The Triggering of Article 50: A European Perspective

Over the past few weeks and months, the preparations being made by the UK to exit the European Union have dominated the countries news and media outlets. It has bred an environment where high profile court cases, large scale protests, parliamentary headaches and a seemingly divided nation have become the norm.

The debate will take a new dimension on Wednesday when Prime Minister Theresa May officially triggers Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon and starts the Brexit process.

She will send a letter to the EU in Brussels informing them of the UK’s desire to leave the European Union as defined in the treaty signed by Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2007 and begin a round of intense diplomatic negotiations.

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Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon

The Treaty itself provides for a two-year timetable for the perspective member state to leave the EU but many believe that negotiating Britain’s exit will take a lot longer than two years.

While much of the focus of the debate has been on what the UK will do, the European Union has been preparing its negotiating position and determining what is required to ensure an exit which keeps both parties happy.

The EU’s Three Musketeers

Key to the success of the negotiations will be the EU’s negotiating team, made up of the following individuals, representing the different parts of the EU legislative body:

VerhofstadtGuy Verhofstadt, European Parliament chief negotiator on Brexit

An ardent federalist whose appointment made headlines around the EU, Mr Verhofstadt will lead the negotiations on behalf of the European Parliament and can be a very charismatic and good orator.

However, he’s not the most popular figure amongst the Brexit camp, with UKIP’s former leader MEP Nigel Farage once claiming that “Guy Verhofstadt hates everything we stand for, which should mean a much shorter renegotiation.”

The European Parliament are keen to set up a special taskforce on Brexit, which Mr Verhofstadt is hotly tipped to lead and with his reputation for being a strong personality both politically and personally, the EU are making an aggressive statement by appointing him.

BarnierMichel Barnier, European Commission Chief Brexit Negotiator

Former French Minister and Commission Vice-President Michel Barnier will lead the European Commission’s Taskforce for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the UK.

Mr Barnier previously served as Single Market Commissioner (2010-2014), during which time he brought forward several legislative initiatives for the financial sector, such as the establishment of the new banking union as a response to the financial crisis.

A man of significant political connections in both the EU itself and the remaining 27 member states, Mr Barnier was appointed by European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and will be under intense pressure to keep a tough line in the negotiations.

SeeuwsDidier Seeuws, European Council Special Taskforce Chief Negotiator

The final member of the EU’s three musketeers, Mr Seeuws is a diplomat who served as Chief of Staff to former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (2011-2014) and his appointment to this post has been seen by many as a power grab by the European Council as it looks to take a leading role in the Brexit negotiations.

Mr Seeuws serves as the Director of Transport, Telecommunications and Energy in the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union.

Each of these individuals works for a specific arm of the EU machine, each with its own agenda and objectives in the negotiating process. However, there will be significant pressure from both inside the EU and out to maintain a collective voice during negotiations, as this will ensure an efficient and timely Brexit.

Turning 27 into 1

Differing voices, aims and objectives across the 27 remaining states make it harder to maintain this collective voice especially as the UK has many political and economic allies amongst the less influential member states.

Additionally, general elections in many of the member states occurring over the two-year period will make it difficult to maintain a consistent consensus with potentially adversarial politicians coming into the fray.

While the EU will be keen to keep these voices together, the UK will undoubtedly improve its chances of getting what it wants by keeping the voices separate and thereby increasing the political pressure on the EU to acquiesce to their demands.

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Public relations vs popular perception

The Brexit vote was a watershed moment in European politics, as it is the first instance of a member state choosing to leave the perceptually safe and stable EU.

Let’s think about that for a moment from a public relations standpoint: an organisation which is itself designed to engender cooperation and union is now being left by one of its most important member states.

PR wise it’s a disaster, because of two things: the British voice still carries a lot of weight in Europe and more importantly the EU has failed in its objective of keeping a member state happy.

Press coverage of the negotiations over the next two years will vary from positive to negative and a perceptually tough or overly harsh negotiation process can make the EU seem like a petulant parent disciplining its wayward child.

Negativity in negotiation will be seen by European member states and will colour public opinion of the EU in those countries still within the Union.

Often in PR, it’s a case of turning a negative into a positive and the same is true in this case. The EU will be keen to turn the adversity of Brexit into an opportunity to bring the remaining nations of the EU together.

Most likely there will be a period of sustained EU glad-handing and summits designed to keep member states onside and ensure that the British exit remains an isolated incident. Brexit may force the EU to be more accommodating to the remaining 27 states.

Separation Anxiety?

Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world and despite many attempts by the press to belittle it, still a major player in global politics.  A British exit from the European Union is a big event in global politics and casts a significant shadow on the EU.

World powers not in the EU such as China, the U.S and Russia could see the failure of the EU to retain Britain as a signal that it is no longer an effective political entity and can be ignored.

The current American administration seems to prove this point, with President Trump seemingly keener to engage with Theresa May than with Angela Merkel and her European compatriots.

Retaining relevance and importance in global affairs will need to be a by-product of the negotiating position adopted by the EU in its dealings with Britain as it leaves.

Creating a new identity for the EU post Brexit will be key to this, with the reinvention of the EU putting the failure of the EU to retain Britain behind it.

First to leave: Not the last to go?

Many European nations, particularly in the southern European states which have been so severely affected by the migrant crisis and the economic crash may be keen to follow Britain’s lead.

The rising tide of populism that has pervaded Europe over the last year has placed many so called populist politicians in positions of power where they can legislate for a similar sort of exit for their own country.

While these exits may be popular in their respective countries they are catastrophic for the EU.

Public opinion has never been more volatile towards the European Union and more exits would likely signal the end of the European Union as an effective political entity.

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Financial Market Turmoil?

As we saw in the immediate aftermath of the UK’s referendum result, political developments can have a significant effect on the course and stability of financial markets.

Even though UK financial markets have gained ground in the months following the Brexit vote, the financial damage was evident and the UK has yet to regain the strong financial position that it had prior to the voting result.

An argument can be made that the Euro is more volatile than the Pound and could suffer significant economic and financial damage as a result of a protracted negotiation with Britain.

With the damage from the financial crisis still fresh in the minds of many European politicians, the EU will be keen to ensure that no significant damage is done to European economies by Brexit.

This mitigation could colour the EU’s negotiating position towards a non-punitive and speedy Brexit.

There has been significant speculation that the EU will exert a punishment levy on Britain, with figures bandied about in the press of anything up to 50 billion pounds.

With access to the single market being a key concern for Britain, there is scope in the negotiations for specialised access to be granted after financial reparations are made.

However, there is a need to keep British pounds flowing into the EU, a need which could reduce this potential figure to ensure that British money still flows into the EU and vice versa. Any punitive financial measure taken by the EU against Britain could jeopardise this precarious economic balance.

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Seeds of the future

Britain will leave the EU, whether it be in two years or ten- that much is not in doubt. What the EU does in its dealings with the newly independent Britain will sow the seeds of any future relationship between the two entities.

A strong relationship between the two, which seems the most likely will greatly benefit both and if at some point in the future Britain chooses to reapply to join the EU then they will probably be welcomed back with open arms.

A punitive and unfriendly exit for Britain could result in a soured relationship between the two, leading to unrest and enmity between the two entities. In this case a country scorned could be extremely detrimental to the EU’s political, economic and social success as an entity.

Brexit could be the start of the end of the EU or it could signal the beginning of a reformed and reorganised EU, which was the overall objective of the Cameron administration when it sought to renegotiate Britain’s role within the Union itself.  Reform of this sort could ensure longer term stability and prevent more countries going through the exit door.

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International Whispers-Kim Jong-Un’s brother ‘assassinated’ in Malaysia

The older half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has died in Malaysia under suspicious circumstances.

South Korean news station TV Chosun is reporting that Kim Jong-nam was attacked by two unidentified women with “poisoned needles” at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Reports that these women were agents of North Korea have yet to be confirmed.

Nam was rushed to hospital by ambulance but died on route. The cause of his death has yet to be confirmed by Malaysian police.

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Kim Jong-Nam was an outspoken critic of North Korea

Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, holds no official title and has played no part in running North Korea.

However weeks after his younger half-brother took power, he described the regime as “a joke to the outside world” and said he opposed the hereditary transfer of power in the country.

If it is confirmed that North Korean operatives were responsible, his death would be the highest-profile killing connected directly with North Korea since Kim Jong-un ordered the arrest and execution of his uncle and close adviser, Jang Song-thaek, in December 2013.

The notoriously secretive regime has often reacted severely to criticism from both internal and external sources, with purges and assassinations being the weapons of choice for Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea.

Kim Jong-nam’s death comes just days after the regime came under renewed international pressure following the test-launch of a medium-to-long-range ballistic missile to coincide with Donald Trump’s summit with the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

 

International Whispers- May talks up new ‘Special Relationship’ in US visit

Prime Minister Theresa May has been keen to stress the Special Relationship that exists between Britain and the US in her first visit to America since Donald Trump became President.

Theresa May Visits The United States Of America

Mrs May arriving in the U.S

Mrs May said that Britain and the US “have a joint responsibility to lead” but will not do so in the same way as previous administrations have done.

The Prime Minister will lay a wreath at the grave of the unknown soldier in Arlington National Cemetery before having a face to face meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office later today.

Both countries are at new phases in their history, with Britain soon to be exiting the EU and the US having a new president after eight years of the Obama administration. It is a tense time for both countries, with both having to heal after very polarising political campaigns (Brexit and the US Presidential election).

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May received a standing ovation from Republicans in Philadelphia

The Prime Minister argued that a new “special relationship” would be nothing like the previous one between Tony Blair and George W Bush, which saw high profile invasions Iraq and Afghanistan. “The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are decisively over.”

But as she distanced herself from one previous special relationship, she was keen to stress the parallels between today and the relationship between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher particularly when dealing with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin saying “We should build the relationships, systems and processes that make cooperation more likely than conflict – and give assurance to Russia’s neighbouring states that their security is not in question. We should not jeopardise the freedoms that President Reagan and Mrs Thatcher brought to Eastern Europe by accepting President Putin’s claim that it is now in his sphere of influence.”

May said that she was determined to deepen links between the two countries, adding “It is in our interests – those of Britain and America together – to stand strong together to defend our values, our interests and the very ideas in which we believe.”

When asked how the temperaments of brash billionaire and a vicars daughter would interact ahead of her meeting this afternoon, the Prime Minister said “Haven’t you ever noticed, sometimes opposites attract?”

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The New Odd Couple?

International Whispers- Mexican President cancels trip to U.S over Trump’s wall claims

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has cancelled a planned visit to the U.S after American President Donald Trump signed an executive order to start construction of a wall along the length of the US border with Mexico.

The wall which was a key election promise in now President Trump’s election campaign has caused much consternation in the international community, especially after Mr Trump affirmed his desire to make Mexico pay for all or part of its construction.

In a video address on Wednesday night Peña Nieto told Mexico “I have said time and time again, Mexico will not pay for any wall.” amidst pressure from his own government to cancel the meeting with President Trump.

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Mexican President Nieto came under significant government pressure 

President Nieto later confirmed on Twitter that he had cancelled Thursday’s meeting with President Trump adding that “Mexico reiterates its willingness to work with the US to achieve agreements which benefit both nations”

Mr Trump who was making a speech to republican politicians in Philadelphia, claimed that the cancellation was mutual saying “The president of Mexico and myself have agreed to cancel our planned meeting next week” but later reiterating his tough negotiating position:

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Trump has signed an executive order to start construction of a wall along the US -Mexico border

“Unless Mexico is going to treat us fairly and with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless, we have to go a different route.”

Many Mexicans have welcomed President Peña Nieto’s decision to not visit the US, particularly after the perceived inaction by Mexico that followed Mr Trump’s visit last August.

With falling popularity ratings in Mexico, the President’s action will undoubtedly win him many fans, both domestically and in the wider international community.

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The new “Special Relationship”?

President Trump is due to meet with UK Prime Minister Theresa May tomorrow to discuss the “Special” relationship and potential trade deals with the UK post Brexit.

The Prime Minister said that Mr Trump had confirmed in conversations that “There is a clear commitment on both sides not just to maintain the special relationship, but to build on the special relationship.”

With President Trump so publicly snubbed, the Prime Minister might be keen to placate the President, but with growing questions on his views on torture and women it may be a tough conversation.

Responding to Labour’s calls to adopt a bullish position in dealing with Mr Trump she said “We have a very clear view: we condemn the use of torture, and my view on that won’t change, whether I’m talking to you, or talking to President Trump.”

But with post Brexit trade deals forming a vital part of this countries long term economic future, it may be a case of losing the battle to win the war.

 

International Whispers- Donald Trump becomes 45th president of the USA

Donald J Trump has just been sworn in as the 45th President of the United States at an inauguration ceremony on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington DC.

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President Trump takes the oath of office, flanked by his wife Melania

Amidst heightened security and reports of earlier protests, Mr Trump and Mike Pence, the vice president took their oaths of office administered by US chief Justice John Roberts.

In a speech that was full of the bluster of Trump the candidate, the new President called January 20th “the day the people became the rulers once again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now.”

“We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people,” Trump told the crowds as rain fell over the capital. “Together we will determine the course of America and all of the world for many many years to come.”

Donald And Melania Trump Arrive At White House Ahead Of Inauguration

One in One out: President Trump and his wife Melania pictured with Barack and Michelle Obama

The new president said: “Today we are not merely transferring power from one party to another … but we are transferring power from Washington DC and giving it back to you, the people.”

Speaking directly to his supporters, President Trump said “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America First, America First,” and described American economic policy in the future as being “two simple rules”: “buy American and hire American.”

Preparations are finalized at US Capitol for Trump inauguration in Washington DC

Inauguration Day, January 20th 2017

Flanked by former Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton and Carter, Mr Trump took a moment to speak about unity, saying “Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots,” he said. “Whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky … and they are infused with the same breath of life by the almighty creator.”

So, a man with no previous political experience is now America’s 45th President. It will be an interesting four years in American politics and indeed the politics of the world.

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Its mine, my own, my precious……..

International Whispers- “UK will be a world leader in trade” Theresa May tells World Economic Forum

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has addressed leaders of many of the worlds largest companies at the World Economic Forum in Davos and has said that the “UK will be a world leader in trade.”

In her speech, the Prime Minister launched an attack on the “politics of division” and globalisation which are only serving to fuel inequality between nations.

She said the world was enjoying an “unprecedented level of wealth”, but many people felt this was “not working for them”.

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The Prime Minister addressed some of Europe’s top business people in Davos, Switzerland

Mrs May said: “Talk of greater globalisation can make people fearful. For many it means their jobs outsourced and their wages undercut. It means having to sit back as they watch their communities change around them.

“And in their minds, it means watching as those who prosper seem to play by a different set of rules, while for many life remains a struggle as they get by, but don’t necessarily get on.”

After the speech, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the UK was “now making a choice to control migration, and they are paying a huge price because the economic growth rate of the UK will be impacted negatively by the fact that it will leave the biggest market in the world”.

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Dutch PM Mark Rutte said Brexit would “damage the economy of the UK”

German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble warned Mrs May her claim of the UK becoming “truly global” after Brexit would only be “taken seriously” if she did not slash taxes to attract business.

The speech comes after widespread European criticism to Mrs May’s  keynote speech outlining the governments Brexit position on Tuesday morning.

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IMF Head Christine Lagarde

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde has warned the UK there is still likely to be “pain” in its negotiations with the EU and that any deal with the EU will “not be as good” as membership, she said.

German MP Norbert Roettgen, who represents Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats said: “The UK’s two main economic weaknesses are its considerable trade deficit and a big budget deficit. As such [UK Chancellor Philip] Hammond’s threats with duties and tax cuts would primarily damage the UK and should be regarded as an expression of British cluelessness.”

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Mr Tusk, speaking in Brussels earlier this week

European Council President Donald Tusk sounded a more optimistic note comparing the Prime Minister to Winston Churchill saying “We took note of Prime Minister May’s warm, balanced words on European integration which were much closer to the narrative of Winston Churchill than of the American President-elect Trump.”

In other news, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has today confirmed that he has instructed his MP’s to vote in favour of triggering article 50, should the government lose its supreme court case and be forced to bring a vote to the house:

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Mr Corbyn speaking on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday

Mr Corbyn said “It is very clear. The referendum made a decision that Britain was to leave the European Union. It was not to destroy jobs or living standards or communities but it was to leave the European Union and to have a different relationship in the future. I’ve made it very clear the Labour party accepts and respects the decision of the British people. We will not block article 50.”

International Whispers: Trump ‘keen’ to sign quick trade deal with UK after Brexit

President-elect Donald Trump has promised that the U.S. will sign a quick trade deal with the UK after the Brexit negotiations are concluded.

In an interview with former leave campaigner and cabinet minister Michael Gove for the Times newspaper, Mr Trump said that the UK was “so smart for getting out”. He went on to say  “We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides.”

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President Elect Trump met with MP Michael Gove at Trump Tower in New York

 

Mr Trump’s words were in sharp contrast to outgoing President Barack Obama’s remarks during the EU referendum campaign, where he famously said that “the UK would be at the back of the queue” for any potential trade deal should it leave the EU.

The President-elect, who will be inaugurated on Friday in Washington, went on to criticise Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stance on immigration calling it “obsolete”.

Mr Trump later said “I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know, taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from,”

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Mr Trump said that the UK was ‘doing great’ in the wake of Brexit.

Later in the interview with Mr Gove, he turned his comments to NATO and called for more member states to commit to the target of spending the 2% of their respective national incomes on defence, a spending target that the UK is meeting and remains one of the few nations to do so.

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Defence Spending as a % of GDP- Source: NATO

With his inauguration looming, UK prime minister Theresa May will be keen to ensure that Mr Trump delivers on his promise to sign a trade deal with the UK, as this would be a boost to the economy and future success post Brexit.

How do we defeat Islamic State?

Baghdad, Aden, Brussels, Jakarta, Istanbul, Paris.  It is a sad litany of names all united in tragedy: they are all cities touched by Terrorism; they have all been successfully targeted by Islamic State.  It is an organisation which has killed almost 50,000 individuals throughout the Middle East and beyond.  Its European, African and Asian activities show a terrorist network which is expanding further and further beyond this area.   Despite the efforts of the international community, despite all of our victories the terrorists are still getting through, still spreading their message of hate, still causing the death of countless numbers.

A key part of the Islamic State machine is its use of Propaganda, from video to social media and beyond. It is how it recruits new members, maintains a political presence and enacts terrorist acts. We cannot simply close down every site or video which they use, as barring the use of media by individuals in the region would stop others in the region from expressing their legitimate opinions.  We must use their methods against them, posting interrogations of captured suspects, illustrating the methods we use to combat their followers. Every defeat of Islamic State must be broadcast on every channel in the region using every media. Illegitimate organisations such as the hacker collective Anonymous have voiced their intention to target Islamic State, most recently in the wake of the Brussels attacks. It is these organisations which should be brought into the fight, be it legitimately or covertly, we can use their skills to remove the ability of Islamic State to broadcast its message of hate or recruit new followers. These organisations can do this effectively without the wider need to cut off legitimate media in the region.

Islamic State purports the idea that it is an organisation engaged in warfare with the western powers only, as it supports its message of Anti-Semitism against non Muslims. The coalition of powers engaged in attacks against them, collectively known as Operation Inherent Resolve has over 30 countries 8 of which are in the region affected and are predominantly Muslim. This should be highlighted and used in propaganda against Islamic State to sabotage their assertion that it is only the Christian nations who are against them. At home in the nations affected and those not affected by terrorist acts, there must be a concerted effort to recruit and support the Muslim community and the local tribes in the combat area. It is these individuals who will stop the beginning of terrorism and fight Islamic State on their own territory. Radicalisation begins at home and will end when the communities themselves take responsibility for their members. We need to show that they are the exception to the rule, not the rule itself.

A propaganda war must be supported by a concerted international effort to combat the territorial and political gains made by Islamic State.  An invasion force, made up of predominantly western nations would ultimately prove counterproductive and replicate the same conditions which allowed Islamic State to flourish in the first place. That being said western intervention is inevitable, however it must be restricted to a support capacity only. The local nations must be seen to be spearheading the efforts; else Islamic State will use its propaganda machine to turn the region against coalition forces.

The two key countries to this effort are Syria and Russia. Syria, a country torn apart by civil war and one of the two areas where Islamic State predominantly operate (the other being Iraq) has recently called a cease fire between rebels and the Al Assad regime.  Russian support and political pressure was crucial in making this ceasefire a reality. It is the Russian government which can effectively use its influence over the Assad regime to secure a peaceful transition to alternative government. Assad is a war criminal, guilty of many crimes against his own people and he must answer for them in front of the international community, but great care must be taken in when this transition takes place. A transition which occurs too fast could result in an unstable government replacing a stable one as was witnessed in Iraq upon the transfer of power from the coalition to civilian government. It may be necessary to leave him in power for the moment, but place significant restrictions in place to prevent him from abusing his people as he has done previously. There must be a timetable for the transition of power to occur and this can be achieved by engaging and unifying the legitimate opposition groups in the Syrian political system. Leaving Assad in power for a limited time would conceivably be a workable scenario for the Russian federation as it continues its international political rehabilitation after the Ukraine crisis.  A stabilised Syrian government could turn its attention to eliminating those terrorist elements from their country, chief among them being Islamic State.

As stated previously, Russian involvement was integral in bringing the Syrian civil war to an end but the need for Russia to be involved goes much deeper than that. Russia with its 16 million Muslims has a vested interest in stopping Islamic State and terrorist attacks on its citizens have been met with retaliatory strikes against targets in Syria and Iraq. Russian influence on Syria and Iran can have the effect of concentrating the efforts of these countries in eradicating the extremists.  Its inclusion in Operation Inherent Resolve would bring it into an alliance of co-operation with many countries that it has become estranged from, particularly the USA.  Drawing Russia back into the fold would enable the other coalition partners to impose a crucial distinction on their future strikes, stopping them from attacking legitimate opposition groups in Syria.

One thing is abundantly clear, the international community can do more than it is doing.  The predominantly regional conflict is isolated and it is easier to do less to address a problem when it is not on your doorstep. Additionally Islamic State is like no other terrorist organisation in history, operating without borders or centralised country. What this needs is a leader or a nation to take the lead and make it their primary concern.  Many leaders cannot because of their own provincial concerns/ responsibilities but all it would take is one to lead the way and galvanise international action.

There is no magic bullet that will end the conflict against Islamic State. What is set out here is one potential blueprint. A difficult and uncertain path lies ahead for the World as they tackle this threat. One thing is a given though, we will face this threat together.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Super Tuesday 2016: America Decides

In any election or contest there are crunch points, points where individuals step to the fore and all future events are decided. Tomorrow is one such event.

The political bloodbath that is known as Super Tuesday takes place tomorrow morning in 12 American states and one overseas territory. By the end of tomorrow, we should know definitively who America wants to be its candidates on both the Demoratic and Republican tickets.

The long road of caucusing, campaigning, mudslinging and debating which began prior to the first New Hampshire primary will end.  Everything comes down to this and potentially the next four years of US government will be shaped tomorrow, when voters from Alabama to Wyoming cast their ballots.

So, what can we expect?

Concession speeches on an almost hourly basis, words of congratulation and commiseration on both sides, a practical re-purposing of existing campaigns to a more election facing slant and a great deal of column inches and editorials.

Who are the potential winners?

The Republican field of candidates has dominated both the US and international media with one candidate being thrust into the public eye: Donald J Trump.  Mr Trump’s predominantly extreme views and election campaigning style have undoubtedly appealed to American voters, keen to return to the “good ole days” when America commanded the world. This brash, Pope bothering and gaffe prone pseudo-political heavyweight has been keen to exploit what many see as the failings of the Obama administration and the fears of ordinary Americans in a post 9/11 world.

While he has garnered votes and won districts, his rivals have appeared almost impotent in their inaction. Their failure to play the campaign his way has cost them potential nominations. Only Marco Rubio seems to have got that message, but it’s too little too late for his candidacy. Trump should win and win comfortably.

The loudness of the Republican campaign has been in stark contrast to the quiet and dignified Democratic campaign and its two largest candidates: Hillary Clinton and the businessman Bernie Sanders.

Clinton, a onetime first lady and secretary of state under President Obama has won 3 out of the 4 presidential primaries, with the only exception being her dead heat with Sanders in New Hampshire.  She is a seasoned politician and has raised almost $130m for her campaign, raising almost $21m more than when she ran against Barack Obama in 2008. It’s hard to see any other result than a Clinton victory but expect a few minor shocks from Sanders along the way.

The popular HBO series Game of Thrones has a saying “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die”. In many senses this can be applied to the forthcoming contest, with the exception that the only deaths will be political ones (hopefully). Once America chooses its respective candidates on both sides then the game will truly begin, culminating on November 8th when one will rise above the other and claim the ultimate prize: The Presidency of the United States.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Middle East and Africa: The Nightmare Scenario

“We announce our allegiance to the caliph… and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity”

With a simple audio message, the die was cast. The fates of both organizations became intertwined. Boko Haram and Islamic State became allies.

Islamic State, a nascent political power has attempted to establish an Islamic Caliphate over the Middle East and North Africa. But with this alliance, it appears that their objectives have widened. In this expanded sphere of influence, they have attempted to seek allies with common ground.

Boko Haram is an organisation that has primarily confined its activities to Nigeria, making sorties into Cameroon, Niger and Chad. While it claims to be a terrorist organization, many of its methods which include kidnapping, drug smuggling and murder have more in common with a gang than they do a terrorist organisation. They have committed many high profile crimes, such as the kidnapping of 200 school girls in Nigeria and many suicide bombings across central Africa.

The joining of these two organizations adds legitimacy to the Boko Haram cause, while allowing Islamic State to gain a foothold in Africa without actually putting boots on the ground. It also would allow Islamic State to deflect much of the flak from itself onto Boko Haram by having them carry out their agenda.

But what if this is the start of a network of alliances, across the terrorist organizations of the world?

Hamas joins Al-Qaeda, Al Qaeda joins Al Shabaab, Hezbollah joins The Muslim Liberation front and they all join Islamic State before hooking up with the pirates in Somalia.

Suddenly where there were multiple organisations only one would exist, an organization entirely devoted to terrorism but large enough and diverse enough to conduct its activities in multiple spheres of influence.

It could use its members to attack, undermine and overthrow the government of any country in its way and once it did it could use that power base to create financial and military assistance to any of its subsidiary organisations.  Subsidiaries occupying opposing powers could create the distractions required for the main organization to seize control of any country of its choice.

All of this is reliant on one thing and one thing only, common ground. For these factions to cooperate there must be a commonality between them and at the moment the only common ground is their mutual hatred of western governments.  Their ideologies are a hotch potch of extremism and religious fundamentalism, each operating with its own interpretation of scripture and beliefs.

Intercession by religious leaders in respect of these movements could create the perfect conditions for an international terrorist organisation to wage a truly international jihad against those countries which do not practice their particular religion.  Evidence of the beginnings of this Jihad can be seen in the singling out of Jewish people in the Paris massacres and the summary executions of Christians in Egypt. A unified organization would only exacerbate this disturbing trend to its natural conclusion, a religious world war.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.