London Event Sept 24: Discussion with US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction

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Time: Thursday September 24th, 2015, 6pm.

Location: One Horse Guards Road, SW1A 2HQ

As the longest-running and one of the most expensive wars in U.S. history winds down, just where did the money go? PS21 is delighted to present a discussion with the man looking into that very question, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko. After a successful PS21 event in DC this July, the Special Inspector General will be speaking in London at a PS21 event hosted by the UK Cabinet Office. What went right, what went wrong and what are the lessons for both the US and UK?

Moderator: Katherine Dixon, Programme Director, Transparency International UK

RSVP here.

You can find our report from the Washington DC discussion with SIGAR here.

London June 1 Event: Defence of the Realm with Lt-Gen Sir Graeme Lamb

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Defence of the realm in the 21st century: what does it mean? A conversation with Lieutenant-General Sir Graeme Lamb

With the UK election out of the way, attention within Whitehall is turning to yet another Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). The Project for Study of the 21st Century is delighted to host a conversation with Lieutenant-General Sir Graeme Lamb, former Director Special Forces and Commander Field Army.

With a dwindling budget and host of new and resurgent threats from Russia to ISIS, where should Britain’s defence priorities lie? Is there any way of moving beyond interservice rivalries? What were the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan and will future conflicts are in any way similar? Do new technologies bring more threats or opportunities? In a world where it is becoming ever harder to keep a secret, what future for intelligence agencies and special forces?

Is it truly possible to do “more with less”, and what might that look like? And perhaps most pressingly of all, if the British people have lost their appetite for foreign intervention, where does that leave the British military?

Moderator: Peter Apps, Reuters global defence correspondent and executive director PS21

Drinks from 6:30 PM, discussion from seven. Attendees will be sent the exact location.

RSVP essential. Sign up here.

London Discussion on Mideast Social Media: Key takeaways/media

10927527_1404460253192052_5967679135493759985_oOn Tuesday, February 17, 2015 PS21 hosted a discussion with Gulf-based blogger and member of the PS21 international advisory group Sultan al-Qassemi. He discussed the changing nature of social media in the middle east over the last decade.

The discussion was attended by a selection of activists, academics, regional experts and others. It was on the record and you can hear a recording of it at this link.

A full transcript can be found here: transcript – Sultan al Qassemi

Here are some of the key takeaways from the discussion from PS21 executive director Peter Apps.

“Social media has evolved…… from being a tool for activists and secular forces to being used by extremists such as ISIS,” said Sultan. “The social media companies are adapting and are beginning to block some of these users so that may change. Governments have also adapted… it’s a very different environment.”

Across the region, Sultan said that the morale of activists and more liberal forces had been heavily dented in the four years since the “Arab Spring”. In countries across the region, governments had clamped down seriously on activists, many of whom are now largely withdrawn from public facing platforms like Twitter into closed Facebook groups and other more secretive platforms.

While the old Al Qaeda franchises struggled to adapt to social media, the Islamic State had been much more effective, using it as a major platform to promote its ideology and activities.

In general, the last four years in particular have seen a fracturing of the Mideast media scene. The one-time dominance of a relatively small number of satellite channels such as Al Jazeera has been somewhat undermined. There are now more voices on a wider variety of platforms. One of the fastest growing in popularity is the Arabic language Russia Today, which trades heavily on conspiracy-type stories and criticisms of Western foreign policy.

While regional governments have adapted in the sense of being able to clamp down on social media dissent, Western governments have not. The various attempts by the United States to combat the Islamic State on twitter have been little seen and gained little traction. The exception is the media outreach from arts of the Israeli government, the military in particular.

“They are criticised and mocked that they are in the conversation,” said Sultan.

Other attendees saw some similarities to what had occurred in western activism in recent years — again, primarily since the Occupy and other movements. What had once been large, popular movements have become much more inward looking, self-critical and much less confident. 

Several participants expressed concerns that the increasingly fractured nature of the debate made peace building and traditional negotiations ever harder.

The situation varied somewhat from country to country. Tunisia, Sultan said, was probably now the second most liberal country in the Middle East for media after Lebanon. Egypt, in contrast, was much less liberal as were most of the Gulf states. In Iran as elsewhere, government had moved much more into the social media space and was using it aggressively as a propaganda tool.

“Every government in the region except Lebanon has jailed online activists,” said Sultan.

It was not an exclusively negative picture, however. Some new online platforms were making progress, at least in documenting events. Elliot Higgins, the UK blogger dubbed “Brown Moses” was very successful in exposing weapons deliveries and shipments in Syria. A new online newspaper in Yemen, Sultan said, offered some hope of giving greater clarity to that conflict.

The discussion was well received by all those attending.

“The focus was the topic of the discussion as much as the speaker which makes it more interesting,” said Sultan. “I’ve been with PS21 since the beginning and it’s good to see it finally taking flight.”

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London Discussion: South Asia Geopolitics from Afpak to Sri Lanka

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Friday, March 13, 2015 from 6:45 PM to 9:45 Canary Wharf, east London. Attendees will be sent exact location.

London Discussion: South Asia Geopolitics from Afpak to Sri Lanka

From the US withdrawn from Afghanistan to this year’s general election in Sri Lanka, South Asia’s geopolitics are in play in a way not seen in decades. In an evening discussion in London, PS21 will be taking a long look at a region where the great powers of China and India, Russia and the West have played off each other for centuries. Where do we go now? Who is really taking the lead? And what risks might that bring with it?

This event will be followed by a curry buffet and drinks for those who wish to attend. Likely food cost £15

chair: Peter Apps, executive director, PS21

Amjad Saleem: humanitarian and geopolitics consultant, now based in Colombo. Global fellow at PS21

Omar Hamid, former Pakistani government official and head of Asia-Pacific risk at IHS

Rahul Roy Chaudhury: senior fellow for South Asia, International Institute for Strategic Studies

Sign up for the event here.

London Discussion on Greece, Eurozone: Key Takeaways

greece-321799On Friday, February 2015, PS21 hosted a panel discussion in London on Greece, austerity and the future of the Eurozone.

The panel comprised the following:

Peter Apps: executive director, PS21 (chair)

Maria Prentoulis: lecturer, University of East Anglia. London spokesperson, Greek ruling party of Syriza

Tina Fordham: chief political analyst, Citi

Alex White: former official, HM Treasury. Research analyst, Politikos

Paul Taylor: European affairs editor, Reuters

The discussion was off the record to facilitate a full and free exchange of views. Attendees included activists, academics and members of the London financial community.

Below are some of the key takeaways from the conversation from PS21 executive director Peter Apps.

Attendees were largely confident a deal would be found between Greece and its creditors for the immediate bailout (which indeed happened later that day). Going forward, however, there were considerable worries over the future of the Eurozone project are mostly in the medium and long term.

The January election victory of Syriza — a party that then he insisted a year earlier — in Greece was seen as a sign of a wider backlash against establishment parties and figures across Europe and beyond. An untested political party and leadership inevitably faced is the learning curve under very difficult circumstances.

A problem, it was felt, was the opposing political narratives in Greece and other for Eurozone states and those in the centre, particularly Germany are also parts of eastern and central Europe in particular. While Syriza reflected popular Greek sentence that Germany was being unnecessarily harsh, the German political narrative blamed profligate Mediterranean states and gave little room for its negotiators to back down.

In the Greek, it was felt Syriza achieved sufficient (though really very limited) concessions to present a political victory back a wire sticking significantly to meet your requirements. In the longer term, however, are worried that it would become ever harder to “get to yes”.

A Greek exit from the euro, it was felt, would remain utterly disastrous primarily because of the second order affects in other states, particularly runs on the banking system. Financial markets are now pricing a much lower risk of Eurozone breakup compared to 2012. Still, there was a feeling that sometime in the next few years a country might well fall out of the euro with massive financial and geopolitical consequences.

The wider geopolitical situation, however, was also seen a factor, particularly growing tensions on NATO’s eastern flank of Russia. If anything, it was felt that might modestly reduce the risk of the Eurozone allowing the project to fail.

The key country to watch remains Germany, where peripheral parties opposed to further bailouts continue to gain ground. A major shift prior to elections in 2017, however, was seen still remaining unlikely. France will hold elections the same year and Britain may hold its referendum on EU membership if the ruling Conservative party win a general election this year.

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