Tag Archives: Security

Some thoughts on the ongoing protests in Hong Kong

Those watching the news over the weekend have probably noticed growing reporting on the protests in Hong Kong, under the name of ‘Occupy Central’. Discontent has been brewing for a while, in anticipation of changes to the Hong Kong electoral system. Hong Kong was officially handed over from British rule to China in 1997, and a big part of the handover agreement included the idea that Hong Kong would be ruled under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model. Consequently, Hong Kong has it’s own Basic Law,  a form of constitution based on the system it inherited from British rule, which guarantees freedom of speech and assembly until 2047. On an everyday level, this means that today, Western social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, which are banned in mainland China, are still accessible in Hong Kong. In 2007, China promised that Hong Kong would attain universal suffrage by 2017. Hong Kong is ruled by a Chief Executive, currently Leung Chun-ying, and China promised that the post of Chief Executive would be elected – one person, one vote – by 2017, and it is this promise that is the focus of the current protests.

Currently, the Chief Executive is elected by a committee, and the plan is for the committee to remain, but that it will nominate candidates which are then  up for election by universal suffrage. This is where the problem arrives: on August 31st, Chinese authorities announced that candidates would need the support of more than half of the ‘broadly representative’ nominating committee to appear on the ballot: and the committee contains a high number of Beijing loyalists. Consequently, only candidates which Beijing approve of would have a chance to get nominated. This is what the protesters of ‘Occupy Central’ are unhappy about.

So who are Occupy Central? The movement was initiated by an associate law professor at the University of Hong Kong called Benny Tai Yiu-ting, in early 2013, when he proposed an act of civil disobedience in the Central, the finance district of Hong Kong. The movement has included large consultations with citizens about Hong Kong’s democratic development, and has been slowly gathering support throughout 2014. It’s important to recognise that not everyone is unhappy about the Chinese decision, nor does everyone support Occupy Central: some polls have suggested that only around 50% believe Hong Kong should reject Beijing’s proposals. It’s an eclectic movement made up of academics, students and a number of other groups, the full name of which is ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’. Occupy Central have been warning Beijing that protests would ensue if it’s election proposals did not meet the standards they expect, and so after the decision on August 31st protests have been gathering support, with huge numbers turning out over the weekend and into today.

Photo via @OCLPHK
Photo via @OCLPHK

China has made it clear that Hong Kong is still ultimately under Chinese rule, despite the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model, and have so far signalled that they have no intention of budging on their decision. Earlier in the weekend, the army responded to the protests with tear gas, but yesterday and today protests have continued, calling for the resignation of the Chief Executive for pandering to China. Today (Wednesday) more people are expected to join: many are off work as 1 October is a national holiday, celebrating the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. Tensions are set to rise as protesters use the day to bolster support.

Some suggest that Beijing is losing the hearts and minds of Hong Kong. News reports of the events in Hong Kong have been blocked in mainland China, and Instagram, which was used to share photos of the protests, has also been blocked in the mainland. It is very difficult to tell how this is going to end: some have drawn parallels with the Tiananmen protests in 1989. However, the spread of information, particularly via social media – even within mainland China – makes a cover-up of any military response impossible. Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, has been amassing and centralising power since taking over, and has even modelled himself on Deng Xiaoping, who was behind China’s opening up to the West. However, Deng was also in charge in 1989.

The protests taking over 1 October celebrations is likely to be particularly testing. At this point, no one knows how China will deal with the situation, but those with any influence should be emphasising restraint. A military response would lose China any international and domestic support, but the lack of military intervention since Sunday is a good sign: let’s hope the protests open the space for conversation about Hong Kong’s electoral system, instead of bloodshed.

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Scotland No vote has halted a wider debate about Trident

By Andrew Futter, University of Leicester

Nowhere was the relief over Scotland’s decision last week to remain part of the United Kingdom more acutely felt than with those responsible for Britain’s nuclear deterrent system, Trident.

The Scottish National Party had promised that independence would lead to the removal of Trident submarines and the associated nuclear warhead storage facilities from their bases on the Clyde estuary, not far from Glasgow. Irrespective of various Ministry of Defence contingency plans, it would have been very difficult if not impossible to relocate them. Consequently, a vote for Scottish independence could also have been a vote for UK unilateral nuclear disarmament.

HMS Ambush Returning to HMNB Clyde, Scotland
HMS ambush returning to HMNB Clyde, Scotland. Photo by UK Ministry of Defence.

Crisis averted?

The UK is presently in the process of replacing the Trident system. While last year’s Trident Alternatives Review, conducted at the behest of the Liberal Democrats, pointed to other reduced nuclear options, a replacement will almost certainly involve like-for-like replacement of the current four-boat submarine force.

As a result, should the successor to Trident programme be given the “green light” after next years’ general election (which seems probable), the first of a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines will be deployed by around 2030 – and Britain will retain a highly sophisticated nuclear weapons capability with global reach well into the second half of the 21st century.

Put bluntly, that means the UK will always have a submarine somewhere at sea and ready to fire its long-range nuclear armed missiles at short notice.

Since work on the new submarines will not start until 2016 at the earliest, a Yes vote might have sunk these plans before they had even begun. It would also have forced the UK government to look long and hard at the nuclear issue, and would have propelled the question right into the heart of public debate.

Instead, at a crucial moment, the No vote has papered over the cracks that are starting to appear in the nuclear rationale. The Scottish result is therefore an important victory for those committed to making sure the UK has an independent nuclear deterrent for decades to come – and a missed opportunity for those opposed to it.

Eve of destruction

The argument that nuclear weapons are an insurance against an uncertain future remains seductive, but it’s undeniably less persuasive than it was during the Cold War.

Even with eight states (nine including Israel) still nuclear-armed and the global non-proliferation effort fraying, the logic of existential deterrence that birthed Trident in the first place has unquestionably weakened: the biggest dangers the UK is now facing appears to be asymmetric threats from cross-border groups such as Islamic State, not an ideological bloc of belligerent nuclear-armed states.

And because the need for the deterrent is no longer a given, a relocation from Scotland would have forced planners and officials to make the case for spending a colossal sum of money on it; far less will be required for mere replacement.

But even more importantly, the UK government would have had to give considerable thought to what the country’s future deterrence requirements actually are. That would mean answering difficult questions about who, exactly, needs to be deterred – and whether nuclear weapons still in fact serve this function as they have in the past.

Successor Submarine
A computer graphic image of a Successor class submarine. Image by UK Ministry of Defence.

The new normal

International pressure against nuclear weapons has grown considerably in recent years, particularly since Barack Obama’s Prague Speech in 2009 and his ensuing receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. All this has greatly strengthened the notion of an international taboo against the use of nuclear weapons.

And given the rapid development of hi-tech modern military systems and capabilities (such as drones, precision-guided weapons and cyber weapons) that may one day finally end the centrality of nuclear forces, the long-term rationale for, and utility of, the UK nuclear deterrent are both becoming increasingly blurred.

These dynamics will be particularly acute for Britain, given its small nuclear stockpile and strong domestic anti-nuclear history. But while there will certainly be much debate surrounding the final “main gate” decision now scheduled for 2016, it will never be as heated and critical as the furore that would have been generated by the relocation of the entire UK nuclear weapons complex. That in turn makes it all the more likely the decision will be waved through in two year’s time.

As a result, we may well come to look back on the Scottish independence referendum as the moment when the UK missed a chance to have an open and productive debate about its relationship with nuclear weapons – and instead it has all but guaranteed itself a nuclear-armed 21st century.

The ConversationAndrew Futter receives funding from the UK Economic and Social Research Council.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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For effective democratic oversight of intelligence and security, an independent Scotland would need more politicians

Great piece by Andrew Neal on some of the implications of (potential) Scottish independence, ahead of tomorrow’s referendum:

securitypolitics

On 11 September 2014 my colleagues and I published our fourth report, on the subject of ‘Intelligence and security oversight in an independent Scotland’, as part of our research seminar series ‘Security in Scotland, with or without constitutional change’. These are my personal thoughts on its implications.

With the real possibility of a yes vote in just over a week, it goes without saying that the referendum would only be the beginning of the long and complex task of turning Scotland into an independent country. Most discussions of ‘the day after’ have considered the nature of the negotiating process and how to divide up the assets of the UK. But further ahead would be the more profound task of creating the constitution of an independent Scotland. This would not only mean writing a legal document, but also deciding, among other things, the structure of the Scottish state, government and parliament…

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Friday links: Gaza and R2P

This week, there’s been a debate over the relevance of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to the ongoing situation in Gaza. One of the central ideas underlying the R2P concept is the argument that as part of sovereignty, states have a responsibility to protect their civilian populations, and in turn the international community also have some responsibility to both assist the state in this endeavour and to (potentially) intervene if the state fails in its responsibility to protect.

The status of Gaza is a key factor in this debate: if it’s considered to be part of the state of Palestine, R2P does not apply as it focuses on intra-state violence, not inter-state conflict.  If, however, Gaza is considered to be occupied by Israel (as many argue), R2P may well be applicable.

The lack of international action, whether justified through the Responsibility to Protect, Security Council resolution/s, or any other means, shows the continuing weakness of current frameworks when it comes to actually tackling violence. The eyes of the world are on Gaza, and the international community appears powerless. Whether or not R2P is used, something clearly needs to be done. On Monday, the UN Security Council called for a ceasefire, but beyond this little seems to be happening.

In one of the pieces above, Rieff argues that the lack of international community is part of the problem, as action is difficult when there is no international moral consensus. However, while there is never likely to be complete consensus Israel seems to be rapidly losing support and suggesting there is no international community overlooks growing international outrage. Action is not simple, as Bellamy’s piece clearly shows. It is, however, necessary, whatever form it may take.

 

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Four boys playing on a beach in Gaza, killed by an Israeli strike on 16 July.

Some interesting links

Some interesting things we’ve come across this week:

  • America’s hip-hop foreign policy: an interesting read from the Atlantic discussing the role of rap in the war on terror. Apparently America is dealing with ‘jihadi rap’ by sponsoring ‘good muslim hip-hop’. The discussion of how rap has been used both to radicalise and in turn as a tool of diplomacy is particularly interesting.
  • Yugoslavia as science fiction: discusses art from the former Yugoslavia and the way in which it’s being viewed today, with a fascinating discussion of what this implies about the post-Yugoslav space today.

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Acknowledgements: the first two pieces were kindly forwarded from @laurence_cooley and the last one was spotted via the always excellent @caiwilkinson!

 

China ‘declares war’ on pollution: what does it mean?

On 5th March, China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang opened the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress. These speeches tend to be full of the usual, ‘expected’ and generally repetitive bureaucratic language. However, this time Li’s speech was a little out of the ordinary: it explicitly declared a ‘war on pollution’ – an unexpected choice of words which suggests the issue is increasingly considered one of security. This blog has already talked about China’s ‘Airpocalypse’, and whether or not deteriorating air quality should be considered a security issue. The government has been considering and implementing a range of measures to deal with urban pollution, and with up to 500,000 people dying early each year from air pollution related illnesses action is desperately needed. Li’s speech, in declaring war on pollution, took the debate to another level. Xinhua reported Li as stating that ‘Smog is affecting larger parts of China and environmental pollution has become a major problem, which is nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development’. Miao Xuegang, a deputy to the National People’s Congress, called Li’s declaration “a letter of commitment from the government”.

Premier Li Keqiang on March 5, from TIME

The statement is ‘the highest-level acknowledgement yet of the enormous challenges China faces’, directly recognising the seriousness of the issue. The language is reminiscent of securitization theory’s suggestion that when issues are declared issues of security and supreme priority, they can be dealt with differently – allocating extra funds and enabling emergency measures. It suggests the government is taking pollution seriously, and it will be interesting to see how far the it will take this – the Airpocalypse will likely remain a popular topic in Chinese media, and with rising numbers of environmental protests it will be difficult for the government to shirk responsibilities. The biggest obstacle, however, remains economic development. It is widely seen as the cause of China’s pollution problems, but Li’s speech also reiterated a commitment to keeping economic growth at 7.5% and it is difficult to see how this will enable a serious improvement in pollution levels. Ai Nanshan, from Sichuan University noted that “you can not get a beautiful GDP figure at the cost of environment”. This is clearly a puzzle the government has yet to solve.

Syria: Whole Neighbourhoods Destroyed

The horrific figures of death and human suffering in Syria are bewildering. Over 2 million people have been forced to flee the country as refugees, over 6.5 million people are internally displaced and over 100,000 people have been killed as the civil war rages on.

It’s hard to really imagine such destruction, and several satellite images by Human Rights Watch highlight how whole neighbourhoods have been obliterated.

This is the Mezzeh area, Damascus. You can see extensive demolition of dozens of high-rise residential and commercial buildings along the main road between Mezzeh Air Base and the neighborhood of Daraya.

This is the Masha’ al-Arb’een neighbourhood, Hama.

See more images like this over at Human Rights Watch.

A Twitter Q&A on Cybersecurity with P.W. Singer

Over the past week, the defence practice group at Powell Tate communications and public affairs have been collecting questions for a reddit style AMA with P.W. Singer (director of the Brookings institute and author of Wired for War) on twitter.

I’ve always find it hard to make sense of much of the cybersecurity and cyberwar stuff I’ve read and I’ve always found this slightly worrying as I like to think I’m, ahem, a relatively smart guy with a keen interest in security and the cyber world we all now inhabit. Moreover, it’s interesting that cybersecurity hasn’t been on the syllabi of any of the security courses i’ve taken at any level of my studies. Fortunately, Singer’s forthcoming book Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know, looks like it’ll address this lacuna and provide a handy guide to cybersecurity for scholars and students of International Relations and Security.

I haven’t got my hands on the book yet, but the Twitter Q&A has provided a few short insights into some important cybersecurity issues. Below are just some of the highlights with a few comments from myself for good measure.

What?! It’s not China? Or organised criminal gangs? Or angsty teenagers in their bedrooms? Apparently not. It’s simply the fact that we don’t really understand cybersecurity and therefore don’t act in ways that are appropriate to ensure it. As in the offline world, it seems that cybersecurity threats from external actors are overplayed. It’s not a dangerous unseen enemy that poses the greatest threat to our security, it’s our own lack of understanding. And maybe if we stopped picking up USB sticks in car parks and plugging them in at work we’d be a little bit more secure.

The proto arms race sounds, and is, quite worrying. Viruses such as Stuxnet, Duqu and Flame are all allegedly weaponised forms of malware purportedly created by the USA and Israel. Intended to cause harm either by actually subverting Iran’s nuclear facilities or gathering information about them, I guess the problem with these is that once they are out of the bottle, anyone who gets their hands on them can learn from and adapt the code. Thus they’re a danger in the ‘wrong hands’ and they also undermine trust within the international community.

The second point about a more authoritarian internet seems to be something that is happening through both the NSA PRISM scandal and through the introduction of more and more legislation to regulate what can be accessed online.

It’s good to see someone actually involved in the policy world pointing out that the extent of the NSA online spying was both dumb and legally questionable. Something which several of the US NatSec community rarely point out.

Was the Fox News headline for this ‘4 month old potential terrorist launches biological weapon at airport’?! If not, it should have been.

The whole set of questions and answers is worth looking at so check out @peterwsinger and @PTdefense on twitter and drop your thoughts in the comment box below. Singer’s book looks like it’ll be a great read and I’m sure it’ll go into way more depth on the issues covered in 140 characters on Twitter.

Protecting ‘national security’ in the UK: the MI5 and the difference between ‘citizens’ and human beings

As someone who studies ‘security’ in the United States and China rather than the country where I actually live, coming across the following information from the MI5 discussing how they understand ‘national security’ in the UK was particularly interesting. 

They note the lack of a clear definition of ‘national security’ in either UK or European law, while adding that this has been a deliberate and consistent practice of successive UK governments and parliaments to ensure flexibility. The discussion that follows is both thoughtful and reflexive – features academics often make careers out of claiming governments lack.

The piece also states that government policy is taking the term national security to mean ‘the security and well-being of the United Kingdom as a whole’. This is then extended to emphasise not just the survival of the physical state itself but also its ‘citizens’ – wherever they are, and the system of government itself.

The discussion shows much needed recognition that the meaning of ‘security’ remains contested and is far from clear cut or obvious. It also shows an awareness of the role of political actors in constructing security threats. Of course, as it comes from the MI5, the focus is on more traditional notions of security. While the focus on citizens is encouraging, particularly alongside the growth in critical academic work emphasising the need to move away from military security to secure human beings, it also raises a number of questions.

What does it mean to protect UK ‘citizens’ rather than human beings more broadly defined? What does this mean for the rights, security and well-being of individuals living in the UK who do not have the protection of citizenship? What about the security and well-being of migrants and asylum seekers?

And lastly, what are the moral and ethical implications of a security policy that distinguishes between the security of  ‘citizens’ and human beings?

GCHQ Spywear Collection 2013

GCHQ’s 2013 spywear collection is out now! It includes a CCTV hat, a fashionable cap that doubles up as a target when you eventually need to get ‘droned’ and a diary from last year which they’ve filled in for you. Must haves for the season I’m sure you’ll all agree.

“you haven’t done anything wrong, so what have you got to hide?”