC2R 2LS 


Fifteen years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, PS21 looks back.  What was done right, what was done wrong and how might the 21st century have been different if the twin towers had never fallen.

Richard Barrett – former senior British counterterrorism official and ex-head of the UN Al Qaeda/Taleban monitoring team

Timothy Hoyt – professor, US Naval war College

This is also a joint event with the Sir Michael Howard Centre

Sign up here [corrected link]

The PS21 Team

London Event September 8th – Baltic Conflict Scenario

CknbxfzUgAA7UIuWHEN: Thursday, September 8, 2016 from 18:00 PM

WHERE: War Studies Meeting Room (K6.07 )King’s College London – Strand, London, WC2R 2LS.


As part of a new series of scenario-based events, PS21 looks at risks of escalation between NATO and Russia in the Baltic states. Also a chance to hear about PS21’s major international crisis scenario, GLOBAL TURMOIL, which will be running in 2017.

Our scenario begins in September 2016, with an armed Russian drone approaching our fictional Baltic state of Livonia…


Peter Apps (Moderator) – Managing Director of PS21 and Global Affairs Columnist, Thomson Reuters

Dr. Zachary Wolfraim – PhD King’s College London, former consultant, NATO Headquarters

Dr. Allan Sikk – Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies

Erik Lin-Greenberg – Former US Air Force Intelligence Officer, PhD Candidate Columbia University

Peter Roberts – Senior Research Fellow in Sea Power and Maritime Studies, RUSI

Brigadier Ben Barry – Senior Fellow for Land Warfare, IISS


You can sign up here.

The PS21 Team

SOLD OUT: London event – the changing face of counterterrorism

Photo 24.11. crowd whitehall

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


You can sign up here.


The PS21 Team.

South China Sea : The Saga continues

Portion of a Qing scroll on battling 19th Century piracy in the South China Sea (Wikipedia)


Berivan Dilan is a recent graduate from Maastricht University in International Relations, and is starting an MSc in International Political Economy at LSE.  


On 12th July 2016, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea at The Hague ruled that Chinese claims to territorial rights in the South China Sea have no legal basis, after a case was brought to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013 by the Philippines. The tension in the South China Sea is at a fever pitch, with China vowing that it “will take all necessary measures to protect its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,”[i] countered by the U.S. sending an aircraft carrier and fighter jets to the region. This ruling certainly does not mark the end of the South China Sea dispute. In fact, this ruling might just have opened up Pandora’s Box.


The South China Sea has been home to territorial disputes for many decades. The disputes involve claims among several states that all have an interest in the fishing areas, potential natural resources and strategic control of one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. China asserts that its historical claim to these prized waters predate the United Nations Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) however Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei beg to differ and believe the international law regulating the delimitation must be adhered to.


Why does China claim this area?

Money, money, money goes to explain much of China’s so-called “win win” approach to its contemporary foreign policy decisions. The area in question without doubt offers huge economic benefits to the PRC: from the potential for unique access to the immense fishing area, strategic control of one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, and increased access to exploiting potential natural resources (i.e. oil) are to name a few examples. Geopolitically, its security would have been strengthened had the Court chosen to favour China in this dispute, given the current dominance of U.S. backed naval resources in the region. It would be naïve not to recognize the material realities of the dispute. However, in addition to the economic and geopolitical dimensions, there is a third dimension which is often neglected by the popular accounts of the dispute, namely the historical dimension. China is not only claiming the South China Sea because it has vested interests in the region, but also because China views the area claimed within the nine-dashed line as historically theirs. In order to understand Chinese foreign policy fully, particularly as it re-emerges as a superpower, it is necessary to understand the ancient Chinese conception of world order.


In order to understand the way the PRC is currently acting, first one needs to look at the concept of Tianxia, which can be broken down into three parts: the world (in a geographical sense), the will of the people, and the world institution[ii]. What is important to note is that Tianxia does not refer to a nation state as we interpret it, but to a world or society: “traditional China did not see itself as a nation-state or even as an empire with separate subject peoples, but rather as the centre of civilisation.” [iii] This led to the ancient Chinese idea of Sinocentrism, the idea that China is the undisputed centre of civilisation. In the Sinocentric world order China has a hegemonic position. In the past when China aimed to create a Sinocentric world order, it did so by socialising foreign rulers into accepting China’s centrality and superiority. In fact, in some periods, the Chinese rulers were able to accomplish this with some Western visitors as well as in the system of tributary and vassal states.


As China re-emerges as a superpower, it seems clear that this Sinocentric viewpoint is being taken on-board once more by its leaders. Gone are the days of Xiaoping’s “bide one’s time” philosophy, the nation is now taking a lead with assertive foreign policy choices, such as refusing the tribunal’s ruling in the South China Sea dispute, despite being a UNSC power. China will not easily give up its territorial claims in the South China Sea. The first Chinese interaction with Western international law in the 19th century was not easy. China experienced it as traumatic, leaving memories of humiliation, domination and oppression. The unequal treaties signed in this time period, such as the Treaty of Nanking, encroached upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and exemplified how foreign imperialism managed to reduce the Middle Kingdom to a society with semi-colonial status. The Chinese saw international law as one of the tools used by the west to restrain ‘wild foreign consuls’[iv]. Although today international law is part of China’s advancement strategy to catch up with the developed countries, “early Chinese experience with international law still remains a key to the understanding of the present Chinese attitude towards international law”[v]. The Chinese claim to the South China Sea is based on unverifiable historical claims and while this does not hold much power in international law, the Chinese government will not back down any time soon.


What happens next?

The tribunal has no powers to enforce its ruling. China has rejected the ruling and maintained its presence in the South China Sea claiming that it has the right to set up an air defence zone. The U.S. has framed the outcome of the case as a test of China’s respect of international law. China’s rejection could lead to reputational damage, as well as alienating its neighbours if it maintains the current course of action and language. However, it is playing well to its citizens at home who are increasingly seeking a more active role for China in international relations. Whether the tensions in the South China Sea will escalate to a military encounter between China and the U.S., is unclear. However, this ruling has created more uncertainty and unease for both sides. In any case, it is clear that the situation in the South China Sea goes much deeper than merely economic and geopolitical power. To understand contemporary foreign policy decisions made by the PRC, one must look further than simply realpolitik. It seems that China’s assertiveness is a reassertion of an age old worldview which has influenced Chinese governance and self-understanding for over two millennia.


Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, nongovernmental, nonpartisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own. Interested in contributing? Email us at E-mail us at PS21Central@gmail.com.


[i] Reuters. (2016). China vows to protect South China Sea sovereignty, Manila upbeat. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-ruling-stakes-idUSKCN0ZS02U

[ii] Zhao, T. (2006). Rethinking Empire from a Chinese Concept ‘All-under-Heaven’ (Tian-xia,). Social Identities, 12(1), 29-41.

[iii] Nathan, A. J., & Scobell, A. (2015). What Drives Chinese Foreign policy. In China’s search for security (pp. 1-37). Columbia University Press.

[iv] Zhaojie, L. (2001). Legacy of modern Chinese history: its relevance to the Chinese perspective of the contemporary international legal order. Singapore Journal of International & Comparative Law, 5, 314-326.

[v] Zhaojie, L. (2001). Legacy of modern Chinese history: its relevance to the Chinese perspective of the contemporary international legal order. Singapore Journal of International & Comparative Law, 319.