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Category archive for: Conflict & Security

60 years after Suez: a tale of two prime ministers

Written by Nigel Ashton.

Does history repeat itself? Never perfectly or precisely, but some of the parallels between Anthony Eden’s handling of the 1956 Suez Crisis and Tony Blair’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq are worth pondering. In both cases prime ministerial decision-making dictated the course of British policy and laid bare some of the weaknesses of the British political system.

First, take the conjuring of the threat. Both men framed their struggles in existential terms. For Eden, the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company at the end of July 1956 by the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, represented a threat to national survival. Continue reading 60 years after Suez: a tale of two prime ministers

Twin crises in Syria and Ukraine prove the West cannot restrain Russia

Written by David Galbreath.

Only days after the latest ceasefire agreement came into force in Syria, a United Nations aid convoy en route to Aleppo was attacked and destroyed. The UN was quick to declare this both a premeditated attack and a war crime. Citing air space intelligence, the US government released a statement accusing the Russian Air Force of responsibility, detailingthe presence of two Russian Sukhoi SU-24 fighter aircraft in the area at the time of the attack.

The Russian government has denied the accusations, stating that the US has “no facts”, and responded with drone footage of the convoy allegedly showing that anti-government militias were using it as cover. At the same time, it argued that the explosion did not come from the air, and was in fact a militant attack on the convoys. (The convoy was travelling through militant-held territory at the time of the strike.) Continue reading Twin crises in Syria and Ukraine prove the West cannot restrain Russia

David Cameron escapes parliament just as a committee blames him for Libya’s collapse

Written by Victoria Honeyman.

After a summer recess, the House of Commons has returned with one fewer member: David Cameron announced that he was stepping down as MP for Whitney in Oxfordshire. Apparently, he wants to get on with writing his memoirs and undertake new challenges. But conveniently, it also means that he was not in Westminster to hear the damning conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which has released a report on the British government’s 2011 action in Libya.

The committee has found that the action “was not informed by accurate intelligence”, that the threat to civilians was overstated, and that the opposition to Gaddafi contained a “significant Islamist element”. It argues that the planning for a post-conflict Libya was flawed, that that failing has led the country to collapse – and that the blame lies with Cameron. Continue reading David Cameron escapes parliament just as a committee blames him for Libya’s collapse

Why has Russia been flying airstrikes over Syria from an Iranian airbase?

Written by Moritz Pieper.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, made it very clear where his country stood in February 2013 when he answered speculation that Russia might intervene to stop the implosion of Syrian state structures in a war that by then had been raging for more than three years: “We will not be fighting for our positions … and creating ‘another Afghanistan’ for ourselves. Never, under no circumstances!”

When, in September 2015, Russia began airstrikes in support of the Syrian army’s troops, it was the first Russian military deployment in the Middle East since the infamous Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s. But Russia had always insisted that this was a limited air campaign and, five months after the start of the bombing campaign the following March, Moscow announced it was reducing its military presence in Syria. Continue reading Why has Russia been flying airstrikes over Syria from an Iranian airbase?

Radicalisation in Bosnia: old wounds reopened by an emerging problem

Written by Louis Monroy Santander.

Bosnia experienced a difficult reconstruction process after its 1992–1995 war. Now its ongoing political and economic crisis is making it harder to respond to a growing global problem – radicalisation.

According to recent reports, Bosnians have been travelling to Syria to fight for radical Islamist groups in increasing numbers since 2012. They now constitute one of the largest European foreign fighter contingents as a proportion of national population. Figures from 2015 suggest there are more than 300 Bosnians in Syria.

There have also been a number of low-level incidents of terrorist violence in Bosnia. In April 2015, for example, a 24-year-old man from an area near the town of Zvornik drove into a police station and opened fire. He killed one officer and injured two others before being shot dead.

This has prompted heated debates about how to handle the problem without feeding into the tensions that pervade in Bosnian politics. Of particular concern is the possibility that decisions about security will be coloured by ethno-politics. Continue reading Radicalisation in Bosnia: old wounds reopened by an emerging problem

Why stopping Islamic State’s Afghan operation means tackling the Taliban

Written by Michael Semple. 

The Afghan capital, Kabul, recently saw its deadliest terror attack in some time, as a suicide bomber detonated a device in the middle of a peaceful street protest. Some 80 people were killed and hundreds more wounded.

The so-called Islamic State (IS) promptly claimed responsibility for the bombing, while a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban made it clear that his group had nothing to do with the attack. Both IS and the Taliban use their media organs to disseminate propaganda in support of their separate Afghan campaigns, but for once, both claims appeared plausible, and it seems that IS really is the culprit.

The bombing has again focused attention on the threat IS poses to Afghanistan – and once again raises the question of how the country’s various jihadist groups relate to each other. Continue reading Why stopping Islamic State’s Afghan operation means tackling the Taliban

Why British politicians find it so hard to vote against nuclear weapons

Written by Nick Ritchie.

In 1982, Robert Lifton and Richard Falk wrote about the condition of “nuclearism” – the idea that nuclear weapons can solve our political, strategic and social problems and that they are an essential means of ensuring peace.

This ideology is based on a series of illusions. It rests on the assumption that the use of nuclear weapons can be managed, that their effects can be controlled, and that protection and recovery in a nuclear war are meaningful ideas. Nuclearism thrives despite the absence of compelling evidence about the security benefits of nuclear weapons.

It is argued that the nuclear deterrence prevented the Cold War from turning into all out war. But as academic Benoît Pelopidas argues:

The nuclear peace is not a fact. It is a hypothesis trying to link two observable facts: the existence of nuclear weapons in the world since 1945 and the absence of war between the United States and the Soviet Union during the same period. The nuclear peace hypothesis faces the challenge of proving a negative. In these circumstances, faith in the nuclear peace becomes a bet or a matter of trust. Continue reading Why British politicians find it so hard to vote against nuclear weapons

After Warsaw: NATO, Russia and facing hybrid warfare

Written by Bettina Renz.

The Warsaw Summit Communiqué issued by the heads of state participating in the NATO summit in Warsaw from 8-9 July 2016 heavily focuses on the alliance’s capabilities required for dealing with ‘hybrid warfare’. This concept became prominent in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and has since established itself firmly in the official parlance not only of NATO, but also of various Western governments and military establishments. ‘Hybrid warfare’ describes an approach to war relying not only on conventional military means, but also on non-military means, such as information, disinformation, psychological operations and the use of proxy fighters. The idea gained traction in the aftermath of Crimea, because Russia achieved its objectives there with minimal use of force. This stood in stark contrast to the fairly traditional military campaigns Russia had conducted in Chechnya and in Georgia in 2008, which relied on heavy firepower. Russia’s approach in Crimea evoked fears in the West that Russia had found a new way of war that would be hard for NATO and the West to counter. Continue reading After Warsaw: NATO, Russia and facing hybrid warfare

Chilcot’s verdict: the Iraq War was a failure of oversight and planning

Written by Louise Kettle.

It’s been a long time coming, but the Chilcot Report into the Iraq War, all 2.6m words of it, is finally out. And contrary to some expectations, it’s far from a whitewash.

Although it will take time to wade through the details of this hefty document, it’s already clear that few people have escaped the careful and critical eye of the inquiry – including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the intelligence community, and the military.

The report’s key point is that the Iraq War happened principally because of failures to challenge key parts of the case for war and to plan for the invasion’s aftermath. From the outset, the report makes clear that the war was not one of last resort, that Iraq posed no imminent threat to the UK, that the intelligence assessments the government drew on were ill-founded, and that more peaceful options should have been exhausted before military ones were entertained. Continue reading Chilcot’s verdict: the Iraq War was a failure of oversight and planning

What to expect from the Iraq Inquiry report

Written by Louise Kettle

 Since 23rd June British politics has been focused on the fallout from Brexit, but this week another tremor will be hitting the establishment. On Wednesday the long awaited Iraq Inquiry report will be published. So what should we expect?

  1. A long read

The inquiry into the Iraq War has lasted longer than the war itself. Announced in June 2009 it began hearing evidence in November of the same year. It had the huge scope of examining the run-up to the war, the military action and its aftermath and was tasked with establishing what happened during this time and what lessons could be learned for the future. Continue reading What to expect from the Iraq Inquiry report