London Event 15th of October – A Green New Deal?

Tuesday, October 15th from 6 PM, Juju’s Bar and Stage, Ely’s Yard, 15 Hanbury St, London E1 6QR.

The Green New Deal is a term that has been thrown around by policymakers both in the US, Europe and in the UK. But what is the Green New Deal, and what are the policy implications of it? How far must British and European policymakers go in order to reduce their emissions by 2030? What industries will die down in this process, and who is this affecting? Is it feasible, both in an economic and political perspective, that politicians and policymakers will pursue a Green New Deal? Are there security implications for restructuring our economic policies to fit the new green policies? Are there security implications if we don’t?


Dr Leslie-Anne Duvic-Paoli is a public international lawyer, with expertise in international environmental law and climate and energy law, based at King’s College London.

Dr Simon Chin-Yee is also based at King’s College London, in the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS) in the War Studies department.

Christopher Barnard is the founder and president of the British Conservation Alliance, an organisation working to promote pro-market environmentalism and conservative conservation.

Peter Apps has been the Executive Director of PS21 since 2015, and is a Reuters global affairs columnist.

James Rising is an Assistant Professorial Research Fellow at the Grantham Research Institute at the LSE.

Alex Chapman is a consultant at the New Economics Foundation, with experience in qualitative and quantitative research, project evaluation and policy analysis.

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PS21 Event Writeup: ‘Making Globalization Work’

By Siena Parrish

Photo Credit: Ross Bradford

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

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

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

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

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


London Event 13 November – Making Globalization Work

Tuesday, 13 November, 6pm, Juju’s Bar and Stage, Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London

With new trade routes and ever faster communications, the world is better connected than at any point in its history. But with confrontation on the rise and rising inequality in many nations, can globalization really survive? PS21 pulls together a panel to examine our modern interconnected civilization – and asks what it would really take to make it work. . We will be talking the future of economics, trade, labour, geopolitics, crypto currencies, cyberspace, and more.

Samuel Genge [moderator] – Chief of Staff at PS21

Professor Thomas Sampson – Professor of Economics, London School of Economics.

Angela Chatzidimitrou – Global Stakeholder Engagement Manager, Hewlett-Packard.

Ifeloluvwa Oguntokum – Journalist, Daily Telegraph.

Carrie Osman – CEO and founder, CRUXY Co.

Sign up here.

Doors will open from six p.m., with presentations beginning at seven. Each speaker will address the topic for 5-7 minutes. This will be followed by an interval, then a question and answer session.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Christopher Klooz

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 –

From ‘good boy’ to terrorist: What is the appeal of ISIS?

Westminster, 23 March 2017. Photo credits: Prioryman – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

By Linda Schlegel. Linda is a trainee at the Council of Europe.

The so-called Islamic State has dominated and continues to dominate headlines with the recent Barcelona attacks, for which it claimed responsibility. Although the question of what makes someone become a terrorist has been discussed since the rise of left-wing terrorism in the 1960s and 1970s, the rise of ISIS has intensified the discourse surrounding the processes of radicalization. The attackers were young and seemingly well-integrated immigrants of Moroccan descent and did not suffer from objective economic hardships. Yet they made the decision to kill and die for jihad. What drives those, who have lived in the West for all their lives or for a very long period of their lives, to sacrifice themselves for an organization that predominantly fights to gain territory in Iraq and Syria. What could make a young man murder innocent civilians and commit suicide for an imagined ideal of the caliphate or the ummah, the global community of Muslims? Governments and civil society also ask what can be done to prevent so-called ‘homegrown’ radicalization and decrease susceptibility to radical ideas.

Charlie Winter, Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR), has written extensively on Islamic State propaganda and identified 6 key themes in their narrative: brutality, mercy, victimhood, war, utopianism and belonging. In contrast to popular belief, IS propaganda is not merely a depiction of violence and brutality such as beheadings, but includes a sophisticated understanding of which different types of narratives may drive people to seek a new, radical self-image in the name of defending the caliphate. Space does not allow for a discussion of all themes here, but the narrative of ‘belonging’ may be especially important to understand in the context of homegrown radicalization. In theory, one should feel loyalty and a sense of belonging to the country one has grown up in, but homegrown radicalization questions this assumption and the ability of Western governments to help form collective identification with the nation they are representing.

Social isolation has been shown to impact our psychological well-being, our mental health and our behaviour towards ourselves and others. Multiple theories of radicalization also involve isolation or the perceived lack of embeddedness in society at large as one of the facilitating conditions, which might make individuals more susceptible to radical ideas. ISIS propaganda is partially designed to appeal to this group of dis-embedded young people and to fill the emotional void of a lack of belonging. In the context of nationalism, Benedict Anderson has shown that we construct collective identities based on so-called imagined communities. They are imagined, because we cannot possible know every member of that community, yet we feel a connection with them based on, for example, a common nationality. For jihadists, the imagined community is not the nation, but the ummah, the global community of Muslims. ISIS constructs this community as the only community for Muslims and based on this shared identification seeks to justify violence against anyone not belonging to this group.

There is a general trend caused by the forces of globalization to, on the one hand, make almost global identification with popular culture the norm and, on the other hand, to facilitate a tendency to identify with very restricted yet transnational communities such as the ummah. Anthropologist Scott Atran writes in his book Talking to the Enemy “together with a flat and fluid world, a more tribal, fragmentized and divisive world emerges as people search for social identity and greater sense of purpose“. ISIS provides precisely this sense of social identity and purpose to fight for the group one identifies with. The propaganda is aimed at creating the image of a global brotherhood of Muslims, which stand together and fight for a holy cause against the dark forces of the West. A classical Manichean narrative, which portrays ISIS as the champion of justice and other forces such as Western states or Middle Eastern governments as the embodiment of evil. All of us seek purpose in our lives and social isolation can call previous meaning-providing structures into question. Isolated individuals are therefore vulnerable to a narrative that emphasizes belonging and purpose simultaneously.

Because socially isolated individuals may be drawn to a strong narrative of collective belonging, both governments and civil society need to engage not only in counter-messaging, but in the construction of inclusive narratives and realities to decrease the number of people ISIS propaganda may appeal to. Aside from measures to include individuals through employment, volunteering, housing and other opportunities necessary to feel embeddedness and belonging, governments should initiate a discussion on collective identity. What does it mean to be British/Spanish/German in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society? It is not enough to ensure that everyone abides the law, civil inclusion must also have an emotional component of identification with the greater collective. As humans, we seek this feeling of belonging and togetherness and if it is put into question, the likelihood that we seek it outside of the national context, increases. It is a very difficult task for governments and needs to be done carefully in order not to appear to force a pre-made national identity upon the population. Identity building works best if facilitated by institutions, but driven bottom-up by those facing the diversity in their communities every day. The fight against terrorism has and will continue to dominate the political sphere, but governments are well advised to take community building, trust enhancing and identity building ‘soft power’ measures seriously in order to counter the emotional identity appeal groups such as ISIS display. In doing so, they do not only strengthen the health of the nation overall, but contribute to the long-term decline in recruitment power due to the ‘belonging’ component Winter identified.

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

Sharing guns, sharing habitus?

What explains the rise of virtual, ideological terrorist networks in the West?

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

With the rise of the so-called Islamic State new questions for terrorism research emerged. Especially the social media use of the organization has both fascinated and worried practitioners and academics alike. One of the most worrying features of the new, virtual display of Salafi-jihadist ideology is the increasing number of people from all over the world, who seek to join this movement. We as societies need to ask ourselves what may drive young people towards this type of ideology. One of the possible underlying mechanisms for increased online radicalization from a sociological point of view is explored in the following by showing that today’s youth may be easier influenced in an online setting than older generations were.

Habitus in the age of modern communication technology

Pierre Bourdieu showed that humans are socialized in a certain milieu defined by our standing in society and thereby develop a shared set of behaviours with those socialized in similar circumstances. This shared set of practices of social interaction is called habitus. Those sharing a habitus understand each other more intuitively due to their similarities in social dispositions, while those socialized in very different circumstances, who therefore developed a different habitus, do not. For Bourdieu, the habitus is based on class, but globalization eroded traditional social milieus. Modern communication technology (MCT) is available to a majority living in the West crumbling traditional limits of access due to class. It can be argued that almost equal access to the MCTs in the West resulted in a similitude of habitus by those, who grew up using them. Social media makes socialization processes similar in one specific aspect, the online realm, creating shared dispositions and therefore the ability to intuitively interact in the virtual world. Following Prensky, individuals socialized using MCT are called ‘digital natives’.

What does this mean for the rise of virtual, ideological networks in the West? A habitus creates a shared basis for interaction and similar behaviour. This, in turn, leads to more trust in those, who display similar social dispositions and therefore makes it easier to construct one’s identity on the basis of a group sharing the same habitus. The same is true for the online realm, which partially explains the rise of terrorist networks as digital natives are likely to consume and perceive online propaganda differently, display more trust towards it and more easily commit to an ideology they are exposed to online. Terrorists networks expanded in the West partially, because digital natives are more likely to be able to form emotional bonds online and construct their identity accordingly.

There are three interrelated factors that contribute to a bottom-up rise of extremist networks in the case of digital natives: Familiarity, trust and cognitive belonging.


Firstly, digital natives find, access and navigate online environments more easily than older generations. The digital world constitutes a familiar environment for potential recruits and they navigate it intuitively. Importantly, they also find familiarity in the interactions with other digital natives, who share their habitus, and are therefore likely to communicate in a similar manner; something that develops naturally from a shared habitus and cannot be learned.


Secondly, while mature users tend to be cautious and aware of virtual dangers, younger generations associate online interaction with positive feelings and display a lot of trust in their virtual peers. This combination of trust and positive feelings associated with online contact constitutes a ‘cognitive opening’ for digital natives, making them more susceptible to ideas propagated by their peers. This condition is exacerbated by the tendency of online communities to create ‘echo chambers’: Once within an extreme environment, counter-messages are unlikely to reach the potential recruit. Similar to Facebook, which shows its users only what they ‘liked’, jihadi echo chambers display only messages in alignment with their ideology. Trust in the messenger, a fellow digital native, leads to more trust in the message, which is also increased by the virtual ‘echo chamber’.

Cognitive belonging

Trust is a necessary pre-condition for the third factor: cognitive belonging. Digital natives display intuitive knowledge of online interactions due to their partially similar socialization; their habitus. Some potential recruits become involved in terrorist movements, because they seek a feeling of belonging or identity, which is easier constructed in a group containing individuals similar to oneself. Despite its global reach, the shared habitus enables identity construction rested on a perception of a virtual ‘imagined community’ of similarly socialized individuals. This identity construction is achieved both through passive and active engagement with the ideology. On the one hand, when ideology is conveyed in familiar terms, it is easier to relate to. This is achieved, for instance, by utilizing Western foreign fighters to share their stories. This familiarity in messaging, only possible through similar socialization, is a tremendous advantage for recruitment. Messaging matters not only in terms of content, but also in terms of delivery. On the other hand, digital natives are used to highly interactive environments. If a group provides this room for expression, it creates an environment of constant negotiation and re-negotiation of ideology and identity. Today’s radical online communities are not only passive receivers of propaganda, they are active negotiators of the ideology.

Not every digital native is more susceptible to radical ideologies. In an online setting, however, they are more likely to perceive an online community as important and real, and, if the community is radical, are more likely to adhere to radical ideas through online interaction. One possible implication of this is that the constructors and conveyors of counter-narratives should be digital natives as well. An excellent counter-narrative will not lead to desired results if it is not received by the intended audiences in alignment with their expectations on online interaction. It is likely that the same messages have very different results depending on which generation verbalizes them. An educational effort by digital natives for their peers with content constructed by them is likely to increase the legitimacy of the counter-message due to increased trust and familiarity. It could therefore facilitate the effectiveness of counter-radicalization. Social media changes our lives and it changes the faces and mechanisms of terrorism. We need to be aware of these developments in order to counter them directly and effectively.

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



Is China’s growing appetite a threat to global food security?



by Tim Abington. Tim is a 6th Form student applying to study International Relations.

Over the course of the last two decades, China has become the blueprint for rising nations by becoming the dominant power across the East Asia and beyond. Yet, the People’s Republic is not without weakness and it is facing growing concerns, one of which is all too often overlooked in discussions of national security.

The Asian superpower is attempting to feed a population four times greater than that of the United States, on arable land which amounts to less 1/10 hectare per person, according to the World Bank. Historically, China has had mixed success in providing food for its growing population. The prized 95% grains self-sufficiency rate, enacted in 1996 following world cereal prices reaching a 15 year high, has contributed to a relatively stable food price. But then in stark contrast, the legendary photo of the ‘shopping bag man’ standing in Tiananmen Square and the protests which surrounded it were preceded by a year of high food inflation and panic buying.

The fear of further political unrest and desire for self-sufficiency has kept the People’s Republic on its toes in regard to food production. It heavily supports agriculture in each 5 year plan; tax-breaks, subsidies and direct payments all contribute to the national directive of 50 million more tons of grain annually by 2050.

Yet even those famously effective national plans may not be enough to reverse the worrying trends emerging within Chinese food markets. China is facing a dilemma that all rapidly developing nations encounter. Urbanisation and industrialisation inevitably result in an agrarian decline. Those areas of China which are most suitable for agriculture are those in which urbanisation occurs: the flat, well-irrigated, fertile land of the East coast proving ideal locations for factories, technology parks and high-rises.

In the last 20 years alone Chinese arable land has declined by 2%. This might sound paltry but equates to 187,764 km2, enough farmland to produce 1 billion tons of wheat- or 1 trillion loaves of bread. As the skyscrapers appear across Shanghai’s skyline, the rural population is moving, at an ever-increasing rate, towards the cities. It numbered 74% at the time of Tiananmen Square, it has now shrunk to 44%. In an effect mirrored around the world, the Chinese are struggling to keep farmers on the farms.

Instead, many are heading for the bright lights of the cities. They’re choosing the sparkling new university campuses, factories and laboratories over rural deprivation and squalor. This decline is posing greater problems than the lack of wheat alone. It is having an impact upon consumption od China’s new opium: pork. China has a rather unique relationship with the pig. It is the only nation in the world with a strategic reserve of frozen pork, (a reserve from which it was forced to release 3 million kilograms as pork prices rose 50% in April) and is said to have been the first area in the world to domesticate the swine.

The hog has become as much a part of the rural home as the iPhone has of the urban one. Mirroring its booming economic growth, Chinese pork consumption has only increased, to 56 million tons- half of the world’s total. Naturally, the total number of pigs matches the appetite, 482 million hogs strewn across China, all of which require feed and water. It is, therefore, of no surprise that a culmination of urbanisation and rising consumption of white meat has placed pressure upon China’s grain supplies. This has resulted in a shift from exporter to importer of soybeans, wheat and rice. The country now imports 70% of its wheat from the United States- a worrying step towards dependency for a state that is determined to be self-sufficient.

That said, this trend is traveling both ways across the Pacific. In what was a controversial move, the Shuanghui Group, China’s largest meat producer and whose chairman enjoys a seat on the National People’s Congress, purchased Smithfield Foods – the world’s largest pork producer – in a takeover which was the largest Chinese acquisition of an American company to date. Along with the markets it brought, the deal allowed Shuanghui to acquire vast acres of farmland across Texas and Missouri, the more to meet the demands of the hungry urbanised Beijingers and Shanghainese.

There is now significant Chinese investment in the US meat processing industry, the Australian and New Zealand dairy industry and several European agri-technology firms (along with their patents for GM crops and fertilizers). Even the humble Weetabix is in Asian hands as China eyes up prime farmland, infrastructure and technologies around the world in order to meet its domestic demand. This appears to be a trend set to continue as companies remain encouraged by the Government directive “to focus investments on agricultural logistics, trading, and production assets overseas in order to ensure a dominant role for Chinese companies in the supply chain for imported commodities.” A clear bid from the State Council to strengthen its food security.

Quite literally, the Chinese are eating the globe’s breakfast, lunch and dinner with elevenses to match. Or as Xinhua News agency nicely puts it, the PRC’s appetite increasing invokes the question “feed China, starve the world?”

There are severe implications of China’s attempts to satisfy its hungry population. Other nation states must wake up to these dangers and address this issue of food security in order to prevent food supplies go sailing into the sunset. It is quite easy to be reassured by defensive spending commitments but as numerous recent political turmoil shows, a rise in food prices on supermarket shelves inevitably results in political and economic turmoil.

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

Imagining 2030: Out of a desert

Imagining 2030 is a series in which PS21 writers describe the world as they see it in 14 years time. 

Jorge Vanstreels writes on the Middle East and Foreign Policy for a variety of publications and is based in Belgium. His regional travels have led him through the West Bank, the Syria-Jordan border, or Tunisia’s deep south. He is currently pursuing his Master of Law at the University of Antwerp. Follow him on Twitter @Jorgevs


In an unknown spot somewhere in the deserts of Arabia far away from any capital stood the tiny village of Ar-Rashid on a plateau surrounded by dunes. It was night and the village was covered in a type of darkness only found in remote places. The sky was vaguely lit up with all possible stars large and small. Seen from space, not even a minuscule light was visible to pinpoint the village in the grand, dark sea the desert formed.


On a plateau, a few houses had been built of cheap bricks and covered with thin metal roofing. Three unpaved roads gave the village some sense of orientation. In the evening, the call to prayer from the administrative town some distance away was heard. Ahmed stood at the entrance of his parent’s house. Indeed, tonight his decision was final. He looked nervously to the dunes at the horizon. Their rolling shapes stood out against the lighter night sky. His father came in and Ahmed asked if he wanted to go out for a walk. Sure, said his father, a tall man in his late 30’s with curly black hair that was starting to turn slightly grey.


“What’s up?” he asked his son. Ahmed just shrugged his shoulders. “Let’s go out,” the father said. They walked to the dunes at the end of the road. Their sharp forms stood out in dark-grey against the brighter night sky. After they had climbed the top of a dune they sat down. There was silence as both looked up at the sky.


“Look”, his father said, pointing to a bright light just above the horizon to their right. It moved slowly higher describing an arc. His father’s arm followed the object’s motion until it was above them.


“When I was young,” he said, “the movement would go so much slower. You could follow that plane through the sky for more than two minutes.” Now it had flown across their vast horizon in less than a minute. Ahmed thought of those inside, looking down into what would surely be nothing.  “The times of progress,” his father smiled, dreaming of a gleaming, supersonic object they knew only from images.


Ahmed looked to his father. He was nervous, unsure as to how he would react. “So, tell me. What is on your mind?” Ahmed stayed silent. He thought of his friends. Of all those hours, those infinite days spent in a spot you could not find on a map. He had the sense the rest of the world had a sure time and place while his had not. He bit tensely on his lip while looking up at the sky. “I am going to leave,” he said, “tomorrow morning.”


There was silence from his father.


“With the bus I will go to the capital; it is decided and I do not want to change my mind,” he said, trying to sound decisive. A multitude of stars large and small was scattered generously around; the combined glow gave the night sky a pale luminosity. In between the top of the dunes shadows formed and valleys could be seen. His father sighed heavily. Although his father knew why his son wanted to leave, he asked him why. Ahmed sensed his father knew very well, but he did not tell him that.


Their country had in the last few years slipped into violence. Although the remote provinces had been spared, all the major cities had witnessed serious riots by thousand youths. They would chant slogans for justice. It was not clear what they meant by that. Aggravating it, or perhaps fueling it, was the scarcity of jobs .The country was bankrupt, as petroleum was globally out of favor.


On the dunes, a breeze swept some sand away into the air. “Father, thirty years ago you left. You risked your life to reach Europe, leaving our grandparents behind, with them trembling for your life each night. Grandmother says it cut her life short ten years. Why did you go?” Ahmed said, almost with exasperation, “What was there to find that even death could not scare you?” There was a shrug of the shoulders.


“Look son, nothing has changed. Not here, nor in those place we dream of. If someone is young like you, there is still nothing you can call a future.” He paused. “Sure, there’s a roof. There’s a bed, there’s a meal. That is it. At my age, one learns to accept that.” His father continued, “When I was as young as you I went to Europe for something better, yes. I felt angry. My parents did not understand, begged me to stay. So I shut up until I left them as a thief in the night.”


A silence. “Why did you come back?”


“I worked two years; hard. Nothing there made me happy. All the money was sent back here; then I was sent out of the country, as I did not have papers. Not that I was bothered, I had grown indifferent. So I said: better poor at home, then work and sadness and no home soil.”


Ahmed grinned.  “Yeah, that makes some sense.”


Then his father asked, “You will go to the city to protest, yes? With the imam and all his followers, right? You want to join him. You want to fight. For justice.” He said the last word with a hint of cynicism. His son nodded, looking to the sand between his feet. “All my friends are there”, he said, “Everybody goes. We have to defend the honor of our future. I can’t explain father, but you should understand. You hated your world too.”


Indeed his father had. With age, the hate had transmuted into a peaceful bitterness. Their country was not the only one. The whole of the Middle East had seen order disappear. Monarchies had fallen, autocrats had gone, borders had been redrawn, countries broken apart, others stitched together. In the days of Ahmed’s father the frustrations of the young had been channeled into religious extremism; now a different kind of extremism had emerged in the region, carried by progressive imams in cities, a new political view that merged Islam with Marxist principles of class struggle. It called for the overthrow of the established order, by blood and force if necessary. Many youngsters had heeded the call of the new Revolution.


Ahmed asked in a sudden outburst of anger, “our country, this vast country full of people is only for those corrupt and maliciously rich. They as Gods and only they decide; high up on their thrones, treating us as cattle, against the very will of Islam. Not as humans. Do you think they care for even one single moment? They couldn’t care less than for a grain of sand.”


”They do not care,” his father said softly.


Ahmed continued, “Nothing has changed, father. You left to find something better, you did not get it. What will we do? Wait until what? Until the sand has run us over and everybody forgets about honor or dignity? No. What does our religion say? We have to fight against the forces of evil. They are fighting in the streets. That’s where history goes, that’s where we have to stand, even if blood flows.”


“Look, father, I understand you do not want me to go. But what is there for me, here? Emptiness,” he gestured impatiently to the horizon.


The state, as in all provinces, had given basic education in the nearest administrative town. In the times of his father, university was free when petroleum was still selling. After that, the crisis had hit hard. Now only the very rich or the connected could afford higher education. Ahmed knew the basics of mathematics, some English, a few centuries of history, too much religion, and that was it. On television, all saw the archetype of the successful Arab man in smart suit, fast car and next to him a beautiful woman. Ahmed said firmly. “They who rule against God have to go. It is not just. I will not stay here doing nothing.”


His father stayed silent, looking to the dark slopes and valleys in front of them. ”I cannot say and I will not say you are right; however I cannot stop you either, my son,” was the only thing he said.


It was uncertain whether the time ahead would bring a better future. Uncertain too was whether the anger of the young would once again transform the region, this time for good. What was sure was that the unknown would be reached through an inevitably violent upheaval.


It was still dark when Ahmed left the house. His father would tell his mother, later. On the road the bus came. The doors closed. The engine creaked. The sun rose, fast.


Interested in contributing a piece to the series? E-mail us at

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

Exploiting the Electorate: Lessons from Brexit

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Imagining 2030: Hope Renewed

Imagining 2030 is a series in which PS21 writers describe the world as they see it in 14 years time.  

Scott Cheney-Peters is a civil servant at the State Department, founder of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), a Reserve surface warfare officer in the Navy’s strategy office, a Truman National Security Project fellow, and a CNAS Next-Gen National Security Leader fellow.

Richard Lum is the founder and chief executive of Vision Foresight Strategy. He is an academically trained futurist and holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Hawai‘i’s Alternative Futures Program.


“That’s it, right there,” said Ashik. Through beat-up VR goggles he saw an over-the-shoulder view of one unmanned underwater vehicle approaching another, larger, unmanned underwater tender. What he saw was only a simulated rendering based on inertial navigation data, but he knew that if he could see them, both machines would be visibly in need of overhauls – or retirement. The words “Operator – Take Manual Control” flashing across his lower field of vision piqued his curiosity.

“Uh, Rima…you still awake?” he called out through the goggles’ integrated microphone as an indicator ticked down the distance to the tender. “This chickadee is coming home to mother hen pretty quick.”

“Yep, sorry, almost there,” crackled the response through his headphones. A low monotonous tone began buzzing at more frequent intervals as the warning continued to flash on screen. It wasn’t like Rima to be away from her control console before an approach; she had a way of manufacturing enough anxiety without inducing real cause for concern.

The alarm silenced and the words “Manual Control Initiated” appeared briefly before fading from Ashik’s display.  

“Sorry, back!” she exclaimed, out of breath. The speed with which the UUV operator was handling the inbound vehicle told Ashik she was either supremely confident or completely impatient. Knowing his little sister, it was definitely the latter. “Careful now…. ease it in,” he said into the microphone. Had he been with her in the dimly lit control room he would have given her a squeeze on her shoulder, as he always had when reminding her to focus and relax. Even though she was over seven hundred nautical miles away on a different ship, his old home, practicing for her UUV/USV rating, he could clearly picture the thin line of perspiration that would be beading in the fold of her neck. As she successfully mated the UUV with the tender Ashik’s simulated feed dissolved as she powered down her machine.

“You know,” said Rima over the VOIP channel still feeding into Ashik’s earbuds, “better systems automate this part too so you can spend more time on maintenance.” Ashik detached the goggles from the headset and placed them on the console in front of him, careful to avoid the dark, congealed pools of recent beverage spills.  “Jess, my friend on that lashed-up refinery Kerama-way,” Rima continued, “she even has an on-mother printer so they can keep the tenders out for more than two weeks.”

“Is that where you were? Doing maintenance?” Ashik tried not to let his suspicion creep into his voice – he knew she already thought him protective to the point of overbearing.  

“Yeah, was installing a few software patches on the drones in the bay and lost track of time.”

Plausible. He wasn’t sure why he doubted her answer.

“Anyway, how do you know what “better systems” have? This from spending all your time gossiping on the net with your friends?”

“Uh, no,” she replied, her voice betraying no small amount of irritation. “From reading the professional notes, which is how you make me spend my time. Unfortunately, you’ll be far too busy soon with your new job to keep watching over my shoulder,” she said. Despite the clear sarcasm in her voice, Ashik thought he detected a faint note of sadness.  

“That’s what you think,” winked Ashik. “There’s always drones.”  He heard her bark a laugh on the other end of the line.  Once when they were younger, just after they had lost their parents, Ashik had rigged up two micro drones from scraps around their village and programmed them to follow her day and night. She had been furious at the time, but now it was a private joke between them. “Besides,” he said, “you’ll not be much further away than your little friend there, three days out on its mission into the Wop-Gop.”

“Ugh, the first thing I’m going to do is start calling things by their technical terms – mothership UUVs and their USVs, not ‘mother hens’ and their ‘chickadees.’ And don’t get me started on the Western Pacific Garbage Patch,” Rima said, crisply articulating each word. “Seriously, Wop-Gop?”

“Look,” Ashik sighed. “I know you’ve got the manuals, but you’ve got to focus on your training and studies, no …”

“I can’t have my whole life be this… this garbage,” Rima cut in. “You love it out here, but you know I’m going ashore when I can. Besides, I’m apparently going to be just the latest thing my big brother gets to remotely control, so why should I stress with studies if you’ll always be able to help me out of a jam.”

“Rima. That’s not fair. You know us coming out here to do these jobs wasn’t a choice. After the mercy ship picked us up it was either contribute here or go back to all that death and misery. No one ashore would have taken us and we’d already lost …” he dropped his gaze to the goggles on the console. “Well, you know all that. More important, it was the thought of giving you, my chickadee, a chance at something better.”

“Eeesh! Okay, this just got way too sappy,” Rima exclaimed in his ear just as Ashik exited through the hatch of the spare UUV control shack. He started towards the scuttle that would take him up to the common room and mess three decks above for a hot meal.

Ashik had left Hope Renewed, the waste-recycling vessel, or “waster,” where they had lived for five years after their initial ordeal. In those days, placement options by the refugee charities and governments that supported them in an attempt to stem the human tide had been limited. But the stateless, floating economy continued to develop and expand as more and more people tried their luck forging a life at sea, driven by libertarian ideology or—more commonly—by necessity. Now, after a year of specialized remote training, Ashik was just three weeks into work at a new aquaponics farm east of the Philippines to begin an apprenticeship. Grow and reuse, two stages in a larger cycle of material use. This, at least, was how Ashik had come to link the two jobs as he tried to draw connections between the disparate chapters of his own life.  

“Anyway, we don’t know how well this connection’s going to hold up,” Ashik said as he pulled himself up the metal hand bars of the scuttle. “So you might have your independence after all.”

As Ashik reached the common room he heard a commotion on the other end of the line.

“Rima, is that the ship’s intercom?”

“Yeah, not sure I can make it out any better than you though.”

Indecipherable as usual, thought Ashik as the sound bleed through his earbuds, a mix of static and the elongated consonants of Jamal, advisor to the mayor of Hope Renewed and muezzin. But even without looking at the clock he knew the call to prayer wasn’t due for another several hours.

“I think he’s trying to muster the ship’s militia?” Rima offered before the line went dead.




Commander Jeanne Collet stared at the vessel off Guépratte’s starboard bow, gripping the railing of the bridge wing even though aware the four feet closer from her bridge wing chair made no practical difference. With successive exaggerated winks she flicked through the optical enhancements and overlays of her glasses, trying to find useful information among the deluge of data. Eventually she came upon the QR code scanner.

“Lieutenant, try to raise them again,” she said.

No answer.

“Alright. Helm, all engines back one third. Let’s keep this distance until we know what we’re dealing with.”

Her naked eye could see that the vessel, dead in the water, was covered in running rust that bled streaks of orange into peeling white paint. The vessel’s name and IMO number had long since flaked off, but the laser-engraved QR code at the ship’s stern was still discernable. So, she thought, at least someone was concerned about keeping the vessel on the right side of the law. It had been what, a decade since the new U.N. Convention on Safety of Life at Sea mandated QR engraving on all vessels. Not that most complied, especially not those for whom such a mandate would require a retrofit. She guessed it had been many years since the vessel before her had felt the warm embrace of a dry dock for deep and thorough hull maintenance.

Her glasses and a panel on the captain’s chair in the pilothouse began beeping, half a beat out of synch. Stepping inside the pilothouse to investigate, Collet was enveloped in a sheen of information projected from the bridge’s jumble of overhead wiring and devices. As she turned and looked back towards the vessel, the data appeared to emanate from the gently bobbing hull, its heading shifting with the wind and unknown no more. Bright red, floating letters flashed “Critical Contact of Interest.”

Shit, she thought reading the CCOI report. So much for a speedy transit. The promise of a long weekend in port in New Caledonia for the crew had beckoned, payoff for extended upcoming illegal fishing operations.

She read on. The vessel, the Hope Renewed, was unflagged but had once been owned and registered by Citizens without Borders, an American NGO, in one of the ad hoc databases of refugee ships. She could tell from the welding job on the side of the hull that the drone bay was in frequent use and ostensibly for work in the Patch. Most likely a waster, collecting and breaking down the floating refuse that choked sea lanes into bricks of raw materials like plastic for use in the additive manufacturing plants that had sprung up throughout offshore Asia. Politicians back in France had been making a stink about the floating factories’ lack of effective labor laws allowing them to “steal” French jobs, as though the jobs hadn’t already been lost through decades of over-generous social benefits.  

But Collet had learned not to take appearances at face value. It wouldn’t be the first time the Chinese or Vietnamese had masked their activities among the refugees. Even if the intel about Hope Renewed was bad, without the protection of a state they were juicy targets, their kind helping fuel the boom in piracy throughout the world and stretching Collet’s navy that much further.

“Officer of the Deck, once more,” she said.

Still no answer.

“Alright, continue hailing them on bridge-to-bridge once every five minutes, and see if CIC can find someone on their vessel actively chatting on the net.”

“Ma’am, we’ve got a couple social media accounts that look likely to belong to Hope Renewed inhabitants but none responding to pings. Will let you know if that changes.”  

She hoped she could just have tea with the mayor or however the vessel’s leader styled themselves. If there wasn’t one, if it wasn’t a refugee ship or if she met resistance, she needed to be prepared. She knew a show of force might escalate the situation, but years spent trying to disrupt—ha, dent, the illicit maritime networks of Southeast Asia reinforced the need to balance prudence with the precept that it was better to be safe than sorry. She’d be balancing both today.

Collet picked up the microphone for the ship’s internal intercom. “Guépratte, this is the Captain. We have identified a vessel suspected in a series of attacks on merchant shipping. They have failed to respond to our hails. We are sending over a boarding team to investigate. It is critical that we determine who has been disrupting these sea lanes and, well, automated cargo ships don’t provide much details.”

In the past month, seven ships were taken in the same manner in waters stretching from the South China Sea to the Philippine Sea. Shipping insurance rates were rising with the sophisticated attacks subjecting their prey to all-systems jamming prior to the impact of what the post-incident analysis suspected were drone-based waterborne IEDs.

Guépratte’s XO, a lanky Algerian with a graying goatee, sidled up to Collet. “Ma’am, you think these attacks are fallout from Southwest Cay?”

“I don’t know. But if Hanoi wants to warn Beijing off from making another play for their last Spratly outpost, taking seven Chinese-owned vessels certainly got their attention. Of course, that’s a risky play to make. If the Chinese can make a link, the threat to additional shipping likely won’t reign in nationalist calls for blood for what’s already been hit. I don’t relish the spectre of full-scale hostilities but it looks like that’s where we might be headed.”

“So we need to find out the truth first, to be prepared for the consequences.”

“Exactly. A week ago an American UAV caught sight of a surface vessel returning to Hope Renewed from the general direction of an attack. Nothing conclusive, but the best lead so far.”  

Collet turned to the Officer of the Deck. “Muster the boarding team in full exo gear. And tell combat to throw up a POP. I want eyes on that vessel.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

While Collet often chafed at having to sift through the reams of information brought in by all the Navy’s new gadgets, the Perimeter Overwatch Package, or POP, was one system that had proved its worth. The sound of several small overhead drones taking flight filled the bridge. They didn’t provide great real-time interior views, just some infrared, but the enhanced external situational awareness and 3D rendering of Renewed Hope provided to CIC and the bridge was superb. They were also armed.

“Ma’am, POP is in place. There’s nothing topside but we’re also not reading anything below decks. Could just be an error with the sensors. Do you want us to drop an ICS-disable package?”

“Negative. Doesn’t look like they can get their engines up in a hurry, better not to scare the locals. But be ready at the first sign they’re warming them up.” Balancing again. The industrial control system-disable package was a small autonomous robot carried aboard one of the POP drones that sought out and shut down the computers running the ship’s engines by breaching the system’s air gap and directly installing malicious code.

A petty officer approached Collet with a radio in her outstretched hand. Taking the radio, she said, “Boarding officer, this is the captain, report.”

Ma’am, the boarding party is mustered on the flight deck. Two of the suits are malfunctioning, out of commission, and the back-ups are going through maintenance.”

“Sounds about right. Just send their owners in the rear during the initial insertion. And make sure the team’s focused on the mission—not New Caledonia. We don’t know what we’re dealing with here. I’ll make my way across to exchange pleasantries once we do.

“Aye ma’am. Preparing to launch the line over with your permission.”

“Launch when ready.”

Over the next half hour Collet watched as her boarding team launched over a magnetic line to a high point on Hope Renewed, secured the trolley system, and one-by-one rode up the powered zip-line-like device dozens of feet above the sparkling waters, gently arcing to the contact point. CIC reported visual on all members of the boarding party arriving safely aboard Hope Renewed, confirmed by the boarding officer moments later.

Now the waiting. Collet was a believer in letting her subordinates work without constant instruction, contenting herself to listen to the chatter between boarding team members as moved through the large vessel. But as she listened she developed a growing sense of dread. At last the boarding officer called for her.

Captain, this is the boarding officer. You’re going to want to see this.”

“What is it?”

Frankly, not sure what we’re dealing with. As far as we can tell it’s empty. There’s no one here.”

“Captain,” called CIC before Collet had time to react. “Vessel inbound off the port quarter, five miles out. It’s pretty small, no visible weapons. One man topside.”


As Ashik gripped the wheel of the solar boat, the running lights of a ship twinkled in the evening mist. They corresponded almost exactly with the AIS fix for Hope Renewed. But as he approached his radar indicated two vessels, both dead in the water. Apprehension mixed with anger and relief that one way or another his multi-day journey on the high seas was at an end. He’d seen few warships during his time in the Pacific, but they were enough to recognize the vessel alongside Hope, illuminating the onset of night with her growing superstructure. If they were responsible… he thought. Well, at least they might have answers.



Interested in contributing a piece to the series? E-mail us at


Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, non-ideological, non-partisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own. Furthermore, the story above does not reflect the views of any of the author’s affiliations.

Hope Renewed is a part of the #CrowdedSeas project led by the authors, delving into the future of the maritime domain. Over the course of several months this project will develop hypotheses about the future of life and death at sea, particularly in Asia, in the 2030-2050 timeframe. It will apply a series of different methodologies to conduct this exploration, including strategic forecasting, short fiction writing, and design thinking that will culminate in a written report.

The other story from Saudi Arabia

Kingdom_Tower_at_nightA printer-friendly version is available here.

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

Recent headline-grabbing events coming out of Saudi Arabia overshadow an issue which has been simmering for years: the plight of the country’s migrant workers.  Western governments need to take a – albeit uncomfortable – stand against their ally.

The first planes arrived at Bole airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in early November 2013. As the passengers spilled out onto the tarmac, they were soon joined by hundreds of other returnees scrambling to collect their belongings and to make their way to the migrant transit centres. From November 2013 to March 2014, an estimated 160,000 more Ethiopians were to follow. Deported from Saudi Arabia during an unprecedented crackdown on undocumented migrant workers, they were given the ultimatum: voluntarily leave or face deportation.

Rights groups raised serious concerns over the Saudi’s treatment of migrants during their deportation. However, in Addis Ababa the scars on the bodies of women returning and their personal accounts told the story of abuse extending far beyond the mistreatment inflicted during their deportation.  Employed as domestic workers in Saudi households, many of these women spoke of routine mistreatment, ranging from withheld wages to serious psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. The Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat, a Nairobi-based migration organisation, found that in the shelters hosting female returnees a “significant proportion” were “mentally ill”, having suffered various degrees of abuse. In one shelter a woman had arrived paralysed, having been thrown off a balcony by the family for whom she worked. A 15-year old girl recounted how she was given “medicine” by her employers but was unsure what followed, although she had a “feeling they raped me”. Reports of suicide among domestic workers are not uncommon.

Despite the immediate outrage generated in Ethiopia and internationally by these revelations, this systemic abuse was already fairly well known, but largely ignored, by Saudi authorities. Domestic workers face many barriers to speaking out. Fear of being accused of moral misconduct, adultery or even sorcery prevent many women from raising issues of abuse with the police, as do laws requiring women to be accompanied by an unmarriageable male (father, brother, son) when going to the police – a relative most female domestic workers do not have in the country. As such, their grievances frequently go unheard.

Facing a system which is already stacked against them, their vulnerability is further aggravated by the fact that these women often arrive completely unaware and unprepared for what awaits them. Many women are from rural, poor regions in Ethiopia, with limited education and knowledge – if any – of Arabic. They frequently lack the skills needed to operate the modern household equipment essential to their domestic work, drawing the ire of their employers. Despite this, the economic prospects and the hopes placed on them by relatives for financial support back in Ethiopia means that there is no shortage of Ethiopian women willing to take the risk to seek domestic work in the Saudi Kingdom, making them an easy target for exploitation and abuse.

Such a toxic mix is exacerbated by pervasive discrimination towards Africans in Saudi Arabia. Saudi media feeds this with reports of Ethiopian workers being criminals, involved in prostitution and alcohol. The Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat reports a hierarchy for domestic workers, with Filipina women considered the most desirable, followed by Indonesians, and with African women last. This prejudice fans abuse within the ‘kafala system’ governing labour migration, as Saudi employers hold excessive power over their workers, making for “slavery like conditions” according to Human Rights Watch.

The condemnation garnered by the revelations of wide-spread abuse of foreign domestic workers did prompt some, albeit belated, reforms from the Saudi government. In October 2015 the government made amendments to the Labour Law which introduced or increased fines for employers who confiscate migrant workers’ passports, or fail to pay salaries or to provide copies of contracts to employees. However, as Human Rights Watch noted, the new laws exclude domestic workers, who mostly consist of migrant women. The reforms made to laws governing domestic workers back in 2013 are insufficient. They still permit employers to require a 15-hour workday and deny domestic workers the right to turn down any work without a ‘legitimate’ reason.

Sadly, recent developments make significant change in the near future unlikely. Previous events offer insight into how Saudi domestic politics impact migrant workers. The 2013 mass deportations were partially in response to the Arab Spring and Saudi government fears that high national unemployment rates, especially among the youth, could spur the spread of political instability in the Kingdom. With current regional turmoil and government fears of domestic insecurity, there is the real risk for further government crackdowns on migrant workers and toleration of their abuse, using them as scapegoats for the country’s troubles.

Of all the headline grabbing events coming out of Saudi Arabia right now, from tensions with Iran boiling over after the beheading of a prominent Shia cleric, to its role in the war in Yemen and in triggering plummeting oil prices, the plight of migrant workers, especially that of female domestic workers, has been largely ignored by the international community. This is a grave mistake. With over nine million migrant workers – roughly the population of Sweden – in a country of only thirty million, their mistreatment is a source of both internal unrest and serious friction between the Saudis and the workers’ national governments which often lack the bargaining power needed to push the Saudi government into real action.

Moreover, and perhaps most crucially, one lesson that history teaches is that tolerating serious human rights abuses against the most vulnerable only begets more – and escalating – abuses. A country that, with some justification, believes it can act with impunity because of its status as the world’s leading oil supplier may go on to commit acts that, when compounded, have profound and destabilising consequences within the Middle East and beyond.

Change will require determined action on the part of the international community. Given its close relationship to the Saudi government, the West has a particular responsibility to apply pressure on its ally regarding its human rights record – including towards migrant workers. In their extreme vulnerability, the situation of Ethiopian domestic workers symbolises the disenfranchisement of millions of migrants working in Saudi Arabia. Human Rights organisations have continually tried to draw attention to their inhumane treatment. It is time that those most able to influence the Saudi Kingdom for change, actually do.

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