Are we still paying for the Cold War long after it ended?

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
― Dwight D. Eisenhower

Ironically for Britain the height of the Cold War was probably one if its least active periods for military deployments. Aside from the

Division of Europe during the Cold War. Blue =...

The military spending legacy of the Cold War has proven difficult to shake off. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Falklands War Britain’s most difficult and protracted campaign was an internal affair. The “troubles” in Northern Ireland.

Contrast this with the state of almost perpetual conflict since the de facto end of the cold war. Peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone. No fly zones in Eastern Europe, Iraq and Libya.  Conventional war and counter insurgency in Iraq. And of course a “war without end” in Afghanistan.

Ironic again that during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan the Ministry of Defence has come  under attack for having a procurement strategy and military equipment not fit for purpose.

As NATO prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan the Ministry of Defence is preparing the armed forces for a post Afghanistan posture. Unfortunately both the Conservative party and the Labour party have lacked the will to undertake a defence review which goes beyond numbers, pieces of equipment and procurement policy. The opportunity to take stock of the commitments since 1997 and address what is an appropriate defence culture, philosophy and wider doctrine for 2020 and beyond has been ignored.

The word on everyone’s lips at the moment is Trident. The review on Britain’s next generation of nuclear deterrent has side stepped the question of whether or not Britain should have nuclear weapons at all. Instead the debate has been limited to whether there is a credible alternative to a like for like replacement of the current system.

Cost to replace Trident. 15-34bn pounds sterling. Granted the Trident replacement will probably come into effect in the late 2020s perhaps even later. It would take a prophet to confidently predict what the geo-political landscape will be like in five years time let alone 20 years. Yet do we not have a duty not merely to prepare for the worst but to set an agenda that attempts to create a more stable world? How can Britain without hypocrisy encourage emerging powers to steer clear of nuclear proliferation if it chooses to pursue a like for like replacement designed to counter the Soviet Union in a bygone era.

If after Afghanistan British soldiers find themselves embroiled in another conflict I’d be willing to bet it wont be Cold War era procurement programmes such as the Joint Strike Fighter or nuclear weapons which prove the difference between strategic success or failure.


Analysis: Stability, U.S. interests trump democracy in Phase Two of Arab Spring

CNN Security Clearance

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the latest in a series of stories and opinion pieces previewing the upcoming Aspen Security Forum. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event, which is taking place from July 17-20 in Aspen, Colorado.  The forum will feature a session called “Unrest in the Arab World and its Implications for our Security”; Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and a fellow at the Brookings Institution, who is featured in this piece, will participate. Follow the event on Twitter under @aspeninstitute and @natlsecuritycnn #AspenSecurity.

By Elise Labott

A popular argument following the removal from power of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsy posits that the non-U.S. response ends a long-held American position that it defends democracy.

The pretense, however, has already been on shaky ground during Phase Two of the Arab Spring.

Countries where the United States has…

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China Rising? Why the west should welcome Chinese boots on the ground in Africa

Hugely significant but of limited interest to the media has been China’s offer of 500 combat troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. China’s involvement in peacekeeping is nothing new. It is one of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping operations around the world. What’s different and a first, is the offer of front line combat troops rather than engineers or medics.

Historically China has declined to get involved in what it perceives as the internal affairs of another state. It’s going too far to say this deployment would represent doctrinal change but it does show the increasing strategic significance of Africa to China. China has now overtaken the USA as Africa’s main trading partner and as such Africa represents a growing “sphere of influence”

English: US Army in Somalia 1992, Operation Re...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As yet the UN has not accepted or denied the offer. China should be actively encouraged to join more peace keeping and peace building missions . What the world wants is a China that acts responsibly both at home and abroad. Involvement in the Mali mission is a perfect opportunity to help China develop a positive foreign policy posture.

The US and Europe are often loathe to commit troops to Africa unless there is the threat of terrorism or regime change in favor of an extreme Islamist government. After Somalia and Operation Restore Hope troop deployments have been considered both counter productive and politically untenable.

China does not carry the historical baggage of the West with regard to botched operations and accusations of neo-colonialism. China lending its weight to ill equipped and often under strength UN missions in Africa could well be a good thing. It’s certainly a more attractive option to poorly trained African Union led peacekeeping missions.

Over time China’s growing “spheres of influence” in the developing world may increase tension with the USA. But there is another alternative. An active China collaborating with multi-national partners in a mutually beneficial manner.

In the grand scheme of peace keeping missions 500 Chinese troops isn’t significant but its symbolism is huge.

China has extended its hand. The UN and the west should accept. It would be hypocritical not to and only encourage the sort of siege mentality often attributed to China.

Top three European festivals to join this summer

Future Music Festival 2013

Future Music Festival 2013 (Photo credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer)

If you didn’t go Glastonbury you’re probably envious of a news feed populated by new pics from the world’s greatest festival and status updates like “Best Weekend Ever!”

No holiday or festival booked for summer? There’s still time to get in on the action without breaking the bank.

Don’t bother with any of the other UK music festivals. None come close to matching Glastonbury. Try one of these top three European festivals which guarantee sunshine, good vibes and pure tunes.

 Soundwave Festival, Croatia- 18-22 July

Soundwaves unique offering is its stunning coastal location. Numerous boat parties take place throughout the day and night, just seconds away from the main festival.

If it all gets too much don your shades and just chill on the beach. A luxury you won’t be afforded at any washed out UK summer festival. Hot weather, beaches and sea bring out beautiful people so expect plenty bikini clad women and topless guys. Leave those Hunter Wellington boots at home!

Rock purists stay away. This festival is all about house, disco, dub and dance from dawn till dusk.

Prices £120

 Berlin Festival- 6-7 September

What this festival lacks in beaches and boat parties, it makes up for in a diverse line up to suit eclectic music tastes. With heavy hitting veterans such as Blur alongside upcoming stars such as Bastille you’ll get a more traditional music experience. In true libertarian Berlin style there is a room surfer option for those happy to sleep on a spare mattress, or more likely, an empty couch.

Berlin has such a vibrant nightlife, rich culture and poignant history it would be a waste not to stay beyond the two days and explore the city.

For this festival prepare for “culture by day, vice by night”

Price 130 Euros

Sziget Festival, Budapest 5-12 August

A full week in length this festival offers value for money and will test your party stamina. The organisers have taken this into account and incorporated theatre, circus, exhibitions and cinema into a massive seven day line-up. The billing isn’t too shabby either with household names such as Dizzee Rascal, Blur (again) alongside credible if not headline acts such Bat for Lashes and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Within stumbling distance of the city proper you can sample Budapest famous spas and nightlife.

Price €209,

Stop looking in envy at your friends Glasto pics. Get some friends together and make some memories of your own.

A less mischievous Iran under Hassad Rouhni?

With the election of the “moderate” Hassad Rouhni so ends the eventful reign of Mahmoud Ahmadijed. I for one will miss some of his  ranting statements and often outrageous quotes. His repeated threats and aggressive rhetoric especially against Israel whilst unacceptable were just that that. Rhetoric.

Iran Elections

Iran Elections (Photo credit: bi0xid)

In comes Hassad Rouhni. A more reformist and moderate alternative to Ahmadijed. The Economist in a recent podcast covering the election made an excellent point that “moderate” is a relative term. It’s unlikely Mr Rouhni will be extending an olive branch to the west.

What will probably calm down is the constant stream of aggressive rhetoric and uncompromising belligerence.  The sanctions imposed on Iran because of its nuclear programme have according to most analysts hurt the Iranian economy. To the point where Iran might seek to loosen the noose by offering something palatable to both sides.

Will Iran give up its nuclear programme under Hassad Rouhni? Unlikely. It’s now hugely symbolic and a matter of national pride. There is no way Rouhni could waltz in and dismantle the programme in response to international pressure without fatally undermining his credibility internally. I’d argue Iran has got what it wants from its nuclear ambitions by achieving “escalation dominance” if faced with the real threat of military action. It makes little strategic sense for Iran to now give up the program having come this far down the road.  (i’ll go into this in another post)

Given the firestorm brewing in Syria and little appetite from the West for any direct intervention. A calmer less provocative Iran is a good opportunity. Both sides will welcome the chance to back away from the rhetoric and create some breathing space through dialogue. Except of course Israel. But given they don’t have the ability by force or otherwise to eliminate Iran’s nuclear programme they will just have to accept this “least worst” option.

Our eyes are open yet we do not see.

trafficking 2

I recently took part in a Community and Police Engagement Group meeting in the Kensington/Chelsea borough on behalf of a charity I volunteer for called Stop the Traffik. I was there to raise awareness about human trafficking and promote the Stop The Traffik community roadshow taking place June 22nd.

Two senior Metropolitan Police officers for the borough were in attendance and according to their figures, estimated around 200 brothels exist in the Kensington area.

I don’t live in Kensington but I visit friends in the area pretty regularly. I was surprised, perhaps naively by the stated figures. It got me thinking. How much goes on in our local community which we don’t know about?

As a young professional I live in the borough of Tower Hamlets and I work in Shoreditch. But do I really “live” in Tower Hamlets? Am i part of the community? In honesty it’s hard to say yes. I don’t know who my neighbours are and aside from a friend who I know from back home I rarely if ever talk to the people in my borough. I don’t really pay a huge amount of attention to whats going in the borough.

I’m part of the young professionals club. We move down to London for jobs and we develop a network of friends but mostly its with other young professionals. How many of us can boost friendships in the areas we live with people outside of that circle? Not many.

The meeting was a good opportunity to raise awareness and learn about the human trafficking taking place in our local communities. Without knowledge there can be no action. In the hustle and bustle of work and play in London its easy to become one of the walking blind.

By that I mean acceptance of the routine. A focus on getting where we want to go with minimal awareness of the wider picture around us. To walk around with our eyes open but actually see very little at all.

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.”


Prism (Photo credit: jonpayne)

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

~William Pitt,

British Prime Minister.
Speech in the House of Commons, 1783.

The revelation this weekend about the”PRISM” implemented by the US uber secret National Security Agency reminded me of the above quote. Its deliberately provocative but a true reflection of the fact government will always justify encroachment of civil liberties on the basis of it being necessary for national security.

What is the balance between the right to privacy in the digital age and giving proportionate power to ensure the dangers born in the shadows do not see the light of day?

“PRISM” evolved out of the the Patriot Act passed in the aftermath of September 11th. Signed into law with sunset provisions meaning the act should have expired in 2005. It didn’t and serves as proof that once government is granted certain powers reclaiming them is much more difficult.

The ability of centralized government authority to harvest huge amounts of data pertaining to the lives of millions of people evokes the fear that our every keystroke, phone call, email, and Facebook post is accessible to the authorities at will. In reality “PRISM” doesn’t not record the content of phone calls only phone numbers, duration of call, location and time. “Prism” is able to “collect data” from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Skype, Yahoo. You name it.

As technology evolves unfortunately those would seek to do harm evolve their tactics as well. It’s not unreasonable to expect the strategy and tools of security services and law enforcement to move with the times as well.

What seems to be missing is transparent debate about where to draw the line. A Guardian article leads with the headline White House “welcomes media interest” in Prism insisting the “time is ripe for debate”. Why not be more open about it earlier? The reality is “PRISM” would have remained shrouded in secrecy had it not been for whistle-blower Edward  Snowden. No doubt a harsh fate will await him should he ever set foot again on US soil.

Our equivalent of the the NSA is GCHQ (Global Communications Headquarters). A donut shaped building in unassuming Cheltenham which conducts signals intelligence and intercepts.

For us here in the UK the Draft Communications Data Bill nicknamed by its detractors as the “Snoopers Charter” would require:

“Internet service providers and mobile phone companies to maintain records (but not the content) of each user’s internet browsing activity (including social media), email correspondence, voice calls, internet gaming, and mobile phone messaging services and store the records for 12 months. Retention of email and telephone contact data for this time is already required.”

The Patriot Act in the wake of September 11th was passed in a mere 48 hours between introduction of the final draft and passage into law. The objective is for the Draft Communications Bill to be signed into law before the next general election. Have a real think about whether you feel the above represents proportionate intrusion of privacy to protect against serious crime and terrorism.