Liberal democracy is in the midst of an epic struggle for survival

Yascha Mounk writes: There are years, decades even, in which history slows to a crawl. Then there are weeks that are so eventful that they seem to mark the dissolution of a world order that had once seemed solid and to foretell the rise of one as yet unknowable.

The week of July 11, 2016, has every chance of being remembered as one of those rare flurries of jumbled, inchoate, concentrated significance. The centrifugal forces that are threatening to break political systems across the world may have started to register a decade ago; they may have picked up speed over the last 12 months; but never since the fall of the Berlin Wall have they wreaked havoc in so many places in so short a span of time—showcasing the failures of technocratic rule, the terrifying rise of populist strongmen, and the existential threat posed by Islamist terrorism, all in the span of seven short days.

At first glance, a political crisis in London; a terrorist attack in Nice, France; a failed putsch in Ankara, Turkey; and a bloviating orator on his way to becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States look like the dramatic apex of very different, barely connected screenplays. To my eye, they are garish panes of glass that add up to one unified, striking mosaic. Looked at from the right distance, they tell the story of a political system, liberal democracy, that has long dominated the world — and is now in the midst of an epic struggle for its own survival. [Continue reading…]

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Anjem Choudary was a leader. His conviction will damage terror networks

Raffaello Pantucci writes: The conviction of Anjem Choudary marks a significant moment in the history of British jihadism, but it is unclear what kind of an impact it will have. Terrorist groups and networks do suffer when they lose charismatic leaders. Their removal is unlikely to completely destroy a group, but it does change the dynamic.

Terrorist networks are, at their core, groups of people gathering around an ideology. Individuals are drawn in for various (often deeply personal) reasons, but to function as an effective unit that works to advance an ideology requires organisation and leadership. Otherwise, it is just a cluster of angry people with no particular direction.

It is here that leadership figures are key. They provide direction and can help motivate others, as well as offering some practical experience and, crucially, contacts. An individual who has risen to the top of a terrorist network after a long period of time will develop an understanding of what works. The relationships they will have developed over time are hard to replicate. [Continue reading…]

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Norway may block UK return to European Free Trade Association

The Guardian reports: Norway could block any UK attempt to rejoin the European Free Trade Association, the small club of nations that has access to the European single market without being part of the EU.

Senior Norwegian government members are to hold talks with David Davis, the Brexit minister, in the next few weeks.

Some Brexit supporters have suggested that Efta would be one way of retaining access to the single market while honouring the referendum mandate to leave the EU.

Norway is not a member of the EU, but it has access to the single market from its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), which groups all EU members and three of the four Efta members: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, but not Switzerland.

Norway’s European affairs minister, Elisabeth Vik Aspaker, reflecting a growing debate in the country following the Brexit vote in the UK, told the Aftenposten newspaper: “It’s not certain that it would be a good idea to let a big country into this organisation. It would shift the balance, which is not necessarily in Norway’s interests.”

She also confirmed that the UK could only join if there were unanimous agreement, thereby providing Norway with a veto. Aspaker said she did not know the UK’s plans.

EEA membership requires the four EU freedoms: free movement of persons, services, goods and capital. Norway, in need of extra labour, does not oppose free movement, though the issue of asylum seekers and refugees is controversial.

An EU special summit in Bratislava in September and the Conservative party conference in October may provide greater clarity on the British government’s thinking, Aspaker said.

One concern is that Norway, through Efta, has signed trade agreements with 38 countries, including Mexico, Canada, Colombia, Morocco, Kuwait and Qatar. If the UK joined, those trade agreements might have to be renegotiated and future trade deals would become more complex. [Continue reading…]

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British special forces operating inside Syria

 

BBC News reports: The BBC has obtained exclusive pictures showing for the first time British special forces operating on the ground in Syria.

It is the vehicles that first stand out. The open air, Thalab long range patrol vehicles are built for harsh terrain and are favoured by special forces.

In this case it is British special forces, seen for the first time on the ground, inside Syria, in photographs obtained by the BBC.

The pictures, which date from June, follow an attack by the so-called Islamic State (IS) on the moderate rebel New Syrian Army base of Al Tanaf on the Syria-Iraq border. The British soldiers appear to be securing the base’s perimeter.

According to eyewitnesses, they were there in a defensive role. But they are carrying an arsenal of equipment including sniper rifles, heavy machine guns and anti-tank missiles. [Continue reading…]

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Britain fails to understand the nature of globalisation at its peril

By Jennifer Johns, University of Liverpool

There remains great uncertainty in the aftermath of the UK vote to leave the European Union. Few seem to have a plan for what Brexit will look like and how the UK’s relationship with the outside world will take shape.

But while the desire for sovereignty and to “take back control” were top of many voters’ list of reasons to vote to leave, the fact that we live in a globalised world where economies and trade supersede national boundaries cannot be ignored.

Much of the confusion about how Brexit will affect the British economy has resulted from the inability of those for and against it to acknowledge the realities of the position of the UK in the contemporary global economy. This failure to understand the realities of globalisation is partly why there is such confusion about how to deliver the kind of post-Brexit UK demanded by those who voted leave. But regaining national sovereignty is extremely difficult, if not impossible, in today’s global economy.

The interconnected world

The recent global financial crisis should have sent a powerful message. The degree of interconnection between places in the global economy has reached unprecedented levels and attempts to “unpick” these interconnections are highly problematic.

Globalisation is complex. It is no longer a case of “us” and “them”. Capital, goods and services flow within, between and across national borders – and the flow is uneven. It is often directed through key cities. So when we talk about flows of foreign direct investment between the UK and Germany, we are actually discussing flows of people and money between cities such as London and Berlin.

In fact, cities are the key drivers in trade. It is no surprise therefore that there were significantly higher votes to remain in the EU in cities such as London and Manchester. This is because these cities are points in the global economy through which trade, services and people flow. It is in these locations that we can most easily see the benefits of interconnection with cities in the EU and beyond.

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How a secretive branch of ISIS built a global network of killers

The New York Times reports: Believing he was answering a holy call, Harry Sarfo left his home in the working-class city of Bremen last year and drove for four straight days to reach the territory controlled by the Islamic State in Syria.

He barely had time to settle in before members of the Islamic State’s secret service, wearing masks over their faces, came to inform him and his German friend that they no longer wanted Europeans to come to Syria. Where they were really needed was back home, to help carry out the group’s plan of waging terrorism across the globe.

“He was speaking openly about the situation, saying that they have loads of people living in European countries and waiting for commands to attack the European people,” Mr. Sarfo recounted on Monday, in an interview with The New York Times conducted in English inside the maximum-security prison near Bremen. “And that was before the Brussels attacks, before the Paris attacks.”

The masked man explained that, although the group was well set up in some European countries, it needed more attackers in Germany and Britain, in particular. “They said, ‘Would you mind to go back to Germany, because that’s what we need at the moment,’” Mr. Sarfo recalled. “And they always said they wanted to have something that is occurring in the same time: They want to have loads of attacks at the same time in England and Germany and France.”

The operatives belonged to an intelligence unit of the Islamic State known in Arabic as the Emni, which has become a combination of an internal police force and an external operations branch, dedicated to exporting terror abroad, according to thousands of pages of French, Belgian, German and Austrian intelligence and interrogation documents obtained by The Times.

The Islamic State’s attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 brought global attention to the group’s external terrorism network, which began sending fighters abroad two years ago. Now, Mr. Sarfo’s account, along with those of other captured recruits, has further pulled back the curtain on the group’s machinery for projecting violence beyond its borders.

What they describe is a multilevel secret service under the overall command of the Islamic State’s most senior Syrian operative, spokesman and propaganda chief, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani. Below him is a tier of lieutenants empowered to plan attacks in different regions of the world, including a “secret service for European affairs,” a “secret service for Asian affairs” and a “secret service for Arab affairs,” according to Mr. Sarfo. [Continue reading…]

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British diplomat set to take on EU security portfolio

The Associated Press reports: Britain’s ambassador to France is set to take up a newly created European Union security portfolio, the EU’s executive arm announced Tuesday.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker wants Julian King to lead the institution’s fight against terrorism, organized crime and radicalization.

The post shares some tasks held by the commissioner for home affairs and migration issues but avoids any major activities that could be linked to Britain’s negotiations on leaving the EU in coming years.

King is a career diplomat who has spent several years working at EU headquarters in Brussels. [Continue reading…]

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The Saudi bombardment of Yemen — worse than Russia’s assault on Syria — has been lucrative for the West

The Economist: Ninety years ago Britain’s planes bombed unruly tribes in the Arabian peninsula to firm up the rule of Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi state. Times have changed but little since then. Together with America and France, Britain is now supplying, arming and servicing hundreds of Saudi planes engaged in the aerial bombardment of Yemen.

Though it has attracted little public attention or parliamentary oversight, the scale of the campaign currently surpasses Russia’s in Syria, analysts monitoring both conflicts note. With their governments’ approval, Western arms companies provide the intelligence, logistical support and air-to-air refuelling to fly far more daily sorties than Russia can muster.

There are differences. Russian pilots fly combat missions in Syria; Western pilots do not fly combat missions on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Nor are their governments formal members of the battling coalition. Their presence, including in Riyadh’s operations room, and their precision-guided weaponry, should ensure that the rules of war that protect civilians are upheld, insist Western officials. But several field studies question this. Air strikes were responsible for more than half the thousands of civilian deaths in the 16-month campaign, Amnesty International reported in May. It found evidence that British cluster bombs had been used. Together with other watchdogs, including the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, it has documented the use of Western weaponry to hit scores of Yemeni markets, medical centres, warehouses, factories and mosques. One analyst alleges that the use of its weapons amounts to Western complicity in war crimes.

The war in Yemen has certainly been lucrative. Since the bombardment began in March 2015, Saudi Arabia has spent £2.8 billion ($3.8 billion) on British arms, making it Britain’s largest arms market, according to government figures analysed by Campaign Against Arms Trade, a watchdog. America supplies even more. [Continue reading…]

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Chorus of concern over Britain’s counter extremism strategy grows louder

By Steve Hewitt, University of Birmingham

If worries about extremism in 2016 show no signs of abating, then neither does the debate over how to counter it in the UK. Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by the Labour MP Harriet Harman, is the latest in a long line to raise concerns over government policy to tackle extremism. Although the government has promised to introduce a counter-extremism bill, none has yet been forthcoming.

In a report released on July 22, the committee flagged up a number of concerns about the government’s extremism strategy. These include the lack of a precise definition of extremism, the potential impact on universities, and the potential for religious discrimination. It also criticised the false premise of an “escalator” model in which there is a progression from holding conservative religious ideals to violent extremism.

The committee, made up of MPs and Lords from across the political spectrum, called on the government to “reconsider” its counter-extremism strategy.

But the government may be reluctant to backtrack on an issue it has kept raising over the last few years. Since a 2011 speech in Munich warning against extremism by then-prime minister, David Cameron, the government has repeatedly pledged to target it. This year’s Queen’s speech continued the trend with promises to “tackle extremism in all its forms”, “provide stronger powers to disrupt extremists”, and “enable the government and law enforcement to protect the public against the most dangerous extremists.”

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Sturgeon preparing for Scottish independence to keep post-Brexit options open

Reuters reports: Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon said on Monday she would start preparatory work on splitting Scotland from the rest of Britain in order to keep the option of independence available following the June 23 vote to leave the European Union.

Although Britain voted to end its EU membership at the referendum, Scottish voters overwhelmingly backed remaining inside the bloc, reigniting the debate over Scotland’s future as a constituent nation of the United Kingdom.

Sturgeon renewed her position that a fresh independence bid, only two years after the country voted against it, should remain an option, depending on the shape of Britain’s future ties with the bloc and how well they worked for Scotland. [Continue reading…]

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Boris Johnson rebuked for blaming Munich shooting on terrorists

The Guardian reports: The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, was urged to avoid passing politically sensitive judgments on world events until he was in full possession of the facts after he prematurely blamed Islamist terrorists for the killings in Munich on Friday.

Johnson made his remarks before the identity of the killer – an 18-year-old German citizen of Iranian descent who was obsessed with mass slaughter – had been known.

Although early reports of the attack, in which Ali Sonboly shot nine people dead before killing himself, suggested a gang of three people might be on the loose in Munich in a terror attack reminiscent of the killings in Paris, no definitive information was available and the authorities had not identified a motive for the killings.

Speaking about the attack on Friday while in New York, Johnson told the press that that the “global sickness” of terrorism needed to be tackled at its source in the Middle East.

“If, as seems very likely, this is another terrorist incident, then I think it proves once again that we have a global phenomenon and a global sickness that we have to tackle both at the source – in the areas where the cancer is being incubated in the Middle East – and also of course around the world.”

He added: “We have to ask ourselves, what is going on? How is the switch being thrown in the minds of these people?”

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, told the Guardian: “Just days into his new role, Boris demonstrates again why it was a huge gamble appointing him. The off-the-cuff remark may suit Have I Got News for You, but it doesn’t the tragedy in Munich. In future, Boris needs to hold his tongue until he is in full possession of the facts. There is too much as stake.” [Continue reading…]

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Theresa May to rule out return of border checks between UK and Ireland

The Guardian reports: Theresa May will reassure the first minister of Northern Ireland that there will be no return to border checks for people entering the UK from the Republic of Ireland despite Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

The prime minister will make the pledge to Arlene Foster during a visit to Belfast on Monday, during which she will also promise to engage with the region’s devolved administration in preparation for Brexit negotiations.

Speaking ahead of the trip that completes a tour of all four parts of the UK within the first two weeks of her premiership, May said: “I made clear when I became prime minister that I place particular value on the precious bonds between the nations of the United Kingdom.

“I want to assure the people of Northern Ireland that I will lead a government [that] works for everyone across all parts of the United Kingdom, and that Northern Ireland is a special and valued part of that union.”

May said she wanted to underline her commitment to the Belfast agreement, arguing that “peace and stability in Northern Ireland will always be of the highest priority for my government”.

She added: “I have been clear that we will make a success of the UK’s departure from the European Union. That means it must work for Northern Ireland too, including in relation to the border with the Republic. We will engage with all of Northern Ireland’s political parties as we prepare for that negotiation.”

It is understood that May will support the position of the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, that there will be no “hard border” between the two countries, which have a common travel area. [Continue reading…]

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