5 October – War in the 2020s discussion with Elbridge Colby

Tuesday 5 October 19:00

Join PS21 and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development, Elbridge Colby, to talk the coming face of war in the 2020s…

PS21 invites you to the second event in its exciting new series discussing ‘War in the 2020s’.

In the 2nd in our series on “War in the 2020s”, PS21 talks to Elbridge Colby, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development on 5 October at 7pm BST, putting him at the heart of the Trump administration as one of it’s leading strategic thinkers. The 2020s have seen a dramatic return to great power tension, and with it potentially conflict risk.

Elbridge Colby’s soon to be published book,The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict, can be found on Amazon.


Peter Apps, Executive Director at PS21 and Reuters Global Affairs Commentator.

Edbridge Colby, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development.

Get your FREE ticket here.

7 September – War in the 2020s discussion with Admiral Gary Roughead – now with podcast recording

Tuesday 7 September 19:00

Join PS21 and former head of the US Navy, Admiral Gary Roughead to talk the coming face of war in the 2020s…

PS21 invites you to its exciting new series discussing ‘War in the 2020s’.

These virtual discussions which will also be recorded as podcasts. We will be talking recent developments in conflicts and geopolitics, and looking forward to the big issues and trends that will define the still new decade.

Our first guest has several decades of experience throughout his US Naval career in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Admiral Gary Roughead gradulated from the US Naval Academy in 1973. In 2007, he became the 29th Chief of Naval Operations and is one of two officers in the Navy’s history to have commanded both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets.

Listen to the podcast of the event here

27 July Joint Event with TEDXLondon

PS21 is delighted to partner with TedXLondon for the joint event below. TEDXLondon have kindly set aside tickets for PS21 supporters, and you can sign up on the link below.

On Tuesday 27th July 6:30-8:00pm they will be hosting their free monthly TED Circles session, coming together to share and discuss brilliant ideas worth spreading.

The theme of this month’s TED Circle is ‘Agree to disagree’. A topic that becomes increasingly important as we see growing polarisation in many societies, globally.

We’ll be exploring this theme through the lens of two great talks. Together we will discover whether we’re predisposed to developing political mindsets and how disagreeing productively and finding common ground can help us learn to overcome our natural tendencies to disagree.

We’ll also consider questions like:

  • Can political differences really be overcome?
  • How might disagreements fuel learning?
  • What can we do to better understand those whose perspectives differ from our own?

Please note that this is not a drop-in event – it starts at 6:30pm and finishes at 8:00pm, so if you join us after 6:30pm you may miss out on watching the first talk and discussion.

Tickets are free. Once you have registered, you will be sent the webinar link in your confirmation email.

Click here to sign up!

London Event December 17 – Festive Post-Election Drinks

Tuesday, December 17th, from 06:30 p.m., St. George wharf, Vauxhall, London, (exact location to be confirmed to attendees)

It’s time to celebrate the end of another successful year for PS21, and come together to discuss the highly anticipated election and what we expect in the year ahead! For our latest, festive drinks and networking event, we are delighted to invite volunteers, fellows, speakers and other supporters to enjoy an evening of interesting company and conversation with a beautiful view of the Thames. We hope you can make it!

Get your free ticket here.

GDPR notice: By signing up for this event, you are giving PS21 consent to share your details with the venue for security purposes. We will also add you to our events mailing list, from which you can unsubscribe at any time. If you have any queries or would prefer not to be added, please contact ps21central@gmail.com.

London Event October 30 – PS21 Autumn Drinks

This event is now sold out!
If you would like to be added to the waiting list, please email ps21central@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 30th, from 06:30 p.m., St. George wharf, Vauxhall, London, (exact location to be confirmed to attendees).

It’s time to celebrate a new season for PS21 events with another drinks and networking evening. We are delighted to invite volunteers, fellows, speakers and other supporters to enjoy an evening of exciting company and conversation with a beautiful view of the Thames. We hope you can make it!

Sign up here.

GDPR notice: By signing up for this event, you are giving PS21 consent to share your details with the venue for security purposes. We will also add you to our events mailing list, from which you can unsubscribe at any time. If you have any queries or would prefer not to be added, please contact ps21central@gmail.com.

London Event 12 December – PS21 Christmas networking drinks

Wednesday 12 December, 6pm, Saint George Wharf, London, SW8. 

It’s been a great year for PS21, and following the success of our November drinks reception we are delighted to invite volunteers, fellows, speakers and other supporters to our September drinks overlooking the River Thames. Enjoy a drink on us, network with interesting people and ponder what the year to come might bring.

Sign up here.



PS21 update – celebrating two years of PS21

Greetings all,

Hope this finds you well. Hard to believe we’re still barely a couple of weeks into the Trump  presidency and only a month into 2017. What’s almost equally hard to get one’s head around, however, is that the Project for Study of the 21st Century is now itself just over two years into its operations.

In that time, we’ve done well over 70 events in London, Washington DC and New York – primarily the former, it must be said, although we have some great plans for the American side of the pond in the coming weeks including a seriously fascinating discussion in Washington on what trends in popular culture tell us about the Trump era.

Details of that should be published shortly. In the meantime, looking forward to seeing those of you in London at our two year anniversary drinks next week. Details below.


All best,





London drinks – two years of PS21

Wednesday 8th February 2017, 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm GMT. Neo  Bankside, London SE1

It may be hard to believe, but it is now two years since PS21 launched itself on an unsuspecting world. Since then, the 21st century has swerved thrown up no shortage of unexpected developments, but we are proud to say that – unlike the Western political consensus or establishment – PS21 has not just survived but thrived.

Sign up here and join us in London to celebrate, discuss and hear about our plans going forward…

PS21 update – inauguration week issue

By the end of Donald Trump’s first full day in office, the Washington Post – and much of the rest of the US media – was accusing him not just of lying about the number of people at his own inauguration, but even telling falsehoods about what the weather had been like less than 24 hours earlier.

In Britain, meanwhile, a harassed looking Prime Minister Theresa May was fielding questions on whether the cost of doing a post-Brexit trade deal with America would be forcing the Queen to watch him play golf at Balmoral. Not to mention whether a Royal Navy Trident missile test late last year might have not just failed, but flown in entirely the wrong direction.

When we started PS21 two years ago this month, I’ll admit we never really expected the 21st century to itself accelerate on quite such an offbeat heading. It continues to provide great fodder for discussions, though, so we have no intention of stopping anytime soon. Indeed, we should have some upcoming events in the US to promote in the coming weeks as well.

In the meantime, however, here is my Reuters column from last week on how everything we have seen from the two-month transition suggests that this will be a VERY DIFFERENT PRESIDENCY!

Peter Apps

Global Affairs Columnist, Reuters

Executive Director, PS21


The future of nuclear [non?] proliferation

Tuesday, January 24, 6. 15 p.m.. Kings College London, Strand

From North Korea to Iran, Europe to the South China Sea, nuclear tensions seem on the rise this century. PS21 examines the drivers and technologies that encourage and allow this trend, and asks what – if anything – Western states can do to keep the risks in check.

Peter Apps [moderator] is executive director, PS21 and global affairs columnist, Thomson Reuters.

Cristina Varriale is a Research Analyst with RUSI’s Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Team. She specialises in non-proliferation, deterrence policy and CBRN security. Prior to joining RUSI, she worked in nuclear policy and research with the International Centre for Security Analysis (ICSA) and the British American Security Information Council (BASIC). Cristina holds an MA in Non-proliferation and International Security from King’s College London. She has also been a contributor at IHS Jane’s, and has written on nuclear issues for publications such as the Huffington Post and Prospect Magazine.

David Smart is a former UK civil servant who worked on Counter-Proliferation and Counter-Terrorism, and pioneered the exploitation of Financial Intelligence (FinInt) in these areas. Since leaving government service he has acted as a senior advisor to public and private sector clients on risk and security, with particular emphasis on economic crime and cyber-security.

John Bassett OBE worked for the British foreign service from 1991 to 2010. He was an adviser to the UK delegation during the final phase of negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and has 25 years of experience in various aspects of counterproliferation and arms control.

Paul Ingram is Executive Director of BASIC, responsible for developing its strategy to help reduce global nuclear dangers through disarmament and collaborative non-proliferation. Paul has authored a number of BASIC’s reports and briefings covering a variety of nuclear and non-nuclear issues since 2002. Paul has an extensive media experience and hosted a weekly peak-time talk show on IRINN (Iranian domestic TV News in Farsi) addressing issues relevant to global security 2007-2012. He also taught systems approaches on the flagship Top Management Programme at the UK government’s National School of Government 2006-2012.

Sign up here


Wednesday 8th February 2017, 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm GMT

It may be hard to believe, but it is now two years since PS21 launched itself on an unsuspecting world. Since then, the 21st century has swerved thrown up no shortage of unexpected developments, but we are proud to say that – unlike the Western political consensus or establishment – PS21 has not just survived but thrived.

Sign up here and join us in London to celebrate, discuss and hear about our plans going forward…

Is German society moving to the right?

By Laura Dubois. Laura grew up in Germany and studies Politics and International Relations at New College of the Humanities in London. She tweets at @msdubios

Germany will go to the polls later in 2017

Looking back on 2016, it has been a year full of ups and downs for Germany.

The German economy continued growing and is still the largest economy in Europe; and under the auspices of Angela Merkel’s strong leadership, Germany remains the most influential state in Europe.

The political landscape around Germany has however changed dramatically. Brett market a a significant shift in Europe, potentially threatening the cohesion of the union, but also making Germany the most powerful player in the negotiations.

Populism has risen around Germany, both in long-term allies like the US, and close neighbours such as Poland, Hungary, France, The Netherlands and Austria, to name only a few examples.

Whilst Germany has to battle right-wing tendencies itself, it has also become the bastion of the free world and more than ever takes an active position in defending liberal and democratic values, albeit using military force only reluctantly.

The migrant crisis, which has seen thousands of refugees migrate to Germany to escape civil war and political instability own North Africa and the Middle East, continues to be a contentious topic. It has contributed to the rise of the far-right in Germany, with the 2017 elections becoming more an more tense as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) currently scores a staggering 20% in polls.

2016 was also the year in which German citizens were hit by Islamic terrorism for the first time. The series of 2016 event reads like a crescendo of violence: in February a 15 year old girl attacked a policeman with a knife in Hannover, allegedly spurred on by an IS official; in April, two Salafi youths detonated bomb in a Sikh community centre in Essen. In July, an Afghan refugee attacked five tourists with an axe on a train near Würzburg, injuring four of them seriously. Later that month, a Syrian refugee who had pledged allegience to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide bomb outside a wine bar in the Bavarian town of Ansbach, with 15 people injured. And lastly, on the night of 19th December, a truck drove into a Christmas market in central Berlin, killing 12 and injuring 54, in an attack for which IS have claimed responsibility.

The immediate reaction after the Berlin attack was anger and disbelief. The AfD immediately held Merkel personally responsible for the attack, as Marcus Prezell, the head of the AfD in Northrhine-Westphalia, tweeted that the victims were “Merkel’s dead”. “Merkel needs to leave!”, demanded AfD’s chairwoman Franke Petry on Facebook, somewhat more diplomatically.

The central issue is that many of the aforementioned attacks were carried out by refugees who entered Germany via the Mediterranean or Balkan routes alongside many other people seeking shelter and safety from the war in Syria and other political crises in North Africa and the Middle East.

Anise Amri, the man responsible for the Berlin attack, is a Tunisian migrant who legally applied for asylum and received money and accommodation from the German government. A multitude of voices, the right’s being the loudest, now holds the government accountable for failing to recognise how dangerous Amri was. He was known to the authorities in both Italy and Germany for his criminal behaviour, yet could not be deported to Tunisia as the Tunisian government refused to issue his passport: Amri was thus able to stay on. A simple bureaucratic flaw seems to have enabled the attack to take place; which has rightly angered many citizens.

Many people are disillusioned with the lack of adequate legislation to tackle the refugee crisis effectively and ensure citizens’ security at the same time. The events of 2015’s New Year’s Eve in Cologne, where a large number of women were sexually assaulted by alleged migrants in the city centre, marks the change in German public opinion. German nationals feel that some of the refugees seem to feel ungrateful and don’t appreciate the safety and security they are being offered in Germany, instead resolving to commit crimes. Similarly, German authorities  should not tolerate this behaviour.

German Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizere, has announced a reform of the security apparatus to prevent further terrorist attacks, yet the government is still lacking consensus on the general issue of refugees, as it is an emotionally fraught one.

The right, with the Bavarian Christian-Social Union at its forefront, demands a lower threshold for migrants allowed into Germany, and increased security measures. The left, especially Die Linke and The Greens, argues against more stringent security and augmented police presence, as they worry this could limit civil liberties. With parties torn over how to deal with the refugee crisis, there is a feeling that solutions to potential security issues are coming forth too slowly.

Yet, the general atmosphere in Germany is not one of fear, anger, or hatred. As German celebrated the new year a few weeks ago, little was felt in terms of threats to the population which could inhibit the nationwide festivities. Of course, security measures in Berlin have been stepped up: Christmas markets in major German cities were protected by large vehicles or concrete block, with increased police presence to prevent rogue vehicles from entering. There were safety bag check at the entrances to the new year’s party in Berlin by the Brandenburg gate, also protected by concrete blocks. In Cologne, a large police force was on duty to prevent a repetition of last year’s fiasco.

All this however, did not affect the Christmas and new year’s celebrations of the citizens, who were able to enjoy the holidays mostly carefree. Tourists continued to flock to Germany’s famous Christmas markets. In student capitals such as Berlin, Cologne, Dresden and Leipzig, new year’s parties seemed to be influenced very little by the events of the last year. In particular, the younger generation is not outwardly affected by the terror attacks and continues to enjoy life as before, refusing to be afraid.

Revellers christen the New Year at the Brandenburg gate

A large part of the population, with the young at its forefront, continues to believe that welcoming refugees into the country is the humane and the right thing to do, despite the risks attached to it. Although not al Muslims are terrorists, many terrorists are Muslims, and the IS has openly stated that its intention is to smuggle more of its fighters into Europe via the refugee routes.

Nevertheless, the acceptance of asylum seekers into Germany reflects its basic democratic norms upon which the integrity of the state and its democratic values are built.  To refuse them would question the accepted norm that human rights should be universal, not just national; especially given Germany’s own record of human rights abuses in the 20th century. It is therefore the government’s duty to ensure that its citizens remain safe while organising the integration of refugees at the same time. Statistics show that indeed a majority of the population is confident that the government will be able to guarantee security, whilst only a minority feels affected by terrorism and are avoiding large gatherings in their daily lives.

Many German citizens thus remain optimistic abut their country’s position, despite last year’s events. The delay in adopting adequate measures has fuelled anger on the right, which has additionally often instrumentalist the issue of immigration to further their nationalist cause. It is mostly the rural, elderly and uneducated part of the population that has been swayed by this rhetoric, whilst the young generation refuses to buy into it. Demonstrators pertaining to the right-wing movement Pegida continue to gather every Monday in Dresden, yet they have shrunk to a crowd of merely one hundred each week, and seem to have lost traction somewhat. Despite populist tension, at the moment liberal norms still have a higher value than fear and hatred. The young generation in particular needs to assure that this continues to happen. 2017 will not be an easy year for Germany: it must ensure the security of its citizens and rethink its position on asylum without losing touch on the values it was built upon. The outcome of this balancing act will have a significant effect on public opinion for stakeholders like Merkel, and will likely determine the outcome of the upcoming elections.

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

The era of the lone wolf

By Linda Schlegel. Linda is an student of MA Terrorism Studies at King’s College London.

A man stands next to assailants’ car in Garland, Texas, USA, used in a lone wolf attack carried out by two gunmen in 2015

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. Each of 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 what is apparently a significant increase in attacks of this kind. It has been suggested by some that lone actors form part of a deliberate strategy by Islamic terrorist organisations and by implication that that law enforcement and civil society alike should prepare for more of these types of attacks.

There are three questions to be answered in order to judge whether this 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?

There are many definitions of what constitutes a “lone wolf”, which vary to encompass small cells as well as individuals. For the purpose of this article Spaaij’s  definition will be used, which describes the lone wolf as somebody 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. Furthermore, lone actors are not literally alone; like most of us, these individuals are embedded in network structures of family, friends or acquaintances. The defining characteristic of a lone wolf is the perpetration of an attack by himself/herself without following an external order. 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 and 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 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 endorse self-starter terrorists through its propaganda. The more general schism between different violent jihadist organizations about whether to target the ‘near enemy’ (i.e. regimes in the Middle East) or the ‘far enemy’  (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 already living in these Western countries and who could not be easily reached by a logistical support structure. Espousing lone wolf terrorism is a rational choice for IS. For instance, its ‘manual’ on how to use trucks for an attack 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 IS-inspired lone actor attacks are on the increase, although does not necessarily mean that this is the case.

A call to arms for individuals and willingness to claim 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 IS seems to succeed in this difficult undertaking.

As early as 2001, writer Marc Prensky observed that digital technology was beginning to fundamentally change the way that “digital natives” interacted; a digital native being somebody from the generation which has grown up using this technology. In his opinion digital natives process information in a very different way than previous generations did and are digitally ‘networked’ in all aspects of their lives. The group-level social 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.

However, 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 out 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 IS 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 wolves, these actors are more likely to have mental health problems and generally do not fit into group structures. These characteristics are generally only found in a small number of people, meaning that these actors alone cannot constitute the future of terrorism. However, the likelihood that exclusion and frustration may 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 to this, increasing travel restrictions and monitoring by state authorities may lead those who would have preferred to travel to Syria to join IS or another terrorist organization, to seek a different way of engagement, possibly with a lone actor attack. One of the key questions for terrorism research- why only some individuals employ violent means in response to grievances- remains unanswered for lone wolves and especially for the new generation of digitally-networked lone actors.

However, it is also worth noting that it is possible to engage in prevention and detection measures for lone wolves. John Horgan 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 of this phenomenon.

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

Post-Conflict Colombia: Demining The Battlefield

By W. Alejandro Sanchez Nieto and Brittney J. Figueroa. W. Alejandro is an international security analyst. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_SanchezBrittney is a recent graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelors degree in Global Studies, and a Minor in Latin American Iberian Studies.

Colombia is entering its post-conflict era as a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) has been ratified by the Colombian Congress, while talks with the country’s other insurgent movement, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberacion Nacional, ELN ) will commence in January 2017. Hence, it is natural that analysts, including the authors, are discussing what the government’s priorities should be toward maintaining peace and bringing more development and justice to post-conflict Colombia. One issue that President Juan Manuel Santos is paying particular attention to is the removal of mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).


The Situation

The use of mines and IEDs is a standard tactic utilized by insurgent and terrorist movements worldwide (Hollywood brought this issue to light via 2008’s The Hurt Locker). When it comes to Colombia, it is impossible to adequately estimate how many mines, IEDs, and unexploded ordnance lay across the South American country, as we would have to combine those that belong to the FARC, ELN and now-defunct insurgent groups.

As such, possibly the best way to assess the current situation  is by focusing on the number of casualties. In response to the problem, the Colombian government created an agency called Acción Integral Contra Minas Antipersonal (DAICMA) to track injuries and casualties caused by mines and IEDs. While overall incidents have significantly decreased since 1990, tragically, deadly explosions do still occur. For example, in 2013, two separate events of accidental mine explosions in Northern Colombia took the lives of two 13-year-old boys; one while he was walking with his grandmother, and the other during a school beach clean-up activity. Moreover, just this past November, Yisely Isarama Caisamo, a six-year-old girl from the Chocó department, tragically lost her life when she stepped on a mine. Her mother was severely injured as well, but survived. Mines have also taken the lives of animals: in January 2016, in the department of Cauca, an army dog saved the lives of 30 of his fellow soldiers when he stepped on a landmine covered by brush while attempting to secure the trail ahead.

When it comes to areas affected, most mines seem to be located in Antioquia, Nariño, and Meta. Acción Contra Minas, reports that from January 1990 to 30 November 2016, there have been 195, 121, and 63 deaths caused by mines in these departments, respectively. Of those 379 combined casualties, 106 were children. This is unfortunately not surprising, as these are areas with strong insurgent presence. The mine problem is exacerbated because areas with high amounts of mines are consistently found in rural areas where poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of accessible healthcare are rampant, making it more difficult for injured people to receive quick medical treatment.

An Elevated Response

As the war comes to a close, President Santos is pushing for increased demining of the battlefield as exemplified by his 15 October pledge that in four years 21 million square meters will be cleared of mines and IEDs. In order to achieve this, the Colombian Army has created a brigade, Brigada de Desminado Humanitario, tasked with demining operations. Currently, the brigade stands at 500 troops, however the plan is to increase its number to a division, or 5000 troops, in 2017 and to double that number in 2018.

Additional troops are a welcomed initiative as mines continue to be found. For example, according to a 15 December press release by the Colombian Army, the 160th Battalion located and deactivated four antipersonnel mines in Cerro Guerrilla, in the Chocó department. The Army reported that the devices belonged to the Ernesto Che Guevara Front of the ELN.

Insurgent And International Support

President Santos’ pledge is important and commendable, and the tragic recent loss of a little girl due to an explosive, highlights the need to rid Colombia of these weapons in order to prevent further loss of life. Nevertheless, one important issue to keep in mind is that in order to achieve that 21 million square meters of clearance, the Colombian military will have to operate in territory currently controlled by the guerrillas. Hence, insurgent support will be instrumental in finding minefields, and other areas where IEDs are located, to speed up their removal. It is important to emphasize that a treaty with the FARC has been signed, but negotiations with the ELN are only starting, so it would be a gesture of goodwill by the latter insurgent group to begin helping demining operations.

We must also briefly mention the role of the international community in this process. For example, the Obama administration and the Norwegian government have launched the Global Initiative for Demining Colombia. Similarly, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is also operating in the South American nation. As for non-governmental organizations, one major example is the British-based Halo Trust that has operated in Colombia for years.

The authors suggest that U.S. troops could be deployed to Colombia to actively help with the clearing operations. For example, the 122d Engineer Combat Battalion or the 1221st Route Clearance Company could visit the South American state and offer their expertise. These two units are singled out because they belong to the South Carolina National Guard that has been assigned to Colombia as part of the National Guard State Partnership Program. A sort of joint-mining clearance operation between the S.C. National Guard and the Colombian mining brigade would help strengthen bilateral military relations while working for a noble cause.

The Woes of Chocó

In a July 2016 press release, Acción Contra Minas outlined its goals and achievements relating to the mine situation. Some of these victories include the announcement that five municipalities in four departments:two in Antioquia, and one each in Bolivar, Meta, and Santander, were declared safe from mine contamination. Additionally, it was reported that there are currently mine-clearing operations in three other departments: Caldas, Sucre, and Tolima. The government is also working with civil society organizations as well as non-governmental organizations like the HALO Trust, Handicap International, and Ayuda Popular Noruega (APN).

While the ongoing mine-clearing efforts outlined by Acción Contra Minas are valiant, and the victories admirable, it is worrisome that Chocó, the poorest and most underdeveloped department in Colombia is not on the Desminado Humanitario 2014-2016 Plan of Action demining priority list—a list that includes 91 municipalities in 13 different departments. In many areas, mine-related incidents (both injuries and fatalities) havegenerally decreased (e.g. Antioquia, Caqueta, Tolima), while the number of incidents in Chocó hasfluctuated. For example, between 2012 and 2014, the annual total of incidents went from 16, to 10,and back to 16, respectively. In 2015, there were 17 incidents, the highest ever recorded in the department. As for 2016, the number is back down to 10.

Although the mine situation is a result of the country’s decades-old conflict, the infrastructural shortcomings of Chocó due to state neglect make the clearance of mines a more complex challenge. According to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (Departamento Adminstrativo Nacional de Estadística; DANE), in 2015 the poverty rate in Chocó was an astounding 62.8%, with 37.1% living in extreme poverty.Given the current economic situation of Choco’s inhabitants, those injured by mines face extreme difficulty in receiving the support they need. Quibido, the department’s capital has but one hospital for 400 000 people. This problem is aggravated because the road system in Chocó remains inadequate, despite an improvement project that first began in 1967.

The continued presence of mines and IEDs has had a deep social and very human impact on civilians living in areas where mines have yet to be extracted; hence it is imperative that Bogota continues to deploy mine-clearing missions. It is the authors’ hope that in due time, Desminado Humanitario programs will accomplish the total clearing in Chocó so that the state can then focus on setting and reaching new goals of infrastructural development in the weary department.

Final Thoughts

Mines and explosives are nasty tools of war. They do not recognize friend from foe, civilian from fighter, young from old. They lay underground waiting for days, weeks, or years before they are ignited. Countries like Cambodia and Vietnam are still suffering from these unexploded weapons of war, and Afghanistan and Iraq will suffer the same fate. Sadly, Colombia will similarly have to live with mines and IEDs in the countryside for the foreseeable future, though the creation (and future expansion) of the Army’s demining brigade, as well as international support, will hopefully quicken their removal. Cooperation with the insurgents will be key to locate the mines and other explosives in order to avoid future loss of life. Mines, IEDs, and unexploded ordnance have no place in 21st century Colombia.

The authors wish it to be known that the views presented in this essay are their sole responsibility do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the authors are associated. 

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation.

Why West Africa’s response to Gambia’s elections is vital

By Eric Mwiine Mugaju. Eric has just completed MSc Social Policy at LSE. He writes regularly for The Observer (Uganda) on politics, law and development issues in East Africa.


Incumbent Yahya Jammeh announced on Friday that he rejects the results of Gambia’s recent election



President Yahya Jammeh’s rejection of the election results will test the region’s response to democratic challenges. Although a small player in the region, Banjul is the home of the African Union commission; so it’s response to Jammeh’s claims of foul play will act as a barometer for tolerance of leaders in the region who are unwilling to concede defeat.

Last night I was writing an article about how West African states lead by example, compared to their Eastern relatives, in the transition of power following elections. Senegal, Nigeria and now Ghana, all have shining track records for peaceful transitions of power.

Mid-paragraph I was interrupted by the buzz of a Whatsapp message from a friend in Gambia who, for the past week, has been taunting me and offering to teach our East African leaders a lesson in democracy. By comparison to West Africa (notorious for coup d’états in the decades following independence,  seems to have fairly well nailed the electoral process) East Africa’s recent political history has been marred with messy and frequently violent attempts to transfer power: Burundi, Uganda DRC and Kenya have all experienced significant violence and intimidation around their elections in recent years.

Despite West Africa’s relatively better track record, I was one of the many who were pleasantly surprised to learn of Jammeh’s decision to concede power. Until, that is, I read this message on my phone screen: “I drove home from work and the streets were deserted after the announcement that The President is rejecting the elections”. It seems that the contest is not yet over.

The uneasy atmosphere that my friend spoke of in Banjul shows that even Gambians are unsure of what to expect in response this news. At this stage it seems unlikely that the major blocs- the Economic Coalition of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU)- will respond favorably, with the AU already labeling Jammeh’s rejection null and void.

The reaction of these institutions will be key in determining whether Jammeh is to continue leading the country without facing sanctions and peacekeeping forces (both the AU and ECOWAS have military resources at their disposal) and he would need to gain the backing of at least these two institutions.

Based on past actions, we can expect resistance to Jammeh’s move from ECOWAS. Throughout the Sierra Leone conflict, for example, it represented one of the few peacekeeping forces to continuously maintain a presence in the country- it is not an organisation that shies away from either involving itself with its members internal affairs or from taking direct action to correct them.

The AU is likely to take a more hands-off approach however even this traditionally lenient bloc has been more forthcoming in flexing its muscles against the will of leaders seeking to outstay their welcome. Last year the AU intervened in Burundi despite the fact the Nkuruziza technically had the right to remain in power. The Union’s threat to send in peacekeepers sent a warning message to the Burundian president and likely curbed post-election violence.

In addition to this, the African Commission is based in Gambia’s capital, Banjul, so how the institution reacts to Jammeh’s actions will carry added symbolism. Further, the AU would be faced with logistical difficulties if the country were to experience unrest.

So what led to the vote which would have toppled Jammeh’s 22-year reign? Simply put failure to recognise that the dynamics of this election would be different. Typically, there are two main contenders in Gambia’s elections: the incumbent’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) and the United Democratic Party (UDP). APRC typically draw support from the country’s second-majority Fula and Jola ethnic groups, and have enjoyed many years of comfortable majority in elections. The UDP courts smaller ethnic groups and despite not having won outright, normally secure a significant minority of the vote.

However, this year several factors have coincided to lead to Jammeh’s defeat. Early on in the race, it became evident that Jammeh had lost a significant proportion of the Christian vote and even moderate Muslim supporters due to his decision to officially rename the country “The Islamic Republic of Gambia” in 2015.

Gambia is a Muslim-majority country with a significant Christian minority who comprise around 8% of the riverside nation’s population. However, despite the conservative outlook of its leader, Gambian society traditionally upholds a relatively liberal brand of Islam and many Christians and Gambian Muslims expressed discomfort at this move to recognise a state religion. Additionally, Jammeh’s moves to legalise other aspects of religious dogma (the obligation for women to cover their hair in public, for example) lost him support.

Together with this, in the months before the election race, former MP and party ally, Mama Kandeh defected from the party and ran in opposition to Jammeh. In doing so, he split the two-horse race and stole a significant portion of Jammeh’s supporters. The defector, in fact, won 17% of the vote, enough to have swung the outcome in Jammeh’s favour if he had still been with the party. Given the strong correlation between ethnic and political affiliation, Mama Kandeh’s split from the APRC diminished the voting power of the group by dividing their support between two candidates.

All this considered it seems more likely that Jammeh’s U-Turn could have more to do with feeling the sting of failing to act in the face of a preventable loss than “serious abnormalities”. Either way, this marks a departure from the status quo and we should watch West Africa’s leadership and see how it will react to the news: you can rest assured that would-be Jammeh’s in West Africa and beyond will be listening with intent.

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