London Event Oct 10 – Tech, Society & Politics

Monday 10th October 2016. Drinks from six p.m., discussion from 630 p.m. Neo Bankside, SE1

From the shanty towns of Lagos to the rise of Brexit and Trump, crowdsourcing to video on demand, changing technology is revolutionising society and politics round the world. How are modern political and media networks evolving? What does that mean for changing prower structures? How does it differ between the developing and the developed world? Where will it all go next? PS21 pulls together an expert panel to examine the changes seen so far and asks where these trends will take us next.

Peter Apps (moderator) – Reuters Global Affairs Columnist and PS21 Executive Director

Emmanuel Akinwotu – Journalist based in Lagos, Nigeria, writing for Guardian and New Stateman

John Elledge – Editor, Citymetric, member of the PS21 governing board

Eleanor Harrison OBE – CEO of award winning charity GlobalGiving UK; the world’s first and largest global crowdfunding comm unity for non-profits,

Aaron Bastani – Left-wing blogger and founder of Novara Media

Sign up here.

PS21 update weekending Sept 24


Moderated two fascinating discussions last week, one for PS21 on migration, politics and security in Europe and the other at New Scientist Live on science and foreign policy for UK Foreign Office think tank Wilton Park. Both really underlined just how much flux there is in the global system at present – and both put me in mind of the 1930s, but in very different ways.

The migration discussion was illuminating – a really great range of panelists, both from migrant backgrounds and experts. All painted a picture of growing political polarization, tightening borders and sometimes arbitrary ethnic divisions. The drivers, unfortunately, seemed relatively intractable – this week has seen the apparent collapse of a tentative US-Russian deal on the Syrian Civil War. He is my latest piece from Reuters this week looking at just how difficult it’s going to be to move on from that, not least because any Western intervention now risks also becoming a military confrontation with Moscow.

The discussion on science and foreign policy was, perhaps predictably, rather more uplifting. There are some fascinating developments taking place, many of them fueled by recent advances in computing power. That is revolutionizing our understanding of medicine, physics and just about everything else. We talked about how science could both be a driver for international cooperation or rivalry – or, for example in the case of space exploration, both simultaneously. What was most striking, however, was just how little real idea we have about what some of these emerging changes might actually mean.



London networking drinks

Thursday, September 29, six p.m. onwards

Join us for our next PS21 networking event. This is a great opportunity to meet, and catch up with, career professionals while exchanging insights and enjoying a September evening.

As ever, we look forward to seeing familiar faces as well as new.

Where: The George,  213 the Strand, London

RSVP here

London Event Sep 21 – Migration, Politics and Security in Europe

Wednesday September 21 2016, 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM

Location to be confirmed to attendees.

Grabbing more of the political agenda year-by-year, migration is now perhaps the single hottest political topic in Europe. From Britain’s EU referendum to the rise of hard-line political parties and growing social divisions, what had been seen as an ever increasing drive to open borders looks increasingly under threat. PS21 looks at the drivers bringing people to Europe, the political impact on increasingly polarized electorates and the ever-growing policy questions.

Peter Apps [moderator] – Global Affairs Columnist, Reuters. Executive Director, PS21

Haid Haid – Syrian policy analyst and columnist

Keelin McCarthy – UK immigration, asylum and  human rights barrister, Lamb Building

David Lea – Western Europe political analyst, Control Risks

Julia Ebner – policy analyst specializing in European counterterrorism, Quillam Foundation

Ubah Ahmed – Somali-born Finnish student specializing in Nordic identity politics, Malmo University, Sweden

Sign up here.

PS21 update weekending September 9

Many thanks to British Army Headquarters in Andover for hosting a truly excellent PS21 discussion last night – unfortunately only open to serving personnel – on the changing nature of conflict. A really great panel – including PS21 global fellow Erik Lin Greenburg and former UK Director Special Forces Lt-Gen Graeme Lamb.

The discussion was off the record but very thought-provoking on questions such as whether the West is truly in a state of peace, war or somewhere in the middle. Those are issues will continue to probe, not least in our Baltic scenario discussion on Thursday evening [a handful of places now available, see below for details]

We also have a really great event on Wednesday, September 14 to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11. Look forward to seeing those of you in London there…



Scenario discussion – confrontation in the Baltic

Thursday, September eight, six p.m., King’s College London.

This event was sold out but we now have a handful of places room left. Sign up here

Looking Back at 911 Fifteen Years On

Wednesday, September 14, 2016, six p.m. King’s College London, Strand

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

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

Timothy Hoyt – Professor, US Naval War College

Haras Rafiq – CEO, Quillam Foundation

This event is being held jointly with the Sir Michael Howard Centre for Military History at King’s College London as part of a series of events with PS21 looking at the management of strategic shocks.

Sign up here

London Event Aug 31 – What Next For 2016?

2016 – What Could Happen Next?

Wednesday, August 31, 530 p.m. Whitehall – exact location to be confirmed to attendees

The Brexit Referendum. Attacks in Brussels, Nice, and Orlando, just to name a few. North Korean nuclear and missile tests. Saber rattling with Russia and China. And, of course, the fascinating circus that is the US presidential election.

8 months in, 2016 has already seen enough drama to fill many normal years. But where does the world go from here? Financial Times Global Affairs Columnist Gideon Rachmantalks through the options with PS21 Executive Director and Reuters Global Affairs Columnist Peter Apps.

Sign up here

PS21 update week ending June 17

A difficult and depressing week in politics on both sides of the Atlantic, with the Orlando shooting last Sunday and then Thursdays shocking news of the death of British MP Jo Cox. in both countries, politics seems as polarized as at any point in recent history. Exactly how that happened and what might be done about it is something PS21 will definitely be looking at in the weeks and months to come.

For those with an interest in more of my Brexit/murder musings, here is my most recent Reuters column [you can find my Orlando thoughts here].

On a more practical side, however, we had a really good week with a great discussion at King’s College London on Tuesday on the changing nature of intelligence. Thanks to former GCHQ official John Bassett, open source intelligence specialist Christiaan Triebert and most particularly French naval reservist Gwenne Laine for stepping into the last minute as a panelist.

As many of you know, we will be holding a Brexit [or not] night event this Thursday. Hope to see many of you there. We also have some great events coming up in DC, details to follow.



Brexit night [or not]

Thursday, June 23, 2016. Bankside, 7 p.m. until late [or possibly early]

Join PS21 and friends for what may or may not prove to be a defining moment in modern British history. Whichever way the vote goes, there will be drinks, good company and a historic day and potentially uncertain night.

7 p.m. – doors open [followed by drinks, conversation and the chance to bet on the eventual outcome. Those who have not already voted will be politely encouraged to do so – for whichever side]

10 p.m. – Polls close. Frantic speculation.

Midnight – Last tube. Those who wish are welcome to stay and watch the further results come in, however. Final results expected 3-5 a.m. for the particularly hardy.

There will be a survivors breakfast/foraging for food supplies the following morning.

sign up here


further events to follow


London Event 31 March: Managing Strategic Shocks


This year marks the 15th anniversary off 9/11 and the 75th of Pearl Harbor. PS21 examines how major shocks such as these — also including natural disasters such as Fukushima — can be managed by both government and others. How do they change our actions, how do they shift public opinion? PS21 will host another world class panel, while introducing two new Global Fellows.

Tom Bruxner [moderator] – former British Army officer

Group Captain Ian Shields – former RAF officer with experience in Afghanistan, currently teaching at Anglia Ruskin University

Frederic Ischebeck-Baum – former UNODC Counter-Piracy Advisor, fellow of the Cambridge Security Initiative

John Bassett– former GCHQ official and head of London and Washington stations

This is a joint event between the Sir Michael Howard Centre for the History of War at King’s College London and PS21.

Guests can arrive from 5.30pm and the discussion starts at 6.00pm.

Sign up here.

Africa in 2016: Three strategic contingencies

AMISOM_&_Somali_National_Army_operation_to_capture_Afgoye_Corridor_Day_1_01_(7293144058)A printer-friendly version is available here.

Edward Wanyonyi is a security and defence policy specialist. He can be reached on

2016 promises to be an interesting and dynamic year in Africa’s peace and security agenda. Barely 60 days into the New Year, three distinct trends are emerging which will determine major decisions in most defence and national security engagements in the region. While surprises are inevitable, rarely do countries struggle to bounce back when hit with these shocks unless one is talking about disasters such as the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 or the 2006 Tsunami. However this year presidents, cabinets and security chiefs will be faced with the challenges pertaining to insurgencies, containing shocks brought by the collapse of oil prices and handling political transitions.

Dealing with Insurgencies

The recent attack by Al Shabaab on an Africa Union peace keeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) stationed on a military base that also housed Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) is the latest indication of the changing nature of unconventional warfare waged by combatants with a well-organized military command and control structure. Although Kenya’s defence establishment has not released the final death toll, the attack seems to have benefited from a highly trained operational planning unit. It is alleged that a heavily armed infantry with over 100 fighters equipped with Russian PKM assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades, and a suicide bombers corps split in two groups and used vehicle borne IEDs to launch their assault. One group took on the Somali National Army, a mere 600 metres away from the AMISOM base, while the other waited in ambush. As soon as the AMISOM base responded to the distress call, the second group of insurgents struck the base.

According to Kenya’s Chief of Defence Forces General Samson Mwathethe, air rescue teams could not be immediately deployed in the area due to the presence of active anti-aircraft missiles.  It is clear that this was a well-coordinated ambush; planned way in advance, endowed with prior intelligence of base deterrence capabilities and aware of AMISOM threat response strategies. The incident provides an important space to ask hard questions when dealing with insurgencies whether at a national level or in a large scale international peace keeping effort.

First, what is the most appropriate intelligence sharing system that counterinsurgency operations should adopt in the face of an enemy such as Al Shabaab, Boko Haram or even Al Mourabitoun? Secondly, counterinsurgency operations in theatres with an active enemy presence require a separate dedicated military base and a refugee camps security component headed by no less than a deputy commander of the peacekeeping forces who is directly answerable to the force commandant. Lessons need to be learned from the 2000 Sierra Leone peacekeeping operation where several blue helmets were captured by RUF rebels and from the South Sudan civil war in 2013, where UN bases and humanitarian camps in Bor and Juba were attacked. Furthermore in 2015 Al Shabaab attacked bases manned by Burundi and Ugandan contingents, yet there has been a serious lack of new measures put in place by the Africa Union Department of Peace and Security institute to secure all other AMSIOM bases. Third, perhaps it is high time to reconsider troop deployment in counterinsurgency operations especially when a) loss of life is unprecedented and b) when the insurgency has been highly embedded in the local population like in the case of North East Nigeria where Boko Haram maintains an active military advantage. Fourth, future counterinsurgency operations will require a joint coordinated agency that is staffed by civilian and military advisors who can relay information to the head of mission and the presidency. This task cannot just be left only to military staff and suffer the fate of collective group think. Neither can this task be delegated to party sycophants who occupy sensitive positions within the presidency and only prioritise regime preservation when dealing with national security challenges. It is essential to include a diverse set of professionals who can avail their expertise and help to shape winning counterinsurgency strategies.

Containing shocks brought by the collapse of oil prices  

As the US overtakes Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of crude oil, the optimism earlier envisaged by oil importers is suddenly being replaced by a sombre mood as they come to terms with effects of cheap oil. In a globalized world, the effect of a recession in most oil companies and the sudden shrinkage of operations means that the entire well-to-market value chain suffers. Therefore, countries in Africa which depend on oil as their core export will have to reappraise their economic forecasts and seek to urgently contain possible unrest and disruptions to their industrial and manufacturing sectors. A number of steps need to be urgently put in place.

First, governments need to bolster the capacity of multi-stakeholder teams so they can provide detailed analytical information for government decisions and investor engagements. This should be considered not just among oil producing countries but also countries which have ambitions for oil production in the near future such as Uganda, Kenya and even Somalia.

Second, ministries of finance and governors of central banks must actively find space to cushion national economies from the knock on effects of low oil prices. Managing the transition and emergence of new market cartels will be a task that will feature regularly. It is possible that we might see a mild form of market regulation by the state especially when cartels seek to hold on to their dominant positions regardless of the need to change for public good. If handled properly, this phase can allow regimes to survive potential protests and even investor boycotts.

Handling political transitions

While 2015 saw an unprecedented appetite for constitutional amendments to allow third terms for incumbent leaders, the greater challenge is how to manage political transitions in a manner that does not lead to civilian unrest, instability and a climate of fear. As the events in Burundi and Burkina Faso reveal, an attempt at incumbency that attracts widespread unrest and civilian agitation is not worth the effort. However the case of Rwanda, which followed its own due process, demonstrates the importance of well thought out transition processes. Another case is Uganda. It is one thing to clamour for the exit of Museveni, but one must look at the capacity and independence of the oversight institutions that are necessary to cushion the country in the event of a power vacuum.

Therefore, agitators for change and reforms should ask, what sequence should this transition take? How shall we embark on structural change, but escape the tragedy of post-Gadhafi Libya? This is not in any way to disqualify attempts at legitimate change of government such as that which took place in Burkina Faso recently. However, it is a call for caution and for a measured approach in handling political transitions that avoid perilous conflicts like those that were triggered by poor management of transitions.

As Africa prepares to lurch forward in 2016, the UN Sustainable Development Goals project promises to provide increased opportunities for ensuring that development does not just take place at the centre in order to cascade to the periphery. Furthermore, at the heart of the SDGs is a call to ensure that development does not stagnate or reverse due to a lack of mitigation measures to cushion against these shocks. It is therefore important that countries prepare for the three contingencies as they pose a significant risk to current development forecasts.

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

Showcasing PS21’s “Imagining 2030” Series


At the start of the year, the Project for the Study of the 21st Century [PS21] began its creative writing series “Imagining 2030”. These pieces explore various potential worlds and fields as they might exist 14 years in the future. They are written by PS21 Global Fellows and other experts and aim to give PS21 another tool for exploring the major trends of an increasingly fascinating era.

Reading the pieces so far has been a really fascinating experience. All are very creative and we hope they will inspire both more examples, as well as new thinking about the future. Some are optimistic, some rather dystopian. Needless to say, we are very grateful to all the writers so far — as well as PS21 editor Tatianna Duran for pulling all of this together.

Want to write one? E-mail

A reminder that you can check out our latest and upcoming events here, including some great discussions in New York City and London. More in Washington DC to follow shortly.

Below are the pieces published so far

US Elections and Technology– “Thanks for What You Do”

PS21 Global Fellow and US Democratic political strategist Frank Spring imagines the future of political campaigning in a world where data on political views and personal product tastes can lead to some uncomfortably well-focused political advertising and outreach.

Social Media and Violence — New Forms of Protest

As “Occupy — The Musical” opens in London’s West End, a rising wealth gap and new forms of technology are producing new forms of unrest, policing and social control. Tim Hardy, activist and PS21 Global Fellow, sketches out what might happen next.

A New Botany Bay? Deportation and Terror

As Europe struggles to manage a wave of new militant attacks, former Royal Navy Commodore and PS21 International Advisor Philip Thicknesse imagines Britain taking some disconcerting steps.

Shifting Power Structures, Changing Geopolitics

An isolationist US, a collapsing European Union? US Naval war College professor and PS21 International Advisor Nikolas Gvosdev imagines the geopolitics of 2030.

Changing Social Media in China

CCTV journalist and PS21 Global Fellow Martina Fuchs sketches out the future media scene in smog-bound China that has now supplanted the United States as the world’s largest economy.

Imagining 2030 — A Walk through Heathrow

In the first of PS21’s “Imagining 2030” series, executive director Peter Apps imagines a walk through London’s preeminent airport in the not so distant future.



Imagining 2030: Changing Geopolitics


A printer-friendly version is available here.

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

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is a professor of National Security Studies at the US Naval War College. He is also a member of  PS21’s International Advisory Group.  

Expectations that the processes of globalization were knitting the nations of the world into a more coherent and stable international community were dashed by a series of shocks in the late 2010s and the 2020s. Fragile “just in time” supply chains for raw materials and finished goods experienced major disruptions due to a resurgence of terrorist activity and piracy which targeted vulnerable points of infrastructure and key “choke points” in the global commons. New pandemics and migrant flows caused many countries to restore barriers to free movement or to attempt to cut out or quarantine parts of the world from the international economic system. At the same time, the lowering of costs for producing energy from non-traditional sources as well as continued improvements in 3-D printing helped to push economies away from dependence on long-distance sources of supply. Faced with growing costs, the United States during this time backed away from its commitment to maintain the openness of the global commons, starting with the sea-lanes, in favor of prioritizing those areas which were seen as direct importance to American security.  These trends have pushed major countries to find ways to consolidate their economic needs, whenever possible, within more contiguous and defensible regional blocs.

The American partial withdrawal from the world was compounded by the partial dissolution of the expanded European Union. A British exit from the EU (mitigated, however, by the readmission of the constituent parts of the former United Kingdom into European institutions), the collapse of the common currency and the end of the Schengen zone propelled the EU to de-evolve into a largely free trade institution, while smaller cores within the EU voluntarily chose to continue with greater integration. A series of new blocs within Europe was compounded by the process of consolidation on the territory of the former Soviet Union, where an expanded Russian Federation which has integrated ethnic Russian areas outside its 1991 borders has also created a larger Eurasian Federation encompasses the non-Russian states. This new Russian entity survives because of its role in balancing European needs—with Russia guaranteeing supply of raw materials to the European economic core—with the interests of the greater Chinese bloc. By 2030, China has peacefully reunified with Taiwan, and the Korean peninsula has been reunited under the leader of the Seoul government, in return for accepting neutral status. The United States has retreated to being an offshore balancer in the Asia-Pacific region, maintaining alliances with the Philippines and Japan, while ASEAN—in partnership with India and Australia—has achieved a degree of balance with China. Latin America has consolidated into an expanded North American bloc which has absorbed the Caribbean and Central America, with South America functioning as a common market and defense zone. The Middle East and Africa are convulsed by the after-effects of state collapse as the old colonial boundaries have been swept away and new entities seek to emerge based on ethnic and religious criteria—while also bearing the brunt of shifts in the climate that have made life much more difficult in the temperate zones of the world.

The U.S. decision to redefine its interests in an economic and security zone that focuses on the Western Hemisphere, the Atlantic coasts of Western Europe and northwestern Africa, and the outer islands of the Western Pacific reopens competitions for influence in other parts of the world. It has also fueled the growth in military spending as other countries can no longer rely on earlier security guarantees that were provided by Washington. As in the Cold War, the continued reliance on nuclear deterrence by the major powers and their blocs—including the acquisition of nuclear capabilities by other rising powers as well as the refurbishment of nuclear arsenals by existing holders (heralding the complete failure of the agenda outlined by President Barack Obama in Prague in 2009 to move towards a nuclear-free world) imposes a rough discipline on world affairs, limiting the extent to which conflicts can spread. Clashes along the frontiers, in parts of the maritime and space domains, and in the “unsettled” parts of the world, however, are common and contribute to a sense of insecurity.

With new barriers in place to secure the different blocs of the world from attack (and the threats posed by migration and disease), the old permeable global system can no longer survive intact. This, however, gives a new importance to so-called “keystone” states—defined as those countries “located at the seams of the global system and serve as critical mediators between different major powers, acting as gateways between different blocs of states, regional associations, and civilizational groupings.” ( These countries become focal points for that portion of world trade which remains indispensable and increasingly are seen as important neutrals separating different major powers and reducing points of direct clash between them. The policies of engagement and non-alignment trail-blazed by countries like Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in the early 2000s have been embraced by emerging keystone powers like a united Korea, a reformulated Ukraine, a reunified Cyprus and a stabilized Afghanistan—which have positioned themselves as the interconnectors between different blocs and also as essential steam valves to vent pressure from flaring into major conflict.

Dismissive comments made by U.S. statesmen in the 2010s that we lived in the world of the 21st century—a world that was to be characterized by the triumph of a Western liberal order writ large, not the power politics era of the 19th, have given way to recognition that the current period increasingly resembles the post-Napoleonic order in Europe—applied on a global scale. Smaller states exist within the shadow of major powers, or must group themselves together into confederations to benefit from economies of scale, or find status as neutral powers whose position is upheld by the major actors who reap the benefits of stable keystones in place. As with Europe in the 19th century, great power rivalries can flare into conflict, or can be mitigated through compromises. Whether those balances can be maintained throughout the 2030s will depend on whether the great powers are reasonably satisfied with the compromises they have been forced to make (for Western powers, backing away from promoting universal human rights, for the Eurasian powers, accepting limits on their ambitions) and whether the mix of populist-authoritarian governments which define most of the politics of the world’s nations can continue to satisfy the demands and wishes of their populaces.

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