Skip to content

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?

The world according to Theresa May – China, the US, Europe and the new British PM

Written by Victoria Honeyman.

When Theresa May became UK prime minister she inherited many contentious issues on the international stage, thanks to the British vote to leave the EU. But the diplomatic matter to cause her real problems concerned nuclear power.

After a decade of talks, it looked as though the UK was finally about to seal the deal on building a nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset. Then, at a crucial moment, May put the deal on ice, to the great displeasure of Chinese investors.

In the immediate wake of the announcement, China’s ambassador to the UK urged the UK to press ahead as planned, warning that relations between the two countries were “at a crucial historical juncture”. Continue reading The world according to Theresa May – China, the US, Europe and the new British PM

Building Back Better? Not Yet: Tacloban nearly three years after Typhoon Yolanda

Written by Pauline Eadie.

On 8 November 2013 super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) hit the Philippines. Yolanda was the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall. The typhoon left vast areas of the Pacific facing Eastern Visayas region in complete disarray. Well over 6000 people died (the final death toll will probably never be known) and the vast landscape of the typhoon ravaged area was left looking like a war zone. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster communication was cut and survivors faced a desperate search for food, water and shelter. A significant international relief effort swung into action. Governmental and non-governmental agencies flooded the region with relief goods, medical, logistical and military personnel, rehabilitation training and goodwill.

November 2016 will mark the three-year anniversary of the typhoon. As part of the ESRC/DFID funded project, ‘Poverty Alleviation in the Wake of Typhoon Yolanda’, our team has been travelling regularly to Leyte in the Eastern Visayas to monitor the progress of the reconstruction. Tacloban City, the epic centre of the disaster, has been our primary focal point.  Our first visit was nine months after the disaster in August 2014. Reconstruction work was in full swing. The air was heavy with the smell of new paint and freshly sawn wood. However, people were still living in tent cities and were only just emerging from the shock of the disaster. Yolanda brought with it a storm surge that reached nearly 20 feet in places, a tsunami by any other name, and many survivors had seen their loved ones, houses and possessions swept away. Every evening an eerie quite descended over town. Partly as a result of still limited electricity for street lighting and reduced public transport. But also because ghosts loomed large in the imagination of the locals. Continue reading Building Back Better? Not Yet: Tacloban nearly three years after Typhoon Yolanda

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

Facing a hostile press, Jeremy Corbyn can’t win – but he could at least try

Written by Justin Lewis.

It is a fact of British life that leaders of the Labour Party have the disadvantage of dealing with a fiercely partisan press with an in-built Conservative bias. But, according to two research reports from the London School of Economics and Birkbeck College/Media Reform Coalition, this antipathy has reached new levels of vitriol.

The LSE study was conducted well before the post-Brexit debacle, in the first two months of Corbyn’s leadership. This, it turns out, was less of a “honeymoon” period than a trip to a war zone. The report found that Corbyn was subject to repeated ridicule and vilification that “went well beyond the normal limits of fair debate and disagreement in a democracy”. It also said that the new leader was “often denied his own voice” and that anti-Corbyn sources were favoured over pro-Corbyn voices.

The report acknowledged that this was “not an entirely new phenomenon in the UK and has happened before in relation to other left-wing leaders from Neil Kinnock to Ed Miliband” – but the authors suggested that “in the case of Corbyn the degree of antagonism and hatred from part of the media has arguably reached new heights”.

The report by Birkbeck/Media Reform Coalition deals with the more recent period, covering a ten-day period following the wave of resignations until the report of the Chilcot enquiry. Unlike the LSE report, the researchers look at the leading online and broadcast media – the latter is subject to strict rules of impartiality. Continue reading Facing a hostile press, Jeremy Corbyn can’t win – but he could at least try

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

Philippines’ lightning-rod president Duterte charts a surprising course

Written by Pauline Eadie.

The Philippines’ highly controversial president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, has delivered his first State of the Nation address – and what a spectacle it turned out to be.

It was scheduled to last 38 minutes, but went on for 140. Its tone oscillated between a formal presidential address and free-spirited informality; the hashtag for it, #SONA2016, was trending worldwide for hours after it finished.

As Duterte went on, he visibly relaxed and increasingly wandered off-script with his comments. At times he stumbled over words – but this only added to the impression that he was speaking from the heart. Duterte used the speech to address many of the criticisms against him, particularly his relationship with the rule of law and human rights. Continue reading Philippines’ lightning-rod president Duterte charts a surprising course

May the Force Be With You: Britain’s New Government

Written by Tim Haughton.

For once the journalistic clichés were not over the top. The 23 June referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union was a seismic event, an earthquake which brought a dose of destruction to the British political scene: the Prime Minister resigned, allies knifed each other in the Conservative party leadership election, a new Prime Minister was appointed who then undertook one of the most extensive cabinet reshuffles of modern times with some eye-catching appointments and the leader of the Opposition lost a no confidence vote of his parliamentary colleagues. Even caffeine-fuelled journalists found it difficult to keep up with the speed of events.

Like all earthquakes tensions had been building for some time. Divisions in the Conservative party had been evident since the UK first applied to join the then European Economic Community in the 1960s, but since the late 1980s the party had begun to tear itself apart over Britain’s continuing membership of the EU. Whilst a sizeable slice of the Leave vote in the referendum came from traditional Conservative voters in the heartlands of rural England, the Leave side was bolstered by disaffected Labour voters. Both groups were mobilized and emboldened by Leave’s alluring slogan to ‘Take Back Control’. A significant proportion of traditional working class Labour voters, many of whom had stayed at home in previous elections or who had cast their votes for UKIP, used their votes to express their discontent with the state of the government and to give the political class a good kicking. Continue reading May the Force Be With You: Britain’s New Government

Labour is turning the tragedy of 1981 into a very modern farce

Written by Matthew Cole.

As the Labour Party begins its leadership contest, it may be a faux pas to mention Karl Marx. But many party members must be thinking of his observation that everything in history happens twice – the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

Take Labour’s current predicament: an elderly, leftist leader faces a new Conservative Prime Minister. He is burdened by divisions over his own competence, his policy on Europe, the economy and defence, and wrangling over his party’s constitution. Change Jeremy Corbyn for Michael Foot, Theresa May for Margaret Thatcher and have the nation enthralled by Brideshead Revisited instead of Downton Abbey and you’re back in 1981.

The Labour Party is in some ways better off today than in 1981; in others, worse. Either way, the resonance is not a good sign for the opposition in the near future. Continue reading Labour is turning the tragedy of 1981 into a very modern farce

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