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Stop the War coalition
Newsletter – 3 May 2017
The warmongering stance of the Tory government was further confirmed last week, when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stated that Britain would follow Trump in any new US attack in Syria. It is clear that the questions of foreign policy, war and peace will feature in this election and for once there are clear differences between the two parties. Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is a former chair of Stop the War and a lifelong campaigner against war and for peace. This could not be in stronger contrast to the record of Theresa May, who refused on Sunday to say that the Iraq war was wrong, and whose closeness to Donald Trump makes her support for more wars almost certain. The war party refuses to draw any humane and rational conclusions from more than a decade and a half of ferocious military interventions, which have led to immense suffering, over a million deaths in Iraq alone, the torture of tens of thousands of people (including thousands of children), a mass refugee crisis, and the spread of terrorism across the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.
The Tory establishment has also exhibited a callous disregard for international law and basic decency in its pronouncements in favour of nuclear weapons and, astonishingly, even of nuclear war itself. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon last week reiterated that Theresa May would have no hesitation to use thermonuclear weapons. He also added that the government would be prepared to fire these weapons of mass destruction pre-emptively, even if Britain was not under threat of nuclear attack.
The Conservative government’s militarist and pro-war priorities are also obscene considering the mass misery and deprivation caused by the cuts in health care and welfare. The renewal and maintenance of Trident nuclear weapons alone will cost the taxpayer around £205 billion. This will have terrible consequences. Cuts to NHS and social care budgets have probably been the cause of 30,000 excess deaths in England and Wales in 2015 alone.
We are urging all groups to hold local election hustings on these issues, involving candidates from parties opposing war and racism including Labour, the Greens, Plaid and SNP where appropriate, as well as to organise other public meetings and hold stalls against the continuation of Theresa May’s savage warmongering agenda. We are going through the fourth general election where Britain has been at war, and we need some honest accounting. Recent polls show some narrowing in the Tories’ lead. Grassroots anti-war campaigning can help change the outcome of this election. An anti-war questionnaire for parliamentary election candidates is available here.
Save the date
3 April 2017
Despite considerable disarray continuing into its third month, the new US administration is showing more consistent, if not coherent, signs of how it will try to implement Donald Trump’s campaign proposals. In large part, these may be assessed as antithetical to a more sustainable security agenda, given that they promote military confrontation, undermine attempts to address climate change, and are, at best, incoherent in their response to economic inequality. Little of this translation to reality is likely to endear Trump to voters or his party. Greater policy turbulence, at home and abroad, should be expected ahead of mid-term elections next year.
The Trump administration has been in power for 75 days; following the election campaign and the post-election transition it is now possible to get a reasonably clear picture of how its policies relating to security are taking shape. There has been much speculation that the United States will take a very different path to that of the Obama era, not least in relation to security and climate change, and since the United States is the world’s most powerful state it is appropriate to make an initial assessment of the changes as they may affect the sustainable security thinking with which ORG has been concerned for the last decade. Is the Trump era likely to make a major difference to the global security outlook or is it more likely that realities of international relations will limit the capacity for the change Trump seeks?
The ORG approach to security may be summarised:
Security challenges such as terrorism, crime and weapons proliferation cannot be successfully contained or controlled without understanding and addressing their root causes. ORG’s Sustainable Security concept takes a comprehensive, long-term approach that encompasses climate change, resource scarcity, militarisation, poverty, inequality and marginalisation.
As the thinking has developed it has tended to group the challenges into three main areas, economic relations, climate change, and militarisation, and these are convenient headings with which to make an initial assessment of the Trump era.
The issue of economic relations is seen as having as its greatest challenge the failure of the neoliberal approach to deliver economic justice, equity and emancipation, and the consequent growing divide between a relatively small minority of rather more than a billion people and the majority of the world’s population, with a clear rise in frustration and resentment among that majority at relative marginalisation and lack of life prospects.
In the environmental context, while a number of resource limitations and regional environmental impacts are important, the emphasis in the ORG analysis has to be on the most significant trend – climate change and especially its impact on human well-being especially as a result of severe effects on food production.
Finally, militarisation is seen partly in terms of a particularly entrenched and powerfully influential economic sector but most significantly as a culture in which the early use of military force is essential in maintaining the status quo, however unequal, unjust or unstable that order is.
In all cases, the ORG view is that these approaches are thoroughly inappropriate if we wish to avoid an unstable and violent world, and much more emphasis must be placed on the underlying causes of the problems and how they may be addressed. The failure of the current 15-year war on terror is the most grievous example, having led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of displaced people, at least three failed or failing states and a continuing perception of the threat of political violence in western countries. The question, simply, is how does the new Trump era affect the possibility of taking the wider view?
The early indications are that the Trump administration is a potentially unstable mix of those best described as economic nationalists and others, especially in the wider Republican Party, who are convinced neoliberals. The latter may be dubious about any trend towards protectionism and believe that in a free market which already favours the wealthy such protectionism may turn out to be counter-productive. In this view, transnational corporate organisation is a fact of life and no country, not even the United States, can go its own way for long.
The economic nationalists, who are dominant within Trump’s inner policy circle, are very strongly convinced that the United States has sufficient power to dominate the markets that matter most. Furthermore, the whole Trump election platform was predicated on strong opposition to the perceived elite, an establishment that “ran” Washington. His appeal to those left behind, especially in the post-industrial American Mid-West, was probably the most important element in his successful election and it is an approach that will not readily be abandoned. At the same time, he was committed to policies that would reduce taxes while scaling down the Obamacare reforms – initially both popular with his supporters.
In the short-term Trump’s policies may be popular but it may be as little as a year before those left behind find that their predicament simply does not ease. Indeed, it is already becoming clear that health provision reforms will lead to many millions of Americans facing higher costs, including many of those who voted for Trump. More generally, economic nationalism may turn out to provide little gain for the country as the power of China and other major economies becomes more apparent. “America first” is simply not sustainable in a globalised world.
Even so, what has to be faced is that the Trump era will not see any fundamental challenge to the neoliberal system, precisely in a period when that system is proving unfit for purpose. What may perhaps be more relevant is how long the Trump approach in its present form persists. The degree of disorganisation currently apparent in so many areas within the White House is hardly encouraging in terms of stability, and it may well be that as the 2018 mid-sessional elections to the House and Senate draw nearer, Trump’s singularly soft Republican majority support in both Houses of Congress will lead to sudden changes of policy. These may not directly address core issues of inequality but could take much of the remaining lustre off the Trump approach.
This month has seen the very clear enactment of a number of policies that confirm that the Trump approach on climate change is one of denial coupled with the strong promotion of domestically-sourced fossil fuel resources. This is a highly negative approach for two reasons – there will be an increase in carbon emissions from the United States and a lack of leadership within the international community for addressing the considerable dangers stemming from climate change. This would seem disastrous for any hope of effectively preventing climate change but there are other very interesting factors at work.
Firstly, the reality of the dangers of uncontrollable climate change is far more recognised across the world than a decade ago. Many more states are accelerating their moves towards renewable energy sources, with the biggest emitter, China, making remarkable strides. Indeed, China may well see its way to playing a global leadership role. Secondly, the rapid developments in renewable energy technologies are making renewable sources far more economic, with many further developments coming closer to fruition. The effect of this is that renewable energy utilisation is now competing much more closely with fossil carbon sources and, as a consequence, there is a rapid increase in investment in renewables. More than half of all investment in electricity generation is now in renewables and in the United States and elsewhere there is far greater potential for employment in renewables than in fossil carbon sources.
Major problems remain including historic underinvestment in energy storage technologies and the need to cut carbon emissions by even more than most states currently accept, but the point here is that this is one area where there is every sign that Trump’s policies are obsolete and likely to ensure that the United States is left high and dry. Even in the face of that, though, the ideological certitude of the climate change deniers close to Trump means that the administration is unlikely to change. In short, the advent of the Trump era may limit the prospects for countering climate disruption but at least this will be another area where the Trump approach may be singularly counterproductive to any aim to make the United States the world leader.
As with climate change, the first two-and-a-half months of the Trump administration have shown the translation of rhetoric into policy: control of migration, increased military spending and the more frequent use of force. Here, though, it is necessary to recall that the eight years of the Obama administration may have seen the withdrawal of US troops from substantial parts of the Middle East and Afghanistan but also saw the quiet transition to remote warfare with much greater use of air power, armed drones and Special Forces, not least in Libya and Iraq. The early signs are that Trump is expanding such operations rather than radically changing the posture and this includes even greater use of air power in the war against Islamic State (IS), as well as the deployment of even more Special Forces in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
These kinds of changes are being reflected in the manner in which the Pentagon is being given a much freer hand to conduct operations, but there are already consequences. A major raid in Yemen in late January failed to achieve its objective while also killing many civilians, and the much-expanded use of air strikes in Mosul in the past month has led to such an increase in civilian casualties that they are even being reported in the mainstream western media. Even so, such consequences are unlikely to carry any weight with Trump unless there are serious disasters involving US military personnel.
The risk of this has been limited until now but one factor that has received little attention is that Trump’s Pentagon is advocating, and indeed already initiating, a substantial increase in the number of “boots on the ground”. In Iraq this is no longer just Special Forces but regular troop deployments which include, for example, units from the 82nd Airborne Division. Trump has also just agreed to give US forces in East Africa much more open powers to operate assaults on suspected al-Qaida-linked groups in southern Somalia, and there are also repeated calls for the Pentagon to expand its deployments in Afghanistan.
As with economic issues, such actions may be popular with Trump supporters in the short term, examples of forceful action in the task of “Making America Great Again”, but based on the failures of the last fifteen years, the longer-term impact may be very different. What it does mean, though, is that as the United States seriously expands in overseas military operations then its close allies such as Britain will have to face up to whether they are willing to maintain their commitments.
These are, indeed, different times and with all three aspects of the sustainable security challenge the election of Trump is likely to exacerbate ingrained problems. At the same time, his policies may become increasingly irrelevant concerning climate change and his economic popularity with his supporters may also erode quickly. This may well increase the temptation to use foreign military action to distract voters from domestic discontents. However, even in the military dimension there are unlikely to be any quick wins and Trump’s direction of travel means that his allies could quickly come under domestic political pressure if they were to stay closely aligned with the United States. In any case, the need to rethink our attitudes to security remains critical and it is best to see the advent of the Trump era as a period when even more opportunity for creative, critical and independent rethinking of security will be essential.
Image credit: PressSec/Wikimedia
About the Author
Paul Rogers is Global Security Consultant to Oxford Research Group and Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. His ‘Monthly Global Security Briefings’ are available from our website. His new book Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threats from the Margins will be published by I B Tauris in June 2016. These briefings are circulated free of charge for non-profit use, but please consider making a donation to ORG, if you are able to do so.
Copyright Oxford Research Group 2017.
Some rights reserved. This briefing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Licence. For more information please visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/.
We welcome your comments on this paper please see below
Donald Trump is taking the world to the edge of war. His belligerent statements and provocative actions have created a frightening stand-off with nuclear-armed North Korea. This, combined with missile attacks on Syria and the mega-bomb drop on Afghanistan, signals a sharp turn to intervention which is ratcheting up tension around the world. Stop the War and CND have called an emergency protest outside the US embassy to protest at Trump’s aggression and the British government’s shameful support for his policy. If you are in London please do your best to attend and spread the word (including through Facebook).
2017 National Conference
Stop the War’s AGM for members and delegates
10am reg. for 10.30am start – 5pm | Saturday 22 April
Arlington Conference Centre
220 Arlington Road
Recent developments also make Stop the War’s national conference an even more vital opportunity to discuss the worsening situation and how best to respond. For more information see here. Please come if you can and help strengthen resistance to war. You can book your place Here. Please come if you can and help strengthen resistance to war.
Stop the War Coalition | firstname.lastname@example.org | 020 7561 4830
Written by Lindsey German, Stop the War Coalition, 24 March 2017
‘We should not accept the argument that these sorts of attacks have anything to do with immigration’.
The threat of Islamic terrorism requires a serious analytical response which cannot ignore the background against which it exists. It may well be true, as Theresa May says, that some terrorists are motivated because of ‘hatred of British values’ or ‘wanting to destroy our way of life’. But these explanations themselves beg questions about why these attacks have happened and what the motivation for them is.
It should be clear that there can be nothing but condemnation for this act which has led to the deaths of several people and the injury of many more, some critical. In its wake this brutal act has left grieving friends and families, and has impacted on many, including those caught up in the lockdown of parliament following the attack.
However, we do justice to no one to repeat phrases which do not begin to explain this phenomenon or how to deal with it. In fact, every serious analysis of the increase in terrorism over the past 16 years has to confront one central fact: that the ill-conceived and misnamed war on terror has actually increased the level of terrorism in Europe, not reduced it. In 2001, there were no Islamic terrorist attacks in Britain. The first was in 2005, when four suicide bombers blew themselves up in central London. Since then there have been a number, including the killing of Lee Rigby, and the latest this week which has so far claimed four victims.
The head of MI5, Eliza Manningham Buller, told the Chilcot inquiry in 2010 that the Joint Intelligence Committee warned government ministers that if they went to war in Iraq the threat of Islamic terrorism in Britain would grow. “Our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people – not a whole generation, a few among a generation – who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as being an attack upon Islam.”
The terrible consequences of the Iraq war – and subsequent interventions in Libya and Syria – have indeed led to a growth in terrorism both across the Middle East and South Asia. As we have seen just this week this growth in terrorism is not restricted to these regions but has also shaken Europe.
It is worth remembering that those countries still reeling from the effects of these interventions face regular terrorist attacks against their own populations, with often dozens killed in single attacks on markets and other public places. These receive scant coverage in the British media and certainly not the emotional responses that mark an attack in London or Paris. But they alone should prove as false the idea that these attacks are about British values. They are political attacks designed to promote the ideas of IS or al Qaeda or other similar groups and their main targets are other Muslims.
In countries such as Britain and France the aim of these organisations is to create a backlash against Muslims to further their goals. The far right in Europe also feeds off these attacks in order to ratchet up their agenda of Islamophobia and hatred.
In the face of such attacks there should be two clear messages. The first is that the foreign policy which has contributed to the rise of terrorism has to end. These wars are not history but are ongoing. Only this week there have been reports of a US bombing raid on a mosque near Aleppo in Syria which has killed many civilians, in addition to the bombing of Mosul in Iraq – as part of the campaign against IS – which has resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, including 200 in a recent attack.
Such attacks are exactly what has helped feed terrorism in the past.
The second message is that the response to such attacks cannot be further racism against Muslims. They are already under attack across Europe where there are campaigns against the building of mosques, or against the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab at work or in public (now endorsed by the European Court). The Prevent system is widely disliked by many Muslims and is now being seen as counterproductive in many areas. The cheap right wing jibes of the racists – for example that Birmingham is ‘jihadi capital of Britain’ – are now repeated on respectable BBC programmes.
We should not accept the argument that these sorts of attacks have anything to do with immigration. The attacker was born in Kent 52 years ago and was a product of British society. He was not born a Muslim but converted to Islam at some point in his life, maybe in prison, and had led a life of petty crime and violence, which possibly began in reaction to racism.
This is a similar profile to other Islamic terrorists. It raises many questions about why this happens in prison, and why people with such backgrounds sometimes turn to terrorism. He was also known to the security services – again like others.
The attack on Westminster Bridge and outside Parliament, like the attacks in Nice and Berlin last year, was carried out using a vehicle to mow down pedestrians. The Westminster attacker then used knives to kill a policeman guarding the main gates of parliament. This did not require high tech knowledge of bombs or even the possession of guns but simply the ability to drive a car and to be prepared to use physical violence before certain death at the hands of the security forces.
We do not know the full facts about the motives of the killer, or whether he acted alone. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, but even here it is unclear whether he carried it out through general influence by the politics of ISIS or under the direction of a cell. We know that recent attacks in the US and Europe have been carried out both by lone individuals and groups.
What we can be certain of is that these attacks will continue unless there are major political changes.
This climate of racism here in the UK, and elsewhere in Europe, is only helping to create a vicious circle where Islamophobia leads to a growth in extremism and terrorism, which in turn leads to more Islamophobia. It is a circle which can only be broken by a concerted campaign against both war and Islamophobia.
Stop the War Coalition
Newsletter – 31 March 2017
Catastrophic Coalition Bombings in Mosul
The news this week of reportedly hundreds of civilians dead in Mosul as a result of US led bombing has further dented the claim that Donald Trump’s presidency will mark an era of retreat and isolation from involvement in wars. In fact, according to some estimates, this recent attack may mark the worst civilian casualties from US bombing for over 25 years – since the notorious attack on a shelter in Amiriyah, Baghdad, during the first Gulf War. In recent weeks, Trump has intensified the air strikes in Mosul, a city still home to hundreds of thousands; has sent ground troops into Syria to fight in Raqaa; and has deployed a new missile defence system in South Korea, along with B52 nuclear bombers, in a move strongly opposed by China.
If these threats are escalating – especially with Trump’s promise to ‘turn up the heat on North Korea’ – we can unfortunately expect nothing from our own government but the sort of abject support which the ‘special relationship’ has long signified. Last week, a parliamentary committee admitted that there was little that could be done in constitutional terms to prevent a British prime minister from behaving exactly like Tony Blair and taking us to war. Given Theresa May’s record so far with Trump, and given her and defence secretary Michael Fallon’s support for upping each Nato member country’s share of spending on the military, the threat of war world wide is growing again. As an anti-war movement we are asking our supporters to hold meetings and petition up and down the country to oppose our government and the US in its drive to war.
by Patrick Cockburn
March 3, 2017
After Isis captured Mosul in June 2014, people in Baghdad waited in terror to see if its fighters would go on to storm the capital. There was very little to stop them as the Iraqi army in northern Iraq broke up and fled south. Many government ministers and MPs rushed to the airport and took refuge in Jordan. When an American military delegation arrived to review the defences of Baghdad, they were told by a senior Iraq official “to look to see which ministers had put fresh sandbags around their ministries. Those that have done so like myself will stay and fight; where you see old sandbags it means the minister doesn’t care because he is intending to run.”
Two and a half years later, it is Isis fighters who are battling street-to-street to hold onto west Mosul, their last big stronghold in Iraq, in the face of multiple assaults by a revived Iraqi army backed by US airpower. The last road out of the city to the west was cut by Iraqi government forces on 1 March and they have also captured one of the half-ruined bridges over the Tigris River that bisects Mosul, which they are planning to repair using US-supplied pontoons. Iraqi military units backed by some 50 US airstrikes a day are getting close to the complex of buildings that used to house the government headquarters in the centre of the city.
Iraqi officials and officers announce only advances and victories, reports that often turn out to be premature or untrue. But there is no doubt that the Iraqi security services are winning the struggle for Mosul, though fighting could go on for a long time amid the close-packed buildings and narrow, twisting alleyways. Already shelling and airstrikes are causing heavy casualties among families sheltering in cellars or beneath the stairs in their houses.
The battle will probably continue for a long time, but the capture of Mosul looks inevitable and will be a calamitous defeat for Isis. When its few thousand fighters seized the city and defeated a government garrison of 60,000 in 2014, it portrayed its victory as a sign that God was on its side. But the same logic works in reverse and today all Isis can offer its followers is a series of hard-fought defeats and withdrawals.
The crucial question concerns whether or not the fall of Mosul means the effective end of the caliphate declared by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The caliphate’s significance was that at one time it ruled territory with a population of five or six million people in Iraq and Syria, where it sought to establish a truly Islamic State. It is this dream – or nightmare – that is now being shattered. Isis may still control some territory in Iraq and more in Syria, but it has nothing like the human and material resources it enjoyed at the height of its power when it controlled territory stretching from the Iranian border almost to the Mediterranean coast.
Isis still has some strengths, including experienced and skilful commanders leading a core of fanatical fighters numbering as many as 4,000 in west Mosul alone. They have already killed 500 and wounded 3,000 of the Iraqi security service’s best soldiers in the struggle for east Mosul, which was meant to last a few weeks and instead took three months. There is a no reason the same thing should not happen in the west of the city where the warren of streets gives the defence an advantage. Foreign fighters know they cannot blend into the population and escape, so they have no choice but to fight to the death.
Other factors work in favour of Isis: it is fighting a vast array of enemies forced into an unwilling coalition against Isis because they fear and hate it just a little bit more than they hate and fear each other. As Isis weakens and becomes less of a threat, the edgy détente between different anti-Isis forces, such as the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Kurds, will begin to fray. People in Baghdad recall that the Kurds took advantage of the defeat of the Iraqi army in 2014 to grab extensive lands long disputed between themselves and the Arabs. Once freed of the menace of Isis, non-Kurdish Iraqis will want these territories back.
In Syria, there is an even more complicated three-cornered fight between the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian Kurds and Turkey for the areas from which Isis is retreating. Turkish troops and their local proxies have just taken al-Bab, northeast of Aleppo, from Isis after a hard fought siege, and have started attacking the town of Manbij nearby, which was taken from Isis after a long battle late last year by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Mobilisation Units (YPG) and its Arab allies. As Isis is driven out, the YPG and Turkish-backed forces are left facing each other in what might be the beginning of a new Kurdish-Turkish war waged across northern Syria.
Even those familiar with the complexities and shifting alliances of the Syrian civil war are baffled by the likely outcome as the different players in Syria position themselves to take advantage of a likely attack on Raqqa, the de facto Syrian capital of Isis. Will the US continue to use the devastating firepower of its air force to support a YPG-led ground offensive? Or could the US administration under Trump take a more pro-Turkish stance and, if it did so, would the Syrian Kurds look for an alternative military alliance with Assad and his Russian backers?
The answers to such questions will decide if we are really getting towards the end of the terrible wars in Iraq and Syria that have ravaged the region since 2003 or if we are only seeing an end to a phase in the conflict. In Iraq, the government has survived the disasters of 2014 and is about to defeat Isis in Mosul, though the Baghdad administration remains spectacularly corrupt, sectarian and dysfunctional. Assad in Syria has already won a crucial victory by capturing east Aleppo, the last big urban stronghold of the armed opposition in Syria, and is evidently intending to win back the whole country.
These successes give an exaggerated idea of the real power of the Iraqi army, which owes the reversal in the military tide to the support of foreign powers and, above all, to US airpower. The same is true of the Syrian army in its reliance on Russia and Russian airstrikes. So far, the mix of cooperation and rivalry between the US and Russia in Syria that developed under President Obama has not changed much under Donald Trump.
Yet the war is not quite over. Isis has a tradition of responding to defeats on the battlefield by carrying out terrorist attacks in the region, Europe, Turkey or other parts of the world. Some spectacular atrocities would enable it once again to dominate the news agenda and show it is not beaten.
Isis may want to test the Trump administration and see if it can provoke it into an overreaction by some act of terror, just as al-Qaeda was able to do at the time of 9/11.
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Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.
Stop the War Coalition Newsletter – 6 March 2017
The “war on terror” rages on. Almost 14 years since Bush and Blair proclaimed the end of the Iraq War, that war-torn country remains one of the key Middle Eastern battlegrounds.
The UK and US-assisted Iraqi government assault on Mosul is continuing with savage bombardment of the highly-populated city. Most of the British media are failing to report this, even though around 650,000 civilians – including thousands of children – are trapped in the west of the city and are, according to the UN, “at extreme risk”. The siege has already produced at least 200,000 refugees.
As Patrick Cockburn has pointed out in his article, shelling and airstrikes have been “causing heavy casualties among families sheltering in cellars or beneath the stairs in their houses”. Meanwhile, fuel and food supplies are dwindling and drinking water and electricity are scarce.
In the words of Professor David Keen, “trying to apply the old militaristic model to the problem of terrorism is like trying to destroy a liquid with a sledgehammer”. The bombing and siege of Mosul are adding fuel to the fire of an intractable conflict. By supporting and getting involved in the anti-war movement, you can help break this brutal and senseless cycle of violence.
1 March 2017
The recent statement from the UK’s new Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation that the terrorist threat to the country is at its highest level since the 1970s raises at least three crucial questions that this briefing seeks to answer. Why is the apparent threat so high, and apparently rising, after 15 years of high-intensity ‘war’ against international terrorist groups? Why is the specific threat from Islamic State (IS) so substantial at present? Finally, and most overlooked, why is there such a disconnect between the intense war in Iraq and Syria and the perception of threat in the UK? As the Trump administration prepares a new, escalated strategy against IS, these questions matter more than ever for Trump’s closest allies.
In the UK, the position of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation (IRTL) dates back to parliamentary concern over new legislation in the 1970s in response to the rapid increase in violence in Northern Ireland. A number of reviews from 1978 to 1984 were followed by regular annual reviews and eventually a more permanent role evolved, with the reviewer being appointed for a three-year term which is renewable. In a further development some of the functions were given a statutory basis in the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act,
The incoming Independent Reviewer, Max Hill QC, is an experienced prosecuting counsel who has been involved in a number of terrorism prosecutions. Within days of his appointment on 21 February he gave his assessment of the threat to the UK, principally from Islamic State (IS) supporters, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, expressing the opinion that the threat was its at highest level since the 1970s. The official threat level was last at the highest point (‘Critical’) for a few days in 2007, so Anderson is expressing this view more as a general trend rather than a sudden change which, in a way, means that it deserves particular attention.
This opinion from a highly experienced and knowledgeable figure immediately raises the question of why this should be. At the very least it suggests that more than fifteen years of sustained western military actions against extreme Islamist paramilitary organisations have not been successful, but there is also the question of why there should be a specific threat from IS and why it should be so substantial at the present time. This briefing places the current situation in a longer term context and also questions whether the low profile nature of the intense US-led air war makes it less easy to have open discussions in the UK about the nature and implications of the fifteen years of failure of military action and the reasons for the current enhanced threat level.
Al-Qaida and the Far Enemy
In the wake of the catastrophic 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, the United States and a small coalition of mostly western states succeeded in terminating the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and dispersing the al-Qaida movement. The move was broadly popular in western countries but the subsequent decision of the Bush administration to extend the war against al-Qaida into a broader war against an “axis of evil” of rogue states was less widely accepted, especially after the termination of the Saddam Hussein regime and the occupation of Iraq.
During this period in 2002-03 the al-Qaida movement survived and also encouraged attacks on the “far enemy” of the United States and its closest allies. In some cases the encouragement was not specific but in others there was more direct involvement in the planning and execution of attacks, but all in their different ways were seen as promoting al-Qaida’s long-term aim of creating an Islamist caliphate. Between 2002 and 2006 they included attacks, frequently on western targets, in Istanbul, Casablanca, Sinai, Amman, Djerba (Tunisia), Jakarta, Bali, Islamabad, Mumbai, Mombasa, Madrid and London. Then, during the mid-2000s, the focus was more on attacks, often targeting Shi’a Muslims, in Pakistan and especially Iraq, where al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) was intensely active. By 2011, when Osama bin Laden was finally located and killed in Pakistan, al-Qaida had become much more limited as a transnational movement, engaging in few attacks beyond the Middle East and south-west Asia.
After 2011 and the Arab Awakening some of the groups aligned with al-Qaida succeeded in gaining support by limiting the dominant narrative of the caliphate and adjusting more to local cultures and grievances, al-Nusra Front in Syria being perhaps the best-known example. At the same time, the erstwhile AQI (ex-communicated by bin Laden in 2006) had sufficiently survived the intense US-led shadow war against it and by early 2013 had extended its operations into Syria’s civil war. Reformed as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2013, it proclaimed an actual geographical caliphate under its control in northern Syria and Iraq following its spectacular offensive of mid-2014. At its peak, this self-declared caliphate covered a population of some six million people under an often brutal yet technocratically competent regime that gained many thousands of recruits especially but not only from across the Middle East and North Africa.
IS and its Aims
Although IS and al-Qaida could both be described as transnational revolutionary movements determined to create an Islamist caliphate and both have an eschatological dimension which looks beyond earthly life, by 2014 they had come to differ in an important respect. For al-Qaida, the creation of a caliphate would best be achieved by the overthrow of existing leaders such as the house of Saud in Saudi Arabia, though this would also involve attacks on the far enemy that supported so many unacceptable states right across the Islamic world, especially in the Middle East. Attacks on the far enemy therefore formed a significant component of their actions, not least in the 2002-06 period.
In contrast, for IS the actual creation of a physical caliphate by mid-2014 was at the centre of its aims, demonstrating in a very powerful and symbolic manner what could be achieved. Thus almost the entire emphasis of the movement was on the expansion and consolidation of the caliphate, with attacks on the far enemy being of secondary significance. It follows that, if this has been the case, why is there the high level of risk to the UK at the present time?
The change on the part of IS towards overseas attacks relates to the start of the air war in August 2014. This was initiated by the United States but with a number of regional and western states joining to form a major coalition operating mainly by employing strike aircraft and drones. Although the sheer intensity of the air war only peaked in 2015, even by the end of 2014 it would have been clear to the IS leadership that it was facing a far greater and more immediate threat to its caliphate than had been anticipated.
Since then it has put far greater effort into encouraging and even facilitating attacks elsewhere, with these serving two main purposes. One is to demonstrate both to its supporters and the wider world that it is still a powerful force with international reach, but the other is that any attack involving civilian loss of life is likely to damage community cohesion in the states of the far enemy, stirring up anti-Muslim rhetoric. Such an aim is aided greatly by the many political changes now evident in the west, not least the Trump presidency with its vigorous anti-Muslim views but also Marine le Pen’s Front National in France, UKIP in the UK, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and many others.
Indeed it is likely that as IS faces even more intense conflict in Iraq and Syria it will present its caliphate as a symbolic gesture that may not survive the short term but will come again in the future. IS itself may go underground while seeking to stage more attacks, not least within the far enemy and confident that in doing so it can further encourage Islamophobia and thereby weaken western societies that are already stressed by many new political tensions and instabilities.
Implications: Trump and the Western Response
How western states conduct the continuing war against IS relates very largely to the posture of the new Trump administration. In his speech to both Houses of Congress on 28 February, President Trump had little to say about foreign affairs but did repeat his intention to crush IS:
“As promised, I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS — a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women, and children of all faiths and beliefs. We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.”
How this will be reflected in the military posture is not yet clear – he is planning a sizeable increase in military spending directed mainly at expeditionary and interventionist warfare but beyond that the precise changes are still to be announced, especially in relation to IS. There is some evidence that he has already had an impact on the intensity of the war, with a greater involvement of Special Forces in Yemen, closer involvement of the US Army in the use of forward-based artillery around Mosul and more integration of US Special Forces with Iraqi Army units in the direct urban counterinsurgency operations within the western part of the city.
At the same time there are indications of disagreements within the administration. The new National Security Advisor, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, is cautious about any general representation of an overall “threat from Islam”, in contrast to some of Trump’s key civilian advisors, but the more significant tension may be between those who favour “more of the same”, such as intensive use of air power and Special Forces, and others who see it as necessary to have more boots on the ground.
The Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, delivered the results of an intense 30-day study on defeating IS to the White House on 28 February and early reports indicate that serious consideration is being given to deploying regular combat units to Syria in the coming operation to take control of the key IS city of Raqqa. This is paralleled by the recent widespread exposure of the view that if IS is suppressed in Iraq, such is the extent of political instability in the country that a substantial US military presence in the country will be necessary for some years to come.
Recalling the experience of western states in Iraq since 2003 this will actually represent a substantial change from the eight years of the Obama administration and such an approach may actually be the most significant development. To put it simply, the United States will be back there for the long term and in all probability the UK government will be the most significant ally involved. That has many implications for the current Conservative government and leaves one key question remaining.
That question is why is there such a disconnect between the intense war in Iraq and Syria and the perception of threat in the UK. People are likely to say – why us? There is, in other words, no recognition of the relationship between the threat of terror attacks in Britain and that war, even though the UK is an integral and significant part of the war. We in the UK have been part of a thirty-month war that has killed at least 50,000 IS supporters, according to Pentagon estimates. To put it at its most crude – we have killed tens of thousands of them and they want to kill at least hundreds of us.
This should come as no surprise and yet it does, not least because the war against IS is primarily a war by remote control which hardly figures in the media. There are no longer thousands of boots on the ground and no longer are there coffins being flown back to Britain every other week. Compared to the average of 207 and 112 British service personnel killed or wounded in action every year in the Afghan (2002-14) and Iraq (2003-09) campaigns, respectively, not one member of the British armed forces has yet been a casualty of the current air war. It is a hidden war and there is therefore scarcely any debate either in parliament, the media or in the country as a whole. This lack of discussion about the merits of current UK policy in the Middle East is one of the most worrying aspects of war by remote control. It is one reason why ORG hosts the Network for Social Change’s Remote Control Project, one of the very few endeavours that works to open up what is happening to wider consideration.
Where this links with the incoming Trump administration is that as the war expands the UK’s involvement in Iraq, and most likely in Syria as well, is likely to increase, given that Theresa May’s government appears intent on being Trump’s closest ally. As the involvement increases it may well become much more visible. If so, then a public debate on the merits or otherwise of the policy is far more likely, in marked contrast to the current situation.
Image (cropped) credit: Elliot Brown/Flickr
About the Author
Paul Rogers is Global Security Consultant to Oxford Research Group and Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. His ‘Monthly Global Security Briefings’ are available from our website. His new book Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threats from the Margins will be published by I B Tauris in June 2016. These briefings are circulated free of charge for non-profit use, but please consider making a donation to ORG, if you are able to do so.
Copyright Oxford Research Group 2017.
Opening session included Paul Kenny from NUT noted Trump messages were a massive shift to sell US citizens a ‘Dream ticket’ to get elected as President but what happens when he fails to deliver?
Trump told Palestine and Israel to ‘Just sort it out yourselves’
In schools black and Muslim schoolchildren are scared after Trumps election.
Trumps travel ban targets travellers from 7 Middle East counties, who happen to be muslim travellers.
Trump is anti-abortion, sexist, anti- women (except as sex objects), anti- migrant/refugees homophobia and denies climate change. He is also a war monger with his finger on the nuclear weapon button so extremely dangerous.
The backlash was 3 huge demos in London and all major cities. A spontaneous women’s march, stand up to Trump march and the anti Trumps demo outside the American Embassy for ‘No state visit for Trump’. Also massive petitions on line with comments and views posted on facebook and Twitter networks. The US struggle is our struggle.
In the US women organised marches of over 100,00 in many cities against Trumps Inauguration but 45% of US population and 33% of UK population support Trump and his views.
Trump is a climate change denier, no doubt a disaster for the planet. He is encouraging mining,, fracking and undermines previous plans to contain pollution. There are moves to withdraw scientific funding for climate research. Trump has appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate change sceptic.
Mya from Egypt Revolutionary Council. Announced solidarity with the anti trump campaign,
against Fascism, ways to stifle freedom of speech, and a return to torture, rendition and Guantanamo bay detention for ‘bad dudes’
Video link with Portland USA. ‘Trade Unions Against Trump’
Good news, Andy Posner withdrew his nomination as he would not protect workers as Secretary of Labour. Bad news, Trump is responsible for a nominee to the department of Education with zero experience of education and charged with privatising schools from the public sector schools. The message from US is ‘fight together with us, the UK is a beacon of light.’
Tariq Ali, Muslim council of Britain
Trump has made himself into the ‘anti-establishment’ figure of hope for the American people despite Trump being a billionnaire and most of his cabinet multi-millionaires. Trump is wrong to link his success with Brexit, wrong and it is wrong to invite him to the UK.
Jewish Socialist Group
This year is the 50th anniversary of Isaac Deucher who supported Internationalism. Jews in US showed solidarity recently by signing a register of Moslems and when a Mosque was burned down gave the Iman the keys to the Synagogue as a place for Moslem prayer.
Get Trump out of UK visit, out of US Presidency and May out of office. Bannen did not want his children going to school with Muslim and Jewish children.
Trump has had some positive effects, he has created unity in opposition , SUTR is stronger thanks to the opposition of his travel bans. Bernie Saunders achieved 13 million supporters of ‘Socialism’ a word commonly associated in US psyche as ‘Communist’ an unprecedented achievement so there is hope for the future. Very noisy parties of gays have been held outside Pence’s house in US.
May is just as racist as Trump, she extended the PREVENT programme and has reneged on the Alf Dubs amendment by refusing entry of any more child refugees. (10,000 refugees promised but only 350 arrived). The cost of Trump’s visit to UK estimated at £10 million pounds, money that could be better spent on supporting child refugees. Trumps visit may sift to Birmingham as the Government suspects protesters won’t travel to Birmingham, calling it a no-go area.
Trump is not a fascist but his view encourages and gives hope to right wing extremist groups
Theresa May has a racist and anti-working class agenda against public services and the welfare state Her policies persuade the population to blame migrants and refugees instead of the rich corporations. In Turkey gender violence and rape evident and hate crime increasing. Turkey government has been silent over the travel ban against Muslims and has banned proactive groups and freedom of speech.
Statement from UNISON
Walk outs at 1pm Monday 20 classes rescheduled to support EU workers in UK.
Nursery School teacher
Travelled around France and saw first hand the prejudice against both Jews and Muslim. Danger is Marie Le Pen as she wants to ban any religious symbols or clothing such as the wearing of burkas for Muslim women and caps for Jewish men and boys, her view gained her 10% of vote in preliminaries before the 2017 elections.
Stuart Richardson TUC and Stop the War group
No left wing MPs in Birmingham. MPs do not want more refugees so concentrate on mending divisions within the multicultural city. Word of caution- do not canonise Obama as he was also a war monger and dropped bombs on communities.
Jeremy Corbyn video message
Trump is abusing so many people including Mexicans. Trump is closing down pregnancy advice centres and repealing Abortion laws. Our PM rushed over there to meet Trump to create relationship for a trade deal that could threaten our public services including the NHS. Trump has threatened the 1951 convention on refugees and 2001 ruling on torture as he knows it ’gets results’ undermining peace, justice and democracy. Attack on media and communication workers no surprise as the media in US has gone from colluding with the oppressors and the demonising of the Muslim population to being shocked at Trump’s win and his extreme views and now on the side of the oppressed.
Roger Lewis DEPAC.
Solidarity with SUTR which has emerged from a civil rights movement to fight for inclusion and equality. Governments have tried to separate and divide us by identifying the disabled as people who did not want to work and prefer to exist on benefits. We need to be unified in our efforts because of being ‘different’ and stop discrimination and unfairness.
Other speakers included Lindsay German ‘Stop the War’, Andrew Murray ‘UNITE the Union’, Sam Fairburn ‘People’s Assembly’, and Weyman Bennett ‘Unite Against Fascism’
Key Messages and Action Plan
*All descend on Birmingham, Scotland, London wherever Trump is expected, block the roads, rail, airport runways. Ake some noise!
*Devise a motion to get your Councils to deny any money and support for Trumps UK visit. (eg Gateshead Council.)
*Continue trade union support, demos should include all unions and their banners
*Get the model motion to Trades Councils and all union branches.
*Use the opportunity to build unity with disparate groups (remember PRIDE and the Welsh miners!), LGTB, Autism groups, DEPAC, anti-frackers. (Many other unions joining us such as haulage drivers). Broaden the movement to include climate change as potential for mass evacuation of refugees from areas of the world affected by severe climate change.
*Avoid/stop sectarianism. No arguments between brexiteers and remainers , irrelevant as we have more in common and are stronger together. Ignore Blair’s rantings.
*Campaign to close refugee detention centres.
*Support refugees, many still drowning in the Mediterranean sea, fleeing the terror of wars.
*Allow refugees into UK, many are dying of hypothermia or of carbon monoxide poisoning as refugees use stoves to keep warm in poorly ventilated tents.
*Reverse the ‘no entry for child refugees’ ruling.
*The Junior Doctors and BMA are backing refugees and condemn the burning of the camps and blockades.
*Protest against PREVENT Strategy in all public sector industries and the checking of passports prior to care in the NHS. Nurses and teachers are not border guards. Nurses and Doctors are not accountants presenting medical bills and collecting payments.
*Support ‘One day without us’ action. Show solidarity with migrants, refugees, EU workers and Muslim groups locally.
*Oppose damaging Trade deals.
*Focus on SUTR, wear a SUTR badge and be prepared to say why in conversations and to dispel the lies and myths of racism and Islamaphobia.
*Support the Mass protest and Demo on March 18, remember such action wake up the public to the big issues through media coverage.
*Should Trumps visit go ahead and you cannot get there to protest the walk out of work, stop classes in schools, colleges and universities. Make the UK ungovernable for the short time of Trumps visit.
*STAY ANGRY, STAY HOPEFUL AND STAY TOGETHER IN SOLIDARITY!