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Litvinenko inquiry: 25 years on from the Cold War, espionage endures

Written by Rory Cormac.

Claims made by former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko as he lay dying of radioactive poisoning in a London hospital bed have been backed by public inquiry. Litvinenko accused Russian agents of putting him there and went to his grave pointing the finger at the Kremlin.

Litvinenko had become a critic of president Vladimir Putin and had fled to Britain, where he worked for MI6.

The inquiry into his death, conducted by British judge Robert Owen, found that the murder was executed under the “probable” direction of the FSB – Russia’s intelligence and security service. Going further than many had expected, he also said the killing was “probably approved” by president Vladimir Putin himself. Continue reading Litvinenko inquiry: 25 years on from the Cold War, espionage endures

What can Pakistan do to counter violent campaign against educators?

Written by Katharine Adeney.

The latest attack on a university in Pakistan – this one, in a bitter twist of irony, named after a champion of peace, secularism and non-violence, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who was known as “Frontier Gandhi” – is both symbolic as well as indicative of the continuing struggle within the power structures of Pakistan.

Just after 9am Pakistani time (4.14am GMT) on January 20, four men wearing suicide vests attacked the university in Charsadda, about 40km from Peshawar in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (formerly known as North-West Frontier Province). The death toll has topped 30 people but is expected to rise, perhaps to as high as 70. Scores were also injured. Soldiers were quickly deployed to the scene. The army formally announced that the attack was over five-and-a-half hours later at 10.38 GMT – and also announced the deaths of the four attackers. Continue reading What can Pakistan do to counter violent campaign against educators?

Is the Iraqi army a lost cause?

Written by Jon Moran.

Building an army in a short space of time is a very difficult task. To be sure, there are some impressive examples. Cromwell’s republican New Model Army was put together while the English Civil War was already underway; Washington’s army of US Independence quickly wore down and beat the British in the 18th century; Napoleon’s revolutionary army was born from the French Revolution and swept all Europe before it; the Red Army of the Soviet Union was forged from the chaos of its defeat in World War I.

But the list of failures is just as spectacular. The South Vietnamese Army boasted billions of dollars, up-to-date equipment and state-of-the-art training, but couldn’t control even South Vietnam itself. It ultimately surprised observers only by holding on as long as it did after the Americans left. Continue reading Is the Iraqi army a lost cause?

A New World Order: The importance of the 1991 Gulf War

Written by Louise Kettle.

Twenty five years ago, on 17th January 1991, the offensive operations of the Gulf War began. A coalition of 39 countries launched a campaign to roll back the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. The war saw the deployment of around 45,000 British forces, the largest since the Second World War.

Throughout the previous year, tensions between Kuwait and Iraq had escalated. The bitter Iran-Iraq war had left Iraq in severe economic difficulties with its per capita income halved and an estimated $67 billion worth of damage to infrastructure. In addition, Baghdad had borrowed around $80 billion from other countries and, following the war, foreign debt servicing and defence costs consumed seven-eighths of Iraq’s oil export revenue. Continue reading A New World Order: The importance of the 1991 Gulf War

President Nkurunziza of Burundi still has a choice: war criminal or peace bringer?

Written by Catherine Gegout.

A leaked UN memo to the Security Council has warned that a peacekeeping force in the African nation of Burundi would be unable to stop large-scale violence should it erupt in an ongoing crisis caused by president Nkurunziza’s election for a third term.

However it is not too late for Nkurunziza to choose his legacy: either be remembered as a war criminal facing prison or death, or renowned for solving a dangerous political situation. A new round of peace talks is due to take place this month but Burundi’s government recently announced there had been “no consensus” on a date. Continue reading President Nkurunziza of Burundi still has a choice: war criminal or peace bringer?

Jakarta attacks: is Islamic State’s presence in South-East Asia overstated?

Written by Scott Edwards.

A series of deadly suicide bombings and shootings in Jakarta have killed at least seven people, and been claimed by Islamic State (IS).

At first glance, this seems to confirm that long-held worries of a full-blown IS campaign in South-East Asia were well-founded – but viewed in context, the picture looks rather different.

IS is undeniably active to some extent in Indonesia and South-East Asia more broadly, and it is known to have recruited fighters from the region. It was recently reported that two suicide bombers who mounted attacks in Syria and Iraq were from Malaysia. South-East Asia has an enormous Muslim population, and its states have long had trouble with separatist or terrorist Islamist organisations such as Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf. That makes the prospect of a domestic struggle with IS in Indonesia all the more alarming. Continue reading Jakarta attacks: is Islamic State’s presence in South-East Asia overstated?

Why the polls got it so wrong in the British general election

Written by John Curtice.

Since the surprise result of the British election in May 2015, there has been plenty of speculation about why the opinion polls ahead of the vote were so wrong. On average, they put the Conservatives and Labour neck and neck, when in fact the Conservatives were seven points ahead.

Hard evidence on the reasons for their failure, however has so far been less plentiful. But a new report published today provides important evidence on what really happened.

The report presents the results obtained by the latest instalment of NatCen’s annual British Social Attitudes survey, which was conducted face to face between the beginning of July and the beginning of November last year. All 4,328 respondents to the survey were asked whether or not they voted in the May election and, if so, for which party. Continue reading Why the polls got it so wrong in the British general election

What is going on in Ukraine now?

Written by Lance Spencer Davies.

On the face of it, the conflict in Ukraine seems to have stabilised somewhat. Sporadic shelling aside, the last few months of 2015 saw the “hot” phase of the conflict in eastern Ukraine wind down to a relative calm.

Both parties’ forces have been slowly withdrawing in accordance with the latest ceasefire agreement, and while there were some isolated clashes between the opposing parties over the Christmas period, they haven’t derailed the current plans. Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains optimsitic about achieving progress in the negotiations. Continue reading What is going on in Ukraine now?

A year after Charlie Hebdo, France is still searching for answers

Written by Emile Chabal.

France has had a tumultuous time in the year since two brothers opened fire in the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 11, before going on to murder another five people in Paris. Just ten months later, the November 13 attacks showed that the threat of terrorism had not receded.

And just weeks after the second major attack, the far-right’s onward march in regional elections suggested that a significant proportion of the electorate had sought refuge in a language of fear and revenge after everything they had seen in 2015.

These growing anxieties were reflected at the highest level of the political system. Continue reading A year after Charlie Hebdo, France is still searching for answers

Labour reshuffle: why Benn was kept in Corbyn tent, while others were cast out

Written by Victoria Honeyman.

After one of the most protracted reshuffles in recent years, the new shadow cabinet has finally been announced. Michael Dugher was first to be sacked from his position as shadow culture secretary and, more than 12 hours later, Europe spokesman Pat McFadden went the same way.

Emily Thornberry, who opposes the Trident nuclear deterrent alongside Corbyn, has been brought into the fold as the new shadow defence secretary, replacing the pro-Trident Maria Eagle, who has been demoted to shadow culture secretary.

Even after taking more than 30 hours to reach his decisions, Corbyn faced an immediate backlash. Kevan Jones, the shadow minister for the armed forces, has already resigned , citing his support for Trident. Continue reading Labour reshuffle: why Benn was kept in Corbyn tent, while others were cast out